Humans are Aliens, Too: Creating Minor Human Races for GURPS Traveller

By James Maliszewski

Art by Art Today and Colored by Phil Reed

The prominence of Humaniti in the Traveller universe is no accident. As recounted on page GT10, Humans were disseminated to nearly fifty worlds over 300,000 years ago by an unknown agency, believed by many sophontologists to have been the Ancients. Only three of these many human races are considered major: the Solomani, the Vilani and the Zhodani. The rest are all classified as "minor human races."

As described in GURPS Traveller: Behind the Claw, the Spinward Marches are home to two minor human races, the Darrians and the Garoo. With over thirty more minor human races to choose from, most sectors to the Third Imperium will possess at least one of their own, possibly more. No matter where a GURPS Traveller campaign is set, then, there is a good chance that a minor human race will be present.

The question naturally arises: how does a GM deal with these minor humans? This article provides suggestions on how to use GURPS to create plausible minor human races, as well as advice and how to use them in your Traveller game.

The Same but Different

Deeply ingrained in the Traveller setting is the assumption that the independent development of jump drive is essential to classification as a major race. While Humaniti as a whole is considered a major race because of the achievements of three of its members, these three are the only ones to have acquired jump capability through their own efforts. Thus, minor human races are similar to minor non-human races in this one respect.

However, minor humans have several advantages over minor non-humans, both within the setting and within the game. First, they share a biological heritage with the major human races. This enables them to move more easily within the Imperium. They're not viewed as "aliens" except by the most bigoted of Solomani. Most minor humans can generally blend into the mass of Humaniti and advance within Imperial society. (There are exceptions, of course, and these exceptions sometimes provide interesting opportunities for a Traveller game.)

Second, minor humans, however unusual, are still humans. Certain basic facts will remain true, no matter how much they've diverged from the Solomani-Vilani norm. These are mostly facts of biology -- like reproduction or being bipedal -- that will prevent truly bizarre divergences. This makes using them as characters much easier than using non-human aliens.

Yet, as we know from our own world, not all humans think alike. Society and culture have a profound impact on the way we look at the world and how we interact with others. Minor humans, who've developed for 300,000 years away from Earth, will likely have cultures and ideas very different from anything we've seen before. Just look at the differences between the Solomani, the Vilani and the Zhodani and you can get a sense of some of the diversity that's possible among humans.

Humans are Aliens, Too: Creating Minor Human Races for GURPS Traveller

Building a Better Human

So, what does all this mean in GURPS terms?

Minor humans should be created like any alien race, using the racial package rules found in GURPS Compendium I, Aliens and Fantasy Folk. These will provide the basic outlines that any GM needs before he begins the task at hand. GMs will also find GURPS Bio-Tech useful as well, as it details a number of genetic alterations to the human genome that might appear in minor human races.

Some minor humans might have altered attributes. The conditions on their homeworld should be taken into consideration here. For example, humans from a high gravity world are more likely to have increased ST than HT. Any of the attributes could reasonably be modified, but there must be some justification for it -- even if that justification is simply Ancient genetic meddling! In general, though, minor humans shouldn't stray too far from the GURPS attribute baseline. Modifiers greater than +2 or -2 will be rare. When they do occur, the GM should have good reason for doing so.

Related to this are alterations to the basic height and weight chart included on page B15. Different minor humans might tend toward certain physical shapes, being taller or lighter than the Solomani-Vilani norm. The Darrians of the Spinward Marches, for instance, are slightly taller than Imperial humans, while the Suerrat are shorter.

Choosing Advantages and Disadvantages for minor humans should be done with care. Remember, you are choosing them for every member of that human race. Not only should the advantages and disadvantages be believable, but they should also be kept to a reasonable point cost. Players often do not appreciate playing members of a race whose initial point cost eats up the bulk of their starting character points. This is merely a guideline. Some very unusual minor humans may be divergent enough to warrant a high point cost. In the end, ask yourself: does it serve the story? Does it add anything to the Traveller game I want to run?

When choosing racial advantages and disadvantages, always bear in mind that minor humans have only be separated from Earth for 300,000 years. While this is a great deal of time, it's not long enough for any of them to have evolved into forms that differ radically from their Terran counterparts. Thus, things like horns or wings or a third eye are impossible without the intervention of Ancient genetic engineering. Even then, many physical advantages would remain implausible. Some of the parahuman packages described in the sidebars of GURPS Bio-Tech, pages BIO36-56, could be used as the basis for minor humans, although the weirder ones (like the Lepus and Camazotz series) are not appropriate for a Traveller campaign.

Still, minor humans needn't look just like your average Joe Earthling. Gravity, weather conditions, spectral type of the home star and other local conditions can alter the physical appearance of a human race over 300,000 years. Some minor humans will thus look quite different from their ancient forebears. Some might not even be interfertile with other humans as a result. Thus, a GM should take into account several factors in determining the physical appearance of a minor human race.

Mental advantages and disadvantages are somewhat easier to accommodate. Even so, their existence requires an explanation. A minor human race with racial Eidetic Memory might be interesting, but why would such an ability evolve? If it didn't, why did the Ancients engineer it in them?

The bulk of mental advantages and disadvantages are quirks or personality traits. These traits, described on page CI180, can be very useful in defining the broad mental make-up of a minor human race. The Irhadre of Lishun sector, for example, prefer to work in groups and dislike being alone. They thus gain the Chummy [-5] trait.

Again, it's a good idea to avoid choosing extremely impressive or deleterious advantages and disadvantages for minor human races. That's why the personality trait system in GURPS Compendium I is recommended. As always, use common sense and never include anything without a good reason -- whether that reason be pseudo-scientific or dramatic. There's nothing worse than an ultra-powerful species with no justification for its abilities.

Because one of the hallmarks of minor humans is their cultures and societies, many will possess social advantages and disadvantages too. In particular, they may have Social Stigmas or Reputations in the Imperium. The aforementioned Irhadre keep half their adult population in a form of ritual slavery. This naturally gives them a Reputation -2 [-10] among those who know they're Irhadre and do not understand this odd cultural practice.

Building Better Cultures

In the end, GURPS provides more than enough rules to model almost any minor human in game terms. The real difficulty is creating a plausible culture for them.

It was already mentioned that culture sets minor humans apart from the Imperial mainstream as much as their physical appearance. We know from GURPS Traveller that there are several "cultural regions" within the Imperium, including the Darmine cultural region in Zarushagar. This suggests that there are pockets within the Imperium that retain elements of previous cultures in much the same way that provinces of the Roman Empire did not simply abandon "the old ways" once their lands were annexed. In some of these areas at least, a minor human race or two might hold sway.

In creating the details for a minor human culture, there are plenty of questions to answer, but not all of them need be answered for the purposes of the game. To get you started, here are a few of the more cogent ones:

These are only a few of the many questions that a GM should consider in creating a minor human culture. Concentrate on those elements of the culture that have an impact on the game. The ritual slavery of the Irhadre, for instance, has a profound impact on the way they'll appear in a GURPS Traveller game. The same is true of the Darrians' love of knowledge and learning.

When in doubt, look at some of the cultures of Earth and adjust them to the realities of the Traveller universe. The Vilani attempt to maintain their empire by denigrating innovation has antecedents in Chinese attempts to do the same. The Geonee protestation about their classification as a minor race can be seen in dozens of cultures that resent being patronized by "superior" Western powers. Other examples are easy to find.

Examples, Examples

To show you how to use the principles discussed in this article, here are two examples of minor human races, both from the Spinward Marches. The first example, the Darrians, is a straightforward one, since we know a fair amount about these humans. The second example, the Garoo, is more difficult, since we know very little about them. Both provide the GM with models to follow in creating his own minor human races.

The Darrians

As described in GURPS Traveller: Behind the Claw, the Darrians are a peaceful people who prize learning and knowledge. Darrian cultural heroes are thus great teachers and researchers. Darrians tend to have knowledge-based hobbies where a Solomani might have a sport-based one. Darrians are tolerant of anyone (whatever their race) who chooses to live by Darrian cultural values.

Physically, Darrians are on average somewhat taller than the human norm. They have slightly pointed ears and an appearance some describe as "elfin." Despite their slender appearance, they're actually stronger than typical humans, but a little less dexterous. A greater proportion of Darrians is ambidextrous than other humans.

These two short paragraphs provide us with most of the information we need to create a racial package for the Darrians. Their peacefulness does not qualify as true Pacifism, as Darrians will use force to achieve their ends when necessary. However, some Darrians might possess Pacifism as part of their personal beliefs.

The Darrian love of learning and knowledge gives them a +1 bonus to learning both hard and soft science skills [12 points total]. The Darrian tolerance extends only to those who accept their values. Thus, it does not qualify as true Xenophilia or even being Broad-Minded.

Darrians have +1 ST and -1 DX, which neither costs nor gains character points. Their greater height means that a GM should add 2" to the height they should have based on their ST. Ambidexterity is more common among them, but not all Darrians are ambidextrous. Therefore, it is not part of the racial package.

Thus, the Darrian racial package costs a total 12 points, which is in keeping with the fact that they do not diverge too greatly from Solomani-Vilani norms. At the same time, this very brief analysis of Darrian physiology and culture has provided us with enough information to make these minor humans different than your average Imperial human. This is as it should be.

The Garoo

Our second example also comes from GURPS Traveller: Behind the Claw and is a much harder case. The Garoo are described as a minor human race who are more or less identical to Imperial humans. Their form of government is democratic and has been for millennia, although fear of the nearby Darrians has led to the creation of a War Council to oversee their affairs. The environment of Garoo is frozen and most Garoo now live in sealed habitats.

This description provides very little with which to work. Moreover, the similarity of Garoo to Imperial humans makes one wonder they were even created in the first place. That is, they serve no obvious game purpose other than as weak counterweights to the growing power of the Darrians. Given that we know the Solomani were active in this area 1500 years before the Third Imperium was founded, were the Garoo even necessary?

I'd be inclined to eliminate them, but they're part of GURPS Traveller continuity now. As such, we have to deal with them and find a way to make them interesting. Physically, the Garoo are almost identical to Imperial humans. However, the cold climate of their homeworld (on which they existed for thousands of years before the Solomani came) suggests they must have found some way to adapt. This is a form of Temperature Tolerance that makes them comfortable at temperatures as low as slightly below freezing [6 points]. Other than that, they are no different than Imperial humans.

What about their society, culture and psychology? Do any of them give them any advantages or disadvantages? Not obviously. However, with some thought, we decide to grant them racial Common Sense [10 points]. Living under harsh conditions, they adopted democracy as a way to unite their people and face challenges together. Now that the Darrians are perceived as a threat, they have altered their government slightly to meet the challenge. The Garoo thus come across now as a pragmatic people, willing to adapt to new situations -- much more interesting than the bland description given in Behind the Claw.

Individual Garoo might actually hate or fear the Darrians, resulting in Intolerance or a Phobia, but every Garoo doesn't possess these. Thus, they are excluded from the racial package. In the end, it costs 16 points to play a Garoo.

Further Considerations

The Third Imperium knows of approximately forty minor human races in all of Charted Space, over twelve of them within 60 parsecs of Vland. This makes them a rare commodity and not one to be squandered needlessly. Like all aliens in the Traveller setting, minor humans should be used for a reason. A GM should always ask himself: what does a minor human bring to the game that can't be brought by another human? What unique effect do I want to create?

As in the examples above, a GM need not have all the details of a minor human culture and society worked out in order to use them. The level of detailed needed varies with the use to which the culture is put. The oft-mentioned Irhadre require a GM to understand their tradition of ritual slavery -- why it exists and what it entails -- to use them effectively in a GURPS Traveller game.

Moreover, it's traditions like that which lend themselves easily to game use. A Traveller game using the Irhadre would have to grapple with many topics of philosophical import. What is the nature of freedom? Why does the Imperium believe slavery is wrong? Is it right to do so? What does this all mean to me? Thus, the Irhadre minor human race can be a catalyst for an exciting (if introspective) sort of adventure. In much the same way, the Darrians enable the characters to deal with a naturally peace-loving and thoughtful race coming to terms with instability that sometimes demands violent action.

Minor human races give the GM many opportunities to liven up his campaign. They offer a chance to explore the diversity of the Imperium and the mysterious legacy of the Ancients. If created well, they enable players and GMs alike to realize that sometimes humans can be aliens too.

Article publication date: March 3, 2000

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