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GURPS Aliens: Sparrials, Elizabeth McCoy 13 January 2016

This supplement updates and expands the Sparrial race, from the original GURPS Aliens, to fourth edition.

Disclaimer: I received playtest credit in this book and therefore did not pay for it.

Sparrials first appeared in a short piece in Roleplayer #10 (May 1988), and were expanded in four pages of GURPS Aliens (1990). If you've heard of them at all, though, it's more probably through the Space theme of David Morgan-Mar's Irregular Webcomic, which was derived in part from his Amber Nebula campaign.

Sparrials are small furred aliens, arboreal omnivores with a preference for meat. Their culture is entirely based on getting one-up on the other guy, usually by means of theft. Played badly they can be every annoying stereotype about the thief who steals from the rest of the party and gets everyone into trouble, rolled into one. Played well they can be a bit more interesting.

This book has three major sections of roughly equal size: game mechanics for characters, Sparrial culture, and equipment specific to the race. The racial stat and skill template is simple enough, with mention of skills and other traits that they often, but not always, learn. There are notes on physiology, names, and psychology, particularly focusing on the implications of racial kleptomania and a sense of smell so sensitive as to be effectively emotional telepathy. There are brief notes on how to alter them for use in other campaigns (e.g. as an engineered slave race, or primitive sparrials at the time of first contact), even in a fantasy game. There's a fully-detailed 100-point Sparrial Pilot template, and a 140-point sample character.

The Culture chapter goes into more detail about how the sparrial tendency towards individual dominance relationships maps into their society and daily life; this includes adventure seeds based on sparrial psychology. Finally, Gear mentions the sort of equipment that sparrials tend to carry, with notes on pets and riding animals. A sample spaceship is perhaps less useful, unless your interstellar campaign includes TL11^.

The main support is for sparrials as PCs in a game world that contains multiple alien species, much in the style of the Free Trader campaign for Traveller. Racial kleptomania, and sparrial psychology in general, wouldn't work well in a game with any sort of formal structure (government agents, military, etc.). In their fairly limited niche, though, they can provide a reasonable amount of amusement, and even some insight into an alien mindset. Just don't let the group's extrovert play one, as then he'll have a constant excuse for being annoying.

I don't have an immediate use for this but I'll certainly consider sparrials if/when I run another "lowlife" space campaign. Aliens: Sparrials is available from Warehouse 23.

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:45pm on 13 January 2016

    I've seen about three attempts in my playing career by people to play characters similar to these aliens. In all cases it ended badly. Most PCs get quite annoyed (to varying degrees) when another PC steals their stuff. Plus what happens when the party gets into a fight shortly after some of their weapons were stolen by the alien PC?

    The most memorable occasion was a PC that was ejected from the party by the other PCs, for stealing pretty much anything that wasn't nailed down and causing all sorts of poblems (ally NPCs took it badly for example). The player refused to change character, and left the group over it.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:51pm on 13 January 2016

    Yeah, there's some effort made to deal with this in the book, but my own feeling is that any player who's not prepared to agree that you don't steal from the party (if that's the social contract in force; I know other groups do it in other ways) is a problem player and will only cause trouble in some other manner later on.

    (I knew a player of an AD&D thief whose ambition was to own all the world's tinderboxes. Nobody else in the party was allowed to keep one. Eventually the character was thrown repeatedly into a burning building.)

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