It’s Okay to be a Horror Character

On the afternoon of Saturday, February 29th, I ran A L I E N: The Roleplaying Game for four mates. I game mastered the “Hope’s Last Day” cinematic scenario in the back of the core rulebook, and am glad to report we all had fun!

I did notice, though a tendency for the players to pore over the map, evaluating the best route based on the signal they were picking up on their motion tracker. While it’s an understandable impulse, it tended to take them out of the moment and remove precious minutes form the limited time we had for the session (we were playing at the Wicked Goblin, which closed at six PM, and started shortly before three).

If I ran it again, I’d probably do a quick thing up front saying:

It’s tempting to sit and discuss everything in front of you. The map is big and complex, the character sheets give you several options and you want to avoid taking risks. We all want to prove that we’re smarter than those idiot protagonists in horror movies – and, more importantly, you, as the players, don’t want to get booted out of the game by character death.

On the first point, though, we tend to forget that getting so wound up when those twits make clearly bad decisions is a big part of what makes these movies so entertaining. The good movies, like Alien, show us the lead characters’ flaws and weaknesses from the beginning and then pour the pressure on from more than just one source until they crack.

“How long has it been since you got any sleep? Twenty-four hours?”

Hicks, Aliens

And on the second point: Don’t worry. I’ve brought spares.

So, relax in the nigh-certainty that your character is going to die and that it won’t take you out of the game for long. You’ll find you’re freed up to make for both yourself and each other a cinematic experience worthy of the movies.

  • Have your characters walk though the doors you’re screaming at them not to open.
  • When you find yourself sitting back and analysing the situation, take a chance on the unknown.
  • If you’re calmly discussing options with another player, have your character get emotionally involved and start a shouting (or worse) match with the other character’s player (think Hudson and Hicks while trying to work out how to get off planet after Bishop identified that they had four hours until the processor melted down).
  • As long as you’re not explicitly trying to mess with your fellow players, “What would my character do?” is a valid question to answer, especially if you come up with something dumb or even underhanded that still fits with the character’s nature and agenda.
  • And when your character’s time comes, go out big. Dig straight into your agenda. Give your character the kicking, screaming, fruitless fight, or the gape-mouthed paralysis with horror as the monster takes them, or even the sad, “I want to keep living but not at the cost of you all” sacrifice, sealing themselves on the wrong side of the hatch, that they’ve earned after making is this far.

This is only one session, so make these precious three to four hours the fun you know you want to have.