Tabletop RPG Review: Alien The Roleplaying Game

What can I say about this?  Alien is one of my all time favorite films.  It’s a fantastic horror film made by people at the top of their game.  Great actors, great sets, great effects, great music.  The script is crackerjack.  The editing is excellent.  The whole danged movie is fantastic.  Taking a cue from Star Wars and other Science Fiction works, the film hints at a much larger universe without beating you over the head with it.  As more films (and books and comics and video games and…) came out over the years, the very concept of the creature and the universe it menaced evolved into a convoluted mess.  Convoluted messes are great sandboxes to set tabletop roleplaying games in.  They’re a great way to take something familiar and make it your own.

With Alien The Roleplaying Game, the folks at Free League have taken their Year Zero Engine and tailored it to the universe as seen in Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.  This is the same game mechanic (with a few specific alterations) that was used to such great effect in Tales from the Loop, which I got a chance to run in 2020.  The system is fairly easy to pick up, though there are some granular aspects that may take a bit of getting used to.  Something especially interesting about this is that it has two different ‘modes’ of play.  There is cinematic play, which is essentially a one-shot.  In this, your characters have a good chance of getting killed gruesomely and you’re almost certain to face off against a xenomorph or two.  Then there’s campaign play, which may feel a bit more like other RPGs, where your characters grow and follow their drives.  In this latter style of play, you may come up against a xenomorph or an Engineer or some other nasty thing.  But you may also play several scenarios dealing with corporate intrigue, daily difficulties of setting up a colony, life as a soldier and other such stories.  

I’ve been looking for a game to scratch an itch and I think I may have found it.  Traveller and 2300 A.D. are both games that have a certain pull, but between massive amounts of baggage, edition confusion, and mechanics that are either too crunchy or simply too obtuse, I just don’t see myself ever running either.  Here comes Alien The Roleplaying Game and I think I may have found my game.  The setting is the right style, the vibe is what I’m looking for, and the Year Zero Engine is much more my speed.  I can definitely see myself running a campaign of this game, focusing less on rooting out xenomorphs and whatever, and more about the conquest of space and the conflicts that go with it.  That said, I absolutely love the titular alien.  And I have my own feelings about what it is and how I’d use it (I’ve never liked Ridley Scott’s idea of it being an engineered weapon).  Same with the Engineers and the Space Jockey (I’d drop the idea of the Space Jockey being an Engineer in a suit. That just doesn’t work for me at all). 

The book is well written, easy to understand, and packed with beautiful art.  The only thing missing is a sample adventure.  You have to pick up the Starter Set.  This could definitely serve as an introduction to the hobby for folks.  If you’ve got friends who are into the movies and have thought about trying tabletop RPGs, this could be a great option.  

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3 thoughts on “Tabletop RPG Review: Alien The Roleplaying Game

  1. Thanks for this. Care to share details on how you’d go about solving the Space Jockey issue and the origin of the critters? Beware, some of your potential players might read this!

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    1. I’m long winded by nature, but will try to keep this brief.
      As far as the Space Jockey, I figure it’s some ancient alien and if it is in a space suit, I wouldn’t have it be a mostly human-looking thing. Probably its species is long dead, though I might do something else with them. I always assumed a situation much like what happened to the crew of the Nostromo happened to it. Their ship picked up something, it got out, killed them all and they crashed. It looked to me like the big cave with all the eggs was not actually inside the ship, but under it, like the alien got out post-crash and started building a nest.
      As far as the xenomorph itself, I’m with Ash (the android) on this. I think it’s a marvel of evolution, a survivor. I think the idea that it was engineered sullies its beauty. I also think that by it being a thing unto itself, a creature alien in nature and unrelated to the hopes & dreams of humans or human-like aliens, it captures the Cosmic Horror of things.
      With all that said, it did get me to thinking about the Engineers & the Black Goo. I could see the Engineers having encountered the xenomorphs at some point in their past. They then tried to domesticate them or use them as weapons. It backfired. Perhaps the Black Good was some nano-substance either inspired by something in xenomorph genetics or created to fight them?
      Anyway, I’d probably cement those ideas if I actually started writing/running a campaign. Even though I didn’t like the films Prometheus or Alien: Covenant, I don’t mind using the Engineers as one more species out there doing their thing. I would lean away from Scott’s ancient aliens creating humans thing, though.

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  2. I too was quite disappointed when I saw what Scott and his crew had come up with regarding the Space Jockey. I deemed it a failure of imagination — a step back, really. Still, although Prometheus and Covenant are at times laugh-out-loud bad movies (with Prometheus being the worst of the two), I appreciate the attempt Scott made at opening the “Alien universe” in a big, almost extravagant way. Sure, most of it doesn’t quite work, but I feel that they are interesting and ballsy attempts at getting back to the franchise’s pulp roots, like Van Vogt’s Discord in Scarlet (egg-laying alien), Simak’s Junkyard (bio-mechanical eggs), or C.A. Smith’s Vaults of Yoh Vombis (everything else!), which are tales full of far-out, naive concepts and, of course, googly eyed-monsters … just like Prometheus and Covenant are.
    Might be useful to read those carefully again, as they might lead to new ideas.

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