Year Zero Worldbuilding creates campaign settings using Free League’s RPGs. This month covers using an Alien the RPG trilogy of adventures in space where no one can hear the PCs scream. Except the Game Mother.
Thanks to Free League for sending me RPGs to help in writing these articles. As a frequent customer of their kickstarters, pre-orders, and webstore, I really appreciate their customer service and attention to detail coupled with amazingly written and supported RPGs, most of which are hardcover with sewn bindings.
Alien the RPG contains an excellent cinematic adventure called Hope’s Last Day. Cinematic adventures come with pregenerated characters designed especially for the adventure, and the adventure tends to be a bit more brutal than campaign adventures. While this is a wonderful adventure, it is the trilogy of adventures by Andrew E.C. Gaska that makes a trilogy Cinematic campaign that mirrors the structure of the first three Alien films but with unique xenos and plots. As a bonus, the first adventure comes in the Alien Starter Set, so you don’t have to have the core rulebook to run this trilogy if you want to try out the system first. But for under $50, the core rulebook is a great deal, and the extra rule support would be useful.
Chariot of the Gods (Alien Starter Set) takes place on a ship in space. Destroyer of Worlds embroils Marines in an alien conflict. And Heart of Darkness takes place in a space station prison orbiting a black hole. Each cinematic adventure has its own pregenerated player characters, but players can take awarded Story Points along onto subsequent adventures. Altogether, this trilogy should take about nine to fifteen four-hour sessions to play through. Each box set comes with poster maps, cards with PC agendas and gear, and pregenerated character sheets. The Starter Set also has dice and tokens.
If you’re going to be the GM (Game Mother), there are a few differences between Cinematic adventures and Campaign (traditional) adventures. First, Cinematic adventures usually have a higher body count. This is baked in. Second, player characters are going to betray each other. Also baked in. Usually when a PC turns traitor the player turns in that character and takes over another one. In a mature group, it is possible to have the player continue to play out the scene as the traitor. I highly recommend getting all players’ buy in to the possibility of betrayal and what the player does next since this aspect differs so much from many other RPGs.
In Chariot of the Gods, each PC has cards with Personal Agendas for each act. If they follow these agendas, the GM will award them a Story Point. A Story Point can be spent to turn a roll into a 6, and PCs can have up to 3 Story Points. In the first adventure, one of them is also a secret android, with the normal Personal Agendas being replaced by those of the android. The android acts like a normal human until severely injured, at which point the white fluid instead of blood reveals the deception. This mechanic nicely mimics the reveal of the android in the first movie, with similar violent consequences for the other PCs.
Destroyer of Worlds and Heart of Darkness also introduce Story Cards. These work like Personal Agendas but are revealed when certain events happen in the adventure. They generate Story Points if followed and add another twist to the game. Two PCs are infected in different ways, and exposure to the aliens can also cause infection. Each one is covered on a Story Card. Since the player gets the Story Point, not the character, it is worth following these prompts even if the PC dies. The player still gets to keep the bonus and also gets to add to the fun at the table.
While these adventures have a basic connection to the movies, each one has a unique plot and unique xenomorphs. In addition, there are many NPCs and several locations in each adventure. A GM needs to do some prep ahead of time to know the agendas of the NPCs, what alien is hiding where, and what events are likely to happen next.
In brief, in Chariot of the Gods the PCs are diverted from running a starfreighter on a trade route to investigate a distress signal from an exploration ship that has been missing for three-quarters of a century. Alien hijinks, ships explode, and mercenary shenanigans ensue. A chemical agent called the Draconis Strain is discovered that has both possible healing and mutagenic properties.
The marines in Destroyer of Worlds started out on a simple manhunt. But what was stolen is problematic, there is an invasion fleet inbound, and something is in the darkness hating, hungering, and killing. Or worse. A chemical agent from the first adventure has been tinkered with, sometimes with horrible mutating results. And someone has weaponized the black goo….
In Heart of Darkness, the Company sends the PCs to a space station prison near a black hole to recover the same chemical agent from the first adventure. Alien life threatens the entire station, and the PCs have to try to save who they can and escape. It won’t be easy, and not everyone may survive.
Taken together, these three adventures can be turned into a complete campaign by a GM wanting to tell the story of the Draconis Strain as seen by space truckers, Colonial Marines, and a science team. The PCs will play a variety of PCs in the Alien universe, explore terrifying places like haunted starships and cursed prison stations spiraling around black holes, and have their minds and bodies shattered by alien lifeforms. Those PCs that survive will never be the same.
The GM has plenty of support in the three boxes with cards and maps and with the Starter Set, even tokens and dice. The PCs have plenty of help as well, with both Personal Agendas and Story Cards that can earn them Story Points, new gear and weapons to use, new vehicles to drive, and new ships to pilot.
If you want to experience something alien in a short, violent campaign at your table, Alien the RPG and the trilogy of boxed Cinematic adventures may be just what you are looking for.
Picture credit: Pixabay
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