GameJoy: GM Advice: Accidentally Making A Workplace Comedy

This week the GM stands for ‘Game Mother’ because I’m talking about the ALIEN RPG again.

I’ve been very busy the past few months and I’ve been without a weekly game with friends for a bit longer. I decided I wanted to treat myself and run a short campaign set in the Alien films’ universe. Kiel can have a little Aliens, as a treat.

The more I poured over the core rulebook, the more I saw it was lacking a lot of specific info about how a space trucker campaign is supposed to work in terms of payment, shares, and exactly how much each character takes home after a six week trip through the stars delivering trimonite ore and power loaders to far flung colonies on the frontier.

For a one shot game (Or Cinematic Scenario as the ALIEN RPG likes to call them), the promise of payment is little more than an adventure hook for PC’s. It’s the carrot the GM dangles on a stick to lead them right into a xenomorph’s mouth. But I feel like for an ongoing campaign it needs to be more concrete and tangible. I want to lean into the book keeping of interstellar shipping, and find out what my players can expect to earn job to job. I want to make it feel more real and immersive, and I can tell you that having worked a lot of real life jobs where the pay was up in the air, it is soul-crushing.

Just like Parker aboard the Nostromo, “I think we should talk about the bonus situation.”

So I made this my pet project on lunch and coffee breaks. I came up with a more detailed job randomizer than what’s in the core book, with pay scales and contract options, and the likelihood of ‘corporate’ getting involved.

I did this while binging Superstore on Netflix with my wife, and it left a bit of an impression.

Suddenly a lot of my NPC’s were satirical stand ins for the ills of working for a giant corporation. I found opportunities for drama and events within the mundane of day to day working among the stars: shipping delays and the idiot decisions that cause them, impossibly callous decisions made by ‘the company’ for no other reason than to save money, and unexpected events like machinery breaking down, pest infestations, and relationship dramas.

Keeping the titular alien in the background as a veiled threat or foreshadowed finale, I found that I was essentially designing a workplace comedy game in space. Co-workers banter back and forth as they try to come up with a plan in the break room to get around the latest idiotic corporate mandate from the inept Seegson corporation, all while trying to maximize their own pay in a galaxy that’s out to eat them alive.

Sure there’s the existential threat of parasitic alien life being encountered on this job…but that’s nothing compared to getting the threat of not finishing this cargo delivery on time while also keeping Sarah’s birthday party in the mess hall a surprise.

I’m really excited to see where this game goes. So far it’s a lot of fun. Plus, by keeping the actual horrors of this universe in the background, slowly creeping forward to the finale, I feel like it provides a more genuine Alien experience. Most characters in these films have no idea about the monsters that are in store for them by the film’s midpoint.

And if things proceed as they are, neither will my players.