Alien Survivor v0.9

A few months ago, I wrote up a couple of quick characters and a sketch of a scenario to entertain some of my fellow RPG players on a night away from our regular, ongoing game. I’ve been enamored with the basic rules system from John Harper’s Lady Blackbird adventure, so I used that. The scenario itself was a riff on futuristic horror films like Alien and Pitch Black, set on a crumbling colony planet amid a nasty urban guerrilla war.

I’ve run one-shot games like this for years, using a bunch of different game systems, and they always have a rule: Only one player character can survive.

Sometimes no one survived. One time, two characters survived. But usually we stuck to the rule. Ordinarily I don’t recommend whittling down the number of active players in an RPG session down to one, but sometimes it’s good fun.

This weekend, I gave myself 20 hours to take the characters and my scenario notes and create something sort of like Harper’s Lady Blackbird. What I ended up with was Alien Survivor — a one-shot survival-horror RPG adventure. Tonight, I offer you Version 0.9 for free, as two PDFs.

The Narrator’s Guide contains everything, including the players’ characters, complete scenario notes, and SPOILERS about the player characters. Just add your own storytelling instincts, creativity, and play time:

Download Alien Survivor for Narrators right here.

The Player’s Guide contains just the information players need to get started, including characters and a quick rundown on the starting situation:

Download Alien Survivor for Players right here.

Thanks in advance for taking the time to read or play Alien Survivor. I had fun with it and hope you do, too.

If you enjoy Alien Survivor, think about buying me a drink. Or visit John Harper’s game site and buy him one.

Edit: When you’ve had a chance to read the game, join us at the Story Games discussion thread.

Edit: I’ll find a more permanent home for these files in the future, if demand warrants.


  1. Chuck, 21. March 2010, 21:25
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    I have no idea why, but I thought ALIEN SURVIVOR was a film script.

    I apparently invent truth. Except, it is a lie.

    Y’know, like the cake.

    – c.

  2. Will, 21. March 2010, 21:34
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    Alas, I have yet to write a feature script in 20 hours. I wrote a three-act play overnight once, though. It was like a pretty decent sitcom spec. But this isn’t that either.

  3. Daniel M. Perez, 21. March 2010, 23:34
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    Awesome! Downloaded already and reading it tomorrow. Let’s see how soon I can get to play/run it.

    Thanks, Will!

  4. Matt Snyder, 22. March 2010, 1:14
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    Eager to check this out, Will. The one shot horror survival concept is very much like my own free game, 44. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I humbly encourage you do so! Plus, it also has a direct John Harper pedigree.

  5. Eddy Webb, 22. March 2010, 12:39
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    Someone on Twitter pointed me to this, since I missed it in my cold-infused state of undeath. Looking forward to reading it!

  6. Will, 22. March 2010, 14:39
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    Hi, Matt! I know 44. I haven’t had the privilege of playing it, but I’ve got it here on my hard drive. Great-looking game. If we’re at the same convention some time, get me to play it. I’d love to give it a shot.

    Thanks, Dan and Eddy, for taking the time to read it, when you find that time. Y’all have high bars, I know—I hope this thing at least bangs it head as it runs screaming beneath them.

  7. Daniel M. Perez, 23. March 2010, 11:27
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    Hey, Will. Had a chance to read through the game.
    Yeah, I wanna play this. It certainly captures the “this shit is about to explode, let’s game” excitement that I get out of Lady Blackbird, so in that sense you certainly have a ready-to-go one-shot piece of awesome here.

    I liked the variation on scoring successes on the dice; I’d have to see it in play, but in theory, it drives home the issue of survivability (you don’t score successes, you score hits – you hit your obstacles hard and plow through or get chowed). Also the simplified experience meter appeals to me. While I think Lady Blackbird’s is simple enough, it has the capacity to sustain long play (as I found out with my own group when we played); Alien Survivor’s gives the chance to grow, but it’s far more constricted, which adds to the doomsday atmosphere.

    The characters is where I felt there was a tiny bit lacking. They’re vague enough to support wide characterizations, which is neat (also liked that they are gender-neutral, something that kind of escaped me on the first read-through – I assumed them male and was looking for the female character when I realized they’re all just last names, thus malleable), but their situation didn’t super-jump out at me, more like it raised it’s hand 3/4 of the way. In looking at Lady Blackbird’s characters, the one difference I can see is that the description of each Key/Secret gives a tiny bit of history. Combined, those 5 nuggets really place the character in a specific frame of mind and place in relation to the story-about-to-start. This isn’t to say that each bullet point should be explained like each LB Key/Secret, though. You’d have to decide if that’s ok for you as it is (ultimately, that could be just me).

    Frankly, I’d add the Secrets right to the character sheet from the get-go. One of the things that really zinged about Lady Blackbird for me is that the characters, even before play starts, are being pulled in two opposite directions (Vance wants Lady B and to fulfill his mission, Arkam wants to help Vance but also to complete the mission for Uriah, etc). The Secrets place that pull on the Alien Survivor characters, setting up conflicts from the start. Maybe for a game that I expect will have a few sessions to develop I’d leave them unknown for each player to reveal at some point, but for a shorter, energetic session, I’d slap those on the sheet for all players to see as they choose characters.

    This is very cool, Will. I’m certainly keeping a printed copy with me from now on, so I can always have something to play (along with Lady Blackbird).

  8. Daniel M. Perez, 23. March 2010, 11:51
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    Along the same vein, Rich Rogers (of the Canon Puncture Show), has done a Lady Blackbird-inspired minor league baseball game called Making The Bigs.

    In case you wanna take a look. I know he was working on integrating a new system to simulate games played in the season to give it a definite time-table, but that isn’t in this draft version.

  9. // story, games, together (Pingback), 23. March 2010, 13:11

    [...] weekend, I debuted a little RPG adventure called Alien Survivor — a one-shot survival-horror scenario in the vein of Alien and Pitch Black, using variations on [...]

  10. Will, 23. March 2010, 15:50
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    Thanks for the notes, Daniel. I agree that the characters are still a little lacking. I think I did all right with their individual descriptions through the traits, but I erred on the side of making them forward-facing, rather than inward-facing, and that hurts their dynamic a little bit. In Lady Blackbird, the characters interacting is a big part of the point. In Alien Survivor, it’s a subplot.

    The issue with secrets is that I actually wanted them to be secret — otherwise nobody lets certain characters survive. Imperfect information is something that I thought was important here, but it’s still not done as well as I’d like. Maybe I’ll give the game another 20 hours in a month or so and see how much sharper I can make it.

    Please do let me know if you get a chance to play it and how that goes. The thing only gets better when more folks are able to report back on it. Thanks again!

  11. Daniel M. Perez, 23. March 2010, 16:09
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    Will, I was thinking about this while vacuuming (not sure there’s a relation there, though…)

    On the idea of the opposites-pulling on LB’s characters, what if the AS characters had each a reason to have one other member survive and one other not (in addition to each wanting personal salvation, of course).

    So, for example, Braugher wants to survive, not only for self-preservation, but also because of being PARENT TO TWO BACK ON EARTH. B could want Markham to survive so the payout from the company could be assured to reach the children (maybe Markham is engaged to be married to one of Braugher’s children?), while B would not want Johanesson to make it because B knows J will unleash the biotech experiments on Earth upon arrival.

    I’m thinking out loud. To play Devil’s Advocate, I can also see how this kind of relationship map could be done at the table with each group setting the pulls as they see fit. But the idea of there being built-in push-and-pull dynamics between the characters seems like something that should be there.

    Ultimately, what makes Lady Blackbird really strong is that it’s all about the character interaction as they move through the situation. Here, the situation is really strong, almost overbearingly strong, so I feel the characters need to be able to be more than just faceless bodies moving through the obstacles. I should want each of them to survive for individual reasons, and it should hurt when the other 5 go down.

  12. Will, 23. March 2010, 16:27
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    You’re right, for sure. In past sole-survivor one-shots, I’ve built more complicated networks between the characters. In this case, I didn’t because of a) time, and b) because I find that making the decision early on about who you’re sided with is sometimes less satisfying. I’m worried about the characters fitting into easy factions, when what I want them doing is being personified by play (not by me), so that their allegiance can change based on who just took a hit for the group, etc. I don’t want the pre-play decisions to trump the in-play decisions, you know what I mean?

    Also, I was concerned about what happens if Character A doesn’t get played and so Character C has no one to root for.

    On the one hand, I’m trusting the players to characterize their characters, so they’re not faceless. On the other hand, they could use more to work with.

  13. Daniel M. Perez, 23. March 2010, 16:46
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    Yeah, the more complex relationship map should be a table-by-table thing. I’m thinking that with a bit more fleshing (and I mean just a bit) of each character, enough to give a better sense of what they’re fighting for, but not so much that you’re pre-playing them, it should be a-ok.


    [...] Lady Blackbird : Pour télécharger Alien Survivor : mars 23rd, 2010 in [...]

  15. Rupert, 9. August 2010, 6:06
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    the Narrato’s PDF seems to be broken. Can you fix this? I’m a big fan of the AVP universe AND of Lady Blackbird so this should be perfect for me. I GOTTA HAVE IT!!

    The Player’s file is very interesting and very well done. Respect!

  16. Will, 10. August 2010, 17:02
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    Hi, Rupert. I can’t identify the problem with the Narrator’s PDF. It seems to be working fine for me. Can you try it again and see if you have any luck?


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