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A First Look At ... Frostbyte Books' M-Space, Part 5


Alex Greene

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This week, we will be looking at the aliens of M-Space.

I'm not going to lie; you're going to have to take notes. This chapter deals with the basic biological blueprints for creating real, strange aliens, rather than the bumpy-headed humanoids you know and love from TV and movie science fiction (or fantasy, for that matter).

There's a lot to take in. What is your world's biosphere like? How and where did your alien species evolve, and why did they evolve? What makes your designed species unique? And how do these rules translate into being able to use the alien creation rules as chargen rules, the same way as Mythras just presents you with the tweaks for how to chargen an individual from a creature template?

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Strangeness

The first universal factor is Strangeness. This imposes a penalty to interactions with members of that species. The higher the Strangeness, the harder it gets to interact with the aliens meaningfully.

Strangeness: 1-100, where 1 represents Earth-like, 50 Alien and 100 Really strange. The Strangeness parameter adds a good overall picture when interpreting the dice rolls in the creation process. A low Strangeness value will indicate small variations on concepts well-known on Ear th (physiology, behaviour, culture). A high value means you should interpret many of the results as differing wildly from what’s common here.

A later sidebar points out that it also affects First Aid and Medicine rolls, using alien technology and so on.

Biosphere

The next part of this chapter can appear daunting to the first time GM or player. Some might wonder whether it is necessary to generate the alien species' homeworld's biosphere, biodiversity, and other details. The greater the Strangeness, however, the weirder the biosphere. "My ancestors spawned in another ocean than yours," and so on.

An example of Strangeness acting as a barrier to communication is Ursula K Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, and the Gethen. Another example of high Strangeness was Ted Chiang's "Story Of Your Life" which became the movie Arrival (2016). Strangeness, and the overcoming of it, was the theme of the story.

Yet other authors such as N K Jemisin and Octavia Butler have approached alien contact in their own stories.

The section details things such as the rough size of mature alien individuals, their Frame (endoskeleton, exoskeleton, or squidgy), their Symmetry, Limbs, Segmentation, and classifications such as Grazer, Pouncer or Trapper. Next are Habitat, Advantages, Disadvantages, Life Span, Communications, Natural Weapons, and then on to Characteristics.

There's a section on how the aliens appear, and the difference between low-powered and high-powered aliens.

Tech levels can be determined by average species INT. It takes a minimum level of INT to sustain a species' average Tech Level. 

Next to follow is Cultures, and the range of cultures available to the species; Law Level, Tech Level, cultural values, such as beliefs, taboos and so on; conflicts; population density; and a host of other details. This chapter is, at the very least, exhaustive. Seriously, it covers so much - right down to little things such as the aliens' foreign policy, and individual alien characters' Passions.

It doesn't go as far as asking what cutlery they use and whether they pass the port to the left or the right, but the alien creation chapter leaves very little else out.

My recommendation is to go to the part which describes the aliens' physical forms first - size, shape, behaviours - then characteristic ranges, INT range, corresponding TL. Leave much of the rest to later episodes, where you can run the equivalent of Amok TIme and Journey To Babel or similar Star Trek episodes.

Or something out of Stargate SG-1Farscape and so on.

TL;DR: You don't need all of this if you just want the basics, like creating a psionic species which looks like sea urchins on pointy little legs, or a species of generic bumpy headed humanoids who speak perfect English but who are green skinned or have cybernetics and so on.

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Worldbuilding

Here's where a lot of attention tends to focus, next to the ships and starship combat, and the physical combat between characters.

Anyone who played Traveller will know how much fun it is to create solar systems. It's almost as much fun as designing starships, or playing the trade game, or designing alien species, or wait ...

Okay, alien species building is a subgame in and of itself. Use the Worldbuilding chapter first to design your systems, and then conjure your biospheres and dominant sentient species. You do need your imagination. A lot of imagination.

And perhaps a lot of borrowing from your library of SF books. Do you want a planet of all Odd Johns? A world which was successfully taken over by the species which chose Earth in John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos? Do you want a planet which is tearing itself apart because they have discovered a lichen which yields an immortality serum which only works on one marginalised segment of society, but which kills the affluent? Here's where you come in.

If you're familiar with Traveller worldbuilding, you will find the process familiar. You begin with the star or stars in the system, then a number of planets. One of those worlds really should be in the habitable zone if it is to be suitable for native life, and for humanoid characters to be able to live on the surface of the world.

Again, you can design your worlds' size, atmosphere, hydrographic percentage, and so on, just as if you were going through this process with Traveller.

The next part is mapping out the star systems. You can use the Traveller system of subsector and sector hex grids, or find your own system. Hex grid maps are given in this core rulebook (as well as Odd Soot), and the short chapter ends with blank sheets for hex grids and systems, as well as a filled example.

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Wow

The information in both these chapters is pretty dense. First timers might find it difficult to get through. M-Space really needs some examples of species creation to show the readers how it's all done.

Let's start with the Pelacur, who are a humanoid species.

Strangeness: Let's make this 20%. They are a little bit weird, but generally they look and act kind of like humans.

Biosphere: Their world is a garden world, with a broad range of biomes, as diverse as old Terra. Maybe a little more so. More exotic jungles, not so many deserts. Mountains, rainforests, temperate inhabited regions. A great diversity of different Pelacur physical types.

Frame and Symmetry: Endoskeletal, bipedal, bilateral symmetry.

Classification: Omnivore Gatherer.

Habitat: Like humans, these can be found everywhere.

Advantages: Enhanced Senses (smell, taste, touch), Psionic, Poison (see below), Enhanced Charisma (see below)

Disadvantages: Eggs, Hibernation

Poison: Pelacur secrete a pheromone which befuddles most other species, increasing oxytocin, dopamine, and phenylethylamine levels. It makes most humanoid aliens become dopey in love with them.

Enhanced Charisma: As for 95-00, Intelligence or High Intelligence, but for CHA.

Appearance: They look roughly like this.

Pelacur.png.206a729c808de59401415bf390a1bd8d.pngProteus.png.0227aaa01d593378d2b8cca092ae90db.png

 

These are the clearest pics I could get of Proteus, the Homo eximia antagonist of Bryan Talbot's graphic novel The Legend of Luther Arkwright. The Pelacur looked like this before The Legend of Luther Arkwright ever came to being.

Sexes: Pelacur only really have the one gender. Binary genders confuse them, but they have adapted to the binary species from other worlds in the centuries they have been starfaring.

Arts: Pelacur appreciation for art is as profound as that of humans. They adopt human styles and art, though they retain their own music and poetry.

Behaviour: In Harmony, Social (small groups).

Communication: Scent, Body Language, Language, Telepathy.

Characteristics: Physically, slightly higher than human average CON; high POW; very high CHA.

Appearance: Naturally hairless except for eyebrows, eyelashes. Slightly translucent skin; when irritated, you can see blood in individual capillaries in the face and body. Larger eyes in proportion to the head. Large irises, smaller pupils but more room for expansion (can see better in low light conditions).

Tech Level: Actually higher than you would imagine. Pelacur do not have ships of their own. They travel on other species' ships, humans in particular. What is generally not known is that they invented their own FTL drives independently, but abandoned their own FTL in favour of becoming travellers and wanderers in other species' vessels.

If pressed, they could resume shipbuilding - and their vessels would exceed the best TL humans could ever offer. Their homeworld is a TL 17 paradise, but no humans have ever been permitted to learn of its location, let alone visit.

Technology Areas include Chemistry, Communication, Economics, Medicine, and an Unusual Technology (advanced teleportation capable of operating over thousands of light years).

Details of their homeworld remain unknown, but Pelacur colonies are terraformed paradises, with vast green spaces growing between elegant, labyrinthine arcologies.

Food: They can eat what humans eat, but once in a while they require a dietary supplement - a pill, taken monthly. Any human who takes that pill dies.

Lifespan: Nobody has ever seen a Pelacur die of old age. Nobody even knows if Pelacur age at all. Perhaps it's those damned pills they take ...

 

So that's it for the Alien Creation and Worldbuilding chapters. Next week, we look at Circles and Psionics - oh, and I'll be taking a sneak peek at the Circles rules for Odd Soot, with a promise to give them a much greater, in depth look when I get to that rulebook (hopefully, about the time of the release of the first Odd Soot campaign book, due out soon ...)

Edited by Alex Greene

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A very good way to make M-Space seem less dense is to first read the Traveller 5.10 books.  After them, anything else will seem like a breeze to read and grok.  I do not say that to put T5.10 down.  I happen to like those rules.  I also like M-Space as a more manageable set of rules for those who are not wanting to devote lots of time to read, digest, and use Mr. Miller's latest incarnation of Traveller.  I am glad that there are so many different rules sets for the myriad of personal preferences.

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