I was originally thinking about writing yet more praise of Trophy and the addictive ‘push your luck’ mechanics found there. I’m going to stick with pushing your luck but I want to talk about a different system I’ve not written about yet.
I was a massive fan of the Alien franchise as a kid. My dad showed us the first one when I was eight and my little brother was six. He figured we’d want to see an 18-rated movie and we should do that with him so he could talk us through everything afterwards. I can see some logic in that and hopefully it didn’t warp me too much. We saw Aliens shortly afterwards and when there were UK reprints of the Dark Horse comics, I picked them up from my newsagents. I bought the Kenner toys. I was going to be an easy mark for the Alien RPG by Free League even if I thought I was long removed from any Alien fanboyishness.
The system used is similar to Coriolis, Forbidden Lands and others Free League have, which I own a few of but haven’t really read beyond a cursory skim. You have a pool of six-sided dice you roll, looking for a six. It’s a bit difficult not even being like Blades in the Dark’s system where you can succeed at a cost with a 4+ as your highest dice.
So then there’s Stress. As the game goes on your character will get stressed out. You’ll see dead bodies, you’ll get attacked by monsters. It’s all really stressful. They’re a different set of d6’s which you add to your pool. The theory is that you’re getting hyper-vigilant, tense and focused on trying to get through the situation. That’s great, right? Extra dice are lovely. The problem is that they’re different for a reason. If you roll a 1 on any Stress dice, your character panics. There’s a table of results which show how you freak out. At first, they aren’t even all too bad when you’ve got a little Stress, so you kind of want to suffer some for that sweet bonus. You can perform some actions to calm down and lower it, so you might be able to fine tune it and try to keep some bonuses. Then it slips and gets a bit too much. Perhaps someone else panicking adds to your Stress of makes you panic as well. You can only manage so much and then it all explodes. This is what led to three of the surviving characters all going berserk and attacking each other in the grand finale of the game of Alien I ran. For some of the rolls they had, the Stress was perfect and really helped. Alas, in the end it didn’t and they weren’t able to escape LV-426, dying at each others’ and a xenomorph’s hands.