Free League's Alien RPG - My Experience

Retreater

Legend
This weekend I played the Alien RPG, which was the third Year Zero Engine derived game I've played (following Forbidden Lands and Vaesen). We played a "one-shot" adventure from the Starter Box (maybe it was our style of play, but it took us the entire weekend to finish - close to 14 hours of play). The Cinematic style used for one-shots included agenda cards to pass out in secret to each player.
Overall, the dice pool mechanics were easy to grasp, a streamlined version of what you'd find in Forbidden Lands (only two die types - regular dice and stress dice). Your characters are weaker than in other Year Zero games (you have health points equal to your Strength score, but no other ability scores are tied to health - so you only take damage to your HP). You're not going to have access to weapons or armor, and you're going to be constantly outclassed by your opponents - which I guess is the point of the fiction.
The agenda cards were wholly negative, creating a constant PvP environment. Agendas included: you want to kill the rest of the party, you must do anything you can to preserve the xenomorph, etc. Every character death was because another character killed them. In this way it feels more like a board game than a typical RPG.
Just for my playstyle and preferences, maybe a single 4-hour game would be okay. I wouldn't want to get invested in a longer story, however.
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
That seems roughly consistent with my experience, though it's the only Year Zero game I've played. There's an almost-painful tension, IMO, between all the tools it gives you to make interesting characters and all the interesting setting toys it presents, and the failure-intensive nature of the actual system and the inevitable intended endgame of feeding PCs to the Xenomorphs.
 

payn

Legend
That does sound very much like a long long version of Burke's Gambit.

I certainly don't mind that once in awhile, I do like these one shots and think they are best for PvP style gaming. However, I would be disappointed if every scenario turns out to just be reenact the movie.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Interesting.

I've played Forbidden Lands, but not Alien. But I've heard a ton of great reviews for Alien and its cinematic style. But the way you're describing the agenda cards, I have a feeling it leads to very different experiences from table to table; its very tied to your table dynamic.
 

Retreater

Legend
That does sound very much like a long long version of Burke's Gambit.
Indeed. One might as well play that and save 3.5 hours and $30 over the cost of the Alien Starter Set.
I certainly don't mind that once in awhile, I do like these one shots and think they are best for PvP style gaming. However, I would be disappointed if every scenario turns out to just be reenact the movie.
I don't see enough adventure opportunities in the Alien universe to sustain an RPG campaign. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings - sure. But Alien seems to be you're on a confined spaceship/base/prison and there's an alien ... and you die.
I've played Forbidden Lands, but not Alien. But I've heard a ton of great reviews for Alien and its cinematic style. But the way you're describing the agenda cards, I have a feeling it leads to very different experiences from table to table; its very tied to your table dynamic.
Yeah, the rules are pretty good. But I don't know if you need them. It's not like you're going to have a chance to impact the (very railroaded) structure of the game.
You might as well just play Dread.
 

payn

Legend
Indeed. One might as well play that and save 3.5 hours and $30 over the cost of the Alien Starter Set.

I don't see enough adventure opportunities in the Alien universe to sustain an RPG campaign. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings - sure. But Alien seems to be you're on a confined spaceship/base/prison and there's an alien ... and you die.

Yeah, the rules are pretty good. But I don't know if you need them. It's not like you're going to have a chance to impact the (very railroaded) structure of the game.
You might as well just play Dread.
...and I think thats ok. Not every RPG needs to be a sustainable long running campaign. Sometimes a nice pulpy ruleset that is light and can be jumped right into a few times a year tops is just what the doctor ordered. Though, many folks have the idea if its a TTRPG it needs to be able to support long running campaigns so I can see why the anti-bespoke crowds have formed.
 

The agenda cards were wholly negative, creating a constant PvP environment. Agendas included: you want to kill the rest of the party, you must do anything you can to preserve the xenomorph, etc. Every character death was because another character killed them. In this way it feels more like a board game than a typical RPG.
Just for my playstyle and preferences, maybe a single 4-hour game would be okay. I wouldn't want to get invested in a longer story, however.

Since you only use Agenda cards for cinematic play—very very short campaigns, if not one-shots, to give you immediate stakes and to push toward a more dramatic and memorable conclusion—they're specifically not for getting invested in a longer story. Plus, in cinematic mode they advise you to have players ready to play NPCs if and when their characters die (or get revealed as a secret synthetic and turned over to the GM, etc.). It's more of a play-to-lose game, along the lines of Call of Cthulhu or Trophy Dark.

In campaign mode, though, you don't do Agenda cards.

Only pointing this out because people really have to meet RPGs where they are, not where they assume they should be, based on their past or usual play style. Alien's focus is on cut-to-the-chase, brutal storytelling with tons of deceit, sabotage, and competing agendas, including PvP, and everyone knowing going into it that PvP is common if not guaranteed. You can go for a more standard trad experience with campaign play, including the usual aversion to PvP, but in that case you specifically don't use those features labeled for cinematic play.

Also, it sounds like you guys might have gone a little ham on the PvP, more Paranoia than Alien. When those scenarios are run correctly it isn't until the last act or so that you have the opportunity to really do fellow PCs dirty.
 

MGibster

Legend
The agenda cards were wholly negative, creating a constant PvP environment. Agendas included: you want to kill the rest of the party, you must do anything you can to preserve the xenomorph, etc. Every character death was because another character killed them. In this way it feels more like a board game than a typical RPG.
I don't know what scenario you were running, but that wasn't my experience. The Agenda cards are designed to keep the story moving by giving players a motivation to do the types of things characters in a horror movie do because they're not aware they're in a horror movie. In the adventure I ran, the Act 1 agendas of some of the PCs included ensuring the exploration of a delelict space craft, another was to find some drugs, and still another was to find something of value they could abscond with. None of those put them directly at conflict with one another, but of course by Act III of the scenario some of their agendas were in direct conflict with one another.

Our biggest problem was Agendas was one of the PCs just didn't want to follow hers because she thought it made her character seem like a greedy jerk. Her Agenda was to explore the derelict ship or her and the crew forfeit all shares from the mission. He interpretation was that she would only forfeit whatever shares she might have gotten from exploring the ship, but, in reality, the fofeited shares would have come from the initial mission they were sent on. Imagine if suddenly after 6 months of work the company came and said, "Sorry, you're not getting paid because you guy screwed up." That's a pretty good motivation for exploration I think.

As far as game play went, Stress kind of stressed out the players. They felt that when their Stress levels got to a certain point they had an incentive to avoid taking any actions that might mean rolling the dice.

The Cinematic game, the one with Agenda, is good for specific scenarios that don't last more than a few sessions. I wouldn't use it for a campaign. Honestly, I wouldn't use this game for a campaign at all. I think it shines in short bite sized scenarios.
 

Retreater

Legend
...and I think thats ok. Not every RPG needs to be a sustainable long running campaign. Sometimes a nice pulpy ruleset that is light and can be jumped right into a few times a year tops is just what the doctor ordered. Though, many folks have the idea if its a TTRPG it needs to be able to support long running campaigns so I can see why the anti-bespoke crowds have formed.
What I suggested to my friends is that a better product might be to basically scale down the Starter Set box and produce several adventure sets - run the thing like a mystery night or escape room in a box. I also don't think the experience requires a $40, 400 page, full-color, hardcover rulebook.
For something that should be an occasional one-shot adventure, I think the production is a little overwrought.
 

payn

Legend
What I suggested to my friends is that a better product might be to basically scale down the Starter Set box and produce several adventure sets - run the thing like a mystery night or escape room in a box. I also don't think the experience requires a $40, 400 page, full-color, hardcover rulebook.
For something that should be an occasional one-shot adventure, I think the production is a little overwrought.
Yes and no. I dont mind a 400 page book for 40 dollars at all. I will get tons of entertainment out of it even if its just a one shot a year. 🤷‍♂️
 


Puddles

Adventurer
Thanks for sharing the experiences you had. I am planning a one-shot for this, but will be using my own agenda cards rather than any premade ones (I bought the hardback, not the starter set). I was planning to make my agendas a split between good agendas, bad agendas and funny agendas, with more “carrot” and less “stick” than the official ones appear to be. An example of a funny one I have created is needing to find a certain chocolate bar in a vending machine (it will only be in 1 vending machine on the ship), and getting a major personal win for escaping with the chocolate bar, and a minor personal win for eating it before you die. (There will be team wins and personal wins to encourage risk taking).
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
My group played the starter set adventure over three sessions. I think the agendas are great for shorter cinematic play. I do think they require player buy in. Like, I had one player who didn’t want his character to go against any of the others at any point. He basically ignored his agenda when it would have been relevant.

But everyone else dived right in. I think it helped to have the movies to lean on. The agendas absolve the players from the douchery of their character.

I like most of the mechanics quite a bit. i think you have to really keep the pressure on the characters. I think the panic results could do with some expansion to suit more situations.

I had plans to run a campaign after the initial adventure, using the surviving characters along with some new ones. Definitely would have introduced some new agendas at that point. We never got to it, but maybe some day.
 


aramis erak

Legend
This weekend I played the Alien RPG, which was the third Year Zero Engine derived game I've played (following Forbidden Lands and Vaesen). We played a "one-shot" adventure from the Starter Box (maybe it was our style of play, but it took us the entire weekend to finish - close to 14 hours of play). The Cinematic style used for one-shots included agenda cards to pass out in secret to each player.
14 hours is about right - I've run Chariots 3 times, and it's always been 12+ hours.
Your characters are weaker than in other Year Zero games (you have health points equal to your Strength score, but no other ability scores are tied to health - so you only take damage to your HP).
While accurate to the math, yet ultimately false due to misused/misunderstood rules.
Firstly, each attribute in MYZ (see p. 87) or FL (p. P84) is damaged by a different damage type. It's not like Traveller where you pick which takes the gunshot.
Second, all three have very similar crit tables.
Third, in Vaesen, pushing does the same damage as a weapon hit.

You're not going to have access to weapons or armor, and you're going to be constantly outclassed by your opponents - which I guess is the point of the fiction.
Overall, False. In Chariots, you won't, unless you improvise some, but in Destroyer of worlds, all the pregen PCs are armed, armored, and skilled in combat, and mostly facing non-xenomorph foes... until the last chapter.
The agenda cards were wholly negative, creating a constant PvP environment. Agendas included: you want to kill the rest of the party, you must do anything you can to preserve the xenomorph, etc. Every character death was because another character killed them. In this way it feels more like a board game than a typical RPG.
That's an extreme reaction by players to them. About as subtle as a bull moose in a glassblower's storefront. The only point where the PVP combat happened prior to the very last scene, in 3 plays of Chariots was when it was a reaction to stress... And that in the run where the Synthetic drew the "Preserve a specimen" ...
Just for my playstyle and preferences, maybe a single 4-hour game would be okay. I wouldn't want to get invested in a longer story, however.
Note that campaign play is not a constant stream of facing xenomorphs; the campaigns I ran were two merchant campaigns, where it really felt more like YZE does Traveller, at least until they encountered a xenomorph, and one abortive Marines campaign... where they were on a non-XX-xenoform mission against the Progressive Peoples Union...

It's very different. Intentionally so. And called out as such in the GM's section of the corebook.
 
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Digdude@1970

Just a dude with a shovel, looking for the past.
I think the best way to run alien is to not let your players know they are playing alien. Just make up a trad traveller story.
 

I think the best way to run alien is to not let your players know they are playing alien. Just make up a trad traveller story.

Means not being able to use the Panic rules in something like Alien or Mothership. So just another trad SF game where everyone's unnervingly level-headed at all times and calmly sweeping and clearing all hostile targets.
 

Retreater

Legend
While accurate to the math, yet ultimately false due to misused/misunderstood rules.
Firstly, each attribute in MYZ (see p. 87) or FL (p. P84) is damaged by a different damage type. It's not like Traveller where you pick which takes the gunshot.
Right. Perhaps I didn't elaborate completely enough. I get that in Forbidden Lands that most attacks damage Strength - though a few damage Agility, Wits, or Empathy. This is most commonly due to pushing skill checks. Pushing skill checks in Alien is a good way to collect Stress - which impacts every die roll on a downward spiral. And you're less likely to have a chance to heal HP or Stress than you are in Forbidden Lands.
Overall, False. In Chariots, you won't, unless you improvise some, but in Destroyer of worlds, all the pregen PCs are armed, armored, and skilled in combat, and mostly facing non-xenomorph foes... until the last chapter.
And I said in my first post that I was reviewing it based on my experience with the Starter Box.
That's an extreme reaction by players to them. About as subtle as a bull moose in a glassblower's storefront. The only point where the PVP combat happened prior to the very last scene, in 3 plays of Chariots was when it was a reaction to stress... And that in the run where the Synthetic drew the "Preserve a specimen" ...
Most of the agenda cards were "you'll do anything to X" which you have to assume means up to killing off the other players - especially when your character is described as unhinged and greedy.
Leaving things vague to dodge spoilers. Including both pregens and the stable replacement NPCs, we had 3 characters killed by space poison administered by another player. We had another 2 trapped in a room with the alien to be killed, at separate times. We had another shot in the back of the head with a shotgun at point blank range, another thrown down a shaft as he was bleeding out.
That style of play - I just can't do it. It's not fun. It's the bleakest form of entertainment in the guise of cooperative fun.
 

payn

Legend
Most of the agenda cards were "you'll do anything to X" which you have to assume means up to killing off the other players - especially when your character is described as unhinged and greedy.
Leaving things vague to dodge spoilers. Including both pregens and the stable replacement NPCs, we had 3 characters killed by space poison administered by another player. We had another 2 trapped in a room with the alien to be killed, at separate times. We had another shot in the back of the head with a shotgun at point blank range, another thrown down a shaft as he was bleeding out.
That style of play - I just can't do it. It's not fun. It's the bleakest form of entertainment in the guise of cooperative fun.
I actually like this kind of thing in a one shot, particularly an Alien one shot, but can totally see how secret agenda cards are just promoted PvP.
 

Retreater

Legend
I actually like this kind of thing in a one shot, particularly an Alien one shot, but can totally see how secret agenda cards are just promoted PvP.
I have a very clear line of where I'm okay with it. A competitive board game with a traitor mechanic, I can handle about 2-3 hours. I don't want to invest myself in it more than that. A 14-hour RPG that took an entire weekend was excessive for this style of play (for me). To be fair, I also wouldn't want to do a 14-hour session of a deathtrap dungeon with expendable characters.
If I'm going to be playing 4 or more hours, I want a decent chance of success in a mission. This is why games like Arkham Horror don't appeal to me (6+ hours just to know you're all going to lose at the 2 hour mark, and you have 4+ hours of sitting there feeling hopeless).
 

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