ALIEN RPG by Fria Ligan (Free League Publishing)
Updated: Nov 12, 2019
First of all, some awesome news dropped today regarding release of the game and the PDF copies:
Good news for those of you who made it into the pre-order for this incredible game - the PDFs have been sent out and the paper copies are being shipped! People should have it in their hands well before Thanksgiving (in the US)!
The Gamemaster in the ALIEN RPG is called "Mother" which is a take on the mainframe computer system aboard most starships called MU/TH/UR. As Mother, it is the Gamemaster's responsibility to respond to the characters actions in a sort of "free form" adventure format that I find very refreshing.
Mother keeps the timeline moving forward and interject events as the players are making their way through the scenario. Rather than the "room-centric" approach most RPGs have (i.e. move into the room, read the text, respond, move to the next room), the ALIEN RPG presents the entirety of the ship as almost a sandbox that reacts not only to what the characters are doing, but also based upon the aforementioned events.
The ALIEN RPG itself is based upon the Mutant: Year Zero RPG engine that essentially uses a series of 6-sided dice to determine outcomes. Unlike other d6 games I have played, M:YZ only achieves a success on a 6 on the die - all other numbers are meaningless on base/action dice. On stress dice (see below) there is basically a 1 or a 6 printed on the die. More on that in a minute.
For best results, the goal for the players then is to stack as many d6s as possible to get that result they are looking for.
There are also two TYPES of dice needed to play - or as the example above states, two colors. Base (or we call them action) dice and stress dice. Stress occurs under several circumstances in game play. If someone opens up full-auto with a pulse rifle, for example, that causes stress. Seeing a mutilated corpse, hearings uncommon noises, seeing your own shadow - ok, not the last one, but suffice it to say it's easy to rack up stress in this game.
Stress can help you when you are attempting actions, but if you roll (what amounts to) a 1 on any die, you have triggered panic and the player must roll to see just how badly the character freaks out over events going on. This could be inconsequential or it could be permanent mental damage for the character. The table itself is quite broad and I like the approach the Fria Ligan folks took with stress. Having played the game now, it really adds a level of urgency that a Gamemaster would find hard to achieve in other RPGs.
Actions and Stunts
As mentioned above, actions only require one success in order to achieve the desired results. The player states what they would like to do and Mother lets them know which skill to use in order to accomplish it. Both the player and Mother are highly encouraged to be as descriptive as possible in order to help build the visual for everyone involved.
For those occasions where multiple successes are rolled, players earn stunts they can add on to the check itself. Stunts can range from simply doing the task much faster to showing off for your friends. It's a very cool mechanic that rewards high rolls without the constant need for higher and higher targets to hit as characters "advance" in level (as they would in a traditional d20-based game).
Not Always Complete Failure
Unless a character pushes a roll (see below), there is generally only one skill check made. If they do fail the roll, it doesn't always mean they've failed the task. Perhaps they were attempting to hold a door open for their friends and failed the strength check - it could be they take damage from the strain instead of the door just snapping shut.
That's not to say there is never all out failure, just that it does not have to be.
Pushing Your Roll
Not all is lost if at first you don't succeed. If a character fails their check, they can basically push themselves once to try again. In this fashion they re-roll any dice that were not successes, but doing so also gains the character a point of stress.
This Game is Deadly
As it should be, this game pulls no punches when it comes to suffering the consequences of ones actions. Characters have "hit points" or can suffer damage equal to their single-digit strength score. One of the characters in our game had a TWO strength. That's right - effectively two hit points before they suffered some sort of consequence.
Another mechanic that I truly love is also based upon taking damage. You don't die (immediately) when you reach 0 health. Instead, your character is "broken". You roll on the Critical Injury table to see what happens next. Your character may die, or they may just suffer stress...or just about anything in between.
For a character to get back on their feet (if they're not dead from the Critical Injury table), they must either rest or receive First Aid.
That's about it for right now. There is definitely more game to be played, but I wanted to offer at least a run-down of my first impressions and a brief overview of the mechanics of the game. It is very slick and (at least with the demo) very polished.
The game is very easy to pick up! Of the 6 of us (5 players and me as Mother), only 1 of us had ever played the M:YZ rules before. We had everyone up and running in just about 15 minutes. Character creation is quick (although we ran with the pre-gens in the demo) and there is zero complicated math when making checks. If you have a group that big on role-playing (like mine was) it makes for an extremely entertaining game!