Alien RPG - Chariot of the Gods first contact (Spoilers)

Stormonu

Hero
About two weeks ago, I got my gaming group together for a one-off adventure using the new Alien RPG, and the scenario I got along with it - Chariot of the Gods. I want to forewarn folks, there will be plenty spoilers here, because I find it difficult to talk about the game without actually discussing our play-through.

First of all, I want to say that this is the game I’ve been waiting for ever since I watched Aliens! Back in the day, I had made my own Alien RPG, loosely based on Star Wars WEG D6 system. It worked for the game I ran, where the characters were a group of marines tasked with chasing down alien infestations and eliminating them. But it lacked one crucial element that this game works to perfection - the growing sense of dread in panic dice, and the sheer deadliness of Aliens and how they literally break the rules of the game - in an effective and believable way.

The rules for the game are deceptively simple - I made a few mistakes my first run through with them, but the basics are that you have four stats, a handful of skills and a couple edges/perks. When called on, you make a check by rolling a number of 6-sided dice equal to a stat + skill. Each 6 you roll is a success. Unlike most RPGs, though, you only roll when it’s dramatically appropriate-not for every single thing that comes up. If you’re not under stress the game encourages you to succeed at tasks without rolling. It’s only when things start to get dicey and characters are under pressure that you’re expected to start rolling (which usually starts to occur about a 1/3 of the way into the game or so). Of course, you also and always make these sort of rolls for combat, and defense.

The big wrinkle to making checks is two-fold. If you fail (and you’re not the secret android on board), you can “push” the roll, gain a stress dice (more about that in a second) and reroll to try for a success. Now, as you push (or other unsettling things occur), your character accumulates stress dice. These dice (using basically different colored dice) can also be rolled to give you a better chance at succeeding - but if you roll a 1 on these dice - you panic. A small amount of panic dice won’t likely hurt when you loose your cool, but get about four or more of them and then blow a roll - and you’re likely to wig out and get yourself and those around you in a heap of trouble.

Quickly speaking of combat, when you make your attack roll, if you get any successes, you deal the weapon’s base damage, plus an additional point for each additional success. If panic hasn’t gotten the better of you, you can usually attempt to block or evade damage with a counter-roll. There’s more complexity to the process with Armor, Armor Piercing and a few other factors, but that’s the basics. If you take enough damage to reduce you to zero health, you’re “broken” and roll on a big nasty d66 table to see how bad things are. Let me just say, if you roll 60+ on that table, you’ll be taking over one of the other survivors very shortly.

Then of course, there’s everybody’s favorites - the Aliens. They follow slightly different rules, breaking from the standard rules in unusual and frightful ways. While the Aliens have some familiar stats/skills (such as Stealth), when it comes to combat, they break the rules dramatically in two frightening ways. Offensively, you roll a D6 on a table for the type of attack they make (and most of the Aliens make two or more attacks a round). Pretty much anything a 4+ on those tables results in a 8+ dice attack where a single success KILLS outright. Regardless of health. Regardless of armor. No blocking. It’s as frightening a prospect as in the movies. In our game, it caught me utterly by surprise (I’d skimmed over the stats, only noting at first there was a random list) and scared the bejeesus out of the players when the character was literally torn to pieces in the opening round. However, it created a totally appropriate respect and fear for the rest of the game.

The game has two modes of play - campaign (typical multiple adventures with the same characters) and cinematic (one-shot, semi-adversarial adventure). The latter is what we played, and is basically a one-shot. I will say, the game favors - and shines using cinematic. However, based on the results of that one-shot, I’m considering running a follow-up longer campaign, but may simply continue with a series of one-shots, using the results of the last game to frame the next (like playing through Alien, Aliens and Alien 3). I will say, the outcome of our game definitely felt movie-like and we had a blast with the rules.

In the next post, I’ll get more into our actual game (I’ll try to keep those portions in spoilers) and my thoughts on how it played out. If you have any questions about the game int the meantime, I’ll happily answer what I can.
 

Stormonu

Hero
I love the stress mechanic in that game.
Yeah, I'd venture to say it perfectly helps to build the tension in that game. Probably it's best mechanic.

Okay, now that I have dinner in, a little more about our game and my thoughts on how things played out. For reference, we played through the scenario "Chariot of the Gods". Up front, I'll say this adventure has the potential for a lot going on it - so much so that for the four-hour game we played I ignored or cut out some of the happenings to focus on what was working for our group.

Now, I'm a big, BIG fan of the Alien franchise, and it's one of the few properties that not only have I seen the movies, read various novels & comics but I've also watched the commentaries and making-of the various movies (something I'm normally loathe to do). I've also written several novel-length fanfics related to Aliens, and as I mentioned above, even made my own Alien RPG back in the 80's. So, I really feel like I have an in-depth understanding of what makes the movies tick.

I write all of that because a big part of the fun we had was the atmosphere under which we played the game. Lights were dimmed. I had access to big screen TV to project ship maps, images and a couple youtube videos. Also, not only was I playing mood music from the Alien & Aliens movie as we played, I set up a soundboard - Tabletop Audio - Starship and Tabletop Audio - Alien Starship.

The Game Opening
The adventure starts as the crew of the Montero, a Nostromo-like ship, awakening from hyperspace at supposedly their journey's end to deliver a cargo of voliatile gas to their destination. As can be guessed, the ship has been redirected to recover a derelict ship lost 75 years ago - the Cronus, a ship very much the twin of the Prometheus from the movie of the same name. Two notable characters among the crew include a Company Agent who is aware of the true goal - recovery of biological agents (ala the "black goo" of Prometheus) and one of the characters is supposed to actually be a secret android working against Weyland-Yutani (sort of an anti-Ash). The latter I held off from revealing at the outset, wanting to have the "reveal" only come into play during Act II, but because how things started to roll in the game, I ended up leaving it out.

With the soundboard quietly creating an undertone of the awakening ship and the rising tones of the Alien theme, the characters woke up one by one. On the big screen, I had up an image of the galley of the Nostromo to give the impression they were sitting around, shooting the breeze after waking up from hypersleep. For the first scene, I tried to let the players do a little RPing as the crew awakened, got in a quick meal and then started their duties. The hope was they would introduce their characters, make a quick roll or two to get used to the system and set up a little bit of background and "normal feel" to life aboard their ship. At this point, it didn't go quite as well as I hoped as it had been several years since some of my players had seen the movies and I had to spend some time re familiarizing them with the world. However, it did do the job in the end, and the players somewhat settled into a feeling that this was just another day on a typical cargo run among the stars.

The Arrival
We secretly RPed out the Company Agent, Wilson, getting the missive about the ship's true goal and the secretive "special order 966" that effectively made "crew expendable" from MU/TH/UR (Mother). As that was finished up, I (publicly) ran a montage with the roughneck character securing the ship's cargo, including moving some of the volatile canisters of cargo onto the ship's cargo sled "Daisy" in prep for off-load (this was to foreshadow events later on).

On the bridge, it was time for the first planned encounter of the adventure - avoiding running into the derelict ship Cronus. The player playing the pilot thought he had easy roll until I reminded him that in the cargo hold below the Roughneck was in the midst of moving a few tons of explosive cargo and that he was about to try a sharp peel away from a ship onrushing at .4c. The comment "my hands are sweaty" told me I'd done my job well.

The pilot was successful - with enough successes that not only did he not collide with the tumbling derelict, but was able to gracefully bring the ship about AND slide the last cargo container onto Daisy with a satisfying "thump". :)

Though the first few minutes of the game started a little rough, once the first major event came into play my players were instantly drawn into the game and we could already start feeling the tension mount. Already every character had at least one stress dice as we closed the first scene and the atmosphere of my players quickly turned from a casual "how is this game going to scare me" to "oh, what have we gotten ourselves into" concern.

The Investigation
As the Montero now turned, and failed to get a response from the tumbling, derelict form of the Cronus, the Captain (with urging from the Company Agent) had the Montero match the tumbling ship and connect to the exterior airlock. Again, it was a task the Pilot quickly and easily succeeded at, gaining a soft lock on the Cronus dorsal airlock. The Captain (being run as an NPC by me), remained on the Montero to look after the ship while the rest prepared to board and salvage the Cronus

For the last twenty minutes or so at this point, I'd been playing the Montero's interior sounds in the background. As the group suited up and moved over to the Cronus, I switched the sound board to the single sound of the character's helmeted breath. I could feel the player's apprehension grow as I did this, and their nervousness was further increased when they found the outer airlock bulging out.

One cut into the airlock later, and within the remains of the interior airlock the party found within the floating corpse of one of the Cronus's crew - his helmet interior obscured by the obvious fact he'd blown his brains out with a shotgun. One of the Roughneck players nearly lost his cool when the floating corpse drifted into a "hug" of his character when he turned the floating body around to find out what happened to the poor soul.

A little uneasily, the Pilot took the corpse's shotgun and the last remaining shell from the corpse's open breast pocket. With the ship's main power off, the group turned their attention to prying open the interior airlock to get at the ship inside. They were just about to finish manually operating the inner airlock when the ship's power breathed to life.

The above portion brought us to about the hour-and-a-half mark in the game. By this time, everyone was both excited and filled with dread at what they would encounter inside. The mood music and soundboard had been a great help in building the tension as things unfolded. Unfortunately, at this point one of my players had to leave for another engagement (my brother, playing the Pilot character), though he wished he could have remained to continue playing. Though it was fortunate he left when he did...

I'll be back to post more of the game a little later on.
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
It's fantastic reading all this. Looking forward to reading the rest. I also love reading your description of the game system. It all sounds very cool.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
One of my two campaigns just had their first encounter with Xenomorphs... not from finding eggs/mote and being infected, but from an old ally bringing death with them...

And, as Stormonu notes, the stress system is a wonderful tool.
 

Nebulous

Hero
Sounds super fan. Doesn't seem like the kind of thing I would run often though, more as a one-shot or a limited campaign and then probably not pick it up again for a long while.
 

Nebulous

Hero
Is Chariot of the Gods a separate adventure to purchase? I see on Amazon they also sell a card deck and a big map, how necessary are those? What about custom dice to enhance the game?
 

Stormonu

Hero
Yes, Chariots is separate, but completely worth it for multiple reasons (prebuilt NPCs, more Alien/Prometheus/Covenant critters, maps of the Nostromo & Prometheus). There are two small adventures in the main rulebook (Last Hope set at Hadley's Hope on Acheron, and a scenario from Svestapol Station from Alien Isolation).

The deck and map aren't necessary - the deck has the characters from the rulebook & Chariot on the cards, a few weapons/gear cards and 1-10 initiative. Nice to have, but not needed.

The map set is a bigger rendition of the galaxy map from the front/back page of the rulebook and larger copies of the Hadley's Hope complex from the main rulebook (not the Cronus the back text implies) as well as "Deck A" of the Nostromo. While I find the galaxy map helpful (Pandora is a planet on the map!), the Hadley's Hope/Nostromo maps aren't detailed enough to really be of much use.

The custom dice look nice (especially the Stress dice, with facehuggers as "1"s), but not necessary. A set of simple black/dark & white/light dice will do about as well - and what the players used (I used the custom dice myself).
 

Nebulous

Hero
I might pick up the custom dice, but they're still like $25 with shipping. That money is better put toward the adventure....
 

Nebulous

Hero
So the core book arrived. It's really a nice looking book, it's huge, but I'm surprised by how spaced out the text is. It is NOT a word dense book as you would expect from any other 300 page rpg. It consists mostly of sidebars with lots of negative space. Black, black, endless space, which I suppose was a distinct design goal.

I ordered the yellow stress dice and initiative cards separate. Now, since I am such a miniatures guy, I am looking for some good ones so I can eventually run my "swarms of xenomorphs" scenario straight out of Aliens. Any idea where to get good Alien figs?
 

Nebulous

Hero
This just came across my radar: From Gale Force 9, apparently there is a long, LONG delay of an Aliens board game. Disney has been slowing it up due to their ownership of the IP now. Anyway, looks like an April 2020 release, at least on Amazon. It comes with tons of miniatures and maps and you could probably use it in conjunction with the RPG or splice them somehow, I dunno.

 

aramis erak

Adventurer
Looking forward to more posts from you Stormonu as your account was a good read.

Easy system for new players to RPG's?
Yes. Hardest part for most newbies will be a stumbling point for many old hands, too - counting successes, not totalling the dice.

The XP hooks are tied to Buddy, Rival, and personal goal; significant object is tied to stress reduction
 

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