Way back when Garth Ellis was about to take Wildstorm Comic’s title Stormwatch and morph it into The Authority, he wrote a one-shot crossover entitled WildCATS/Aliens, featuring another Wildstorm team battling the Xenomorphs of the movie franchise. The story is Ellis hated the idea of the crossover, but agreed after being given free rein to kill off any characters he wanted (he would write off Fuji, Hellstrike, and Fahrenheit, among others).
The problem with the whole concept is that the story relied on indiscriminate slaughter of some well-liked characters in order to get the horror/shock effect. Even I was stunned reading the book, realizing that it would be canon in the comic book universe. What wasn’t shocking was the aliens themselves because all the literal ins and outs of the xenomorphs were as well comprehended as the lore of a vampire half a century earlier. Acid blood? Eggs in chests? We all knew it was coming.
It’s this lack of shock that was the topic of the discussion regarding the Alien RPG I had with my friend John recently. He’d been hearing all sorts of good buzz about the game and, always on the hunt for a good sci-fi option, was interested in looking at my copy. I told him bluntly that the game’s mechanics were very tilted towards one-shot or convention play rather than an ongoing campaign. The original movie (which most heavily influences the RPG) is a haunted house in space, and unless you’re the Scooby Gang, going from one haunted house to another just seems weird. Plus after the shock value is gone, the story will likely drift into a simple monster-hunting action story (Aliens) or deconstruct into humanity being the real monsters (Alien 3), or become just another “Merchant Marine” Traveller/Firefly story (Alien Resurrection).
John agreed, saying that the best way to run an Alien RPG session would be to ditch the xenomorphs entirely and bring in another alien concept, one unfamiliar to the players. Facing the unknown is a much more effective than realizing that any NPC you find that has survived an encounter with the Xenomorphs is likely hosting a chest-burster.
I’ve read books on how to run horror RPG’s, and I remain convinced this is one of the hardest genres to run.