The Aliens Adventure Game was a real-world role playing game (RPG) and accompanying 196-page sourcebook published by Leading Edge Games in 1991. The sourcebook featured new and at times apocryphal information on the Aliens universe.
Primary design on the game was by Barry Nakazono, writing and design was by David McKenzie, illustration and graphic design was by Toni Dennis and editing and production was by Irene Kinzek.
Originally received with mixed reviews, the Aliens Adventure game is no longer a popular or much-functioning game system, today. But the game remains a collectors item find on sites such as Ebay and is still occasionally used as a basis for more fully fleshed out fan-created Aliens RPGs.
Leading Edge Games also produced successful RPG miniatures lines for the Terminator 2 and Aliens series, which were much more well received. The Aliens miniatures Included sets such as The Colonists' Last Stand (Aliens RPG Miniatures) by artist Bob Ridolfi, and the Alien Queen Boxed Set (Aliens Miniatures Collection), the APC, a Dropship, the Sulaco Team and Ripley all in 1992.
The company also produced the more well-received Aliens: This Time It's War! (aka Aliens The Board Game, or the Aliens War Game), as well as the Terminator War Game. A different, more stripped-down product, the War Game contained a level of detail well short of a full RPG module, with no role-playing system involved. It used maps and character icons to recreate three pivotal action scenes from the film.
Despite these well-known releases, the Leading Edge Games company did not, however, survive over the years.
Sourcebook & New Material
The Aliens Adventure Game book featured various chapters and section on the mechanics of the game, including a section on the explanation of the game's table-based point scoring system and Chapter 8, which gave ideas for suggested campaigns to run. The book also featured detailed Marine character sheets, with decent development and treatment of its Marine characters.
It also covered the settings from the film, offering a detailed overview of the Aliens Universe, showing the colonies, corporate culture and other life forms. The book also includes well-detailed information concerning the Alien physiology and behavior.
The book also introduces other new material.
It grows the Aliens universe by introducing the whole ICC system of planets and also introduces new insect-like creatures on one planet called Harvesters, which are not illustrated, but are featured in a number of new encounters used in its examples. The writing also includes a description of how they think internet shopping will be in the future.
In terms of illustration, the book exclusively used movie screen shots instead of original illustrations.
Inconsistencies in Alien Physiology
Being released before a number of major stories in the comics and novels took hold and being pre-Alien3, the Adventure Game features a somewhat unique treatment on Alien physiology.
The Adventure Game was written at a time before a lot details were established in other Aliens material. It therefore featured some errors in its description of the Aliens, some of which went against certain established premises from the films. These elements were not used in the Aliens comics or novels or video games. They included:
Despite Aliens not having eyes, "Alien vision" is described in the book, and the creatures are said to have a visual spectrum, somewhat like the Predator.
Alien warriors are shown to lay eggs (harkening back to an idea from cutscenes from the original Alien).
Aliens face huggers are also shown to be able to implant embryos in dead bodies.
Released well before Dungeons and Dragons 3.0, which established a new norm in RPGs, the Aliens Adventure Game featured a mechanic that wasn't like other role playing games in that it did not rely on hit points (or HP).
The system was instead largely based on the use of tables (as seen in the popular RPG Warhammer 40,000). The system used was actually a slightly toned-down variant of another game they wrote called the Phoenix Command System. The book also actually makes references to Phoenix Command in case players wanted further clarification on its rules.
Instead of HP, the system has a couple different kinds of damage factors, both dealing with Physical Damage, which one must then check against their Knockout Value, including a huge range, touting numbers in the three thousand ranges.
If you hit a specific value you have to then get medical treatment, which you have to cross reference with another table to find out how long you can last without being healed. This is after cross referencing your Physical Damage table with your Damage Total table to see if you can be revived.
The values were abbreviated (PD, DT, RR, etc.). If you were trying to hit something everything goes against your SRM.
All of this served to add a degree of "realism" to the gameplay by requiring referencing to a number of tables to determine the results of almost every action in the game. The Aliens setting created was therefore incredibly realistic, but could also potentially take a very long time to execute.
For example, in certain combat scenarios, if one were to hit things just right it would require referencing as many as nine tables to figure out what happened to one's character during a single combat sequence, which would actually be representing just a few seconds of time in the game.
The other expression of this "realism" was the fact that gunfights were excessively lethal in the game. The Alien Queen, for example, was ridiculously deadly in combat, with some sort of rule akin to a 50% chance of instant death if it strikes you with its tail. Yeesh!
One thing the game does to counterbalance the death is allow more or less random character generation.
The game's rules did however also state that anything included should be modified by the game master (GM).
The major complaint from critics of the Aliens Adventure Game when it was released was that its combat system was cumbersome and rendered the game basically unplayable due to length.
If you thought combat in the Hero System using all of the optional rules was too long Aliens by LEG has it beat. We played it once and the first combat with 2 PCs against 5 or 6 aliens took about 5 hours to resolve. I kid you not that it took that long. Aliens was the "rules lite" version (of Phoenix Command), but it was so complex that required a minimum of five tables to resolve one bullet. When almost every weapon in the game were full auto with a 10 round burst that's a minimum of of 50 table look ups for just one turn.
The reliance on the rules from Phoenix Command for further clarification was another common criticism of the game. Critics say that the Phoenix Command-lite rules weren't conducive to a good gaming experience.
There also was a sincere lack of background info on the human worlds. The book only covered the setting of the film and gave no information on civilians, culture or even the slightest hint of "normal" life. And that, in examples, it focuses too much on the newly created aliens, The Harvesters, than on the xenomorphs. The information on doing anything other than blasting xenomorphs was sparse, said critics, and far too Space Marine-centric and overcomplicated for the taste of some.
Another complaint about the game was that it was packaged with a very poor binding.
Defenses from Criticism
A defense for the game's combat system is that the game is full of tables because of the era it was written. Back in the 80s, gamers wanted "crunchy" game systems with lots of detail. Some of the earliest game systems were "all" rules, no background. Nowadays, the focus is on quickness & playability & story. Modern players should note that this older system has more "crunch" (tables) than they're going to want for play.
Some roleplayers have said that game, its complicated combat system aside, is actually great for one-shots, perhaps just too cumbersome for campaign-style play. They say it was definitely playable, stating, basically, "Your characters didn't last long, but it was a lot of fun."
One technique that seems to have worked in making the game enjoyable was to have a bunch of non-player characters (NPCs) to add and have each player start with his own character and play with them till they die, then switch to the lowest ranking NPC in party and keep doing so, from lowest to highest, until all dead or mission complete, PC characters would gain exp or learning chance up until they die, which would be implemented in next session, which would continue to allow for a high impact game while still providing the players with a character they could expand on.
The sourcebook's Marine character sheets and development are also often mentioned favorably and have often been borrowed by roleplayers in making new fan-made Aliens RPGs.
As for some of the game's interpretations of the expanded Aliens universe being a little different, defenders say that one should remember that only the first 2 movies were around at the time to draw from as a resources, making for pretty thin background material. Saying basically, "Of course they're going to have to make stuff up. If they stuck with canon, the game would have been a pamphlet."
In one fan's favorable opinion: "The Aliens Adventure Game is a awesome experience that simulates, with perfection, all aspects of the movie. Even with the high rate of fatality and slaughter, all players compete to be the last standing against the unknown, perfect and unstoppable killer machines also called Aliens. The system is very realistic and lethal, you only survive 10 seconds when you confront the monster, but capture the spirit and terror showed on the second movie.
"Besides the game play, the book offer to all fans a detailed overview from the Aliens Universe, showing the colonies, corporate culture and other life forms... of course, the book also includes well-detailed information concerning the Alien physiology and behavior.
"If you want to experience to be a marine and face a Alien, this is the game! And remember, in space, no one can hear you cry..."
Unofficial Precursors and Follow-ups
In terms of official RPG's, the Aliens Adventure Game from Leading Edge was followed by the HorrorClix AVP series surrounding the release of the first AVP film in 2004.
After Aliens was released in the theater, some fans started adapting existing RPG systems into makeshift Aliens RPGs. For example, one fan mentions using Palladium's "Revised Recon" rules to emulate Aliens-themed games.
Amazing Engine: Bug Hunt - Unofficial precursor Aliens RPG
Released before Leading Edge's Aliens Adventure Game, the "Bug Hunt" supplement for the RPG Amazing Engine is often said to have been a pretty good unlicensed Aliens RPG. A (very) small-press RPG, "Bug Hunt" was basically Aliens stripped of anything that might get its creators sued.
Often combined with, for example, the Kromosome worldbook for a genepunk-type game, or with the setting transported across to another game system of choice, the game was said to have been pretty enjoyable.
Then came Leading Edge's "Aliens" RPG.
Lightspeed - RPG featuring A/P
The RPG called Lightspeed featured "Aliens", "Predators" and numerous other popular science fiction elements. A good online Fuzion and Interlock version of this game is said to have existed on the web, which should still not be too difficult to find through websearches.
Aliens: Game Over - free fan RPG
More recently, Aliens: Game Over was a role-playing game set in the far future of exploration, where United Systems Military Marines venture forth to meet extremely hostile alien life forms...and kill them.
The RPG was written by Michael Tresca, Scott Middlebrook, Dan McAllister for free for T & M Bazaar. A D20 Modern Supplement-type role-playing game, the game was released in the form of a 126-page pdf.
The future featured in Aliens: Game Over is bleak: megacorporations and mercenary companies run rampant. And yet there is an old world nobility about the Marines Corps, who still uphold the virtues of honor and loyalty. Perhaps most importantly, the Marine Corps has balls of titanium and is fearless in the face of any foe, human or otherwise.
Aliens: Game Over was a massive supplement for D20 Modern that contains 2 new races, 14 new occupations (including 8 corporations and 5 marine divisions), six new feats, new psionic powers, more equipment than you can shake an Armat M41A 10mm pulse-action air-cooled automatic assault rifle at (including the dreaded ATAX and HARDCore power armors), 14 new advanced classes, dozens of new worlds to explore, a mission generation system, and 28 new monsters. Did we mention lots of rules about Aliens?
The game can be downloaded at at http://michael.tresca.net under Freebies.
Serena Dawn - free fan RPG
One of the most well-received and acclaimed fan-made Aliens RPG's in recent times is the well-made Serena Dawn.
The creators of this RPG have utilized the art, the history and enough material from the Aliens movies and comics to appeal to fans, also including material on Predators, all packaged on a print-quality website and available free for download: http://www.serenadawn.com/AlienRPG-Contents.htm