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T5 Aliens: Wolves in VaccSuits or... not?

I know, the canon is far more sacrosanct than any one rules subsystem. So, it's all idle.

Having said that, I would ditch the zoomorphs. Seriously. They scream "1985" far more loudly than the underperforming computers.

Now, computers are easily upgraded. Aliens, not so much. What are proper aliens now, in 2007? Beats me. If anything, first cyberpunk and then nano-fi have tended to be indifferent to them.

I want to say, we need more sentient oceans (as in Solaris the weird book, not the crappy movie). But that's hardly enough.

Maybe just not replace them with anything. Make aliens really really rare and strange. No alien empires at all (exception: Hivers, because they're beyond cool).

Apart from that, I got nothin'.

My understanding is that ditching fundamental elements of the OTU is just not on the table.

After all there is so much more that is Space 1977 about Traveller than the poor Vargr - the lack of nanotech, cyberware, AI etc and it looks like T5 will still not have those - as well as the 2D universe, the worlds that are all magically multiples of 3.26 light years apart, the jumps that take one week, 56th century pseudo-feudalism etc.

Uplifted furry animals are as nothing in comparison.
In one of the introductory texts early in the T5 "playtest", Marc said something about the key concepts of the game. I can't remember the exact details but some of them sounded very at odds with what we've come to know as Traveller, IIRC one of them was that humans weren't a big part of the universe? I'm sure someone who has more info can chip in with the exact details but they had us scratching our heads quite a bit at the time.

But yeah, the fundamental problem with the setting is that it's dated (and that MT review that was linked to the other day also pointed this out too). Maybe it was relevant at the time, but nowadays scifi (and scifi fans) has largely moved on from clunkytech space empires and glorified furries. That and none of the aliens in Traveller are really "alien" at all, they're very much "humans in funny suits".

Addendum: I've read a lot of books lately where the aliens aren't there anymore, but their huge ultratech relics (hollow moons, acceleration gates, boobytraps, etc) or their leftover nanite killing machines are. Alasdair Reynolds in particular seems to be fond of that sort of thing. Techwise we've also had a lot of transhumanist scifi lately exploring things like uploaded intelligences and posthumans ("Cusp", by IIRC Michael Metzer? is an enormously entertaining romp of that ilk), which Traveller completely ignores. There are still some authors around who think that the future is going to be like the past but in space (most of it military-based, oddly enough), but the more... thoughtful scifi is really about the cutting edge.
Take the alien generation table do a few tweaks & cheats. Plunk your character's ship down a Farscape Wormhole that was created by the Regenerators (not, the Ancients) and away you will go. Same rules as the OTU but suddenly things go much weirder and wonderful. The basic tech that served them so well over there suddenly is archaic. Suddenly, the universe is your oyster again.
Well now kafka, to me that wouldn't be Traveller. If you're going to take the PCs and toss them into an alternate universe or a distant part of this one that has no connection to the OTU setting, then you're playing a different game.

That's why I've often advocated a reboot/reimagination of the OTU - have the same races (tweaked to be a bit more alien/interesting), the same setting (tweaked to have updated tech, working trade, similar ships, more realistic systems, similar history etc) and so on. It's still the Traveller setting, just...fixed.
It's the old problem... one of the strikes against scifi RPGs over against fantasy RPGs is that the latter's source material and hence the settings age so slowly. Lankhmar in 1985 and in 2007 are the same thing. New fantasy (sub)genres evolve all the time, but they don't invalidate older ones. A Game of Thrones, or even Perdido Street Station, doesn't make Conan look dated--not at the core.

We are not so fortunate.

You also have to think ahead... today, as opposed to ten years ago, cyberpunk is already barely tolerable any more. How long is the transhumanist thing going to last?

Is it possible to create/modify a scifi setting in such a way that it's specific enough to be exciting but generic enough to be modifiable? Probably not.

What about publishing several Traveller universes? One with wolves and people in banana republic uniforms, one with nano, one with next decade's flavor?

Greg Porter did something like that with his various EABA settings, most of which are future or near-future (and some of which are very cool, btw).
Wouldn't go so far as to say none of the aliens are really alien (how would we know anyway?) - Hivers are pretty bizarre as are some of the minor races like the Shriekers.

Also think that there's a lot to be said for the assmption that the aliens who humans will interact with most are those most compatible/comprehensible to humans and the really weird ones would be like Cherryh's Knnn or the gas giant dweller race in the Flandry books, who'd hardly have any basis for interaction as they can't share the same real estate.

And as for SF fans, many more of them buy Star Wars and Trek and B5 books with their 'humanoids of the week' than the cutting edge new SF you or I might prefer - and old SF like Heinlein or Asimov (and deliberately retro- new stuff from the likes of Weber and Ringo) is still pretty damn popular.

I suppose the real cutting of the Gordian knot would be to ditch any new milieu (which I don't think anyone really wants) and make T5 truly generic again and franchisable to other settings as well as the OTU.

Just write in some alternative FTL methods (as FFS1 did), options for all the missing hi-tech (again much of which was in FFS1) and then maybe it can become the system of choice for the Cherryverse or Flandry or B5.
The fundamental complaint seems to be that the aliens in the original CT were just people in furrysuits. So we throw them out and replace them with... what? Aliens that look weirder?
Wouldn't that just be people in rubber suits? Is it just the way they look that is annoying? If they looked more like the Predator from the movies would they be more acceptable?

There seems to be some thought that they are not "alien" enough. For the Vagar, this makes
perfect sense. Remember, their ancestors were terrestrial wolves. Their origins are tied in with the story of the ancients that manipulated may races.

As for the Aslani, I like them. It is a favorite topic of what if another species besides hominids developed intelligence first. They come form a planet much like the African plain on earth (savanna), and if the theory of evolution is correct, similar environments create life forms that are similar. So it is not improbable that one a planet like that you would have a creature that looks "something like" a terrestrial cat (remember, they are only something like lions). So what if that cat-like creature developed intelligence?

As to the cyber, nano-tech, et al. A lot of that can just be "assumed". Why have rules to cover
nanites when the rules for doing things just assume they are their? The repulcators in StarTrek are a prime example of this. For years, nobody bothered to ask how they worked. It was just... science fiction. Later, when the concept of nanites came up someone said, "Hey, that's how they do that!" Cybernetics can be handled much the same way. A person loses a limb or an eye, it's replaced with a cybernetic equivalent. Same functions and stats. It's even filled with EMP resistant nanites so that it heals just like the original would. Why bother weighing down the rules with them? They are what ancient gamers like myself refer to as "Chrome". The look real nice, but they do not enhance the performance of the car.
it's bad enough that traveller has five or six rule sets. now it's to have five or six settings too? imitate other settings? follow the latest fads? what will we call it? star wars lite? star trek wannabe? transhuman lame?

the CT setting strikes me as being particularly powerful in scope and potential, both for players and writers. 11,000 worlds over 3000 years and beyond! if that's not enough then maybe traveller itself isn't the issue.

as for the aliens not being alien enough, sounds like a referee problem. the aliens can be as alien as you want them to be - and I think that that's why they're not so alien.
The designers have stated in print that the established major races vary from fairly easy to understand and play (Vargr and Zhodani) through increasingly alien thought (Aslan) to the outright alien (Hivers and K'kree). The minor races have a similar gamut.

Changing the major players also changes the backstory, and very quickly it is no longer the same setting at all. The more "alien" you make your aliens, the harder they are to interact with, both for the players AND the Referee, and the less they will get used as a result. So what was the point in including them again? Colorful background? That's nice and all, but if they are present solely to be mouthpieces of the Referee and can never be in player hands, they may as well be rubber suit humans, which is what you wanted to avoid, right?

Uplifted species are old hat? I would disagree. The Vargr are right at home because their heritage is well known and ISN'T a snickering secret of the furry fans. If I want that I'll play Other Suns ("Oh look, horny fox people, horny otter people, horny cat people, and what, Crab people? I'm not going to ask.") or something even more "subtle" in its blatantcy.

As flykiller put it, the setting is powerful in scope and potential. The attention to history, and not just human history, is part of what makes it that way.
Traveller aliens may look like people in funny suits and may be stealing from all the Golden Age Science Fiction writers by putting Dogs, Cats and even Starfish in Space. But, where the Traveller system shows its strength is to provide these aliens with cultural & psychological motivations. Sure the Aslan are Samurai Cats, who is to say, that they have resemble the Samurai of yore/Ancient Japan. The Samurai archetype remains firmly embedded in postmodern Japan. Take today's corporate warriors and make them your Aslan or pick up L5R to throw your players for a loop (which takes cultures across the Orient and plunks them down in a single setting).
Aside from the cultural trappings of a particular species, I would say that if life was indeed out there (and I think it most certainly is) the subtleties of evolution, just basic formation of life forms, leaves room for potentially anything.

On our own planet, it has only been a recent discovery that life takes forms that were at one time thought impossible to exist, like the ecosystems around deep sea vents. Creatures that live with no sunlight and feed from bacteria? That is science fiction stuff made fact.

Genetically engineered dogmen? Just wait a few years. Samurai cats? Gods, I hope so. Intelligent Starfish that rule a vast government? Hell yes. Tree Kraken? You'd better believe it. The history, background and scope of Traveller makes all these things possible and more. I have a hunch the real universe does as well, and its a good hunch.
The universe doesn't care about peoples' hunches though

There's a hypothesis called the Rare Earth Hypothesis that suggests there's likely to be a lot of microbial life out there, but very little more advanced life, because the conditions required for multicellular/complex or even intelligent life are so much more restrictive. It's controversial, and there are points against it, but it makes a lot of sense to me - just from my own automated simulations (generating thousands of systems using rules derived from the latest planetary formation models) I've seen that even just the probability that you can get a habitable earthlike planet in the right orbit around a star without gas giants getting in the way (which is a rather basic limitation on complex life) is rather low.

re: Traveller, my problem with the races is that they're just too cliched. Uplifted Dogs aren't particularly interesting, the Noble Warrior race has been done to death, Hivers are physically different but socially dull (ooo, they manipulate! And... that's pretty much it. even the "tossing the larvae out to fend for themselves" thing is ripped from the Spartans). K'Kree are vaguely interesting if not somewhat unlikely that a bunch of herbivores would somehow wipe out every predator and go on a militant killing spree. I mean, it's not like the cows and sheep are going to rise up and kill us all (unless you believe Pink Floyd ;) ). Hell, you've even got your classic "aliens that are good at certain jobs" space opera type thing - the Bwaps are the bureaucrat race, for example.

The races in Traveller just fill me with a resounding "meh". Now, the ones in 2300AD on the other hand were just brilliant (I suspect Marc didn't have much of a hand in their creation) - the Xiang and the Klaxun were very interesting and unique (if inaccessible because of it), the Sung and the Pentapods were good alien intelliigences, and the Kafers are pretty unique too. If we could have more of that sort of thing and less of the cliched 'humans in suits' that would be great.
It's funny, to me one of the most interesting "races" in Traveller are the Vilani. Simply because you can't pinpoint their real-world prototype as easily as with the zoomorphs. The Zhodani are good too; they may be cliched, but they have RPing potential. Whereas Aslan Samurai, apart from the uplift issue, are psychological one-liners. You "get" them right away, which is clearly part of the point, but that's just it. They're like D&D Dwarves.

Speaking of which, this seems to be the larger issue. Should D&D 3.x have been an updated "Greyhawk D&D", an updated "Forgotten Realms D&D", or is it fine as is? We are having the same debate here.
I tend not to feature the alien races in games, for many of the reasons Malenfant gives, with the exception of Vargr and Droyne, which fill convenient stereotypes for me.

I also tend to prefer the alien races described in 2300AD.
Dave Nilsen did a pretty good defence of the "rubber suit" paradigm in Hivers & Ithklur. In synopsis, there is no point in trying to portray a "truly alien" alien since we are all human anyway.

IMO this extends to fiction, TV and film as much as RPG's. The Traveller races were all pretty good at the time and you can see their development from the simplistic cultural sketches initially given to the complex array of canon available today.

2300's aliens were designed by much of the same people responsible for Travellers, the Keiths, John Harshman, LKW, Frank Chadwick, Deb Ziegler, Joe Fugate, Gary Thomas etc. Specifically Deb Ziegler was responsible for the Xiang and the Keiths the Kafers. I can't remember exactly but I think Timothy Brown did the Klaxun though John Harshman may have had a hand. And Marc and Timothy Brown were watching over it all.
I agree uplifted dogs don't make for interesting reading/playing Mal. but it is there as part of the OTU. Don't like them, then don't use them.

Plenty of Traveller Universes have formed that did not give rat's ass to what went on in the OTU and I would still happily call them Traveller. Setting reasonable guidelines based upon current understanding of biology, astrophysics and all the other sciences that deserve a mention. Plus just plain stupid luck ie. who would thought a insectoid with a gifted intellect would swarm across the universe upsetting the natural balance...Science Fiction is filled handwaves, we just have stay focused on the reality of the universe in doing so. So, might I be so bold, to suggest that alien life abounds on habitable worlds, sentient life is restricted to one per Sector and anything that has reached Interstellar Levels of Tech would be 1 per Domain (usually only stretching a few parsec) and Interstellar polities can stay as they are, as they seem sufficiently spaced apart.

To get the root of the problem and the corrective is go to a generic Traveller Universe with the OTU remaining there as a side option.

Where you & I differ Mal. and correct me, if I am wrong, is that for you that would not be Traveller(tm), whereas, for me it is and always has been what Traveller is all about.
To get the root of the problem and the corrective is go to a generic Traveller Universe with the OTU remaining there as a side option.
I would suggest the opposite. putting together even a few worlds is labor-intensive, and most people will gravitate towards any established setting just to get going.
I am actually very fond of the Traveller races - and compared to the aliens thrown around in other RPGS I think they're exceptionally well put together.

Vargr - sentient dogs ? Yes. Simple idea - yes. Adequately explained - yes! Accessible to players - definitely. If I want to do something exotic I can play a Hiver/K'Kree/Virushi/minor race.

The Traveller Aliens have always been scalable - playing a Vargr or Aslan is, in my opinion, pretty straightforward - but that is because the materials have, compared with other games, been excellent. Compare the info a player has at this disposal playing an Aslan as opposed to a Wookie (and EVERYONE knows what a wookie is )

Player: Soooo I want to play a wookie.
GM; Great
Player: So what's the spiel ?
GM: Well, they're arboreal, but really tall and hairy and ... stuff
Player: So how do they feel about humans generally, or corelians - and how is my character likely to feel about the Mon Cal character we have ?

What about if someone wants to play one of Darth Maul's race ? ( I have no idea what they're called )

In terms of realism - do many players really want to play a talking tree, or a symbiotic creature, or even a Kafer ? Are these type of aliens not better suited as NPCs - which helps to maintain their allure.

Honestly, I think what the traveller aliens really need is some flashy new artwork - including some radical ship designs and some good fiction which would flesh out background and personality types ( compare the Vargr from CT module and those in V&V ). More specifically, look at the evolution of the Aslan through CT Alien Module 1 - through S&A - through the revelations in TD 17 ?

No, I think the reason why they may seem so basic is that we are so familiar with them at this stage - but I remember reading some Keith fiction ( In JTAS I think) about a human trader carrying K'Kree delegates and it made the centaurs really interesting (and quite intimidating).

As usual, other posters opinions will vary.