Alien Module 7: Hivers
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue.
Module 7: Hivers. J. Andrew Keith, Marc Miller, Loren Wiseman.
Game Designers’ Workshop (currently from FarFuture Enterprises https://farfuture.net)
48pp., originally softcover
Price of printed volume varies on secondhand market; currently available in PDF as part of Classic Traveller CD-ROM, US$35
Of the major races in Traveller, the Hivers are undoubtedly the most enigmatic, the most difficult to play, and the ones with the least available material. Most of the available material is represented by this Classic Traveller Alien Module, covering a great deal of information on Hiver society and the Hive Federation, and including generation rules for Hiver characters within the Federation. What it notably lacks is information relevant to playing Hiver characters in Imperial space – there is a statement in the prefatory material that says that Imperial non-humans generally use the same material and concepts as humans (somewhat modified for physiological differences), but we have seen (generally in material published subsequent to the original publication of this module) that the Imperial cultural umbrella has much room for variation under it, and have often been shown how the aliens’ “native” culture interacts with the “standard” Imperial culture. This type of information as applied to the Hivers is left to be developed by the player, but extrapolating is difficult going from a milieu where the Hivers are unarguably the dominant culture to one where not only are they not dominant, but are not even a significant influence generally. One could explain this lack by saying that there is no ‘native’ Hiver presence in Imperial space (doing so wouldn’t be unreasonable in light of their lack of real presence in other material), but somehow, this feels unsatisfactory.
As a supplement to the physiological information in the text, the inside front cover has three drawings of anatomical details from Hivers, presented as from the notebooks of a surgeon. While they may be accurate as in-universe notes, there is no real connection to the text of the module, so they should be regarded more as decorative artwork than as useful information. The inside back cover provides an overview map of Hive Federation space showing its relationship to surrounding polities, and marking the locations of significant worlds.
There are two pages of prefatory material describing how aliens fit into Traveller and outlining how this Alien Module should be used and what materials are required or recommended. The only Traveller material other than this Alien Module that is required is a basic Traveller rule set (Starter, Deluxe, Basic, or The Traveller Book), but other Traveller material may be useful, most notably Book 5: High Guard and Book 7: Merchant Prince.
Following the prefatory material is a page on the evolution of the Hivers. This material goes into little depth, and doesn’t purport to explain why the radial-symmetry body plan became dominant on land on Guaran (the Hiver homeworld); it just asserts it as fact, and goes on to a capsule explanation of how the animal that became the Hiver first entered a symbiotic relationship with another Guaran animal, and later became sapient under environmental pressure. Subsequent to the development of what would be recognized as the Hiver, a developmental period of 100,000 years is given to rise to their present level of social and technological development.
The next two pages give an overview of Hiver physiology. While the
basic body plan is sixfold radially symmetric, development of the sense
organ cluster and the reproductive organs have made it reasonably
accurate to claim that the Hivers have ‘evolved’ from radial symmetry to
bilateral symmetry, although less rigidly defined or specialized than
the other Major Races.
While the term is never explicitly used in the Module, the physiological information presented in these pages give the first clue that the Hivers use what is called the r-selection reproductive strategy, where there are a comparatively high number of offspring, but few are expected to survive. We also find out (again, without the explicit use of the term) that Hivers are isogamous; there is no male/female distinction among gametes or germ cells (or the Hivers themselves). (This is distinct from hermaphroditism, where the gamete/germ cell distinction does exist, but a given individual is capable of taking either role in zygote production.) This section also explains the origin of Hiver “embassies”, and outlines important medical considerations that apply to Hivers.
We also learn here that the sense of smell is not universal among Hivers; approximately half of all Hivers have no sense of smell, and this lack is actually considered the norm. This section proposes that the original loss of the sense of smell had a role in developing Hiver sapience; without odor input from the environment, the Hiver had to rely on sight as a primary sense, and – as with humans – this is believed to have been a major impetus in the development of sapience.
The next four pages give a view of Hiver social organization. The “family” as a biological or reproductive unit (as with the other Major Races) is unknown among Hivers; the basic unit of social organization is the “nest”. Nests may vary widely in size; they form as “social coöperatives” centering on a common endeavor or interest. Virtually all groupings of Hivers are nests, whether the operators of factories or businesses, universities, ship crews, and so on. The common endeavor/interest is not the only function of the nest; if a Hiver “yearling” (young Hiver that has survived its first year) finds its way to a nest, the nest will take it in as a member, and teach it basic social and intellectual skills (this is the other clue that points to Hivers using an r-selection reproductive strategy). Some nests may choose to work together (often with one or more nests in a coördinating role between the others); this is in effect the only form of “government” among Hivers, and neither hierarchy nor lines of authority are as clear as or have the same meaning or significance as with other races.
There is no simple way to explain the Hiver economy; human terms like ‘capitalistic’ or ‘communalistic’ do not adequately explain the ‘nest credit’ system that forms its basis. Within the nest, individual Hivers may draw upon nest resources at will, but are expected to return or repay the nest for the use of those resources, plus additional added value (of the work done with those resources); when a Hiver transfers from one nest to another, the net ‘nest credit’ of that Hiver transfers as well. It is unclear how this system interfaces with the money-based systems used by the other Major Races.
In addition to the nest as a basic unit of social organization, these pages discuss Manipulation, frequently used to institute changes in Hiver (or other) social attitudes (one of the reasons that other Major Races – humans, especially – are uncomfortable with Hiver Manipulation is because it often seems to embody the sentiment ‘the ends justify the means’); Embassies, a social and reproductive mechanism to maintain cultural and biological homogeneity; and Topical Clubs, a nest-like structure that may or may not eventually transition into a full nest, but which, like the nest, has a focus (which may not be considered important or useful enough for a full nest to dedicate itself to). Oddly, there are some Topical Clubs that perform highly-important functions for the Hive Federation as a whole; it is unclear why these are Topical Clubs instead of full nests.
The next two pages cover the most important aspects of Hiver psychology. While none of the basic motivations listed in this section are foreign to the other Major Races, their relative strengths are different, and they express themselves in different behaviors – for example, the Hiver motivation for personal survival is seemingly stronger than in many other races, and expresses itself in a strong aversion to personal and physical violence: if expressed using the human term ‘fight or flight’, the Hiver will invariably prefer flight, and will only fight if avoidance is impossible. (This is often interpreted by the other Major Races as cowardice.) Hiver curiosity is also stronger than the equivalent motivation in most of the other Major Races; this is sometimes confusing to those who perceive Hivers as ‘cowards’ because the Hiver will be more inclined to favor satisfying curiosity over avoiding (non-combat) danger. Other Hiver motivations and behaviors are discussed; it is clear that Hivers are both as complex as other Major Races psychologically, and different from all of them.
The next three pages provide an overview of the structure of the Hive Federation and some of the more prominent non-Hiver member races. As with the Imperium, some of these races have a ‘best fit’ in certain roles within the Federation – but overall, Federation member races tend to differ from the Hiver cultural model less than Imperial Minor Races do from Imperial “norms”. An overview of the three most important Federation agencies (the Embassy Directorate, the Federation Development Agency, and the Navy) is presented as well. It is noteworthy that Hiver Federation ground forces are considered an arm of the Navy, which is the only Hiver military organization.
The next page provides an overview – essentially, a textual expansion of the UWP – of Guaran, the Hiver homeworld, and Glea, the Hive Federation capital.
The next two pages provide a historical overview of Hiver development and expansion into space. Contact with the Ithklur and the Hiver-K’kree War are both summarized.
The next sixteen pages provide the reader with rules and tables for generating Hiver characters. These tables completely replace those from the standard rules; the basic careers available to Hivers are not good matches for standard Imperial careers, even where there are surface similarities. The personal characteristics for Hivers differ from those of the standard rules for Imperial humans; ‘Social Standing’ as such does not exist among Hivers, and the sixth characteristic is ‘Curiosity’. Hivers also have certain skills unavailable in the standard Traveller rules, and interpret other differently. Included in these rules and tables are replacement tables and supplementary rules for Book 5: High Guard and Book 7: Merchant Prince; none of the Hiver careers presented allow for advance character generation analogous to either Book 4: Mercenary or Book 6: Scouts.
The next two pages present supplemental rules and replacement tables for Hiver world generation. The rules as presented lead to a greater level of consistency in both government type and tech level; it should be noted that a UWP Government code of 0 (No government) is not considered ‘anarchy’ as it is with humans; there are two forms of ‘anarchy’ among Hivers (‘Unsupervised Anarchy’ and ‘Supervised Anarchy’), both of which occur at significantly higher population levels (minimum 7 and 9 respectively).
The next two pages discuss additional rules for handling Hiver characters, such as using the Curiosity characteristic, reaction rolls, differences in base prices for trade goods, Hiver use of weapons, and other Hiver-specific equipment.
The next three pages discuss starships and travel in the Hive Federation. It is worth noting that Hivers cannot travel in Low Berths, and as a result, neither low berths nor (naturally) Low Passage are available in the Hive Federation or on Hiver ships. There are some differences in construction prices which are called out in these pages. Five typical Hiver starships are presented, using the Book 2: Starships textual description (not the Book 5: High Guard USP). The section ends with the Hiver encounter and patron tables.
The next three pages are an adventure for a party of Imperial human characters in Hive Federation space, who meet a Hiver patron for the adventure. More would be spoily. A somewhat surprising omission is that there are no adventures for Hiver player-characters.
The final five pages of the book discuss playing and refereeing Hivers. It is clear that Hivers are not ‘easy’, and the book strongly recommends that the players’ first encounter with Hivers should be as patrons or NPCs controlled by the referee. (The reviewer even more strongly recommends that prior to allowing players to play Hiver characters, an in-depth ‘Session Zero’ – or multiple such – occur with the specific purpose of allowing players to familiarize themselves with the information presented in this volume. While no alien race can be ‘played well’ if reduced to a stereotype or cliché from fiction, to even attempt to so reduce the Hivers would, in the reviewer’s opinion, be disastrous for the adventure and would likely kill any desire to re-attempt Hiver characters.)
Overall evaluation: Hivers are for experienced players and referees only. That said, if they’re played without attempting to reduce them to clichés or stereotypes, they have plenty of potential, perhaps more in some ways than the other Major Races. This is thus a recommended acquisition, especially since it can be obtained with the rest of the Classic Traveller canon for a good price. I would very much like to see someone try to run a Hiver-based adventure at TravellerCON/USA, and I would very much like to see an update to this volume to support current Traveller rules.