Aliens as The Mystery

Clint Staples

As I discussed during our d-Infinity Live! epsiode on Random Encounters of the Third Kind, the understanding of aliens in common parlance has enough variety in there that they really serve well as a mystery, possibly THE MYSTERY, in many games. I mean, just looking at the more established tropes – we have grays, abduction, and medical experimentation; Nordic supermen bestowing advanced knowledge upon the backward human race, and reptoids hunting humans for their own amusement. 

Looking into the past, most of these interpretations fit what we can see from occasional carvings and engravings in the ancient world – including such things as cigar-shaped flying vessels in some very old rock carvings in Asia, Fish-headed priest-figures in the ancient Near East, even the Nazca lines and various engravings of humanoids wearing “space helmets” in the new world.

All of which, and more, have fed into media to give us Close Encounters, Aliens (Capital A), Predators, as well as Super 8 and a host of alien invasion movies, tv shows and books set in the modern era or the past. Heck, you can count the rogue planet Nibiru in there too – and I will a little further down the page.

Because there is so much interpretation and speculation out there, aliens are essentially a black box that a GM can fill with just about anything he wants – largely dependent upon the kind of game you want to run.

Here are a few that I have written up in the past:

  • Mind Floggers from Dimension X: In an old superhero game that I ran, a semi-apocalyptic NYC was invaded by Mind Floggers (which is as close as we are legally allowed to come to saying Mind Flayers on the air), who traveled through space by navigating dimensional soft-spots, a bit like space-folding, except with dimensions. I wanted a powerful and very overt alien threat (it WAS a Superhero Game, after all) from really nasty aliens that no one would miss when they were killed, I wanted player character choices about what to do and who to save, and I wanted some great scenes that would bring a disparate group of nascent heroes together as a superteam. As a bonus, the invasion also let me introduce slaved bio-tech that hung around as relics and remnants of the invasion – including a semi-aware, semi-autonomous dimensional slipship, befriended by a PC during the invasion, that allowed the team the possibility of transit to other dimensions or into space as the game developed. And the occasional mind flogger that escaped the war could become a more insidious, behind the scenes, mastermind at any point later on if I wanted one.
  • The Rogue Planet: Something I have not run yet: I had a set-up for a modern game of (sorta) superheroes – not costumed crime-fighters, but powered freedom and resistance fighters defending a struggling humanity from a largely successful and aggressive alien invasion. The campaign begins by establishing the PCs as normal people, with jobs and family, relationships – and no powers. Alongside this, two things are operating: 1 – Media stories begin to follow the appearance of a dark mass near but outside our solar system, which resolves into a rogue planet . . . but it’s nothing to worry about, it will pass the system harmlessly, etc – just a cool astronomical curiosity. 2 – a low key secret organization on earth starts setting up booths in malls, advertising about maximizing human potential, performance optimization for sports, etc. Of course, the PCs are subtly encouraged to investigate #1 or #2, and thus are on the inside track when the rogue planet changes course and lesser, faster objects are detected exiting its surface heading toward – Earth. Invasion happens, player characters (at least the ones that investigated the second option) gain super powers  . . . Unfortunately, the heroes that were created are not enough to stem the tide of invasion, so the campaign is about whether they will be enough to lead the resistance to overthrow the aliens.
  • Ancient Visitors and Abductors - With a Mission: In my setting: Knights-Marshal of the Commonwealth, the Elohir are a mysterious alien race, not one of the member-races of the Commonwealth, but occasionally found within its bounds, often as outlaws or exiles from their strangely familiar yet unfathomable culture. Elohir are tall, slender and appealing by many standards, have features not unlike idealized human ones, and no one seems to know why in a setting that does not have a proliferation of “humanoids with distinguishing face bumps”. What is largely unknown to humanity in the setting, is that the Elohir have been visiting Earth (and other worlds within and beyond the Commonwealth) for millennia, snatching up whole communities and transplanting them on new worlds to survive or fail on their own merits. The Elohir enter the mythologies of ancient earth as aliens, elves, trolls, and gods, and are viewed very differently by the “modern” human cultures that they transplanted. Also, only the Elohir, and not all of them, know WHY the transplantation program was conducted. The Elohir serve very well as the repository of a number of Mysteries within the setting – which the PCs have the opportunity to explore or ignore in the course of the campaign.