Just in time for the Halloween season, Fria Ligan and 20th Century Studios has graced us with a pair of awesome new ALIEN RPG products. The most significant of which is a new boxed Starter Set. I’ve gotten a couple of weeks to play around with it and run its included adventure online and I want to share my impressions.
What’s the Story, Mother?
I reviewed the ALIEN RPG Core Rulebook back in June. To those totally in the dark about the world of Alien, here’s the basics of Alien: The RPG (as described in the Starter Set):
It’s the future as it existed in early 1980’s sci-fi: Ships can travel faster than light, cryogenics exist, and there are androids who are indistinguishable from human beings in appearance and intellect, but at the same time we’re still using cathode ray tube monitors, tape decks, and punch card computers. It’s a dingy used-future yellowed by cigarette smoke and empty corporate promises.
You take up the role of frontier colonists, space marines, or space truckers, exploring the dangerous fringes of space hoping to live long enough to get to your next pay cheque. In the vastness of space the problems of the old world follow you: a cold war between East and West, mega corporations like Weyland-Yutani running a monopoly on everything you need to live, and somewhere some freeloader is trying to earn more money off of your hard work.
But just out of sight, something alien lurks. Parasitic xenomorphs close in around you and your crew, or they erupt from within one of your unsuspecting friends, spreading body horror and panic through you all. These aliens are freakishly strong, almost indestructible, and want you dead...or worse.
Using your wits and a collection of patchwork weapons and tools, you endure stress and try to fend off panic as you escape the threat of the alien creatures. Get off the space station in the last escape pod, escape the planet in the last shuttle, or stay behind and try to fight the things lurking in the dark. Either way, survival is the name of the game, and you can either work together towards it...or go it alone.
Creeping dread followed by terrible thrills, all in a bid to stay alive the longest against something utterly inhuman. That’s Alien in a nutshell. It’s a galaxy of terror put together by a host of the most talented filmmakers around over the past forty years.
What’s in the Box?
Within the thick red and black box is a collection of game aids and helpful goodies. You get a 104-page trimmed down rulebook that contains all the rules needed to play the game. It’s all the same content and layout from the Core Rulebook, minus character building rules like classes and Game Mother specific rules like campaign building, setting lore, ship combat, and NPC stats. It’s a slim and handy reference.
There’s the tie in adventure Chariot of the Gods, which I’ll get more into detail further in this review.
To help the game run faster there are five pre-made character sheets complete with backstories, character portraits, and other useful details.
You get a deck of cards that include initiative cards, NPC stat reference cards, weapon reference cards, and character agenda cards. These are extremely useful for in person games.
You get two sets of 10 six-sided dice: a black set for regular rolls and a yellow face-hugger set for stress and panic rolls.
You also get a double-sided fold out map with the outer heavens (our slice of the milky way galaxy) on one side and a map of the USCSS Cronus on the other (the ship from the tie-in adventure). The map is sturdy and flexible, and looks wonderful. In addition, the boxed set also comes with a sheet of cardstock tokens for characters, aliens, and motion tracker pings. These, combined with the maps, make for an amazing tactile experience.
The quality of all of the included goods is wonderful. It’s clear a lot of care and effort went into making this set. The starter set retails for roughly $50 USD, which is a big savings compared to buying all of these goods separately.
“The adventure begins…” with Chariot of the Gods
The tie in adventure, Chariot of the Gods, is a perfect introduction into the world of ALIEN. Players take up the role of space truckers working on the frontier who stumble across a derelict Weyland-Yutani science vessel that hides some terrible secrets. The adventure borrows heavily from both Alien and Alien Covenant, along with some choice details and plot elements from Prometheus.
The five pre-made characters, the crew of the cargo vessel Montero, are a motley crew of mostly self-interested blue-collar types just trying to get by. Each one has an escalating series of Agendas that influence and prompt their actions from act to act in the adventure. Some are motivated by financial need, others have drug habits they need to feed and conceal, while others are just trying to do right by their crewmates in a dangerous situation. The real kicker is that depending on how the adventure plays out, one of the player characters is actually a secret android working against the company’s interests. This adds a wonderful layer of tension and paranoia to the adventure that makes it play differently every time.
The adventure is three acts long, taking players from one ship to another, having them work to restore ship functions to the derelict while uncovering the alien threat at the heart of the ship. It can be completed in one big afternoon long session, or three or more 2-3 hour sessions. Survival is not guaranteed, but there are enough NPCs that can become playable characters so that play doesn’t stop right away.
Chariot of the Gods provides enough mystery, thrills, and horrific xenomorph action to rival some of the films. What I liked best about it is that it’s acts are open-ended enough that the adventure can be played through multiple times with entirely different results.
I ran CotG’s three times for three different groups, and only one of them managed to survive til the end with all their characters still alive. Some groups turned on each other early, as conflict arose around whether to preserve alien specimens they found to get a big payout from Weyland-Yutani, or to have them all destroyed for the safety of the ship and crew. Other groups took the initiative to hunt the adventure’s neomorph creatures down ahead of all other considerations, which didn’t work so well once they discovered just how deadly they could be when cornered.
CotG’s is one of the best starter adventure scenarios I’ve ever run, able to be played again and again with different results and experiences each time. It also does a great job of teaching the game as you play, presenting players with mechanics as they come up in the story.
I was an early adopter of the Alien roleplaying game. I bought the core rulebook and a lot of the dice and accessories last year, and they’ve been great to me. Now that this new Starter Set is here, I cannot recommend it enough as the best way to start with the game for newcomers and those on the fence about it.
You get the total Alien RPG experience, with all the added accessories that make the game feel so much richer (and run faster) right in the box, all for less money than buying each piece separately.
If you’re at all curious about trying the Alien RPG, especially for a horror-themed game night, it’s an ideal choice that I can’t recommend enough. Check it out!