I ran Free League’s Alien roleplaying game’s starter set “cinematic adventure” Chariot Of The Gods over three sessions in early winter 2023. This is a report of how it went down, what worked, and what I would advise other Game Mothers to do or be wary of.
The short of it: this is a great adventure that captures and delivers the feel of the original Alien movie. I intend to run it again, exactly the same way, to a different group, and expect it to go down really well.
Obvious: spoilers for Chariot Of The Gods start right here.
We played the game over three sessions, one Act per session. I omitted the last twist of the story, the arrival of the privateer space ship, for pacing and time considerations, as proposed in the adventure itself, and pointed out by many others who have run the scenario.
I had four players. Four feels ideal for the game, especially with the amount of player versus player action in the later Acts, which requires enough room at the table. Ultimately, three player characters made it out, and most of them were from the original crew of the USCSS Montero, which was unexpected.
There was plenty of gory, unfair violence. Players lucked out on dice and avoided several character deaths, but we did lose three player characters along the way.
The adventure is written to include potentially lots of player versus player interaction, including combat and quite likely character death. This is indeed the case, but as long as your players sign up for it, it’ll be great.
The violence in this game is not nice. It is not meant to be feel good entertainment. The situations are nasty and often (always) unfair. Players should be warned about this: even if you do everything “right”, you may end up dead.
There are a lot of NPCs. I printed out the jumbo sized character cards from the PDF and laminated them – allowing them to be spread on the table for easy reference, and making it very straightforward to just give one to a player without a character.
There are a lot of locations. Turns out you don’t really need to know them by heart – just read the descriptions as you go. There are a few special places you’ll want to be able to place, as they’re important to NPCs and events, like the med lab, bridge, sci labs, and corporate suite.
There are a lot of events. I had concerns about having to navigate them, deciding on the fly which ones to run, and getting anxiety about forgetting something important in the midst of it all. Ultimately I just ran them one by one, in the order they’re written. It worked so well! I only skipped the arrival of the privateer ship, as it wasn’t really needed, and we would’ve run out of time.
Observations & tips
The Agencies that are refreshed in each Act, three in total, are great. They give players something character centric to focus on, and when the party gets split and there’s a bit of waiting for your turn, they have a lot more on their mind. They bring wonderful mini arcs for each player, and allow multiple unseen tensions to build – making the game more suspenseful and meaningful to the players.
I used fan-made “banter cards” to help set the scene in the first Act. They were great, and I strongly recommend anyone running this to use them to help players get into the shoes of the pregenerated characters.
Tracking air was great! The players were never in real danger of running out, and the point of tracking air is to force them be exposed to the Draconis Strain on the ship.
We had a few scenes where NPCs were doing something off-screen that had a direct effect on the player characters’ fortunes. In these situations I played them myself, with very fast cuts to save time, and made a few important rolls in the open to build tension. A xenomorph ended up killing an important NPC on the hull, doing repairs on the ship’s antenna.
I made all monster rolls in the open, explaining what I was doing. “I am rolling twelve dice. If even one of these comes up a six, you’re dead.” Incredibly, the players survived multiple situations like this! But they worked nonetheless, as the tension was so clear to everyone. And even the non-immediately fatal outcomes were terrifying enough, with limbs detaching from bodies and android heads getting thrown around.
The map laid out on the table is a must. Let your players manage the counters! It gives them agency and gets buy-in, making them study the blueprint. Flipping the map to reveal the USCSS Cronus once they board is a wonderful moment in the first Act. You won’t need to nudge them to use the motion tracker – they want to play with the markers.