ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game
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.
Another Excellent Independent Space Horror Game [ edit ]
Very often when Hollywood decides to make an RPG of a movie, they approach the biggest names in the business (eg. see our Indiana Jones page). However, the people behind the Alien movie series went with a less traditional choice, a smaller Swedish RPG publisher (Free League Publishing, best known for creating the RPG for the Tales from the Loop TV show) ... and by all accounts their bet paid off.
The Alien RPG has an average RPG Geek rating of 8.29/10, and is ranked towards the bottom of the top 200 games (a very respectable position given how new the RPG is and how RPG Geek tends to favor established games).
The core rule book is almost 400-pages, and filled with setting material and illustrations. As of 2020 the game had only two published adventures, and no additional source books of any sort (although it does have a GM screen, dice, starter box, etc.).
Game Mechanics [ edit ]
Characters in Alien choose an "archetype" (class) such as marine or pilot, and there's even a child archetype for those wanting to play Newt from Aliens. Characters also have four attributes, with each archetype specializing in one attribute. Each attribute has three corresponding skills. Characters can also choose from roughly twenty-five talents to further differentiate themselves.
Just as in Savage Worlds, playing cards are used to determine initiative. To determine if your character's actions succeed the GM decides the relevant attribute/skill, and then you roll a number of d6s equal to your attribute/skill total. If any of the dice rolls a six, you succeed.
Players can also use "stress" to add extra dice to their rolls, helping their characters to focus at critical moments ... but if they roll too low with stress dice horrible things can happen. This mechanic has been praised as helping to encourage characters in to situations more befitting the horror genre.
Cinematic vs. Campaign Mode [ edit ]
Speaking of the horror genre, the Alien RPG has two modes that you can use when running it. Campaign mode is what players of other RPGs will be used to: a series of adventures. In these campaigns players may never even see a Xenomorph, focusing instead on conflict with their fellow humans.
In cinematic (one-shot) mode, the goal is instead to emulate the feel of the Alien movies more faithfully. As you may recall, those movies rarely had more than a couple of characters survive them, and since losing most of the party wouldn't make for a very satisfying campaign, the cinematic mode offers a more faithful "horror movie" option. Also, in cinematic mode players use pre-generated characters, who often have conflicting motives, setting up intra-party conflict.
Alien vs. Mothership [ edit ]
Given that both Alien and Mothership are highly-rated space horror RPGs from independent publishers, you may wonder which you should use for your next one-shot or campaign.
The simple answer would be to use Alien RPG if you want to explore the world of Alien, and use Mothership for anything else. Alien RPG will require a good deal of custom work to adapt it to any other kind of universe, since it doesn't contain any non-Xenomorph aliens.
Similarly, the core Mothership rulebook is only 42-pages, so it certainly doesn't have much setting material from any setting, let alone from the Alien universe. But at the same time, many fans have run Alien (or Alien-like) games using Mothership, so it is still an option. However, the game master will of course need to do more work to enable that sort of game ... and even if they do, they still may want to purchase the Alien RPG, simply to use for its source material.
Recommendation: Best Choice for Xenomorphs [ edit ]
Although Mothership is worth considering, if you're looking to have your characters fight the Xenomorph aliens from the Alien series of movies(or threatening humans from that same universe), the official Alien RPG is your best bet. Whether you want to run a one-shot or an extended campaign, the core rulebook will give you everything you need to get started, and if you want to use a published module you have two to choose from.