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I've had a close encounter of the twenty-second kind. (That's when an alien spaceship disappears up your behind).

(from) The South African Song Spitting Immage

Basic Information

A UFO is an acronym for Unidentifed Flying Object. The term encompasses any aerial object or phenomenon of unknown nature.

UFO is frequently used as a synonym for flying saucer, or alien spaceship, though such use is technically inaccurate. After all, if you know a particular thing in the sky is an alien spacecraft, then it's not an Unidentified Flying Object, is it? As a result of the popular use, mention of UFOs will provoke unflattering responses and associations from some individuals, and the media tends to play the subject up as being all about Little Green Men. Sometimes people insist they "don't believe in UFOs" - but the literal definition of UFO just means you saw something in the air that you couldn't identify, so what people really mean is they "don't believe in aliens" or "don't believe UFOs are aliens".

Some investigators into the field have begun using a different term, in an attempt to distance themselves from the stigma associated with UFO. The new broader term used is UAP, or Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon.

Common Misconceptions

The statements in italics are commonly held beliefs that are just not true, or at least easy to dispute.

  • UFO means alien spaceship - explained above.
  • All UFOs are disk or saucer shaped, and silver - Instead they come in many varieties.
  • Most UFOs are Hoaxes - studies have shown that only a tiny fraction of sightings (less than 1%) are deliberate deceptions.
  • It's all nonsense and scientists have debunked it - Several different Government Agencies have studied UFOs, and all have found that between 5 and 20% of reports remain inexplicable despite their best efforts. That doesn't mean that 5-20% of sightings are sightings of alien spaceships, though.
  • It's just vague lights in the sky seen from a distance - Some UFO sightings are from much closer, at ranges where details of the object can be discerned. Some include radar contacts, or even physical evidence.
  • It's wish fulfillment and self-deception - yet numerous people who've seen a UFO said they didn't "didn't believe in them" until they saw one themselves.
  • Only seen by crazy people or the uneducated - they've been seen by airforce and commercial pilots, US Congressmen and Presidents, etc. Some UFO sightings have had over 100 eye witnesses.
  • Interest in UFOs means you believe in all manner of Conspiracy Theories and Alternative Science - Some UFO researchers believe in a paranormal "bigger picture", but having an interest in one area outside mainstream science does not mean you're paranoid or are a sucker for every charlatan that comes along. This misconception is perpetuated by the trope If Jesus Then Aliens, which shows up in sci-fi and mainstream media frequently.
  • UFO sightings are rare, and getting rarer - Thousands of sightings are reported every year world wide. It's hard to say what percentage of sightings go unreported, since many governments have closed there investigations. The National UFO Reporting Center gets 300 - 550 UFO sighting reports a month.[4]. By comparison, the height of the UFO craze in 1947 resulted in less than 900 reported sightings.

Categorization of UFOs

The two popular UFO categorization/classification schemes are the Hynek System and the Vallée System. In addition, the most common UFO sightings follow one of these patterns:

UFO Hypotheses

Famous UFO sightings

See Also:


Game and Story Use

  • UFOs are a core element of Modern Mythology. If your game seeks to emulate the X-Files or other paranormal investigations in the modern day, the players will expect to see a UFO sooner or later.
  • Since there's so many competing theories to explain UFOs, this may hold true regardless of genre, as long as the game involves some speculative fiction, government conspiracy or occult elements, and is set in the Modern Day or Twenty Minutes Into The Future, or set in the later half of the 20th Century, from say 1947 onward.
  • Regardless of what the truth behind UFOs is, even skeptical groups may consider them a potential threat to public safety.
    • Even if they are merely as-yet-uncategorized weather phenomena, the mid-flight distraction to pilots is dangerous, and could cause an airplane crash.
    • PCs who work for the government (or even a commercial airline) may be assigned to investigate UFOs and UAP.
  • The list of common misconceptions can help you characterize skeptics, police and authorities, media personalities, etc. Instead of just saying (yet again) "you tell them your story, and they're reluctant to believe you", this might give the GM some fuel for differentiating NPC reactions.
  • Categorization section:
    • Can help you create a taxonomy of UFOs or aliens for use in your game.
      • If your campaign has more than one species of alien or extradimensional visitor, you could base their ships and technology on different descriptions.
        • In a far-future sci-fi campaign, you could introduce aliens whose ships match common UFO shapes, and leave the players guessing whether or not that particular alien species had humanity under observation before the official First Contact.
          • If proven they did, does interplanetary law establish a statute of limitations for abuctions, probes, and cattle mutilation?
      • If you want Monster of the Week but don't want to go the alien route, you could make a Cryptid or Draconic Variant that has a silhoutte similar to a common UFO sighting.
    • The shapes or symbols of various UFOs could be used like Heraldry for various groups, creatures, agencies or conspiracies within your games.
  • The various UFO Hypotheses are good for keeping the PCs on their toes.
    • Pick a less known explanation (or come up with your own) if you want to surprise the players and twist their expectations
    • If you want to use the default extraterrestrial explanation, but not have things so cut and dried for the players, introduce NPCs or red herrings that suggest one of the less common explanations. This way you can preserve some mystery, at the risk of the players deciding the alternate explanation was more interesting.
  • Jimmy Carter once reported seeing a UFO; did you know that? Of course, it turned out that what he saw was actually the planet Venus under circumstances where the movement of his own vehicle made it seem like the planet was moving unnaturally. But what if an important politician — or someone who could someday become one — saw an actual alien spacecraft?
  • In a Time Travel campaign, PC's vehicle gets spotted as a UFO. How are you going to explain to the Air Force that you aren't space aliens? Or worse yet, Rooskies?
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