Free League's Alien RPG - My Experience

payn

Legend
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).
Well, I see two different things here. One is a board game with clear objectives in which you can see the end and know you are not going to make it. Also, you have hours to go. Thats sucks I agree. It even sucks in games with bad run away leader problems. I see RPGs a little differently. I dont see a process of start and finishes with clear objectives. For me, its try and survive while soaking in the genre and expected experiences.

The typical RPG leveling idea makes this seem more board game than anything. I mean, why bother playing a character that is never going to get improvements and rewards? Well, some experiences just suffer under that dynamic. Call of Cthlhu for example, has always seemed odd to me because its so lethal. I know folks run campaigns with it, but I have never been able to break the cognitive dissonance with the gameplay and the genre. Now, if you run a one shot contained scenario, with plenty of replacement characters, high lethality has a great risk reward element without you losing the game or having to stop playing. Playing into the genre and scenario is its own reward.
 

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Celebrim

Legend
Mostly the game just reminds me how much I hate the 'Alien' cinematic universe as a setting. I know it's inspired by a horror movie, but it's still one of those things that doesn't bear scrutiny. The 'Aliens' aren't really aliens but magical demon creatures with properties that ignore science and possess in the setting nigh unlimited plot protection. It's just an utterly annoying setting that is made all the more annoying when you try to game it.

The rules aren't bad. Stress is a fun mechanic and the core of the rules are fine, but the combat rules replicate the Alien's annoying levels of plot protection well so that bad stuff just happens, and you really feel the game should just be played as "nuke it all from orbit" except that the plot protection of the aliens keeps rearing its head in the form of comically over the stop stupid human villains.
 

Retreater

Legend
The typical RPG leveling idea makes this seem more board game than anything. I mean, why bother playing a character that is never going to get improvements and rewards? Well, some experiences just suffer under that dynamic. Call of Cthlhu for example, has always seemed odd to me because its so lethal. I know folks run campaigns with it, but I have never been able to break the cognitive dissonance with the gameplay and the genre. Now, if you run a one shot contained scenario, with plenty of replacement characters, high lethality has a great risk reward element without you losing the game or having to stop playing. Playing into the genre and scenario is its own reward.
I've been able to run successful Call of Cthulhu campaigns - including Masks of Nyarlahotep. I can say none of my sessions going back to the first one I ran in 1994 has felt as hopeless as the Free League Alien RPG. It could be that you have a comradery in CoC and don't have traitor mechanics for every player in the game.
 

payn

Legend
I've been able to run successful Call of Cthulhu campaigns - including Masks of Nyarlahotep. I can say none of my sessions going back to the first one I ran in 1994 has felt as hopeless as the Free League Alien RPG. It could be that you have a comradery in CoC and don't have traitor mechanics for every player in the game.
Folks have different experiences I guess. Call of Cthulhu campaigns were not hopeless, so to speak, but by the time I was on my 5th or 6th character, I just couldn't grok what was happening and what was interesting about the story anymore. That was lost after the 2nd or 3rd session. Though, my keepers where always very lethal ones and did not run the game with kids gloves, so who knows? I don't think id like a a soft Cthulhu experience anyways. Though, plenty of one shot Cthulhu games I played in felt a lot like Alien. 🤷‍♂️
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Folks have different experiences I guess. Call of Cthulhu campaigns were not hopeless, so to speak, but by the time I was on my 5th or 6th character, I just couldn't grok what was happening and what was interesting about the story anymore. That was lost after the 2nd or 3rd session. Though, my keepers where always very lethal ones and did not run the game with kids gloves, so who knows? I don't think id like a a soft Cthulhu experience anyways. Though, plenty of one shot Cthulhu games I played in felt a lot like Alien. 🤷‍♂️
That's probably not entirely inapt. There's a pretty good argument that Alien is Lovecraftian fiction in a science-fiction costume.
 

Yora

Legend
You say Lovecraft isn't science fiction?
Mostly the game just reminds me how much I hate the 'Alien' cinematic universe as a setting. I know it's inspired by a horror movie, but it's still one of those things that doesn't bear scrutiny. The 'Aliens' aren't really aliens but magical demon creatures with properties that ignore science and possess in the setting nigh unlimited plot protection. It's just an utterly annoying setting that is made all the more annoying when you try to game it.

The rules aren't bad. Stress is a fun mechanic and the core of the rules are fine, but the combat rules replicate the Alien's annoying levels of plot protection well so that bad stuff just happens, and you really feel the game should just be played as "nuke it all from orbit" except that the plot protection of the aliens keeps rearing its head in the form of comically over the stop stupid human villains.
That's how both the first and second movie were set up. Monster on a cargo ship, and monsters on an isolated outpost. These stories don't require settings larger than a thousand meter bubble.
And I think pretty much everyone who's really into those two movies agrees that the attempts to expand on that world were all mistakes.
 

Celebrim

Legend
You say Lovecraft isn't science fiction?

I think you probably mean that with a wink and a grin, but for the record.

I mean, well, "Yes." Lovecraft is mostly fantasy, and while he does use alien elements and makes occasional reference to super-science, mostly Lovecraft is creating a sort of dark theology inspired by a very negative view of materialism and not actually a materialist view of the world at all. Nyarlathotep is not a science fiction concept, and neither are the Aliens. Real acid can't dissolve many times more material than its own molecular count, nor can a real creature store up so much energy by eating a person's insides to create super matter and sufficient energy to operate in a vacuum for a long period without any real harm to itself. Whatever an alien is made out of it, it would have to be made out of stuff you find in a person using the amount of energy you can get by ingesting human tissue. And the Alien organisms so aren't. They are rape demons from hell, and when you try to tell a larger science fiction story that tries to make them coherent rather than symbols of our fear, it just doesn't work.
 

MGibster

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.
If you're running Chariot of the Gods from the starter set, then killing another PC to achieve the Agenda for Acts I-II would be an extreme response. Unreasonably so in my opinion.
 

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.

Seems a little weird to just dismiss whole modes of play in RPGs. I just played in a Trophy Dark game that was a blast, and ended with outright PvP and carnage. And it was completely cooperative, since throughout a Trophy Dark game you're proposing bad things that might happen to your fellow PCs as a result of low rolls or taking a Devil's Bargain for a die-roll bonus. Just means leaning into the idea of telling a cool story as a group, instead of "winning." In Cinematic mode Alien is absolutely a play-to-lose game. If that's not your bag, fine, but it's by no means the bleakest anything in the guise of anything. It's playing an Alien-style horror story, down to the brutal end.
 

MGibster

Legend
Mostly the game just reminds me how much I hate the 'Alien' cinematic universe as a setting. I know it's inspired by a horror movie, but it's still one of those things that doesn't bear scrutiny. The 'Aliens' aren't really aliens but magical demon creatures with properties that ignore science and possess in the setting nigh unlimited plot protection. It's just an utterly annoying setting that is made all the more annoying when you try to game it.
I generally don't find it particuilarly constructive to obsess over whether something is truly science fiction or not. Star Wars, 2001, Alien, and Gravity are all science fiction movies. And if you hate the Alien universe, it should come to no surprise that you're not a fan of the game either. If I hated Robotech (another science fiction property) because of the ridiculous transforming vehicles there no way I'm going to enjoy an RPG based off of it.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I generally don't find it particuilarly constructive to obsess over whether something is truly science fiction or not.

I'm not really obsessing about it but I do require a reasonable interest in science and scientific matters before I'd consider something to be science fiction. If people want to think of things as science fiction that have no interest in science, well of course they are free to do so, but they shouldn't expect me to agree. I do think there is value in understanding the difference between science fiction and fantasy and recognizing something as fantasy typically makes it's meaning more clear and allows for deeper analysis of the themes and intentions of the writer.

Star Wars, 2001, Alien, and Gravity are all science fiction movies.

1 out of 4 ain't bad, I guess. Although, I suppose I could give ACC the benefit of the doubt and accept two of those, that would lead to a long discussion of the incoherence of ACC's themes.

And if you hate the Alien universe, it should come to no surprise that you're not a fan of the game either.

I enjoy the movies to some extent, especially Aliens, because of the outstanding well done character of Ripley in that movie. But yeah, as a universe I don't have a lot of interest and playing the RPG only reinforced that. I find that there is a big difference between good media in some other format, and being a good gameable setting and intellectual property. Good settings have room for all sorts of different stories and all sorts of important roles and they tend to have strong internally consistent world building and themes. The gritty feel of the Aliens universe just doesn't match the fact that it isn't actually science fiction, leading to strong incoherence where you are concerned with biology, physics, chemistry, engineering and the gritty facts of survival, when the thing you are fighting isn't playing by those rules.
 

Retreater

Legend
Seems a little weird to just dismiss whole modes of play in RPGs.
Well, if I know I don't like it. I didn't even use the backgrounds in Rime of the Frostmaiden because they could cause interparty conflict and PvP - which I think is to a much less effect than Alien.
As a rule, I don't like stories that focus on protagonists who are repugnant characters doing despicable things. I don't watch gangster or crime movies (from the Godfather to Tarantino to Breaking Bad). I didn't follow Game of Thrones after the first season.
I honestly don't want to contribute to my already pessimistic outlook on life with entertainment asking me to invest emotionally with terrible people doing awful things.
There are heroes in the Alien films: Ripley, Dallas, Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez, Bishop, Newt. The Alien RPG (at least the cinematic adventure in the Starter Set I played) assumes everyone wants to play Paul Reiser's Burke, like that's the highlight of the fiction.
 

Haiku Elvis

Adventurer
You say Lovecraft isn't science fiction?

That's how both the first and second movie were set up. Monster on a cargo ship, and monsters on an isolated outpost. These stories don't require settings larger than a thousand meter bubble.
And I think pretty much everyone who's really into those two movies agrees that the attempts to expand on that world were all mistakes.
The dark horse comics in the 90's managed it well. Much better than any of the movies at any rate.
 

That's probably not entirely inapt. There's a pretty good argument that Alien is Lovecraftian fiction in a science-fiction costume.
To quote Dan O’Bannon, the writer of the Alien screenplay:
One especially insightful critic- I wish I remembered who - wrote that Alien evoked the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, but where Lovecraft told of an ancient race of hideous beings menacing the Earth, ALIEN went to where the Old Ones lived, to their very world of origin. He was right, that was my very thought while writing.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
To quote Dan O’Bannon, the writer of the Alien screenplay:
I have no idea whether O'Bannon was thinking of this, but Stephen King says more or less exactly that, in Danse Macabre:
I do count it as a supernatural tale, however; I think of it as Lovecraft in outer space, mankind finally going to the Elder Gods rather than they coming to us.
 

MGibster

Legend
I'm not really obsessing about it but I do require a reasonable interest in science and scientific matters before I'd consider something to be science fiction. If people want to think of things as science fiction that have no interest in science, well of course they are free to do so, but they shouldn't expect me to agree.
You're free to march to the beat of your own drum, but Alien and the other movies I mentioned frequently make it onto various lists of the best science fiction movies of all time. This is an old debate in the science fiction community though. I read articles from the 1920s and 30s that women made for poor "scientification" writers because they didn't focus on the technology instead focusing on things like "feelings." (Not that you're coming at it from a sexist point of view.)

I enjoy the movies to some extent, especially Aliens, because of the outstanding well done character of Ripley in that movie. But yeah, as a universe I don't have a lot of interest and playing the RPG only reinforced that. I find that there is a big difference between good media in some other format, and being a good gameable setting and intellectual property.
While I think the Alien RPG is great, my interest in playing it is limited to one-shot adventures or possibly very, very short campaigns. It's good at what it sets out to do even if it's rather narrowly focused. One of my criticisms of the game is that it has rules for ship-to-ship combat. When am I ever going to use that? Probably never.
 


MGibster

Legend
Is this similar to the debate between "hard" and "soft" science fiction? I remember that when I was a selector of SF in my library.
Alien certainly explores human emotion and social dynamics, fitting the "soft sciences" description.
It's similiar. But in this case, whether hard or soft, we're at least in agreement that it's science fiction. Most science fiction is of the soft variety.
 

Cordwainer Fish

Imp. Int. Scout Svc. (Dishon. Ret.)
Is this similar to the debate between "hard" and "soft" science fiction? I remember that when I was a selector of SF in my library.
Alien certainly explores human emotion and social dynamics, fitting the "soft sciences" description.
Something I saw around the net a while ago, probably not word for word: "'Soft science fiction' means 'there were things in my Analog story that made me uncomfortable, like women and feelings."
 

aramis erak

Legend
It's playing an Alien-style horror story, down to the brutal end.
The endpoint of my Union of Progressive Peoples Merchant Ship Campaign held everyone playing in rapture as the last two surviving PC huddled & snuggled, one bullet left, as a warrior alien came to get them in the astrogation dome. We faded to black, at player request. And so, the People's Patriotic Transport Ship Brave Survival went silent...

@Retreater the lack of weapons in Chariots isn't absolute; there are quite a number of weapons listed as on the Montero. Including "incinerators" (flamethrowers)... plus another half dozed weapons and tools suitable for weapon use on the Coronus. A smart party can get away...
It sounds like your GM may have not encouraged y'all to find them. Plus, with the tools to hand, one can fashion some armor...
Plus, given the nature of the new xenomorph aboard, it's not like armor will help prevent infection. Staying buttoned up, tho', is a pretty safe way to survive...
 

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