Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Building an Alien with the Metamorphica!

Alright now, time to make some aliens! Like I mentioned when I talked about The Metamorphica, I've been using that book to create some really cool alien species for my Stars Without Number sector, The Shattered Nexus. However, I haven't concretely placed any of those species into the worlds yet so I figured instead I'd walk through a creation process for a post!

Okay, so I've got a few files open on my computer right now. Three are essential, the others are reference.
1) This file that I'm writing in, obviously. If you're curious, it's a Notepad .txt in my case.
2) The Metamorphica, of course. this is the star of the show.
3) Firefox, on the Wizards of the Coast dice roller page. This page, at "http://www.wizards.com/dnd/dice/dice.htm" is really helpful actually. While a lot of dice rollers may have a wide range of dice to roll, this one actually has a dX where you can define the x (up to 999), allowing you to do some weird rolls. Unfortunately, its randomization software does not appear to be the top of the line, but it's decent.
4/5/6) The Stars Without Number rulebook pdf, my map of my SWN sector, and my written planet index with general descriptions. These are just for reference in case I want something to fit in a bit better and will likely go unused.
For almost all of the time, I have The Metamorphica snapped to the left and Firefox and Notepad carefully positioned to share the right half of the screen.

Now that I'm all set up we can finally start! Let's see...today we'll generate 3 aliens, all of whom share one hex on the Stars Without Number sector map, so they're close but not necessarily on the same planet. Something I do that is not necessarily always true with The Metamorphica is that I build the aliens as a species, whereas I think usually the book intends to be used for individuals (though it definitely allows for species use).

Looking at the Metamorphica, we have Body mutations, sub-split into Form and Function, Mind mutations, sub-split into Behavior and Cognition, and Power mutations, sub-split into Psychic Powers and Supernatural Attributes. The more mutations we give an alien, the further from human it gets.
I like to start by setting a recipe, declaring how many of each type of mutation I'll be rolling. I tend to try to re-use this recipe over several aliens to try to get some semblance of unity. For today, two of my aliens will share a recipe and the third will be different.

For the first two, let's do 1 Form mutation, 2 Body mutations, 2 Mind Mutations, a Supernatural Attribute mutation and an overall Power mutation. Let's throw in one more Mutation from all of them as a wildcard. At the end, I have one re-roll.
For the last one, lets give him 2 Form mutations and 2 Body mutations, a Cognition mutation, 2 Mind mutations, a Psychic Power mutation, 3 overall Power mutations, and 3 wildcard mutations. Two re-rolls. This guy is going to be more creature than person likely.
So, one alien at a time do you think? I'll start tying things together and doing designer-y stuff after a few rolls and I get a picture of where this is going.

1 Form mutation. That's from 1-200, so just a d200 roll.
80: Horns. This mutant has horns or antlers growing out of its head. Roll 1d20 for type of horns or antlers. 19, Two small horns.

2 Body mutations. Body is 1-400. That's d400.
237: Double Jointed. This mutant is able to twist its limbs into surprising positions owing to a superior flexibility.
46: Exotic Genitalia. This mutant's sexual organs include unusual shapes or structures, and may include erectile issue in various places all over the body or in strange locations.
That second one is probably my re-roll. I just don't have any great ideas for what to do with that.

2 Mind mutations. Mind is 401-600. d200+400.
537: Eidetic Memory. This mutant has perfect recall and can peruse its memories like films or photographs.
471: Periodic Amnesia. This mutant is vulnerable to bouts of stress-triggered amnesia.
Oh my, THAT was a coincidence! So I'm thinking that they can perfectly remember everything, but when they're stressed to a certain degree their minds wipe and they start from scratch again. As such, their society has evolved to be extremely pacifistic. They also have warrior guard types, the unlucky caste of their society who stand watch and fight those who would stress the sages. These warriors rarely have much in the way of memory, but this makes them unpredictable and adaptable fighters, like savage barbarians. So far I've seen nothing to say these guys aren't humanoid.

1 Supernatural Attribute, those are 701-1000. d300+700.
896: Possession. This mutant can send its consciousness into the body of another individual, and control them. Roll 1d6 for duration of possession (3, several minutes), roll 16 for original body's state during possession (1, Mutant is distracted but can still sense original body), roll 1d20 for possible targets of possession (13, people only), roll 1d6 for range of initial possession (Target must see mutant), roll 1d8 for speed of possession (2, requires complicated rituals lasting over an hour).
This is a very cool power. It doesn't just transfer the consciousness over, it transfers memories! This is how they share their memories among each other and prevent significant memories from being lost to a single member's stress. They also use this possession to pass combat knowledge onto the elites of their warrior caste.

1 overall Power is 601-1000. d400+600.
720: Arcane Tracking. This mutant can track down any individual, no matter where they are, as long as it possess an object or some item that once belonged to them, or they had contact with.
This is definitely what allows them to track and find their way to ever-greater fountains of knowledge.

The Wildcard is a 1-1000. Because I can't roll that with the roller and I'm not a big fan of 1000 (Zone of Silence) I'll just call it 1-999. As such, d999.
249: Explosive Death. When this mutant dies, it explodes, as do sizeable parts of its body when they are removed.
Hmm, that's a weird one...

Alright, my re-roll is definitelt the exotic genitalia. So just a straight d400 to replace it...
373: Structural Weakness. This mutant's bones and other hard parts are structurally deficient and more prone to breaking and fracturing than usual.
Yeah, I can work with that. These guys were pretty squishy sage-y guys already.

So to summarize:
Two small horns. Double-jointed. Weak structure. Eidetic memory with stress-induced amnesia. Possession, with knowledge transfer. Arcane tracking. Explosive death.
A name for the race. Something sagely. Adrianos! That's what they're called, adrianos, singular adriano. A as in apple, by the way. I got the name from the Story Games Names Project, just flipping through looking for something suitable alien.
The adrianos are a very intelligent race that wishes to live in peace. They appear as humans, with two arms, two legs, and a head, and are approximately as tall. They are entirely hairless as a race, but can instantly be identified by their translucent skin. Instead of seeing muscle underneath though you see orange crackling energy moving in a thin layer just beneath the skin, occasionally flashing in areas or dimming, as the flow of energy would have it. As they speak you can see the flashes of energy within, and it smolders within their pupils. Running back along the head are two small horns, curling about two inches behind the head, and these horns are made of a cartilage-like substance. In fact, the entire skeleton of the adriano is made of it, allowing them a great range of flexibility (to the point of confusing even contortionists) at the expense of their bones being significantly easier to break. When large parts of the adriano are broken off or when it is killed, the energy flowing under the skin rapidly begins to brighten, first to a high orange, then to a yellow, and finally to a blinding white before exploding, showering those nearby with hot plasma and bone shrapnel. The adriano brain has a perfect memory, but significant stress causes the entire memory to wipe, leaving them with nothing.
The adrianos live in a intellocratic government (led by the smartest) with three distinct castes. At the bottom are the warriors. The warriors are those who stres easily and cannot easily hold onto their memories, making them unreliable as one of the general members of society. Their empty minds make them ferocious and unpredictable in battle, and they fight savagely, without fear. They do their absolute best to prevent any discomfort from befalling the general public.
Above them are the scholars, the middle class. They are shielded from worldly stresses, but lack the resources for frequent possession and sharing of memories, leaving them intelligent and sharp but not incredible. It is not uncommon for a scholar to journey out after some knowledge using their tracking ability, surrounded by several warriors to protect them, bringing back the forgotten places and items in their memories for their superiors.
The top caste is the sages. They form the upper echelon of society and embody all the knowledge of the adriano people. They frequently share memories with each other. They do not meet with those from outside their society for fear of stresses.
...did I cover everything? Yeah? Okay, good. Anythng else before moving on to the next? Sure, have a couple potential uses for why this race could be useful.
* Encounter an adriano on a journey with their tracking power. Perhaps the PCs seek the same knowledge - if it's just one thing, maybe they're a rival, if not maybe you team up. Works with any of: Lone scholar who's warriors died, full group, scholar who lost his memories but is still trying to track.
* The information the PCs seek is long-gone from the world except in the minds of the adriano sages. Alternatively, the PCs know or saw something that the adriano sages desperately want to know.

That should be good. Next up!
1 Form mutation, 1-200.
100: Long Legs. This mutant's legs are freakishly long, allowing it to move up to 50 percent faster.
Makes me think of heading in a spidery direction. We'll see how the other rolls go though.

2 Body mutations, 1-400.
48: Extra Eyes. This mutant has more eyes than normal. Roll 1d6 for number of additional eyes: 5, two or three extra eyes.
Very little is being done to stop my spidery sense.
166: Stubby Digits. This mutant has shot and stubby fingers and toes.
Oh, that's weird with long legs. Probably the re-roll. This second body mutation has NOT been lucky.

2 Mind mutations, 401-600.
458: Motherliness. This mutant tends to mother people, making them feel safe and cared for. In its presence, worried, frightened, and irritated people grow calm and contented, especially children.
546: Enhanced Senses. This mutant's brain is able to process sensory information more efficiently than is normal for its species (or humanity in this case). Roll 1d6 for which senses are enhanced: 3, Smell and taste.
Hmm. That's some weird ones.

1 Supernatural Attribute, 701-1000.
795: Elemental Body. This mutant has a body composed of some inorganic or inert substance. Roll 1d6 for change trigger (if any): 1, Elemental body is permanent. Roll 1d20 for type of elemental body: 17, Two elements. Rolling twice more...: 18, 9, so that's Water and Lava.
Holy cow. That's new.

1 Power mutation, 601-1000.
871: Mechanoid. This mutant is partly or completely mechanical. Roll 1d12 for extent of mechanization: 5, Partly mechanical (roll 1d6 times [rolled a 6] on the body part table table; ignore duplicates). I'm going to say that which 6 parts it is varies from individual to individual, but all of them have 6 rolls on that table. Also, roll 1d8 for type of technology: 8, post-industrial, roll 1d10 for type: 8, gravitic.
Woah. This is a place where doing this as a species becomes weird because it's bizarre that they all are mechanical-ish. Also, mech+water/lava creature is odd. Also, gravitic tech? Hmm... I think I can make that work.

1 Wildcard, 1-999.
968: Totem Animal. This mutant has a supernatural link with another animal. Roll on the creature table: 1, Amphibian/Reptile, roll d100: 100, Water Dragon (YES THIS IS WHAT I NEEDED). Roll 1d4 for mutant's ability to communicate with totem: 3, Con communicate normally with totem animal(s). Roll 1d6 for number of creatures mutant is linked with: One particular animal of this type that does not associate with the mutant. Roll 1d4 for powers granted by totem: 2, Mutant can temporarily assume totem animal's abilities by concentrating.

So what's my re-roll? Stubby Digits, for sure. I was thinking maybe Mechanoid for a minute, but everything fell into place. So a Body mutation, 1-400.
291: Infected. I'll say right here, I'm not feeling it. When I decide which slot I'm re-rolling, I typically just keep re-rolling until it's interesting or useful. So again, 1-400.
274: Hollow Bones. I was thinking it had NO bones, so re-roll.
31: Claws. This mutant has claws that can be used as weapons. Roll 1d4 for type of claws: 4, Talons. Perfect.

So to summarize. Long legs, two or three extra eyes, talons, a mechanical and water/lava elemental body, enhanced smell and taste, a motherly aura, and a unique Water Dragon totem animal.
The idea I have is gonna be a lot less fleshed out the adrianos, I don't usually go that in-depth. This race, the, um, lothi (low-thigh, both singular and plural) were originally formed of water and lava - a bizarre chemical imbalance between the two results is the lava being surrounded by water but did not evaporate it, and somewhere in there sentience stirred. It remained immobile for a logn time until one day the great Water Dragon Oros came and found it. Touching its sentience, Oros used his immense intellect to craft a set of machines that used antigravity power to shape the lothi into its own image, a long, serpentine creature but glowing from within in intense heat. It had long legs and sharp claws and many eyes, and the technology allowed it to sense the world. It devoted itself to the totem dragon, and built more of the machines that let its people walk the land and commune. They are kind beasts, devoted to caring for those lesser than it in mimicry of the great kindness Oros did to their species.
The lothi are very powerful, but are benevolent. They make good allies, and in a Stars Without Number game may be a way to establish a new Pre-Tech. In fact, maybe they're being oppressed by others who want their tech. If you want them as villains, cast the PCs in a light that they appear to be causing harm to the species' under the lothi's protection, or to the water dragons. Any interaction with the great Oros will surely put them in your game.
That's probably enough for right now with these guys. They're strange! And I didn't even have that many mutations, it's just hitting the right ones to go crazy.

Remember we gave him 2 Form mutations and 2 Body mutations, a Cognition mutation, 2 Mind mutations, a Psychic Power mutation, 3 overall Power mutations, and 3 wildcard mutations. And two re-rolls. Let's just jump right into this monster!

Form Mutations, 1-200.
164: Strangely-Coloured Skin. This mutant has skin that is patterned in one or more strange colours. Roll on either the basic or extended colour table for each part of the pattern. Roll 1d20 for skin pattern: 19, unreflecting skin (looks black).
69: Fur. This mutant has fur covering all or most of its body. Roll 1d4 type of fur: 3, Short, soft fur.
Both of these are great individually, but since fur would mostly cover the skin I'll probably re-roll one for a more visible one. Probably fur, but it's a tough one.

Body Mutations, 1-400.
88: Internal Weapon. This mutant can produce a weapon from its own body, or transform part of its body into a weapon. The mutant can produce a single weapon, or one weapon per limb. These weapons can be hidden when not in use. Roll 1d6 for type of weapon: 3, Knives or sword-like blades.
YES. I like it.
155: Strangely-Coloured Eyes: This mutant's eyes are an odd colour, and may not even have a visible iris or pupil. Roll on either the basic or extended colour table to determine dominant colour: 95, Vermillion.
Nice! Also no functional changes, all form. Even though Internal Weapon is pretty functional. Also, lots of weird color on this sucker. Come on, 4 Form shifts and I'm still defaulting to humanoid?!

Cognition Mutation, 501-600.
537: Eidetic Memory. I'm going to cheat now and re-roll since I already got this on another monster in this post. GONE.
520: Decreased Mental Capability. This mutant has mental capabilities far lower than the average specimen of its type. Roll 1d4 to determine decreased mental capability: 3, Intellect or capacity to learn. Roll 1d4 to determine the amount of decrease: 4, -1/4 (decreased by one quarter).
Finally, something to make this thing into a beast a bit! But only a little it seems.

2 Mind mutations, 401-600.
576: Natural Leader. This mutant possesses a natural charisma and the ability to lead and inspire without being resented for giving orders. Others tend to respect it and look to it for guidance.
449: Kleptomania. This mutant feels compelled to steal.
I like the second one, but I don't like it being all leader-y. We'll see though...

Psychic Power, 601-700.
644: Hypnotic. This mutant is able to hypnotize others once it catches their attention. Roll 1d6 for what the mutant uses to hypnotize: 3, Gaze.
DAMN. On a 4-5 it's the skin patterns, and with already nonreflective skin that could be cool.

3 Powers, 601-1000.
995: Werecreature. This mutant changes shape at certain times, having two different shapes that it switches between. For its second form, roll twice on the creature table and either combine them or choose the more dangerous result. There is a 1 in 3 chance this form is anthropomorphic. (Roll says no, by the way). Roll 1d6 for trigger: 2, At-will.
716: Animated Skin. This mutant can shed its skin, and then have it move around and perform simple tasks. The skin's strength is equal to 1d8x10 percent of the mutant's normal strength. Rolled to get 50% by the way.
812: Face of a Demon. This mutant has the same face as a particular race of demon. Roll on whaver table you consider appropriate or 1d6 here for type: 1, Demonic beast or creature.
What creature am I a "were" of? I'm a weredemon! What does my demon look like? Not a clue, so I'm going to take the advice on werecreature to frame it. Rolled twice: 2, 3, Amphibians and Reptiles and Aquatic Animals. 31: Desert horned lizard. Lungfish. Thinking this means a large lizard creature with smooth scales that can be flared out to be sharp and spiny all over. Where normally it would have a mouth it instead has an open circular maw, lined with ring after ring of sharp teeth. This face is always present, even when not changed. When it transforms it slides out of its normal skin, which remains animated.

Do I need rerolls? Yeah, I've already decided to reroll Fur. Also Natural Leader since I just don't feel it. So a Form reroll:
65: Flippers. NOPE.
103: Long Tongue. This mutant's tongue is at least 1d4+1 times as long as is normal for its species. Came up with 5 times as long by the way I really like this.
Hmm, concealed within the tongue is a blade-like tooth that can be projected from the end and wielded like a blade. Covering my internal weapon base here!
The other one was a, what, Mind reroll?
546: Enhanced Senses. Rerolled one more just to see and got an even better one. Also already saw this on the adrianos.
538: Emotionless. This mutant does not feel extremes of emotion; not anger, despair, fear, nor joy. It still has some small semblance of emotional life, such as annoyance, contentedness, enmity, and friendship, but these are highly intellectual compared to normal human emotions.
I think this is in the mortal form. It takes a lot to drive it to the edges of its emotional scale, but getting there throws the creature into its transformation where it becomes EXTREMELY emotional, usually violent rage.

That should be all! That's summarize him.
Unreflecting skin and vermillion eyes, a VERY long tongue with a blade concealed within, and the face of a lamprey-lizard. It doesn't feel the extremes of emotion, but when it does get emotional it sheds its skin (which remains animated and mobile) and reveals itself as a complete lamprey-lizard demon. Its gaze is hypnotic (turns out with a lamprey-lizard face gaze is appropriate, glad I stuck with the randomness). These guys are also kleptomaniacal, but that's really just a mental flaw. They're also slightly less capable of logical thought, but not by much.

These guys, the, uh, the Careeth, they have no noticeable society. They tend to rip each other apart, and are asexual - when the time is right and the Careeth transforms, two smaller demons crawl out of the skin, and each will grow its own skin later.

So that's it! Let's wrap up!
Using the Metamorphica, I've procedurally produced 3 sets of mutations which I've built upon to form three alien species.
* I have the adrianos, a pacifistic sage species with perfect memories that go away when they're stressed.
* I have the lothi, water/lava beings made mobile by gravity-tech cybernetics granted by the totem Water Dragon Oros.
* And I have the careeth, weredemons whose demon forms are lizard/lampreys. They're hypnotic and have unreflective skin that remains animated when shed.
I'm happy with that. Absolutely.

Do I have a way to tie these suckers into my Stars Without Number sector? Nothing springs to mind immediately, but it works well enough if I just shove them on planets.
Anyway I just want to get this post out, so I hope you guys enjoy some aliens! Got any questions or suggestions, or maybe you like or dislike one of these in particular? Let me know, I'm happy to talk about them.
End Recording,


  1. Wow! Great translation of the random features into amazingly unique aliens. You've shown me a great way to use the Metamorphica. Thanks.

    1. Thank you! Glad you like these guys, seeing these lists of traits, however nonsensical, just makes me try to fit them all into concepts and I'm super happy that they came out really interesting in the end.
      You've no idea how uplifting it is to hear that someone got something out of this. To be honest, this sort of use for the book was one of the first things I noticed about the book. My thoughts went:
      1. "Wow, this is pretty cool."
      2. "This would be amazing for Gamma World or Don't Rest Your Head."
      3. "Wait a second...is this thing actually a really intense monster-designing machine? Holy cow, it is!"
      4. "Okay, this Demonic Phenomena table is amazing."

      If you do actually come up with any cool critters doing this, could you let me know? I find this stuff really cool to read just as much as creating it. :)

  2. Here's my first crack at something. It's a creature well suited to the frozen north of my Dungeon World game.