Over the Christmas break we had a few of the regulars in the gaming crew out for family travel, etc., but were joined by one of my gamer buddies that floats in fr a session or two every year or so. He was interested in the new Alien RPG by Free League, andsince I had gotten the bundle in a few weeks earlier, we got together with the rest of the group that was left in Albuquerque to play through the Chariot of the Gods adventure Andrew Gaska wrote for the game.

Yes, there will be spoilers. If you’re playing through this adventure, feel free to come back afterward.

Running the adventure made the cards in the bundle useful. Outside of that…not so much. Every character in the module is presented, so if you have someone come in late, they can play some of the characters that eventually wake up at the end of the first/ beginning of the second act. There’s gear cards, which were somewhat useful so I didn’t have to flip through the book for data on the weapons. Spacesuit cards would have been nice, however. I would suggest to Free League a second set of cards that’s just gear and initiative cards; they’d be more useful.

The dice — you don’t need ’em, but the yellow stress die with the facehugger for 1s really works to enhance the flavor of the game. On that note, stress builds fast in the game. When the characters have a stress die or two, they usually aided the player — the die mechanic, like most of the FL games needs you to roll a 6 to succeed on a die, with multiples giving you more damage to deal out, to aid people that failed a test, or to take some kind of benefit. On a facehugger, you have the chance of panic. We rolled a lot of panic tests in the playthrough, but it wasn’t until you started to hit five or six stress die that you were humped. We had a player drop his shotgun in the first encounter with an “abomination”, and later fled his companions. Others had the shakes or froze up. No one completely lost it. The stress mechanic works well, though I found myself ignoring the extra stress die characters got when panicking, as you already accrue another when you roll a facehugger. However, panic often spreads, so I did use the extra stress die to those around him when panic ensues.

The basics: the crew of a freighter on a milk run discovers a Prometheus-style ship adrift for the last 76 years. It’s Cronus, a missing science vessel that went out to 26 Draconis and was never heard from again. The company wants the ship boarded, repaired, and retrieved with all the scientific data and samples. The corporate weenie character, Wilson, however, see Special Order 966 — which orders the return no matter what and, of course, all other priorities are rescinded.

We ran the boarding and the initial investigation of the ship, but I had the ship in deep cold, in addition to the foul air specified in the adventure. The characters took excellent precautions and didn’t get out of their suits until toward the end of the adventure. Which leads me to the consumables rules — the game stipulates a facehugger on a stress die results in losing a consumable. In the case of the spacesuits, that would have meant 4 fails to the suit not working. I ignored that and went with a suit has a standard 2 shifts (5-10 hours) of air if the wearer is taking it easy; 1 shift if working hard. Past that, the consumables kicks in. This gave the crew the time to avoid some of the nastiness until the second act, but also made some of their tasks more difficult — they missed some of the clues they might have been able to exploit, like science team notes that they couldn’t flip through because of the bulky suit fingers, etc. Consumables worked best for weapons and the panicked spray and pray of Aliens. In the first encounter with the abomination belowdecks, the Rye character let loose with an EVA gun and on a facehugger, dumped the magazine. Now they were screwed.

I made some changes to the flow of the adventure to crank the tension. The ship is dark and in deep cold until they get the reactor online. They had missed the abomination in the scene, but I had it hold off until the ship warmed up in the second act. The loss of Montero happened at the end of the first act, which made people suspicious of the single NPC that had been aboard, Davis. I had played with the idea of making her the android, but in the end made that Cham the roughneck because the player wasn’t around for the second session. With Montero gone early, they were stuck on Cronus and had time to start repairs. They fixed the air scrubbers first, releasing the 26 Draconis pathogen into the ship.

Second act started after some intra-party conflict over Davies, then I had the Cronus crew come out of cyrosleep. They started to get the basics of what happened and took the crew down to medbay. At the same time, the roughnecs started their repairs on the ship — Rye in the reactor area, and Cham getting ready to EVA. He discovers Ava 6 in the cargo bay, where she had been trying to effect repairs on herself but wound up shutting down.

The first abomination gets the crew scrambling. They finished it off easy, but Captain Miller’s helmet on her suit got broken. At the same time, chaos ensued in the medbay with Cooper’s bloodburster. Davies wound up injuring it, but it escaped to return for act three, as a juvenile bloodburster. Clayton, the corporate rat from Cronus took this opportunity to abandon everyone and hide in her suite, where she recovered her pistol and the data on the alien goo.

Act three saw the characters get a moments rest in the bridge with the Cronus crew. While trying to come up with a plan, Johns turns abomination and the fight was on. A panic roll failed by Miller, she wound up blowing the mag on the pulse rifle they had found in the armory, and since she had two facehuggers, I had the burst hit the medic from Cronus. They find Clayton, who is turning, and right at that moment, the bloodburster was back. Miller, who was starting to turn, was killed fighting to get the creature off of Davies. Davies was killed when Clayton attacked her and cut her jugular while trying to rip pff her helmet. Wilson panicked and ran, and with the help of the roughnecks, they vented most of the ship, killing Clayton. With the aid of Ava 6, they got the ship’s engines working but were now running low on air. Not trusting the cryotubes, they used the EEV in Clayton’s cabin to go into cryosleep, leaving Ava to get them home. At this point, Cham took action and fought Ava for control of the ship. This all happened in the final moments of the game. As we are thinking of a campaign game in the universe, I am thinking of building out from the ending I had in mind and making Cronus the McGuffin to get started.

So how did it play? It took about 5 hours total to play the adventure, which was nicely written and pretty tight for plot. I made some changed — moved Montero‘s demise forward, backed up the waking the Cronus crew, cut the number of survivors on Cronus to the basics to cut the number of NPCs and heighten tension. I left out the mercenary vessel for act three as things were going badly enough. In the end, we had a three of the PCs make it to the end of the adventure, although the chances Wilson and Rye survived after Cham’s “Lucas” personality kicked in are low. The players had a blast, and it was fun to run horror — even though I think it’s very difficult. The stress die mechanic helped a lot with that.

I’ve not been a fan of horror games, mostly because it’s very hard to set up the right atmosphere, and because of an absolutely disastrous first encounter with Call of Chthulu in the ’90s. I’m not a fan of the “go insane or die” game; most of the Alien movies have the chance of promise of someone making it out alive (save the execrable Alien 3, and honestly, none of those characters — Ripley included — were likeable enough to care about).

So having played it, I’ll admit, I’m intrigued to try a game in the universe that focuses on corporate espionage, some exploration, and the synthetics angle, leaving the xenomorphs and Engineers for later in the campaign.