Alien RPG Spaceship design – gah!

I don’t think Free League should have included ship design rules in the Alien Core book. We didn’t really need them, and I don’t think they create ships that are useful mechanisms for play in the Alien universe.

Now, admittedly, I am basing this on my frustration with trying to build a UPP battleship with the tools provided, and on Dave’s attempts to do the same for the Three World Empire in the last show. It could reasonably be argued that neither are the sort of ships we should be building for an Alien adventure, and neither are they the sort of ships players would want to build. But even though I am using these tools to do a job they were not designed for, I will argue that my frustrations point to a flaw in the philosophy of ship design in Alien that, by putting the rules in the core book, Free League have now stuck in our (the fans’) mindsets and which will be difficult to change.

But first of all, let me tell you about my response to the the challenge. I had been warned by Dave’s failure to make HMS Yamato anything but an aircraft carrier – the rules as they stand push you towards that solution because there is precious little else to fill your larger spaceships  with. So for a while I thought about not making Potemkin a battleship at all. I flirted with the idea of making it like one of those little vessels that haunted British seas in the eighties, passing themselves off as fishing boats while actually packed with all the latest Russian surveillance gear. (When I say the eighties, its only because we heard a lot about them at the time. We hear less now, but perhaps we should assume they haunt our waters still.) But its the Potemkin, the ship which started the Russian Revolution of 1905, and the subject of a film which started a revolution in film production (called “editing”). It deserves to be better than a spy-ship dressed up as a fishing boat.

So, I turned to the core book with a determination to make a battleship, not another aircraft carrier. And the first problem I discovered is – how big should it be? Of course all this is abstracted, But the book lists four classes: C, G, M and R, and suggest m class vessels are what PCs should aspire too. So if an M class vessel is Nostromo, and G – Class vessel is Serenity (errr… I mean “The Betty”) what class, in size terms, would a warship be? They give us a warship, the frigate Conestoga. Its about the size of a R class but has many fewer modules – a R class can have 21 or various sizes.The Conestoga has … 9. Oh – hold on it has 20 EEVs – so its has … er 28… hmmm. An R class has capacity for six weapon systems. The Consetoga has … 8. So it doesn’t follow the Rules as Written – OK, author prerogative. Thats OK (he fumes). (And he notes that in the listing on page 180, each vessel has its class listed – except the Conestoga, which has a class of … Conestoga.)

The Potemkin is a Battleship though, so has to be bigger than this vessel. Should I invent a class? My notes say S?, T? V?

V… in my head-canon the Potemkin is a V class or Volga class ship. Mmmmm yessssss. But still, what size should it be? I try instead to build it from the inside out. What are the components I want? I will build it and size it around those. Redundancy is a theme I want to include on this UPP ship. Two of everything! Even two AIs! I have a lovely idea about ship AI conflicts, mirroring counter-revolutionary vitriol in communist politics. I even think of calling them LEN.N  and Tr.T.S.K.Y. for a while, before deciding that is too heavy handed. And I am looking through the list of modules with a sinking heart, realising that there simply are not enough components of a suitable size to even double up in a warship, when my eyes alight on the hanger. A size five hanger can accommodate a Class M ship.

And suddenly my vision is transformed. Potemkin will be a ship of two parts – the hanger does not contain a class M but rather is a complex set of systems that allows the class M vessel to be connected with the… errr… the other part (class R?) to make an even bigger vessel. YES! And the class M vessel of course has the Planetfall Capacity upgrade (don’t get me started on upgrades) so its  like a big landing craft, while the other section becomes an orbital bombardment platform! Yes! This is starting be be a thing.

So, I start with what I am now calling the Atmospheric Interface Komponent. Two sets of size three scrubbers (redundancy you see?) then one size four cargo hold (this ship has to feed its orbital mother) and a size four vehicle bay packing ten APCs (for the marines, it has marines now) plus a size three bay for a tractor, and two size two bays (for Gyrocars – who else thinks about Edward Olmos’s car in Bladerunner when they read that word? Just me?). So now we have marines we’ll need a size four cryo unit and a size four galley too for when they wake up. Not duplicating those at all, they have their own redundancy. But there are four class D lifeboats, three medlabs, and two docking umbilicals. An M class is not a weapons platform and I consider the Added Hardpoints  upgrade but in the end decide against it. So just one heavy and two medium rail-gun turrets. Oh! And even though the glorious UPP does not have decadent things like corporate suites it does have a Diplomatic suite which is where you will usually find the Commissar. 

One more thing to note. This component has no AI or displacement drive. Those are both on the CosmoKomponent as the weapons platform is called. And of course so are their redundant systems. Most the core components are duplicated of the CosmoKomponent – two bridges, two sensor arrays, comms arrays, reactors, and drives. That will fill up a lot of space. Plus two more sets of scrubbers (size four) and two class D lifeboats. Another, smaller galley and cyro deck, another couple of med-labs. Maybe just one science lab. I am not sure I am using up all the modules this way but I have stopped counting. 

Instead I am giving it all the weapons on the Conestoga, but two of each. Because I can … because this is a class V and there are no rules for a class V… yet. And because now, I am having fun.

But that brings us to the nub of my argument. Free League have given us a simple, fun system not massively different from that found in Coriolis. No its doesn’t really work for building battle ships, but that can be solved with a later supplement, if that’s what the audience wants. 

But I argue that ships in Alien shouldn’t be fun. It can be fun in other space games to spend some big haul you earned (or stole) on an upgrade for your ship, just like to might upgrade your armour or your gun or some other tool. But the ships in the Alien verse are not tools, they are settings. They are not meant to be fun, and definitely not meant to be upgraded. They should be imposed on players – PCs should feel weighed down by their responsibility to their ships, not liberated by them. They should find them confusing and get lost in them, not know it with a designers eye. If they had not included ship design in the core book, this philosophy would be inherent in the system, even if later on some supplement gave players the opportunity to design or … ugh upgrade, their vessel.

But now Free League have handed over the keys to the car, they can’t ever take it back…

Gorham’s Folly

Last episode I was challenged to imagine the Three World Empire’s Northern Ireland. It was my own stupid fault – I made the case in the last episode that the Three World Empire should be a reflection of Britain in the last seventies and early eighties. It should probably also reflect Japan and India in that period too, but I know nothing about the political situation there at that time, so lets leave that aside for the moment and concentrate on The Troubles.

©️Fria Ligan/Martin Grip

And as I type that, I am immediately aware that as an English man, I actually, really, know next to nothing about that conflict, even though it was something I grew up with, and even though I had friend on both sides of the conflict in the 90’s. But for the sake of context I am going to attempt the stupidest thing in the world and try to summarise the conflict, in as non-partisan a way as I can.

The Troubles refers to a specific period starting in the late sixties and ending with the Good-Friday agreement in 1998, in Northern Ireland, the corner of the island of Ireland which, since the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, remained part of the United Kingdom. I am not going to get into the detail of why, which would take us into the realms of being an entirely different sort of podcast. Instead I am going to oversimplify the situation by saying that there was, and is a significantly large population of protestants in some of those north eastern counties, and those people considered themselves Unionists.
In the early sixties around the world, civil rights movements began to make headway. Just as Martin Luther King spoke and organised in the Southern US, so too in Northern Ireland people spoke out against inequalities between Catholics and Protestants. Though I promised I would not go into detail, I think its important to list some of these inequalities, as they have resonance with the situation in other parts of the world at the time and even now, and with potential situations in the future Alien universe…

For example there was gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, to ensure that the poterstant Unionists retained political power even in places with Catholic majorities. The gerrymandering was made easier because there was not universal suffrage, – only “householders” could vote (remember this is the early sixties I was shocked when I found out). The police force was 90% Protestant, and had Special Powers of search without warrant and arrest and imprisonment without trial, which of course were pretty much exclusively used on Catholics. And of course there were plenty of examples of “softer” discrimination – preference given to protestants for jobs and housing.

This isn’t meant to be a history lesson, but long story short, some small concession were made to the catholics, protestants protested, tensions were raised, clashes became more violent. From south of the border, the Irish Taoiseach called for a UN peacekeeping force but instead the British Army was deployed to build a barrier between the most violent communities. Militants on both sides formed militia units. Things got worse. The rest, as they say, is history.

So, how am I going to reflect that in Alien? And why, even?
The why is the easy bit. Because conflict is messy, and Alien is a messy world. Because two communities clashing over a long and complex history is exactly the sort of conflict your space marines would be dropped into, not knowing which side has justice on their side, or who might be trusted, or whether your assigned targets are the “right” ones. There is only one certain enemy in Alien… and that’s the Xenomorphs, everything else should be a moral maze.

So the how. And the where. Last episode I said Corona. I have no idea where that is, its not mentioned on the map, just in text on page 224. That gives us the opportunity to put it anywhere, but thinking about it, it should be pretty close to the solar core, both to mirror the nature of Northern Ireland’s proximity to Britain, and to imagine a relatively long history on the colony itself so that deep-seated historical differences can be found on both sides. Perhaps it is in the cluster of stars known as Proxima Centuri. But there are lots of mentions of USCM bases there. So perhaps I should switch it to the named colony that IS mentioned on the map, Gorham’s Folly…

But who lives there, what is that central conflict between two communities? Now my first thought was to better reflect the more international nature of the Three World Empire. But this is a quagmire I am not going to step into. Who am I, a European to start creating strife between two interpretations of Buddism, or between Muslims and Hindus, or between Hindus and Buddists? So my future conflict will at least be a based in the Judeo-Christian culture that I know a little about. But it won’t be between Catholics and Protestants. I will create two new space-denominations to clash on Gorham’s Folly. And we have already got inspiration for one of those. Arceon, the wooden space station dreamed up for an unused Alien 3 script, and given new life on page 157 of the RPG. All we know about the “monks” who inhabit Arceon is that they were and named :”back to nature” movement who released the New Plague (no – not corona virus, but a computer virus that wiped out “an inordinate amount od data on Earth” and it seems handily for our aesthetics, all displays more advanced that green-screen CRTs). Well I have a name for them. It the name of an order I created for a Firefly RPG – actually it was Shepherd Book’s order back then but it fits even better for the inhabitants of a wooden space station: The Carpenters.

So a significant proportion of the population of Gorham’s Folly are Carpenters. They are not as radical as the followers of Saint Tomas, but they are tainted with his reputation. The New Plague was considered an act of terrorism, and Carpenter citizens on Gorham’s Folly suffer from various forms of discrimination – poor housing, persecution by non-representative police force, gerrymandering, poor employment opportunities etc. For example, perhaps Gorham’s Folly is famous for its shipyards, perhaps the new Royal Navy joint flagship, HMS Yamato is being built there. But none of the skilled jobs go to the Carpenter population. Note, they are not direct analogues of Catholics in Northern Ireland – the Carpenters as their name and “back to nature” philosophy suggests they are more protestant in their worship and organisation, and I would be inclined to draw influences for their way of life from Quakers and Amish.

Which means that the oppressive established church on Gorham’s Folly is a more colourful catholic (with a small c) faith. In my old Firefly the Carpenters were going to eventually face off against the Intercessionists. So I might as well port that name over for the “majority” faith on Gorham’s Folly. Though be aware that gerrymandering may be keeping them as a electoral majority, while they could in fact be outnumbered statistically by the Carpenter Population. Of course 70 percent of the colony’s police force are Intercessionists and perhaps most of the rest are made up of other faiths, Sikhs, Muslins, Buddists etc as befits the nature of the Empire.
There are no good guys and bad guys here. Neither the Intercessionists nor the Carpenters are “evil,” even though a “Carpenter Terrorist” did wipe out most of humanities computers that time… and forced us all to use green screens. But there are radicals in both populations, who perhaps value human life less than their ideals.

In the playtest of Destroyer of Worlds we tried a character I enjoyed having on the team but who didn’t make the cut for the publish version – local marshal having to work with the marines. I am already revisiting that situation in my head – a local Constable from the minority Carpenter population, trusted by neither side, who has to work with a squad of Royal Marines to uncover a plot by an Intercessionist militia, who plan to blame something more horrific than a bomb on the Carpenters.

#RPGaDay2020 – Light

This is an easy one. As you recall, this year we are not creating new brief podcasts for #RPGaDay, but rather talking the opportunity to celebrate particular episodes of our almost three years of production. Todays episode is one from May 2019. I like it because it has an article it in that helps GMs and players better understand a “faction” that are poorly described in the core book, without spoiling the campaign. Lets shine a light on We are the Light of Peace.

Thoughts on expanding the Three World Empire

I failed to do a #RPGaDay2020 post yesterday, so please accept this transcript of my latest Effekt piece instead.

A new “white ensign“ patch for crew aboard Imperial Navy spaceships

So, what do we know about the Three Word Empire? The rulebook tells us that, on earth, its member states are not contiguous – they don’t share borders with each other, like the United Americas. Instead on Earth , the 3WE includes UK, Japan, India, Indonesia, Paupa New Guinea, Kenya, and Fiji, which (bar Japan) sounds a bit like the current commonwealth. Page 223 suggests it was formed in the 2180s, but that’s obviously wrong, as that is the game’s present. The book’s timeline instead mentions co-operation from the 2030’s and then formal union in 2088. Indeed it seems that the United America and the Union of Progressive Peoples were both formed after, and in response to, the creation of the Three World Empire.

So can we say them that the Three World Empire is the first space superpower? I think we can. And given that it is called the Three World Empire can we assume that is has dominance over the three worlds that gave it its name? Earth, Mars and Titan?

Errrr no…

I mean obviously it doesn’t run Earth. The UA and the UPP have their share of power, and the European Union still exists, though weakened after a number of members ally with the UPP. We know this because the Fiorina Penal colony in Alien 3 is apparently an EU and 3WE project, suggesting co-operation on a number of projects. But Britannia, or her Anglo-Japanese equivalent, still kicks arse on Mars and Titan right?

Yeahhhhhh…NO

Just like earth, different powers run different parts of those planets (or planet and moon). According to the USCM technical manual the UA have a colony at Valles Marineris on Mars for example. Is this a result of pre-FTL colonisation? Do worlds further fall to single powers more readily? After all there is an Anglo-Japanese “arm” of the galaxy.

And yet even such a distant world as Linna 349 is disputed territory. The USC Marines “helped” quell an uprising on that world, and yet have not left, much to the annoyance of, Governor of the Three World Empire’s Frontier Colonies Vijaa Reddy. Personally I think the UA prompted the rebellion in the first place, to give them a reason force the Empire to let the marines in. Fiorina 161 isn’t entirely Imperial – we share authority for that colony with the European Union. But Gliese 667 CC, a colony of some 2.3 million souls is still in Imperial hands, and we know nothing about other Three World Empire colonies like Corona and Gorham’s Folly.

In short the Empire is a mostly blank sheet. Its time to get creative. So here a a few things I want to invent for the Three World Empire:

A Royal family. When the two powers combined, both industry and Royalty merged. Wayland Yutani was the result of the industrial merger, but we know nothing of the Royal merger. What transitions survived when these two largely symbolic monarchies fused? For example in the UK, our royal family was a family name – currently Windor, a name made up when the decidedly Germanic Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was determined to be not quite the thing when we were at war with Germany. If anything though, that show the royals are flexible, so I reckon they would be happy to adopt the Japanese tradition of only given names, in return for the Japanese agreeing to drop male only primogeniture. Which would mean that in the Alien universe our Imperial Majesty is the Empress Charlotte. (Because I have a soft spot for George IVs daughter, who never got to be Queen.)

But this monarchy, like our own is purely symbolic. We know there is a representative democracy actually wielding power. Whats it like? In his piece on the UPP Dave eschewed a purely 70s/80s vision of the Communists in favour of something that had modern day China’s free market authoritarianism. I am going totally the other way. I want the empire to go full one late 70s, early 80s, and that means one thing … Thatcher! I want an Iron Lady in charge. The one I am thinking of right now is Gloria Monday from Grant Morrison’s Dan Dare strip, but I think I will need to change her name. And if we have a Thatcher, we need a Falklands. Gorham’s Folly has a name that fits. We also need some Troubles, so which colony is going to be our North Ireland? Corona?

We also need big “feck-off” Navy. The book says the the 3WE has a relatively small military, but an “Extensive” Navy. The FTL technology of the Alien universe was invented by a British company, Weyland, and I am damned if I can going to let the same thing happen with this bit of British inginuity as happened with the Jet aviation and the MRI scanner. We are going to RULE the space-lanes, the biggest fleet with the biggest ships. I am taking 3WE policy back to the late ninetieth century then our policy was to have a bigger navy that the next three powers combined. So if the UA, the UPP and even the EU ganged up on us, they still wouldn’t have as many ships as we do. There was too, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. A strong traditional link between UK and Japanese ship building industries and the Japanese Navy whopped Russian arse in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 (much to everybody’s surprise (except us Brits), so we are going have those glory days again. I have not tried building any Imperial Navy ships yet, but they will be big, and they will be fast, and there will be carriers. And there will be two flagships – HMS Ark Royal, and of course the Battle Cruiser HMS Yamato. (Talking of design even though I haven’t designed any ships, I HAVE designed the Navy’s white ensign patch.)

Finally, the SOE or Special Operations Executive are an arm of 3WE Navy Intelligence devoted to operations behind enemy lines. Rarely recruited from existing military personel, SOE agents are often civilians usually with skills or a cultural background that will help them blend in and work in each theatre of operations. Currently on Linna 349, they are engaged in sabotage against the occupying USCM “peacekeeping” force. We ain’t letting the United Americas take you Linna. As somebody once sang in the 21st century “You’ll be back”

#RPGaDay2020 – Beginning

For the last couple of years my co-host Dave and I have produced a daily podcast for #RPGaDay. But we are not going to do that this year. Instead, in a blatant piece of self-promotion we are going to reflect on our last three years of producing the Effekt podcast, and highlight some of our previous episodes. You might consider it a “best of” selection depending on your definition of “best.”

Today’s theme is about Beginnings, we are going to share our very first episode. But first I was to tell you a little story that has particular resonance today of all days. I phoned Dave whilst on a walk to suggest the idea of creating this podcast, about Coriolis, a role playing game by the up and coming Swedish company, Free League, and he enthusiastically agreed. “And then we can maybe go to Sweden an interview theme and they can get to know us, and then we can write for them” he said. I replied “Maybe” in that tone that meant “No, that is only going to happen in your widest dreams.” And what happened next? We went to Sweden to interview them, they got to know us, and they asked us to write an adventure which ended up in the Alien RPG core book, and that book just last night, won the “Oscar” of the RPG world. The “Ennie” for Best Game. Not bad for our first attempt.

“Maybe” indeed.

Anyhow, here’s where its all began.

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.”

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.