I couldn’t sleep last night. I woke up from a nightmare at 4am and laid in bed thinking till six when I finally gave up surrendered to the day beginning. The upshot? A 4-part clock to share for all you Aliens fans who are thinking about playing a game of Aliens Forged in the Dark.
Content warning: All the scary stuff that wakes me up from nightmares including the horror elements of the Aliens franchise (facehuggers, chest busters, etc).
First, a thought on clocks.
One thing I think gets overlooked when progressing a clock is the narrative impact of each tick. Sure, sometimes it’s enough to just say the guards are getting “more” suspicious until the finally sound the alarm when the Alert clock is full, but I’d much rather see that suspicion grow. Metal Gear Solid comes to mind. We start with “what was that noise?”, then a guard starts wandering in your direction, etc. It’s something we can see on screen and changes the situation. Stras Acimovic is the king of making each clock tick feel like it has very real consequence. A change of plans, collateral damage, a barbed insult that will make a forever enemy. Each tick is something real!
So, facehuggers, eh?
On that note, I had some thoughts about what it might look like if you encountered a facehugger and we started a clock to see if it implanted an egg. Here’s what I imagine a 4-tick clock might look like (thanks to Karen Twelves for talking to me about this at 6am and helping with the 3rd tick!).
- Grapple and tackle. The Facehugger grabs a hold of you and depending on circumstances, knocks you down or otherwise has you grappled. At this point, removal is possible and must be done immediately. Most attempts to remove are risky if someone else is helping, desperate if you’re on your own. If removal isn’t complete very soon, add another tick.
- Cynose-based paralytic poison administered which renders the new host (that’s you) unconscious and immobile. As a GM I’d likely describe the sting of the injection and a numbness overtaking the extremities. At this point removal is harder, any action from the poisoned victim is likely reduced effect (maybe down to zero effect if you’re alone, grappled, and poisoned, requiring a push just to make something happen, I know, scary).
- Tail strangulation. This isn’t exactly the order it always happens in the movies, and frankly you can swap ticks two and three if you want. They are both terrifying! The tail wraps around your neck and now removal is extremely dangerous and possibly fatal. Cutting it causes the acid blood to spray and the grip is so tight it can easily break your neck before being wrenched off. I’d likely say any direct method of removal would be desperate no matter who is doing it and effect is still reduced. Level 3 harm (acid burns) or Level 4 harm (broken neck) are both on the table as complications depending on the means applied to remove it.
- The ovipositor is inserted and a xenomorph embryo is implanted. The facehugger will remain inert for some time (ranging from a few minutes to a few hours before it falls off and dies, but the damage is done, and you’re now the carrier for an alien chestburster. Maybe you’ve got incredibly advanced medical facilities on hand, some kind of hive mind alien control to stop it? No, that’s okay, it’s quick to make new characters in this game.
Those are each terrible consequences Sean, why would you do all that for a clock tick?
It’s true, those are all awful and could be complete standalone consequences (often severe consequences) of their own…and I think that is fair game. They are both consequences with mechanical and fictional implications and they leading towards an even worse fate then the clock is full.
I certainly don’t think all clocks should be so dire, but I am a fan of making each tick feel real and concrete rather than an abstract “things are getting worse” meter we ignore until it fills.
Anywho, thanks for coming along this stuff-of-nightmares ride with me. I don’t suggest you actually use a clock like this (well, unless you’re playing an Aliens hack of Blades) but hopefully it offered some inspiration for the net time you start a 4-tick Alert clock and wonder what each tick could mean!