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Sunday, 13 June 2021

Elevator Straight From Hell

Destroyer of Worlds is a scenario for Alien: The Roleplaying Game. Like Chariot of the Gods—also available in the Alien: The Roleplaying Game Starter Set, it shares the same mode of play, but differs in terms of its campaign model. Thus, it is written for the roleplaying game’s Cinematic mode, and so is designed to emulate the drama of a film set within the Alien universe, emphasising high stakes situations, faster, more brutal play, and deadly encounters. However, where the campaign model for Chariot of the Gods is that of Space Truckers—star ship crews hauling goods and resources, as in Alien, the campaign model for Destroyer of Worlds is that of Colonial Marines, essentially military missions like Aliens. In Destroyer of Worlds then, the Player Characters get to face off against Xenomorphs as armed and dangerous marines, as they engage in a deadly manhunt on a near-abandoned colony world rife with intrigue and insurrection, just as war breaks out in orbit above. As the situation deteriorates around them, the Player Characters will find themselves the unfortunate victims of corporate, military, and interstellar politics, as something worse than their nightmares chases them off world…

The background for Destroyer of Worlds is the Oil Wars between the United Americas (UA), the Three World Empire, and the Union of Progressive Peoples (UPP), the race to locate fresh sources of petroleum which would keep their respective industries and militaries supplied. Thus, the strategic importance of petroleum-rich worlds has grown and grown over the years, with those close to national borders also creating severe tensions. One such world is the Ariarcus colony on Kruger 60 AEM. Located in the Outer Veil in United Americas space close to the border with the Union of Progressive Peoples, for decades the Ariarcus colony has proven its worth as a strategic source of oil, such that when the colonists were found selling oil to the UPP, the colony was seized as an asset and militarised, with units from both the United States Colonial Marine Corps and the Colonial Navy being stationed on and above the planet at Fort Nebraska. The colony has all but collapsed, with barely two thousand colonists left, most wanting to get off world, an insurrection which wants to be free of what its members see as the UA yoke and is ready to defect to the UPP, and as military forces are diverted to deal with a UPP attack on the neighbouring the Cygni 61 system and LV-038 colony, both the military and colonial administration declares an evacuation of the colony, the insurrection seizes the opportunity to reach out to the UPP. At the same time, a squad of Colonial Marines from Fort Nebraska’s Special Operations ‘Sin Eaters’ marine unit decide it is the moment to go AWOL…

Into this set-up are thrown a team of marines drawn from the forces left after the strike force has left for Cygni 61 system and LV-038 colony, including members of an assault team, a Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defence Specialist, a Combat Technician/Hospital Corpsman Android, and two riflemen and drivers, led by a ‘Sin Eater’ commander. Their task is to locate the squad of Colonial Marines who have gone AWOL and prevent both them and any intelligence they possess from falling into the hands of the UPP. Each has his or her agenda—some have their own secrets too—that will come into play as their mission progresses, and over the course of a single few hours, they will track down the missing Colonial Marines, confront the Insurrectionists, get caught up in the outbreak of war, come under horrifying chemical attack, deal with rival factions desperate to make alliances, and as the order to evacuate is issued, face monster after monster the like of which they will have never encountered before, and ultimately, literally climb up out of Kruger 60 AEM’s gravity well. All of which takes place in the Antarctic environment of Ariarcus, a moon of the gas giant, Oblivion, under the never more than twilight gaze of the ever-watchful and oppressive Eye of Oblivion—an 11,000-kilometer-wide blue storm raging in the gas giant’s atmosphere.

Destroyer of Worlds is designed for three to five players, but includes a total of seven pre-generated Player Characters to form tthe ramshackle unit drawn together and assigned what will turn out to be a brutally nasty disaster of a mission. Essentially, those Colonial Marines initially appearing in the unit as NPCs are intended as replacement Player Characters, for make no mistake, this is a deadly scenario in which a ‘Total Party Kill’ is a distinct possibility. In fact, it might actually be worth the Game Mother preparing some of the other NPCs as replacement Player Characters, so deadly is the scenario in places. Potentially though, this would lead to a shift in the ‘party dynamics’ as NPCs from other factions become Player Characters and have their own agendas. Ultimately though, everyone’s agenda is to get off world, whatever the consequences.

Destroyer of Worlds is structured over three acts. In Act I, the Player Characters get their assignment and begin their investigation, tracking the missing Colonial Marines down across the Ariarcus colony, dealing with the last remnants of the colony infrastructure and administration, confronting the Insurrectionists, potentially encountering both corporate and UPP operatives with their own agendas, Xenomorphs, and more. As the Player Characters begin putting things together, Act II begins with a bang. Open conflict begins in orbit above between the UA and the UPP, the colony is hit with EMP attacks, bringing spacecraft and attack ships crashing down on the colony, and worse, an unknown ship showers the colony with the transformative Black Goo seen in Prometheus. The latter leads to some horrifying scenes as the remaining colonists are radically mutated or ripped apart. Combined with an order to evacuate the colony, this will drive the Player Characters to get off world, but the effect of the EMP attacks mean that the colony’s space elevator is not working. In Act III, this will force the Player Characters to delve into Fort Nebraska’s sublevels to get the power working again, and in the process, discover some of the darker secrets about just what has been going on at the base…

Destroyer of Worlds is big, bold, and brassy, an epic adventure from start to finish, and yet… As much as it captures the cinematic feel of Aliens and the later films, it is not an easy adventure to run and it is guilty of over-egging the pudding. The problems with the adventure are fourfold. First, there is a lot going on in the adventure, with multiple factions and multiple agendas, not including those of the Player Characters. Combined with events there is a lot for the Game Mother to keep to track off throughout the adventure, and this can be compounded later on in the second and third acts if the Player Characters are joined by NPCs—both innocent bystanders and members of other factions, who are equally as desperate to get off world. Second, the adventure does not just throw one Xenomorph element at the Player Characters, but all of them. So not just the Black Goo and the Anathema it creates, but also species Xenomorph XX121 from Alien and Aliens—from Egg to Queen, and subspecies. There is often little to no subtlety to this, and it is compounded by the third problem—the sheer number of Xenomorphs that the Player Characters will encounter throughout the adventure, especially in Act III. Consequently, their exploration of Fort Nebraska’s sublevels do take on a dungeon-like aspect, but with guns and grenades and Xenomorphs, instead of swords, spells, and Orcs, such that it feels as if everyone should be playing an Aliens boardgame rather than Alien: The Roleplaying Game. Fourth, because it is an adventure for Cinematic mode, Destroyer of Worlds is heavily plotted, in some cases for the Player Characters as much as the story itself, including one of the Player Characters beginning infected, their drive eventually being to locate a cure, which as the scenario plays out, they will hopefully discover exists. So it feels heavy-handed in places, but given that Destroyer of Worlds is a Cinematic one-shot, this is not as much of an issue as it could have been. Fifth, there is quite a lot going on off-camera in terms of the story that is never really explained, such as who exactly drops the Black Goo on the colony (it is intimated that this this is Engineers from Prometheus, just to further over-egg the pudding), why the Player Characters are selected, and so on. Yet, in the face of the unrelenting pace at which Destroyer of Worlds is telling its story, it almost does not matter. Certainly not for the Player Characters, but perhaps for the Game Mother?

Physically, Destroyer of Worlds comes as a boxed set, much like the Alien: The Roleplaying Game Starter Set—and almost as richly appointed. Open up the box and the purchaser is confronted with decks of cards, poster maps, character sheets, and the scenario book itself. The two decks of cards consist of twenty-one Personal Agendas, six Vehicle cards, two Weapon cards, nine NPC cards, and six Story cards. The Personal Agenda cards are given to the appropriate Player Characters at the beginning of each act and define their aims for that act, their being rewarded with Story Points based on how well their players roleplayed them. The Story cards are similar to the Personal Agenda cards, but reveal secret aspects of their particular Player Characters which again will affect their motivations. The other cards are a mix of the old and the new, some having appeared in the Alien: The Roleplaying Game Starter Set. These include a United States Colonial Marine Corps heavy tank (which the Player Characters can potentially commandeer), a pair of UUP vehicles, and the AK-4047, the UPP equivalent of the Pulse Rifle.

The main map is a thirty-four by twenty-two inches poster which depicts Ariaricus colony on one side and the interior of Fort Nebraska on the other. This is in addition to the two A3-sized maps which show individual locations. Of the three, the smaller maps are a lot easier to handle and sue at the table, but like all of the maps, they are done in the green-on-green blueprint style seen in the Alien universe. The seven Player Character sheets are easy to read, as is the scenario booklet, which is cleanly laid out in the style seen in Alien: The Roleplaying Game, the Alien: The Roleplaying Game Starter Set, and Chariot of the Gods. It is lightly illustrated with pieces taken from Alien: The Roleplaying Game, but the light layout makes up for that. Notably, the scenario book includes four appendices, one for all of the types of the Xenomorphs which appear in Destroyer of Worlds, one for the Talents which appear in the scenario, one for all of the stats for the gear and vehicles, and one for vehicle combat. The appendices of Talents and Xenomorphs do reprint material from Alien: The Roleplaying Game, but they are included for anyone running Destroyer of Worlds using just the  rather than Alien: The Roleplaying Game.

Destroyer of Worlds is a fantastic scenario, but not a perfect one. It has too many moving parts and too many Xenomorphs and too much going on that it needs careful handling and preparation upon the part of the Game Mother to run well. Yet it is big, it is bruising, it is over-the-top, and it delivers the pulsating combat action of Aliens and an eighties action movie. It has some great set pieces just like an eighties action movie and an Aliens horror movie should—the rain of Black Goo, assaulting the Insurrectionists’ compounds, getting back into Fort Nebraska, sneaking about in the sublevels of the base and the final confrontation on the space elevator… Ultimately, Destroyer of Worlds is a popcorn munching, shoot ‘em up horror movie of a scenario. Essentially, put on the Aliens soundtrack and expect the Player Characters to blast their way through it, get the bejuzus scared of them, get infected, confront Xenomorph after Xenomorph, probably die, and maybe, just maybe, survive.

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