REVIEW: ALIEN RPG: Destroyer of Worlds (physical game)

REVIEW: ALIEN RPG: Destroyer of Worlds (physical game)

I have become death

Released: DriveThruRPG
Free League
Genre: Tabletop RPG
Developer: Free League Publishing
Publisher: Free League Publishing
Release date: 10 July, 2020

Destroyer of Worlds is the first standalone adventure released for the Alien RPG sees a group of Colonial Marines try to find a group of defectors carrying something very valuable before the colony is invaded. Time is ticking!

Unlike pretty much every other adventure and expansion for any other RPG out there this one can be played using the starter set, you don’t need the core rulebook for it, though if you don’t have the starter set but own the core rulebook then this is fully playable with that as well. Any rules necessary from the core rulebook that’s missing from the starter set can be found in the adventure itself. It’s a standalone adventure that does not tie in with anything else that’s been released thus far, and assumes that you’ll be using the pre written characters that it comes with.

This is a review for an adventure, and so will contain spoilers. If you’re interested in running this adventure for your group and want to find out if it’s any good or not, and what issues it might have then go on reading, but if you’re a player then stop reading now, or you’ll ruin all the surprises. You’ve been warned!

What’s in the Box?

Destroyer of Worlds comes in a slim box that’s too small for its own good, because it’s packed with stuff. The most important of which is an 88 page soft cover book that’s similar to the rulebook in the starter set. The print quality in the book is great, and despite being a softcover book it feels pretty sturdy.

Apart from the book there are also seven character sheets, one for each player character that the players can choose from at the start of the adventure, a large double sided map where one side shows the colony the adventure takes place on and the other shows the internals of the USCM fort and player-facing maps of all the major locations, split between two roughly A3 sized sheets, both of which have several location maps on them, printed on thick paper. Finally there’s a deck of cards printed on somewhat flimsy cardstock with the personal agendas for all the player characters, as well as major NPCs, vehicles, new weapons and a few special events. There’s in other words a lot in this box.

The Story & Events

It all started as a simple man hunt. Four marines have gone AWOL on a small moon colony called Ariarcus located near UPP space. This colony was once prosperous, but with there being an immediate risk of invasion from the UPP it’s been decided that the colony needs to be evacuated and its valuable resource, oil, has been ruined, so that the invaders won’t gain anything from taking the colony. On the colony are insurgents, people who are unhappy the United Americas claiming what they view as rightfully theirs, and now that a scorched earth strategy is being employed some are beginning to view the UPP as their saviours. Now it’s important that the missing marines are found, before they’re able to hand themselves over to the insurgents and the UPP.

Similarly to Chariot of the Gods before it Destroyer of Worlds is split into three acts. The first act has the players travel through the colony, visiting several important locations six of which are listed in the book. The second act sees war come to Ariarcus. The UPP are invading and fighting is happening all around the city. The players now need to make their way back to the USCM base and help repel the invaders. Act three is where things get complicated though. A third actor enters the fray, and bombs the colony with the black goo, seen in Prometheus and Covenant, and now the players need to find a way off the colony. The only way out is through the USCM fort and up a space elevator, but during all the fighting something far worse managed to escape from the bottom floor of the base.

Each act has a number of events that can happen whenever the GM thinks they would fit in and make narrative sense. Some of them are mandatory to move the story forward, but most of them are optional, and are mostly meant to add flavour and some additional challenges for the players to overcome.

This is an adventure where a lot of things will be happening around the players, that are outside their control. They can’t prevent the UPP from invading, or preventing the colony from being wiped out. They just need to find a way out of this very bad situation. This means that the players don’t have a lot of say over the overarching story, but most events give them room for coming up with their own plans, and most of them are written in a way that explains what’s happening now, and then how things are concluded is up to the players and the GM.

The Colony

Ariarcus was established roughly 100 years ago on an icy moon and grew to become one of the more prosperous colonies out there, thanks to a large oil reserve. Unlike other colonies where people were barely scraping by the people of Ariarcus were able to grow rich, even earn their freedom from Weyland-Yutani. About 80 years ago the colony became a part of the United Americas and were given a fare bit of autonomy, but when the colony recently started selling their valuable goods to the UPP the United Americas moved in and seized the colony, placing the previous government under arrest.

People were understandably unhappy about the United Americas claiming what they viewed as theirs, and the colony quickly went into decline. Once rich it’s now a shadow of its former self, and most of the colonists chose to leave the colony instead of working under what they viewed as a tyrannical overlord. And now the United Americas, worried that the UPP might claim the colony and all its riches for themselves have released a bacteria that’s able to destroy all the oil reserves on the moon, thus making the colony worthless.

It’s in this colony that the UCSM and Weyland-Yutani has chosen to conduct weapons research. In the lowest level of Fort Nebraska, located in the center of the colony, they’ve been looking into weaponizing an alien organism, in the hope to gain the upper hand in the coming conflicts.

A large map of the colony is included in the adventure and several important locations, like the hospital, police station and a bar are listed in the book. Each of these locations have descriptions both for act 1 and act 2, though the adventure is written with the assumption that players will mostly visit these places during act 1. During act 1 these locations will be where the players will find out where the four AWOLs are, and while it’s not strictly necessary to visit all of them, the players are likely to see most of them.

The Player Characters

There are seven player characters included in the adventure that all come with a short backstory that explains who they are and why they’re there. Six of them are humans, and the 7th is openly an android. These characters are not a well oiled team who have worked together for a long time, instead they’re a disparate group, most of whom have been on the way to the frontlines, but were pulled from their companies when stopping by the system in order to track down the AWOLs.

All of these characters have their own quirks, and some of those quirks are so bad that you have to ask yourself how they’re allowed to even serve in the military, as any reasonable commander would not want them there (“Hammer” being particularly questionable). They also come with their own personal agendas, one per act, which may not always be the most sensible thing to do, but can create some tension within the group. One of the characters is also not long for this world, as she already has a xenomorph inside her, and if she’s able to survive until act three it might burst out.

The characters are also well equipped. They are after all part of the USCM and on an important mission, so they are able to get high end gear. There are two smartgun operators in the team, and that in itself should give an idea of how well equipped they are. Not only that, but they’re given an M577 Armored Personnel Carrier, that’s the APC from Aliens (the one with next to no ground clearance), which is not only really fast (max speed 150km/h) but has a plasma cannon.

The Foes

There’s a lot of different factions vying for control over Ariarcus. During act 1 it will be the insurgency members, who are just regular humans and not a big threat to a group of trained marines. Act 1 does not even have to have much fighting, depending on the actions of the players, apart from right at the end. Act 2 sees the UPP and its soldiers as the main opponents. They’re better equipped than the insurgents, having armored vehicles, combat androids and dropships at their disposal. Act 3 sees the xenomorphs break free and now the players need to find their way through a xenomorph infested base. This is also where we see the Anathema. The Anathema are people who were infected by the black goo, and are similar to the Abominations, though more virulent in nature. Think the difference between the active zombies in the Dawn of the Dead remake compared to the slow shambling ones in the original, mixed in with a greater ability to infect others and a far shorter lifespan.

In the book you find rules for the xenomorphs which are identical to the ones in the core rulebook. If all you’ve got is the starter set this is necessary to run the adventure. The Anathema are new though, and pretty nasty.

A Few Things to Watch Out for

With an adventure this dense there’s a lot of things to keep track of as a GM. The first act in particular can be pretty demanding as you need to introduce the colony, all the important characters, hint at the motivations of the higher ups and so on, while at the same time leading the players through a manhunt. An inexperienced GM is likely to feel overwhelmed by this.

Act 1 can also end up begin pretty long. If the players visit every location available, particularly if they miss a few hints along the way, there’s a risk of act 1 dragging on for longer than it should. Act 2 and 3 don’t suffer from this issue, and if anything act 2 might end up being too short if the adventure is played as written, as the players can just zip past a lot of obstacles in their APC that has an insanely high top speed. The estimate at the back of the box of “expect at least three sessions” is under-selling the length of the adventure. Act 2 can reasonably be done in one session, but act 1 & 3 will each take longer, with act 1 probably taking three, maybe even four sessions, and act 3 taking two to three sessions.

Speaking of the APC, it feels like the writers did not quite consider the capabilities of this thing, or at least assumed that the players would not use them. As mentioned earlier, the thing has a top speed of 150km/h, and it’s pretty heavily armoured, so it’s hard to stop it, and no reasonable person would try to get in the way of this thing. It also has a plasma cannon and a heavy machinegun, which might not put it on the same level as a tank, but it means that it’s incredibly dangerous to be near. So unless the APC gets disabled somehow the players can get pretty much anywhere in the city in no time. This also means that any events out in the city will need to be played in a location where the players stop anyway. it might be better to just give the players a lighter and not quite as fast vehicle instead, as that would open up for more possibilities of things happening when traveling.

There are also probably too many different actors. The USCM, Weyland-Yutani, the insurgents, the UPP, whoever drops the black goo on the colony and the xenomorphs, all with their own agendas. A bit of restraints would have been nice here, maybe if the adventure had dropped the UPP and played up the insurgents or something along those lines. But as it’s written it’s pretty hard to remove any part without it having a major impact on the adventure.

Layout & Art

The art in Destroyer of Worlds is, much like the base game, excellent, but there’s a lot of recycled art that can also be found in the core rulebook. The maps in it, of which there are many, are easy to read and use during play.

The layout of the book necessitate a lot of flipping between pages during play. This is an effect of the events, which can happen whenever the GM wants them to happen, and the individual locations having their own sections. There’s probably no perfect solution for how to handle something like this, but keeping the events in one place was the right choice, even if it means that you need to flip back & forth between where they are and the location.

The Roll20 Module

Destroyer of Worlds has a Roll20 module (as well as a Foundry model, but that’s not been tested), and it’s somewhat of a mixed bag. It’s nice to have all the maps available, and everything that comes in the deck have been made into cards in Roll20 that can be handed out to the players. There’s also a sheet of tokens that can be used to show things on the map and several of the pictures from the book are in a format that’s easy to share with the players.

There are some downsides though. The first one is that any NPC cards are not double-sided. In the physical deck of cards each card has the picture of that NPC on one side, and their stats on the other. This makes it easy to show the players the pictures of the AWOLs. Sadly both the picture and the stats are on the same side in the Roll20 module, and one of the AWOLs is dead (something the players don’t know about until they find him), which means that he’s not got a character sheet. You can show the players pictures from character sheets, but with poor Reese that’s impossible.

One of the marines, Gunnery Sergeant Mason, is also missing her equipment. She’s supposed to have an M41A Pulse Rifle, a M3 Personnel Armor, a CBRN Detector, an M240 Incinerator Unit, a Grenade Launcher, a Pistol and a combat knife. All her weapons are viewable, but not in her equipment list, and the CBRN detector is completely missing.

Closing Thoughts

Destroyer of Worlds is a tough adventure to run, particularly the first act of it. In the hands of an inexperienced one it might get a quite messy. There are a lot of moving parts to keep track of, and a lot of things the players need to be made aware of early on for later parts to make sense and not feel arbitrary.

But in the hands of an experience game master this adventure can be a blast. There’s a lot to like here, and the structure of the adventure does allow for a fare bit of player ingenuity. While the players might not have much say over the overall story, their actions do have consequences, both in the short and long-term. The GM just needs to be able to adapt to the plans that the players come up, and be willing to let them try. If you’re feeling confident in your GMing skills, and you like the idea of seeing how your players are able to handle a xenomorph outbreak in a doomed colony that’s not on LV-426, then Destroyer of Worlds is well worth a shot. It’s also nice to see a module that expands on the ongoing conflict between the UPP and the UA, it helps make the Alien universe feel larger and more alive.

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July 2021

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