Jedion's Guide to Writing a Survey Report

jedion357's picture
August 13, 2012 - 5:24am
I like comprehensive reports and gripe over new aliens with lots of work left undone (its more of a pet peeve)
so this is my guide to writing a Survey Report by the team that encountered/studied a new alien species.

the Report is divided into constituent reports by different departments all focusing on their individual area. This allow the various personnel to do their job and the expedition leader is responsible for assembling the various reports into a final reports.

Astrological Survey
This report is usually compiled by the ship's astrogator and is essentially a system brief on the star and its orbiting bodies and any other anomalies of interest.

The Xenological Survey (has been called the Anthropological survey but that name is a misnomer)
This report is your classic alien data file often published in technical journals like the Star Frontiersman and the Frontier Explorer. It is only one small piece of the overall survey but often as not is presented as the whole due to the intense interest in new species. It should cover: physical description, senses, speech and language, society and customs, attitudes, special abilities, a brief capsuled History and society notes (for referees to run the race) attached files should be the language files for programing poly voxs and including common name forms is helpful for follow up expeditions. A number of the survey team's departments will actually work on this survey.

Environmental Survey
this is a general survey that describes the dominant environments of the planet. [North America has something like 30 distinct environments so no one planet will have one environment]- If it has polar ice caps then therr will be a polar environment, at least by default, though this one doesn't need to be codified as most referees could present a polar environment on the fly but a comprehensive survey will detail some of the dominant environments where action will or could take place on the planet. 3 environments would be minimal in my opinion, 5 would be better and more ? I don't think you'd need more than 7 but shoot for 5.

Detail the sots of dominant plants and animals and weather effects in these environments. Look for the series of articles on Hazardous environments coming out: Issue 18 of the Star Frontiersman has the frist and Fronteri Explorer has the second, The Crash on Volturnus module has some envrionmental hazards listed for its desert encounters as well. include one or more of these or create a new one

Botanical and Zoological surveys
Personally I hate the D&D monster manual fee and prefer to see a well thought out ecology where weirdness is the exception not the rule. on Earth evolution followed a basic template of four limbs and head with sensory organs and this is a dominant form whether we talk about mammals, reptiles, birds etc. Develop an evolutionary form and then vary it by developing prey and predatory animals to fit various niches in the environment. It would not be surprising for survey specialist to name new critters by what they know ie taking the planet's name and adding a name they recognize that animal as fitting a known niche- example the Losso Dragon, Minotaur bison etc.

describe a handful of plants that will populate the environment and not all of them have to be venus fly traps looking to eat the PCs

Finally include a statement that says "There are 15 species of this _______________." it populates the world in a very believable way, opens the door for other GMs to create variations - just think of North American Bear- the timid (to a point) black bears, grizzlies, kodiack griz, and polar bears, there are a few subspecies in North America as well due to isolated populations (one island population in the Pacific North West comes to mind) If you've created one creature have variations on that creature is realistic and saves you tons of work as all you need now are minor changes in its stats and description. A creature will adapt to fit the environments you created. thus giving you a fictional world that will live and breathe for the players.

A good Zoological survey will cover about 3-5 Aquatic, 3-5 avian, 3-5 terrestrial lifeforms and perhaps 1 or 2 insects or tiny pests.

Once the above work is done encounter tables for the several environments are a snap to produce but don't leave them for the follow up expeditions do them yourself

A conclusion: all good reports have one and should hi-light important points and suggest possibilities for future interaction with this new species.

Now you've created not just a race but a place for them to exist within the setting. Referees coming behind you will have no trouble at all using your race in an adventure as you've done a comprehensive survey and they can focus on writing the adventure.
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

Jaxon's picture
December 15, 2013 - 8:51am
Nice, I'm using this!

jedion357's picture
December 15, 2013 - 12:54pm
Goodness that needed an edit to clean it up.
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!