My Tabletop RPG Experience
Before I get into the process I took in writing, planning, and deploying my Alien RPG homebrew campaign, I want to give a brief summary of my experience with tabletop RPGs.
The first tabletop role-playing game that I played was Rifts back in the 1990s. A friend of mine approached me and asked me if I would try this game that you pretty much play by using dice, a pencil, paper, and your imagination. I had not heard of the concept before but I always have liked to try new things so I gave Rifts a try.
The two of us played a few sessions of Rifts. I can’t remember much about the game or the mini-campaign but I do remember that I played a human that piloted a mech with a Gauss Rifle that did a hell of a lot of damage.
Dungeons & Dragons
I played my first Dungeons & Dragons campaign in the early 2000s under version 3.5. I played an Elven sorcerer named Bayne Hellbringer. My second campaign is currently on hold. I play a Rogue Wood Elf named Nixe Wintervale.
If you would like to know my Dungeons & Dragons experience in detail, take a look at the following article I wrote: Dungeons & Dragons | My Most Memorable Experiences.
A friend of mine put together a Dragon Age campaign during the Coronavirus Pandemic with the campaign title of Quarantine Age. The campaign isn’t about the coronavirus pandemic. However, the campaign was put together in order to provide pandemic relief and to have fun with friends in a safe environment (online).
I played a human Tevinter mage that specializes in Necromancy. Irithyll Ariandel was a lot of fun to play but she was quite overpowered. It didn’t take a lot for Irithyll to take control of the entire battlefield. Our group made some homebrew rules for Irithyll to even things out a bit. The campaign lasted about a year and now sits in the archives.
Prior to Alien RPG, I didn’t have any experience in writing and running a tabletop campaign other than watching other dungeon masters. I have always wanted to but I have never had the courage to take on the role.
Alien RPG gave me the courage to make my first attempt at running a campaign. I am very familiar with the Alien franchise and lore so I didn’t need to spend a great deal of time learning the world. However, I did learn more lore while reading the Alien RPG core rulebook so I did get to expand my knowledge surrounding the Alien franchise and that was a lot of fun.
With that said, Alien RPG is my first attempt at running a tabletop campaign and I did so by writing my own homebrew campaign.
Alien RPG: Halifax
Halifax: Precious Cargo betwixt Dragons and Ghosts is an Alien RPG homebrew tabletop role-playing campaign written and run by me (Joseph) under Ties That Bind Gaming. Alien RPG was originally published by Free League on December 10, 2019. The game is based on the Alien franchise and is set in a science fiction/horror environment.
Alien RPG campaigns come in several flavors that act as frameworks for a campaign. These flavors include Space Truckers, Marines, and Frontier Colonists. Space truckers either work for an employer or freelance and deliver cargo throughout the Stars of the Middle Heavens. The Marines are military bad-asses that take orders from a chain of command. The Frontier Colonists are ambitious blue-collar workers that live within a colony and they are always looking for the next big discovery (and the payout that comes with it).
Halifax: Precious Cargo betwixt Dragons and Ghosts is a Space Truckers campaign. This Space Trucker campaign framework means that the players are part of a crew aboard a ship that works for a company to transport goods from one location to another. Halifax is the name of the crew’s ship. The ship belongs to the crew’s employer and Halifax’s employer is Weyland-Yutani.
Halifax consists of crew members such as a captain, pilot, medic, company representative, and roughneck. Each crew member has a role to play while on the ship and off the ship.
Plan, Write, and Deploy an Alien RPG Homebrew Campaign
I started planning and writing season one in early 2021. I tried several writing tools such as Scrivener and Manuskript. None of them worked for me. They either felt poorly executed, lightweight, or bloated. I eventually settled with Google Docs. With a table of contents, Google Docs worked perfectly for me. The Google Doc for season one is 49 pages long.
The process of writing and prepping took me about two months to complete. I didn’t know at the time but I had enough content to run the entire first season without having to write more. I want to say the reason is because of my immaculate planning but the reason is probably pure luck. I’ll take it.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT
If you want to read the Google Doc for Season One, you can find it here:
I chose to use Roll20 as the virtual tabletop simulator simply because I have used Roll20 to play tabletop RPGs before, as a player. A couple of my friends use Roll 20 to run tabletop campaigns and I have been a part of a couple of those campaigns as a player. Google has plenty of resources, too. My resources are plentiful with Roll 20 both locally and online.
I added the Hostile Organism Roll 20 add-on later on in season one. I wish I had done so earlier because the add-on works perfectly with Alien RPG. Regardless, I created the final map with the add-on and the end result is quite amazing.
Roll 20 has video and audio options available. However, I decided to use Roll 20 for maps and organization alone. With that said, I went with Discord to host the video and audio for our group. We already have a Discord server (which anyone can join) so all I had to do was add the channels needed to run the game.
Recording our sessions
The group that I have been gaming with for the past five years tends to audio record sessions. However, Alien RPG is the first to record with video. I approached the group with the idea and they agreed to video recording so we moved forward.
One of my group members records our sessions. This alleviates me from another thing to worry about as I am running the game. He records the video and then he sends me the raw video file. I take the raw file, edit it, write an article about it and then distribute the finished product.
The reason I want to record our sessions is that this is my first time as the dungeon master (game mother in Alien RPG terms). Firstly, I want to remember the experience. Secondly, I want to share my experience. Thirdly, I hope to inspire those who are afraid or nervous about running a tabletop campaign for the first time. Fourthly, I want to help them overcome that fear. Finally, I want to show them that they can do it.
Finally, video recording our sessions helped me deal with my overwhelming anxiety and overcome my fears of running a tabletop campaign. I share the videos with the gaming community and everyone has been supportive. I appreciate their support and if you are one of those supporters who is reading this article, thank you!
Alien RPG differs from other tabletop RPGs that I have played. The dice rolls alone can be a bit intimidating at first. Alien RPG uses six-sided dice only. One set of dice is for skill checks. The other set of dice is for stress checks. Stress builds as tension builds and stress dice rolls add dice to the skill check pool as stress increases. If the stress dice roll poorly, a player will panic. Panic has consequences but I’m not going to spoil that for you.
You don’t roll dice as often as other tabletop RPGs do. Dice rolls are generally for times when tension builds or something unsuspected happens. However, who doesn’t like to roll dice? I fudged the rules a tiny bit in my campaign to allow for more dice rolling. The changes don’t feel like they changed the dynamics of the game.
I fudged a few rules along the way. Alien RPG feels like it’s for one-shots or short scenarios. In order for me to make the game feel more campaign-friendly, I feel like I needed to make some minor changes along the way.
There are a lot of rules. If you are familiar with Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop games of the like, the rules for Alien RPG may feel a bit overwhelming at first as they did for me. I still don’t feel like an expert after running one season.
I stick to a few outlets for my resources. Some work better than others but I have everything I need to run the campaign.
My first resource is the Alien RPG core rulebook and the resources associated with Free League. The Alien RPG core rulebook has the rules and lore needed to start a game. I’m not a huge fan of the layout of the core rulebook but I do appreciate all of the information provided. Free League has provided an article on how to start an online game: Fria Ligan | Online Resources
My second resource is the Facebook group Alien RPG by Free League. The members of this group are super creative. There is a repository where you can search for resources. The members of the group submit most of their creations as resources.
My third resource is the Discord Server Alien RPG. The server is quite active. I use the server to ask questions that I need answers to rather quickly. In most cases, I get an answer within 5 minutes or less.
My final resource is Google. I find some of the answers that I need answers to but I generally have better luck with Discord. What I do find are tokens and things of the like. I tend to stick to royalty-free resources but sometimes I find it hard to tell. I simply hope for the best.
Why the Alien RPG Homebrew Campaign Route?
The coronavirus pandemic and everything that came with it put me in a tough mental spot. I needed to remedy that tough mental spot. My thought process was to find a way to safely get together with friends regularly and challenge myself. Alien RPG was released at just the right time and I got my copy of the core rulebook on Christmas, 2019. I dove in right away and formulated a plan.
Alien RPG has several options for playing the game. You can do short, cinematic scenarios, go for the long haul with a campaign, or do what I did and go the homebrew route. I decided to create an Alien RPG homebrew adventure right from the start. I like to tell stories and I love the Alien franchise so I really wanted full control over the content.
Challenge accepted and plan moving forward, I start to create. Between writing and planning and organizing and everything else, the process can sound overbearing. However, I met the experience head-on and enjoyed every moment of it. The rewards for the hard work have been amazing.
Season one and my first time as a dungeon master taught me many valuable lessons. I plan to take those learned lessons and incorporate them into future dungeon master experiences. There will always be hiccups and unexpected turns but that’s part of the fun of the game. When you have the right group, we have a laugh and move on.
I hope that the Halifax campaign continues. I plan to write season two and pick up where season one left off. To learn more about the Halifax campaign, head on over to the Halifax page.
Watch Halifax on YouTube
Listen to the Halifax Podcast
The Halifax Podcast features audio extracted directly from the video recordings of our sessions. You can watch an episode on YouTube and continue the story on the go or mix it up in any order you deem fit. No matter how you decide to enjoy the Halifax Alien RPG campaign, you won’t miss a word.
The Halifax Roundtable
Don’t forget to check out The Halifax Roundtable. a complementary production to the Alien RPG campaign, Halifax: Precious Cargo betwixt Dragons and Ghosts. Every episode features players from the Halifax Alien RPG campaign. We talk about Alien RPG, the Halifax storyline, and relatable themes.