7 July 2010: “Vortex” alien species

Vortex aliens

In one future, humanity has begun to colonize the Sol system, but strife over resources and ideology persists. Open and official First Contact with galactic societies, themselves at war, thrusts Terrans onto a larger stage, but can they survive?

Fellow role-players, here is my latest post about my upcoming “Vortexspace opera campaign. I recently outlined the options for humans and “nearhumans,” and here is information about extraterrestrial species that interact with humans and that can be used for Player Characters.

Any sentient species within 300 light years of the Sol system is aware of humanity, but most of them have their own methods of communication and had little interest in one of several noisy backwaters, until recently….

Gustrall — flightless avian warriors

These bipeds evolved on the temperate plains of Irioth, the seventh moon of gas giant Birkomax, which orbits Firneq. They resemble flightless birds or raptors, with large beaks and muscular legs. However, they have hooves, orange fur, and antlers (actually breathing tubes), as well as small, double-jointed arms under
the “shoulders” of their legs.

The Gustrall (singular and plural are the same) have a long history of warfare, not unlike Terrans, and they had conquered all nearby solar systems before their greatest strategist, Kroac, became a pacifist. Gustrall tend to be reserved, honorable, and stubborn. They are only slightly more technologically advanced than the Sol system and can eat all Terran foods.

Nethians — insectoid scientists

The vegetarian Nethians evolved in the highlands of Oromekl 6 (which has a bit less gravity than Earth), and these explorers have named each planet they’ve settled since a supernova destroyed their homeworld thousands of years ago “Oromekl.” Each Nethian has six legs, all ending in three-clawed hands. They tend to walk on the rear two sets, have four eye/ear/nose stalks, and are covered in a smooth, gray exoskeleton. Nethians breathe through breathing holes along their thoraxes and have foldable wings for gliding. They are
excellent climbers but poor swimmers.

Nethians have an extremely hierarchical culture, but they do not have a hive mind and no longer enslave other species. In fact, these sentients enjoy public debate, and unlike many aliens, they discovered interstellar Transit on their own in vast, mazelike ships. Nethians are longtime allies of the Trinoids and appreciate
Terran inventiveness but are at a loss when faced with Gustrall tempers, Olvar humor, or human diversity.

Olvar — mammal-like mystics and pranksters

Of all the aliens that humans first encounter, they’re predisposed to liking the Olvar, which resemble primates or felines with tails, pointed ears, and multicolored short fur. (Yes, they’re similar to Elves or James Cameron’s Na’vi, but they were created years ago.) The Olvar evolved in the forests and mountains of Velthis Major, also known as Thurbast 3b. They can eat some human foods, and like chocolate, which is intoxicating to them.

The Olvar are known for their artistic sense, tribal organization, and sense of humor, and they are fond of ever-shifting Terran popular culture. In fact, generations ago, gray-suited Olvar adolescents were responsible for some human folklore of extraterrestrial visitors! Of the species presented here, the Olvar are most likely to study mysticism, and they are serious about recording and preserving history.

Ru’ulok — heavy-G reptilian pirates

The Ru’ulok are bipeds from Ru’okkal/Cralari 5 but are shorter and stockier than Terrans. They’re covered in small green scales and have gills where human ears would be, and their faces look somewhat simian. Although Ru’ulok internal organs are arranged in much the same way as human organs, these carnivores’ biochemistry isn’t compatible.

After generations of an oppressive caste system, the Ru’ulok distrust organization, such as those of the Nethians and Trinoids, and they don’t like the wealth disparities among humans. Although they communally share booty, the Ru’ulok compete to see who can get the best deals, find the most valued artwork or trade goods, or impress the most of their peers.

Trinoids — trilateral amphibious terraformers

The least humanoid of the aliens listed here, Trinoids evolved in the shallow areas of their “Home Sea,” or Hydronicus 2. They resemble Terran anemones or squid and have a barrel-shaped body, six stubby legs/feet, and three flexible arms ending in two spikes and three tapered fingers each. Trinoids have three sensory organs around a beaked mouth at the top of their blue-green torsos, but they communicate subsonically from ventral gills.

Trinoids have slowly but patiently expanded into the Orion Arm and are the founders of the Kharvamid Alliance to respond to the approaching Zarkonian Armada. Humans have difficulty understanding Trinoid society, which is based on the “Six Legs” — budding, food and photosynthesis, ethics, technology, strategy,
and Galactic commerce — with no clear divisions between the individual and government or corporate and religious affairs. However, Trinoids do have individual personalities, and they enjoy interacting with other species.

Some other aliens:

Cestolar — short, hairy clients of the Olvar

Laransans (created by Erik B.L.) — telepathic humanoid guardians

Ma’ari (created by Jenna P.) — diminutive wanderers

Meorr (created by David F.R-B.) — blue-furred lion-like berserkers

The aliens of “Vortex” are intended to be different, relatable, and worthwhile alternatives to human Player Characters. Interstellar travelers communicate via robotic translators, telepathy, or approximations via “Galactic standard” languages. While most of you are probably thinking of Star Trek or Star Wars, I’d also recommend looking at Star Frontiers, David Brin’s Uplift novels, or Farscape.

Coming soon: Occupations, factions, and rules!

6 May 2010: What is “Vortex?”

Star Frontiers wallpaper by ElmoreThe “Vortex” space opera has its roots in “The Zarkonian Bomb,” a film script that I wrote with Carlo R., Jon and Bill B., and Ray C. in high school in New York's Westchester County. Looking back to 1982, we were obviously inspired by the novels of Isaac Asimov, Doctor Who, the original Star Wars film trilogy, and the Star Frontiers game. I later wrote “The Adventures of Jason Delmar,” a series of short stories.

In contrast to “hard” science fiction or other subgenres like cyberpunk, space opera features relatively easy interstellar travel and human interaction with aliens, plus themes of exploration, diplomacy and heroism amid warfare, and the importance of friendship. Space opera has its roots in the “planetary romances” of the 19th and early 20th centuries, pulp fiction, and movie serials, but James Cameron's Avatar is a recent (if explicitly derivative) example.

In college in Upstate New York, I created the “Vortexrole-playing rules with my brother Peter and David I.S., influenced by Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Ed., the Star Trek franchise, books by Larry Niven and others, and the cyberpunk/fantasy game Shadowrun. Our system had several species options, five attributes (Prowess, Agility, Intellect, Respect, and Aura), skills and mystical powers, and lots of gear.

The name “Vortex” came from late-night conversations about the nature of time, human history, and perception with Carlo and Dave, touching on the works of Edward Gibbon and Mircea Eliade. Is history linear or cyclical? Are technological and social progress inevitable or transient, and what role does individual choice play? From the perspective of the present, global events seem more crowded at an ever-accelerating pace, hence the vortex (I'm not the only gamer to think of it this way). It can also represent the spiral of the Milky Way Galaxy.

After graduate school, I used the Generic Universal Role-Playing System to run successful campaigns, including GURPS 3rd Ed. Space: “Vortex,” for about a dozen people in Virginia in the 1990s. At that time, we enjoyed the books of three Davids (Brin, Gerrold, and Weber), movies like The Fifth Element, and television shows such as Babylon 5 and Space: Above and Beyond. The universe expanded as the players developed more aliens, and the crew of the P.T.S. “Venture” explored more space.

Earlier in the 1990s, I had used the original “Vortex” system for “Bay City: Visor and the Seer,” which later became the GURPS “Supers: the S.J.I.” superhero campaign (most recently using D20 Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Ed.). In addition, we used my timeline in the “Voyagers II: Adventures in the Dimensional Corps” game I co-ran with Steve M.R., Tim M.B., Jim J.D'B., and other Game Masters.

I ran GURPS “Vortex” briefly by e-mail and for Rob R. and Randy K.M. after moving to the Boston area. We then returned to my long-running “Vanished Lands” fantasy campaign using Dungeons & Dragons Third and Fourth Editions. In 2010, I expect to incorporate some “transhumanist” concepts, “retrofuturist” speculative fiction, and “rules-light” games, looking back and ahead simultaneously.

In future posts, I'll explain more of the “Vortex” setting, character options, and various space opera rules sets. Feel free to post your own questions and ideas to the “Vanished Lands” Yahoo/eGroup, the “Holy Steel” Google group, or my blog at Yahoo, MySpace, EnWorld.org, or Wizards of the Coast!