Alien Culture: You All Look Alike to Me

Covenant Game Design - Alien Culture: You All Look Alike to Me

(Be sure to tune in to the latest episode of the podcast!)

Sean again. Let me ask the trekkies out there something – well, two somethings.

What’s the first word that you think of when I say “vulcan”?

What’s the first word that you think of when I say “klingon”?

I’m going to guess that most of you out there thought “logical” for vulcans and something like “warrior” or “warlike” for klingons.

Now, let me ask you something else.

What’s the first word that you think of when I say…


I don’t want a sentence or phrase. I don’t want three words, or two words.

Sum up all of humanity with one word.

I don’t know what you chose. Not that it really matters, because I’m going to guess that there’s a huge variance in what everyone reading this chose.

I’m also going to guess that the more self-aware of you out there felt pretty uncomfortable trying to reduce all of humanity – with all of its ethnicities, all of its national and regional identities, and all of its contradictions – down to one word. Not even one idea. One word.

That’s something that started bothering me… I’m going to say a decade or so ago, way before I started thinking about Covenant – why all the aliens in Star Trek were monocultures. All vulcans were this. All andorians were that. Their homeworlds were essentially one world governments with one culture, and if they managed to take over more than one planet, then that extended offworld, too: Romulan Empire, Klingon Empire.

Humans, naturally, were part of the only “good” multicultural faction in the galaxy: the United Federation of Planets. Also, naturally, they played an outsized role in the affairs of the UFP. That was partly because of limited makeup budgets and a desire to make easily relatable characters for a prime time audience, but still.

I don’t know as much about Star Wars. Since it’s more pulpy than Star Trek, though, I suspect it’s worse.

Sexy twi’leks. Shifty toydarians. Dirty jawas. Savage Sand People. Thuggish hutts. Bad-tempered wookiees. You get the idea.

I’ve seen this in roleplaying games, too. All elves are this. All dwarves are that. All half-orcs, halflings, gnomes, tieflings, dragon people, wolf people… they’re all easily summarized and monolithic. They may be separated into kingdoms, tribes, or hordes, but these are all culturally and politically identical.

Hence what I’m trying to do with Covenant: make the species that you can play and encounter a little less monolithic.

I’m not going to be able to make complete cultures. Cultures develop over hundreds or thousands of years, while I’ve been thinking about this universe for maybe two decades.

I’m also not going to be able compete with franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek. They have deep pockets to hire top-notch writers, armies of fans working for free to expand them, and too big a headstart on me.

What I can do is avoid the “All X are Y” trope in my own game. That’s what I’m going to do with the next few posts here. I’m going to give some of the nations, ethnicities, and general outlooks for each playable species in Covenant, including the humans.

I hope you’ll stick around for it.

Published by radiofreecovenant

A podcast about the science-fiction roleplaying game "Covenant" and the urban fantasy novel "Crossing the Line", soon to be published by Black Opal Books.

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