Córdoba and the residents of Salvagetown

Córdoba ©️Effekt/Tom Tyler-Jones

In episode eight of Song to the Siren, our Coriolis actual play, Yaphet and Salah confronted Córdoba, the “cannibal king” of Salvagetown. To be honest, I don’t think we heard enough about him in the AP, so as I am writing the adventure in full for the forthcoming Free League Workshop, I thought I might share some of that write-up, here, so that anyone who is interested can see what how I had intended him to be played, even if my players “turned left” (with an excellent shiv in the eye way back in episode one).

Córdoba

  • Strength 5
  • Agility 4
  • Wits 4
  • Empathy 2

Skills: Melee combat 4; Survival 2; Medicurgy 1; Culture 1

Reputation (as the “cannibal king” of this prison colony) 6

Talents: Hardened Epidermis; Executioner; The Judges Talent.

Equipment:

Cleaver (Bonus +1, Init 0; Damage 2, Crit 2; Range Close; Light; Tech P.)

Wheeled motorbike (Bonus +1, HP 6, MR 15, Armor 0; Passengers 1, Fuel Hydrogen; Tech P.)

The head man of the Salvagetown “community” is Córdoba. He is big. Indeed, he is the “biggest guy in the yard,” who some players may choose to fight in the hope of asserting their violent credentials among the other prisoners.

Córdoba is not just big, he is in shape, and his skin has the reddish tone of a humanite with the Hardened Epidermis Talent. His physical abilities give him a confidence which can seen in the slow, casual way in which he approaches everyone he talks to or prepares to fight. He prefers to fight unarmed, but does carry a meat clever which, if he is pressed he in not adverse to using it in combat.

His preferred use of the cleaver is what gives him his fearsome reputation. He eats people. He is an adherent of some remnant of the Nazareem’s Sacrifice, the long outlawed, and mostly eradicated worshipers of the Beast. In his warped morality, he sees nothing wrong in this harsh environment, in feeding not just himself, but his community too, on the flesh of the weak.

Salvagetown is situated on the edge of the desert dropzone known as Harvest for a reason. Córdoba and followers are always first to arrive when a new consignment of prisoners makes planetfall. The new arrivals are usually battered and dazed by their decent, and easy prey for the harvesters and their dury-rigged Stunsticks. Swiftly incapacitated and bound they are taken back to Salvagetown as chattels . Their ration bars and water are of course all confiscated, of course, to be added the the communal stock. Some arrivals see what’s happing and run away. Neither Córdoba, nor his Harvesters will chase them far. Some will die in the desert, others will come crawling back, and the few that make it to Club Topeka are of no concern. Indeed their they might make the produce that Córdoba occasionally trades for.

Those that put up a fight just might avoid the cleaver. Córdoba is impressed by strength. He will allow any arrival who fights one of the Harvesters to try and challenge himself too. And even if defeated, anyone who puts up a spirited fight is inducted as a Harvester.

Those who don’t make the grade, the chattels, are not slaughtered, but rather eaten piecemeal. Kept tied, Córdoba will remove an arm or leg first, cauterising the wounds against infection. If they seem submissive, they may be allowed some freedom, to move about Salvagetown, and through work, earn the right to eat. Córdoba is no fool though, and will chop more limbs off troublemakers, and finally cook their offal too. Eat the whole beast is his motto.

The motto applies in a way to everything that lands on Harvest. Once the prisoners themselves are rounded up, the Harvesters return to collect the landing pods themselves. Back in Salvagetown they, and some paraplegic chattels set to break them up for raw materials, trading parts, and making these equipment they need to sustain their way of life.

Córdoba’s motivations are simple: the survival of his community, and the display of strength. Submit to him and you will be looked after, either as a harvester or as a chattel/slave.

Typical Harvester

  • Strength 3
  • Agility 4
  • Wits 3
  • Empathy 3

Skills: Melee combat 3; Dexterity 2; Survival 1

Equipment:

Improvised Stunstick (Bonus +1, Init 0; Damage 1, Crit: Stun; Range Close; stun , cel powered ; Tech 0.)

Harvesters are driven by loyalty to Córdoba and the desire not to be eaten

Harvester Combi

The Harvesters drive solar powered scratch built vehicles to go about their gruesome task in the scrubby desert of Harvest. Consisting of a small cab at the front and a platform at the back, partly shaded by the photoelectric panel that powers the motor. They have a battery of sorts but quickly run out of power after sundown, only viable modes of transport in daylight.

Bonus 0, HP 4, MR 11, Armor 0; Passengers 3 (plus whatever you can fit on the platform – maybe six hogtied prisoners?) Fuel solar; Tech P.

Typical Chattel

  • Strength 2
  • Agility 1
  • Wits 4
  • Empathy 2

Skills: Survival 3; Technology 2; Manipulation 1

Chattels have little drive, a lot of apathy and are motivated by fear.

Review: Mörk Borg

https://youtu.be/zdDd3S7gQ7w

On the Effekt podcast, we don’t do reviews. We tell you about the games we like, because we play those games. We occasionally tell you about what we don’t like about the games we play. But we tell you this things because we play the games. If we were a review podcast we’d have to play the games, and we don’t have time to play all the games we have already got!

So, like I said, we don’t do reviews. But here I am reviewing Mörk Borg. And we haven’t played it. So what the hell am I doing?

Well first of all, let’s talk about why I backed the Kickstarter. The first reason was that this is a book that comes with Free League’s name on it. Though that’s only one of the names. This is, in many respects, an Indy project, supported with Free League’s publishing experience and distribution. It demonstrates how the Free League has grown. When they first started publishing in English, they looked to Modiphius for their experience and publishing networks. Now they are in a position to take a similar mentoring role for the creators of Mörk Borg.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note there are two Free League logos on the cover. Their standard publishing logotype and one for the Free League Workshop, the brand that will soon appear on DriveThru as an outlet for fan-created content. All that content will, I think, be supplementary material for most of the company’s stable of Year Zero engine games and Symbaroum – not stand alone games like this one.

The other reason I backed it was the typography. I am a typography snob, ever since I trained with proper metal type back in art school, and the sample pages on the Kickstarter campaign convinced me I had to have this book, even if I never played the game. So it in that spirit in which I am reviewing Mörk Borg, not so much as a game, but as a book for your library. We’ll therefore return to typography in a while.

But first I want to talk about how the book FEELS. Never has so much thought gone into RPG texture. I raved before about how the texture of the Forbidden Lands book is exactly right for the neo-traditional nature of that game, but I am blown away by the mix of textures in this slim volume. You may already have seen the rushed unboxing video I made for our new YouTube channel. And if you have you will note I can’t stop fondling the book. It starts with the subtle embossing of the illustration on the front cover, and it ends with how different signatures (the blocks of pages that are sewn into a hardback) are made with different qualities of paper, so that the rules are smooth and the scenario is rougher. This is not a book that you want to buy on PDF.

Even the bookmark is a thing of considered beauty

Actually there is another reason you don’t want the PDF. In a rare lack of attention to detail, the PDF has been compiled without separating the cover from the interior spreads. So where the design goes over two pages (and it FREQUENTLY goes over two pages) PDF readers can’t appreciate the beauty of the layout.

Huh. Looks like we are talking aesthetics already. So be it. The book LOOKS gorgeous. It has the aesthetics of the photocopied punk rock fanzines of the seventies and eighties. But that analogy does not do it justice, because if you haven’t seen it you’ll be thinking it’s black and white. It isn’t. It’s a riot of colour, with Cadmium Yellow covers, bright emo pinks. It switches between monotone, spot colour, three colour and full colour printing between spreads. It even uses metallic foil. It’s only a slim book, but every turn of the page is a surprise and a delight.

You can just make out the subtle embossing. Plus the shield is glazed, the rest is matt. Oh and since writing this I discovered come “invisible” letters on the spine.

I said we’d talk about typography. Now, you should understand that has a typography snob, I HATE HATE HATE poor use of type. Every time my co-host Dave sends me a document I wince at his choice of typefaces, the way he uses too many different fonts, underlines all his titles… gah, I am tensing up just writing about it. I tell people again and again that just because your computer comes with a gazillion fonts, it doesn’t mean you have to use any more than two in a document.

They use more than two fonts in Mörk Borg. There are over 100. But they use them all so well! Every spread is a delight! There is a crazy logic to all their choices. In the hands of most people this could be a hot mess, but designer Johan Nohr knows and loves his type. This is the work of a master. He is also responsible for the illustrations which have the carefree mastery of early Picasso sketches – each one simultaneously looking like something you doodled in your exercise book at school, and something you could never draw as well, not even with 100 years of practice.

So let’s talk about the system. Now I am not a fan, or indeed any sort of expert, in that gaming thing called “OSR.” Hell, I don’t even know whether the R stands for “Old School Rules” “Revival” or “Renaissance.” In fact, just about the only thing I do know, is the OSR community can’t agree what the R stands for either. However, I think I have just taken delivery of an OSR game. Do correct me if I am wrong, but I understand OSR games to be based upon a stripped down rules light take on the early versions of D&D. And this bares all the hallmarks of that philosophy.

Regular readers will know I am not a fan of the d20 and it’s linearity. But there are things I read in this book that almost, almost, make me want to play this game. For a start, there are no character classes. (Well, there are, but that’s an optional rule.) You start your character by rolling a d6 and a couple of d12s to find out what equipment you have. The d6 gives you things you can carry stuff with, and the d12s give you stuff. Then you roll a d10 for your weapon. Oh! The typography! Oh! the layout! The weapons table is three pages long! And there are only ten items on it! This might sound like a bad thing, but it is not. It is a thing of ugly, punkish beauty!

Your roll for your ability bonuses too, a traditional 3d6 for each, and hit points. And then step five is , and I quote: “Name your character if you wish. It will not save you.” Yes the setting is very dark.

How dark? As dark as confronting your worst self on a moonless night, in a cellar, with a blindfold. This world is ending. There is no way to save it. Your characters are scrabbling for some tiny comfort, some moment of safety, before the end. Which is inevitable. According to the Calendar of Nechrubel, your campaign lasts long enough for six prophesies to come true, then the seventh prophesy occurs: “The game and your life end here. Burn the book” it says.

Which is why I will never play. I don’t want it to end. I can’t burn this.

Grindbone 2183

We featured this on the podcast a few weeks back, and for some reason I never posted it. But now, on the event of #Dragonmeet, and our Grindbone Tournament in the #PodcastZone, now seems as appropriate moment as any to share it.

The Correctional Detention Colony on the heavy moon, G71b, has a reputation.

It is built along the Panopticon principles of Victorian prisons, modified for life support controlled closed systems. A secure observation and administration block post sits at the centre of three (in this particular case) wings of the facility.

Kitchens, eating areas and all other communal facilities are on the upper floor with the cells themselves on lower levels, cut out of the unforgiving rock of G71b. Each wing is entirely self contained. With its own life support system. There is one way in and out of the wing, and that is through the core. Once past the security lock into the core, prisoners mostly head down into the mines where they earn their keep. Rarely they head up, into the administrative block, but that is usually only to visit one of the infirmaries when they are injured.

They never get into the panopticon itself. The giant multi-level control room, with screens that can peer into every aspect of a prisoners life, and large Plexiglass windows, that afford a clear view down the length of all the communal areas of each wing. On G71b, the views offered by this design have inspired the guards to create a novel spectator sport.

Every third week, after the inmates are locked safely in their cells, the wing’s guard patrol tours the wing, hiding a number of basic weapons in locations scattered about the wing. Then, once the guards are safely back behind the bars and plexiglass windows of the observation block. Lots a drawn, and five random cell doors open.

Prisoners new to the facility are often reluctant to leave their cells and explore the wing, if their is one of the cells that opens. But, if they choose to stay in their bunks, they soon learn the error of their ways: a more experienced prisoner will eventually charge into the cell and beat them in their beds, until they are broken.

If your cell door opens in the middle of the night, and you are wise, you will quickly leave this dead-end trap, and search for one of the hidden weapons. For the next guard patrol will only happen after at least three prisoners have been broken. Deaths are rare, and the injured prisoners are taken the infirmary. The winning prisoners have learned that, if they return to their cells quietly, they will have earned trustee privileges from the guards. If they don’t go quietly, the guards are more numerous, better armed and better armoured than them. The choice is stark – end up in the infirmary with your victims, or back in your cell with light duties for the month. More than that, the guards that bet on the winners, and won money will seek them out and proffer rewards – the chance to record a message to send home, contraband, fresh food, etc.

Those messages home are vetted of course, but enough clues have escaped the censors to spread rumours about this sport, and the inmates’ nickname for the Correctional Detention Colony: Grindbone.

Until recently, the authorities have turned a blind eye to this illegal activity on behalf of the staff at Grindbone. As long as the ore kept coming from the mines of G71b, the Company, and by extension the government were happy with any … incentive programmes that the Governor might choose to run.

But recently, production has not been meeting quota. Governor Mitchell is under pressure. Recently a Company Operative called Dostoyevsky has arrived, with a team of scientists and a strange cryogenically stored cargo. They took over one of the infirmaries, complete with three of its patients. And now Dostoyevsky is pressuring Mitchell to turn the regular Grinbone tournament into what she describes as “A scientific study…”

Are you an Alien GM going to Dragonmeet?

Its just been confirmed that we will be at Dragonmeet at the end of November, running the Free League stand. We will be handing over hard copies to pre-order customers who want to pick it up there and save delivery costs, and there will be copies for people to look at, if not buy.

I am sure the Alien buzz will be high, and we want to try and ensure there are games people can join in on. So if you are coming, and have pre-ordered, please consider signing up to run a game. You will have received the full PDF by then, so we humbly suggest that the adventure in the core book, Hope‘s Last Day is very con friendly. It’s what they ran at GenCon 🙂

If you want to volunteer, you will need to tell Dragonmeet, before us. You can find the sign-up form here: https://www.dragonmeet.co.uk/gms.html but do also drop us a line, so we know how many games are running. If you are running any other Free League games, tell us about them too, and we’ll promote them on the next couple of episodes of our podcast.

And remember if you want to pick up your copy, you will need to tell Free League (not us) in advance. Check your newsletter, which said “If you want to pick up your pre-ordered copy of the game at any of the three pickup locations, please email to tomas and write “PaxU Pickup” in the subject line. We will then refund your shipping cost, but only after the pickup is actually done.”

Village of the Monster Hunters

The Legend of Brightwater

Before the Bloodmist, a fearless warband was banished to the marshlands for a crime they definitely did commit. These men and women survived and thrived, their antecedents living in the village of Brightwater. Today, wanted by the Rust Brothers, they survive as heroes for hire. If you have a monster problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find Brightwater … maybe you can hire The Monster Hunters.

The Monster Hunters are inspired by half-naked battling heroes of pulp fiction and comics

The village of Brightwater is not in the best part of the world. The lowland swampy surroundings of Brightwater is frequently flooded and all the houses are built on stilts. But they are well maintained, comfortable, not poor looking. And around the village, well fed, athletic men and women stride across narrow bridges with easy confidence.

There is a thriving market hall, where travelling traders visiting the village can set up their stalls alongside the village’s own craftspeople. Visiting adventures will find a tailor here, a tanner, a smith and a bowyer, all selling goods of uncommon quality.

There is an inn too, though travellers report disappointment in its fare. The ale is good enough, but the food is mostly a vegetable stew, only occasionally improved with the meat of a rabbit or some similar rodent caught in the marshes hereabouts.

By contrast, the smells of roasted flesh and sounds of good cheer coming from the village longhouse can make a visitor in the Inn long for an invitation there. But though the villagers here are polite and easy going, such an invitation is never forthcoming. The Longhouse and it’s delicious smelling fare is strictly for villagers only.

These are the famed Monster Hunters.

Since the Bloodmist lifted, the men and women of Brightwater have earned a reputation as fierce hunters who prey upon the Demons that flooded through the Nexus, and Zygopher’s abominable creations. They relish the hunt, which they see variously as subsistence, sport and business.

As a business they sell their monster-hunting services to surrounding villages. The fees they charge are high but flexible, taking most of what the village produces in a year, but leaving just enough to sustain the village in the next year. Despite the high cost, villagers are willing to pay – the monsters terrorising the villages are, after all, truly fearsome and will have killed previous hunting parties sent out by villagers themselves. Indeed, Brightwater now sees travellers from more distant villages, even other kin, come seeking aid, as the reputation of the Monster Hunters spreads.

The Rust Brothers see the monster hunters of Brightwater as competition, and would like to investigate them further and, if possible, induct them into the order, or if necessary, remove them entirely. But so far, their clumsy attempts to find the location of the Brightwater village have met with obfuscation and misdirection from those who rely on the Monster Hunters’ services.

When a creature is targeted by the Monster Hunters, the villagers of Brightwater organise it as a sport. First two or three scouts are sent to observe the creature and ascertain it’s habits. Then depending upon what the scouts have learned, a hunting party is formed. This is normally made up of up to five “Pickers,” the Master Monster Hunter his or herself, and an apprentice who carries the Final Cut, a ceremonial Halberd.

A number of other villagers accompany the hunting party, including builders who will create a “course” – a series of obstacles designed to funnel the creature into an arena where the Monster Hunters do their work; and even occasionally, a grandstand, from which the client villagers can watch the kill.

It is the Pickers’ job to drive, or tempt, the creature down the course to the arena where the Monster Hunter and their apprentice wait. The preferred way to do this is on foot, armed with javelins, with which to weaken and enrage the monster. But if circumstances demand it, two of the pickers will be on horseback. And occasionally, for particularly tough monsters, the javelins will be replaced with heavy crossbows. Sometimes one of the pickers will even be a sorcerer. All their attacks are ranged, however, it is not their job to get close to the monster.

Their job is to drive the monster to the Monster Hunter, and to weaken it enough that the Monster Hunter can fight it in melee. Each Monster Hunter has their preferred weapon for melee combat, but at some point will always switch to the Final Cut, the halberd carried by the apprentice, to finish the creature off. The apprentice never normally engages in combat, unless they are the last Hunter standing, in which case they are raised to the rank of master Monster Hunter.

All the monster hunters eschew armour, preferring instead to fight scantily clad in cloth and leather, showing off their athletic physique. Everyone agrees that Monster Hunters are very attractive.

But there is a dark secret behind their looks. During the Bloodmist and after, the villagers of Brightwater survived by feasting on the creatures they killed. Many such creatures, and especially the misgrown are held together by the substance Mog. Not many people, other than Zygofer and later Zytera know about mog, but most people instinctively realise that meat from monsters in tainted and stay well clear.

The villagers of Brightwater though, had no such fear (they all have the Fearless talent), and feasted hungrily on the chaotic flesh. Over the years they even created myths of butchery, deciding, without much evidence, which parts of the flesh are edible and which must not be eaten. And, at first, their culinary courage seemed to be rewarded. They felt healthier, grew stronger and yes, became more good-looking as monster flesh became a regular part of their diet. They even seemed to age more slowly.

But then they learned the terrible cost of eating mog-tainted flesh. It poisoned not them, but their unborn children. All their children are born deformed. And most die within a few hours of birth. Only a few survive and these are looked after well by their loving parents. But the village’s collective shame means they keep their children hidden from visitors. The “school house” where the women go to give birth, and all the surviving children live out their lives, is a little way away from the village’s more public buildings, and visitors are prevented from getting too close.

The villagers of Brightwater never explain the lack of children in public life, or the real reason why visitors only get vegetable stew while the natives feast on meat. They know that one day, even the longest lived of them will be gone and the village of Brightwater will only be a memory. But if they live like heroes, that memory will be a legend.

Fire!

Apparently, just an intensity six fire… ©️Fria Ligan/Martin Grip

If you listened to the last part of our Forbidden Lands Actual Play, you will have heard our confusion, when the party wanted to set fire to a Gryphon’s nest, and we realised that the rulebooks contained very little guidance on fires and damage. In fact, a similar question had been raised in an earlier, unrecorded adventure. Then, the adventurers had discovered that ghosts could be dispersed with fire, and set about making fire arrows. There are no rules for fire arrows, either for their construction or for their damage. We fudged something about needing cloth and lamp oil to make the arrows. But we never actually needed to work out the damage until this adventure.

In the FL Players Handbook is a reference to being broken by fire damage (it suggests using the the non-typical critical “table”) and a couple of very specific applications of fire damage. Well actually one of those, the Immolate spell, isn’t a fire attack as such. Let be quote from the book “You can heat up your victim’s blood to the point where he literally bursts into flames.” So the damage is done internally, the flames are a symptom of the damage, not the cause. Demons can have a fire attack, which uses the same mechanic as other monster attacks rolling a number of base dice (in this case, between seven and twelve) for attack which can not be parried but can be dodged. Such attacks can’t be pushed. So that means a low powered (seven base dice attack) has something like a one in ten chance of inflicting serious damage*, and with twelve base dice, the probability of being hurt increases to something like one in three. That said, the victim continues to take damage every turn until putting the fire out with a move roll.

There is also the Making Camp mishap, Fire!, wherein the campfire gets out of control, characters must suffer an attack with five base dice.

In Coriolis the rules state “If you are in, or within Close Range of, a large fire, you will suffer attack rolls once every turn. The GM rolls the attack at your turn in the turn order, and before you get to act. The size of the fire determines the number of dice on the roll, and that is up to the GM to decide.” with no guidelines. Well, we could apply the guidelines from Forbidden Lands, five for an out of control campfire. Seven to twelve for a demon attack. But those aren’t terribly relevant. There is the example of a wildfire in Mutant: Genlab Alpha – “Roll six Base Dice“ if you are caught, which for a *wild* fire seems somewhat small. And given that Coriolis characters are roughly twice as resilient as characters in the other year Zero games, fire doesn’t seem to be that big a risk in the Third Horizon.

But Coriolis goes on to say “The number of dice is then increased by one per turn” and “As soon as you suffer 1 or more points of damage from the fire, your clothes catch fire, and you will continue to suffer the attack rolls even if you get out of the fire itself. Putting out burning clothes demands a successful dexterity test (you or someone else within Close Range of you may attempt the roll). Armor may be tested.“

And indeed there is similar text, in Alien, which starts “A fire is measured in Intensity. A typical fire has Intensity 6.” So now we have a word at least for the attack strength of the fire. And in a similar paragraph to the one from Coriolis, it adds “As soon as a fire attack inflicts no damage, the fire goes out by itself.” I am taking this to mean, as soon is no successes are rolled, rather than damage being mitigated, by armour for example.

So, from clues between these games we can pull together a set of rules for fire in Forbidden Lands. And in particular guidelines for intensity. I am thinking for example, that your fire arrow has an intensity of one. It does it’s normal damage (one for a bow, or two or three from crossbow bolts) then rolls another single dice then, and every subsequent turn. On a 6 you take a point of damage and your clothes catch fire. On a 1 or 2 it goes out. This differs from the rules as stated in Coriolis and Alien, I will put this down to them lamp oil. You can put it out with a move roll too.

If you take damage, your clothes catch fire you roll two dice the next turn, then three and so on.

Get pushed into a camp fire? Then it’s three attack dice.

A room that’s partially on fire has an intensity of four. And it’s worth pointing out that the attack still happens even if your player says “I am avoiding the fire.” It’s about the radiating heat.

The whole place (zone) is burning? Well who am I to argue with Coriolis AND Mutant: Genlab Alpha. We’ll call it intensity six. But remember, all these increase by one die the longer you are in it. You can justify the increase by the fire using the fuel and oxygen in the room (or wherever).

Escape the fire with move rolls. But if you take any damage on the way it comes with you, you are the fuel now. Your clothes are on fire, treat that with escalating dice as above. Oh, and that demon fire we mentioned at the beginning, that doesn’t escalate in the same way. The rules in Swedish clearly state that you take the same amount of damage every turn until you put it out. Why is is different from my rules? Demons. They are just weird.

*Which for the purposes of this calculation I counted as three or more successes

Alien: Chapter 4. Combat and Panic

Continuing my read-through of the Cinematic Starter Kit. Chapter four starts with some definitions. We learn that maps are divided into zones, and that zones are flexibly defined, “from a few steps across to 25 meters”, essentially, unless a room is huge, it’s one zone. Time is measured in Rounds (5 to 10 seconds), Turns (5 to 10 minutes) for Stealth (more on this below) and Shifts (5 to 10 hours) for longer term things like Recovery.

In a chapter entitled Combat and Panic it might be strange to find a large section on avoiding combat. But Stealth mode is such a vital trope of the films to replicate, whether it’s the haunted house horror of Alien, the Vietnam of Aliens or even the caper mode of Resurrection. In one turn, humans can move through two zones, or spend the whole turn in the space to do a thing, such as access a data terminal. The GMCs, human or alien, must obey the same rules but many aliens can move faster.

Passive enemies can be detected as soon as you move into a zone, or even further away if you have line of sight. Passive, is I feel the wrong word here. I was confused thinking it meant hidden, like the Alien in the shuttle at the end of the first film. But what it really means is unengaged, not hunting you down. Even such an unengaged enemy will see you as soon as you see them, unless you are sneaking (rolling mobility against their observation).

Active enemies are those that are hiding, or sneaking up on you. You can spot them with an observation roll if they are sneaking up on you. But if they are hiding, you won’t spot them unless you tracked them to a spot with a motion tracker, or accidentally look exactly in their hiding place. The motion tracker that was a staple of the movies works up to four zones, ignoring line of sight (though of course you can’t shoot the enemy until you actually do have line of sight – if they are small you might also need an observation roll).

Initiative is, like Forbidden Lands, based on the draw of a card numbered 1-10, and then playing in that order. I am sure there will be Talents about drawing a choice of cards in the full game. Two PCs bale to speak to each other can swap cards, and of course we know there is a close combat stunt about taking an opponent’s card. Not quite sure how that plays with fast moving aliens, who normally seem to draw two cards, and act on both. Scary!

Again like Forbidden Lands, you get one slow and one fast action, or two fast actions. There is a list of example slow and fast actions, but it’s pretty intuitive. Some actions can take place out of turn order, for example parrying an attack, but they still count against your two actions per round limit. Sneak attacks (testing mobility vs observation) give you one free action, fast or slow before initiative cards are drawn.

It’s worth rehearsing resolution. To hit you roll your close combat skill, one success (6) does whatever damage rating your weapon does (mitigated by armour perhaps) extra success can do more damage, or you can spend them to swap initiative, disarm your opponent, push them over, or grapple them.

They may choose to block you, and you can block their attacks too of course. You must declare your intention to block before they roll, for every success you roll, you can choose to parry each of their successes, disarm, or indeed counter attack, choosing to take whatever damage they were dealing out, so that you can sneak a knife in their gut.

There’s a new action (I think) exclusive to Alien. You can push your engaged opponent into short range (so that you or someone else can shoot them). Given how often the players in our UKGE games pushed each other, I must admit it’s a very useful rule to have.

Which brings us onto ranged combat. same mechanic as above, but a different skill of course and some interesting modifiers. Shooting at a target as small as a chestburster, for example, means -2 dice on your roll.

Autofire works differently to Coriolis. In Alien, declaring autofire adds two base dice and one point of stress (and the accompanying die) to your roll. Extra successes can be directed at additional targets (within short range of the original). Auto fire doesn’t empty your clip like it does in Coriolis, but any 1s rolled on a stress die indicate you have to reload, as well as making a panic roll. The idea being that unstressed, you can manage your ammunition, but in the heat of battle it’s easier to find yourself with an empty clip. Is it realistic? Not exactly. But it does emulate the spirit of the movies.

In another difference from Coriolis, you don’t get to spend stunts (extra successes) on critical injuries, you must break your opponent. And of course if you are broken you must roll your own critical injury. It’s easier to break opponents that in Coriolis as Health is based on strength alone, not strength plus quickness, as in Coriolis. But if you are broken, somebody with medical aid skill can help you recover, or after one turn, you recover one point automatically. Most of the other Y0E games rely on someone else being there to get you back on your feet, so I think this rule suggests that you might be alone more than in other games.

If you want to kill a broken human, you must first fail an empathy roll, and take a stress die (unless you have the Cold Blooded talent of course).

And so to stress dice.

You’ve been collecting these as you have played, one of two doesn’t matter so much, indeed they give you a slightly better chance of success. But now you have three or four, and the consequences of a panic roll are more serious.

When you roll a one on any of the stress dice, (and in some other situations, such as when you are attacked by a creature you have never seen before – we forgot that at UKGE, I just gave them an extra stress die), you must make a panic roll: 1d6 plus the number of stress dice you currently have, and consult a table. Results of 1-6 are “keeping it together” but seven or more and bad things happen. For example: on the seven you jerk nervously, and you and everyone around you takes an extra stress die; on eight you get the shakes, and on nine you drop something. On ten and above you the rolls controls your actions to some extent: you freeze, or you are forced to seek cover or you scream. The latter two cathartic responses actually let you lose one stress die, but again, everyone around you gains one.

On thirteen (only a risk if you have seven or more stress dice) you flee uncontrollably. And everyone else must make a panic roll too. I won’t spoil 14 and 15.

Panic lasts one round if specified, or one turn (5-10 minutes), or until you are broken. Someone else can calm you down with a successful Command roll.

A whole turn spent resting in a safe area let’s you lose a stress die, in a new rule (new since to the cinematic starter kit since we first saw it, you can also interact with your signature item in a significant way to reduce stress.

Towards the end of the chapter is a section dealing with other hazards, including conditions such as Starving, Dehydration, Exhaustion, and Freezing, plus: vacuum; falling; explosions; fire; disease; radiation; drowning; and suffocation. Space is Hell indeed. Then there is a section on synthetics and a little bit, for players I guess, on Xenomorphs. This is written in a way that gives very little away but explains that the GM is not cheating when the Xeno gets twice as many actions as everyone else.

A form-fillable character sheet for Alien RPG

graphic link to PDF
click on the picture to download the PDF

I am not sure I will get to post chapter four of my “Where I read…” today. But instead here is a useful resource. Dave and I have been preparing for the last month or so to run Alien taster sessions at UK Games Expo. To that end I pulled the blank character sheet out of the Starter Kit (that was a story in itself, some errors in the postscript made it impossible to do the easy way) and have made it form-fillable.

You can download it by clicking the picture or HERE.

This is designed for convention play, so rather than a number of talent fields this has just one, with space below to describe the talent.

Alien: Chapter 3. Skills

Before we continue with the read through, let’s pause and head back to the credits page (page 2 on the PDF). What’s this?

Dave and I are listed as play testers! That’s nice🙂. We did offer feedback from our games, I wonder if anything has changed?

I have spotted at least one so far. As I predicted yesterday, Victory Points no longer exist. Instead we have Story Points. But that’s enough looking back, let’s crack on with Chapter 3. And let’s start with Story Points! Buried in chapter three is a new use for these newly named Story points. You can spend them, one for one, for an automatic success, after your roll.

There are twelve skills in this game, just three of each attribute. Not sixteen like in Free League’s other Science Fiction game, Coriolis. And unlike that game, all the skills can be rolled “unskilled”, on the attribute only, if you don’t have points in the skill. Attributes, skills and gear all contribute to your pool of base dice. Like Coriolis there is no damage to stats or gear for pushing, so you don’t need to split them out.

What you do need to split out are your stress dice. You earn one every time you push, and add it to all subsequent rolls, including the push. Sixes, on base dice or stress dice mean success. So the more adrenaline running through your system, the more successful you can be. But ones rolled on the stress dice mean panic. More on that later. Ones on stress dice mean something else as well. If you are testing Ranged Combat, and firing a weapon with a limited magazine, then that magazine empties.

There is interesting advice here in a boxout which should be heeded. Don’t roll too often say the authors:

In the ALIEN roleplaying game, a dice roll is a dramatic moment. Pushing rolls increases stress and can trigger panic in your character. With that in mind, you should never roll dice unless it is absolutely necessary. Save the dice for dramatic situations or tough challenges. In any other situation, the GM should simply allow you to perform whatever action you wish

Our experience suggest this is good advice. In my co-host Dave’s first playtest, he made his players roll the dice too often. Many rolls were pushed and stress points earned. Panic rolls can cause more stress, so there was a sort of cataclysmic chain reaction. I ran a playtest with that in mind, and made fewer (too few?) rolls, and didn’t experience a Panic cascade.

Dice rolls can be modified by difficulty (ranging from +3 for trivial actions, to -3 for formidable actions – though I don’t think we should be rolling for trivial actions, considering the advice above). Or, you can get help from other PCs, as with many Year Zero Engine games, by adding one dice per character helping, up to a maximum of three. Some rolls, for example when you use Mobility to sneak, can be opposed by the NPC with an Observation roll, you have to get more successes than they do. NPCs never push their rolls.

If it’s not opposed, then one success is all you need (difficulty modifiers are on the dice rolled, not the number of successes needed). And each skill description includes a list of stunts you can spend extra successes on. These include things like; rolling an extra die on a related skill check; completing the task more quickly or quietly; sharing a success with a PC in the same situation; or, in combat, simply dealing more damage.

Finally, for those wanting to compare the skills other Y0E games, they are:

  • Heavy Machinery (STRENGTH)
  • Stamina (STRENGTH)
  • Close Combat (STRENGTH)
  • Mobility (AGILITY)
  • Ranged Combat (AGILITY)
  • Piloting (AGILITY)
  • Observation (WITS)
  • Comtech (WITS)
  • Survival (WITS)
  • Command (EMPATHY)
  • Manipulation (EMPATHY)
  • Medical Aid (EMPATHY)

Alien: Chapter 2. Your Character

STOP PRESS! I just heard the first batch of the Starter PDF is coming though, so from now on, you will be able to read along with me 🙂

Continuing my “Where I read…” the starter PDF does not include full rules for character creation, but rather gives readers a guided tour of what makes a character. It’s a sort of introduction to the pre-gens included in the scenario.

As usual with Year Zero Engine games, there are four attributes, Strength; Agility; Wits; and Empathy, each with up to five points allocated. A sidebar indicates that Androids generally have higher physical scores. There are three skills attached to each attribute, but there is a whole chapter on skills later.

There are two other stats: Stress starts at Zero, but goes up by one every timid you push a roll; and Health starts equal to your Strength stat. So, I guess damage is not linked directly to the attribute like it is in the Mutant games and Forbidden Lands – you don’t become less effective as you take damage – but your “hit points” are just as few as in those games.

Personal agendas are mentioned briefly, if only to say the campaign version of personal agendas will be covered in the full rules, and that in cinematic adventures you get given personal agendas each act. If you take actions toward you personal agenda during the act, you can remove a point of stress before the next act, and you get a “Victory Point”. We’ll see if this last survives to the published version though, as there was talk from Free League that suggested Victory Points might get changed. You also have buddies and rivals, though with no game mechanics attached to them. If the other Year Zero Engine games are a guide, there will probably be experience points attached to them in campaign play. Androids can’t push skill rolls, don’t suffer stress and never make Panic Rolls. They also suffer damage differently.

Unusually for a RPG, there is a box out on PVP or, player vs player. Basically when tensions get high, the GM warns everyone that PVP is imminent, and the aggressor loses their character.

The most important part of a section on gear is the resource roll. Roll a number of dice equivalent to your resource, and for every 1 rolled, lose a point of resource. Ammo isn’t included as a consumable. We’ll read about that later.