One of the best campaigns I've run in the past decade [In My Humble Opinion] has to be my ALIEN FRONTIER game, played once a month over the course of seven months, beginning in 2019 and having its seventh session in the beginning of 2020. The grand finale, the eighth session, was supposed to be completed last year but it was interrupted and delayed by a global pandemic.
Frighteningly ironic as the campaign itself was about a dying Earth suffering from a ruined climate, environmental decay, a lack of resources, and yes, illness and disease run rampant.
Humanity and its homeworld were not without hope however. Orbiting the distant star of 18 Scorpii, 'above' a bleached, burning planet designated SA-2, the Smithsonian Institute Terran Revitalization Initiative - SITRI - had placed a Scientific Research and Survey Station to determine how it was that life had survived in the desert wastes of this forsaken world. If life could thrive here, perhaps it help secrets to adapting and repairing similar conditions on Earth.
Part of the team charged with determining this was Doctor David Myers. What he uncovered was more than he bargained for...
Character: Doctor David Myers
Player: Nicholas Kosky
System: ALIEN RPG
Campaign: ALIEN FRONTIER
Gamemaster: Adam Dickstein
Origins: For context, I did not originally introduce the ALIEN FRONTIER game as a game set in the ALIEN universe. Rather, I noted the information above on the condition of the Earth and the purpose of the SITRI Project and described it simply as a 'Dystopia, somewhat Cyberpunk setting; yet one with hope."
In regards to creating his character for THAT game, Nick recalls: "When you described the setting to us, I noticed that you hadn't said anything about aliens in the setting so I thought a first contact specialist could be an interesting character to play in a universe where humanity was still pushing the boundaries of space.
I decided to go with Archeology as a discipline because I guessed there was a better chance of us encountering alien ruins than aliens themselves. This is effectively how some 'Humans only' Sci-Fi settings like Altered Carbon and the Expanse (sort of ) handled it. Though I'll add that archeology was specifically on my mind because of Stellaris, a space opera strategy game I'd been playing, which had just released an expansion that added archeology sites to planets."
Basically, not knowing if aliens existed in the setting, Nick had made a character who hoped to find proof of aliens, the discovery of a lifetime and absolutely career changing. Little did he know...
Backstory: Directly from Nick: David Myers is a Canadian male in his early 30s of European Jewish ancestry. He holds a PhD in Archeology from McGill University and completed postdoctoral work at Tharsis University on Mars, excavating the early Human settlements on the planet. While on Mars, he got involved with a department of the Smithsonian that was establishing S&P for the discovery and excavation of hypothetical alien ruins (Basically, the proposed rules were designed to stop such ruins from being destroyed or looted before the SI could investigate. I doubt they were ever implemented as anything stricter than guidelines.). I had been thinking David's immediate prior posting was as part of a team sent to examine potential ruins discovered by a mining operation on a different world, but which had turned out to be natural formations.
David Myers was noticed and hand-picked for the SITRI Project on Frontier Station by Project Director Rebecca Jorden. After Myers and company discover a pyramid-like structure on the surface of SA-2 and find clear evidence of an extrasolar intelligence and civilization, the survey team also encounter a Xenomorph, an alien creature that was neither native to the planet nor distinctly a sentient life form.
All of this is revealed to Director Jorden who shares that her deepest fears have been realized. This is the real reason SA-2 and the 18 Scorpii system was chosen as the site of the SITRI Project. Jorden confides in the team and Myers in particular that she knows something of the Xenomorph they encountered and that's an understatement. She encountered a very similar entity as a child on Acheron, also known as LV-426. Rebecca Jorden is 'Newt' and things just got a whole lot more complicated.
Overview: I remember Myers is initially crushed by the knowledge that aliens exist and that Jorden, her small band of colleges and associates and elements of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation already know this. The chance to make first contact with the first alien intelligence Humanity has ever seen is lost as it has already occurred. At the same time, the mysterious pyramid structure was clearly not constructed by the Xenomorphs, now identified as XX-121. Nor was it constructed by the starfaring 'Space Jockeys', XX-120, another alien lifeform recorded in Jorden's secret database ("Oh come on!", exclaims a frustrated Myers. LOL).
As it turns out, Myers did discover something no one had before this, another starfaring extraterrestrial species possibly in conflict with the Space Jockeys that he dubbed 'The Thinkers'. The Xenomorph the group faced off against in the depths of the Thinker pyramid was a variant believed to have been genetically engineered by the Thinkers to fight the Space Jockeys and the standard XX-121 creatures.
One of my favorite sequences in the game was when our Security Chief, our Scout, and Myers get into a kind of armored jeep/off-road vehicle and drive toward this massive crater where they see two people wrestling at the cliff edge. When I say massive, I mean Australia-sized. They stop some distance away and then the Chief and Scout run over to get the two away from the lip before they fall in. Myers waits in the car.
While getting the two people to safety, the four of them are attacked by these armored worm/lamprey creatures. The Security Chief and Scout fight them off and eventually come up with a plan to distract them and run. Myers decides to get into the driver seat and drive the jeep closer to pick them up. "Do you have dice in Driving?", I ask Nick.
"I do not."
Nick manages to get lucky and pulls up a bit erratically as the other book for the car. Myers returns to the back seat as the Security Chief and Scout get into the front, the Chief driving. In the back with Myers are the two people who were fighting in the sand; a young woman who seems kind of scratched up and a somewhat wild-eyed man mumbling to himself. The man pulls out a gun. Nick says he wants to take the gun from the man. I ask him if he has Close Combat?
"I do not."
Doctor Myers fails his roll and also panics, flailing his hands around and yelling, "Gun! He's got a gun!" The Chief makes a hard right and then a left, banging the man's arm against the car door. As he winces in pain, the Scout turns, reaches into the backseat area and punches the guy if the face, knocking him out.
This is as much a highlight of Nick as it is Myers. Nick does what he feels his character who do as a person. Not as rules in a game or stats on a character sheet. Nick thinks of the person and the place and moment they're in and reacts accordingly and I love that.
The other great moment was when the players first realize they are in the ALIEN universe. Myers sees the technology of the alien pyramid's interior, if it can even be called technology, and says, "This is some kind of Weyland-Yutani facility". Now that wasn't really in-character. That was intended to be Nick saying that. However, the response from one of Jorden's assistants was, "Are you kidding? This is way beyond anything they have. Weyland-Yutani wishes they had tech like this. I'm sure they'd love to study it though." To which everyone stopped and looked at each other and me, "Wait...are you saying there IS a Weyland-Yutani in this setting?"
"Of course. This is ALIEN." Priceless.
Legacy: The campaign isn't over! We ended on a massive cliffhanger with one session to go, the grand finale yet unrealized! I can't wait to see what happens...
Game Info: Here is Dr. Myers' character sheet from the campaign.
Like my Red Dwarf game, I added the idea of Specialties to this campaign. If David Myers performs an action directed related to First Contact - communicating with or understanding the culture and/or language of an extrasolar intelligence, he adds one Action Die to his Dice Pool for the appropriate roll.
The Talent REVEAL is similar to the Scientist Talent ANALYSIS, found on Page 77 of the ALIEN RPG Core Rulebook. The difference is, by assembling information, observations, and notes on things already encountered, REVEAL allows you to ask the GM a question regarding the nature or connection the data has to each other or to the mystery at hand.
More simply, ANALYSIS can be used to look at something alien or strange and get insight. REVEAL lets you take several ANALYSIS instances and find out how they are or aren't connected.
Well alright, this has been fun so far and we're just getting started. Next up, we go from Frontier Station in the future to the North American Frontier of late 19th century Michigan! Strange things are going on in the woods and logging camps of the Great Lakes Region and only 'DUSTY' DIBBS can get to the bottom of it!