Wednesday, June 26, 2019

What's The Story Mother?

In case you didn't get the memo, I'm a big fan of the Alien franchise. 

The truth of the matter is that I am a massive fan of the first two films, the Alien: Isolation computer game, and what I see as the untapped potential of the universe that surrounds these offerings. 

I don't have much love for Alien 3 and Resurrection and I really didn't like either of the prequel films. REALLY didn't like them.

I've mentioned in previous posts that Alien and Aliens, like Blade Runner, Star Wars, and a number of other films, heavily impacted me creatively as a kid. For 30 some odd years now I've wanted to run an Alien Universe RPG campaign and never have. It's very rare for me to want to run something and just not get to. With the announcement of Free League's upcoming licensed game it's become all I can think about. It's practically an ache. 

I pre-ordered the game and a few weeks ago received the Cinematic Starter Kit. My mind immediately went into overdrive trying to learn the system and figure out how best to use it. What kind of stories could I tell? What does my interpretation of the Alien Universe look and feel like. How do the rules provided relate to all of that?

After absorbing the game to the point where I felt comfortable with it's mechanics, I listened to a bunch of actual play podcasts to get different perspectives on how to run a scenario and how players may react to the setting and story elements. 

Then I made the mistake of trying to run it myself.

First, I organized three separate get togethers with friends to try the game and not a one came to pass. Scheduling issues were the cause but I got this odd feeling in the back of my neck that this may not be as easy to arrange as I thought. 

I had an opening to run it with one of my regular groups that meets every Friday night. One of the regulars would be out so a one-shot, fill-in game was called for. I actually had two separate and distinctly different inspirations hit me so I said, "OK guys, how about either Aliens or Pokemon?"

One guy said Aliens, one guy said either but he'd love to play a Pokemon RPG, and the last guy...the last guy...he said he didn't know anything about Pokemon and then proceeded to basically crap all over the idea of running an Aliens game. 

Now this guy...he's a nice guy and a good friend but if there is anyone I game with at present who approaches games significantly differently from how I do it's him. In this particular instance his negativity just put me over the edge and I just cancelled the session. 

About a week later we talked it over and he gave it a try. After all of that I finally got to run my own homebrewed scenario last Friday night. It went OK but not great and indeed there were issues on both the player and GM sides of the table.

For my part, I didn't introduce it or pace it properly. I let things develop as I would the first session of a campaign, a bit of a slow burn to give the players the chance to get to know their characters, each other, and the setting. I should've gotten to the action and danger much sooner and more quickly. 

Let me be clear, the reason I should've gotten to the exciting parts more quickly are based largely on the time crunch and the players I had. I wanted to run this as a single, 4-5 hour session, not a multi-parter like the scenario that comes with the Cinematic Starter Kit. I really didn't have the time to waste on extensive role-playing.

Second, more time to think with this group is a bad thing. They tend to either get distracted from the main story, hyper-focused on some minor side issue, or overthink and overplan. I know this. I've been gaming with them for years now. I should've been ready.

The other reason it didn't work is that one fellow was trying really hard to play his character, a guy in this universe going about his job unaware of the existence of the Xenomorphs while another player - that aforementioned fellow who dumped on the idea initially - could not get any more meta-aware of being in a one-shot, horror game based on Alien if he tried. He didn't want the first fellow wasting time doing some of his character's engineering shtick because by X time we should be seeing Eggs, by Y there are Chestbursters, and by the last act a Big Chap Alien should have killed most of us.

The guy trying to embrace the game wasn't completely free of responsibility for the mess either though. The player of said character games by way of paranoia, convinced that if he doesn't cross all his T's and dot all his I's the GM (whomever it may be) will screw his character. This is not helped by meta-guy who often says that is the proper way to do things. So, paranoia guy plays all his characters as super-OCD. Why fix a problem when you could spend valuable game time fixing it twice, the next way being more clever and of course thorough than the previous approach. 

It all made my heart and head hurt.

So the initial attempt to run a game I'd been waiting three decades for turned out to be nothing more than a mediocre-to-meh sci-fi session with a well know pop-culture creature. Exactly what I didn't want it to be. 

Barking Alien

1 comment:

  1. Hunh. I was a big fan of the comic book series when it was more serialized and less "Aliens meet Sherlock Holmes" or whatnot. I'm curious about this.