Creating New Species

Written Bycam
Published On
Random Alien

We all know Star Trek’s classic opening that describes the mission: “…to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations…” Doing that means, in part, encountering new species, either as part of a mission or as characters. So how do we approach this for our games?

Given the myriad places and ways life could evolve in the universe, nearly any conceivable life form is on the table. After all, in Trek canon we’ve seen energy beings, cyborg hive mind civilizations, semi-liquid shape-shifters, crystalline entities, silicon-based molten lava creatures that can manipulate matter, a hyper-accelerated race, salt vampires, rock-eating egg-laying ‘sentient pizzas’, and of course, Q. I’m still disappointed in the lack of tentacles among potential alien overlords, but there is a limit to special effects budgets…

Anyway, RPGs have no such limits so we can have tentacles! We can also have all sorts of other sentient life forms, and we can now share these creations on Memory-Obsidian, so it seemed like a good time to reprise an Obsidian Day panel from a couple years ago about species creation.

Why create a new species? Two reasons:

  1. Missions to strange new worlds with new species in them
  2. Unique species for characters

I’m going to start with the second reason first as there is a lot of overlap for both. Let’s address the obvious question: ‘Aren’t most games limited to canon species?’ While there are specific species and species types (such as god-like beings or other OP types) that are off limits, the Federation has hundreds of worlds as members so presumably there are far more species than those that we all know and love from canon. This leaves room for creating your own IF the GM permits it – I think consulting with the GM before throwing a new species in is vital. The GM for a game should have final say on accepting any non-canon species proposed for a character. Also, the species information should be written up and available on the game’s LCAR database and/or Memory-Obsidian so other players, who as Starfleet personnel would presumably know something about other Federation species, can look up the information.

You don’t have to go quite as far as we do in OF for database races, but there is a template there that can be used as a outline:

Species Name
Homeworld or Origin
⦁ Species Physiology
⦁ Culture
⦁ History

It all starts with a concept. What is the concept for the culture and/or what is the species based on? Are they humanoid? Reptilian? Sentient plants? Whatever they are, give them a name.

From there map out characteristics that make sense for the concept. Imagine the environment that shaped them to describe their homeworld or origin.

Physiology, culture, and history can be developed based on plot points for races created for missions, but for a player species there should be some at least some basic description and highlights for each.

Physiology will follow species type in most cases, highlighting unique characteristics that set them apart (like tentacles!) …Anyway, while there are infinite lifeforms we can imagine, they should make some degree of sense. For instance, a species from a low-g world will have issues in earth standard gravity beyond just extra effort to move (high g hits blood flow and soft tissue like lungs). People from high-g worlds won’t necessarily be superman either – look at astronaut studies for effects of long-term low g to consider concerns for these species serving on ships and stations set to ‘general’ humanoid g levels.

Culture is influenced by physiology and environment, but not bounded. Anything of importance will have a range of impacts, though there are many possible forms those might take. Again though, it should make sense. People from ice planets probably aren’t going to be nudists. Unless they’re a race of Yetis, maybe. Also consider that there are likely multiple biomes and also cultures. (In fact, another option for a unique character is to create a subculture for a canon species. But that’s a topic for another day).

History plays into culture if you want detail and driving forces for a meet-the-aliens plot, or backstory for a character. However, in most cases their history with respect to the Federation (like if they joined and are they recent or long-standing members) is all that’s essential.

As an example, I’m a dog person and always thought it wasn’t fair that there was more than one felinoid species but no race of caninoids, so I created Kainans. I gave them canid traits like olfactory abilities far superior to humanoids, but poorer vision for differentiating color and detail in static displays since their visual cortex is wired toward picking up and reacting to motion (my primary Kainan character is a helmshound).

They’re highly social creatures who form close devoted bonds with those they consider ‘pack’, but their mental stability can decline rapidly when subjected to long term isolation. In fact, in their culture solitary confinement would be considered cruel and unusual punishment. They’re also relatively new to the Federation, having only decided to apply to join after the Dominion War.

Lastly, an important consideration in creating a new species for a character is to make them alien but not unapproachably so. Too alien and the character will be off-putting and difficult to interact with. On the other hand, what’s the point of going to the effort of creating an alien species that are basically just humans in heavy make-up? An alien’s modes of communication and social cues will be different, but they have to be written so that they can work when interacting with other players. This requires thinking about communication type(s) and methods. For example, with Kainans body language/scent factor in communication methods, but as a writer I need to use some internal dialogue or exposition for others to understand those differences in perception.

All of this also plays into the first item: creating species for missions. I’m sure this is something most GMs have done at one point or another. How fully realized these are will depend on the mission, but having a relatively well-defined concept will add to the game and the potential directions for plot and subplot development. So what are the key points that need to be defined and fleshed out?

Again, it all starts with a concept. What is the concept for the culture and/or what is the species based on? This will likely be connected to the core concept for the mission. Are they friend or foe? First or Second Contact, or neutral parties at a stop for shore leave or refit? This sets the stage, if you will.

Whatever the answer, they should be thought out beyond ‘This species is offended by facial hair’ (though that can be a fun starting point). If there is a social/cultural conflict or challenge, it’s important in creating the civilization to take that initial core concept and work out how it plays into the other aspects of their society and therefore, how they will interact with your game’s characters. If they are foes, or simply First Contact who do not align with Federation standards or values, it’s important that the species has an ethos that, while opposed to ours, is one that can be seen as ethical (within their social context) and consistent. Remember, the Borg are basically space zombies, but even they have an ethos.

Allies or potential allies, like First Contacts, can also provide great opportunities. For instance:

  • Political drama, like unrest, disputes between planets or species, or to use an example from TOS, the ambassador’s son joined a radial group which must now be handled with kid gloves
  • Medical or environmental emergencies that tie to some characteristic of the species, or some cultural or religious issue that hinders a solution
  • Encounters with a subculture not on your radar for what to expect (I love these. More species need to have diverse subgroups)

Whether ally or antagonist, work out what makes them interesting and/or sets them apart. Is there something about language or culture that will lead to challenges or revelations or delight when interacing with them?


For instance, one of my games created the Qoird – a new species, really a collective, though the representatives we’ve met were squid-like. They used color shifting as well as song/music for communication and they refer to themselves as a Chorus. But the most interesting aspect is that they believe in ‘uplifting’ other species – not genetically but by identifying societies with potential and quietly influencing them to make it to the stars. As a result, they are appalled by the idea of the Prime Directive. An additional challenge is that the Qoird don’t view domain as ‘region of space’ but as alliance, so they whole ‘You are in Federation space’ gets a tentacly shrug from them.

One of the important things in creating that kind of civilization is to think through how they are alike/different from your crew and how that plays into the key point of conflict between you and them in the plot. What questions should be central in the values and meanings? How will it engage certain characters based on their internal arcs or external stories or roles?

While creating these mission driven species is often the work of the GM, the Qoird was a group effort in the game with lots of discussion and input from everyone. So don’t discount that approach. For a values debate type mission, crew engagement can bring real depth to the ‘antagonist’ species that lead you places beyond that original single mission.

Whether a species is developed for a character or for a mission, if it is really well thought out and fleshed out, you will want to make it part of the on-going story.