Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Review: Traveller Alien Modules (1984 - 1987), Part 1

Alien Module 1 Aslan
Before I get into the next phase of Traveller evolution I thought it behooves me to spend some time with the major Alien races we encounter in Traveller.  Indeed, it was the aliens and the ads for the first three books in Dragon Magazine that made me want to go back and check out Traveller some more.

All of these are available via DriveThruRPG and Far Future Enterprises.

Alien Module 1 - Aslan

PDF. 44 pages, color cover, black and white interior art. 

While not the first Traveller alien I encountered, this is the first module or data file for the various aliens Traveller has to offer.  This one seemed like a no-brainer to me at the time.  I had read Joan D. Vinge's "psion" earlier that year and between the Caitian and Kzinti (introduced to me by Star Trek) I was primed to want a Cat-like race in space. 

The book covers the basics. Aslan physiognomy, which includes some evolutionary details and how it plays into their current civilization. Their political structure (or almost lack thereof) is also discussed. While the Aslan (named such by the first human explorers to make first contact) are described as proud warrior race, they are not really a unified one. 

We are given a bit of their history and their forays into space and their encounters with the Imperium. We get a bit on their psychology, which includes the territorial nature of the males (explained the loose confederacy) and their ritual duels.  

The next large section is Aslan character creation. This covers the basic character creation going back to the 3 LBBs and "Expanded" character creation for other types of characters. 

We are also given background on the Aslan homeworld, worlds within the Imperium, and a bit on starship design.  There is even some detail on the Aslan language, at least in terms of names.

For 44 pages it is pretty well packed.  There is not a lot of "fluff" here, mostly all "crunch."  So no fiction from the point of view of an Aslan mercenary or a human living on an Aslan world.  Just the basics and enough to get you going on to your own adventures. Honestly, it is all you need. 

This was the Alien Module I wanted the most back in the day.  Researching it now I see that a lot of people did what I was going to do with it; mix in liberal amounts of Kzinti and some Caitian as well.  Plus I was going to have psionic ability be a bit stronger in Aslan women. A nod to a lot of the scifi I was reading at the time.  I also noticed just as many people complaining about others doing exactly what I wanted and described!  Yes, the Aslan are fine just as they are but I also like my ideas too.  Thankfully this book lets me do all of that.

Alien Module 2 - K'kree
Alien Module 2 - K'kree

PDF. 44 pages, color cover, black and white interior art. 

These aliens were very alien to me.  While I could relate to the Aslan and the Vargr, these centaur-like aliens were very different and thus pushed a lot lower on my "wish list."  I don't even think I had read any of this book until I picked up the PDF ten years ago.

This book is set up much the same as the Aslan book and the future books in the line. I found the bits on K'kree psychology most interesting. As herbivores, they tend to be peaceful (ETA unless you are a meat eater). This combined with the race's inherent claustrophobia goes to explain that while they had Jump technology they had not expanded as fast as other races.  

We do get the sections on history, politics and governments, space travel and starship design, and the language section on creating K'kree names. There is a section on character creation as well.

This Alien Module also gives a few pages on adventures with or about the K'kree.  So a little bit more background here than on the Aslan, but I think needed since this species is so different.

Reading this 10 years ago I was not overly impressed I think.  Today I am of a completely different mind and would like to see these guys used more.

Alien Module 3 - Vargr
Alien Module 3 - Vargr

PDF. 50 pages, color cover, black and white interior art. 

While I knew about the Vargr, they were the big three alien races GDW was advertising back in the day, my first *real* interaction with them was way back in the early 2010s when I was looking for new ideas for Ghosts of Albion adventures.  I stumbled on one from White Dwarf #62, "An Alien Werewolf in London" about a Vargr in Victorian London.  It was an odd adventure, but I gave it go for Ghosts and always wanted to try it again with Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space. 

This book is a bit larger than the previous two, largely because there is a lot you can do with these guys.  Also they are the most fun in terms of history.

Vargr look like Terran wolves because generally speaking that is what they are.  They were transplanted from Terra (Earth) to their homeworld by the Ancients over 300,000 years ago.  Now 300k years is not enough to evolve any stock into something like the Vargr so they had been artificially engineered for intelligence and survivability.  They share a number of physical characteristics of both humans and canine stock but have some minor differences as well.  They still have the psychology of pack hunters following a charismatic leader and working in small, but somewhat unstable, groups.  Pack membership can change and leaders can be followed or discarded at any time.  This has had two effects on the Vargr. One their history is a confusing affair with no one narrative of what happened.  Most of their 300,000-year history is largely unknown to them.  Also it leaves them with no central government nor even any type of government that could be considered "typically Vargr."   See why these aliens can be fun!

We get the now usual sections on character creation along with a brief language update for names. Some basics on the Vargr worlds and space travel.  

We also get a section called "Gvurrdon's Story" which is given to us from the point of view of a Vargr.

This makes up the "Big Three" in my mind.  I know more were introduced soon after (and I will get to them) but these are the ones I associate the most with Traveller.


faoladh said...

It was exactly because they were so relatively alien that I really preferred the K'kree and Hivers. That said, when I actually played an alien, I tended to play Aslan or Vargr, so I guess that's another way to look at it.

Dick McGee said...

I'm with faoladh. The more exotic aliens appeal to me much more than humanoids, with fur or without. OTOH, the humanoids are easier for both players and GMs to deal with at the table, so they tend be more commonly seen at the table as PCs, and perhaps as NPCs. My tastes may be a product of early Traveller experiences - my first few GMs ran adventures that involved more Hivers and K'kree and odd minor races than the more common Vargr and Aslan, and we had one campaign where the k'kree (who are anything but peaceful herbivores - where did that come from?) were very much the Big Bads winding up for a genocidal crusade against the galaxy's meat-eaters. Spent a lot of time trying to save the Empire from rampaging centaurs - I got a real nostalgia flash years later when Ringo's Posleen books came out, although they sure weren't plant-eaters.

Later on in another campaign we had a misjump incident that left us lost in space on the far side of the thousand Worlds, where the GM had set up a bigger-than-the-Imperium coalition of alien species who were all ergovores - either photosythetics or weirder ways to feed on energy directly. They were really, really intolerant of "eater" species that had to consume other life forms to stay alive, and basically either exterminated them or forced them to undergo radically genetic and surgical mods to break them of the "habit" of devouring anything derived from living creatures, including plants. So basically the k'kree mindset turned up to eleven and with no exemption for vegans. The campaign collapsed about the time we were trying to slip past the war that was hotting up on their border with the k'kree, who were about to be on the receiving end of militant dietary intolerance for a change. Fun stuff, I liked the irony. Pity we all graduated college and never finished the story out to some kind of conclusion.

faoladh said...

Haha! Yeah, I meant to bring that up. The K'kree are, like, the opposite of peaceful herbivores. Herbivores, yes, but they get very excitable when anything that might eat meat is near them. And they can smell it on your breath and in your sweat. There was advertising about that at one point, showing a picture of an Aslan and a K'kree and asking which was more dangerous. The answer was that the Aslan was very touchy and might get mad at you for no reason you understood, but then he'd give you a scratch with his dewclaw and that would be the end of it. The K'kree hated you for being an omnivorous species from the outset, and would kill you immediately for having eaten meat.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I may have misread their psych profile. I was late when I was writing this.

Dick McGee said...

I'm not sure how much it was emphasized in the early days, and not all K'kree are equally militant about things despite being a relative uniform culture compared to humanity. It's the "Sons of Thunder" organization within the 1000 Worlds that are most bent on wiping out meat-eaters, but I'm not certain when they first entered canon.

But even average k'kree are cautious to the point of paranoia around anyone who eats meat, even in small amounts. Counting on any given centaur to choose flight over fight is risky, and they get much bolder in numbers - and they don't like being alone (it actually drives them insane over time) so you almost always encounter them in groups.