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Alien Creation for Busy People

Gareth3

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I've become interested in a hypothetical SF game where player create their own alien race for their PC. Have a token human as an NPC, and it could be a neat way to get the players involved in creating the setting. I've asked about existing systems which allow you to do this, and there are a few examples. But nothing's really what I'm looking for, so I thought I'd have a go at creating my own. This will be a subsystem of a generic toolkit system like GURPS or HERO.
For an idea of what I want, let's look at the GURPS Space alien creation system. There's nothing wrong with it as a GM tool - it allows you to make a huge variety of different aliens, everything from mindless sharks swimming in liquid hydrogen to educated flying millipedes with molten rock for blood. The problem is that you need to make choices in 43 different categories, then do mathematics including cube roots, to get one alien. Randomising it is even slower, with a web of modifications to d6 rolls. Again, fine for a GM prepping a few species for a long-term setting. But players would revolt at having to do that to create their character. So I need something more streamlined.
The best way to speed the process up is to restrict the kind of alien it can produce. Let's say we're making alien PCs who can easily interact with humans and each other, in settings similar to Star Trek or Star Wars. All the aliens have to have human-level intelligence and tolerate human-compatible temperatures and atmospheres. We'll also rule out totally aquatic and very large aliens. I know there are books with intelligent dolphins or whatever, but that seems very inconvenient on a starship. That eliminates a few of the categories, but there's a lot more left over. So, a couple of questions:
How many categories is reasonable to make choices in for players to create their own aliens? If it's totally random, this is equivalent to asking how many sets of dice they have to throw.
Which generic toolkit system should I do this in? GURPS seems more popular, but HERO seems simpler. Any other popular systems I should be aware of?
 

Herodarwin

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I would say 5 categories are reasonable and the ones I would choose are below.

1.Size
Tiny 1/4 the size of a human, cats, otters, large octopus
Small, 1/2 human size, Children,, medium dog size
Human, same scale as an average human
Large, twice as big as a human, wolves, small horses
Huge, 4 times as big as a human, rinos, walruses.

2. Body plan
System I use but can be more or less complex, Lacks details like tails, wings, number of parts and such, For example Angels would be humanoid. This is too include life support systems to work in a human environment.

Abstract, Geometric, fractal or other seemingly non organic form, Most often either robots or psionic races depending on setting
Ozoos, Amorphous and shifting form, sentient slimes, Hive mind swarms,
Tentacles, Squid and octopus like bodies
Crustacean, Insect, scorpion or crab like body, with frontward manipulators.
Beast, Horizontal body plan with front limb being partial gripers, Raccoons, otters and rodents
Humanoid, Humans, werewolves, arms, legs, ect
Theropod: Raptor, Leaned forward balanced by tail, has arms and legs
Narga, Arms no legs, vaguely humanoid chest
Taur, a front end designed for tool use, a lower have designed of locomotion (includes milipedal lower halves)
Avian: wings with dextrous feet and/or mouth. bats and birds.

3. biological quirks
Things that make the alien different biological from humans, Most would be small notes on sheet for circumstantial modifiers, only stat what is really major effects. Key things to emphasize, Flight, robotic/life support body, armour, amphibian. Also includes things like, Stronger on average then humans, faster, slower and other combinations

4.Mental quicks
Things that make the alien different from humans mentally and is found in every non neurodivergent member of that alien group. Again most will be just roleplay notes and circumstantial modifiers.

5.Social quirks
Traits that are from the aliens home and universal culture that are different from humans, good idea to differentiate between the 2 as most aliens will have more then one home culture. Note things like technological differences here too
 

Gareth3

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Thanks for the feedback. I'd want to include more detail in the body plan section, but this is a good start.
 

Gareth3

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Sorry for the delay, this is much more complicated than I thought. Here's what I have so far. I'm focusing entirely on appearance of the alien at this stage. Even the distinction between predator and prey is for eye position, teeth, and so on. The range of body plans is deliberately restricted, partly to simplify the process and partly to focus on what makes a significant difference to the character.
Flying? (0,1)
…..Flying 0 Mass? (20kg, 100kg, 500kg) Covering? (Feathers, Fur, Skin, Exoskeleton) Segments? (1,2,3,4,5,15)
……….Segments 1 Legs 2 Arms 0 Trunk? (0,1)
…………...Trunk 0 Mouth Manipulator 1
……….Segments 2 Legs? (2,4)
…………...Legs 2 Arms 2
…………... Legs 4 Arms 0 Trunk? (0,1)
…………...…..Trunk 0 Foreleg Manipulators? (0,2)
…………...…………...Foreleg Manipulators 0 Mouth Manipulator 1
……….Segments 3 Legs? (2,4)
…………...Legs 2 Arms 4
…………...Legs 4 Arms 2
………. Segments 4 Legs? (4,6)
…………...Legs 4 Arms 4
…………...Legs 6 Arms 2
……….Segments 5 Legs? (6,8)
…………...Legs 6 Arms 4
…………...Legs 8 Arms 2
……….Segments 15 Legs? (26,28)
…………...Legs 26 Arms 4
…………...Legs 28 Arms 2
.....Flying 1 Mass 20kg Segments? (1,2,3)
……….Segments 1 Wings 2 Legs 0 Arms 0 Trunk? (0,1)
…………...Trunk 0 Mouth Manipulator 1
……….Segments 2 Wings 2 Legs? (0,2)
…………...Legs 0 Arms 2
…………...Legs 2 Arms 0 Trunk? (0,1)
………………..Trunk 0 Foreleg Manipulators? (0,2)
…………...…………...Foreleg Manipulators 0 Mouth Manipulator 1
……….Segments 3 Wings 2 Legs (0,2,4)
…………...Legs 0 Arms 4
…………...Legs 2 Arms 2
…………...Legs 4 Arms 0 Trunk? (0,1)
…………….....Trunk 0 Foreleg Manipulators? (0,2)
…………...…………...Foreleg Manipulators 0 Mouth Manipulator 1
……….Covering? (Feathers, Fur, Skin, Exoskeleton)
…………...Covering Feathers Wings Bird
…………...Covering Fur Wings Bat
…………...Covering Skin Wings Bat
…………...Covering Skin Wings Insect
Primary Sense? (Hearing, Sight, Smell)
.....Primary Sense Hearing Missing Sense? (0,Sight, Smell)
.....Primary Sense Sight Missing Sense? (0, Hearing, Smell)
.....Primary Sense Smell Missing Sense? (0, Hearing, Sight)
Diet (Predator, Prey)
 
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Gareth3

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OK, let's create a human using this process. First question is whether the creature flies. It doesn't, so the next question is the mass. I have three exact masses rather than ranges so that the player can make one choice and move on. We choose 100kg for a human. Covering is Skin, and humans have two segments (4 limbs). We choose 2 legs, which gives us two arms. Primary sense is sight, but we have hearing and smell as well. Other senses are less interesting, so they're left out. The Diet is Predator. You can quibble about this in relation to humans, but it just means we have forward-facing eyes and specialized teeth for tearing meat. That's eight questions to get to a human, with the classification Flying 0, Mass 100kg, Covering Skin, Segments 2, Legs 2, Arms 2, Primary Sense Sight, Diet Predator.
 

Gareth3

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Now a completely random alien. I'll use d6 1-3 and 4-6 for the two-option choices, d6 1-2, 3-4, and 5-6 for the three-option choices, and 1d4 and 1d6 to choose between the 4-option and 6-option choices. In an actual game you might want to change the dice so each option isn't equally likely. I don't know how to roll dice on the new board, so I'll use physical dice at my desk.
Flying 1d6=5, 1
Mass 20kg
Segments 1d6=4, 2
Wings 2
Legs 1d6=3, 0
Arms 2
Covering 1d4=1 Feathers
Wings Feathers
Primary Sense 1d6=5 Smell
Missing Sense 1d6=3, Hearing
Diet 1d6=3, Predator
So after 7 dice rolls, this is a flying 20kg predator with feathers and birdlike wings. The other two limbs are arms, so it can't walk, only fly. It's a predator that hunts mostly by smell, and is completely deaf. The classification is Flying 1, Mass 20kg, Segments 2, Wings 2, Arms 2, Covering Feathers, Wings Feathers, Primary Sense Smell, Missing Sense Hearing, Diet Predator.
 

Gareth3

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The greatest number of choices you have to make to create an alien is 10. Several different aliens need 10 choices, I've highlighted one in orange in the list. It's a small four-legged blind predator that hunts mostly by hearing, like a baby version of those "A Quiet Place" things. The only manipulatory organ is the mouth, like a Pierson's Puppeteer. The classification is Flying 0, Mass 20kg, Segments 2, Legs 4, Arms 0, Trunk 0, Foreleg Manipulators 0, Mouth Manipulator 1.
 

Gareth3

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The next topic is sex:
Species Sex? (Asexual, Hermaphrodite, NPC Male, NPC Female, Male/Female)
Species Sex Asexual Character Sex Asexual
Species Sex Hermaphodite Character Sex Hermaphrodite
Species Sex NPC Male Character Sex Female
Species Sex NPC Female Character Sex Male
Species Sex Male/Female Character Sex? (Male, Female)

Species Sex is the pattern of sexes in the species, whereas Character Sex is specific to the character itself. The pseudocode looks complex here, but it just means that some patterns of sexes determine what the character has to be, but the Male/Female option lets you choose. NPC Male and NPC Female means that one sex isn't appropriate for a player character. They're sessile, non-sapient, parasites of the other sex, missing, whatever. This also covers situations where sexual dimorphism is extreme enough that you need another set of choices for the other sex. The Male/Female option includes environmental sex determination, choosing sex at puberty, and switching between sexes. Character Sex describes what sex the character is at present, and assumes they don't switch frequently enough for it to be an issue. That's two more questions, for a maximum total of 12.
 

Gareth3

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OK, for the next step I want to interface more closely with the game mechanics. We'll use GURPS as the system. I have the latest GURPS Space, and the Third Edition, Revised of the core rules. Should I get the latest core rules too, or is what I have close enough?
 
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