Meet the neighbours: Is the search for aliens such a good idea?, an article in the online edition of The Independent, kicks off with this question: “We’ve been trying to make contact with aliens for years. Now the day is fast approaching when we might finally succeed. But will our extraterrestrial friends come in peace? Or will they want to eat us?”
It’s a fun question, and one that’s come up before, but there are a couple of things that set this article apart. For starters, you’ve got this: “Jared Diamond, professor of evolutionary biology and Pulitzer Prize winner, says: ‘Those astronomers now preparing again to beam radio signals out to hoped-for extraterrestrials are naive, even dangerous.'” When the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel weighs in, it’s worth taking notice.
From a GMing standpoint, this is a fascinating concept for a modern-era campaign. You could run it fairly straight, with aliens attacking Earth; you could play that same idea for laughs; the PCs could be conspiracy wonks, a la The X-Files; the “aliens” could really be Lovecraftian horrors from beyond space and time — it’s a wide-open field.
And this is where the article really shines: It includes a bibliography summarizing six books and 10 movies that involve first contact scenarios, from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Predator, all of which illustrate directions in which you could take this concept. I’d add Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama II to that list — it’s my all-time favorite first contact story, and it approaches the idea from a very different angle. (Via kottke.)
if aliens learn that we’re here, they’re not likely to be able to do much about it. unless they have FTL travel. if they have FTL travel, they’re very advanced and probably already know we’re here. and unless their FTL is insanely efficient, there’s little to nothing that they could gain from us which they couldn’t achieve at lower energy cost via other means. i mean, grow a potato, guys. my 2cp.
But slave-taking Martians with Q36 explosive space modulators are what role-playing is all about! Didn’t you get the gamer-geek handbook?
Jared D. is rapidly turning into a celebrity, complete with the mandatory virtual lobotomy. (needless and somewhat inflammatory rant redacted) But GG&S was a great book; don’t let his subsequent celebrity take away from that. (See: Stallone and Rocky I vs. …well everything else he’s done.)
We’ve been shouting our presence for decades; if they’re listening, they’ve probably already called the Interstellar Police to complain about our racket. The Galactic Homeowner’s Association probably has the paperwork already going…
And if aliens are out there, they’re going to be so fantastically different from any of our preconceived notions that there is very little we can do to prepare.
But for gaming (wow, that took a lot to get to gaming on a gaming site, didn’t it?), the field, as you say, is wide open. Perhaps the ones who contact us are mean and nasty, but it’s because they’re in a war for survival against something much, much worse… Now that sounds fun.
I’d travel light years away for earth women. Why wouldn’t aliens?
I almost ran an “early days” Star Trek campaign using the movie “Contact” as inspiration.
The Klingons show up and attack without warning, starting the Earth-Klingon War. It seems they got our transmission of Hitler’s speech and thought it was a challenge to their honor.
I like the alien invasion storyline because it is so flexible but universally understood by the players. I can add my twists like the aliens didn’t realize that they were hurting us (seriously, if you got FTL technology are you going to look at us as an advanced and intelligent species?), or that the aliens are not attacking but are tryign to make peaceful contact and we assume that it is an attack. yet the players just know that spacemen are popping up with laser guns and they’ll take it from there. I think it is a lot of fun to run these kinds of games as one shots.
Alien invasion and Zombie Apocalypse are always two fun ones that kind of run in the same vein. Everyone has a reason to fight in these types of games. In other types of genre you have to have a reason for why your characters are doing the things they are doing, but in these genre it is easy. We fight to survive! That is kind of nice to have and it is outside the bounds of most people’s play style.
Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict is a great first contact scenario. Here you have a race of aliens that arrive on Earth and want to help us better ourselves…but they have other plans for us. What I liked about the series is that the aliens themselves weren’t one-dimensional. They had their own factions internal that didn’t like “the plan” either.
Another great first contact type scenario is Stargate, where a secret war against aliens threatening Earth is being waged. Here the players actually play the secret government forces, rather than the X-Files style of game where they play the people trying to uncover the conspiracy.
how first contact is likely to happen: one day, out of the blue, we finally receive the message. they’ve heard us, decoded our basic language, and are sending a starship. it uses a sophisticated fusion drive to accelerate to 0.9c, which puts it just a few months behind the message itself. telescopes are aimed, and pick up the deceleration plume just outside pluto’s orbit. months pass, and the starship draws closer and closer. in the meantime, human society radically reorganizes itself, sometimes violently. finally, due to a miscalculation involving different systems of measurement, the starship slams into mars and is completely destroyed.
I think it was here on TT, a suggestion of how to start a new campaign. Instead of “You meet in a bar” the players meet in an enormous jar in some monsterous alien’s Earth fauna collection.
Quote from aliens masquerading as humans trying to aviod suspicion: “Is this one or your Earth jokes?!”
This reminds me of the game “Mechanoid Invasion” from Palladium. You’re on a planet that alien mechano-bugs have landed on and begun harvesting all your resources.
It was originally published in three small books set on your home planet, then on the alien ship after your world dies, and finally on the alien’s home planet. The second part always looked like fun – you play “mice” on the alien ship!
I always wanted to play that setting, but unfortunately I could never “grok” Palladium’s rules. Maybe I should resurrect it one day for my gaming group?
(Joe Sixpack) I think it was here on TT, a suggestion of how to start a new campaign. Instead of â€œYou meet in a barâ€ the players meet in an enormous jar in some monsterous alienâ€™s Earth fauna collection.
I don’t remember seeing that — what a cool idea!