Saturday 25 January 2020

Review - Alien RPG custom dice

There are some special dice for the Alien RPG, some simple six-sided custom printed dice that really add to the atmosphere of the game.

Are they needed to play the game? To be honest; no, not at all. Unlike the custom dice with special symbols specifically made for other games - making them essential for play - these are just 16mm six-sided dice with a single number changed with either a target for a six or a facehugger for a 1.

There are two sets, the Base Dice Set and the Stress Dice Set.

The Base Dice Set is coloured black and have a target where the 6 should be to represent successs when rolling a standard action.

The Stress Dice Set are yellow, with a facehugger where the 1 should be to represent a failed Stress roll.

Having different coloured dice to represent the different kinds of rolls that are made is a neat little idea, and having a target appear is a cause for celebration whereas the facehugger can lead to groans across the table. It does add a bit of atmosphere and seeing the symbols come up results in an immediate emotional reaction, but this fades after some use and then they are regarded as regular dice.

And that's my issue with these - they're great for the collector or the completist and really do add to the game's aesthetic, but at the end of the day they are just six-sided dice and the only difference is the symbols. If you buy the rulebook as it is then you really don't need them, but they are a fun addition to the game and collectors will get a lot of fun out of them. The gimmick and the price may turn a lot of people off.

Me, as a collector? I like them. And they're going to look great in the custom dice bag I've ordered with the open Alien egg on the fabric.

Saturday 18 January 2020

Review: Alien The Roleplaying Game by Fria Ligan


‘Space is vast, dark, and not your friend. Gamma rays and neutrino bursts erupt from dying stars to cook you alive, black holes tear you apart, and the void itself boils your blood and seizes your brain. Try to scream and no one can hear you—hold your breath and you rupture your lungs. Space isn’t as empty as you’d think, either—its frontiers are ever expanding. Rival governments wage a cold war of aggression while greedy corporations vie for valuable resources. Colonists reach for the stars and gamble with their lives—each new world tamed is either feast or famine. And there are things lurking in the shadows of every asteroid—things strange and different and deadly.

Things alien.

This is the official ALIEN tabletop roleplaying game—a universe of body horror and corporate brinkmanship, where synthetic people play god while space truckers and marines serve host to newborn ghoulish creatures. It’s a harsh and unforgiving universe and you are nothing if not expendable.

Stay alive if you can.’

Before I get into this review, I feel I should explain my background with the Alien franchise.

I first experienced Alien on a black-and-white TV set in 1982. It scared the living crap out of me, but it also completely changed my view on all things science fiction, and what a film could do to manipulate feelings, instil terror and create a world so mysterious and yet so familiar that you could hardly comprehend it. Alien is, without a doubt, my favourite movie of all time.

The sequels I’m mixed about; Aliens is my favourite action movie of the 80s – I saw it on opening night at 15 years old – and it coloured and influenced my view on sci-fi action for years to come. However, I love it as a movie but dislike it as a sequel. The full reasons for that are for another time, but I felt it reduced the alien to simple overgrown insect that could be shot, and that kind of ruined the mystery for me. The majority of the following expanded material, from comics to novels, followed this theme and I never got heavily involved in it because of that.

Alien 3 was a good film but slightly ruined by it’s treatment of two major Aliens characters, which made them and the finale of that film redundant when you go back and watch it after. However, the Assembly Cut was excellent, it fleshed things out and made for a better movie and visually – apart from some of the creature visuals – it was stunningly shot.

I don’t talk much about Alien Resurrection. To be honest, the only reason I own it is because it was part of the Quadrilogy/Anthology box sets.

It’s the same with the Alien Vs Predator films; they’re another pair of movies I could quite gladly forget, and the fact that they pretty much tied the two franchises together so that a lot of fans can’t separate them is a massive shame. They’re fan fiction, I think.

The two new movies, Prometheus and Alien Covenant, are a mixed bag for me. Visually stunning with some great characters, they fall a little flat on story content and a lack of sensible connection to the original films. Did they ruin the franchise? Certainly not; any problems the franchise had were already well established from Resurrection onwards, maybe even before, so it’s a bit disingenuous to say that Ridley Scott ‘ruined the franchise’…

Oh, no. I did it again. I went off on a tangent. Okay, so my opinions on the Alien franchise are out there, but it illustrates my feelings on the franchise and what it means to me, and I promise it will make sense when I talk about the game.

The game.


I’m not going to mess about here – this is a stunning book. I mean, it’s beautiful to look at, you crack it open with what is akin to reverence and the fresh print smell and the sheer atmosphere it exudes is somewhat overwhelming. Am I exaggerating? Not as a huge Alien, tabletop roleplaying and Fria Ligan fan, no. These are my three favourite things coming together so my expectations were not just high, they were probably unrealistic.

The presentation is probably the best Fria Ligan has ever produced. I loved the visuals of Coriolis, I adored the nostalgia of Forbidden Lands, but Alien is stunning, a great mix of visuals and setting. It’s dark, moody and really drives home this sense of bleakness and strange Lovecraftian adventure, and the artwork by Martin Grip, John R. Mullaney and Axel Torvenius is pretty spot on. It suits the excellent writing of Tomas Härenstam and Andrew E.C. Gaska perfectly, and it makes for a fantastic read that really helps to suck you in to the world.

It’s a thick hefty tome, but the print is quite large and there is a lot of dead space, with large black areas with barely anything on them. The text is either white-on-black – which isn’t easy on my eyes – or presented in data readout-style boxes. It all adds to the atmosphere, but I imagine the guy at the printers in charge of the black ink was a busy guy when this was on the presses.

The book is divided into sections that covers everything you’ll need to play a general sci-fi game, not just an Alien game, so there’s plenty of use for these rules even if you somehow get bored of the whole alien wrapping. There’s Space Is Hell (an introduction to the world), Your Character, Skills, Talents, Combat & Panic, Gear, A Hard Life Amongst The Stars, Your Job As Game Mother, Governments & Corporations, Systems & Planets, Alien Species, Campaign Play and the obligatory adventure Hope’s Last Day. There’s everything you need to run a sci-fi game, it’s even got starships and starship combat for those of you who want to go that extra lightyear, so the options you have are quite varied and useful.

The rules system is a D6 dicepool. Players divide points between Attributes and these have relevant Skills. Rolls are dice pools of D6s, adding Attributes and Skills together to create a number of dice, and any that score a six garners a single success. They’re the same mechanics found in ‘Coriolis’, ‘Mutant: Year Zero’ and ‘Tales From The Loop’ and they work just as well here. As I’ve said before in previous reviews, low dice pools can be extremely frustrating with continued failed rolls, but that adds to the tension and atmosphere of the setting and just makes the single six that sometimes appears all the more exhilarating.

There’s a new mechanic in here called the Stress Dice. This addition allows players to put extra dice into their dice as they try to get through rolls or experience gruesome… things. This helps them succeed in stressful situations where they may otherwise have failed, but it can work against them in the long run and the more risks or pushes through rolls a character takes, the more dangers they face later. It’s an interesting mechanic and it really helps to add another layer of tension and pressure on to the already stress-laden characters, making games unpredictable and heightening the already tense atmosphere.

There are two kinds of play, best explained by Fria Ligan:

‘Cinematic play is based on pre-made scenarios that emulate the dramatic arc of an ALIEN film. Designed to be played in a single session, this game mode emphasizes high stakes and fast and brutal play. You are not all expected to survive. The core rulebook contains one introductory Cinematic scenario, Hope’s Last Day.

Campaign play is designed for longer continuous play with the same cast of player characters over many game sessions, letting you explore the ALIEN universe freely, sandbox style. The core rulebook contains random tables and other powerful tools to quickly create star systems, colonies, missions, encounters, and NPCs for your campaign.’

This is a great idea as the Cinematic play caters to the horror fans who don’t expect to survive a single session, and Campaign suits the players wanting to explore the larger world of the Alien universe and have ongoing adventures. I fall into the Campaign area of play, but Cinematic is perfect for one-shots, or even two-three session games. It gives the GM and group choice and caters to different play styles.

So, what kind of Alien game can you play?

Any kind you want.

Do you want to play a game inspired by the claustrophobic tension and horror of Alien, Alien Isolation and Alien 3? No problem.

Do you want to load up and get yourself to fry-up city? Want some Aliens action? Got you covered.

Do you want the wonder and terror of exploration, delving into the mysteries that Prometheus and Covenant gave you? Done.

Do you want to explore the political/business side of things, deal with the human element and face those willing to cast innocents into the fire into the name of profit? You’re sorted.

The Alien RPG lists all the equipment, ships, and foes you’ll need. From shady businessmen to soldiers, from nasty facehuggers to different xenomorphs appearing in the different movies, games and comics, the game lists everything that could be a potential threat to you and your team. You could go entire sessions without having to face off with an alien because there is so much a GM could throw at you. In fact, that’s another great use of the Cinematic and Campaign styles; if your players just want to dive in to alien shenanigans then Cinematic it is. If the group want to go the long way and build up to the reveal, then Campaign is the way to go. There is so much more that a group can do with this game that isn’t simply ‘oooh it’s dark-alien!- dead’.

The fact is, the game has taken most aspects of the Alien franchise and incorporated them into this game so that the majority of the franchise can be emulated. The timeline runs from 2023 (Peter Wayland’s Ted Talk) to 2180 (three years after the events of Aliens).  To be honest, there’s enough material to go beyond that and reach the outer years of Alien Resurrection if you really wanted to, as well as create your own version of events and situations.

In my game, I opted for the timeline surrounding Alien Isolation and the events leading up to the Sevastopol’s destruction. I ran a game of agents going after the Nostromo’s black box the USCSS Anesidora picked up and arriving at Sevastopol as things went wrong. The period between Alien and Aliens is my preferred time as it still holds that mystery and horror before the franchise classified and detailed the alien and it’s life cycle, which took away the unknown for me.

But that’s what’s great about the Alien RPG, you can use it however – and whenever – you want. It’s designed so that you can take what you like, discard what you don’t like, and play it as you see fit. There’s no hard and fast rules as to how or when to run your game, and the system is really malleable and flexible so if you wanted to add something ‘out there’ - such as a Predator – you can easily do so.

The D6 pool system may not be to everyone’s liking and the starship combat system seems a little superfluous, but overall the game gives you everything you need to run a dark, mysterious science fiction game. As I said earlier, even if you got tired of using the franchise elements you can use this system for any kind of science fiction RPG you can imagine, using the rules for any other kind of campaign. You can even drop the Stress rules, if you want to just go pure gung-ho action movie, and it works fine. There’s a lot you can do with the system and the options the rulebook gives you.

So – my favourite franchise, my favourite hobby and my favourite publisher coming together, creating a game in a universe I love using a system I got a lot of use out of in Coriolis? It’s a foregone conclusion that I was going to love this game. I put it on a pedestal and I had my expectations and, for the most part, Fria Ligan met them. They’ve taken the horror, mystery, action and overall terror of the Alien franchise and somehow managed to put it into the pages of this rulebook. It’s an incredible job.

Yes, I have my issues with elements of the franchise but they’re not in the rulebook to be enforced, just to be utilised. If you played in my game of the Alien RPG I’d ask you to watch Alien and play Alien Isolation beforehand, because that’s the kind of atmosphere I’d go for; however, before any of that happened I’d explore the corporations, do some games in the seedy backstreets of the settlements, go for that cyberpunk vibe. Then I’d throw in the overall story, start to hint at the alien and then introduce it in to the mix. Not the Bloodburster, not the Neomorph, but the original 1979 movie creature you couldn’t see in the shadows.

Because the Alien RPG allows you to do that.

And that’s why I love it.

Saturday 11 January 2020

Why the cover of Dragon #126 is important to me

When Dragon magazine issue #126 hit the shelves I was 16 years old. It was around December 1987 when I got it and I was only about three years into the roleplaying hobby so I was pretty new to everything. Dragon magazine, as well as White Dwarf, were my two publications of choice when it came to reading material and they served me well.

Up until I saw this amazing Daniel Horne cover, which remains one of my very favourite pieces of fantasy art to this day, the depiction of women in fantasy circles wasn't great. In my experience they were busty fighters clad in scanty clothes (no matter what the weather was like), they were desperate princesses chained to columns, or they were sexy sorceresses with a long, curved leg sneaking out from under their tight robes. No matter the situation they were in - fighting a dragon, casting a spell, wailing for their hero to save them - their hair was immaculate and their figures full and alluring. It was everything a teenage boy getting into the hobby needed and the target demographic was catered for in almost every way.

Then I saw this image.

'Woah', I thought as the magazine pretty much jumped from the newsagent's shelf and into my hands, 'hold on a minute...'

The woman wasn't scantily clad. In fact, she was dressed in a fashion which seemed to suit the environment she was in, with fur-lined clothing and gloves. Her leggings were tattered, not in a sexy suggestive way but, by the looks of it, she'd been fighting this dead dude for a while and had managed a lucky escape. Her hair was wild, a little unkempt, as it should be if you were fighting an 8-foot tall undead bastard with a massive axe, and she didn't look like she was trying to suggest something lewd; she was rightfully concerned, because she was preparing her last shot against some crazy skeleton who had already taken a few arrows and a sword. And she was on her own - she wasn't standing behind a fighter while preparing a spell, or heaving her bosom forward while hefting an ineffective shield.

She was fighting, desperately against the odds, and trying not to die. She was a hero and, for the first time, she was a female character I could relate to without wondering about how suggestive it was, or without me reacting to the blood-pumping sexuality of the image first and then wondering about what it meant later.

Since this image I never took bikinimail, boob armour or slinky sexy mage robes seriously ever again. In fact, if I see any art that depicts this kind of thing I immediatelty veer away from it, because it's just not representative of the kind of games I want to play and if a game feels it needs cleavage or legs to sell itself then, perhaps, that's not a game I want to be playing.

At 16 years old, that's quite a revelation. I still had my reactions to suggestive images - I can't apologise for that, I was a hormone-charged teenager - but I also learned that I couldn't take those kind of images seriously and, by extention, couldn't take the game they were attached to seriously. That was most likely unfair and I probably missed out on a lot of great games becsuse of it, but sadly that was the way I felt.

I can't be done with suggestive artwork of any gender. Give me something tangible, real or possible or don't give me anything at all because my suspension of disbelief only goes so far. Like I said, that's most likely unfair and almost certainly a bit strange because we're talking about make-believe fantasy worlds here, but I've always been for the low-fantasy, gritty games anyway, so that's just me.

Anyway, this Daniel Horne painting was a game changer for me. Literally. I dropped the damsel in distress, saucy female fighter and beefcake barbarian games and switched to stronger, more realistic games with much less over-the-top imagery, That took a few years, to be sure, because I still had a lot of maturing to do, but I like to think I got there in the end.

Thursday 9 January 2020

Don't bin your old work!

Typewriter &, keys - Clip Art LibrarySometimes you might be writing something and you think 'you know what, this really isn't working for me' and you might be tempted to shelve it or bin it.


I've dug out an old piece from several years ago and it never worked as a scifi RPG adventure for me, but it's working great guns for me as a screenplay.

Even though they never come to anything, writing screenplays really helps me with visual cues, dialogue and narrative. Explaining a story, describing a setup or location and portraying how a character acts/feels/thinks are all staples of a decent gaming session, and the best way to get that feeling across, I've found, is to script it out. Writing adventures is open to a lot of interpretation by individual GMs and their groups, but the basics are rooted in storytelling tools, and scripts are part of that.

And, I just really enjoy writing scripts. I'm a great lover of the moving picture and my inspirations are varied, and it helps the creative juices when they get mixed up every now and then.

Tuesday 7 January 2020

Dead Space as a TTRPG

Image result for dead space imagesHere's an old article from 13 July 2018 in Eurogamer - Visceral had some cool ideas for Dead Space 4.

It still makes me sad. What Dead Space 4 could have been sounds really exciting.

Possible SPOILERS, if you've not played the games.

I didn't like Dead Space 3 at all when it first came out, but playing it again and coming at it as an action shooter... it's not a bad game at all. The questionable decisions EA made regarding the co-op and the microtransactions aside, it plays quite well and the design is excellent, as it was in the previous two games.

It's just a downer that they went the action route and not down the survival horror path the original created, but I could see where they were headed with Dead Space 2, which began the turn towards action rather than suspense.

Image result for dead space images

"By the end of Dead Space 3, humanity is facing its doom. It's in this hopeless situation that Dead Space 4 was to be set. The idea came from the flotilla section in Dead Space 3, and had the player scavenge supplies in order to survive. "The notion was you were trying to survive day to day against infested ships, searching for a glimmer of life, scavenging supplies to keep your own little ship going, trying to find survivors," Wanat explained."

Image result for dead space images

I still think there's a lot of legs in the IP in different formats, and - using the ideas of Dead Space 4 as a basis - I think a tabletop roleplaying game would be awesome in all kinds of ways. Hell, just using screenshots of the actual game would cover the art side of things!

Image result for dead space images

Friday 3 January 2020

Playing Mini Six Cyberpunk with my 12-year old son


After arriving in the London Coastal Projects after working as a mercenary protecting dying wasteland settlements north of the Birmingham Zone, Pin decided to travel to the coast - near the Great Channel Bridge - to find work.

After brazenly declaring her need for work at the bar 'The Connection' near the White Cliff Suburbs, the man 'in the know' - Mr Charles - offered her a 2,000 Eur job if she headed to the First Strut Business District under the Great Channel Bridge, break into a warehouse and steal a computer hard drive. She accepts.

After hiring an AirCab(TM) to get her there, Pin snuck into the warehouse and past the Autoguards and drones to get into the offices where she found a single server on a table. Suspicious, she still removed the hard drive which set off a recording; Mr Charles tells her that this is a setup, a test for new potential hires, and she'd passed the breaking in part. Now the drones and Autoguards were alerted to her location, and now it was time to see how she handled herself in a fight. If she got out and made it back to The Connection in 60 minutes, she'd get an extra 1,000 Eur.

Pin successfully fights her way out but has trouble getting an AirCab(TM) to fly her back to the White Cliff Suburbs. She gets to The Connection 30 seconds late and misses out on her bonus.

However, Mr Charles is more than happy with her performance and takes her personal number to contact her for future jobs, more dangerous and better paid.


Bruce loved it, he played Pin really well; she took no crap but she wasn't stupid and she played to her strengths of sneaking about and shooting. He now sees the importance of computer skills so he's investing points and money in upgrades. He already has a Snikblade for a left arm so he now wants to see what he can do to improve his computer skills.

The Mini Six system handled the game really, really well. There are only a few adjustments I'll have to make to make it work as a cyberpunk rules system, and I'm going to create cybernetics and hacking rules as I go to see what works best.

I'm looking forward to further adventures, and hopefully I'll have enough material for a campaign supplement!

Wednesday 1 January 2020

My progress - 2019 into 2020

Image may contain: 1 personSo, where was I creatively in 2019, and what changed, or is going to change, for 2020?


2019. Well, first and foremost I worked on my sci-fi game that's due out this year. THIS year. Now that I've typed it out loud it seems really close and I'm getting all kinds of excited for it. The finished manuscript was submitted in plenty of time and the artist that we've gone for - and I'm being biased, I know it - is absolutely spot on. I'm excited for the edit of the document and seeing what images the artist supplies. I'm incredibly anxious about the final product - of course I am - but I have a team of people around me who know what they're doing and I owe them a lot.

I worked with some great publishers - the last of my Advanced Fighting Fantasy Adventures was published, so that was a close to an amazing chapter in my design career, being able to write and illustrate for Fighting Fantasy, the game that got me into this hobby.

I was given the opportunity to work with Moebius Adventures and Gallant Knight Games, both Brian Fitzpatrick and Alan Bahr are excellent people who were very gracious in giving me a chance to throw some ideas at them. It was a rewarding experience and I look forward to collaborating with them again in the future.

I also made contact with some other publishers and creatives who I can't name right now because they're ongoing projects that haven't been formally announced, but all in all my interactions have been incredibly positive and I've learned a lot about the industry and myself. I'm excited about how these projects will turn out.

I did a lot of personal work - I worked on several adventures that are still in production for personal reasons - mainly to excise the ideas from my brain so that I could concentrate on my commissioned work - but they are coming together and I hope to do something with them this year. I also converted my Advanced Fighting Fantasy adventures to the OSR and laid them out, so that's another project behind me.

In fact, I think I worked on a lot of things to get them done and out the way before the New Year in an attempt to start fresh, so that 2020 would be a focus on looking forwards toward new material instead of thinking about how to adapt or refine projects of the past. That's what I need, I think, and the milestone of the year 2020 is as good a time as any to do that.

And 2020? Well, it's off to a positive start already. I've got a project in the pipeline that I can commit my time to, I've got another adventure being published soon and I have three pitches in the works, just waiting on feedback and green lights. I'll be working on an edit of my big game which is due out in November (tentatively) and then it's all about prepping for the launch.

I don't write much about my personal life on here but everything is going well. I have a healthy and active family who are into the nerd life just as much as I am and they make me very happy, but I must make more of an effort with my extended family; since moving to Northampton I've been very busy and that's caused me to feel a little cut off, so I'm hoping things will change in 2020.

There are a LOT of friends I must spend more time with - you know who you are - and 2019 has been something of a letdown as far as getting together and simply hanging out is concerned. This needs to be remedied. I also need to get out more and mingle with the local gaming community here in Northampton. I'm eager to settle into a regular game again and I can't do that unless I reach out.

So, all in all it's been a productive and incredibly rewarding year. I'm happy with the progress I made in 2019 and I'm looking forward to carrying that momentum over to 2020.

Thanks for reading, and all the best to you.

TL;DR - 2019 was cool. Roll on 2020.