Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jews in Space!

And in case anyone is wondering where that title comes from, you need to acquaint yourself with Mel Brooks.

One of the problems with a lot of conventional science fiction is the mono culture, the alien race where a vast majority of the individuals look and act the same.  Almost all Klingons are warriors who wear some form of armor; Romulans are all sneaky and have the same hair cut, etc.  Babylon 5 had a similar problem with some of their races.  Even Star Wars has this problem in that the inhabitants of Bespin do not seem all that different from the humans living on Tatooine.  Sure, they dress differently but for the most part they all seem to be cut from the same cloth (it does not help the 99% of all humans in the SW universe are white.  What happened to all the Asians?).  In running a sci-fi game it might be a good idea to mix things up and introduce factions/peoples that are against the norm.

To me, Star Trek’s biggest flaw (other than the fact that Enterprise is canon) is the lack of human religion.  I am not a religious person nor do I appreciate anyone trying to shove their beliefs down my throat.  That does not mean that I do not respect the religious beliefs of others nor does it mean that I mind seeing religion portrayed in my television programming.  One of the things I loved about Babylon 5 was the inclusion of a Baptist minister as a supporting character as well as Catholic monks working on their own special project on the station.  Hey, guess what: religion does not die out with space travel!  It was nice to see that some humans could be as spiritual as Narns or Minbari.  Sure, Star Trek has paid lip service to some beliefs but the writers and producers have always refused to be pinned down by specifics.  We have seen Aboriginal cultures’ beliefs but the cultures and beliefs themselves are either fictional or so generic that it is impossible to tell who or what they represent.  I am, of course, talking about Chakotay, Generic Indian.   I just find it annoying that Klingons can be as spiritual or as religious or whatever, and we can’t see one Muslim rolling out a prayer rug, or someone slipping their crucifix necklace on before slipping into uniform.  I understand that Rodenberry was an atheist, but so is J. Michael Strazinski and he understood full well that just because he does not believe in a higher power that did not mean the billions of human beings would adopt his attitude and abandon thousands of years of religious belief.

In a Star Trek or future Earth sci-fi campaign perhaps the ship runs across a planet colonized by a religious sect, say they are Jewish or Muslim.  Christian works as well, it all depends on what the GM feels is appropriate, how knowledgeable they are about the faith in question, and how the players feel in general about religion.  The adventure does not have to embroil the characters in an in depth study of the religion nor do things have to descend into some predictable holy war storyline, but the PCs would have to deal with various religious and cultural taboos.  In a way to a people who have largely become nonreligious, a group of Hasidic Jews might seem almost alien in their strict adherence to dietary laws, or the Muslims with their need to pray five times daily towards Mecca.  How would they handle a Baptist sing along?  It would be nice to see PCs have to role play this sort of thing out (one thing to keep in mind where the Muslim faith is concerned is to carefully separate Muslim religion from Middle Eastern cultural norms.  There are many African Americans who practice the Muslim faith but have not adopted Middle Eastern cultural norms).  The adventure could be that the heroes must track down a fugitive who has fled to his homeworld for protection and the PCs must deal with the social or political aspects.  Or perhaps a valuable ore has been discovered on this world and the colony must deal with the outside universe whether they like it or not.  Heck, it could even be a simple “shore leave” storyline and the gang winds up doing something really silly or stupid to antagonize the locals.

Then there are the aliens who are considered outcasts, perhaps are even considered freakish.  This was a neat idea shown in an episode of Enterprise…

Sorry, I threw up in my throat a little bit.  Giving Enterprise credit for anything can be difficult.

Who needs compelling story telling when you have tits?

Anyway, in Enterprise the crew met a group of emotional Vulcans who were pretty much pariahs.  It was an interesting idea.  Perhaps it was not executed as well as it could have been but I give the writers and producers credit for trying something different…

Okay, maybe not as different as all that.

What if the group found a colony of Romulans trying their hardest to be Vulcan, trying to adopt the principles of IDIC.  Or pacifist Klingons who shun violence and think that the ridiculous obsession with a warrior’s code and honor have crippled their race’s potential?  Ninety nine percent of all Ferengi seen on Star Trek are focused on making a profit like it is some genetic imperative; wouldn’t it be great if you saw a group that believed in doing charitable works?  Perhaps they use their ruthless business savvy to aid ailing economies?  What might at first seem like Ferengi greed is in fact Ferengi altruism?  What if the Ferengi mafia were renegade charity workers, bilking the system to help those who needed financial aid?  That would be an…immoral inversion, to twist the term coined by Mister Spock in A Piece of The Action.  Other races could follow similar themes; celibate Orions, for example.  Smart Pakleds.  What if there was a faction of the Trill species who were dedicated to destroying the symbiotes because they believed the slugs were actually controlling the minds of their hosts?  It is a not a rational belief, but no one said any fanatic’s belief’s had to make sense.

I ran a Star Trek adventure where the catalyst was a group of Klingons who panicked, whose ship fled the field of battle in the face of defeat.  Cowardly Klingons is certainly against the norm.  We have seen Klingons acting dishonorably but even when they do so there is still that warrior spirit driving them on.  What if that spirit fails them?

The Next Generation had a terrible episode called Sub Rosa, which pretty much ripped off Anne Rice (to the point where Anne Rice was given credit.  Although if I had been Anne Rice I would have taken a monetary settlement rather than have my name attached to that dog).  The part that did not rip off Anne Rice were the aliens living on the planet who were fascinated with Scottish culture.  Having an alien race embracing some human belief or cultural mores would be an interesting idea; would some Klingons find Japanese feudalism calling to their souls?  We could have Space Nazis…

 Okay, hell with Space Nazis.  We could have aliens becoming Jewish.  This idea is not as weird as you might think.  In Mike Baron and Steve Rude’s comic series Nexus there was a character named Judah Maccabee, named after the Hebrew hero.  He was most definitely alien.  Heck, if you want to go contemporary imagine a group of Klingons acting like those punks from the Jersey Shore.

These ideas do not work so well in a Star Wars or Firefly universe and the idea of creating the opposite of what you expect was already done on Stargate with the Tok'ra, a faction of the Goa'uld that formed a partnership with a host rather than dominate it.  However, if you were running a Firefly game it might be interesting to explore the Chinese side of the culture a bit more; from what little was seen in the comic books, television series and movie the series was largely influenced by Westerns, with a little Asian flavor thrown in.  Is there an aspect of the Firefly universe which is far more Asian?  As far as I know only one or two core worlds were shown.  What if there are others that are predominantly Chinese and do not welcome "foreigners"?  Jubal Early, The Operative and Preacher Book, all black men, all had mysterious pasts and possessed martial prowess.  Jubal said of Book “That man is no preacher”.  What if there was some sort of order of warriors, all African?  In this I am turning things around; instead of seeing a hodge-podge of cultures mixed up, the unusual thing to see in Firefly would be the mono culture/race.

What I am suggesting is a shake up from the norm, to see something players are not expecting.  Can it be weird?  Sure, why not?  Star Trek is about seeking out new civilizations and boldly going, and to me the biggest word in that statement is “boldly”.  Going against the grain is a bold move any GM can undertake and I encourage anyone running a game to try something a little different, a little weird once they feel they are on firm footing with their players.  The universe is a big place and if Earth itself is anything to go by it should be a diverse universe.  Do not let what you have seen from established canon hinder your imagination.

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