'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Corrupt Cliffs

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Alien RPG by Free League

I am excited to finally get my hands on the new Alien RPG by Free League. I received the PDF on Tuesday morning, and while I had looked over the quickstart I was looking forward to seeing the whole book. The quickstart did nothing but make me want more.

Initial Impressions

The book is beautiful, the art is on point and the overall feeling managed to be dark without taking away legibility. I found the layout to be thematic and easy to navigate and read with important text broken into small easy to find bite-sized chunks.

Further, the .PDF is well built and XODO had no issues displaying a fully functional table of contents making things easy to find.

Player Section

The player section accounts for nearly half the book and provides pretty much everything a player might need to build a character and use that character including outlines and examples of skill success, skill failure and skill stunts.

Basic Mechanic

The games basic mechanic is a d6 dice pool where rolling a 6 is a success and rolling multiple 6s grants you stunts, ways to make the success better. In other words, this game allows you to succeed with measure, a feature I love.

The second part of this mechanic is stress. As your character gains stress they begin to roll more dice which also grants your success on a 6, but on these dice, a 1 may trigger your character to panic. It will also indicate you have run out of ammo.

The Setting

The game is set in the early 2180s after Alien 3. Not much more to say here, it's Alien. It is set in the era of Aliens more or less.

The year is 2183—little more than three years since the destruction of the Hadley’s Hope colony on LV-426, the disappearance of the USS Sulaco, and the closing of the prison and lead works on Fiorina 161. The loss of the Sulaco’s Colonial Marine unit along with these Weyland-Yutani sponsored outposts, and the implications of corporate foul play stemming from these incidents, have created an air of distrust between the company and the United Americas.

To add fuel to the fire, conflicts between the rival sectors of space have increased exponentially in the past five years. While unconfirmed, many believe that Hadley’s Hope was a test site for one of Weyland-Yutani’s bioweapons and that an enemy state sent a warship to nuke it from orbit. Others believe that the Company is working with a rogue nation to assume control of the colonies on the Frontier.

The 2180s are a dangerous time to be alive.
-- https://www.alien-rpg.com/

Game Modes

  • Cinematic - Designed to be played as one-shots with pre-generated characters.
  • Campaign - For those longer games when the characters will span multiple missions. These are generally broken into 3 types of games: Colonists, Marines, and Space Truckers.

Character Creation

The game splits creation into a simple 10 step process.
  1. Choose career
  2. Buy attributes
  3. Buy skills
  4. Choose career talent
  5. Choose name
  6. Choose appearance
  7. Choose personal agenda
  8. Choose buddy or rial
  9. Choose gear & signature item
  10. Roll for cash
Many of these choices will be guided by the career you pick. Each of them has suggestions for signature items, agendas, names and appearance. They will also give you a list of career talents to choose from.

The game uses a simple character creation process making character generation easy, which is a pro but on the other side of the coin it doesn't provide much in the way of guidance for a backstory, which is a bit of a con for me, especially for players who are new to the system.


Combat is a deadly affair in Alien. Like many games having a map layout to determine combat is handy, and Alien is no different. Many of you may be familiar with measuring distances or counting squares, but Alien uses zones. These are spaces in the game where action can take place. Conan 2d20 is a user of zones and I have come to believe they are a superior style of laying out the world. They hit a sweet spot between the tactics of counting spaces and the strict theatre of the mind approach. I have written a few articles on zones and you can check out my latest one here.

In addition to zones and maps this section details player actions, damage, recovery, critical injuries and finally panic. As you can see it is a fairly in-depth section of the book.

Although in general combat is pretty straight forward, you start with health and damage reduces it, I feel the "Signature Attack" that the Xenomorphs have is worth a special mention. Basically during an attack, the GM rolls a D6 and consults the charts....
An Example of this is the face hugger. A roll of 1 and the hugger simply causes stress as the little Alien horror skitters towards the character, but a roll of 6 can come close to immediately jumping on the player and reducing them to near-death instantly. These signature attacks make the Xenos horrifying and if they haven't figured that out yet, your players will soon enough.

“Seventeen days? Hey man, I don't wanna rain on your parade but we're not gonna last seventeen hours! Those things are gonna come in here just like they did before! And they're gonna come in here and they're gonna come in here — AND THEY'RE GONNA KILL US!”


The game has an extensive arsenal of weapons and equipment, showcasing a little of everything, ie we have 4 pistol types and 6 rifle types. We are also given images for each of those fire-arm types. There is, of course, more weapons than that, including melee and heavy weapons.

I am sure some people will want more equipment, weapons, and armor, but realistically there is a lot here, including some of the iconic vehicles from Aliens.

Hard Life

The final part of the players' section is a setting primer detailing life amongst the stars. It gives us some basic ideas of what living in space might be like. Mainly it is information, but it would be critical for a player unfamiliar with the setting, but still useful and in-depth enough for those of us who have had the Xenomorphs as part of our lives for pretty much as long as you can remember.

Besides talking about living in space, the law, entertainment and religion this section also has a detailed section on the spacecraft of the game including a few basic ships and detailing space combat in the Alien Universe. I admit I was a little surprised to see this section, as Alien has never been about ship to ship combat to me. I haven't looked into these rules yet but they should prove interesting.

Game Mother

The GM's section of the book is broken down into 4 major areas: being the GM, the gazeteer, the Aliens and running a campaign.

In keeping with the theme, the typical GM is named after the MU/TH/R computer system first brought to life as the Nostromo's AI. Instead of the basic Game Master, the game leader is known as the Game Mother.

Running the Game

This first section isn't rules oriented, but more a section of advice to the GM. Ideas and themes to use, how to use horror etc. Sections like this often get skipped or glossed over as GMs read the rules and the fluff material and skip over this essential advice. My first pass shows this section to be full of good ideas and advice to elevate your Alien game. Read it.

It also has sections specifically on Cinematic, Campaign play and NPCs.

The Gazeteer

This section contains a couple of chapters within the book, the first deals with governments and corporations and gives us a solid breakdown of each of them. These are the overarching nebulous entities that control the world and probably cause more bad than good in the character's lives.

The second section is about 34 pages in length and deals with planets and systems. Again we are given an impressive amount of background information on each sector of space followed by the systems of interest and finally the planets within the system. We are given stats on worlds like Location, Affiliation, Terrain, Mean Temperature, Colonies etc. as well as a short description of the world.

That's the thing. You were out there for fifty-seven years. What happened was, you had drifted right through the core systems, and it's really just blind luck that a deep salvage team found you when they did. It's one in a thousand, really. I think you're damn lucky to be alive, kiddo. You could be floating out there forever.

The Alien

Arguably the stars of the show this section will attract people too it quickly, curious to see what an Alien looks like, stat wise, in this world.

We start with the Engineers, where we get a breakdown of who they are and the tech that they posses, including a run down on their starships. We do not however get any stats to use them in the game.

Next up we come to the Xenomorphs. We are given a list of each of the stats used by the Aliens and then we are on to the various special attacks and specification for each Alien species. This section might be my biggest layout beef with the book. Because of the signature attacks there are a lot of tables in this section, which are easy enough to read, but the Alien spec blocks are also in the same format making it harder to quickly pick out the Alien stat blocks from the signature attacks. It might have been nice to have another table style layout for these, more like what we see for the NPCs.

This chapter ends off with a section on other alien species out there, things that are not the bugs. These are not intelligent species spread across the stars, rather they are local fauna characters might run into on other worlds. It would have been nice to have seen a few more of these but their inclusion at all is welcome.

Campaign Play

The final section here is on campaign play and gives us a variety of tools and tables to generate everything from star systems and worlds to adventure seeds to job types based around the campaign type. This section is largely roll tables and ideas to help you build a campaign. Beyond that it contains a list of archetypal human NPCs: pilots, mining experts, ICC inspectors, etc.

The section finished with "Novogrod Station", a fairly fleshed out space station on the edge of space to provide a template you can use to produce your own station, or to be used as is.

Hope's Last Day

Although technically part of the GM section, I thought this could get it's own section since. It's not rules after all.

We are given a quick jump into the action adventure that the players should recognize and get on board with right away. They should be able to conjure clear images of the location they are being thrust.


Yes, that Hadley's Hope. The adventure is about the last days of the colony on LV-426. We all know how it turns out. We all know no one makes it out alive. Welcome to a cinematic adventure. Overall the adventure looks to be pretty short, but for a quick one off intro scenario? it looks pretty good.

Final Thoughts

Overall I really like this book, it's layout is easy to read and yet remains thematic and dark. The text is generally broken down into small easy to digest bites, and this is especially true in the rules section. I have liked the system since I read it, even if I haven't had time to play it, and regret not running a game of the quick-start rules at a convention this year. Because really playing it is necessary to see how it really runs.

If you are a fan of the series. If you are a fan of the Alien. If you like RPGs and you didn't pre-order, you need to pick this up when it is released.

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  1. Good article. Maybe you can answer a question. I have never used zones before. I read your article on zones as well, and it makes sense. But ive always had trouble with abstract combat. My question is what defines a zone? They are not well defined on the map even though it mentions borders. Looking at Hadleys Hope is it each room? Or Is it a Block? Im guessing each room? But if a door way blocks line of sight how do you shoot long range when that is 4 "zones"? I guess in other scenarios where there are no walls but zone borders?

    1. Thanks for the comment! What defines a zone can be tricky and Alien doesn't give a LARGE amount of guidelines, and I don't feel their maps are super well laid out with them. Generally a zone is anywhere the action might center. So in fairly small room it might be a single zone. If we take the Shuttle Narcissus from Alien we might call the main ship area a zone and the space outside the airlock the Alien hangs onto, another zone. At the End of Aliens we probably have a large zone for the main hanger, and another zone representing the large cargo airlock. We could break the main hold into several small zones, ie the drop ship, the entrance and the area between them, giving us 3 zones, but it doesn't accomplish much for the strictly melee battle we get.

      As for range, yes, in cramped quarters, inside a ship or colony, shooting long range might be pretty difficult, but out in the open it will be much easier, that is the same as it would be in any RPG or wargame. ie games like warhammer 40k or Kill Team are going to be much more interesting with terrain blocking those LoS and limiting range.

      Zones remain a nice middle ground between tactically based 5' grids or similar and a strictly theater of the mind.