Review of Alien Base

Alien Base is a first contact adventure for the Space Opera RPG, written by Larry Smith, illustrated by Jeff Dee, and published by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1981. It’s been out of print for a while, but has recently reappeared on RPGNow for a couple of bucks as a PDF download.

In a Nutshell: The PCs are ordered to investigate the disappearance of a starship, and rescue any survivors. Given the title, you will not be surprised to find that hitherto unknown aliens are involved. Scenes of violence on the cover suggest that all does not go well for Our Heroes.

Contents: Description of the planet and star system where the missing ship was last seen; outlines of two new alien races; NPC character sheets; deckplans of a vehicle and the alien base itself.

Now, it’s hard to review any adventure without giving away either too much or too little, but I’ll do my best.

Alien Base is an enigma, wrapped in a dungeon crawl, wrapped in a planetary exploration. The party are drawn by their mission first to the planetary surface, then into contact with an alien race, then into the Alien Base and contact with one or more new alien races, and finally to an understanding of what happened to the missing ship, and what that means for their home civilisation. There are different endings depending on whether you wish to use this as a stand-alone adventure, or the first scenario in a planned story arc of five adventures.

(The other modules in the sequence were to have been Derelict, Slaveworld, Scoutship and Starmother, but I have pretty much given up looking for them and assume they were never published. If anyone knows differently, please let me know!)

The party can acquire, or lose, points depending on their actions – sometimes they will do the right thing or figure something out, which increases their score, and sometimes they will get something wrong, which decreases it. I particularly like the hard SF approach the author took; some points can only be obtained by applying scientific knowledge to the puzzles presented.

You could use that either as a basis for awarding experience points, or just as a means of seeing how well the group does. It would have been useful to have a table somewhere of what gains or loses points, and what the maximum score is, but the GM can knock that up quickly enough.

The only thing that really jars is that there is a point in the adventure where having translated written documents enables the group to understand the spoken form of a language. I house-ruled around that – running something over the text caused it to be spoken – but I would have preferred an explanation in the scenario itself.

Conclusion

Since this module came out, I have run it in a number of different game systems for almost every group of SF PCs I’ve had. Their levels of success have ranged from the group which went through it with military precision and got almost a perfect score, to the group who got so scared they ran away before they had completed the scenario, to the group who managed to kill themselves to a man without actually getting into the base.

It is one of my all-time favourite scenarios, matched only by my go-to fantasy campaign starter, The Halls of Tizun Thane from White Dwarf 18. Highly recommended.

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