Gamer fans of Alien, Blade Runner, and The Terminator are blessed with tabletop RPGs to play in their favorite worlds. Despite all these movie franchises dating back to the 1980s, roleplaying games in these worlds were sparse until recently. Due to rights issues, an RPG company could either secure a license (royalties & red tape) or make a game with the serial numbers filed off. Or not bother at all.
Today, we’ll look at Alien and Blade Runner game lines by Free League (Fria Ligan) & The Terminator by Nightfall Games. Plus some more-or-less equivalent RPGs from the past. As any GM knows, you can never have enough source material when attempting to emulate a known setting at the table.
ALIEN Roleplaying Game
2020 … Tomas Härenstam … 392 pages … Free League Publishing FLFALE002 … ISBN 9789188805553
The ALIEN rules set is a modified version of FL’s Mutant Year Zero game. One primary modification is the Stress mechanic which builds tension and models the atmosphere of the Alien movies. Stress can either induce Panic or actually improve your skill rolls.
Alien already has a number of supplements and adventures, including the Starter Set, Destroyer of Worlds, Heart of Darkness, and Colonial Marines book.
Aliens Adventure Game
1991 … Barry Nakazono & David McKenzie … 192 pages … LEG 20200 … ISBN 0945571976
Leading Edge Games was a small RPG publisher of the late Eighties/early Nineties. Their best-known game was Phoenix Command, and this very crunchy rules set was applied to all their games. LEG was the Free League of their time, licensing a number of movie properties into games, including Aliens of course, plus Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Lawnmower Man, and a Terminator miniatures wargame.
With this Aliens book, you’re probably not looking at the rules set. FL’s Alien has much easier and more thematic rules. However Aliens has a lot of support material (and movie quotes!) for your game.
The Harvesters of Tartarus even made the long jump from Aliens to Alien. If you’re looking for an alien foe other than the familiar xenomorph, the Harvesters are quite different but equally menacing!
Leading Edge Games also released a boardgame of the same name.
A great alternative setting is 2300AD (Traveller: 2300). This RPG released in the same year as the Aliens movie, and operates under similar technological level and assumptions. Not quite as grimdark as Aliens, but it could easily be made to be so.
Blade Runner Roleplaying Game
2022 … Tomas Härenstam … 233 pages … Free League Publishing FLFBLR001 … ISBN 9789189143739
The Blade Runner RPG is one of my recent favorites (see link below for my session report). It nails the theme of both movies: What does it mean to be human? And it’s a seldom-seen RPG police procedural at the same time.
The Bladerunner Starter Set is a must-have for play. It contains the first adventure scenario, Electric Dreams.
2002 … David Pulver … 240 pages … Steve Jackson Games 6708 … ISBN 1556344546
Curiously enough, there is no old school RPG Blade Runner equivalent. There are several that are close-ish. Cyberpunk and Shadowrun have the same tech and somewhat similar atmosphere, but there are stark differences as well: Both have too much metal-in-the-face, computer hacking, and other strangeness that are quite different than the BR “feel”.
Transhuman Space comes the closest, in my opinion. THS is based on the GURPS rules. Its setting has oppressed artificial persons called “bioroids” that are a match for BR’s replicants. (THS even literally asks: “What is ‘human”?) It also has the “off-world colonies” contained in the Solar System.
THS goes for a gritty, realistic vibe that fits BR well. You’d have to make some adjustments – THS is not post-apocalyptic-lite like BR, and humans and bioroids alike partake in a lot of body modification – but changes won’t be as involved as hacking other games.
THS has a number of sourcebooks that deep-dive into the setting.
2022 … Andrew E.C. Gaska & Benn Graybeaton … 226 pages … Nightfall Games WFG-TER-800
The Terminator RPG caught me by surprise when I was browsing through a game store. It is apparently only based on the first movie due to split licensing, so no liquid metal T-1000. But not to worry, this game takes the ball and runs with it. The art and source material are very evocative. The scenarios and Terminator model types are drawn from graphic novels and look like a blast, exploring some fascinating missions and twists on the time travel found in the movies. Just wait for your players’ astonishment the first time a Terminator runs away from them!
The rules were underwhelming to me on a first read-through. They take a dice pool mechanic like FL’s games, and add layers of complexity on top. Plus they wedded themselves to a D10-only mechanic forcing contortions like in the image below:
In the weapon example above, a Light Pistol rolls 1d10-2 for damage. But wait, the minimum damage is 3. This results in an actual damage range of 3-8.
So why not just roll 1d6+2? All the weapons have this extra step. Any gamer that has a D10 will have all the other dice. This symbolizes the needless complexity of the rules in a nutshell IMO. Maybe somebody will tell me how I’m mistaken; it was admittedly a brief read-through.
My nitpicks aside, I wholeheartedly recommend the Terminator RPG. It is supported by a couple of accessories: Campaign Book, Director’s Pack (GM Screen), and a Quickstart book.
GURPS Reign of Steel
1997 … David Pulver … 128 pages … SJG 6079 … ISBN 1556343302
I could sing the praises of Reign of Steel all day. It takes the Terminator premise and expands it worldwide. Imagine if Skynet (based around Southern California) was only one of several machine intelligences that emerged from the Year of Darkness. These AIs around the globe hold territory, cooperate, squabble, and have very different attitudes towards humanity, and biological life in general. A brilliant RPG setting.