So goes the old piece of advertising blurb from the original ”Alien”, way back in 1979. It’s a classic soundbite (no pun intended) and one that has become part of the international sci-fi zeitgeist. You hear that and, if you’re a fan of the movies, it instantly conjures up images of cramped, slightly archaic starships, hissing steam vents, cramped tunnels and the empty void beyond the airlock.
I mention it, because I have just finished running a game of the Alien RPG as part of Virtual Grogmeet 2022. It was a lot of fun, and ultimately saw the heroes alone, in the void of space facing something…well…alien.
After the game had finished, the chaps involved very nicely indulged me in a chat about the game and the setting. Now, cards on the table time – given that I was running a game for a convention, with a group of strangers that I didn’t know, as much as I like mixing things up, I believed that people would feel pretty cheated if they signed up for a game of the Alien RPG and it didn’t feature any aliens. However, as we discussed the setting, and the possibilities inherent in it, I was so interested in some of the alternatives that the players and I brainstormed (especially as it was almost 3am their time!).
The first, and most logicial, alternative to the NPC being infected with the Alien was that of the NPCs being fine, and it was one of the players who was infected. In truth, this was something that I had accounted for in my scenario, and in playtesting this very nearly came to pass (Josh, I’m looking at you). However, that was always going to be the outlier scenario – whilst I know my playtesting group well, and I absolutely know that they would love this, again, I had no idea of the people I was playing with or whether that would sit well with them. Turns out, it probably would have!
We then started discussing other alternatives to the alien being the bad guy. This was pretty fertile idea space, and the suggestions included:
- A virus – truth be told, my first idea for an Alien scenario, given what we’ve all been through these last two years, WAS a virus, but I mentally veto’d that as I wasn’t sure how on the nose it might be for some people!
- A rogue AI
- Corporate shenanigans
- Every day ”bad people”
- Parasites – I particularly liked this one; with Aliens ”agenda” system you could get a lot of serious paranoia going
These were all fantastic suggestions, although the general consensus (which I agree with) is that the more mundane threats (corporates, factions, insurgents etc) would be much better suited to a long term campaign, rather than a one shot. With a one shot – especially a one shot of Alien – you want a threat that isn’t human, which is otherworldly and which is unknown.
In short, something Alien.