June 17, 2023

Alien RPG: Chariot of the Gods

The following is a brief retrospective on the game and run for a group of 14 year-old students. I will not be using this time or space to comment fully on the Year Zero System (I may save those thoughts and write about it another time.) There will be spoilers for the scenario. I will be going over some thoughts I have about running the Alien RPG, and more specifically Chariot of the Gods, from Free League Publishing, especially with regard to running for a group of teenagers.

My players are a group of 14 year-old students of mine who have until recently only ever really played or had interest in the Big Dragon game. With only a few OSR games played previously by this group (namely a brief session of Mörk Borg, and a one three shot adventure run with Kriegsmesser) I was not sure what to expect from the group or even what my experience running the game would look like.

I did not give my students a lot of information before we played about the rules of the system. I figured we would have things emerge from play as they happened. They were less than impressed with this, but I feel that allowed me to guide them through regardless since I had earned their trust as a part of playing other games with them previously. I answered any relevant questions about their pre-generated character sheets and we set to it.

Background information

This game played out through the course of 8 one-hour sessions played (mostly) weekly. We did not have time to finish the whole scenario as the school year came to an end and thus our time together for playing RPGs in our afterschool club.

The Group Awakens from Cryo Sleep

The crew of the USCSS Montero awaken from Cryogenic Sleep and find that their ship has awaken them about a month out form their destination. They learn that they are hauling a load of explosive materials that are being converted to H3. Thy then learn that they have a new objective. To explore a discovered vessel that they have come across.

The Vessel is the 75 year old remains of the USCSS Cronus, it was thought lost to Weyland Yutani after escaping a colony.

The group suits up and makes a few of their first rolls in the game. They have some success and the captain has decided to stay back on the Montero to help guide them over radio.

All of this is very similar to the plot of the first Alien movie. I think it is a cool scenario and do look forward to running it again someday. That said I think the horror genre is tough to play with children, it is hard to know where their comfort lies, and I have to hope that through sound games session practices they will know what is too much or if there is a point that they need a break.

Much like their characters the players did not have a lot of information about the situation they were headed into. Most of them had seen at least one Alien movie in their lives and this was helpful in setting the mood as far as technology levels goes.

I was happily surprised in whole as the students played hard and often found themselves pushing the story forward as they played.

As with older players they are constantly trying to figure out if the know what is about to happen, …Great I’m all alone on the ship, I ll probably have to fight the monster by myself… I’m going to die aren’t I?” This was both endearing and annoying at the same time to me, sometimes it was awesome to hear their thoughts on the game and it showed the tension that was rising, but it also interrupted me more often than not. It is tough to describe the situations to them when I get interrupted multiple times when just trying to set the scene. I needed a way to help them focus in on the game a bit more.

I found that through multiple sessions I was able to engage them more by playing the Alien Isolation soundtrack. This enabled me to settle the students into play much faster a the beginning of the session and helping them to stay a bit more focused through play. Also banning phones from the table is a great consideration, I find this true for adults and children alike.

First Blood

After, the group proceeds to explore the Cronus.

The crew of the Montero find black goo and fungal looking growths in a few rooms. They find a dead crew member. They loot and plunder the corpse of the ship trying to find resources to assist them on this grueling adventure.

The tension has build as they still have yet to fight anything when they are attacked by a baby Neomorph emerging from from an air vent. The fight is bloody, nearly killing one player's crew person. The creature flees from the players.

The game provides many interesting ways to interact with the creatures that the players are facing. Playing with young adults, this is a helpful tool. Randomizing the actions of the creature and who the target is of the creature helps to ensure that no student is feeling targeted. It is easy for students at the middle level learner age to very concerned with fairness and randomization of the creatures target helps make sure they do not get upset when their character gets attacked first, again. I find that it is important to be transparent with them on any of my rolls and I do not hide them.

Time Minus Ten Minutes and Counting…

The ships systems are reengaged seemingly for no reason and the character are afraid for their lives as they do not know why the ship has powered up after 75 years adrift in space. A blaring voice erupts around the crew, coming from the ships M.U.T.H.U.R. is an announcement that the cry pods abord the Cronus have been deactivated and will be reawakening the remaining crew.

The characters rush to the cryo-chambers to find 5 members of the Cronus's crew awakening! Finally they would get answers but first back to the Montero to nurse the slightly frostbitten crew to health.

M.U.T.H.U.R has different plans and the Montero announces that it will self destruct and the ships core has an unrepairable malfunction. They have 10 minutes to figure out what to do.

Following the Reawakening of the crew the game starts to speed up. At this point I have let the students explore, split the party, battle to the brink of death with an unknown entity. Now a clock is ticking down to the end.

At this point one of the players looks at his current player motivation and decides he will sacrifice himself to set the ship on a course that will hopefully take it away from the Cronus. There is a lot of cheering and the students manage to rack up some successes on their end here.

Luckily the scenario accounts for this possibility and provides new characters for the players to use in case of character death.

This is the End…

The characters are elevated, tensions are at the highest they have been since the game started. Who could be trusted? what was going on here that caused the crew to float in space for 75 years. 

PCs and NPCs are introduced and the crew decides to work to fix the CO2 air scrubbing system as well as the COMMS system to get the Cronus at least in shape enough to limp back towards the nearest Weyland Yutani outpost.

The players will unfortunately never be able to find out what was really at stake here. In exploring the outside of the ship while attempting repairs, two of the NPCs are killed. When the rest of the crew comes to try and discover the cause they are accosted by a fully grown Neomorph. The fight is quick. One character is impaled through the heart, and as a last action before bleeding out, they manage to grab the Neomorph and get its head into the airlock vent as its closing, severing the head from the body before succumbing to their injuries.

Then in a twist one of the other NPCs that is left erupts into a new creature that has yet to be encountered, killing the remaining crew members of both the the Coronus and Montero.

Our story end here.

I ran out of time. Only a little way into the second act we had out final meeting of the year. We ended it cinematically with this final fight. I allowed each player to narrate how their players died to the Abomination that erupted out of the NPC.

My students were satisfied with this ending, knowing they were able to continue play they came away feeling in control of their deaths and that we had told a great story together.

Player Agency in Alien RPG Cinematic Play

The scenario is wholly scripted out by design with scenes that you progress through, with certain scenes being optional or mandatory to the story. I found that these did not impede with fun of the game and the players were still able to feel very in control of the game in an exciting way. They made decision based on the prompts that were provided by the scenario. There were many occasions where I would not have expected them to respond in a certain way. it felt good. Like there was finality to it even thought they knew we had not completed the final act of the scenario.

In Memorium of the Crew of the USCSS Montero

I am planning on playing this again with my home group. I am excited to run it especially now that I have a more intimate knowledge of the scenario. The mechanics are tight and as a general statement I enjoy the Year Zero Engine, the stress dice adding to the dice pool makes sense to me. My biggest issue was not having the time necessary to play through. I would have loved a slightly longer play time. a one-and-a-half to two hour session would be just about right for this group of students. We would have had a bit more time to dig into the details that I saw them wanting to dive into, in fact the type of details I am sure my home group will enjoy exploring as well.

If you are looking for a module that encapsulates the feeling evoked from Alien and Aliens I would recommend this game and scenario. If you are on the bench about Year Zero from Free League then consider the starter set that comes with the basic rules for the game as well as the dice you need (just d6, but they are specifically designed for the game so they look great!)

There are also other scenarios that follow up from this one that have been released as well so this story does not have to stop here. I hope that it is enjoyed enough by my players that we continue through the next two books in the series.

Derek Bizier, The Halfling M.U.T.H.U.R. Master

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