Leading Edge Games is best known for the insanely detailed combat system of their flagship modern RPG Phoenix Command. With this detailed RPG material to work from, they released two science fiction RPGs using “simplified” versions of the rules. The first was Living Steel, the second was a licensed game based on the second Alien movie – Aliens.
As in the movie, the assumption of the game is that the players are taking on the role of the Colonial Marines dealing with a xenomorph “problem”. Most times that I saw it pulled out it was basically a retelling of the movie, sometimes even down to the overly brave cybernetic organism who acts as the most human of the team, and the corporate shill who has the least empathy.
Did I mention it’s a “simplified” version of the Phoenix Command system? It remains far more complex than most modern RPGs when it comes to the combat system, and combat is fairly slow and tedious in play (although fortunately most people can’t take more than a hit or two from future firearms and xenomorphs – so that speeds things up).
Bonus Points: The sample character? Yeah, it’s Hudson! “Game over man!”
Character creation is either by point-buy or random rolls. Since I’m going in blind, we’ll let the dice decide what kind of marine I’m going to end up with.
The five ability scores are determined by rolling 3d6 twice for each stat in order, taking the better result in each case.The stats are pretty typical of older RPGs – basically the D&D statblock, in this case without Charisma directly – Strength, Intelligence, Will, Health and Agility. Health and Agility both gave me a scare at first as my first rolls for each were a 4 and a 5 respectively, but on the second rolls Health came out at a whopping 17 and Agility at a mediocre 9. So I start off with an above average grunt with mediocre Agility and high Intelligence and Health.
Next is a batch of “secondary” characteristics. These are rolled using 3d6 in order, then rolling 1d6 and using those points to increase one or more secondary characteristics. These stats are Charisma, Leadership, Motivation and Perception. I get rolls of 12, 13, 9 and 7 and finally a 4 on the d6. I blow those points all on Perception because I’d like to have some inkling of what’s coming before a facehugger starts orally sodomizing my marine. Hmmm… probably time to give this red shirt a name. Something red, to go with the fact that he’s really just a disposable M41A Pulse Rifle attachment. It would be too “Gears of War” to actually call him Carmine though… Murrey is a dark red-purple, so Murray is close. Murray McIlroy it is (McIlroy being a scottish last name that means the son of a red-haired man), our scottish red shirt in the Colonial Marines.
As a member of the corps, my next step is to determine my education prior to enlistment. A 53 on the percentiles gives Murray a “Fair” education (and 1 Merit Point… I guess I’ll figure out what that means later). A percentile roll of 13 for social background puts him in the “underprivileged” with 0 Merit Points. Then I count up stats above a certain level to get more merit points (in this case getting an additional 7 Merit Points). With those points Murray can’t be an officer, but he can be an Auxiliary, but I decide to go with a front-line grunt instead, even if he has the background and stats to work in a support role.
Through the background generation section, every time the character has the opportunity to learn a skill, he has to make a percentile roll under his Int + Motivation – 10 (15% in Murray’s case – this doesn’t look promising). He starts with all skills at “Unskilled” and whenever he makes one of those learning checks, it progresses up one step to a maximum of 6 ranks (Grand Master).
“Another glorious day in the Corps.
A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm.
Every meal is a banquet. Every paycheck a fortune,
every formation a parade. I love the Corps!”
In basic training he gets to roll for a whole pile of skills, and of the seven Murray actually “levels up” in both Survival and Infiltration. He also picks training in Motion Tracker Operation, Infantry Weapons Repair and Portable Welder Operation. He makes the roll on the last one, and actually still has a passing idea of how to use the welding gear. At the end of his four month basic training, he can apply for specialist training except that he doesn’t have good enough stats for any of the specialist branches.
He starts active duty as a Private in the Colonial Marine Corps! A roll of d10 determines how many years of service he’s seen (2 whole years, not a complete greenie which is what happens if you roll a 0).
“Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?“
Hist first year of active duty is off-world, dealing with civil disorder on one of the colony worlds. He learns no new skills, and gets no new Merit Points. His second year of duty is where he gets to shine, however. He gets moved up to a Strike Team working against smugglers. He upgrades his Gun Combat and Awareness skills (watching for contraband as well as covering his own ass and his team against angry smugglers), and he earns a Commendation (and 3 Merit Points, bringing his total to 10 – one shy of what he needs to make Corporal). As game play begins, he’s looking for that Merit Point and maybe to finally earn enough skill in ANY of his skills to move up from “Novice” to “Certified”.
With 2 years of service under his belt, Murray is 20 years old and has 4 years left in his tour of duty. If he gets promoted (hell, if he lives that is) then there’s always the chance he’ll go career instead of going back to civilian life at the end of this tour. That said, in this game its highly unlikely that he’ll last that long.
“Alright, gear up! Two minutes people, get hot! Somebody wake up Hicks!“
He gets equipped with Colonial Marine Corps Light Armor Fatigues, which means he can still lug 25 pounds of gear – I contemplated Medium Armor, but then his combat load would drop to 15 pounds.
His high Intelligence and novice Gun Combat skill give Private Murray 5 combat actions per turn (of a max of 8, so pretty decent). His low Gun Combat skill however menas he only has a knockout value of 12 (think of it as hit points – someone who is unskilled with average Will has 3, and at Novice they have their Will stat, and every level above that it increases by their Will stat again).
Private Murray McIlroy
Colonial Marines Line Infantry
Combat Actions: 5
Knockout Value: 12
Learning Roll: 15
Merit Points: 10
Social Background: Underprivileged
Off-World – Civil Disorder
Strike Team – Contraband (with Commendation)
Awareness – Novice
Gun Combat – Novice
Infiltration – Novice
Portable Welder Op – Novice
Survival – Novice
Colonial Marine Corps Light Armor Fatigues
First Aid Kit
20 Days Rations
M41A Pulse Rifle & 2 clips
Pistol & 2 clips