Roll20 is a great resource for people who want to enjoy a tabletop roleplaying game session but cannot physically get together with their fellow hobbyists. It’s a virtual tabletop application that allows players to roll virtual dice and even manage most of the numerical aspects of some game rule sets, like Dungeons & Dragons, entirely within it.
That said, it does require some work to set up, particularly for game rule sets that aren’t as popular. While I’ve dabbled with Roll20 for a while, it took wanting to run “Hope’s Last Day,” the scenario presented in the back of the rule book for Free League Publishing’s ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game, to get me to delve into some of the deeper technical aspects of Roll20.
Given how popular ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game has become in the RPG hobby, I have no doubt there are others looking at the same challenges, especially as someone has already created a character sheet for the game in Roll20. The following is the result of some questions from gamers in an unofficial Facebook fan group for the game; I intend it to help fellow Game Mothers entertain their players as smoothly as possible with an experience that has all the tension of the Alien films.
I’m putting these up front so that you can have all the ingredients necessary to get both Hope’s Last Day and ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game in general ready to play in Roll20 or your virtual tabletop of choice:
Fria Ligan / Free League’s website has two sets of resources that will come greatly in handy:
- The Downloads page for ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game, which includes the map for Hadley’s Hope as a PDF, both in full colour and printer-friendly format.
- The Online Resources page for Fria Ligan’s games, which includes a zip file the character portraits for the Hadley’s Hope PCs and headshots of the other characters that appear in the book as artwork (although only one of an Alien), as well as a Roll-20-compatible character sheet.
NOTE: Some wonderful person has spared us the work of uploading it ourselves; you can already select the sheet for your campaign from the list of available character sheets in Roll20 (see below for more information).
A lovely little ZIP file of PDFs called Hope’s Last Day – Complete GM Resource, by ALIEN RPG fan Josh Kramer, including sets of item and initiative cards. Josh shared this fantastic package in the unofficial Facebook group for the ALIEN RPG, but I’m also sharing it here.
(If you’re playing off-line, it also includes a natty set of character and agenda sheets, which I’ve printed out and put in Manila folders for. They look great.)
TokenTool is a lovely piece of freeware that allows quick and easy creation of token-style graphics for platforms like Roll20.
GIMP is an open source, freeware graphics programme intended as an alternative to Photoshop. My notes assume some familiarity with GIMP’s functions for layers and resizing; thankfully, you should be able to pick these up with a little Googling.
Creating the Game in Roll20
Setting a new game up in Roll20 is easy. There’s no entry yet for ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game, so I set it as a Mutant: Year Zero game as both games use the Year Zero Engine as a rule base. This has minimal impact on the game itself; it mostly matters for search-ability if you’re making the game public.
One step I recommend you take, whether during set-up or later, is to select the “Aliens” character sheet under the “Year Zero Engine” heading in the Character Sheet Template list; this will set the above-mentioned pre-created Alien character sheet into the game.
Its main benefit is that it includes macros for the Alien implementation of the Year Zero dice system; clicking on any of the skills will give you a die roll showing successes on Base Dice and will automatically include your character’s current Stress Dice.
The only option it offers for re-rolling only failed dice on a push is using the “Base Dice” and “Stress Dice” functions on the sheet manually, but it’s still a very handy implementation.
Importing the Maps
This was the first challenge. I wanted to ensure that I could get the maps of Hadley’s Hope into Roll20 such that character tokens could be placed on them meaningfully.
GIMP allows for imports of PDFs; the trick was running the import at a size that would translate well into Roll20. After some fiddling, I imported each page of the Hadley’s Hope map file at a width of 6,000 pixels. I selected the maps in a rectangular selection whilst leaving as much of the rest of the page off as I could, then exported each as a JPEG at 90% quality (this kept the file size under three megabytes per map, which was vital to uploading to Roll20).
After that, I created a separate map in Roll20 for each of the levels of Hadley’s Hope and dropped each JPEG into each map. I configured the maps with a cell width of 35 pixels and a per-cell width of two meters. I eyeballed the scaling based on the 5×5 metre square at the top of each map; it may not be exact, but the Alien movies have always played fast and loose with the details.
(Also, though it’s not visible in the screen shots, I changed the grid lines colour to bright green to fit in with the map theme.)
Character Sheets and Tokens
Once the character sheet was loaded, setting the characters up was mostly a matter of copying the relevant blocks of text into the Bio & Info sections and entering the stats on the character sheet itself.
Half of the most work was using the snipping tool on the character portraits for import into the character sheets’ bio sections and turning into tokens, but the good news is, thanks to the above-mentioned token graphics pack available on the Fria Ligan online resources page, you don’t even need to do that; the character portraits are ready to go and already the correct size to go in the bios.
Thanks to TokenTool, turning them into tokens is easy; you can drop the portrait files directly into it, set the token up and then save. The hardest part is deciding which token borders to use.
The other half of the most work was hitting Google for decent graphics of the Aliens. The tokens pack from Fria Ligan only gives the one Drone pic (well, two, but it’s the same picture flipped horizontally) and (spoilers) as there’s more than one Drone in the game and having more than one appear at a time might occur (though woe to the players if such happens), I wanted to have a separate graphic for each (as well as a separate character sheet).
There are other images of the Drone in the book, but I wound up sourcing images mostly from Alien: Isolation; it’s a bloody brilliant game that I can’t recommend highly enough and its rendering of the Drone is fantastic. I also needed images of a Runner and a Facehugger, neither of which appear explicitly in the book; I used an image of a toy (or sculpture?) of the Runner and a piece of fan art for the Facehugger.
Finally, there was whipping up a “motion tracker ping” token. Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to whip one up myself using the airbrush tool in GIMP. I tried to create it as a transparency, but Roll20 didn’t like it for some reason (maybe I exported it wrong) so I turned it into a token instead, which I present for your use.
Once I had the tokens ready, it was a simple matter of dropping them onto the maps and assigning them to their corresponding character sheets (with the xenomorphs and NPCs in the GM Info layer, of course, until the players encounter them).
Importing the Gear Cards
I started out doing these as manual snips from the book, but Josh Kramer’s awesome pack features cards for all the necessary kit. They’re all on the one page, but snip-and-save with the Windows snipping tool was no problem.
As of this writing, there is one issue with the Incinerator Unit card, which includes the book’s art for the sniper rifle; thankfully, snipping the incinerator out of the rulebook and inserting into the card via GIMP was a quick fix.
Setting Initiative Up
ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game uses a unique set of rules to govern initiative. Ten cards, numbered from one to ten, determine who goes when in a turn; while you can use playing cards for this, the orientation of the card can be used to determine which of the character’s actions (one fast and one slow) have been used in the turn (it’s possible to burn one or both of them as a reaction before or after your actual turn).
Enabling management of initiative in Roll20 wound up being the most fiddly bit of the process, not just for importing the card graphics, but also for working out just how to combine initiative in the turn order with giving everyone their own card so they can track fast and slow actions.
Importing the Initiative cards
Once again, Josh Kramer’s Hope’s Last Day downloadable saved me from trying to slap my own cards together; I went through it using the Windows Snipping Tool to create ten separate PNG files of each card.
The trick is that Roll20 recommends the graphics be identically sized, and to include an identical card back. GIMP was the saviour here; I was able to adjust the sizing of each manually-snipped card to an identical 400 pixels wide by 561 high (if a card wound up vertically short, I simply added a layer of white and moved it to the bottom).
I also created a custom backing of the same size, presented here for your use.
Setting the deck up
I created a new deck in Hope’s Last Day’s collection named Alien: Initiative, with the following properties:
I found that even setting “Cards in deck are infinite” as off wound up some initiative cards being dealt twice.
Once done, I uploaded the card fronts and back, naming the cards with their facing number only.
Using the deck
Deploying the deck is a little fiddly.
When the round starts, I select all the tokens in the combat and choose “Add Turn” from the right click menu.
- If a token has a Speed of 2 or more, I select that token alone and right-click Add Turn until it appears in the order as many times as its Speed rating (you’ll need to make sure you have different tokens for each particular Alien you have in a scene so you can tell which one is acting when).
- I then show the Initiative deck and select Deal, then “Deal cards to turn order items”. This gives each token in the combat a value; I then click on the blue “Settings” button and select “Sort Options – Numerically – Ascending” to get them in the right order.
- After that, I select “Choose” in the Deck options and drag-and-drop the cards for my characters into the map. The players can do the same.
The cards then appear as tokens which can be turned to show which action, if any, is remaining.
How well does it work?
I will admit, I’m still yet to run a group of players through Hope’s Last Day using this implementation (I have a test run scheduled a week from this post’s date). I’m also curious to see whether a team finds manual re-rolls due to pushing (at least, not ones where we’re re-rolling everything) annoying.
So, if you give it a try, I’d love to read how you found it! Were you able to shorted the set-up process further? Did you discover any other tips that helped you give your players a solid ALIEN experience?