D&D Ideas — Aliens

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Delving Dave’s Dungeon

Aliens: do they really belong in a D&D game? Genre mixing, mashing and blending can be a lot of fun. Not only that, it’s been going on in D&D for a long time now. In fact, we are closing in on 40-ish years of it or so.

1980. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was written by Gary Gygax. It didn’t take long for the creator of D&D to begin exploring space travel in the game. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks takes place in a crashed spacecraft. Not only that, many D&D monsters are very alien. Mind flayers are often described as invaders from far off worlds.

1989. We got a whole campaign setting full space and sci-fi tropes with Spelljammer.

1989. we also get Darkness and Light, a Dragonlance novel where Sturm Brightblade and Kitiara Uth Matar — two major characters from Chronicles — end up taking a jaunt to the red moon Lunitari.

2019. Our own adventure the Trip to the Planar Zoo includes aliens and sci-fi elements exploring the very extraterrestrial nature of the Zookeepers. You can check it out here.

Even before any of these instances, the early editions of Dungeons & Dragons include futuristic weapons in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. So don’t be afraid to tell a crazy D&D story where instead of the crazy wizard having been the one to do it, it was aliens. In my own campaign, my players explored a derelict spacecraft. It was a prison transport ship carrying a Kaiju like monster. The monster escaped ended up destroying a major city in our world.

From Ted’s Head

As we talked about on the live chat there are loads of ways to use the concept of aliens in a D&D game. First, you can look at the concept of alienation. What if you had an adventuring party unfamiliar with the outside world? It would be a great way to start off a campaign with characters who grew up together and know the terrain to a certain point. Look at Fellowship of the Ring shortly after Frodo and Sam begin the trip to Bree. Sam knows the exact spot where he will be the farthest from home he has ever been. What a great moment to remember as a character and so telling of how little of the outside world they could possibly have. I think it would be a lot of fun to either run or play in this kind of game or play this type of character.

Aside from alienation you always have the concept of aliens in D&D. We know the term alien means unknown. So we could very well use it to explore creatures from beyond. Yes, we already have aberrations and things from beyond. The outsider Cthulhu and all the mythos along with it. There are more there than 10 campaigns that could cover it let alone all the unique content in fan fiction and novels.

But what if you wanted to make actual aliens, like creatures from a different planet with wild and unknown technologies? We see some of this as potential in Spelljammer. What if you threw that all out the window and kept the tech side of things separate? Would you have to run this as an invasion? Not really. What if there is only a scouting party? Is this only an encounter or could it lead further? What if the ship has an auto return sequence and the characters are sent across the galaxy to the invader’s homeworld? So many ways a game could go when you are looking at mixing concepts.

Lastly, I wanted to look at the term in its other reference. There is always the Alien film franchise, great movies offering up many stories to use in any D&D game regardless of where the titular aliens came from. Another dimension, plane, or even another planet. They all could mean the same thing. But if you wanted to make a xenomorph without doing a lot of heavy lifting where would you go? I know that they spit acid, not unlike an ankheg. They have an armor plating, not unlike a bulette. So you have two monsters with a burrow speed you could just switch to a climb speed. Change the description and you have two different power levels of xenomorphs to play around within your D&D game. I would add the Acid Splash ability from the ankheg to the bulette so they are even and I think their deadly leap could be pretty devastating.

So there are just a fun few thoughts about aliens. However you want to push the boundaries in your D&D game just remember — it is your game and you want to have fun with it.

From the Nerditor’s Desk

Wow, Nerdarchist Ted and I talked about the idea of aliens in D&D from a lot of angles in the weekly live chat. Aliens from other worlds, other planes, other regions of campaign worlds, with other ways of thinking…sensing a theme there?

The concept of aliens encompasses themes of otherness from what the principal actors know and understand. For Dungeon Masters and players of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons exploring these themes can be challenging and rewarding. Ted and I touched on this a little bit but if I’m honest what really invades my thoughts when it comes to aliens in D&D are star spawn.

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes captured my attention in a lot of ways but not so much as the part about these amazing monsters. They come in five flavors from CR ¼ to 16, and for my money star spawn are about as “other” as they come.

“Heralds of Doom. The creatures known as star spawn are the heralds, servants, foot soldiers, and lieutenants of the Elder Evils, capable of taking on forms that can journey to the Material Plane. They arrive most often in the wake of a comet — or perhaps such a phenomenon merely signals that star spawn are in the vicinity and available for communication. When the signs are right, warlocks and cultists hasten to gather together, read aloud their blasphemous texts, and conduct the mind-searing rituals that guide the blazing star spawn into the world.”

I like how mysterious star spawn are in 5E D&D. There’s very little information about them, even in earlier editions of the game. Star spawn don’t come with much baggage, including any art of the creatures. There are creatures called foulspawn from 4E D&D and from what I can tell there’s a consensus for star spawn being the 5E equivalent. There’s one piece of art I came across but I couldn’t determine the artist. Thomas Baxa maybe? Anyway, if you want to inject some aliens into your D&D campaign you’re all set for an alien invasion right into your campaign world right out of the gate.

aliens 5E D&D star spawn

Tier 1

Star spawn grue begin the alien invasion. For a slow burn campaign, adventurers going on about the typical business of adventuring begin to experience flashing colors, hallucinations, disorientation, and waves of hopelessness. Feeling this tension and dread they soon discover a host of fanged and lipless, the ever-grinning, madly staring grue. Wherever this encounter takes places, there’s no explanation for how these creatures got there or their purpose. Cultists devoted to an Elder Evil might signal a greater threat, but for now the heroes are unable to learn anymore and no one believes their stories of strange aberrations.
To start your alien invasion campaign off with a bang, the star spawn instead arrive in terrifying fashion. A larva mage with a force of other star spawn simply pops into existence somewhere and makes their fell presence known. Grue and manglers run wild. Adventurers might be caught right in the middle of this and barely escape (make it clear the star spawn are overwhelming), or receive word something terrible happened at a place from their past, like the village they came from or even an entire city.
This portion of the campaign culminates in a confrontation with a star spawn cult including a mangler or two in the mix. I would take the spy from the Basic Rules and give it the aberrant template from Secrets of the Vault: Monster Menagerie Vol. 1. This would make for an awesome star spawn cult leader or enforcer who was immune to the grue’s Aura of Madness and would almost guarantee their Sneak Attack every time.

Tier 2

Now the adventurers know more about these alien invaders and the scope of the campaign to stop them broadens. Characters earn powerful new abilities in this tier of play, but the star spawn bring more to the table too with the star spawn hulk. A long term goal for this part of the campaign could involve learning about and tracking down this powerful new alien weapon. This is made more difficult because of the star spawn hulk’s Psychic Mirror.
In a slow burn alien invasion campaign, the party learns there’s more to these star spawn than grue and manglers — there’s an Elder Evil presence directing them. Up until now cultists are few and far between. Star Spawn do not have a strong foothold in this world…but it’s growing. Information found from the aberrant spy in tier 1 show evidence of related activity elsewhere. Lots of places elsewhere. Something is happening, and the party is the only ones who know about it.
In the campaign we started off with a bang, star spawn are rampant. At this point I’m thinking of the Invid Invasion storyline from the Robotech series. Life goes on many places, and survivors of the invasion live their lives adapting to the new dynamic. The star spawn seem largely disinterested in other intelligent life. They stick to their power bases doing whatever it is they’re doing. Anyone or anything coming too close to their strongholds is executed wordlessly. The party manages to make their way into one of these strongholds and battles a terrifying star spawn hulk. In the aftermath they learn what the star spawn’s true intentions are for their world.

Tier 3

Adventurers are really quite powerful now. Fighting a star spawn hulk isn’t the nail-biter it was the first time. But now there are more hulks and sometimes they accompany a star spawn seer — a devastating duo of monsters. The star spawn are aware of the party at this point, and while they might still consider the adventurers and all other life meaningless and beneath them, they do realize the party could disrupt their plans.

In a slow burn campaign, things heat up. The party continues to act against the star spawn, delving deep into their investigations of this threat from the other. The greater presence may be enough to sway those skeptical about the threat, and adventurers can spend time gathering allies and formulating plans to put a stop to the alien invasion.
Conversely from when we started with a bang, by this point the star spawn dominate huge portions of the campaign setting. For most people, their reality is living in a world controlled by alien invaders, who remain largely indifferent. But a secret resistance seeks to drive these star spawn invaders back to the distant stars they came from. Chances are tenuous at best, but people are willing to risk everything to reclaim their world.

Tier 4

Characters are at the top of their game. But the star spawn are too. Battles with groups of all sorts of star spawn are really challenging because of how well their abilities work together. The star spawn alien invaders are well aware of the adventurers and actively seek their destruction. Seer and hulk duos are par for the course. At this point the campaign has probably featured many dramatic moments. Going with inspiration from the Invid Invasion story, new star spawn may begin to sympathize with the people of the campaign world. An NPC star spawn allied with the adventurers creates a really dynamic situation!
In our slow burn campaign, Elder Evil cultists have aided their masters in gaining a strong foothold in their world. Defeating them and preventing a full-scale invasion involves planar travel and pretty much any other crazy stuff you can think of. Star spawn forces amass in the spaces between reality. They use the Astral Sea to travel between worlds, and an encounter with  something like an astral dreadnought would be a fitting and memorable experience.
Meanwhile, the campaign that began with a bang ought to end with an even bigger bang. Adventurers would definitely have to take the fight to the star spawn and driving them away takes more than beating a bunch of them in a fight. Careful planning, coordination with allies and teams with different goals, and a hell of a lot of risk gives the resistance fighters a slim chance at victory — their only chance, and it’s a slim one.
Until next time, stay nerdy
— Nerdarchy Team

ICYMI

You can still back Out of the Box: Encounters for 5th Edition. Or if you already did you can fill out your survey and make sure you get your stuff through the pledge manager here. There is also a free encounter you can download in the pledge manager and it doesn’t matter if you backed the Kickstarter or not.

5 Go to Cleric Spells for Tier 2 5e D&D

 

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