May 14, 2014
Iconic Antagonists: Aliens
More commonly found in science fiction games than in the more common fantasy fare, aliens are often used by writers and Gamemasters alike to bring elements of weird — or even whimsy — into otherwise semi-realistic settings. Note that I am not just talking about things like the xenomorphs from Aliens or the Predator from Predator, but also things like the Vulcans and Klingons from Star Trek, the various wonderful – and some less so – creatures in Star Wars, and even (though technically human) Reavers from Firefly, who were very alien in their appearance and actions. Aliens often replace all of the by-the-numbers monsters from fantasy settings such as orc, ogres, demons, dragons, and more by adding the caveat “they are from other planets.”
Aliens give storytellers of all types a lot of room to play. If they want to include a magic/psychic element to the game, this can be done easily by claiming these abilities are “natural” to some alien races. Look at the biotic abilities of Aasari and the Krogen in the Mass Effect games, which humans later gained the potential for as well when they began experimenting with alien energy. If they wish to include horrific monsters or even undead, this is easily done as well. All one has to do is look at what Dead Space did with their necromorphs to see how even seemingly supernatural elements can be given a pseudo-scientific explanation. After all, much of science fiction is pseudo-science anyway.
The choice to add aliens as elements to a science fiction campaign, be it hard or soft sci-fi and be the aliens purely antagonistic or otherwise, is one that will define your science fiction game more than almost any other decision. Few things differ science fiction stories as much as the existence of alien life. When used like a monster out of something like Aliens, Dead Space, Pitch Black, or many other stories, they make for wonderful antagonists that the players must learn about before they can deal with. To defeat your enemy, you must learn about it. Learn its weaknesses, its nature, its desires. Look at what happened in Aliens when the marines just started shooting the creature, not knowing that its very blood was acidic. Lack of knowledge makes your players vulnerable, making for some wonderfully suspense role-playing that could rival any World of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu–styled supernatural-horror game.
If, on the other hand, you choose to include alien races much more like how Star Trek and Star Wars treats them, where they are little different than elves or dwarves from traditional fantasy games, then you award yourself the ability to explore cultural differences in your antagonists. Like with aliens-as-monsters, aliens-as-people can be just as interesting if not even more complex. These sorts of foes might be difficult to understand, but they are often driven by something a bit more complex than a desire to feed or simply wipe out all life in the cosmos. Gamemasters can have a lot of fun coming up with the reasons, the methodology, of various alien cultures. Just like with fantasy races, alien cultures give a lot of creative freedom to your Gamemaster, which often make for very interesting games. Sure, often alien races can be classified as things like “space elves” or “extra-planar orc,” but these are just starting points. Its where you go from there that make aliens such interesting antagonists.
As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good gaming.
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