The ‘cinematic’ part of that starter kit refers to the two ways you can play the game; either in a scenario like an Alien film (cinematic) or a more traditional RPG experience with characters who survive more than one encounter and who may learn and grow stronger (campaign).
Death is a strong possibility in cinematic mode. Few people survive an encounter with a xenomorph but wouldn’t it be annoying if a fellow crewmate was responsible for your messy destruction? Survival in the campaign style of play is more likely and more important as you look to tell the story of a series of adventures of exciting people.
Staying alive, in either way of playing, is going to be a challenge. Who might have some helpful tips to help you keep your aliens RPG character alive? Tomas Härenstam. He’s a game designer at Fria Ligan/Free League and co-founder.
Is the Alien RPG purely about staying alive?
No. While surviving insurmountable odds in the cold darkness of space is certainly a key feature of this game, the ALIEN universe that we explore offers much more to do. In Campaign mode, players can explore chartered space freely, sandbox style, using the big starmap that comes with the game and the detailed setting texts and campaign generation tools included.
In the Cinematic style of play, what do you think the most significant danger is: aliens or rival crew members?
As always in ALIEN – the xenomorph might be the thing that gets you in the end, but a rival crew members might be the one to put you in harms way in the first place. This will become very evident for players the introductory scenario, Chariot of the Gods.
Do you think it is ever worth initiating a Player versus Player scene (which will remove one PC from play) before Act 3 in a Cinematic game?
Generally, the idea is that PvP scenes should wait until Act 3. In official Cinematic scenarios like Chariot of the Gods, the Personal Agendas in Act 1 and 2 and generally written so as to not trigger PvP. In Act 3, the gloves come off. Even if PvP is triggered, it doesn’t mean the game is over for the player however – there are often NPCs around that can be used as replacement PCs.
If, in a Cinematic game, you’re secretly playing a Synthetic, do you think the best strategy is to try and keep hidden or reveal the truth at a calm moment?
Exactly. It depends on your Personal Agenda of course, but typically it’s best for a hidden Synthetic to stay under cover as a human until the right moment. Of course, some synthetics are not secret, and then it’s a different story.
Given the hidden agendas of each and every pre-gennend character in a Cinematic game, aren’t some PCs starting the game at a survival disadvantage? What can players do about it?
That can be true, Personal Agendas can be quite varied. However, during Act 1 and 2 the Agendas are more carefully phrased, so it’s not much of an issue. In Act 3, some Agendas are more confrontational than others to be sure – but then the game is near the end anyway and the goal is for everyone to create a dramatic finale together. Sometimes, dying spectacularly in the final scenes can be as rewarding as surviving. Remember, in Cinematic mode, player characters are not re-used anyway.
How will levelling or character advancement work for those PCs who survive sessions in the Campaign style of play?
The game has an XP system, similar to other Year Zero Engine games. You get XP for surviving, for exploring, for helping your PC buddy, etc. XP can be used to increase skill levels and gain new talents.
In playtesting, have PCs generally done better by pushing their rolls often and firing on full-auto (both increase Stress) or is keeping Stress as low as possible usually the better tactic?
It really depends. If you have no Stress Dice or just a few, pushing rolls (and firing full-auto) is generally fine. But the more Stress you build up, the greater the risk of panic. It’s a little like a game of Blackjack – you’ll want to push as hard as you can, without going bust.
The Alien RPG is set at a time when some influential people know about the Xenomorphs. Will future supplements give us access to anti-Alien weapons and biotech?
That’s not entirely impossible. At the time of the game, the Xenomorphs are still more of a rumor than confirmed fact though.
What do you think the three most important things a player character has to do to stay alive?
Watch your Stress Level. Watch your back. And keep that motion tracker handy.
As a game designer, how do you get the balance right between fear of death and death in games?
It’s a tricky and important balance to strike – fear of death is fun, actual character death can be a bummer. I Cinematic mode, it’s less of a problem as character death is part of the drama in any ALIEN film, and so in our scenarios. In Campaign play, chances of survival are better. And there is one mechanic that we use in both ALIEN and other Year Zero Engine games handle the dilemma – it’s fairly easy for a character to become broken (incapacitated) – this keeps combat fast and players on their toes – but it’s actually not that easy to actually kill a character. When a character is broken, she suffers a random critical injury – only a few of these are immediately fatal – most are survivable, given aid in time.
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