Tim Cox on a Scenario from Alien Invasion
As with the two previous books in The End of the World series, working on the new scenarios for the Alien Invasion book was a great experience that promised a wealth of variety. Each of the five scenarios presents a totally different take on the premise of an extraterrestrial attack. There are a lot of planets across the galaxy, after all. With such a diversity of potential alien types and invasion methods, it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite scenario. That would be like comparing giant ants and shape-shifting reptilians (not to put too fine a point on it). Still, at the risk of offending our future or secret alien overlords, I’ve always found the War Between Worlds scenario to be particularly fun.
At the onset of this scenario, Earth becomes the target of a sudden attack by, surprisingly enough, the Martians. Thanks in part to a considerable language barrier, the reasons for the invasion and the aliens’ intentions are an utter mystery. Yet the appearance of the aliens and their craft are also bewilderingly familiar. Out of all the scenarios in Alien Invasion, this is the one that likely offers the most instantly recognizable antagonists.
War Between Worlds includes a number of elements that you’re sure to find familiar. Small Grey aliens, flying saucers, abductions, and ray guns have been staples of science fiction and Hollywood movies for decades. As the Player Characters will discover in the most unpleasant way, these concepts are so persistently popular because they’re all based in truth. That these tropes are so familiar, even cliché, makes the revelation of their reality even more shocking. Fleeing from a Grey armed with a heat ray might be an almost surreal experience for PCs. Plus, I’m quite amused by the idea of a terrifying sprint away from something you might have found comical on paper.
In actuality, there is certainly a fair degree of comic absurdity in an invasion of chrome saucers and Martians straight out of a 1950s comic book. The dichotomy between this almost laughable situation and the horror of your hometown suffering rampant destruction by the Martians should make for some interesting and memorable gaming moments. Fittingly, there’s a noticeable undercurrent of dark humor that runs through the whole scenario, which Game Masters can, of course, play up or down as fits their game and their group.
PCs are likely to recognize many aspects of the Greys, including their technology and their behavior, from pop culture books and movies—not that this familiarity is very comforting in the midst of a destructive alien invasion. Still, some PCs might find their knowledge of UFO lore and sci-fi films coming in handy as they struggle to survive the Martian attack. Of course, this lack of distinction between character knowledge and player knowledge is one of the great things that sets The End of the World roleplaying game line apart from other RPGs. If a player knows something (or thinks he knows something) about the threat the PCs are facing in the game, he is encouraged to make full use of this knowledge. Whether or not his knowledge turns out to be accurate is another matter entirely.
On the surface, War Between Worlds seems like a fairly simple scenario, and in some ways this is true. The Greys, hailing from Mars, launch an all-out attack on Earth without warning. It is, perhaps, the classic alien invasion. Flying saucers destroy monuments and abduct hapless citizens, while heat rays and atomizing beams decimate our military defenses. However, any PCs who survive long enough might learn some surprising truths behind the Greys’ aggression, and those who live into the post-apocalypse will—spoiler alert—encounter an even more dangerous enemy.
War Between Worlds offers you and your friends the chance to experience a familiar situation and threat from an entirely new perspective. Whether you’re able to find some grim humor in the nature of the alien threat or react with sheer horror to the rampant destruction, I hope you all—players and GMs—enjoy the scenario as much as I did.