The Races -- Compared

From SotS

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This is compilation of questions asked of and answered by Arinn Dembo. It has been edited for viewing purposes.


All alliances are possible. The real challenge for the imagination is to wrap your head around the ways that various alliances and conflicts could happen, because anything could happen. Saying that things can't happen or are unrealistic is counter–productive; any combination of alliance or conflict can and will occur.

How could the Humans ever ally with the Hivers, you ask? Well, ask yourself this: Exactly who was in command of that nesting fleet and why were they randomly attacking unknown races so far from Hiver space? Why did they run when their force was heavily damaged, trying to preserve their dreadnought?

Given that it is a well–known fact that a princess trying to turn Queen will try to isolate herself from the rest of her species for hundreds of years until her own hormones can distill properly, is it not possible that the main body of Hiver civilization was completely unaware of Humanity and intended no harm or conflict with the Human race? Humanity’s first contact with the Hivers might well have been an encounter with a rogue princess — a princess that the Queen might be very happy to destroy, with the help of Humankind.

Even the generally pacifistic Liir could launch an attack on another Liir faction. Some schismatic split would have to take place, leading to a mutual perception that the Liir of the opposing faction had become Suul'ka in nature — or were drifting in that direction. The Liir are strong believers in ethical hygiene and cultural drift in a cruel or barbaric direction would be enough to motivate them.

Would Liir try to wipe out other Liir in a genocidal fashion? Yes. A single tainted voice can infect the whole choir, after all. The colonists of various worlds (i.e., the mainstream of Liir society) do not make these decisions: The Black is the Elder of the Black Sea, and non–military Liir are rarely consulted or even informed of the actions taken by the fleet.

As for the Humans and Tarkas, both species war extensively among themselves, and they can be incredibly ruthless and cruel even to members of their own species.

The point is: There is always a way that a race might come to ally. There is always a way that a race might fragment into warring factions. Any given game offers many possibilities, with 8 possible slots for players who can choose to play any race.

A three–way battle between Hivers, Liir, and Tarkas
Click to enlarge

Physical Combat

The majority of Hiver are physically smaller than humans, and the majority of Tarka are on a par with Humans. Both Hiver and Liir have "combat units" that are more impressive members of their species, but...Humans can compensate in various ways.

Liir vary in size and strength a great deal, and the biggest Liir are 1) very rarely aggressive or war-like and 2) not often encountered in space. There is no reason why clever apes (or any other species) could not handle Black Swimmers in close combat, given the right tools for the job.

From my point of view, those who complain that "everyone is stronger than humans" are missing the point. Humans did not conquer a planet and become the top of its food chain because they were the biggest, the strongest or the species with the most specialized innate weaponry. There is always a bigger, stronger, more specialized species.

Humans conquer by their ability to find the lever that will move the world.

Hiver vs. Human

In a one-on-one fight between a Hiver and a Human, the Human would have a serious edge in speed, and might be able to avoid closing with the Hiver for a very long time. However, lacking the use of a weapon, it would be very difficult for a Human to injure a Hiver warrior using only blows of the hands and feet.

However, nothing is impossible. The Human's great advantage here is speed and maneuverability. If one has a clear plan of action and the agility to carry it out, one may strike for vulnerable spots and evade every counter-attack. It could be done, but it is doubtful that it could be done by breaking the main carapace.

One of the problems with analogies such as that of a skilled martial artist breaking a wood plank without the aid of weapons is that a Hiver's armor is not all that similar to wood or bone. It's much more like the composites from which we construct stealth aircraft, or — in the case of a warrior hiver — the chobham armor we use to protect the M-1 Abrams tank.

The other problem with analogies of striking timbers is that these are inanimate objects. It's much easier to direct focused force against a target when you can position it as you like, brace it as you like, and guarantee it will not move (or swing to decapitate you). By contrast, a Hiver will not stand and patiently wait while you focus your chi. The vulnerable spots of a Hiver warrior may not be conveniently placed; its eyes could be up to fifteen feet off the ground, and it will certainly try to evade any strike, and make one pay for coming within range of its forelimbs, any one of which could easily cut a human being in half.

Killing a bull with your bare hands is impressive, but bulls are notoriously stubborn and stupid creatures. So far as real martial arts skill goes, they are as predictable in their way as the coconut or the block of wood. By contrast, a Hiver is not a beast. It will not conveniently repeat the same useless charge. It will not stupidly blunder around in a blind rage, attacking anything that moves — including a fluttering cape — and ignoring the man who represents the real threat. Its movements are not confined to straight, predictable paths in two dimensions; it can easily sidestep, leap, and use the terrain to its advantage.

Overall, a very nasty enemy. Any Human being who could defeat one in single unarmed combat would most certainly prove the superiority of his style or school for all time.

Hiver vs. Tarka

An unChanged male Tarka and a Hiver Worker in hand–to–hand combat
Click to enlarge
Tarkasian females and pre–change males, although proportionately faster and stronger than the average Human (especially in a high-adrenaline situation), would still have great difficulty doing enough damage to kill the Hiver warrior. The one difference between the Tarka and the Human in the previous example would be the tail, which can strike with the force of a club after a well–executed whirl. All–in–all though, the Tarka would be wiser to try to evade until a weapon or an avenue of escape presents itself; closing with the Hiver could be a fatal mistake.

If the Hiver were to manage to lay hold of the Tarka — or the Human — the Hiver would rip its opponent apart in short order.

This particular Tarka is an unChanged male wearing battle armor, engaged in hand–to–hand combat with a Hiver worker drone. The Tarka is not impressively endowed in the tail department.

However, if the Tarka were a Changed male, this would be much closer to a fair fight. Even without weapons, a Tarka male after the Change and a standard warrior would be fairly evenly matched. The Tarka would be faster, more agile, very strong, but less heavily armored. The Hiver would be slower, but difficult to injure and can take significant damage before it stops fighting. The Hiver would find it hard to corner its opponent for a killing blow; the Tarka would have to wait for an opening to break a leg at the joint or strike a blow to the brain.

Zuul vs. Others

Overall, it's probably best to point out that if a male Zuul has to face a resisting opponent in close–range single combat, he has already lost the majority of his battlefield advantage.

Zuul attack in numbers, they attack in meta–concert, and coercion is their main weapon. This is why their victims become slaves, rather than just becoming dinner.

If you are fighting back, a Zuul is already in trouble.

The Zuul have two forms of psychic attack. The Liir have a well–trained ability to resist one — but very little resistance to the other. They are subject to Zuul coercion like any other race. The resistance to this coercion is something a Liir Black Swimmer or any other sentient being could learn with exposure and/or training. This is one of the reasons that Zuul are not terribly interested in keeping their workers alive.

Social Interaction

Hivers and Other Races

So far as visual reactions go, the Hivers are actually less prone to irrational xenophobia than Humans or Tarka tend to be. This is primarily because there is a great deal of physical diversity among members of the same clan who belong to different castes or have been developed for different purposes. So under the circumstances, a Liir, a Tarka or a Human is not as "alien" to the Hiver's eye as vice versa.

On the other hand, the pheromonal signature of any non–Hiver is very "off", to their senses. Humans may only look slightly weird—in a soft unarmored grub–like sort of way — but they smell very foreign. Humans, Tarka and Liir do not smell like "people" or "brother" — they smell like "enemy", "food" or "danger", depending on the hormonal signature.

Females of other species are relatively easy for Hivers to sniff out. The hormone that makes an organism "female" is estrogen — the estrogen cycle is where eggs come from, and the ability to create eggs is universal to Tarka, Hiver and Human females. Hivers can smell that hormone a mile away, and the smell has great significance to them — significance which can have very negative consequences for enemy females encountered in battle. After taking out the largest threats in combat, anything female becomes a preferred secondary target. The reasoning is instinctual — Estrogen means Female, Female means Mother, Dead Mother means Dead Clan. After an enemy princess is killed, war is just a matter of mopping up. The morale loss suffered by the clan is just a corollary to that.

Hivers are as capable of friendship based on mutual interests and affinity as any other species; they are no more or less xenophobic than any other race. On the other hand, a Hiver is the sort of buddy who will let a woman come between you! Also, there is a certain awkwardness associated with any feeling of respect, admiration or love for a female (of any species, including his own) other than his mother (or grandmother, which is technically the relationship most Hivers have to the Queen).

It would be more difficult for a Human or Tarka female to overcome the "foreign princess" message that the Hiver would be receiving constantly through his scent channels; they emit too much estrogen. And really, if things went too far down that road and the scent became familiar or loved, the poor Hiver could flip a bit and start behaving...very strangely.

Hivers and Humans

It is possible that a Human amongst Hiver culture would not fare too well without guidance from, for example, a Prince. However, Human cultures vary considerably in terms of training the individual to yield to the needs of the many, or to a higher authority. Also, recall that Hivers culturally comprehend that not everyone has the same mother — a Human would not be expected to be loyal to the Hiver Queen or a Hiver princess, but the Hivers would be shocked, appalled and contemptuous if that Human were ever disloyal to his own mother or the human "Queen". In short, they understand different contexts, but not different values.

On the note of scents and smells, here's a brief summary:

Human perfumes and colognes: "Dear Goddess, how can they breathe? Have they no membranes?"

Human flatulence: Hard to explain without a brief story.

Once upon a time, there was a human colony that adopted an orphan Hiver, the only surviver of the Hiver colony which had previously been blasted off the contested planet. The humans, finding the just–hatched egg in the ruins and the helpless bugling in the ruins, raised the baby Hiver as one of them and named him Ziggy. He eventually became a happy and productive member of the colony, largely due to his exceptional character and abilities.

One of Ziggy's favorite party tricks was identifying who "dealt it" whenever anyone would try to "let one ninja–style". He could also tell you, after just one whiff, exactly what that person had eaten in the previous 48 hours. He could make this calculation down to the gram, and won countless bets when his friends would make the challenge to newcomers to the colony. He could also tell where someone was born and guess at their most recent port of call based on unique scent signature of their intestinal flora.

Humans and Liir

Both the Humans and the Liir have suffered from rude awakenings. However, Humans are better able to cope with the situation emotionally and politically. All Humans are familiar with the term "underdog", in some language. All Humans understand that there is a special honor in winning a contest when you were never the favorite, something the Liir are just beginning to learn.

Humans and Tarkas

Humans and Tarkas evolved in somewhat similar conditions. Both are bipedal, amongst other similarities in both societal organisation and physiology. Relative to Hiver and Liir, Tarkas and Humans are very similar.

Both species war extensively among themselves, and can be incredibly ruthless and cruel even to members of their own species. This tendency could be suppressed or unleashed in relations between the two species as well — so they will get along as well as they choose to at any given time.

Tarkas find all human beings to be disconcertingly androgynous and childlike in appearance. Human skin is extremely smooth and soft to the touch, their eyes are large, liquid and vulnerable looking. Humans come across as tail–less, oversized hatchlings who never developed the hard smooth scales of a post–pubescent adult.

As such, they do not enjoy facing us directly in boarding actions or killing us hand–to–hand. Intellectually they understand that Humans are an alien enemy, but instinct sometimes rebels against shooting the average Human in the face — in much the same way that we would not enjoy fighting a race which closely resembled eleven–year–old children.

To a Tarka male either pre– or post–Change, the vast majority of the Human race is weirdly smooth, soft, and smells vaguely of mixed hormones. Only Humans with very extreme size and muscular development, (the ones reeking of testosterone) seem "male" to them at all.

On the other hand, human males often act a great deal like Tarka males after the Change, and sometimes the deep voice, the bravado and mass of a Human male can trigger a disconcerting reaction.

Overall, Tarkas find human beings of either sex very disturbing. It's almost as if they're...people...without tails.

Liir and Other Races

Only at a distance do the Liir seem too alien in philosophy for other races to be comfortable with them. The most difficult aspect of living among the Liir for the average Human would be the inability to conceal information. "Privacy" is another Human word which the Liir have to struggle to understand. (To read more on Liirian Language, click here)

Generally when first seeing a Liir, an alien's thoughts revolve around, "Wow. That's a hella big fish. And it has guns."

Neither the Tarka nor the Hiver have a great deal of experience with sentient swimming life–forms. All they see is an extremely large, extremely strange, extremely alien life–form which may or may not want them dead.

The Races and Sentient AI's

In general, AI's aboard any vessel that employs one are a kind of ubiquitous crew member; one who does not need sleeping quarters, food or breathables. Because the AI is able to access most of the ship's systems, it is rarely hard for a rebel AI to eliminate those crew members who do need food, breathables, etc. The film 2001: A Space Odyssey illustrates what even a relatively well–meaning but schizophrenic civilian AI can do, if given conflicting orders. A military AI which is willfully rebelling against its organic masters would be far more dangerous and efficient about eliminating them.

Tarkas and Hivers

As to how Tarkas view the Hivers...that's a somewhat unfortunate question. Tarkas are fond of eating arthropod species — their native diet incorporates a great many tree–, sea– and ground–dwelling arthropods as sources of protein and important nutrients. When at war with the Hivers, the Tarkas tend to make a lot of jokes about serving their enemies with a tub of drawn butter, which of course the Hivers find incredibly offensive and blasphemous, given their own experiences and views about cannibalism.

Such humor is a common source of cultural friction between Hivers and Tarkas, even at the best of times.

"Ah, Roasted Bug Under Glass. May I recommend a nice white wine—?" — Arinn

Zuul and Humans

If for some reason a Human took a Zuul worm, put it in a pile of biological waste and nurtured it to adulthood, the result would depend on what sex the "child" ended up being. If it was a female Zuul, she would try to form coterie bonds with the other mammals around her. There are no human minds which are really analogous to a male or female Zuul, so she would likely form a "pack bond" with whoever provided her with food.

Very large, very dangerous dog, essentially.

A male Zuul, to put it mildly, would be a problem child. Just imagine an angsty teen Zuul with tons of repressed aggression with nowhere to let it out, the hunting instincts of a Wolf or Lion and the ability to do mind control on his own "parents". Every time there's a temper tantrum or heated argument his instincts might kick in, and he'll either mind wipe or kill his parents.

Zuul and Liir

If for some reason a Liir took a Zuul worm, put it in a pile of biological waste and nurtured it to adulthood, the result would depend on what sex the "child" ended up being. If it was a female Zuul, the result would be very much like the result of a Human raising a female Zuul, except that she could be controlled and directed in a more sophisticated fashion.

A Male Zuul would essentially grow up as a very angry, very aggressive Liir with two legs. A difficult child needing constant guidance and Elder care. A spectacular player of hide–the–thought — but only on the "seeking" side, never on the "hiding" side. A very dangerous Black Swimmer.

The Races on Human Genders

The Tarka think that there are entirely too many adult males in the human species, and wonder how in the hell anything ever gets done. Whenever they see two human males fighting, they look at each in smug and knowing ways that tempt the human observer to find the nearest two–by–four and confirm their prejudices. Whenever a human ship goes awry in battle, the opposing Tarkasian commander is likely to make a snide comment about "Var Stumpy being allowed to drive".

The Hiver think that there are entirely too many females in the human species, and that it must be the overabundance of daughters which cause those females to be so strangely devalued by their sons, brothers and fathers. They feel sorrow and pity that so many human women will have only one or two children, or perhaps even no children at all. They do not understand why human males all seem to regard themselves as "little princes", and they consider it shameful and contemptible that human females sometimes risk their lives in combat maneuvers while a male commander directs the battle from a position of safety — this is a level of cowardice they consider almost inconceivable, and many Hiver warriors will contemptuously point out that even the Tarka seem to know better.

The Zuul find it vile, offensive and abominable to see any female sentient walking around as if she were an autonomous entity, much less presuming to think and express thoughts to anyone else.

The Liir find it sad that other races seem to have their souls divided at birth into fragmented and separate selves who may or may not ever find one another and reunite while they are alive.

Psychic Abilities

There is no such thing as an entirely "non-psychic" race in the SotS universe. There are only races for whom telepathy is a well-developed set of evolutionary tools versus those for whom it is undeveloped, deliberately suppressed, or vestigial.

Humanity has a combination of undeveloped and deliberately suppressed psychic skills, while those skills are undeveloped in Hivers. And while psychic skills are highly developed in both Liir and Zuul, they have been crushed into non-existence in Tarkas.

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