Let’s Talk About the Alien RPG

This game has made me a fan.

When I was young, I was vaguely aware of the popular Alien and Aliens movies and the Dark Horse Comics that followed them. As an adult, I vaguely watched the movies up through Alien: Resurrection (I guess this now because I recently rewatched those movies, and the plots, characters, and lines were vaguely familiar to me). For the first time I just recently watched Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. As was the word on the street, those movies aren’t very good (does it seem to you that the characters in fiction are just “dumber” and more emotionally unhinged now than they were in the ‘80s?), but, nevertheless, I appreciate the “look” of Scott’s directing.

But the Alien RPG. Man. The mechanics are cool, and I am on the verge of running it for my Conan group on Sunday, so I should have more to say about it in gamist terms later, but right now, as I’m absorbing the setting material… Wow!

These factions, this imagined future that wholly embraces and absorbs the material from the movie franchise while adding (apparently) so much more. This strikes me as a gorgeously realized “hard” science fiction future, perfectly understandable and often analogous to our own current affairs.

I’ve never played Traveller (I’ve read it only), but it is the Alien universe and its physics in which I want to situate any of my science fiction games (anything that is not pulp space fantasy like Star Wars). I’m thinking Firefly and The Expanse (despite those properties having their own games already). Xenomorphs, of course, can get overdone fast, so I’m thinking of human-centric, military-, exploration- or heist-based adventures. For more of the numinous or weird, I’m thinking the Alien milieu could do with the integration of Predator (which clearly already has a precedent) and Terminator (which, in application, will have more of a BSG dynamic, though I’m not ruling out experiments in time travel from Weyland-Yutani!).

But, to get back on topic, these gorgeous factions, these sectors, does anyone who has been a fan of this setting (easily) longer than I know who is responsible for this? I have gathered up all the Dark Horse comics and am currently reading them. Did Dark Horse flesh this out (I recognize the Church of Immaculate Incubation from its pages)? If Free League is responsible, I’m willing to say that this is a significant development of the Alien property, comparable to what West End Games, in 1987, did for Star Wars.


My copy sits next to me by my keyboard… Stalking me like a xenomorph… I must find time to read the tome before it kills me, or worse, turns me into a host for its young…

Funny you should mention Traveller, I have seen several compare Alien to Traveller in reviews. Especially in the long game where the xenomorphs play a smaller but still important role.


@Gabe, I’m not positive, but it sounds like they drew on the Dark Horse comics, Free League came up with stuff, and they mined some fan sources as well. This video is pretty cool for kind of a peek behind the scenes…
Have you looked into the cinematic play? That’s how I first experienced Alien a year and a half ago, and it was amazing.

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Thanks! I did finally get around to looking at that video. I believe came across it before but hadn’t sat through it (I still haven’t :grimacing:).

Thanks for confirming the Dark Horse Comics as likely sources. I’ll keep reading them and taking pleasure in noting connections.

And, yes, I’m aware of the Cinematic play. In fact, that’s the mode I’m using for the only adventure I have planned for my Conan group. I’ve used a recent story from Julie Novakova as my plot and setup inspiration.

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The mechanics seem derivative of Mothership. Which does most of what Alien does…and cheaper!

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I’ll have to check out Mothership sometime.

There was some controversy when Alien came out that it lifted a couple of mechanics from MS, but they are honestly very different, mechanically. I adore everything about Mothership – except the system. The layout, the vibe, the implied setting, the flavorful tables… so good. But the system was written pretty rapidly, and not played terribly hard – I think it shows. Hoping a few things are addressed in the eventual box set.

Moving here from #the-gbs-podcast.

The more I debrief with my players, the more I’m realizing that they really, really liked what I did. I used a recent short story from Julie Novakova—“The Long Iapetan Night”—as inspiration for the adventure. I built a cinematic scenario. We completed it in one session, though it unintentionally played as a long, character-development first act and a truncated second act.

Mostly the reason why I’m considering hanging it up is because of the genre and, secondly, because of the system itself (so, it may be that I run sci-fi again in a different system).

In terms of genre… My thoughts here will feed into the very grand compliment @sean has given me a few times now for my handling of Conan 2d20. I sense that he was most appreciative of my depiction of Conan-style narrative and milieu, secondly appreciative of a bit of a de-mystification of the 2d20 system (though I think the other 2d20 he experienced is Star Trek Adventures, and every 2d20 is slightly different). If I handle the Conan material well—and if I handled Alien well (which I appear to have done)—it probably is because, yes, I try to absolutely pickle myself in that content. Leading up to Alien, I rewatched (and in some cases watched) all of the movies in the franchise, and I read more than three Dark Horse omnibuses, in addition to reading science fiction as usual. For reasons that perhaps I will give elsewhere, going forward, I don’t want to keep up that energy—at least not for Alien. I do want to do that for Sword & Sorcery and Conan; again, perhaps later I’ll detail those reasons.

Also, system. It may be that I’m calcifying—not into a grognard, perhaps simply into a 2d20 zealot. The YZE, at least as formulated in Alien, felt coarse-grained. And also surprisingly fiddly (though not nearly as much as Forbidden Lands may feel to Sean when he gets to it). Now, I will say (just in case it’s not clear) that the Alien game is great, and we had a lot of fun, but I couldn’t stop comparing it to 2d20 and feeling a considerable lack of tools that the latter system supplies me as GM. Even before running Alien, I couldn’t avoid the thought experiment of hacking Alien into 2d20, and it may be worth doing—especially since my Conan gamers are interested in more Alien, and they know 2d20…

I don’t feel like it’s being a “good neighbor” to more explicitly compare Conan 2d20 to Alien YZE, though I’m happy to do so if anyone feels there’s a benefit in it. (In Discord, I did do a bit of comparison between 2d20 and NDS, perhaps that’s fair.) I know I’m also being vague on my personal reasons for keeping my headspace in Sword & Sorcery rather than science fiction horror, and I’m happy to elaborate on that, too.

For now, though, I’ll let others speak (if anyone’s reading :grinning:).

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Okay, first of all – awesome that your players enjoyed the game… but too bad you didn’t as well, Gabe. Love the way your drown yourself in a genre before a game. The best GM I know does that – his prep involves a lot of just consuming and drenching himself in genre stuff – books, movies, art, etc. Seems to work!

In terms of the system itself, I would hate to see you give up on it after one go, but to each their own and all that. There’s no shortage of systems that can handle Alien, but I’ve personally found that it takes me 2-4 sessions to really find a groove if the game is brand new to me. This happened with Fate, Vaesen, and even The Rad-Hack recently. Session three or four in each game was way smoother than session one, and as a result I was a lot happier. The one game I feel worst about GMing from last year, Golgotha – I now think I didn’t give enough time. I ran it for two sessions, then turfed it. I think I’ll tweak just a couple of things and take another run at it at some point.

Could also be that you just don’t like YZE games. Have you GMed dice pool games before? Kind of surprised to hear you call it coarse-grained… you’ll have to explain that one. :slight_smile:

And I have a feeling with Forbidden Lands (which is fiddly) Sean will sand off the edges we don’t need. I know I would, but I guess we’ll see!


I like Stay Frosty which came out before Mothership. Great and simple mechanics, tho it doesn’t have the awesome aesthetic of Mothership. Even so I think of it as a one shot or short campaign kind of game. Not a long form game. And that is still my impression of Alien. I have played Traveller a lot. I suppose you could do Traveller with Alien, but then are you just playing Alien for the mechanics?

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BTW @Gabe - thanks for starting this thread and sharing your insights on the game. I’ll admit to not having it or having read it. I also haven’t read the comics. I’ve only seen the movies and read all the novelizations. I still like the first book as a book.

And I ran one cinematic scenario before deciding that I don’t really care for the system. If I run that 80s Sci-Fi Action Amalgam RPG, I’ll probably make a 2d20 hack, and I may get another RPG for source materials.

What remains is Predator! I have that run of Dark Horse comics on standby.

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Contentious remark from me: you can do the Alien or Aliens movies with Traveller the RPG, but can you do Traveller with Aliens the RPG? I think that was my main point/question. Not sure how broad the Aliens RPG is.

Surprisingly, there’s a lot in the Alien game to support a more standard (and longer form) mode of science fiction play. I’d personally use something like Offworlders for that kind of Traveleresque / Scoundrels in Space type of game, but Alien is really pretty fleshed out.

Back to Stay Frosty – really dig that game, but I’m a sucker for space marine games period, owning something like 4-5 of them. I’ve never gotten one to the table, but I plan to change that this year.

I’m still sad Gabe turfed Alien after one play…


I played a fair amount of traveler in the 1980s and ran my friends through “alien” adventures :blush:

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I’m falling in love with those damn Swedes running free league


Yeah, they are absolutely firing on all cylinders. Top of their game.

Except for shipping to North America. :wink:

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They’ll get it figured out. I was listening to their English language podcast and they were stunned at how quick their initial run of products were selling out. My guess is they will be adjusting to success and increasing initial print runs and other logistics.

They are probably running on thin margins and focusing on paying creative talent rather than tying up capital in physical product, I have faith they will adjust.

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fingers crossed
I met them at the Gen Con Ennies a couple of years ago. Great group of folks and their products are really good. Sometimes it takes a while to work out the fine details and international shipping is a mess right now.