Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 18 June 2022

Ineffably Alien

What We Give To Alien Gods
 starts in an odd fashion. It starts with advice as to how to use the module, introduces a new optional rule for Conviction—a Player Character’s belief in an idea or concept; discusses the nature of the Triathal language, its trifold glyphs which combine into layers to form sentences and concepts and used by an alien species which did not vocalise; the Xenoconstellations of star patterns used by a cosmic entity as a form of communication; and examples of both the Triathal language and the Xenoconstellations. Certainly, both are brilliantly alien and both will hopefully help the challenge of the Warden imparting the stellar strangeness of What We Give To Alien Gods to her players and their characters. Yet nearly a quarter of the way into the module and the Warden has no idea as what is going on, what the module is about, and what the significance of anything she has just read is.

Which means that What We Give To Alien Gods breaks one of the cardinal rules of a roleplaying scenario. Which is…

Tell the Game Master what the scenario is about upfront.

What We Give To Alien Gods is a scenario for the MOTHERSHIP Sci-Fi Horror Roleplaying Game, the roleplaying game of blue collar Science Fiction Horror, inspired by films such as Outland, Dark Star, Silent Running, and Event Horizon, as well as Alien and Aliens. Hyperspace anomalies, reports of an alien structure, a missing contact, a seemingly telepathic cry for help, or even an inexplicable urge all hook the Player Characters into travelling Gaelar XII, a distant magellanic nebula. Once inside, they must negotiate dense pockets of cosmic dust, ionised gas storms, ship debris, thermal spikes, and more before alighting before a strange structure. Consisting of three immense pillars with a massive cube suspended between the three, which all together rotate as one, this is Maerkithelth, an unfathomably ancient temple to alien god. The Crew can enter any one of the pillars and begin to explore, finding signs of an alien civilisation—tools and devices left lying about, as well as extensive patterns of glyphs. They will also find indications that someone has already beaten them to the temple.

Discovering both the temple and the existence of aliens can have a profound effect upon a MOTHERSHIP Sci-Fi Horror Roleplaying Game, depending on whether or not they exist in the Warden’s campaign. However, even if they already exist, the presence of the Triathals and what they have left behind—especially the Triathal language, will have a profound upon the members of the Crew. This is intentional since the Scientist in the Crew, in particular, one with the Xenoesotericism, Xenomysticism, and Xenolinguitsics, will be translating the Triathal language and learning more and more of just what Maerkithelth contains and is protecting the universe from. Or even protecting the universe from which the Triathal came. There is such an emphasis upon the Triathal language and upon the role of the Scientist in the scenario that it is not like other MOTHERSHIP Sci-Fi Horror Roleplaying Game scenarios, and whilst the author describes it as a “A dungeon-crawl through an alien temple”, it is not that either. Rather, What We Give To Alien Gods is a puzzle crawl, an exploration of an environment that requires elements of a language to be learned in combination with skill rolls and the clues left behind by other explorers. Which obviously places a great deal of emphasis upon the player with the Scientist role. This is not say that the other roles in MOTHERSHIP Sci-Fi Horror Roleplaying Game do not figure in the scenario—and What We Give To Alien Gods does give advice to that end—but the Scientist predominates.

Much of What We Give To Alien Gods is devoted to is describing the interior of the three pillars of Maerkithelth and the almighty cube which hangs between them. It is only after this that we read of a major threat to both the Crew and possibly the universe. Doctor Aislin Grahm has an obsession with the cosmos and Xenomysticism and is driven—or possibly pulled—by whatever Maerkithelth actually contains (or keeps contained). However much like the explanation of what the plot to What We Give To Alien Gods, this does not really become obvious to very later in the book, over two thirds of the book in the listing of the NPCs, and it applies to her as much as it does the other, often very alien NPCs the Crew is likely to encounter.

Which means that What We Give To Alien Gods breaks one of the cardinal rules of a roleplaying scenario. Again. Which is…

Tell the Game Master what the scenario is about upfront.

Yet these are not the only issues with What We Give To Alien Gods and to be fair, they can be overcome as part of the Warden’s preparation. The real issue is with the extra element of preparation. For not only does the Warden have to prepare the scenario, she also has to learn how its puzzles work and learn the Triathal language, enough to be able understand and if not teach it to her players, then guide them through their learning process. In effect, the Warden has to play through aspects of What We Give To Alien Gods in order to really grasp what is going on. Then once prepared, the scenario—as the author advises—requires a lot of buy in upon the part of the players and their characters.

Physically, What We Give To Alien Gods is a solid little book. It has a sense of the ineffable and the alien in its look and use of art, of a place that is not quite like ours, and it is lovely booklet to look at. However, the writing is often succinct and there are no maps of Maerkithelth which might make it easier for the Warden to visualise and then impart that to her players.

Inspired by films and television such as Event Horizon, The Expanse, Interstellar, and Arrival, there is no denying that What We Give To Alien Gods is an ambitious treatment of Cosmic Horror for the MOTHERSHIP Sci-Fi Horror Roleplaying Game. It is conceptually brilliant and the result is fantastically weird and creepy and unsettling, but the effort to get that to the table, that is where What We Give To Alien Gods does not quite deliver.

1 comment:

  1. I fully agree! I kicked this and have the physical copy myself. It's a gorgeous book and it's interesting, but it really is confusing at first glance and almost seems like a supplement initially rather than a module. I bet it'd really shine with some additional editing and including some better directions. Thanks for the detailed review!