Tuesday, January 16, 2024

“Building Better Worlds” Module Provides ‘Alien RPG’ With a Mysterious and Thrilling New Campaign [Review]

It’s been four years since Free League released their tabletop RPG adaptation of the Alien universe. Since then, they’ve been supporting the game with various book releases for the game’s two modes. There have been three books for cinematic mode, which provides the players pre-written characters with secret agendas to run through more focused scenarios, and one book in the game’s campaign mode, which allows players to create their own characters and run them through a more freeform narrative. The newly-released Building Better Worlds is in the latter category, providing a brand new campaign alongside rules focused on setting up your own space colonies.

The focus on space exploration and colony survival immediately set a unique vibe for the book. The previous campaign book, Colonial Marines Operation Manual, obviously focused more on action-oriented story, but this one looks to cast you as explorers seeking new worlds for humanity to continue to settle among the stars. The first half of the book focuses on providing new classes, gear, and creatures, in addition to an in-depth history of corporations, politics, and planets, while the second half outlines the new campaign narrative in detail.

The history section of the book fell a bit flat for me. To me, part of the appeal of the Aliens franchise was that they could drop you into any time period of the universe and tell a satisfying story without having to give you a big lesson on all the history that led to that point. Having timelines spelled out for me robs it of that feeling of economical world building, and on top of that, the history laid out isn’t anything terribly unique or interesting. A lot of the corporations feel a bit interchangeable, and the political groups never seem particularly compelling in motivation or method. It’s mostly written very matter of factly, but every once in a while there’s some attempts at attitude or personality thrown in that doesn’t seem to properly gel. While some liveliness does help spice up the reading process, it can make the book feel slightly less cohesive overall. That being said, it’s very easy to just skim through this section to see if you can find any ideas that spark your creativity and just move on.

The additional gear, vehicles and classes do more to add to the game, filling in some details that you may need to focus your campaign on colonial exploration and settlement. Again, these pieces of
information may not be the most exciting, but they can provide you the mechanical means to explore the stars with new spaceships and hazard suits. The two new classes do a good job of distinguishing themselves from the ones originally included with the book, while also justifying their inclusion in a space colony setting. The Wildercatter is a prospector that’s focused on exploring new lands for resources, while the Entertainer has skills focused on keeping the people of the colony happy, even in the dangerous frontier. In addition to the new classes, there are also new talents that can be used to expand the scope of the classes from the base game.

The species catalog, as the book calls it, includes some more creatures to add to the universe of the game, mostly related to the Prometheus branch of the films. There’s plenty of new monsters related to the black pathogen seen in the film, detailing the various stages of infection that players can go through and the abominations that they can become. Only two of the species included are new Xenomorph variants, so if you’re hoping for more variants of your favorite alien, you might find it a bit lacking. While a lot of the new creatures are interesting from a mechanics standpoint, I feel like this section could use more art to help you visualize the beasts without having to go back to the films. The images in the book are moody and evocative, so it’s a bummer that we don’t get more of it in the section that could use it the most.

The real meat of the book, and the part that I found extremely compelling, is the second half of the book that lays out the campaign titled “The Lost Worlds.” This story throws you into an ambitious frontier mission in search of a series of colonies that were lost nearly a century ago, while also trying to set up new settlements in the sector. It’s a sandbox-style campaign that allows the players to choose where the action takes them, funnelling them into a series of specific expeditions that will give them clues to an overarching story about a terrible threat that’s taken up residence in this corner of space.

The book quickly and effectively gives you the parts of history that will be useful for defining the stakes of the campaign, along with the relevant factions and NPCs that you’ll be interacting with. There’s information about all the planets that you’ll have at your fingertips, as well as some structural rules about downtime and survival. After that efficient intro section, they begin laying out the seven expeditions that will make up the campaign.

Throughout the course of The Lost Worlds, you’ll play through six expeditions, which can be done in any order, that will lead to a climatic seventh that brings the story to a thrilling conclusion. Each of these missions will give you a specific clue to what’s going on, allowing players to naturally move themselves towards that final confrontation. What’s complicated about running an Alien campaign is that the game would start to lose its shine if you ran into a Xenomorph every session. The book smartly provides other vectors of conflict, ranging from treacherous jungles with feral humans to cultists serving mysterious alien beings. When Xenomorphs do show up, they are either used in moderation to increase the stakes or are the omnipresent focus of the expedition. Needless to say, many of these planets you’ll explore feature ancient ruins of the Engineers, which help build a picture of the overall universe in addition to the narrative being told.

All my experience with the Alien RPG prior to this has been running one-shots using the Cinematic Mode, but after reading Building Better Worlds, it’s easy to see how the game works in a campaign format. Each of the expeditions are narratively interesting with multiple ways for players to navigate the plot, providing a great framework for a long running story. I know a lot of people come to expansion books like this for the additional lore or gear, but that part of the book just wasn’t as engaging to me as the campaign material and felt like it could use more substance. That being said, the campaign material alone makes this a worthwhile purchase. If you’ve enjoyed the Alien RPG in the past, or if you’ve had the book for a while but just never found the creative spark to structure a full campaign, Building Better Worlds will give you the tools to run a satisfying ongoing story that’s full of exciting moments while leaving space for player agency.

Alien: The Roleplaying Game and the “Building Better Worlds” Campaign Module are available to purchase from Free League Publishing.

The post “Building Better Worlds” Module Provides ‘Alien RPG’ With a Mysterious and Thrilling New Campaign [Review] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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