“Look Man. I only need to know one thing! Where they are?”
Pvt Jeanette Vasquez,
In the past thirty-five years, Aliens has often been seen as the benchmark for space action and adventure movies. Sure the effects are old now, but still stand up against the modern computer-generated movies of the Twenty-First Century, and the action remains some of the best ever committed to celluloid.
If Alien was a haunted house, with surprises popping up to scare you, then Aliens was a rollercoaster ride, where you could see the sudden drop coming up to meet you, but were stuck on the ride and unable to do anything about it before gravity took over and your heart leapt into your mouth.
One of the stand out things in Aliens was of course the hard-assed members of the Colonial Marines, assigned to investigate the ill-fated LV-426, now designated Acheron and the colonists of Hadleys Hope. Sure marines had been shown in movies before, but never in Vietnam war vets in space style, with a gritty and realistic approach to every detail, from weapons and uniforms, right down to the real-life training that most of the cast had to undertake before filming began.
Now the wonderful folks at Free League Publishing are about too unleash the Colonial Marine Operations Manual for their award-winning Alien The Roleplaying Game, a love letter to the men and women of the USCMC if there ever was one. The supplement is not out until August, but the wonderful folks over at Free League very kindly sent me a PDF so that I could do this quick preview, my many thanks go out to Bole Bermann for all her support.
This is not a fly by night or run of the mill book though and its 360 pages are packed with everything you need to take the fight to the bugs and much more. So on the ready line Marine and lets take a look.
Right from the off you can tell you are in for a hell of a ride with this sourcebook, with a very detailed background and history of the marines, their equipment and weapons and the state of the universe in the 2180s. The book is split into two sections which are crammed to the gills with information that sometimes you need to re-read segments and do a double-take to allow things to settle in the grey matter. This quick preview will give you a glimpse at what you can expect. My full review will be on YouTube once I get my physical copy, though I am assured that very little is going to change from the pdf version to the in print version of the book which in itself is a fantastic bit of news!
The first part of the Colonial Marine Operations Manual features everything that the players need to know about the history of the marines, the various factions operating within the Middle Heavens and the conflicts that have shaped the galaxy and with it the future of mankind.
The first segment is broken down as follows
- Welcome to the Corps: A brief introduction told to you as if you are a new marine and from the perspective of an outsider to the universe.
- History: Details the timeline and history of mankind’s quest for the stars, the rise of the mega-corporations and the creation of the United States Colonial Marine Corp and the many factions of world governments, outposts and more
- Organisation: The organisation of the marines and the units that support them, how they are used in battle and the day to day operations of life in the corp
- Making Marines: The actual expanded rules for creating your marine squads, and the best way for players to work as a team.
- Gear: From the trusty M41A Pulse Rifle to the Cheyne Dropship, get your marine loaded for bear.
This covers the first hundred or so pages of the book and has a total wealth of information, gathered from the movies, comics, books and of course the writer’s furtive imaginations at Free League Publishing. This is an alien lovers dream come true and does an amazing job of fleshing out the corp, the various factions and the state of the universe and the fight for resources that most marines will end up facing on a regular basis.
The USMC is a private armed force that works in conjunction with the United Americas (America, Canada and Central America) and the huge mega-corporation Weyland-Yutani, they act as troubleshooters and threat response for the UA and Weyland-Yutani and often find themselves going constantly from one operation to the next with very little in the way of downtime.
Life in the Corps is hyped up to be glamorous and exciting by the propaganda of the media, though it can often be very far from the truth. Most missions will take place dozens of light-years away from the Marines base of operations and most ops will involve the Marines being placed into hypersleep chambers as it can take weeks or even months to traverse the vast distances across stellar space, even with faster than light technology.
As well as the amount of time spent sleeping, marines have to also contend with the very real fear of space. The threat of being exposed to the vacuum of deep space is just one worry to think of when every planet you land on will have most things out to get you, from flora and fauna to the local populace. Life in the Corps is often hard, and for many, it is the only job they will do for the rest of their life, however long that may be.
The book doesn’t shy away from the pitfalls of being a marine and in many senses actually tries to put the reader off the idea entirely. But seeing as you have either already signed up or been forced to enlist due to criminal offences then the Corp is there for life!
The background of the Alien franchise is pretty well versed out now, with over 40 years of lore in the movies, video games, novels and comic books, and Free League are adding to the cannon and pushing the boundaries in some cases, tying together a lot of information that has been present for a long time. This first section of the book gives us a breakdown of the timeline for Aliens, taking into account events from the birth of Peter Weyland, right up to the events of Alien 3 and the death of Ellen Ripley on Fury 161 taking the background forward to 2183 a few years after the events of Aliens and Alien 3.
The timeline is filled with dozens of entries that really paint a broad picture of what life is like in the Middle Heavens, the events of Prometheus and Covenant, the terrible events on Sevastopol Station with Amanda Ripley (Ripleys daughter as seen in the hit game Alien: Isolation), and the rise and fall of synthetic people and androids within the universe.
The Colonial Marines organisation is covered in great detail in the next section, breathing life into details, and covers more or less everything you could wish to know, from how to organise your fireteams, who they report to, and even support and ancillary branches of the USCM. On the whole, most of this organisation follows pretty close to the modern-day United States Marine Corps structure, in both rank and organisation which gives the book a grounding in reality that spills over into the fictional universe. This echoes the real-life look at life in the Corps we got in Aliens really well and as well as giving us a breakdown on how marines fit into the rest of the Corps, we are also given many other details to flesh out the military service.
The chapter also covers the other services that are employed to police the MIddle Heavens, most of whom are rivals or even enemies to the USCM, Weyland-Yutani, or even the United Americas (UA). We get a glimpse at the 3 World Empire (3WE) led by Great Britain and Japan, the Union of Progressive Peoples (UPP) led by China and Russia who are the main thorn in everyone’s side, as well as the Independent Core System Colonies (ICSC) which is made up from colonies that broke away from their parent companies yoke. There is a wealth of information on the main players and how they relate to each other, past conflicts and ongoing issues here, and hints are dropped at something very dark is on the horizon, something that could change the course of the galaxy itself.
The next section of the players’ segment deals with generating your marine characters and how to get the best out of them as a player. Of course, you could already play as a marine with the Alien Roleplaying Game core rules, though this section is vastly expanded and allows the player to chose from a wide range of options for their character, from Dropship Crew Chief to Marksman, and even details on how best to use them within your games of Alien Roleplaying Game. New talents are also included to round out your marines.
What would a USCM Marine be without the gear to allow them to maintain that reputation as ‘Ultimate Badasses?’ The Gear chapter is one of the biggest sections in the book so far and comes in at over fifty pages, each packed with descriptions and backgrounds on weapons, armour, tanks, aircraft, and spaceships that are issued to the Marines and of course the details for using them within your games.
There are illustrations of many of the weapons and equipment presented in this chapter, detailed and in fitting with the universe, and offer the player a good visual insight into the various gear that will be taken into battle by their characters.
Games MU/TH/ER Section
The final part of the book and the bulk of it is given over to the Games Mother (MU/TH/ER) who will be running the campaigns and adventures, and it is here that the real meat of the book is presented. Many roleplaying games will often include hints to the hidden truths going on that only the game master will know, and sometimes those truths will be in plain sight and hint at something much darker going on within the games universe. True to form the Colonial Marine Operations Manual offers a dark history and universe filled with danger on all sides as well as a vast range of tools for the Games Mother which are listed below.
- The Marine Campaign
- Systems and Bases
- CLASSIFIED *
- The Frontier War
Of course if you are planning on using Marines in your adventures and campagins then you are going to need the information to do just that and over the final 248 pages you will get just that. I don’t want to go into too much detail here for obvious reasons, but lets just say that if you are planning on running Alien (if not, why not?) then you have most of the leg work done for you.
There is a fleshed-out USCM starship, the USS Tamb’itam and her NPC crew, details on how to use the NPC’s with your players, and how they gel together to make a cohesive unit but this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as there is so much information here, it is hard to cover without giving any real spoilers away and I would hate to do that.
In essence what you are getting to run the game is not only a very indepth and complete campaign system that will explore narrative driven cinematic roleplaying, but also enough plot hooks, ideas and dangling strings that will keep your players on their toes for many years of play. There are dozens of NPC’s, bases, planets and systems and lots of interigue and action that is more than enough to fire the imagination, even if you don’t wish to run the adventures as written. The Destroyer of Worlds scenario is often mentioned throughout the course of the GM section, and though it is not needed to run any of the material presented in the Colonial Marines Operations Manual it is a good idea to pick up a copy as some of the events that happen play a very important part going forward.
As you can see from the contents of the GM section, I have omitted the name of one of the sections as I don’t wish to give away that information, but needless to say, they are very interesting and will play a vital role within the game going forward.
From start to finish the Colonial Marines Operations Manual features some truly stunning artwork, in fact it is among some of the best I have ever seen in a roleplaying game supplement in the 40 odd years i have been gaming. The illustrations for the weapons, ships and equipment are really good but what stands out very strong and clear is the full page paintings of marines, these are really well done and if you preoder the book right now from Free League, you will not only get a copy of the manual in PDF format (which is where I am taking my review from) but also a copy of the Colonial Marines Operations Art Book.
Quotes from the movies are dotted around the manual and really add to the flavour of the text, raising that odd smile when you see them for the first time, and this blends in with the rest of the narrative presented perfectly, The xenomorph has often been called the ‘Perfect Organisim; and this book is pretty much as close as you are going to get to perfect for a games supplement!
Even if you are not that famiiar with the Aliens universe, you will find more than enough information to run a very successful game or even campaign with ease. The Colonial Marines Operations Manual is designed for campaign play right from the off and is the first book of the series in this format which bodes very well for the future of the game.
Overall the book is well thought out and executed and offers a very deep delve into one of the most popular aspects of one of cinemas most cherished movies. If you are looking for a new game for your roleplaying sessions or are on the fence about picking up the core rulebook, then this weighty tome should persuade even the most ardent of detractors. The missions are a gripping read that will really pop once you introduce your player to them, and though they could be played in almost any order, I would opt to follow the natural flow and play them as written.
The Colonial Marine Opertations Manual is available now to order directly from Free League Publishing at the link below, and will be launching sometime in August 2021. This is the first in a planned series of indepth sourcebooks and I really excited for what we will see in the future. My many thanks to Boel Bermann from Free League for all her help with this preview!
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