Monday, March 7, 2016

The Human Destiny: Aliens Reworked

I'm following a project called 'The Human Destiny' by Jon F. Zeigler on his blog. (He's one of the guys that wrote GURPS:SPACE). The setting he's working with focuses on humans after they are incorporated into a galactic hegemony. Its kind of like uplift without humanity being special for uplifting others or evolving on their own.

Its a good setting, but I object to the way the aliens are given their statistics. The two races presented so far are 185 and 90 points. Which is a lot. So I'd thought I'd write them up a little more toned down and a little less forbidding to the point budget.

This is not meant to denigrate Mr. Zeigler's work. If anything, this is praise. I find the setting intriguing, and he's doing a fantastic job of exploring ideas. I just think the races could be made more accessible, point-wise.

Are they really Superior?

So one of the hickups here is that this setting has practiced eugenics and millennia of breeding ought to give you something. On the other hand, +4 IQ is incredibly high and has potential to break the setting. And a large number of points come from the classic mistakes when statting large creatures and when stating those with multiple arms. And they generally have a higher social position than humans. So we're not going to get  0 point templates. But we are going to get better balanced templates.

The Elf  Problem

The hardest part is deciding what to do about the  IQ +4 and HT +2 on Kedai. Together they are worth 100 points -- enough to make any Kedai character 'Exceptional'. I asked Mr. Zeigler about this and he said this was intentional: Kedai are
'frightfully intelligent, but if I were to run a game with them, they would always be NPCs'
 Wow, that's a strong statement. And it runs into the elf problem -- why is the universe populated by anything other than elves? More to the point of the game: why are the players interesting when all of the cool awesome characters are elves?

Classic answers to this problem include: There aren't very many of them. None of them are working for us. They're all focused on other problems. It turns out only some of them are really this good. The point is to play the mortal against the gods.

In this case he's done a fair job of invoking a lot of these answers. Kedai really have a crappy reproductive cycle -- they spend their youth as a wild animal in the woods, and most of the time die that way. It takes a lot of land to produce a Kedai, and a lot of failed attempts. They're also almost all in high-ranking government positions, so you can't really ask 'why are they in charge'? In some ways, Kedai are ultra-tech dragons. Each one is tougher than nails. And part of the point of the campaign is to play honest to goodness underdogs in a world where you are outmatched. So I'm going to keep Kedai's high IQ. 

The HT is also an issue, but Kedai have seemingly been selectively breeding and maybe even tinkering with their genome for over a million years. At least HT+1 is justified.

In a game where having a race of super-geniuses is NOT the point, Kedai would drop the IQ, and find themselves in the manageable race zone.

Kedai [99]

85 of the points come from the fact that these things are essentially grizzly bears with horns. This is a fantastic build in a TL3 hack and slash game. In a TL11 game where this is the ruling race? not so much. Any battle suit can match their armament. easily. Actually, an exoskeleton is likely to be good enough. Their big advantage is that they can go anywhere and not worry about being pestered about it. There is a case for this being 5 points, and there is a case for this being a perk.

Some of their disadvantages actually are undercharged: Gurps doesn't by RAW let you stick a modifier on any disadvantage you please, and getting 90% of cost for a disadvantage that effects at most 2 months of the year is iffy at best. I'm going to drop that to -80%. That's still debatable, but the time is extended and hits the entire species at the same time. The most ruling species as well. I'm sure everyone knows exactly when mating season is, and I hope there are measures to prevent rash things from happening. Like wars being declared.

The quirks are actually pretty good. The humble one is a bit odd, but quirks are great when describing a species tendencies. I'm normally not a fan of charging hidebound and incurious at full cost -- but  its essential for balancing out the +4 to IQ from a scenario perspective.

On the senses they trade off hearing for vision, particularly night vision. they have -4 to hearing, cancel 6 in darkness penalties, and get +3 to vision. Superior or lessened senses are not something that can be replaced by technology: Kedai just plain see more than humans and hear less. Night vision is different though. It can be mitigated or replaced by technology. I'm going to roll it into the 'legal enforcement powers' cost along with ST 18 and horns. As a feature, they get penalties 1 higher than humans in bright light, but this can be easily remedied with sunglasses. Yep, a feature. Not enough to be worth a quirk. Its no more limiting than being susceptible to pentagrams.

Extended life span won't be worth anything in most games. Its dropped to the level of a feature, alongside early maturation 5.

 IQ+4 [80]; HT+1 [10]. SM+1 [0].
Advantages: Acute Vision 3 [6]; Fearlessness 3 [6];  Racial Status 4 [20]; Legal Enforcement Powers (shaped like bear) [5]
Perks: Deep Sleeper [1].
Disadvantages: Bad Temper (Only during mating season, -80%) [-2]; Hard of Hearing [-10]; Hidebound [-5]; Incurious [-5]; Lecherousness (Only during mating season, -80%) [-3].
Quirks: Assumes situations are not dangerous unless proven so; Attentive; Humble; Serious [-4].
Features: -1 to vision in bright light, longevity 4, early maturation 5

Non-Boss Kedai [17]

So what if Kedai were meant to be something other than superhuman overlords? What if they aren't the genetic lottery winners that ruled the universe for 20 million years?

Drop the IQ, drop the HT. Reduce hidebound and incurious to mere perks. And thats it. Most of their points are now the racial status -- which is an advantage they should have, and should be paid for in full. If you take that away you get [-3] -- the Kedai have a LOT of racial quirks, and the mating season disadvantage may be overpriced. You can arguably add +1 IQ or some other racial talent.

Actually, I suggest picking between these two extremes -- add IQ until you get the level that you want. Or suggest to the player that he raise IQ to the level that he needs. If the race gets +2 IQ or more you may want to bump incurious and hidebound back up to their full level. Choose the IQ based on how formidable you need the Kedai.

Azuri [15]

Ok, now we have the Azuri, known to humans as 'spider apes'. They are originally priced at 90 Old Man's War setting where humans need bio-engineering to be useful. In fact, given that ST is less than pivotal in this setting, they're currently worth even more than [90].
James Cameron's take on six limbed apes. with tiny arms.
points. And they shouldn't be that much better than a human. They're a sapient species that is new to the galaxy, and we don't want an

First, lets shave off the +2 DX and +1 IQ. Its nice, but what are we really trying to say? I haven't been given enough info to say for certain, but I suspect some of it supposed to be the result of millenia of genetic tinkering.  Most human adventurers will be green card holders (top 20% of humans genetically), and probably have moderate bonuses themselves. So file that as something most citizens of the empire have. the bonus to DX is probably more meaningful -- but also likely to be subsumed into perfect balance

Extra arms. Oh, extra arms. Remember in Gurps to pay for effects, not fluff. the effect of an extra arm are the ability to perform multiple actions with it outside of combat, and bonuses, primarily grappling, inside of combat. So do Azuri have theses abilities? First of all, are those middle legs hands or are they foot manipulators? If they are hands do the creatures have the full strength of a human hand in each arm? Should they get +4 when grappling a human? Will they have full dexterity in all arms?

Swinging through the trees like a gibbon is incredibly hard on a limb. And when you have four of them... That's a lot of muscle. A biology like that is going to have individually weaker arms. Its going to have shorter legs as well -- look at pretty much any wild ape.

The creatures have four hands, and there is not way to argue these aren't full human manipulators -- unless I want to go with bad grip or something. But they aren't full human arms -- Azuri won't be grappling demons. So we take the limitation short. Yep, short. Short is the limitation that removes the advantages of grappling, despite the fact that the limb is just as long as the others. That means our extra arms are only worth [10] -- and that's probably a fair price.

The ability to both climb and walk is powerful. Its worth at least 5 from the brachiator advantage. Its also an ability that doesn't come 'free' -- creatures that are good climbers are slower on the ground, all things considered. I'm going to reduce ground move by 3 to a total of two -- and then I'm going to raise climbing move up by two to a total of three. Yep, they move faster brachiating than walking.

I object to giving an alien not designed wholly around a mental disadvantage much more than quirks. I'm going to drop curiosity to perk level, which gives us a nice round 5 quirks. That's a lot for a racial template, but it gives lots of hooks for the race.

I'm totally fine with racial status, that's social and doesn't strain my suspense of disbelief. Perfect balance is probably appropriate to the race, if a little broad -- It may be appropriate to limit it to tree's and other situations where the land can wrap around things that look like branches, but I think this is good enough. I could push farther, but I think this is at least a decent place to present the race. Its not taken all the way down to 0, but you have all the things you really want out of the template. Also, The ST score should probably be reduced, given that this is an ultra tech game. To something like a quirk. Also remember that Azuri tend to be higher point characters than humans -- but that's a game tendency resulting form social programs, not a hard and fast rule.

ST-1 [-10], -3 move [-15]
Advantages:   Racial Status 1 [5]; Extra Arms 2 (short -50%) [10], +2 climbing move [10], Brachiator [5], Perfect Balance [15]
Quirks:  Broad-Minded; Congenial; Playful; Responsive, inquisitive [-5].


We didn't get either race down all of the way. Part of this was that we really didn't add much in the way of extrapolation -- we mostly just toned down existing ideas. I personally find more life in the species now that I've tinkered with them a little bit. And now I feel that humanity has its strengths as well as weakness vs. other species.

I hope this helps both get you interested in the human destiny series, and gets you thinking about the way you build aliens. Happy world building!

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