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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