How To Think Like An Alien

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0961

To keep your adventures wondrous have players encounter strange communities who think completely different.

This makes roleplay novel and interesting.

It also creates a cool puzzle. As characters parley, your players will try to understand the behaviours of the NPCs, what they want, and why.

That’s the key to the puzzle. GM the NPC behaviours without explanation. What the NPCs do and say become clues for what they think and what they believe.

When the party figures out how the NPCs think, suddenly all the weirdness makes sense. The key fits the lock. And the door opens.

As NPCs and characters communicate on the same level now, much can be done. Quests moved forward. New hooks gleaned. Alliances formed.

Without that understanding, friction becomes enmity. The PCs not only fail to advance their mission, they earn a new enemy in the process.

What’s an example of alien thinking?

Well, it turns out different cultures in our world view reality different. Most folk who encounter this see the other people as being wrong. Their view happens to be the only correct one.

But if we can get past that, then we can understand how they regard the world and translate that into cultures in our game.

For example, a psychology book I was reading last night shared how most people  in the West see reality through the lens of things and objects.

Just look at commercials, engineering, science, and technology. Even people are regarded as things. It’s objects all the way up.

But ancient peoples who had oral traditions didn’t view reality this way. Their stories weren’t about things. Their stories were about morality. What they valued and focused on was tribal and community morals and beliefs.

Ancient stories would not pass for science. They were not trying to depict reality through realism and precision.

They had a completely different world view.

And that’s a good one for your NPCs.

The challenge you and I have is seeing beyond our own forest. If we can grasp these other ways of seeing the world, we can roleplay some really cool “alien” cultures.

We might see people around us in a different light as well. [Update: Campaign Mastery has a great post that expands on this idea and covers points I missed.]

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