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The Influence of Call of Cthulhu

Call of Cthulhu was probably the first RPG which revolved around horror, and specifically the unthinkable horrors of the lovecraft mythos. Stories which had aliens with inimical or unguessable motives. Whose way of thinking or whose very existence was damaging to humans. Worse, it was often in an uncaring, just happened to be passing kind of way. They didn’t set out to destroy us, they just didn’t care. Perhaps they didn’t even notice. That is the kind of aliens I wanted to see in Starguild.

A short digression on aliens

For me, the worst kind of aliens were those portrayed on Star Trek most of the time. A minor bit of makeup on the bridge of the nose and otherwise indistinguishable from humans. Cheap to do for tv, obviously. But an approach that I always found deeply unsatisfactory. Star Wars wasn’t much better – they had a wider range of makeup, and they went even more wild when cgi became available for that kind of thing. But still basically men in suits.

The next step was Babylon 5 in my opinion. They had several major and minor species which were distinctly different in appearance. Even the ones which looked superficially similar (such as the Centauri) had very different internals which were often plot points – the location of major arteries or Centauri reproductive apparatus particularly spring to mind. They also had races whose form was harder to classify and whose motives and actions were often incomprehensible such as the Vorlons and, especially in earlier parts of the show, the Shadows.

But what if aliens were all less comprehensible?

RPG aliens

Ironically one of the best attempts to portray really alien aliens was way back in the dawn of RPGs; Empire of the petal throne was published in the mid 1970’s and most of the playable races were pretty weird in outlook as well as appearance, particularly the Ahoggya. Furthermore the foes of men – the Ssu, Hlyss and Shunned Ones were utterly inimical. Their thought processes were so alien that there could be no dialog or rapprochement.

This brings me back to Cthulhu and the lovecraft mythos. The concept of vast uncaring powers, of races whose very existence is difficult to comprehend, that is the alien substrate which lies off screen in the Starguild cluster. No playable alien races, but the possibility of alien threats.

The Horror save is an integral part of the game to support adventures which encounter alien life and alien terrors. The game includes a brief history which point to records of an enemy and of watchers, but those are not yet defined for your game. You can take that where you will, I have had great mileage in using some Cthulhu aliens and published adventures as the seeds for adventures in my own campaigns. The further into the outworlds you go, the more unearthly things could get.

So in Starguild, when you think alien, don’t think pointy ears or funny limbs. Think of unknown, incomprehensible horrors which might just mistake you for scenery.

If you are lucky.

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