This article originally appeared in The Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society Issue #22
by Phil Masters
Editor's Note: A large part of this article originally appeared in issue 22 of The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society, in 1985. The GURPS stats, of course, are new.)
Art by andi jones
The Hlanssai are a humanoid minor race, originating in the Vargr Extents but now to be encountered throughout much of the Imperium and other areas. They are widely admired for their artistic talents, grace, and dexterity, but many members of other races distrust the Hlanssai because of their justified reputation for emotional instability. Nonetheless, sheer wanderlust and versatility has carried the species far.
BackgroundThe Hlanssai evolved on Vrirhlanz, in the Vargr Extents, a planet not totally unlike Terra. Their ancestors were intermittent/gatherer types, adapted for a semi-nocturnal existence in moderately forested areas. This species already possessed a fair level of intelligence when tectonic shifts created a "land bridge" between two continents, allowing a large number of different -- and frequently dangerous -- species to invade the proto-Hlanssai's home environment. The resulting evolutionary pressure encouraged flexible, intelligent behavior, but this was only part of the result. The new dangers confronting the Hlanssai demanded the ability to perceive situations quickly and in detail, and an awareness of all possible subtleties in a given situation. The race already possessed the acute senses of the sometime night-dweller; evolution now enhanced these to exceptional levels. Hlanssai intelligence was the product of the need to analyze and comprehend these sensory inputs; Hlanssai psychology is therefore oriented overwhelmingly towards immediate sensual awareness and possible responses, and the species' philosophies are generally sensualistic, frequently dismissive of the long term, and notoriously sybaritic and hedonistic. A Hlanssai will usually respond to each situation as it occurs, with little regard to long-term consequences, and often, therefore, dramatically.
This is not to say that Hlanssai are psychopathic or vicious; they are capable of personal loyalty and affection, and their capacity for empathy is quite phenomenal, but enduring trust is alien to them.
Physically, Hlanssai are tall, but very light and slender of build. The race is homeothermic, bisexual, and viviparous, producing one or two young after an eight month gestation period. Hlanssai bodies are about 50% covered with a silky, glossy yellow fur, and the race seldom bothers with clothing; the most striking visual feature is the head, with its two large eyes and two even larger ears. The former are sensitive to a range of frequencies extending into the ultra-violet; the external flaps of the latter serve to detect thermal radiation and air currents with considerable efficiency, as well as focusing sound into a highly sensitive inner ear. The race's hands have three three-jointed fingers and a stubby, un-jointed "thumb" each; their feet are similar, and can provide some limited grip, especially when climbing.
SocietyHlanssai culture had achieved a kind of static equilibrium (and a kind of elegant Bronze Age technology) when the race was first contacted by the Vargr, and the systems then used have changed only slightly since. Hlanssai psychology dictates that complex, rigid social systems and long-range planning are impossible, and even familial or tribal bonds are weak; balancing this, the species' drive to co-operation in the face of immediate danger is fairly powerful. The result is a system of administration by a system of self-interested cliques and participant democracy, anarchic to most non-human eyes but acceptable to most Hlanssai. (A Hlanssai who finds it unacceptable usually either forms his own clique or takes to demagogic politics.)
Personal violence and theft are quite common, but can represent a sufficient immediate personal danger to Hlanssai in general to trigger the co-operation instinct. Larger-scale organization for long-term aims is rare, generally only occurring when an unusually capable and charismatic Hlanssai perceives a particularly strong racial need, and persuades his people to work together to meet it.
Normally, the Vargr have poor relations with minor races within their territory unless they are strong enough to stand up for themselves, but the Hlanssai are an exception to this rule. The species' immense versatility, subtlety, and talent for empathy enable them to persuade most other races of their usefulness, and Hlanssai social scientists, servants, traders and spies have traveled virtually everywhere that the Vargr have gone (and sometimes beyond). The Vargr generally regard the Hlanssai as useful, dangerous, and fortunately weak; the Hlanssai regard the Vargr as graceless and unsubtle, but interesting and useful. Beyond the Vargr Extents, Hlanssai are widely seen as enigmatic, unstable, intelligent and interesting; Hlanssai attitudes toward other races vary, but generally involve curiosity mixed with ironic humor.
Incidentally, when humans hear Vargr describe the Hlanssai as "unpredictable" or "unstable," they often react with surprise or hilarity; the Vargr are themselves, after all, a by-word for instability among Humaniti. This is, of course, a foolish error. Vargr behavior is strongly based on the race's perceptions of charisma, status, and ambition; on its own terms, it is consistent and even logical. The Hlanssai, on the other hand, react in complex and rather less predictable ways to their perceptions of everything around them, including stimuli that seem trivial to other races. A few humans have come to understand and empathize with Vargr; it is probably physically impossible to achieve the same relationship with Hlanssai.
In fact, even a Hlanssai cannot necessarily predict another Hlanssai's actions more than a few minutes ahead; seemingly trivial stimuli can cause accelerating changes in responses over even this short a time. Human psychologists describe Hlanssai behavior as "chaotic" in a mathematical sense. Hlanssai must be continually cajoled, rewarded, or threatened to keep them on a particular course of action.
A final important concept to note when dealing with Hlanssai is that of "N'tarronth," and its converse, "N'tarronchii'a" -- a further consequence of Hlanssai sensualism. "N'tarronth" is usually translated as "shaping" or "manufacturing," but it can best be expressed in human terms as "imposing arbitrary form upon the universe." Hlanssai are acutely aware of the distinction between the natural and the artificial, and regard one of the most important aspects of individual behavior to be the extent to which a being accepts external reality and acts within existing limitations. A being who rejects things-as-they-are and seeks to shape reality to his or her will is N'tarronth and displays N'tarronth; a being who takes a passive, accepting view is N'tarronchii'a. Despite the fact that other races view them as mercurial and unstable, Hlanssai tend -- by their own terms -- to be highly consistent in being either N'tarronchii'a or N'tarronth, and regard an inability to choose between the two modes of behavior as decidedly odd, perhaps comparable with a refusal to eat or drink. This does not imply any question of good or evil in Hlanssai terms; simply a matter of normal sentient behavior. (So this is the one aspect in which well-trained xeno-psychologists can predict Hlanssai behavior.)
In general, music, applied science, law, manufacturing industry and exploration are classed as N'tarronth, whereas mathematics, figurative art and hedonism are N'tarronchii'a. To the Hlanssai, therefore, most other races tend to N'tarronth -- which is, the Hlanssai would say, their business -- but display an odd tendency to mix in elements of N'tarronchii'a. In other words, Hlanssai understand other species almost as little as other races understand Hlanssai.
Hlanssai in PlayHlanssai characters may be encountered throughout the Traveller universe, particularly in Spinward and Coreward regions, and in a wide variety of circumstances. Many of the race, afflicted with wanderlust, become roving artists, entertainers, animal-handlers or adventurers, and a strong disinclination to settle anywhere for long -- and a matching inability to remain on perfect terms with one employer for extended periods -- generally keeps these beings on the move. Some Hlanssai become "liaison specialists" in the employ of organizations of merchant starships engaged in exploratory work, in which role their immense capacity for analyzing others' behavior is extremely useful, but Hlanssai cannot accept discipline, and so rarely find work in large, formal organizations, and never in military service. Referees should find it possible to operate Hlanssai, once their racial peculiarities are understood, and adventurous players might consider using such as player-characters, although if Hlanssai are being properly roleplayed, no other PC will trust them, and no long term aims will be pursued, which might prove an intolerable limitation.
In GURPS terms, a Hlanssai character has the following racial package: -2 ST [-15], +2 DX , +1 Fatigue , +2 to Artistic skills , +1 to Climbing skill (strictly speaking only when barefoot, but Hlanssai don't often go in for shoes) , +4 Alertness , Ambidexterity , one level of Less Sleep , Night Vision , Ultrahearing , Odious Personal Habits (whimsical and unpredictable behavior) [-5], Absent-Mindedness [-15], Broad-Minded [-1], Dreamer [-1], Imaginative [-1], and the racial quirk of Co-Operative Under Heavy Stress [-1]. They also have a mixed racial reputation; almost all Vargr regard them as erratic, and react at -1 [-2], while almost anyone may see them as crazy, or Vargr minions, or both, reacting -2 on 10 or less [-5]; however, there is a small class of devotees of the arts who have a high appreciation of the race's work, reacting to them at +2 . The base cost to play a Hlanssai is therefore 41 points.
(This package assumes that the character will be operating in human society, not too far from the Vargr Extents; for a campaign based in other regions, the Reputations may be modified, and the Odious Personal Habit may also have a different value. Note also that a Hlanssai's sensitivities to heat and air currents, while useful, are by no means equivalent to Infravision or Faz Sense, and are treated for game purposes as "special effect" aspects of its Night Vision and Alertness.)
Having created a Hlanssai character, calculate height and weight as for a human of equivalent ST, then add 1' to the height and subtract 15 lbs. from the weight. Hlanssai are rarely Overweight, and almost never Fat; they enjoy food, but prefer variety to quantity, and usually seem to burn any excess off by becoming even more energetic than usual. (This is probably an evolved biological response; in the unpredictable environment of ancient Vrirhlanz, a presentient Hlanssai which found a large supply of food was better off using the extra energy straight away than storing it against an uncertain future. Anyway, a Hlanssai who doesn't like what it sees in the mirror tends to become morose and go off its food.) Hlanssai cannot take better-than-average Appearance; among themselves, aesthetics are vastly complex and personal, while they all look rather similar to members of other races (and are easy enough for non-xenophobic humans and Vargr to tolerate). Unattractive or worse Appearance is rare, usually being the result of disfiguring injury or disease.
The first concern when designing a Hlanssai is whether it is N'tarronth or N'tarronchii'a. NPC Hlanssai are equally likely to be either, although some jobs are more likely to be taken up by adherents of one attitude than those of the other; if players are operating Hlanssai, they have free choice, but must always act in accordance with their choice.
(In fact, any Hlanssai character acting in a fashion contrary to his or her choice for any significant period is probably in the process of going insane; if players refuse to work within the chosen mind-set, GMs are fully entitled, after issuing fair warnings, to take over the mad Hlanssai, operating such characters as totally unstable paranoids, psychopaths, schizophrenics, or suchlike.)
Other advantages, disadvantages, quirks, and skills must be determined on an individual basis, with reference to the character's chosen mind-set; Hlanssai usually have plenty of each. However, anything requiring extended, concentrated effort or consistency -- whether a high level in a Hard skill or a disadvantage such as Megalomania or Truthfulness -- is highly unlikely. On the other hand, a Hlanssai without at least -20 points of extra Mental Disadvantages, from Bad Temper through Compulsive Behavior to Kleptomania, will be regarded as horribly dull by others of the race. Optionally, the GM may even permit Hlanssai characters to shift mental disadvantage assignments around over time -- by, say, 5 points per game month -- to represent long-term changes in the overall pattern of the character's behavior. Optionally, non-military packages from GURPS Traveller may possibly be applied to Hlanssai, but a semi-random mix of abilities is more appropriate; few Hlanssai have careers as such. Combat skills are possible, though rarely high; some of the race indulge in an amount of rough-and-tumble Brawling, or learn enough about guns to protect themselves in their wanderings.
As a guideline rather than a firm rule, N'tarronth Hlanssai often have Greed, Craft skills, Architecture, Chemistry, Scrounging, and Vehicle skills, while their N'tarronchii'a relatives may display Laziness, knowledge of several languages, Astronomy, History, Mathematics, and so on. Combat Reflexes, Empathy, Curious, Impulsiveness, Nosy, Short Attention Span, Artistic skills, Intelligence Analysis (intuitive rather than trained), Savoir Faire and Survival are common among both groups (but by no means universal).
Article publication date: June 18, 1999
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