Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 12: Alien Life

The alien generation system owes a great debt to Traveller’s Book 3 which defined creatures by ecological niche. The only quibbles I have here are that the D12 has dropped into “fiddly coin” and “ugly D3” status while my preference is to take advantage of probability distributions that can’t be done with the overused D6. The 50/50 stuff is particular pronounced for the plants– half of them are carnivorous! Each creature subtype has its own modifiers for the creature stat table which determines weight in kilograms, speed in meters per hour… hit points… some sort of default skill target… and number of traits/advantages. (I don’t know what an AV or DV stat is, though. There is no glossary. Flipping back to the equipment section, I see that these are the armor stats….)

The most notable design choice here is to decouple the alien creation system from the world generation rules and terrain distributions. If you go in for that kind of detail, you are invited to extend the rules to a degree that satisfies your attachment to biological reality. My inner nerd cries out at this omission, but I have to admit… after a decade of space gaming, I have never successfully slogged through the creation of a complete alien creature encounter table. Honestly, it’s a chore… and even with complete booklets of pre-generated tables around, I don’t know what to do with this stuff. Too often its just more random data that you have to figure out what to do with– and no, I never figured out why there was so much alien life on those airless moons in Traveller, either.

The alien traits section is basically a GURPS style advantage and disadvantage system. You don’t get any help from the tables in picking these out for alien creatures, but the addition of a couple of these will do quite a bit to personalize what would otherwise just be a random set of numbers. A few things that looked like omissions earlier on during the read-through are addressed here: animal behavior quirks are addressed with things like Combat Fear and Curious. What previously looked like an oversimplified movement system gets a few more options here with Glider, Leaper and Speed.

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2 responses to “Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 12: Alien Life

  1. RogerBW January 31, 2012 at 8:56 am

    The first edition is even more basic – just the list of traits and some suggestions about designing intelligent species (i.e. “if they’re basically humanlike, make them a human clade rather than men in rubber suits”). Splitting this off from character generation seems odd – but then, I’m used to an integrated system where you use the same low-light vision mechanic whether you get it from your alien physiology or a set of goggles.

  2. John E. Boyle November 4, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    I didn’t plan on having to generate Alien Life at random for the beginning of my campaign since the first three planets they will visit will be New Texas, Poictesme and Zarathustra, and H. Beam Piper has all three worlds thoroughly colonized. Still this system comes in handy if I do need one that can allow me to represent a Zarathustran damnthing, or even a green martian of Barsoom in game terms.

    Also, I can see where it will be useful later on, when the worlds they visit owe more to Andre Norton.
    It should do nicely.

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