Five NATO soldiers have been left to find their own way home after the last – and failed – allied push against the Soviets in the fields of Poland in World War III. After fighting a group of marauders, they are restocked on ammo and carry a bit of fuel and must now find a way across the mighty Oder River to get to… home? To Safety? To semi-intact NATO formations?
This is the seventh episode of my solo-game of Free League’s Twilight: 2000 4th edition post-apocalyptic roleplaying game. If you are new to the game/story, I suggest you start from the very beginning.
After being disbanded at Kalisz, the group drives west in their camouflaged pick-up truck, which runs out of fuel near Syców. They try to find fuel or parts for a still in the town, but discover the ambushed remains of US troops, where they rescue the wounded private Lee. They meet a local leader, who will aid them against the ambushers, if they share the loot with him. After a daring and successful dawn assault, they defeat the marauders with no casualties. But as the man they work with is dangerous and untrustworthy, with a lot of armed men at hand. They cut a quick deal, and hurry away with what they can carry, but a lot less than half the spoils.
From a game mechanical perspective, the group’s unit morale has increased one level to A from B, but none of the characters gain personal CUF.
Further, King buys the survival skill at D-level and Kelly pays for mobility D (see last episode).
Continuing Day 6
The group hurries to where they hid the pickup and refuel it. They agree to drive for one shift, hopefully finding somewhere they can hole up for at least 24 hours to rest and repair. Looking at their map, they decide to drive south, as they consider the ruins of Wroclaw a difficult and dangerous place to cross the massive Oder River in their truck.
The open terrain and country roads prove no obstacle to Lee (who worked in logistics), but King is unable to find the right road to where they need to go (Miles succeeds in his driving roll, but Charlie fails the navigation check to exit the second hex)
In the evening shift, they make a great camp, although King finds it difficult to conceal it, stressing over finding foliage and moss to hide them (pushes survival, gains 1 stress).
Perez struggles through the edge of the forest they’ve camped at (pushing survival), and he manages to track a deer. With two well placed shots he bags dinner for the next couple of days.
While hunting, Perez hears an explosion not too far away and see black smoke rising (random encounter). He lays down the deer on the forest floor and investigates. Three Soviet soldiers lie dying in the wreckage of a UAZ-469 Jeep hit by a roadside bomb.
The pleading and mangled young Russian scouts are too much for Perez, and he runs back into the woods, where he picks up the deer and hurries back to camp (fails CUF, gains 1 stress).
There is much praise in the camp, when he returns though, and they settle in for – what turns out to be – an uneventful night. He says nothing of the blown Soviet 4×4.
Lee is on watch during the night. King trusts him, but the rest assumes he gets the job because he is the FNG.
The next day the group can take stock and plan:
They have acquired a good supply of weapons and ammo, although they would dearly like another anti-tank weapon.
They have water and food, and the nice big deer should sustain them all for an additional two days – if cooked properly…
They are all healthy, and even Lee should be fully recovered the day after the next (his critical wounds to the arms will have healed).
They decide to spend the entire day in camp, resting, foraging, and doing on maintenance of their weapons, gear and the truck. The next day they plan to spend the last fuel to get close to the Brzeg bridge, and then see what they can see, and cross the river any way they can. They may not need to worry about fuel, if they can’t get the car across anyway.
During the first shift, Lee does maintenance on the pick-up. He struggles with the unfamiliar vehicle, but gets the job done (pushes for success).
They also do gun care (which several fail, but that isn’t a problem yet. Optimally, the best tech person should do it, but isn’t it more realistic that they do it individually?).
King succeeds at cooking the deer. It turns out succulent and tasty, with Kelly’s help. The two men have a grand time making a good, concealed fire with a high enough temperature.
Zielinski forages enough water to fill their canteens, and everyone feasts for lunch.
In the afternoon it turns cloudy, and Zielinski, King and Kelly go scrounging in the area.
The trio come upon a small farm in a copse of trees. Untended fields full of weeds surround the farm and a window looks broken. King surveys the area with his binoculars, and when he sees nothing move, they approach.
Kelly takes point and creep tests the front door. It is open. He knocks. No answer. Kelly opens the door, and his nostrils are assaulted by the stench of rotting corpses. Moving in, he finds the corpse of a man, half his head blown all over a the yellow wallpaper, a shotgun lying at his feet.
Behind him King retches and Zielinski mumbles a prayer in Polish.
“Clear the rest,” says King.
Kelly nods, and they go through the rest of the house.
In the bedrooms, they find three more bodies: a woman and two kids. On a dresser there is an open box of shells.
“Jesus. He shot them all. How…” says King.
“Guess they were out of chow. Out of options. The Russians coming. Tough break,” says Kelly.
Zielinski swears long and vehemently in Polish, then says: “Can we burry them.” Her voice trembles.
“I’m sorry, my friend. We don’t have the time, even if we found the right tools. I’m really very sorry,” King says.
She wants to say something, wants to refuse, then she nods, sniffs.
“Ok, Captain. I’m going out for my last cigarette,” she says.
Kelly picks up the shells and the shotgun. It is a double barrel 12 gauge. He breaks it open, takes out the two spent shells and attaches the gun to his backpack. They also find some instant coffee in a cabinet and a radio (one electronic part).
They return to camp, just as it starts pouring down, but their camp was well made, and everyone keeps dry and warm.
The second night there passes uneventfully.
The weather has turned from pouring rain into low grey clouds, when the group strikes camp. They enjoy a hot cup of Joe in the morning, which generates many sighs of contentment. Then they load up the truck and head southwest through the woods. Lee is the only one with slight damage, the remains of his wounded arm still hindering him with rifles.
Perez is on watch, Lee drives, while King is co-pilot with the map. Zielinski and Kelly rest in the back.
This time, King reads the map correctly and puts them on a forest road leading south. Lee must make two driving rolls as he is driving off road into a forest area. (I believe I made a mistake here, as technically the hex is a road hex, but coming from the north, I still consider it a forest hex).
The young man expertly handles the pick-up (ace driving on first roll. 2 successes).
Further into the woods, he almost hits a deer but manages to dodge and avoid crashing into a tree (had to push the roll but made the second attempt).
Later in the afternoon, driving on a logging trail, close to the main road, Perez spot 10 Soviet soldiers herding 35 local prisoners east along the road 300 meters away (random encounter), despite being in a vehicle and the Soviets being on foot.
Lee quickly parks the vehicle behind a ridge out of sight and Perez and King creep up to have a look.
King returns to the rest of the team and looks at each of them in turn.
“We’ve got a quick decision to make. Do we step in or stay low and let them pass?” he says.
“We must save. If not, those Russian dogs will kill them all, or worse,” Zielinski says in her accented English.
Perez slides back down from the small ridge and rejoins them.
“They haven’t sniffed us. I count ten Soviets with AKs. No heavy guns. Let’s not push our luck. We can wait here and let them pass. That’s twice our number, and the kid still can’t hold a rifle,” he says.
Lee looks annoyed at him but says nothing.
“Lee?” King asks.
“I follow you, Captain. You say go; we go. If you say fight, I’ll happily fight them.”
King thinks a moment.
“I promised to lead you out of here. But we also came all the way here to do some good. Saving three dozen locals, might not change the war, but it will mean something. Kelly?”
The big Irish-man spits.
“I say fuck those commie fuckers. Dragging us all the way here for this bullshit. I’ll give them a taste of 7.62.”
“Alright, fuck it,” says Perez, and that settles it.
Unfortunately, the M-60 will live up to its reputation.
Four soldiers are fleeing a Soviet counter-offensive in the aftermath of World War III. The three American soldiers and a Polish liason officer were thrown together when the 5th US mechanized division was broken outside of Kalisz. The final radio call was: “You’re on your own. Good luck!” This is their story.
Welcome to episode 3 of this solo role-playing campaign! I’m playing the post-apocalyptic RPG Twilight: 2000 in its fourth edition from Free League Publishing. In the first part I go through the events of the game. At the end of the post I have a couple of more “meta-considerations” on how I’m running it solo and the rules. Episode 4 will feature my first big combat encounter.
Last episode, the team encountered Soviet forces, when they tried to get fuel from Ostrzeszów. They were discovered sneaking into the town, were shot at and had to flee. Driving off road, as well as a navigation error, cost them a lot of fuel. Ultimately, they camped at a ruined farm, where they hid their pickup truck.
Minor Spoiler Alert: Because I am using random elements from the core ruleset, you may encounter the same pieces of content as a player. Sometimes they aren’t what they seem, which can ruin the surprise. I am not using the big scenarios sites, however, so there are no major spoilers.
Being less than 2 kilometers south of Syców, they again opt to approach town on foot in the early morning, hoping to find someone to trade with.
Moving into the town, they suddenly hear sustained gunfire, but only for 10-15 seconds. Then it is quiet. The group sneaks forward. The noise has clearly scared any inhabitants into retreating to their hideouts.
Perez peeks around a corner and pulls back quickly.
“Shit man, they’ve been mowed down. Slaughtered!” “Easy now. Do you see anyone?” King asks. He peeks out again. “No hostiles that I can see. It is real fucked.” “Cover us,” says the captain and points to Perez and Kelly. They both nod and Perez takes up position as the captain and Zielinski runs forward into the street. Kelly follows behind the two officers and takes up position opposite of Perez.
Perez is right. It is a slaughter. Around a dozen American soldiers lie shot up in the street between ruined buildings. A couple of them are still moving. They have been stripped of all their gear – even their helmets and boots.
Zielinski and King move among the bodies. Most are riddled with bullets. One is still trying to crawl away, and Zielinski quickly moves closer and examines him, speaking to him gently. He has a bullet hole in his upper abdomen and blood is pouring from his mouth. He gasps for help. King steps over to help her save him, but before he gets there, the man is dead.
“He was bleeding internally. I couldn’t save him,” she says. She isn’t crying, but King senses her immense frustration.
“They can’t be long gone. I don’t like this,” King says.
“Are you American?” someone suddenly says with a strained voice. It is coming from one of the “corpses”. They rush over to him, and a young African American man in bloody fatigues sit up. His nose is smashed and blood has run down his face. Zielinski helps the man to a better position and checks his wounds. A bullet has also torn one of his arms and the nose needs fixing, but the wounds aren’t lethal. She spends her personal medkit bandaging the wounds and cleaning them.
“What’s your name kid,” King asks?
“Lee. Miles Taylor Lee.” He speaks with a nasal voice because of the nose.
Where are you from?”
“New York. Harlem.”
After treating Lee, Zielinski discovers another soldier still breathing. He is conscious, but can’t move his legs, and she determines that he has been hit near the spine. He needs treatment, and King wants them out of the vulnerable position, so Kelly finds a couple of planks and jury rigs a stretcher for the critically injured soldier. Unfortunately, when they move him, he dies.
Rules: the rules for critical hits in Twilight: 2000 are brutal. 70% of the critical head and chest injuries are potentially lethal, and whenever you attempt to move a lethally injured, if you fail your medical aid roll (which Zielinski did, even after pushing) the wounded must roll Stamina or die. On a side note, a scene like this with new players would be great, because it demonstrates the lethality of the critical rules, without risking a PC death very early in the game (not that that is necessarily a problem).
Boots & a brew
Inside a nearby ruined house, they question private Lee. He was a truck driver with the logistics section of the 2nd Armored Division, but ended up with a rifle and a group of stragglers on their retreat after the truck ran out of fuel. They were ambushed by about a dozen marauders and cut down. He played dead while they stripped him. Only his canteen is left. Lee can’t really move about in the ruins without boots or shoes at least, so King asks Zielinski to see if she can find someone to trade with for boots and maybe fuel. He also asks Kelly to give the kid the Glock they found, so he can defend himself, which the big Irishman reluctantly does.
In the ruins of Sycow, Zielinski manages to find a bar and trade station. It is located in the basement of a semi-ruined apartment building and is well guarded. The basement has a large room with a couple of locals huddling close to a warm stove in a corner gossiping and drinking home brewed vodka. It is early – or maybe late? – for the small group. But someone is brewing alcohol…
In a room next to the bar she finds items for trade. The “store” is a counter with a system of shelves behind it. A woman looks to be the “shopkeeper” and a big Polish man with a sawn off shotgun is guarding the valuables, which includes a pair of polish army boots size 11. The woman at the counter wants 20 bullets for it. Appealing to her good heart and the fight for Poland against the aggressors, Zielinski manage to get her down to 15. When she asks about fuel, she is told that they might have some, but that they need to talk to Janusz, who owns the place.
Zielinski returns to the team with the boots and relays the information. They help Lee move there and get him situated in the bar room with Perez aiding him and keeping watch. Perez spends 2 ammo to get them both a drink. It burns all the way down, but it helps with their morale and Lee and Perez both regain one stress, from the drink and being in relative safety.
Rules: Stress is the “mental hitpoints” of the game, which you lose from getting shot at, rolling 1s when pushing INT or EMP skills or from horrific situations like experiencing the massacre of your friends. Losing all your stress points incapacitates you. Characters can be pushed back on their feet using the Command skill. Regaining stress from a strong drink isn’t according to RAW, but in this situation I felt it would be appropriate.
In the trading area, the rest of the group gets a meeting with Janusz Kucinski. He is the leader of the operation and after they have talked for a while, with Zielinski translating, he has a proposition for them.
A mission, of sorts…
The people who ambushed the American soldiers are a gang of marauders, who occupy a small abandoned factory on the edge of town. They are led by the town’s former police chief – a man named Mleczko – who was the Police Commander of the town during the previous regime, a vicious man, who is now trying to create a petty fief for himself.
The marauder gang is full of former criminals, ex-police and a couple of deserters. They are a menace to the town, and Janusz wants their help to assault the marauder base – ideally take out their leader – and break up the gang. He claims that they have a lot of equipment, probably also fuel, as well as the weapons they looted from the US soldiers. They have an old police jeep, but he hasn’t seen it for a while, and he doesn’t know if it is working. Janusz is willing to aid them with five of his “fighters”. His fighters are not military, and are not as well armed as the marauders, but he claims they can hold their own. If they succeed, they will split what they find – including the American gear – 50/50. Further, Janusz claims that he has some information for them, which he believes they will find valuable.
Janusz also briefly describes the enemy position. The factory is walled, has an office building – where many marauders are holed up – and a factory building with more marauders and the leader, Mleczko. On the roofs and inside the walls there are a total of three fortified positions. But he knows exactly where many marauders sleep in the office building, because he has talked to women who have stayed there. He is sure that an effective surprise attack will work, even though they will be outnumbered at least 2:1.
King and the rest of the team withdraw to the bar and discuss their options.
Clearly, Janusz is not doing this out of the goodness of his heart. The marauders are probably both a threat and competition, but does that matter, because their interests are aligned? At least until they get the loot, they will be allies.
The real question for the group is: is the risk worth the reward? Will they be able to pull it off without anyone getting killed? The facts are: they are almost out of fuel, have only a couple of days worth of food, aren’t particularly well armed and now have an extra man who is wounded to care for – who basically has no equipment. Their options are basically to start walking out of Poland with what they have, or to accept this risky undertaking.
They accept, under a couple of conditions:
They need time to scout the location, get to know the “fighters” a bit and perhaps get Lee ready to join them, and Janusz must feed and house them while they do so.
They need to borrow a rifle with scope and a shotgun or a rifle with ammo to increase the chance of success.
He can keep the vehicle, if they have one, but they have first dibs on fuel, up to the first 100 liters.
If the attack fails, they will all withdraw, covering each other, and part ways without anyone being in debt to anyone else.
Can they trust Janusz? I drew an Oracle card to help me judge how Janusz might respond, when the mission is done – for good or bad. You will have to check out the next episodes, to learn what card I drew… I did allow the three characters doing the negotiations to roll a straight empathy roll, to ascertain his character. King certainly gets the vibe that he is a cold, very dangerous man, whereas Zielinski and Kelly aren’t so sure.
These events are evolving from the random encounter of the ambushed US soldiers and the motivations of the team. If the American with the wounded spine had survived, it would have brought interesting tension between the characters who don’t want to burden the team with “dead weight” and those who have more altruistic motivations.
The medical care rules is also something one might consider house-ruling. Obviously, an officer with some basic first aid training would not – in reality – be able to save someone shot so bad they require full surgery. You could rule that tending some of the worst crits requires the Field Surgeon or General Practitioner specialities. Or add a significant penalty to the rolls without proper equipment/specialities.
I’m developing the two opposing factions exactly as I would in a “real” game. With my gaming group, I am certain that they would “bite” on this opportunity for tactical combat and action with the promise of loot. I’m sure “realistically” a small – skilled but under-armed – team would balk at taking on superior numbers in a fortified position, even with surprise, as quite a few things need to go right.
As a side note, Twilight: 2000 is a game where you shouldn’t roll dice too often, because succeeding is hard. As soon as I had the idea that there was a rival of the marauders in town whom they could trade with, I didn’t need Zielinski to roll RECON or anything to find the trader. Traders want to be found – even in destroyed Poland! And, as a referee, I want them to find it. It is more dramatic to have this development, and it ensures that there is some “meat” to the plot. So why insert a roll that might fail?
Rest & Experience:
This is what I consider the end of “session 1”. Each character, except Lee, gets three XP, Lee gets two. None of them risked anything in relation to their buddies, moral codes or big dreams to get more. Five XP is the minimum to buy anything at all, so no upgrades after this session. As King and Perez had to roll Coolness Under Fire (CUF), I roll to see if they improve their CUF, which requires I roll a one. I do not. Lee succeeds his empathy roll and doesn’t suffer permanent mental trauma after being incapacitated by stress.
The next part of this series will feature a very long battle. I will probably break it up into two parts, as it is taking a while to play out. But I have already learned the following:
Kevlar and cover are your friends! Or your enemie’s friends, depending…
Grenades are great for suppression, and you want to keep your foes suppressed
It can really suck not having a side-arm…
I look forward to sharing the action with you. I hope your next gaming session is great!
When the 5th US mechanized division was finally broken outside of Kalisz, three American soldiers and a Polish liason officer were thrown together. This is their story.
Welcome to episode 2 of this solo role-playing campaign! I’m playing the post-apocalyptic RPG Twilight: 2000 in its fourth edition from Free League Publishing.
Last episode, the team fled in from the advancing Soviets in a pickup truck with half a tank of fuel. For the first day, they kept out of serious trouble and picked up some information from a couple of Polish hunters.
Minor Spoiler Alert: Because I am using random elements from the core ruleset, you may encounter the same pieces of content as a player. Sometimes they aren’t what they seem, which can ruin the surprise. I am not using the big scenarios sites, however, so there are no major spoilers.
A chill, but sunny, April morning dawns in central Poland. With a concealed fire and a good camp, the team managed to stay hidden and warm in the camp a couple of kilometers from the small town of Ostrzeszow. The morning will be spent exploring the small town, which they decide to approach on foot, as a working vehicle could make them a target.
Their goal is a man named Cezary Pawlak, who has a distillery in town with his two sons. Ostrzesow was a town of more than 10,000 people, but is now probably home to less than 1/5 of that, and full of shelled buildings, burnt buildings, buildings riddled with bullet holes and roads clogged with rubble and car husks.
Going on foot, turns out to be a good decision. Advance Soviet forces must have reached the town during the night (this is another random encounter from the core rules). They have set up a roadblock at the main road into town about 300 meters (330 yards) from where the group approach the ruins. There are a dozen soldiers guarding the roadblock and they have a T-72 main battle tank positioned in the shell of a house covering the approach to the town. Going off road in the truck around the town would almost consume all of their remaining fuel, so the group agrees to circle around the town and sneak in from the northwest, but if they are discovered they will retreat to the truck and get the hell out.
Perez leads them towards the ruins, but despite giving it all he’s got, a Soviet soldier keeping watch for stragglers from atop a ruin spots them and opens fire from a long range of about 120 meters.
Rules: I made a mistake here and had the best person (Perez) roll Recon for the group, and not the one with the lowest skill. However, as I understand it, two of the team would be able to use the Help action to improve that person’s chances. With the bonus from wearing fatigues, their dice pool would still be pretty good. In any case, the team got one success, and the Soviet soldier also got a single success in the opposed roll, which means the group is discovered.
Round 1: The Soviet private gets to act first, as he discovered them (I rule). He fires his Avtomat Kalashnikova at the team. He gets +1 for firing from his elevated position, but -4 from firing at long range (-2), at moving targets (-1) which are partly concealed by vegetation and other terrain (-1), for a total of -3.
At that distance, the burst of bullets are off but the gunfire is sufficient to alert the rest of the soldiers nearby.
King orders the team to retreat at a run, retreating around 40 meters across the streets and long abandoned gardens.
Round 2: The Soviet soldier gives them another burst at extreme range as a parting gift. The private has clearly not had his vodka ration this morning, or is simply born under a lucky star, and both PFC Perez and King are hit. A bullet hits Perez in the head, but luckily the helmet takes the worst of the damage. King is hit in the back, where his kevlar also absorbs the brunt of the damage.
Rules: the Soviet rolls a hit with both his single success dice and one of the “ammo dice” he spends, sending a third of the lead in the magazine in their direction. King and Perez are both hit in locations where they wear armor, which subtracts 1 damage. An AK-74 does 2 points of damage, so the result is 1 damage on both. The Soviet could have spent the additional “hit” to increase the damage on Perez, but with his helmet it wouldn’t have been enough to score a crit anyway. Still, the one point of damage reduces King’s “hit points” by 25%.
Perez and King must roll for Coolness Under Fire. Both succeed. They can use the Unit Morale because they are within line of sight of the others. Therefore they are not suppressed and can continue fleeing.
They move an additional 40 meters and have now moved out of range of the Soviet soldier’s AK-74, and are impossible for him to hit.
Bedraggled and shaken, the team hauls ass and retreat back to their vehicle, with most of the morning gone.
“Can I see where hit is,” Zielinski asks King haltingly?
The captain is leaning on the hood of the truck, his chest heaving from exertion, and inwardly he is cursing himself for not keeping in better shape when he was in the reserves. Kelly leans his back heavily on the car and takes a swig of water, while Perez scans the fields beyond the small hillocks for any pursuers.
“Sure,” King answers the lieutenant with laboured breath.
With a wince, he takes off his combat webbing and the kevlar vest, then the fatigues and shirt. He has a black and purple bruise the size of a two palms on his lower back. Zielinski gently touches it, and he almost jumps from the pain.
She examines it more closely.
“Motherf… that stings,” he says with clenched teeth. “Very big bruise. But not serious, no,” Zielinski says and washes the area with a bit of water and soap.
“Kelly, please take over from Perez, so the lieutenant can see to his wound,” King says, when Zielinski is done. Kelly stomps up and takes over the watch from the younger private.
Perez trots down with downcast eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I was sure we were out of sight. I should have spotted him.”
“Nonsense. It is my fault,” says King. “I led you there. It is my responsibility. It was far too risky, with that kind of firepower nearby and no knowledge of how many reinforcements might be nearby.”
Zielinski says something in Polish that sounds dismissive.
Then in English.
“You are both fools. We took a risk, but to get something very valuable, yes? Something we need. And, as you say in America, “shit happens”.”
King grumbles something, but says nothing.
She gently lifts Perez’s helmet. He has a bloody scratch on the back of his neck.
“Look. Just a …” She searches for the word. “…Ricochet.” She turns over the helmet, so he can see. “Hit the lower side of the helmet first, and then down, giving you this little cut. You are very lucky, I think.”
“Yes, mam,” he says, and pulls a little crucifix from inside his shirt and gives it a kiss and mumbles a prayer, while the lieutenant cleans the cut and puts a band-aid on the scratch.
“So far,” he mumbles as she patches on the band-aid.
“Should we stop chattering and get the fuck out of here,” Kelly barks nervously from the small hillock.
“Absofuckinglutely. Let’s go!” King says.
Rules: Zielinski attends to their bruises with success (which means they avoid risking an infection) and it turns out their armor is still functional (when penetrated, it risks becoming defunct – a 1 in 6 chance). Medical attention only heals 1 damage, if the character is broken (at 0 health).
On the off-road again…
They are now forced to flee around the town, off road, and the group tries to get to Sycow to the southwest. Their hope is that the Soviets don’t have enough troops or vehicles to pursue their small band.
Unfortunately, Zielinski is unable to find a road that leads west. Instead, she ends up driving south between the two towns hitting the east-west bound main road between Sycow and Kepno (because she fails her survival roll – but driving succeeds so no mishap).
They agree to head west along the road to get further away from the Soviet lead elements. If the Soviets are anywhere near as depleted as the 5th division was, they will have spent themselves in a couple of days, King is sure.
The pickup rumbles along, avoiding the odd obstacle until they reach a traffic jam, frozen in time. Almost every car holds skeletal commuters. They never made their destinations but instead died here, victims of a direct chemical attack or a wayward cloud from some battle. The most banal of ends. A few managed to crawl out of their vehicles and lay white and bony on the road. A bird’s nest crowns one boxy, European car. The road is entirely blocked, and the team needs to go back and down a side road for a while before hitting Sycow – costing precious fuel (this last part is from a list of random mood elements from the core game).
King is listening in on the radio while they drive. Suddenly, he gesticulates. “Stop!” Zielinski stops, and King concentrates. The rest try to listen in. “There’s an American soldier on this frequency. He says he is wounded. He is holed up in a ruined farmhouse. Must be nearby,” King says. “Could be a trick – an ambush,” Perez says, still scanning the road and ditches around them. “Could be,” King says and purses his lips. “We should go and help him. He is comrade. No? It is what we would want from others,” Zielinski says. “Kelly, what do you think,” King asks? “Whatever you think, boss. We just gotta go in careful,” he says.
The captain contacts the soldier. He says his name is Donovan, and he is hurt. Hurt bad. But he can direct them to a farmhouse with a blown red roof and a burnt barn. King spots the roof using his binoculars and they all drive there, but park at a safe distance. They sneak closer, but there is no sign of an ambush, and they locate the wounded soldier on a mattress in a bedroom. However, when they arrive he is dead. He has a civilian walkie-talkie, a Glock pistol with a full magazine, a kevlar helmet, a water and a food ration and a knife. King collects his dog tags, takes the helmet, gives the pistol to Kelly and the knife and walkie to Perez. Donovan’s insignia indicates that he was with the 2nd Armored Division, which advanced south of the 5th division. Perhaps there are more of them somewhere?
Rules: The radio message is from the game’s random radio chatter table. Here I used the “Oracle” mechanic and drew a card. It was a six of hearts – mildly helpful, according to the table. Therefore, I determined that the soldier would be dead – it would be quite useful if they were able to rescue him, and he would have a little useful equipment, but not much. Had it been a high black card, it would have been an ambush.
Having spent 2 liters of extra fuel for a walkie talkie, a pistol and helmet, they drive away towards Sycow. King is not unhappy though, as the pistol is probably good for trading.
Before they reach Sycow, however, Perez spots a derelict bus parked in a large – mostly intact barn – next to a shot up farm. It looks to be in better condition than most vehicles, and they agree to park there for the night and make camp in the barn. The area is flat farmland, but they hope the ruined buildings will conceal them and it is a defensible position. They are down to 10 liters of fuel – or 1/10 of the tank. The bus and barn looks like prime scrounging grounds, and while King makes camp Kelly looks for parts they for example could use in an improvised still. Zielinski stands watch, while Perez sleeps in the barn before he has to go on watch at night.
Kelly turns out to be a lucky scrounger. He recovers one vehicle spare part from the bus engine and an electric toothbrush inside the house (1 electrical part, worth 25).
When he enters the bus, he (almost miraculously) spots a viper lurking in its nest, and avoids an ambush. He acts first in initiative and clubs the viper with his rifle butt. He did however get quite the scare and he hammers fruitlessly at the creature. Fortunately for Kelly, the viper also miss. At this point King has joined the frantic corporal, who manages to hit and kill the snake just as he arrives.
“Holy, shit Captain. A snake. A fucking snake! I hate snakes!”
When Kelly calms down, he searches the bus and comes out beaming. He’s found an intact baseball bat – which he keeps for himself. “Keeping this handy for close encounters,” he says.
The captain has concealed the pick-up with some old, mouldy sackcloth and a couple of pallets he found and makes a very small fire inside the barn in a metal bucket he punches some holes in.
It turns out that bashing the M16 into a bus has broken it (this is in fact a camping mishap that I interpret this way, as Captain King failed his camping roll). Luckily, the Captain is good with his hands and fixes the rifle, which raises Kelly’s estimation of him as not being a totally useless officer.
At nightfall, the weather turns from fair to cloudy. Perez takes the watch for the night, and the next morning both have effectively healed their bruises and stress.
That was the end of episode 2. Episode 3 will focus on exploring Sycow and trying to get their hands on fuel or parts for a still. The story takes a bit of a turn though, and a new character joins the team…
I have loved the ALIEN franchise, since I saw Aliens with my father when I was maybe 10 or 11. It is still my most memorable movie experience. So, the ALIEN RPG, from Swedish Free League, was a must buy when it came out in December 2019.
I’ve played it for a total of around 15 hours (on Roll20), and I now finally have found time to write a review.
The game won a Gold Ennie at 2020’s virtual GENCON, so it is fair to say that it is very well made game! But picking up a role-playing game also comes down to taste, personal preference and just what game you wish to run right now. So, in this blog post, I’ll try to answer: is this a game for me? You will get the short and sweet points first. In the second part, I go into more depth on the mechanics and content of the book. In a future post, I will write my thoughts on the scenario Chariot of the Gods.
In Short: What is the Alien RPG? The game is a retro-future horror role-playing game built faithfully to the franchise (and officially licensed). It uses the Year-Zero game engine, which is a dice-pool system – like most Free League RPGs.
The game is designed for two modes: cinematic play and campaign play. The cinematic play emulates an ALIEN movie and is a single adventure in three acts. It means, each character has a secret motivation, they can’t trust each other, are likely to do irrational things and aliens are probably going to kill some – if not all – of the them.
In the campaign you are likely to play either colonial marines, space truckers or colonists, and alien life forms aren’t meant to be introduced right away. Instead, the game features more mundane missions and jobs among corporate giants and working class grunts trying to make a living.
The book is around 400 pages and about half is system and the rest is lore, Game Mother information, a short adventure and a location.
The system emulates the stress and horror of the alien universe and it is fairly simple. Combat and action are cinematic, but there are enough character options for a short to medium-long campaign.
Ripley is the greatest female action movie protagonist of all time, and is an almost unique figure in the 80’s movie landscape.
What do I think of the ALIEN RPG? The game looks amazing, has a great atmosphere and was a lot of fun to play.
The game enables you to immerse yourself in the Alien universe; a scary, uncaring, capitalistic future where no-one will really care that you scream you lungs out or have your skull pierced by a xenomorph tail spike.
The game has a fairly narrow scope, which I think works to its advantage. The system has been tailored to create the Alien-experience, primarily adding stress dice to the player’s dice pool, when they exert themselves or things go wrong (more on that below).
Because of the relative simplicity of the rules, the widely known universe and the cinematic style, I think it is one of the best options out there for introducing new players to the hobby .
The artwork and art direction is fantastic, and the book is easy to read and make sense of. However, I have read and played other Free League games, which makes the system familiar to me.
There is enough background and lore in the book to really get my creative juices flowing and I wish I had the time to run an extra campaign using Alien.
That said, I’m sure it isn’t a game for everyone. It is science fiction. It is dark. It is easy to lose a character. It is about body horror and being fairly insignificant in a world of grey and questionable morals. The system is also not very granular. So, not everyone’s cup of tea.
Why should I buy the Alien RPG?
You want to play a space-horror game
You want to run shorter adventures with a cinematic style for your group
You would like to introduce D&D players to another genre/system
You want to introduce new people to role-playing, but they aren’t into fantasy
You love the Alien universe.
Why should I pass on the Alien RPG?
You want a crunchy game that tries to simulate life in space and combat between people in the future
You want a game with a vast scope that you can use for any kind of science fiction game
You want a game that can support a years-long campaign
AN IN DEPTH LOOK AT THE ALIEN RPG
Below I will go into more depth with contents of the rule-book and the rules. My views are mixed in between and I end with a conclusion. If you have questions or want to discuss the game, post in the comments or reach out on Twitter (@RasmusNord01).
Characters The players can pick from nine different careers. These are mostly well-known types from the ALIEN franchise, such as Colonial Marine, Company Agent, Kid, Medic and Officer. They are broad in scope, so the Officer could be a Colonial Marine Officer, a Navigator or Captain on a ship or a colony leader-type.
You can also play a colonial marshal, which looks to be inspired by the 1981-movie Outland, where Sir Connery plays a “space sheriff” on Jupiter’s moon Io. The look of the film fits very well with the ALIEN universe, and if your players haven’t seen it, you can steal the plot…
The game only has four different characteristics (Strength, Agility, Empathy and Wits), and each is associated with three skills. This means 12 broad skills and keeping it simple. For example, Mobility covers stealth, dodging, jumping and risky climbs, which in some systems would be three separate skills. Piloting covers all kinds of driving and flying, so you don’t need separate skills for driving a quad bike, flying a drop ship and driving a tank – for power loaders you do however need Heavy Machinery.
Each career has access to three talents unique to them, and all characters have access to about 30 general talents. The career talents are what enables characters to do something none of the other characters can do.
The special talents are interesting, and some are unlike what you see in most games. For example, the officer can get the Pull Rank talent, and with a successful roll can force both PCs and NPCs to do as they are told. The Company Agent “Rat Fuck Sonofabitch” has his personal safety top of mind and can make another character the target of an attack aimed at her (with a successful manipulation roll).
The Pull Rank talent is one example of how the Year Zero system has in-built mechanics for social interaction, which I think works better than fluffy “diplomacy” or “persuasion” in other games, where the actual outcome is often left to the GM.
There are also rules for synthetics … excuse me, artificial persons. They are in most ways better than a human PC, but they also have a few limitations.
Mechanics & Stress The system is made up of dice pools of D6s. You add your relevant characteristic with the right skill and possibly ‘gear dice’ if you have the right tool and then you try to roll a 6. If you fail, you can try to ‘push’ the roll one time by describing the extra effort (you have the same idea in Call of Cthulhu 7th ed) and re-rolling the dice. However, when you do, you get a stress level. Each stress level adds a stress dice, and if you roll a 1 (a Facehugger on the custom dice) on one of those, you risk going into a panic.
The stress mechanic is a key part of the way ALIEN simulates the films and the horror in them. My players named them – sardonically – ‘Hero Dice’, because they do enable you to accomplish greater feats, but they can also make things go very wrong.
If you push, and still fail, there will also often be a negative consequence, including damage to your characteristics, broken equipment and so on.
The intention is that you roll rarely – only when it is dramatic. One of the reasons is that there is only one retry. After that, the characters will have to do something different to reach their goal. The added bonus is that it keeps the game moving forward.
ALIEN also has a feature I’ve not seen in other Mutant Year Zero-games. Each skill comes with a number of Stunts players can pick, if they roll more than one success. For a ranged attack roll that could be an extra point of damage, but you can also pin down your enemy, the target drops a weapon, is pushed back or drops down. Or in Comtech, you gain additional information or are able to hide your tracks in the system. I like that, and it is very player facing as they get to pick the stunt.
Panic is rolled with 1D6 and adding your stress level. If you roll a total of 6 or lower, you keep it together. From 7-15 bad things happen – you can freeze, go berserk or flee, for example, and often increase the stress level of nearby PCs through your erratic behavior.
In our cinematic game, the problem was that, as things spiraled out of control, we very rapidly tried all the different outcomes of the panic roll. Thus, you become familiar with it – as a player – much quicker than a long critical table, and that was a criticism from my players: the results of panic were quickly unsurprising. That is one of our main criticisms of the system.
Combat & gear Combat in ALIEN is very lethal – especially against Xenomorphs. I’ve killed a character with s couple of dice rolls (xenomorph attack, character was unable to parry, the space suit armor didn’t stop it (second roll) and the attack happened to be an auto-kill crit to the head).
People firing guns at each other using cover and with armor is a little less lethal, but still deadly. Rifles and shotguns do a minimum of two or three damage points, so characters who aren’t particularly strong will be “broken” if they are hit and have no armor. If you are broken, you roll on the critical table, which can be everything from a minor cut to a broken leg or pierced skull. There are no Fate Points to avoid a killing blow, no Death Saves or re-rolls on the critical table. If you get a bad critical, you need to make a new character.
Xenos also have their own critical table, which means they might get blown away when they reach zero health, or they could be playing dead, or lashing out in a final berserk move. That mechanic works well, although I wish it had more than five outcomes.
Unlike some Year Zero Engine games, the characters have Health Levels. In other games, the damage is taken directly from the Strength characteristic. I’m not sure why they’ve made this design decision? Damage to character’s strength can lead to a death spiral, but since melee combat is less prevalent in ALIEN, compared to Forbidden Lands or Mutant Year Zero, it seems less of an issue.
A great design feature is that monsters don’t follow the exact same system as a character. Xenomorphs have their own list of six random attacks they’ll use – usually twice per round, as they have more actions than humans. The system is also used in Forbidden Lands and works very well with the iconic killing blows of the xenomorphs.
This section also covers the many (bad) conditions you can suffer from, such as radiation, drowning, fire and vacuum.
The gear section is robust and has all the gear you recognize from the movies, plus additional items, such as various drugs.
The vehicle section only has six vehicles, all recognizable. That seems a bit light, but can easily be fleshed out in a supplement.
My only real gripe here is a lack of information on how the weapons for example work in zero-g. Can the rifles fire in space, where there is no oxygen, for example? They do include rules for hitting the hull with shots from your pulse rifle and the potential resulting explosive decompression…
Hard Life Among the Stars Between the sections on gear and spacecraft, there is a section on life in the ALIEN universe, which is very player facing. It includes the basics on how space travel works, but also covers topics such as media, salaries, entertainment, religion and law enforcement. It is fairly short, but important.
I would have liked – and it could be placed in this section – more how zero gravity, low gravity, radiation and other similar aspects of living in space is dealt with.
Spacecraft and space combat The space ship section has examples of iconic crafts, like the Sulaco, and a modular system to build your own ships or upgrade existing craft.
ALIEN RPG is the first interstellar science fiction game, where the size of cargo ships makes a bit of economic sense. In many games, characters will be doing interstellar travel with just a couple of dozen tons of cargo – around the capacity of a big modern truck. In contrast, modern bulk carriers or crude carriers have 300,000+ tons of ore, grain or oil on board.
Even current coastal cargo ships have much greater cargo capacity than what you see “traders” typically haul in games like Traveller, Fading Suns, Space Master and so on. I really like that, as it fits with the gritty economic system of the game.
Space combat is described as quick and deadly – which would fit with the rest of the game’s approach to design. The system does have a couple of fun features, but not a ton of detail. It resembles the system used in Free League’s occult Arabian nights inspired science-fiction game Coriolis, but has been simplified.
I like that the captain on each side (a player and the GM) secretly picks his orders for each “role” on the ship. On top, there are four different roles for the various crew members: gunner, pilot, engineer and sensor operator, who have a total of 14 different actions, such as Target Lock, Accelerate, Maneuver, Fire Weapon and Launch Countermeasures.
I haven’t tried it, but with 14 actions split between the four roles, it seems like it doesn’t offer a lot of options – and how often do you want to ram another space ship, really?
On the fun side, there are however a lot of different component damage options, split between minor and major, like: coffee maker malfunction (!) and Intercoms disabled to AI offline and critical crew injury. These malfunctions are also used outside of combat, and are cool.
On a side note, the game and the adventure Chariot of the Gods doesn’t really take into account the mass and speed space craft must move with, and what would realistically happen if they collide (megaton explosive events).
All that being said, I doubt that space combat is what you play ALIEN for. I guess, in a Colonial Marine campaign, you could have multiple space battles, but in most games I would suspect it happens once or twice, if at all. The risk of losing your ship – if that is the “base” of your game, will also radically change the trajectory of your game.
The Alien Universe
The final part of the core book consists of advice to the GM, a decent section on the various governments, corporations and organizations. This is followed by a description of some of the key systems, planets and colonies.
The central tension of the world is between The United Americas and The Union of Progressive Peoples – a Cold War analogy – with various skirmishes, proxy wars and covert operations happening out in the rim.
In my view, there are a lot of interesting plot threads woven into all this lore, and plenty to get some solid ideas for campaigns and intrigues.
For example, the Interstellar Commerce Commission representative, Paul van Leuwen, who chaired Ripley’s tribunal, found out that a team of colonial marines along with Ripley were sent to LV-426 to investigate and now also has disappeared. He has launched his own investigation into what is going on, and he might need passage, or some freelance investigators to help him out…
The game takes place in the year 2180 and adheres to the canon of the movies and the excellent video game Alien: Isolation. It means the that the events and technology of Prometheus and Alien Covenant are part of the book, as is everything up to and including Alien 3. Alien Resurrection happens more than 200 years later, and is therefore not a part of the lore.
I think the lore sections gives you precisely enough info to spur your imagination, leaving plenty of room for making your own systems and colonies.
Along with lore, there is a detailed map of known space, which is featured inside the cover of the book. You can also buy a digital copy or on print.
Economics is out of whack One of my few issues, is with the fictional economics of the game, including the population sizes on the colonies in the core systems.
According to the lore, some planets have been completely strip mined. This fits with the themes of greedy corporations and horror, but seems very implausible.
Earth has been intensively mined for more than 100 years and though we have caused plenty of damage, we are very, very far from having strip mined our home planet. Australia alone is estimated to have deposits of 24 billion tons of iron ore left.
Even if earth has depleted its own resources, and you need to build infrastructure in space, it doesn’t seem like there is enough population outside of earth to generate sufficient demand for strip mining entire planets. Nor the technology or manpower to actually accomplish such a task. But now I’m nit picking!
Alien Species The section on aliens is 40 pages long and is detailed enough for you to run a campaign.
It begins with details on the Engineers and alien technology, and then moves on to the various xenomorphs including other Extra Solar Species.
Especially the Xenomorph XX121 gets a lot of love, with information on all the different stages of its development, signature attacks for all of the stages and some hints about Empress and Queen Mother stages.
Cinematic Adventures Alien can be played in cinematic mode and campaign mode.
Cinematic mode is meant for “short” games, one-shots and conventions. A cinematic adventure has three acts, like most movies, and a key feature is pre-generated characters, who all have a personal agenda – a goal they need to achieve. The agendas increase the drama and make players take classic horror-movie style sub-optimal actions – like going off alone to the medical bay to steal drugs or go searching for the cat in an abandoned cargo bay, while a xenomorph is on the prowl.
In Chariot of the Gods, the characters even get new agendas in each Act, to push the action forward.
I must note that it took my group five 3-hour online sessions to get through Chariot of the Gods, and I skipped parts. I have though read online that others have done it in four hours and had fun.
Creating Campaigns There are three potential campaign frameworks laid out: Space Truckers, Colonial Marines and Frontier Colonists.
The chapter on campaign play is, mainly, a lot of charts that lets you generate your own star systems, plants, jobs, missions, colonies and so forth.
I experimented with it, and I have to say that the tables allow you to generate some inspiring combinations that really spurred my imagination.
However, unlike Forbidden Lands and Mutant Year Zero, I don’t think you can simply run a game based on the results of these random jobs and missions. Alien does not have a list of interesting random events like Forbidden Lands, nor several detailed locations. It only has the example of Novgorod Station and a handful of accompanying events at the station, which could be enough to get you started, but my players would expect more.
Especially for colonists and space truckers, the jobs seem too mundane for them to be really exiting. Even with the random complications and plot twists, you need – as a GM – to flesh out things a bit more in advance based on that random input. You have to make sure there is enough details on the intrigue and drama and probably a main protagonist to make it interesting.
A trip to deliver 2000 heads of cattle to a small colony station two parsecs away with the complication that “problems at the destination means they can’t get the cargo off – and perhaps the characters can help speed things along?” is cool, because it is mundane and “feels right”, but the real adventure orbits around the problem that “something is wrong” at the destination, which is hindering their delivery, and that characters must get involved in that. And I’m not saying it is xenomorphs – it could be malfunctioning Seegson droids, a weird AI, UPP infiltrators or something else entirely. My point is: you need to make that adventure, the NPCs, the plot and the location in advance to whatever detail suits you. The tables will only get you so far.
The random colonial marines’ missions naturally lend themselves more to being interesting and dramatic on their own: e.g. a Raid on a Sensor Site with a company agent along, who is meddling to secure corporate assets with the twist of sabotage on board with a UPP frigate on an intercept course. That sounds action packed, but you still need to craft the details: the map of the sensor site, the NPCs, the complications and so on – but at least the framework of something interesting is there already.
In my view, you also need to make a campaign arc that propels the characters towards meeting a xenomorph threat – a grand intrigue of some kind – that can connect the plots and adventures into a satisfying whole. The game doesn’t say a whole lot on that front, which is a bit disappointing.
As the game is deadly, it could make sense to have a bit of an ensemble cast. For example, the space trucker crew could be eight people for four players, with each player having two characters. Or the rest could be NPC’s until someone dies. It also leaves NPCs to put in danger – or kill horribly – for dramatic effect. Having 10 characters available for a squad of marines also makes sense, as some characters deaths seems to be inevitable.
The book ends with a short cinematic adventure, that takes place in the same location as the Aliens film: the colony Hadley’s Hope. The characters arrive back from a job at a processing plant (before the colonial marines and Ripley arrive) to find the colony deserted and a warning message sounding over the intercom. The characters must investigate and survive to catch a shuttle off the infested base.
The short adventure can be played in a couple of hours and comes with nice floor plans, PC’s and NPCs. A great place to start, if you want to introduce new people to the game, the genre or, perhaps especially, to role-playing games in general.
Alternately, the floor plans could be reused for your own adventure or campaign.
The ALIEN RPG is a fantastic game. It is tightly designed and sticks to its core themes.
The rules are designed to make the game feel like you are inside a piece of ALIEN fiction. It evokes the atmosphere and style of the franchise perfectly.
Inside the book, you will find everything you need to run a game, although the custom yellow stress dice with Facehuggers on, I think would make it run more smoothly (and you probably need two sets).
The art is great, and the book is easy to read – however during combat with xenomorphs, you do need to reference tables scattered all over the book. The rules are quite simple and very player facing.
That said, the style and themes are probably not for every gaming group, but I would argue that even for die-hard D&D/fantasy fans, an ALIEN cinematic adventure could be a great change of pace or palate cleanser between campaigns.
I would love to run a campaign in ALIEN, and I think it could easily stretch over 7-10 adventures – for me – a short to medium long campaign. But probably not more than that. The amount of character options and room for advancement would simply run out (see my calculation below) – unless you kill characters very frequently, which isn’t fun in a campaign.
The only real critique point in the rules are the amount of variation in the panic rolls and for critical hits on xenomorphs. I think the lack of variation could be a problem, especially in a campaign, and the panic roll mechanic is not easy to change.
My other slightly negative points are ultimately nit-picks, and every supplement for the game will be a ‘must buy’ for me.
Let’s say you play for 25 sessions, with on average 3.5 xp per session, which would leave you with almost 90 xp. At a cost of 5 XP per skill point or talent, that would purchase you: – 12 additional skill points (on top of the 10 a starting character has) – 2 extra career talents – and 4 additional general talents. At that point, a group will be extremely competent and covering all bases.