Side Effects

It’s been about a month since we last played Aliens. Our usual Traveller game has been delayed as well. We’ve been down at least one person every week, either due to illness of them being away. So it was good to finally get back to Aliens for the final session.

It’s also the final act of the game, so we all got our character’s goals for this stage. For Rye Kayla, mine were Strike any deal, regardless of the cost. It was important that I make it out alive, with enough money to get my brother the medical treatment he needs, and make sure that my family is comfortable for the rest of our lives.

The last session though ended with those of us aboard the Chronus seeing our own ship the Montero fly off without us, then explode for no readily apparent reason. Shortly thereafter the small skiff from the Montero appears in front of the bridge, and signals to us to help it get inside. Apparently there had been a problem with the reactor, so they had sent the ship off by itself so it didn’t take out all of us.

Chem goes down to D deck to help the skiff into the hanger bay, whilst I stay up on the bridge trying to fix the synthetic AVA 6. On our list of things to do, we also needed to fix the air scrubbers, drive systems, communications array and sort out the reactor room. These were especially important now that this ship was our only way home.

Whilst fixing AVA, I kept an eye on the going’s on down in the hanger from the camera feeds. Everything seems to be going okay until Chem is killed by one of the Aliens – he has his throat slit. The others try to chase down the creature, but it has escaped into the air ducts. Whilst this is going on, I noticed that Clayton, the company woman, has gone missing. None of the others on the bridge admit to having seen her leave.

She was discovered by the Montero crew on their way up from below to the bridge. She had been rummaging around in the Corporate Suite, trying to secure some important things ready to leave.

The theme of this part of the game was very much a decision between destroying the alien danger, and trying to profit from it. The thing was, pretty much all the players were more than happy to profit from it so there wasn’t actually much conflict there. The NPC company woman tried to sell the idea of getting a big bonus payment, but she really didn’t need to try that hard.

Eventually we got AVA booted, and she was able to tell us what had happened. Seventy years ago, she had stayed awake to try and keep the infection under control. One of the alien things had escaped though and injured her. She had also discovered that the ‘cure’ wasn’t as perfect as the original crew had originally thought. It had the possibility of side effects – the nature of which was a change into an alien abomination. The long arms we’d seen on some of the dead were an early stage of this change.

Apparently there was a chance of any of us having suffered these side effects if we’d taken the vaccine. We’d all taken the vaccine – but only one of us suffered the side effects.

With AVA now capable, we are able to talk to the computer. It doesn’t know too much, but there is a mention of “Directive 966” in the logs. This had been sent to the ship at around the time our own ship the Montero had left, so obviously this had all been a setup.

With the aliens not bothering us for now, some of us went out to do an EVA to fix the drive systems and the Comms array. The way the skill system works is that you roll a number of dice, and each ‘6’ rolled gives you a success. I rolled 9 dice to fix the array, and didn’t get a single success. So I ‘pushed’, getting an extra stress which gave me 10 dice to re-roll. Again, not a single ‘6’.

Though the probabilities aren’t that bad, it does have a random feel to it needing a 6. I’d rather we had fewer dice and a greater chance of success on each. Might not change the probabilities, but could change the feel of the probabilities.

Eventually, after another half an hour, I manage to get a success. Just as we are finishing up, Reid gives us a shout on the comms to say that something is moving out on the hull near us – it’s one of the aliens. We rush to an airlock and get inside just in the nick of time.

I manage to keep it distracted and near the airlock whilst the others finish off their own repairs. Whatever it is has too-long arms and a bulbous head, with scraps of clothing embedded in its flesh.

Meanwhile, aboard the ship the others have finished with the air scrubbers and are working on the reactor. In the reactor room there is an old vacc suit that needs discarding – unfortunately it has an alien in it. Fortunately, it was AVA in the room, and it seems to ignore her. Equipped with guns and flame throwers Wilson and Vanessa manage to deal with it.

Finishing up the clean up, we are able to spin the ship sufficiently to throw the alien on the outside off into space and burn it up with the ship’s thrusters. Another is tracked down to the air ducts and burned with a flamethrower. As far as we know, the ship is now clear of aliens that might want to harm us.

As we begin plotting the course back to Anchorpoint Station, we notice that both Wilson and Clayton are missing. So we head off in search of them, locating them finally through the screams of Clayton. Wilson seems to be undergoing a mutation – and is trying to eat Clayton. A mix of shotgun and flame thrower deals with both of them.

The rest of us survive, and prep for the long trip back home. Hopefully to be considerably richer when we sell all the alien biotech to the Company.

Probably more of us survived this than had been expected – mostly due to some lucky die rolls to avoid getting the side effects. This was a one-shot adventure, rather than a campaign, so its focus was on character’s achieving their goals and surviving until the end, rather than there being any real long term plot lines. It was an enjoyable scenario, though I do wonder how well a campaign would work. Maybe the game has suggestions, but to me it seems that the setting has a narrow focus – either survival horror like we played, or marines blasting aliens. Whether I’d want to do a long campaign in the setting I’m not sure.

The other new thing was FoundryVTT. It worked… okay. The Alien system module for it was a bit clunky, with everyone struggling to remember how to move equipment around between active/inactive/store etc. With some of the rules automated, it did mean that we also didn’t really get to learn all the rules – bits of them just happened, and other bits we may have missed.

We did end up adding the PopOut! module (in addition to whatever the GM had setup initially), so that we could open character sheets in new windows. On a multi-monitor setup, this is a big bonus, since character sheets and handouts can be moved to a different monitor, keeping the map clear of clutter.

Things like being able to move between scenes ourselves was useful (a bonus over Roll20), but we were all still learning the framework by the end. I think I do understand it better, and I’m noticing the important things to get right if I run something in Foundry myself again. Setting token label visibility is a must, and is completely non-obvious if you’re just the GM.

Overall, it was an enjoyable four sessions, and the system seems quite good at modelling the horror environment of the setting.

Our next game looks like it will be Ars Magica.

Samuel Penn