Alien RPG: Chariot of the Gods by Andrew E.C. Gaska

*This was originally posted at the British Fantasy Society: http://www.britishfantasysociety.org/reviews/alien-rpg-chariot-of-the-gods-by-andrew-e-c-gaska/

*Potential spoilers ahead!

Included in Alien’s core rule book is a short introductory adventure to help acclimate people to the game. However, Free League has a one-shot available for purchase, Chariot of the Gods. This first official published adventure for the game is a great step into Alien’s the horrific world.

The plot is perfectly tuned for Alien’s Cinematic rules, as well as the overall franchise. Everything is organized well, and there are great notes for how to have the adventure unfold at the gaming table. The appendix has everything supplemental the players will need, and the maps are clear and easy to understand. The mission itself is succinct, and prep for the Game Mother is minimal. There are even ready-made threats available to be sprinkled into the adventure as needed to tweak the game session. Having a menu of stressors on hand also means that the mission can be run different ways if someone wants to use it more than once. Additionally, there are pre-generated characters for the players to choose from, as well as a means of introducing more NPCs into the adventure if needed. This one-shot also makes use of the great PvP rules in the core rule book.

Surprisingly, there are no Xenomorphs, and that was a little disappointing. Opinions will differ, and maybe Free League felt Xenomorphs were too predictable, but this would have been a better second publication. Granted, Hope’s Last Day in the core rule book does feature Xenomorphs, but the first published adventure should have carried forward what was in the core book, just as Aliens flowed directly from Alien. As an introductory adventure, this doesn’t disappoint.  It incorporates a wide variety of rules, and makes running the game a snap. Underhanded corporate agendas drive a story that puts a lot of lives at risk for private profit. There is danger everywhere, and the mission doesn’t pull punches about putting PCs in perilous predicaments. The mission is tightly written, and running it shouldn’t be a challenge. However, it’s unfortunate that the star creature of the franchise doesn’t make an appearance in the game’s first published adventure. Aside from lacking the original aliens from the franchise, this is a great way to begin Alien the RPG.

Alien RPG by Free League /Modiphius – a review

Turning an existing world into a game can be tricky, but Free League (Symbaroum, Tales from the Loop, and more) has created a game that not only brings the world of Alien to life, but strove to develop a unique gaming experience.

From cover to cover, the book is visually fantastic. Some of the art inside looks like it could have been used for promotional movie posters.  Additionally, the layout is brilliantly clean, and the game envelopes the dark atmosphere extremely well. The colour pallete is limited (old-school spinach green to replicate early computer monitors!) and organization is simple, with each page featuring one idea. This results in a user-friendly text. Information on “Panic”? Page 104. That’s it. Page 105 is the table for determining Panic effects. The entire books bears this directness.

Mechanically, Alien is straightforward, using d6’s for Base Dice (“for when an effect is triggered”)  and Stress Dice (“for when a character panics”). The latter are important because when characters take on too much stress, i.e., failing too many skill rolls, they will eventually panic with potentially severe consequences. 

Two innovations, in particular, are worth noting – player versus player (PvP) confrontations, and two sets of rules for playing the game, Cinematic and Campaign. In PvP contests, should a player’s character successfully backstab a colleague, literally or figuratively, the traitor becomes an NPC the Game Mother (the person running the game) controls. Malicious objectives can be fulfilled, but players might nor rush towards sabotaging the group.

Cinematic or Campaign rules, co-exist creating alternate approaches for the game. Like the movies, Cinematic play is quick and brutal. A single session should be adequate for a Cinematic game, whereas campaigns should take multiple sessions.

Despite everything this game does well, it isn’t perfect. One thing in particular that feels absent are rules for grid-based gaming. Since the game uses zones as an abstraction of distance, there isn’t a need for highly detailed movement. That wasn’t necessarily a positive. While the game is designed away from being a skirmish RPG, a tactical approach really would have fit with Alien. It’s not hard to imagine a PC being rapidly pursued through cramped ventilation shafts by Xenomorphs, and this is where battle maps would have been effective. 

Ultimately, the game is a well-designed. Perhaps the biggest obstacle Alien faces is itself. Is Alien too narrow for a truly robust game? Maybe? During cinematic play, the game strives to emulate the feel of the movies, and was cleverly designed. The rules lend themselves strongly to one-shots, convention play, or maybe a short campaign using the rules for campaign play. Beyond that is when things become a bit fuzzier for the duration of an Alien campaign. 

AlienThe bottom line is, Free League has crafted a great interpretation of the Alien franchise. Action should be fast, furious, high-stakes and (potentially) lethal. If the PCs are alive at the end of the session, then they can pat themselves on the back. A simplified rule system combines heavily dramatic storytelling, yielding a game that is quick to begin and play.  That quickness maybe it’s one major flaw, but time will truly tell if this game ends up as a novelty for Alien’s fansor something a bit more enduring. Regardless, if you enjoy either the Alien franchise or horror science-fiction, Free League has something worth considering. 

I heart fantasy art

And not the chain mail bikini thing. What I love is art the encompasses vision of a world that simply is not our own. It goes without saying, but some people do this better than others.

Frazetta’s Death Dealer is one of my all time favorites.

frank-frazetta-kickstarter-1

There’s no shortage of this stuff either. Here’s one I stumbled across. It reminds of the Chinese landscapes, where the people are deliberately painted as if they were ants. This is Warm Mist by Andreas Rocha.

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And then of course, there’s Jean Giraud, aka Moebius. I’m just going to leave this one here. Thank you for reading.

moebius-design-for-willow

A note on OSRIC’s character classes

While I’ve noted that reading OSRIC has every bit the feel of reading through an old D&D rulebook, there are some things in it that strike me as odd. It’s more the little things that I hadn’t given much thought to when I first started gaming many years ago. In particular, I’m speaking towards the specific characteristics of the different classes.

This is the kind of thing that’s present in every game, and I remember first playing D&D hoping that my rolls would be good enough to create the exact character I wanted. Small things such as, a minimum Strength of 9 to be a Fighter. It seems just kind of arbitrary on a certain level. During my read-through of OSRIC something I’d never really given much thought to was the idea of level caps. A lot of the classes cap out at levels significantly lower than other classes. Since I stopped playing older versions of games a long time I’d stopped incorporating ideas like these into my games, but what makes this interesting is that having more than one class could become a very real necessity for most people playing these games. It’s a different way of looking at the games.

If people knew in advance that they weren’t going to be able to progress indefinitely in their class, how would they plan out character advancement? I mean, no one starts a game assuming their character will die, right? Like, that’s just kind of weird. So, the idea of capping levels has to assume that, if you’re taking on that class, then you’re probably taking on another class as well, which means characters will be assumed to be diverse in their skill sets.

Planning out character development in these circumstances is a bit different from how I normally think about it. Not that this is bad, but it means that the what comes next requires thinking about how a completely different set of abilities and skills compliment those I already have.

Zinequest ate my money

Let me begin by saying that I hope Zinequest becomes an annual event. I love the sense of entrepreneurship and creativity espoused in Zinequest. Pretty much everything you see on Kickstarter that was created in response to Zinequest was a labor of love, that may or may not earn the person creating it a couple bucks.

There was so much stuff on Zinequest that I simply couldn’t back everything I wanted to. It wasn’t possible. There was fantastic content everywhere. I don’t even think I was able to see all of the projects on Kickstarter that participated.

Last year, the scale of the event was was impressive. This year, it’s really grown. As of this writing, a search on Kickstarter for the Zinequest projects yielded 125 live projects. That doesn’t include anything that funded, or has yet to begin. That’s a lot of gaming material.

I backed several projects, and may back more. Honestly, it’s just a few dollars to buy into these types of games and supplements. That’s peanuts. While I can’t give a formal review of anything, there are some things that stand out.

I’ve seen a few “Solo” games. This is interesting because it really feels like the hobby is growing beyond a group of players sitting around a table making their way through a session of D&D. Tunnels & Trolls has always been noteworthy because of it’s solo adventures, but it was the exception, not the rule. The number of projects designed around solo play could be a sign that games are changing to incorporate rules for GMless, single-player games more widely.

Additionally, there are a lot of zines upping the quality in regards to art, and production values. This is also nice to see. As someone who appreciates a well-made book, seeing people set stretch goals for Kickstarter projects that promise better binding or paper quality is a nice touch.

A final point, shipping stinks for Kickstarter projects. With Zinequest it’s a real obstacle. While backing an individual project might cost between 5-10 dollars, the shipping almost always a deal killer. I would love to have the dead-tree version of these projects, but often the cost of acquiring the finished text is 50% or more of the cost of the finished zine. I personally would like to see people treat this a bit differently in the future. For me personally, I don’t live in the United States, and shipping on some Kickstarter projects is 100% of the cost of backing the project in the first place. That’s a big ask for supporters. At some point, as with quality of production, I’d like to see project creators start establishing “shipping” as a stretch goal to bring down the costs.

All in all, Zinequest is a great idea. I feel like I’m gushing, but it’s just kind of inspiring to see the breadth of people’s imaginations with these projects. This has been a great year, and I’m really looking forward to next year.

PS – I’ll leave reviews for stuff I’ve backed once I get a chance to read through the finished products.

Blowing the dust off this thing

Recently, I’ve had the urge to begin writing again. To indulge that impulse, I’ve taken up two projects, and now I’ll be back to blogging.

It feels good to have a creative outlet, and in the time since I last posted on this blog a lot has happened in the world of pulp culture. While there are all kinds of Twitter mobs and scandal, there are a lot of things to celebrate as well. I’d like to pick this stuff back up, and talk a bit about what’s been going on in the world of pulp culture, and share my own work over the last 6-8 months.

Among the things I’ve been involved in are writing book reviews for the kind people over at the British Fantasy Society. I’ll be posting those up on my site, as well other reviews from them.

Kickstarter’s Zinequestis up and running again, and there is some amazing stuff going up. I’ll be backing at least something as soon as I figure out what. There’s just an incredible amount of stuff there.

Plus, there are always odds and ends to look over. I’m happy to be back at the keyboard, and look forward to posting. Hope you all enjoy the content!