Free League's Alien RPG - My Experience

MGibster

Legend
But equally, I don't even think most of this is even that complex. I think underneath all of this, people are just upset I don't like Aliens as a setting and they do.
Personal tastes are subjective, and if you don't like the setting that's perfectly okay. I have a coworker who loves the latest Star Wars triology and I hated it, but it doesn't upset me in the least that he enjoys it. And I do think you have valid criticisms of the setting. The kinds of games you can run using Alien are fairly narrow in my opinion, and because it's so bleak, it's not a game I'd want to play too frequently anyway. It's best in small doses.

It’s a straight lift of the plot from the (very good) Alien: Isolation video game. I figured that would be a pretty cool idea for a campaign. My concern is that agendas would be a bit tricky, at least for the surviving PCs from the earlier game. They’d be getting hired by Amanda based on their experience with xenomorphs… so it’s a job for them. That may make it hard to have any kind of other agenda for those characters.
So the game has two play modes: Cinematic and Campaign. Cinematic mode is supposed to emulate the tension of a movie and be played in a single session. Which is laughable because you almost certainly can't play Destroyer of Worlds or Chariot of the Gods in a single session unless it's a long, long session. You use pre-generated characters and each PC is given an Agenda card at the beginning of Acts I, II, and III. For a campaign, players generate their own characters and you don't use Agenda cards (although if you're the Mother you can do whatever you want of course).
 

log in or register to remove this ad


Retreater

Legend
Was he crapping in his own thread to reject the way Alien introductory modules are written (it's not just the one he played, I played a different one with similar results)? It's not like the OP wrote a wholly positive review.
I don't think my goal was to crap on Alien. The RPG wasn't to my taste due to the PvP nature, but I did have some positive things to say about it - for example, I did like the system and mechanics. I wouldn't be averse to playing the occasional cinematic game, so long as it's actually a one-shot and not a 14-hour event.
For me, I don't like competitive games that stretch that long.
Of course, I was not the GM of the session, so I don't know how closely we followed the adventure and rules. I know only enough that the setting and its expectations aren't for me.
Concerning the severity of PvP conflict depending on the progression of the Acts...
Act 1 - presentation of secrets and keeping information away from your fellow players; manipulating them into doing what you want
Act 2 - setting yourself up to be the one calling the shots - remove those who stand in your way
Act 3 - just kill the rest of them
 

Celebrim

Legend
I don't think my goal was to crap on Alien.

Mine wasn't really either. Like you, I spoke positively of system and mechanics, especially the stress mechanics.

Unlike you, I'm not as interested in using the system to fight xenomorphs even in a one shot. That just didn't prove to be all that interesting to me. At some level, it just kind of hammered home they slasher flick vibe where the monster is the real protagonist of the movie. Like for me, it was annoying when despite Ripley appearing to 'win' the scenario in 'Aliens' they had to pull the, "Oh no, you didn't really." in Alien 3. And ultimately for me, I would want a setting where aliens aren't the focus of the setting, just one of many things you do in the setting, and Aliens didn't feel like a GM pet NPC that couldn't be allowed to lose. And that's not really the fault of the GM or even the game designers in a sense. That's being true to the material. It's just that I'm not sure that's going to be a game universe I'd really want to be in or to run a game in.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I would consider that wholly a positive and not a negative. Most of the time you don't want to have PC's with sharply conflicting agendas in a story you want to go on for a long time. You very much ideally want to have the party working together in a gameable story because in a gameable story you don't have the power of plot to make it all work out. Whenever you have conflicting agendas in a party regardless of the RPG, you often need OOC agreements and negotiation between players to work those agendas in a way that doesn't derail everyone's fun. Keeping agendas secret and running PvP rarely is going to work out for a longer game.

No, I think that it makes the game interesting and different from other "team-based" games like D&D. I think forgetting that pure team mentality is one of the keys to enjoying a game like this. The characters should have reasons to not get along at all times. They should struggle to work together at times.

And as I said in my last post, not every conflicting agenda needs to be in direct opposition to another.

As for the length of the game, I don't think it would be a problem there. I don't expect a campaign of Alien to be as long as a campaign in other games. Multiple sessions for sure, much more than a one shot (or the three sessions it took us to play through Chariot of the Gods), but nothing like what many consider standard D&D campaigns.

Agendas can also change over time, so that may be an interesting element.


Aside from that, the conflicting agendas common to Alien stories are part of the power of plot protection given to the aliens, as a way to derail the protagonists when they otherwise should succeed. Pulling back, they are ways for the author of the story to screw over his protagonists and make sure they never have a way out, and shocking his audience. That's fine in the medium of a horror movie. But in an RPG, the protagonists are the audience, and that's just bad GMing.

I don't share that view. I share the view more that it's the removal of the plot protection given to the PCs.


The other use in story of the conflicting agendas is a way to explain why the characters in an Alien story are frequently jumping through the stupid hoops to advance the plot. Disbelief is less suspended if it turns out that they really weren't just that dumb, they were evil and malicious.

I agree that the agendas (conflicting or not) can help drive things forward. I don't think that's "stupid". I'd argue that some group of hyper-competent people who work in total unison is far more contrived than characters who may behave in ways that are not ideal.

Your overall take on this is way too negative, and doesn't come anything close to my experience running the game... so I can't attribute it to the game nor the setting.


So the game has two play modes: Cinematic and Campaign. Cinematic mode is supposed to emulate the tension of a movie and be played in a single session. Which is laughable because you almost certainly can't play Destroyer of Worlds or Chariot of the Gods in a single session unless it's a long, long session. You use pre-generated characters and each PC is given an Agenda card at the beginning of Acts I, II, and III. For a campaign, players generate their own characters and you don't use Agenda cards (although if you're the Mother you can do whatever you want of course).

Yeah, I ran Chariot of the Gods, actually! I'm familiar with the cinematic and campaign approaches. Although I didn't recall that campaigns don't use agendas. I'd likely still keep them in there, although would have to give it some thought... as I said, having reasonable agenda for such a "mission" based scenario seems a bit challenging.
 

Celebrim

Legend
No, I think that it makes the game interesting and different from other "team-based" games like D&D. I think forgetting that pure team mentality is one of the keys to enjoying a game like this. The characters should have reasons to not get along at all times. They should struggle to work together at times.

Personally, I think you are going to achieve that in any RPG. Working together is not easy. You are going to have conflict. You are not going to get perfect coordination. More to the point, if your players have aesthetics of play that involve exploration of character, their going to end up with conflicts anyway because they enjoy having that happen.

I think the agendas are a mistake. I think that players even in a one shot should be encouraged to decide their agenda. I think that the agendas should be written as conflicting goals where the interest of the scenario is the player deciding which of their conflicting goals they are going to choose. Instead of telling the player what the character wants, tell the player what their character is conflicted about and leave it up to the player to decide how that story should go instead of acting like there is one right choice for that character.

As for the length of the game, I don't think it would be a problem there.

And I think that is fair. There are a lot of games that I enjoy as a one shot that I wouldn't enjoy as a longer game, and I can totally see Alien being some other person's cup of tea. It's not a bad game. There are just too many little problems I have with it to make me want to play in or run other one shots with it. One for me tend to be games that i run for new players or groups of players that don't get to game with each other very often - like family in my case. And this just doesn't meet my criteria for a fun one shot even compared to say CoC.

Your overall take on this is way too negative, and doesn't come anything close to my experience running the game... so I can't attribute it to the game nor the setting.

Which sounds like a difference of opinion, which I'm fine with.
 

Yora

Legend
For players to come up with their own interesting goals for their individual characters, they need to be pretty familiar with the setting and the campaign style to know what kinds of goals are possible and might become relevant during the campaign.
If you play generic D&D Fantasyland, that's possible because most players already know that setting and style well enough to come up with generic goals. If you have a long running campaign where the players have time to become familiar with how things work in that world, that's also not much of a problem.
But when all the players have to work with is that most of them have seen one or two Alien movies 10 years ago, what is there to work with? There are these deadly Aliens and Weyland-Yutani will sacrifice its employees to capture one for study. You first need something to paint the players an evocative picture of what the world is like. And giving the players randomly assigned goals for their characters actually is a good method to do that. These goals are not telling the players to do anything or to find a specific thing located somewhere in the adventure. They give the player's impressions of how people in the setting of the adventure think and what is regarded as appropriate and fitting for the game. And in the end, it's still always up to the players what to do with it. The GM isn't going to check each player's assigned goal during play and penalizing them to not having acted according to it enough. They are suggestions, and if you don't find opportunities to use them in fun ways during the play, then you don't. If you run into something else that you want to pursue with your character, you can do that too.
 

Retreater

Legend
The GM isn't going to check each player's assigned goal during play and penalizing them to not having acted according to it enough. They are suggestions, and if you don't find opportunities to use them in fun ways during the play, then you don't.
Yeah, for achieving your agenda you get a Story Point, which you can use to add a "success" to any die roll - so it's pretty much a vitally important "auto succeed."
By not doing it, you just kind of get looked down upon for violating the spirit of the game and being a "bad" role-player. By doing it, you likely upset your friends and look like a jerk. Otherwise, there are no penalties.
 

payn

Legend
Yeah, for achieving your agenda you get a Story Point, which you can use to add a "success" to any die roll - so it's pretty much a vitally important "auto succeed."
By not doing it, you just kind of get looked down upon for violating the spirit of the game and being a "bad" role-player. By doing it, you likely upset your friends and look like a jerk. Otherwise, there are no penalties.
Is that what the rulebook indicates?
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Personally, I think you are going to achieve that in any RPG. Working together is not easy. You are going to have conflict. You are not going to get perfect coordination.

Really? Most of my group’s D&D play, as well as some other games, sees the group working incredibly effectively together. Buffs and healing and assisting are all common, and so are abilities that promote teamwork. They’re reluctant to split the party in all but the most extreme cases, and so on.

The agendas help discourage that hyper-competency in favor of a more flawed-human approach, which is suited to the genre.

More to the point, if your players have aesthetics of play that involve exploration of character, their going to end up with conflicts anyway because they enjoy having that happen.

So it’s not conflict that you’re against, it’s just the agendas? I’m not sure I follow. If the players are interested in exploring character and that will cause conflicts, how is that not doing exactly one of the things the agendas help promote?

I think the agendas are a mistake. I think that players even in a one shot should be encouraged to decide their agenda. I think that the agendas should be written as conflicting goals where the interest of the scenario is the player deciding which of their conflicting goals they are going to choose. Instead of telling the player what the character wants, tell the player what their character is conflicted about and leave it up to the player to decide how that story should go instead of acting like there is one right choice for that character.

I don’t recall as it’s been some time, but if you’re playing a cinematic scenario with player made characters, then I think the GM and player will work on agendas together. It makes sense that pre-generated characters would have pre-generated agendas.

I could be wrong though, and perhaps the book says the GM always decides on agendas for PCs. If so, I’d ditch that and work with the players to find something suitable.
 

MGibster

Legend
By not doing it, you just kind of get looked down upon for violating the spirit of the game and being a "bad" role-player. By doing it, you likely upset your friends and look like a jerk. Otherwise, there are no penalties.
I had a chat with my players before the game explaining what Agendas were and that sometimes they'll put PCs in conflict with one another. When a PC went behind the other characters' backs to do something nefarious like get a sample, nobody thought the player was being a jerk because it was expected.
 

Celebrim

Legend
The agendas help discourage that hyper-competency in favor of a more flawed-human approach, which is suited to the genre.

Maybe you just don't play with flawed humans but while every group I've played with can come together to work as a hyper-competent team, I've seen the same groups break down into every man for himself routs or develop in party rivalries or see one character sacrificing party interests for the sake of his own. I find I don't really have to encourage in party conflict. It's going to happen anyway.

And Stress is a great way of simulating the flaws in people.

So it’s not conflict that you’re against, it’s just the agendas? I’m not sure I follow.

I think there are a lot of things I didn't really enjoy, but I'm against the crapsack setting, And I'm against using the agendas to enforce that. And I'm against the limited focus on PC's versus what are effectively GM pets, not necessarily in this case because you have a GM emotionally invested in the monster winning (which I certainly didn't have in the one shot) but because that's true to the movies tropes. "Alien" is a case of an RPG that does one thing and does that one thing well, and I'm always against RPGs that just do one thing well. Ultimately, I'm finding I'm not that interested in playing a serious game where the PC's are the characters in a slasher flick. "Michael Myers" is not an interesting RPG to me, because even the name would imply that the PC's aren't really the protagonists of the story.

If the players are interested in exploring character and that will cause conflicts, how is that not doing exactly one of the things the agendas help promote?

Because the entire point of a single defined agenda is that you don't explore character. Your character is defined for you and to explore you'd have to play against character.
 

Retreater

Legend
Is that what the rulebook indicates?
Yes. The rules are contained in a short 20 pages, while the remaining 380 page count details how to make enemies of your closest friends, insults to throw at people who don't follow agenda cards, and a thorough list of Spaceball quotes (pretty much the entire screenplay. ;)
 


Laurefindel

Legend
The Alien RPG is definitely not for you, then. Nothing good comes of any stories in that setting, except maybe them rescuing Newt in Aliens. But only if you make sure to skip Alien 3 and work up some head canon.
Alien 3, AKA "how to ruin a franchise's best chance at spinoff or continuation in a pre-credit prologue"

Alien 3 is not a bad movie in itself, but why did they have to kill Newt and Cpl Hicks? Whyyyyyyyyyy!?! (sob)
 

Celebrim

Legend
Alien 3, AKA "how to ruin a franchise's best chance at spinoff or continuation in a pre-credit prologue"

Alien 3 is not a bad movie in itself, but why did they have to kill Newt and Cpl Hicks? Whyyyyyyyyyy!?! (sob)

Because they seem to think that we liked Aliens because it was a crapsack world where the audience was rooting for the monster.

It would have been better to kill Ripley, great of a character as she was, than to kill Newt and Hicks, because the only reason to kill the other two is to say that Ripley isn't actually a hero.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Maybe you just don't play with flawed humans but while every group I've played with can come together to work as a hyper-competent team, I've seen the same groups break down into every man for himself routs or develop in party rivalries or see one character sacrificing party interests for the sake of his own. I find I don't really have to encourage in party conflict. It's going to happen anyway.

And Stress is a great way of simulating the flaws in people.

Oh, I play with flawed humans, I can definitely confirm that!

But how flawed their characters are really depends on the game. D&D has told everyone for decades to eliminate risk and to always take the optimal route. Flaws in 5e are, as presented, easily and very often ignored.

What's funny is that the agendas in Alien are also easily ignored. It feels a little more wrong to do that in Alien, though... which is interesting in and of itself.

I think there are a lot of things I didn't really enjoy, but I'm against the crapsack setting, And I'm against using the agendas to enforce that. And I'm against the limited focus on PC's versus what are effectively GM pets, not necessarily in this case because you have a GM emotionally invested in the monster winning (which I certainly didn't have in the one shot) but because that's true to the movies tropes. "Alien" is a case of an RPG that does one thing and does that one thing well, and I'm always against RPGs that just do one thing well. Ultimately, I'm finding I'm not that interested in playing a serious game where the PC's are the characters in a slasher flick. "Michael Myers" is not an interesting RPG to me, because even the name would imply that the PC's aren't really the protagonists of the story.

All I can say here is that this is not at all how the game played out at our table. We had five players, and two had PCs that died. The rest made it out.

I do agree that part of the game is "can we make it", but I actually think that's a good thing. I think having an RPG with a focus like that is good. Though I do think you can shift that focus a bit. Certainly that seems to be the main difference between a short cinematic game and a longer ongoing campaign.

I don't think that you'd ever really want to totally abandon the "sci-fi horror" genre entirely, but it need not be at the forefront at every possible second.


Because the entire point of a single defined agenda is that you don't explore character. Your character is defined for you and to explore you'd have to play against character.

No, not really. They give you a goal for the character. But it isn't required that you follow that goal perfectly. Many of them are presented with words like "... if possible" or "... if need be" in them. There is plenty of wiggle room. And really all it does is give you a "how far will you go for X" question... which makes for interesting play.

As for the agendas enforcing the "crapsack setting", again, not how things went at my table. In Chariot of the Gods, there are two agendas that are at more at odds with the rest of the crew than others. One of those is optional, and I won't go into details because I don't want to spoil things.

The other is fairly obvious in that there's a company agent on board. The player who had the company agent was actually playing in a way to meet the orders of his agenda while also remaining loyal to the crew. The conflict for him came from the agenda and the idea he had for the character. It was actually an interesting dynamic to watch, knowing his agenda, but seeing him try not to put everyone in danger. And instinctively, the other players assumed he was working against them, so that created some interesting tension.

All of the players brought something to the character they played. I don't think your assessment of agendas as being this all-encompassing thing is accurate.
 

aramis erak

Legend
There are Agenda cards for characters that are some variation of "Do everything you can to protect your crew." Agenda cards are designed to encourage actions that help move the plot forward and they don't necessarily put you in direct conflict with other player characters. An Agenda card that reads, "It's been a while since you've unwound, go find some drugs." or "Find something you can sell for cash." encourages the PCs to explore their surroundings in search of their goals.
Yup.
The Agendas in Acts I and II of the game don't really encourage PCs to get violent with one another. At least not in any of the published adventures I've read through.
The phase II ones can be interpreted [misinterpreted?] as needing PVP in Chariots... see p. 3 for the scenario required GM reaction to PVP in Chariots. [PC now NPC after that one scene.]
Miller II: "by any means necessary means that if anyone trys to stop miller looting, miller may wind up going PVP.
Davis II Search the lab - if others have already deemed the lab a major problem spot, there is potential for either Davis to go off from stress or others to try to stop Davis
Rye I: get money? Soon as one can, coerce Wilson to authorize special duty pay. Then ensure he can't rescind it.
Rye II: money again - but looting. Taking chances to bring contagion back, if the players are thinking contagion, can make Rye a target of retaliation.
Rye III: collect that sample...
Cham II: protect them with your life? This may involve, if Rye or miller have gone overgreedy, stopping them to protect the others.
Wilson I - you MUST arrange tto get samples back. You're the one with the access to company funds... but if someone (especially Rye) decides to rough you up, well, better a killer than a corpse.
Wilson II - Rye or Davis may be sacrificed to become hosts if you can arrange it...
Lucas II - if the others have decided, "«bleep» this «bleep»!!!", it may be essential to go PVP...
Lucas III is a "WTF???" 180° turn... and a guaranteed PVP vs Wilson and/or Rye. Raid the kitchen & stewards closets, and cook up some dope for Davis. Give your share to Rye.
But in all cases, remember p. 3... after PVP, one or both cease to be PCs.
 

aramis erak

Legend
I don't think my goal was to crap on Alien. The RPG wasn't to my taste due to the PvP nature, but I did have some positive things to say about it - for example, I did like the system and mechanics. I wouldn't be averse to playing the occasional cinematic game, so long as it's actually a one-shot and not a 14-hour event.
You've not played the game as intended, and it's not your fault. See below

For me, I don't like competitive games that stretch that long.
Of course, I was not the GM of the session, so I don't know how closely we followed the adventure and rules. I know only enough that the setting and its expectations aren't for me.
Your GM bloody well seems to have entirely ignored core rules page 32:

ALIEN RPG p. 32 said:
PLAYER VERSUS PLAYER
In the ALIEN roleplaying game, your PC can end up in direct confrontation with another PC. This is quite common in Cinematic play, less so in Campaign play.

In Cinematic play, it’s up to the GM to call out when a Player versus Player situation escalates beyond the point of no return. When the GM has “called PvP,” the players involved play out the current conflict to its conclusion. After that, the PC who has “turned traitor,” if they are still alive, become an NPC and is from now on under the control of the GM. The player in question is given a new PC to play, if one is available. This means that you should be think very carefully before acting against the common interest of the group, even if you think it’s in line with your Agenda—it may cost you your PC. You are strongly recommended to wait until the third and final Act of the scenario before taking such drastic action.

In Campaign play, PvP is less common and any such situations are resolved in the group without specific rules—you’ll just need to work out your differences if you are to continue in the same crew of PCs.
You didn't get an authentic play of the intended game.

I can't argue with your feelings - but I can point out they're potentially influenced by the GM ignoring the single most important rule in re Cinematic play.


Yes. The rules are contained in a short 20 pages, while the remaining 380 page count details how to make enemies of your closest friends, insults to throw at people who don't follow agenda cards, and a thorough list of Spaceball quotes (pretty much the entire screenplay. ;)
If you're dealing with the preview version... the core rules are very much not that at all, and I'm wondering if you read the actual corebook, or just the rules section of the preview version.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Mod Note:

It seems as if discussion of whether the fiction of Alien, Star Wars, Dune, and other settings are or are not SF is not particularly helpful to a thread about whether a particular RPG or other game based on one is a good, fun game for you and others you might know.

So howzabout we drop that line of discussion in this thread, and have those who really want to explore that question fork it off to another thread?
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top