'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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Monday, March 9, 2020

ALIEN: Hope's Last Day. Prep and Running It.

Introduction

The local convention that got me started GMing publicly decided to do a "mini-con" at the start of 2020. Normally I have GMed Conan 2d20, but with the release of Alien RPG by Free League I jumped on board to GM the introductory adventure in the core rule book, "Hope's Last Day". I thought it would be a great intro for new players as well as myself, and require less prep for myself, at least in terms of adventure design. It being a short adventure should lend itself to running in the shorter 4-hour game slot of the convention as well.

Having a look through the rules, I liked the maps in general but didn't think they would lend themselves to miniatures. I could do a strict theater of the mind game, it's not really how I work. I needed a way to combine the in book maps with miniatures.

Since Alien basically works between two basic modes; stealth, and combat, I thought I could use this to get a cool game presentation. Using the maps of Hadley's Hope for interaction in Stealth Mode, and then zoom in to a more miniature heavy version of the colony when we were in combat mode or exploring a room more thoroughly.

Prep & Play

Stealth Mode

My first task was to get the maps from the book into a fairly playable format. Step one was to grab the PDF and bring them into GIMP. Once there I broke down each floor into a separate map and then cleaned up the background. This would allow me to display one large format map at a time to the players. As I type that, let's hope the PCs don't split the party onto multiple floors.

One of the reasons I wanted to be able to place one map out at a time was due to space constraints, I always struggle with the size of the tables we play on, not that they are too small, just that I use a lot of stuff.

My plan was to blow up each floor's map to decent enough size to allow miniatures to represent where each player was even if it wasn't a 1:1 scale. To do this and to keep costs down I decided on 2'x2' for each map. This left them at a pretty decent size, but also allowed me to have them printed at VistaPrint during a 50% off sale and get all 4 maps for about $25cad printed as a 4'x4' poster.

In the end, this provided a good interface to allow the players to see where they were in the colony, but after running the game I would provide each player with a copy of the map as well, so they were more able to see the entire layout of Hadley's Hope, including the levels they were not on.

Visually I would grab some kind of markers or blips to represent their location on the map. I would probably use blue or green for the PCs, one for each player and a group icon allowing the PCs to split the party if they desired. For the Aliens, a nice red marker. In the end, I used a small blue d6 for the PCs and a red die for the Alien. Using the actual miniatures on the map and moving them back and forth from the map to the 1:1 scale representation would have been a little clumsy.

Combat Mode

I still wanted to use a more true scale representation for combat and in-depth exploration of areas. For this, it was pretty clear that I wanted to use a sci-fi version of the "Ultimate Dungeon Terrain" or UDT. I would just need a way to represent walls and such.

Having used UDT for Conan I knew I needed some basic scatter terrain as well as some walls. Foam dungeon walls are pretty easy to put together, but when it comes to sci-fi things can be a little more difficult. I spent some time scouring Thingiverse for something that would work, but in the end, I didn't find a solution that I wanted to use.

A little while ago I had an idea where I would model some wall ends for 3d-printing and then use straws to connect them giving us some nice pipe walls. I decided to adopt this idea, but with foam-core instead of straws. I modeled some wall ends that allowed the insertion of foam core, giving me modular 45-degree walls. I was pretty pleased with the overall design.

Then I watched Aliens and re-designed the wall ends to be more in line with the colony. These new ends allowed a vertical piece of foam core to be used. Despite this redesign I ended up only using them to frame a door.

These worked well in play as a concept, but I could have used a few more lengths of them, all of the ones I built were around 5" long, to really fill things out and allow wall runs that didn't extend past the UDT edges.

Other models and props I found on Thingiverse: desks, computers, eggs and facehuggers. The only thing I couldn't find on Thingiverse was an actual Xenomorph. There was a few of them, but nothing that stood out as a cool gaming mini.

I looked around and found a piece of software called Xara Posing Studio AND a model for it for the Xenomorph. Being pretty confident in the new Elegoo Mars, I set out to give it a pose and added a based and some misc parts, rocks, and a pipe, to make the pose make sense. I added these to the model in "3D Builder" and exported the whole model as an STL. After a couple of tries, I got the pose and model to work on the printer, and I had a pretty cool Xeno miniature. I added this to Thingiverse, so now all the models I used (minus the PCs) are on Thingiverse.

To make a set of PCs for the adventure I ran over to Desktop Hero 3d and put together a few characters. I did this mostly with their free assets but ended up paying a little extra for a few of them. I grabbed a few props from Thingiverse and added them to the models in "3d Builder" again, giving me a fully custom set of figures designed for the adventure. At this time I can't make the .STLs for the characters available, but they should be pretty reproducible if you want.

Model Links


Notes

Like all adventures, the GM has a notebook or similar with, at least, key elements for the adventure. This is normally pretty simple to accomplish as you write the adventure. Since I don't normally run pre-written adventures I wasn't sure where I wanted to go, especially since this adventure is pretty directionless for the players, giving them the entirety of the colony to explore and die in.

In the end, I built a Google Slides presentation with interactive maps to allow me to move around and have some key tables at my disposal. So much for running a pre-built adventure because it would be easier!

This presentation worked excellently, but as it was my first time running something like this on a new platform, I think I would try and do things a little differently: Keywords and descriptors for each location as well as a basic mapped layout for the area using UDT. This would allow me to do better with area descriptions and not need to think about how I want to layout each area on the fly unless I choose to.

Conclusion

The game went well, and even if everyone died, fun was had by all. There were a couple places I was a little weak in the rules, but for my first time ever running the game, it was a pretty easy system to get your head around. Running it again I would have more preparation done on describing the offices and other areas of the colony that aren't really fleshed out in the adventure because they aren't key locations.

Overall I was pretty happy with the collection of Sci-Fi bits I came up with to work with the combat mode. I was doubly pleased I got them all painted up, but if I had had the time I would have used a slightly lighter color scheme on some of the parts, just to break up the overall terrain, which was pretty monochrome.

Since the game ran I have modeled a few more bits, including a sloped wall panel joint with a built-in computer terminal. I am also working on a set of wall ends that can be linked and some new doors. Expect to see some videos in the future on sci-fi terrain.

In the end, the experience with RPG Alliance has remained a positive one. Everyone around the various tables has fun, I am glad to be part of this convention in my small way. If you are in Calgary or planning on coming by drop by the Rpg Alliance on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook OR the webpage!

Special Thanks

I would remiss if I didn't say a HUGE thank you to Free League, publishers of ALIEN, who sent the convention special edition copies of the RPG to give away as door prizes (which I sadly didn't win.) Generosity from these companies is incredible. Thank you again to a great company making some great games (Alien, Tales from the Loop, Forbidden Lands, Coriolis, the upcoming Vaesen and numerous others I've not even looked at!)

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