Designing Aliens

Jim Vassilakos (jimv@uia.net / jimvassila@aol.com)

Prior Literature
There have been numerous books and articles published about aliens and alien design. Among the books, several RPGs come to mind: Star Trek, Star Wars, and Traveller among others. These each have numerous alien compendiums. There was also Alan Frank's Galactic Aliens, the Spacefarers Guides to Alien Monsters and Alien Races, Patrick Huyghe's Field Guide to Extraterrestirals, and Dickinson's and Schaller's Extraterrestrials. These, of course, are all compendiums of imagined creatures. When it comes to alien design, other books spring to mind: Schmidt's Aliens and Alien Societies as well as Pickover's The Science of Aliens, Michael White's Life Out There, and Cohen's and Stewart's What Does a Martian Look Like? to name only a few. Likewise, there have been several articles in the RPG magazine literature discussing alien design. Here's a heavily pruned and edited list that my little RPG magazine database program (still a work in progress) just spit out: Ares #2: alien life forms: speculation on extraterrestrial creatures Ares #16: creating alien races for traveller Dragon #51: make your own aliens (traveller) Dragon #58: traveller alien generation Dragon #123: designing aliens for star frontiers Judges Guild Journal #15: planning ecology (monster/alien creature design) Nuts & Bolts #12: ahh... those aliens (comments on designing alien races) Omni 10/92: how to build an alien (designing aliens & alien cultures) Shred #2: aliens (random tables for alien design) Troll #2: non-humanoid alien design (soapbox, gygax) Valkyrie #22: babylon 5's real ancients: incorporating powerful aliens into sfrpgs; dark they were, and kind of petty: godlike aliens in sf & gaming; would you let an orc babysit? (thoughts on aliens & speciesism) VIP of Gaming #1: alien races & how to identify them (alien design, sf-rpgs)

case, the tables are too long to reproduce here, but if anyone wants a copy of the program, just let me know. In the meantime, I'll have the program draw up one random alien just to give you a feel for how it works and how I would try to interpret the results.1 Possible Racial Names: Dallpen, Brakenholm, Metellus Homeworld Gravity: High Natural Habitat: Jungle Size: Tiny Basic Design: Bilateral Legs (locomotional appendages): 2 Leg/Foot Structure: Unguligrade (Walks on toes supported by pad like elephant or rhino) Arms (manipulatory appendages): 2 Arm Joints: 2 (shoulder/elbow) Fingers (manipulatory digits): 7 Wings: None Tail: No Skin texture: Smooth Skin Color: White Skin Patterns: None (solid) Number of Horns: 0 Number of Eyes: 2 (short visual angle but good depth perception) Eye stalks: No Visual Sensitivity: Infrared Number of Ears: 1 Audio Sensitivity: Sharp (able to hear faint sounds) Smell/Taste: Excellent Poisonous Sting: No Diet: Carnivore Sexes/Castes: 2 (f/m, males rare, each is owned by a group of females) Male Genitalia: External Birth: Live birth Liter Size: Small (1-3) Feeding of Young: Milk glands on mother Language: Vocal (similar to human speech patterns) Cybernetics: Uncommon (up to minor accessories such as voice-comms) Society: Restricted Monarchy Control: Moderate Status/Power: Slave race (captive associate, powerless, fully controlled) Commonality Outside Home Territory: Very rare Friendliness: Conservative (business-like but impatient) Demeanor: Agreeable (ultra-polite, will rarely speak openly/honestly) Specialty: Starships Recent Event: Tournament

Random Aliens
Several years ago, in preparation for further work on the Ragamuffin project, I wrote a program called Rand, a random stuff generator for MS-DOS, and as part of this program I included some tables for random alien generation. Jaron Martin helped to flesh these out, and so this section of the program essentially became a collaborative effort which we eventually test-drove, generating several aliens in the process. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a problem in that the program often produced strange results, results so strange, in fact, that Jaron finally decided (rightly in my opinion) that this really wasn't a very good method for alien design, although it could help in terms of brainstorming. In any

Initial Thoughts
1

Rand actually has two separate sets of tables for this task. I'm using the first set, as the other one sometimes crashes the program for some reason.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that the program says they're tiny, but it also has them walking on padded toes, usually a feature of heavy animals. Granted, their world's gravity is high, and being descended from jungle inhabitants, perhaps their padded toes are a defensive mechanism against attacks from poisonous plants and smaller jungle critters. Secondly, the program has them building starships for which they'd presumably need either large brains or the cybernetic enhancements to make due with small ones. The only other thing I can imagine is that their brains are the work of design rather than evolution, and hence perhaps can pack more raw intellect into less volume. Assuming this to be the case, we're looking a product of genetic manipulation. Thirdly, I sort of have a problem with the way these guys look. At least structurally speaking, they look a lot like we do. It is not too often that the program generates a creature with two arms, two legs, two arm joints, and two eyes, so I'm afraid that you're not going to get a feel for the weirdness that usually results. Nonetheless, I'm going to roll with it and see what happens. Fourth, there seems to be a potential for joining some of the physical, psychological and social attributes into an interesting synthesis, a sort of nexus that can give this species a story by which they might be better understood. This is something I look for every time I generate a random alien, so I'm pleased to see it here. I'm looking mainly at the fact that the females seem to run the show, and also at the excellent sense of smell. Creatures with such an excellent sense of smell tend to be highly territorial, or, at least, the dominant gender (usually the male) is this way. Yet these guys are apparently psychologically agreeable. In short, they seem to be anything but territorial. Proceeding into the social dimension, they're also a slave race. Given that we're already assuming some degree of genetic manipulation, why not also assume that their psychology and, in fact, their whole society has been manipulated as well? Perhaps, by carefully selecting which males are allowed to breed, the race has been psychologically conditioned away from territoriality and confrontation and toward a demeanor highly amenable to subjugation. In this way, they might be slaves who prefer slavery to such an extent that they consider their masters to be their best friends in the universe. A fifth and final thought, before I begin this travesty. There's an alien species on pages 86-87 of Patrick Huyghe's Field Guide to Extraterrestrials which is based on a 1951 encounter by Illinois resident Harrison Bailey. Bailey, a steelworker at the time, purported years later to have encountered a number of short, walking amphibians who briefly took him captive. Because the program has generated this guys to be short, basically humanlike in structural design, and descended from a jungle environment, it seems to me that I might be able to draw a bit from this supposed encounter, although I'll have to change the color of their skin from solid white to brown and striped if I want to stay consistent to Bailey's description of them.

Brakenholm is a large, terrestrial world in the Metellus system. It is the homeworld of the Dallpen, a small humanoid species which fell under control of the Hafaru during their territorial expansion. Physical Characteristics: The Dallpen are fairly small, only around eighteen inches (45cm) on average. Normally, such a small species would never have developed intelligence, so their genetic manipulation by the Old Ones, even at first glance, is most obvious. Humans find them somewhat "froglike" in apperance, their bellies tan, dark brown mottled stripes covering the back and limbs. Structurally, they are very similar to humans, being consistent with the sorts of creatures the Old Ones preferred to uplift: Two arms, two legs, two eyes. Their feet, however, despite initial Solian descriptions of the species dating as far back as the 1950s, are heavily padded, allowing them to sprint as well as aiding them in jumping from trees. Likewise, their seven-fingered hands are idea of grasping tree branches or manipulating objects in their natural jungle environment. Natural Senses: Bred to be starship engineers, their vision extends naturally into the infrared wavelengths so that they can easily discern temperature fluctuations, a sure sign of impending power leaks and other containment breaches. Likewise, instead of having two or more ears, a common feature of many naturally evolved species, they have only one, a finely-tuned subdermal ear in the area of their forehead which they often press to various parts of mechanical systems in order to aid in diagnostics. As for their sense of smell, that is handled by their long snake-like tongue, which can discern scent so well that they can identify individuals by smell alone and can often tell which among them has recently been in a particular area. Society: The Dallpen are matriarchal, using chemistry to ensure that some 99% of all births are female. The remaining males are kept solely for their breeding potential, and most of these are housed at facilities controlled by the Queen Mother. This queen descends by blood lineage from the original queen crowned during the time of the Emancipation when the males of the species were nearly all killed through targeted biological warfare. Although originally highly warlike, the Dallpen have since been bred to be more cooperative, a genetic conditioning program that the Hafaru have continued into the present day. Interspecies Relations: The Hafaru claim the Dallpen are a free species and a close friend of the Hafaru race, yet the Dallpen are in reality, for all practical purposes, a slaves of the Hafaru. Their genetic and psychological programming has conditioned them to defer to their Hafaru masters in all matters. Noting this fact, the Coalition Assembly has refused to offer them a seat, regarding them as merely an arm of the Hafaru. However, there are said to be some Dallpen who have somehow broken free of Hafaru control, although such members of the race are certainly a minuscule minority and likely live in fear of being discovered. Needless to say, the Dallpen often serve on Hafaru

Preliminary Write-Up - The Dallpen

starships as engineers, and they, of course, also build ships for the Hafaru fleet. Also, on a regular basis, they hold a tournament of starship design, where the best design will usually go into production. In this way, the Dallpen continue to stay focused on what they do best.

Afterthoughts:
Obviously, I didn't touch on all the points of Rand's output. This write-up could (and probably eventually will) be expanded to cover the Dallpen is a more comprehensive way. Likewise, the Huyghe book mentions their control over a species of small bugs. I'd imagine these bugs might be useful for making repairs in very tight areas. In any case, I think this gives enough material to make the alien usable while at the same time leaving enough loose strings that later expansion is, I think, almost inevitable. All in all, I still think the program still has possibilities. Jaron's main problem with it is that, just like the planetary generation system for Traveller, it generate too many inconsistencies which either have to be fixed or somehow explained. In this particular example, I think I was able to explain away the most obvious inconsistencies, but it's not always so easy. If I were to rewrite the tables, I'd try to do a better job, but as it currently stands, I think the program still has value as a brainstorming device. In any case, it can do more than just generate random aliens, so if any of you would like a copy, just drop me an email.

Comments on A&E #361:
Myles Corcoran: re Great Orc Gods write-up: Hilarious  re AIs & Sub-Personalities: People are known to talk to themselves from time to time, and it's not always considered crazy. I wonder to what extent this has been studied.2 There is also the argument that we humans are not single personalities but rather amalgamations of multiple personalities which hopefully fit and work well together. But not always. For instance, if you've ever experienced a period of indecision, perhaps you might have argued with yourself over what to do. Would this be considered abnormal or healthy? I tend to think that such behavior is evolutionarily valuable and that self-analysis (and wisdom) requires the ability to at least try to step outside oneself. Hence, creating (wise) AIs might necessitate this form of design, perhaps contributing to the problem of particularly sophisticated AIs going nuts for various and obscure technical-psychological reasons. Just some thoughts to add to the discussion. Michael Cule: re Darth Vader's theme song played by the audience via kazoos: Ha! I wish I could have seen that. Robert Dushay: re Birthrate and Welfare: I found interesting your points on education, unsupervised time, lack of employment prospects, and lack of alternative entertainment. As you will note in my comments to you in issue #360, I brought up not merely retirement security but also education and female empowerment, so I'm not sure that your query, "Still willing to argue that economic
2

I don't imagine it would be particularly easy to do.

incentives trump all?" is necessarily a fair one. You seem to have missed part of what I was saying. Also, you make the point that poorer people in all societies tend to have more children than rich people regardless of access to welfare. More, yes, but to what extent? I still think that in poorer countries, having children is viewed as a critical economic investment. Not so in modern western societies. Hence, the reasons you mentioned may tend to dominate in our own society, whereas I'd imagine that the reasons that I mentioned may tend to dominate in the third world. Regardless of all this splicing of the issue, it seems to me that the central point is that poverty begets people begets poverty, not only for the reasons I mentioned but also for the other reasons which you have mentioned, and, in any case, that was my point, at least as far as I recall. So I think that regardless of our slightly differing analyses as to the reasons, we both seem to agree on this central conclusion. Of course, we are still left with the presently unanswered question over what to do about it, which is the real bugaboo in my opinion. I'm presently inclined to think that we won't do anything until it's too late, at which point we'll start flailing clumsily and probably ineffectually at the problem until Mother Nature steps in to solve it on her own terms. I'm not especially looking forward to that. re Setting Information and Prediction vs. Planning: You make good points here. It just seems to me that everyone has a different idea of what the near future is going to be like (at least insofar as there are those of us who actually think about it), so I wanted to spit out my own cantankerous notions and then round up a few comments and ideas in response, sort of taking an informal focus group poll as it were, being that I have such a high regard for the active membership. However, for some reason you seem to have taken some offense to my having done this (see below). re Ragamuffin Fleet and fabrication technology: Yes, it'll require fuel, but keep in mind that fusion reactors on Traveller starships (even small ones) can crank out enough energy to power whole nations, at least if you run the numbers in terms of the amount of hydrogen being fused. I'm also positing such reactors in Ragamuffin, so energy will not be the limiting factor, not at least in terms of fabrication technology. I'm thinking instead that the limiting factors will be more technical in nature. Perhaps fabricators will tend to become error-prone, and perhaps creating new ones will be very difficult due to their inherent complexity. I'm not really sure how I'm going to handle this just yet. re the Fairness or Unfairness of asking people for comments and ideas (or as you term it: "Asking us to do your future planning"): You write, quite diplomatically, that your intent was to label the request, not the requestor, yet I'm still left with the impression that what you're saying is that I shouldn't ask people for comments and ideas. Is this true, or am I misreading what you're saying? I guess part of my problem is that I'm not sure exactly what I'd said that you apparently find inconsiderate, and I'd like to know what it was so that I can try to watch myself in the future. To recap: you wrote in A&E #359, "I think it's, well, inconsiderate, to ask us to do your future history work for you...." But I'm still not sure what exactly it was that I'd

said. Just as a guess as to what it might have been, at the end of my Prognostications essay of A&E #356 I wrote, "In short, there's a lot more work to be done, so please send me your comments and ideas." Is this the sentence that you find inconsiderate? Are you saying that I shouldn't ask others to toss their ideas into forums such as this in order to generate discussion on a particular topic? Likewise, on the last page of my zine in A&E #358, I fired off a wide range of questions pertinent to an examination of the near future, and although I didn't ask for anyone to answer them, I did mean to show just how extensive and detailed the discussion could have become. Is this what you are terming "Asking us to do your future planning", this list of discussion questions? I'm really trying to understand your point of view on this, but I also want you to understand mine. As Louis stated to Michael in A&E #361, "The difficulty with designing futuristic role playing campaigns on Earth is that one has to prognosticate on our planet's humble expectations. This is nearly impossible without in-depth analysis of our current political problems." And, at least to my way of thinking, any thorough analysis has to include discussion with people of dissimilar views. Of course, due mainly to this two-page limit on politics, I've withdrawn the topic. Nonetheless, I'd like you to try to understand that I was certainly not attempting to be inconsiderate but was rather merely trying to engage some discussion for purposes of this analysis. Perhaps, however, instead of straight-out asking for ideas in A&E #356, perhaps I should have said something like, "...there's a lot more work to be done, so if you'd like to comment or send any thoughts, please feel free to do so." In that way, I could have opened discussion without seeming to be pushy about it, which I'm guessing is probably what you perceived. If so, my apologies, and thanks for bringing your perceptions to my attention. It's quite possible you are not alone, and I'll be the first to admit, I can sometimes be the proverbial bull in the china shop. In any case, please let me know if you think this would have been an acceptable way to open the discussion or if it was something else I'd said that you found particularly inconsiderate. Lee Gold: re the natural Tragasi environment during evolution: I'd imagine they were somewhat like beavers and otters, dwelling in rivers and in the shallows of the coastline and building increasingly sophisticated dams, lodges, and canals. re AIs and Asperger's Syndrome: Asperger's is a mental condition probably brought on via a bad gene. Some call it pre-autism, and it may be that there are a larger number of such people than we realize. In fact, I'd imagine that there may even be a such a thing as pre-Asperger's that may be prevalent to the point that we don't even think of it as being a genetic defect but rather just a personality quirk (sort of the "nerdly" stereotype). So would AIs be like this? Perhaps, but not for genetic reasons. I mean, their minds are designed, perhaps even evolved to an extent, but not in the biologically genetic sense of the term, so I'd imagine that they'd have other sorts of conditions, one's which we can scarcely imagine at the present time. Nonetheless, bringing forth the whole catalog of known human mental

defects might be a good place to kick-off a brainstorming session. re Your assumptions regarding a freedom-based worldview: I have to agree with your conclusions. I find myself falling toward the opinion that there should be universal due process as well as universal passports. Of course, the former should have led me to vote against Bush, and the latter would create a world I can scarcely imagine. Although it would likely become an intensely political discussion, it might be useful to ponder the problems and repercussions of universal freedom of travel, but before I begin, I'll invoke the dubious disclaimers of "you started it" as well as "I'm only discussing it in the context of a near-future setting."  I'd imagine that universal travel would relieve a great deal of social and economic pressure on poor, corrupt, and despotic societies, but, unfortunately, that pressure wouldn't simply disappear. It would be transferred to other societies. The resulting transfer of populations would likely create massive low-wage workforces in richer societies (helping the rich people already there to become even richer), but at the same time, the crush of people would likely overwhelm the social safety nets, causing them to fray or even break. The result would be increasing crime in all its various forms as well as the subjugation and misery of the masses at the bottom of the social pyramid. Rich societies would tend to become even more stratified and more corrupt, leading either toward Marxist revolution or the slower and less dramatic revolution of the encroaching welfare state. In either case, such formerly rich societies could end up looking something like the societies that the new immigrants were attempting to escape from in the first place. Having said that, however, it's important to remember that while this outcome may be bad, not relieving the social and economic pressure on failing states could prove even worse. My point here is that states don't fail in a vacuum. There are consequences. For example, if state X is failing, it's leadership may decide to provoke a conflict with state Y in order to stir up some nationalism. After all, if they can blame their problems on the Y's, then revolt will be less likely. Such a conflict may break out into an open war, each side supported by it's respective superpower, and such conflicts could potentially boil into a direct war between the superpowers. But even if this doesn't happen, state Z might look at the conflict and say, "Gee, I seem to be living in a dangerous neighborhood. Maybe I should invest in some nukes or some other sort of WMD." And when it becomes their turn to fail, what then happens to those weapons? Hence, there really doesn't seem to be any easy solution. The very policies that I would tend to find myself advocating on moral grounds would likely result in outcomes at home which I would prefer to avoid. Yet, the status quo doesn't seem to be working very well either. Once again, I find myself befuddled by the complexities and the seeming hopelessness of Our situation. re AIs and self-motivation: You raise some interesting points here. They make me wonder if self-motive is an essential component of intelligence. re PC Childhood Scenes and drawing up guidelines for a GM to create them: Yes, this promises to be a bear, but I'll

see if I can give it a shot. My initial thoughts are to design some random tables akin to the Central Casting books, but to make them setting specific, and then use them to generate a list of scenes which will then need to be played out. I'd also like add to this a list of setting-specific terms for the players to learn. Each scene could introduce one or two of these terms so that the player could get a better feel for the setting. All of this, however, seems to me like a rather daunting and convoluted project. Nonetheless, it also seems to me that it's worth attempting, at least on a small scale. ryct Myles Corcoran re "a future of plenty" and plenty of some things resulting in scarcity of others: In Traveller, for example, it might be fairly cheap to take a shuttle to the Moon. From there you could see the stars as never before. In Star Trek you could perhaps have yourself "beamed" there in a few seconds, hence avoiding all the traffic congestion. Likewise, to get a little more down to Earth, perhaps it might not be too long before somebody sets up virtual message boards for neighborhoods as a way of getting people to build community relationships and improve their neighborhoods, hence solving the somewhat ironic problem of social alienation in high density urban environments. In fact, this is something that you and Barry could start today if you wanted to do it, whereas just ten years ago it would have been less easy. In short, there are potential technological solutions to all the problems you mentioned. ryct Jonathan Nicholas re space battles: What is the Wes Ives system you mentioned? Overall, I like your ideas. Peter Hilbreth: re "Go to town!" and your Int-3 PC's reaction: Classic. Spike Jones: re Art in Zines: I've stopped using clipart simply due to sheer laziness as well as the negative comments and, perhaps most importantly, because it caused formatting problems due to Lee and I using different printer drivers (this apparently being a major failing with respect to the transportability of MS-Word documents). I still think A&E would be a better looking APA if people would include artwork or some form of graphics in their zines, however, I appear to be in the minority with respect to this subject. re Battlestations: It sounds like an interesting game. I'll have to go snooping around for a copy. re Medical Marijuana: Yes, I agree. It's really bizarre that the so called conservatives have apparently abandoned states rights. I want to read Scalia's opinion so I can figure out what drugs he's been taking. Joshua Kronengold: re my presupposed "genetic view of poverty": Please see my comments to Robert Dushay in A&E #360 as well as in this issue. re my future of plenty in A&E #356 being "fraught with drug war propaganda": I see how you could get that impression, however, I'm not entirely sure what I can do about it. I mean, I do have a certain view of human nature, and it's not at all favorable. I'll admit, I have been pleasantly surprised from time to time. That's one of the benefits of being a pessimist, I suppose. However, by and large, I do tend to view a future of plenty as allowing

various social ills to continue to propagate and become even worse than they are now. Rich societies, in my view, tend to have a seedy underside, a festering of human vice, and the richer the society, I would think, the greater this festering will become. Although, of course, I don't have statistics to back up this claim, so perhaps I'm mistaken. Perhaps my views are warped by where I happen to live. I mean, just a little while ago, I saw a guy smoking his bong behind the local liquor store. He was right there in broad daylight for anybody walking by to see. I wasn't offended or anything. I've stated that I think drugs should be legalized. But to ignore the repercussions of legalization or to pretend that human vice won't expand when given the opportunity to do so is, at least to my mind, a somewhat precarious way of thinking. I mean, it seems to me that you can't just assume that vice will magically control itself. Either there's something controlling it, or it's out there having a field day. And, at least speaking politically for a moment, the first question, I think, isn't what should be done to curtail vice, but rather how much vice are we as a society willing to tolerate whether in the name of freedom, privacy or practicality, because no matter what we do, vice will always be with us. It is, at least to my mind, an inescapable part of who we are, and I also think that our society's views on this are evolving so quickly with each succeeding generation that we seem to be sliding down a precarious slope, and I can only wonder where it will end. Moving on, you make the claim that more people leads to more intelligent people leads to greater technological advancement leads to technology saving us, or at least saving our society. I very much hope that you're right, but, of course, I'm rather far from being convinced of it. And even if your view ultimately proves to be correct, as I hope, there's still the question of the interim…what will happen in between now and then, and will there be a collapse before the reconstruction? In any case, as Robert Dushay has stated on more than one occasion, perhaps it's really up to the author, as trying to predict the future with any degree of accuracy is clearly beyond the human intellect. Nonetheless, it's sort of fun to try, and I do appreciate your comments. re "Why?" wrt telling the players about another adventuring party and their exploits, even though the information may not directly effect them: Because it helps flesh out the campaign setting. Many times in a game, I tend to wonder to what extent my character or party stands out or how we are viewed by the society. Are we heroes to be admired or tomb-looters to be shunned? And in many games, the GM may not really have thought about this question in any detail. If adventuring parties are common enough that everyone knows what they are, then we'd hear stories about other adventuring parties, and although Spike just spent several pages describing a fame system for Eternal Rome, it seems to me that knowing who's who among adventuring parties would add even more to a campaign than the inclusion of such a system. Likewise, hearing about the antics of other parties would give the players ideas of what's possible in the world and what the likely repercussions may be for various choices they might make. The stories of other adventurers, both past and present, could form a sort of

social tapestry upon which a party could make its own mark and thus make themselves known to the very characters they've heard stories about. In this way, when the GM introduces an NPC, it wouldn't just be some anonymous hooded figure sitting in a dark corner of the local watering hole. It might instead go something like this: GM: You see a blond-bearded man in the corner, the symbol of "The Wretched Jacks" upon his buckler. Player: Wait, wasn't it the Jacks who slayed a pair of green dragons last summer? GM: So you've heard. Player: I'll approach him. "Pardon the intrusion, but I couldn't help noticing your buckler. Are you one of the Jacks?" GM: "I used to be," he replies somewhat bitterly. Player: "Used to be?" GM: "The Jacks are no longer, such decree the winds of fate." Player: "I'm see. Would you like to sit down with my friends. We're also in 'the business'. The Black Eagles." GM: "The Black Eagles," he muses. (Rolling some dice.) His eyes light up for a moment, "Weren't you the party that bungled the rescue of the princess Idora?" Player: "Not so badly that we're 'no longer'…." In reading your points against introducing such setting material, what I'm seeing is you arguing against introducing anything that the GM doesn't intend to use, as such material would just detract from the campaign's focus, which is, after all, the player-characters. However, it seems to me to be in the nature of roleplaying games that GMs don't always know what background material they intend to use. After all, good campaigns tend not to be so highly plotted that a GM can plan ten sessions in advance and, like a script-writer, introduce only those characters and background devices which will become important later. Hence, at least for my own campaigns, I try to introduce a lot of background. Only some of it will end up getting used, but the more that's out there, the more that I and the players have to draw from. I think this is probably a major reason why I enjoy long-term campaigns as opposed to short campaigns and one-shots, because long-term campaigns tend to have a wealth of background material which acts as plot-propellant to keep things interesting. re Medical Marijuana: See my comment to Spike. Louis La Mancusa: Thank you very much for Collapse: How Human Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. It seems quite the coincidence that I was planning on buying this book when it suddenly showed up in the mail. Very thoughtful of you.  I have begun reading it, and my initial impression is that it will be even better than I'd thought. Jared Diamond is an excellent writer, and he also seems to keep an open mind with respect to his subject matter, forming his opinions carefully and with great deliberation. In short, this promises to be an excellent read. re Horse Intelligence: Very interesting. I'd like to see more articles of this type written by people who know what they're talking about. It seems to me that one of the problems in writing an RPG is that for the vast majority of

subjects one must inevitably encompass, the designer has no choice but to approach them from a position of relative ignorance. It might be interesting to have an igtheme which prompts the members to write briefly about a subject they know from long-time, first hand experience, though, of course, while such essays might provide source material for fleshing out a variety of RPGs, such a topic is hardly RPGspecific. Funny how RPG design and real life seem to intersect in so many potential ways. Lisa Padol: You talked about tweaking adventures in your comments to Lee, and Joshua mentioned in his comments to Lee that you do a good job with this. I, personally, do a lousy job to the point that I tend to not even use published adventures anymore. In any case, I'm wondering if you have any tips and tricks as to the art of tweaking adventures and what it is you look for in published adventures that makes them more usable for someone like yourself. Also, thanks for your comments on the two childhood vignettes that I wrote for A&E #360. I'm still trying to get a feel for what I'm doing here, and Lee's comment that I should establish some guidelines to help GMs construct these was also useful. Simon Reeve: re Mice and Birds on Gough Island: Ick! re www.nationstates.net: Thanks for the link! This seems to me to be an awesome resource for detailing those bizarre, balkanized worlds of Traveller. Very, very cool. Brian Rogers: ryct Louis La Mancusa re common ground: Although the applicable common ground may be RPGs, as you say, I think Louis' point was that the practical common ground was turning out to be politics (not by intention but rather simply by the force of human nature). How else can one explain the propensity for politics to inject itself into the APA? He also stated that with the proliferation of systems and genres came a fracturing of the market, giving us more variety and choice but less commonality. I think your own zine is an example of this. Back in the late 70s we would have been discussing D&D. Now there are more choices. As an example fo this, you spent a good part of your zine discussing superpowers. Unfortunately, I'm not into that genre. Hence, I see this as a case in point of exactly what Louis was referring to. Or is it? In re-reading your twelve questions for superhero campaign creation, I think there are concepts here that can be applied to any genre. "How close were the PCs before the party is formed?" is a common question in the fantasy genre. Your second question deals with the interaction of their personalities, which is also applicable across various genres and is a rather interesting insight into characterization. In fact, as I scan through your key points, I think that nearly the entire thing could be rewritten for any genre, or, perhaps preferably, rewritten to be genre non-specific. To switch gears just slightly, you bring up the term "shared world", referring in this case to the real world, the world we all, in fact, share, but your use of the term spawns a query on my part. I'm wondering if the members of A&E ever tried to create a shared fantasy world.

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