Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Aliens in Fantasy

I know some of the playtesters from years ago are reading this blog (Hi!), but let me fill the rest of you in. The Forgotten Hunt was intended to be the entry into a series of modern games that would form a world where pretty much anything could happen. There would be dinosaurs, mercenaries, super-powers (not incredible ones, but some manner of enhancement), and (pause for drama) a huge alien invasion. Oh - and magic (the game Dark Hour)! Well, Magic the Gathering dominated the industry for years, and now role-playing games seem to have gone the way of war games - they’re still there, but the youth market and the money has shifted to the cards.
So, what to do with all those cool aliens that I created to attack the Earth? I use them in the Legend Quest fantasy games. Aliens and monsters can and should be used along the same lines. Those British game designers have it right. Orcs make great bad guys whether they are in the past or in the future.
My favorite aliens were the Congrogas. They were sort of dinosaur men, or dragon men (not really lizard men, but if you need to see it that way). They even had an elite cadre that were basically triceratons. I’ve been able to use the Congrogas as enemies in a super-hero genre game, a modern alien invasion game, and now in a fantasy genre game. So how do you make aliens work in a fantasy era?
First - they need to get from one planet to another. I have introduced the concept of the “spiral stairs”. I once used the term “spiral rifts”, but I really never intended to copy that other game. Think of two spiral staircases that are rotating in opposite directions, sometimes I think about a DNA strand but not connected. As the two spirals move, different parts of them will touch each other. If the worlds are on those spirals, then from time to time, they will touch as well, and at those times, both worlds (or more likely small parts of those worlds) will be in the same place at the same time. Where they touch, spiral gates will open and creatures can step through. Where the Congrogas are explorers and conquerors in the future, they are a race desperate to find a new homeland in the fantasy era. (Theirs is being ripped apart by geological forces.) Are they invaders? Well sure, but they aren’t evil. They simply must find a place to settle their race or face extinction. Where the futuristic guys have laser rifles, the fantasy guys have obsidian swords and spears. Same stats, same “powers” and weaknesses (in this case natural armor and a weakness in humid weather), different weapons, but still great enemies.
Does it work for others? Yep! Let’s go backwards. The hoawmintz are a Legend Quest “monster” race - a race of “men” who are bipedal cats. The hoawmintz make perfect aliens, they just need some manner of high tech gadgetry, or if you prefer they could be a “barbarian” culture that gets mixed up in the space race. Anyone who watched the Flash Gordon cartoon where Thun was a Lion Man understands that this race would be equally cool in a fantasy game or a space opera. This genre jumping (which clearly I am a huge fan of as I discuss it in many of our books), was also shown in things like Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, TSR’s Spelljammer, Rifts, and a bunch of other books. (At least I admit when I’m not the first to think of something.)
So what do you do now? You think back to that really cool space story you read last month (or when you were a kid) and you pluck the bad guy race out of it and throw it into your fantasy game. You probably already have their history. Maybe you can either stop them before they become a space fairing race, or simply retro their history to a fantasy era. Maybe they found a magical portal from their planet to yours or they’re simply from another continent. I am not a supporter of laser rifles vs fireballs, but once you take the lasers away from them, a lot of those aliens become really cool monsters!

1 comment:

  1. I recently finished rereading my copy of "The Forgotten Hunt." There's a lot there to like, although I've considered some adjustments before trying it out on a group of players. Foremost, I think I'd adjust the ratio of innate abilities to trained ability effect on die roll, and make training a prerequisite for performing certain tasks. For example, regardless of a character's intelligence, there should be no chance of performing anything in chemistry if you cannot read a periodic table.

    I hadn't imagined "The Forgotten Hunt" as the first module of a game omnisystem, but I can definitely see that now that I've read this entry.

    Thanks, and glad to see you're still out there.