So, at this point I’m guessing that many of y’all have gotten your hands on the preliminary pdf version for Heart of Darkness, and I thought it might be useful and fun to discuss thoughts on running and prepping the cinematic story.
First of all, I friggin’ love HoD. I find it to be bold and brave and very ambitious, with some great pearls of drama, horror, and suspenseful moments. I can understand people who find HoD too new and original for the Alien universe, but I just love how this scenario dives headfirst into pure Giger-dome, and I know it will blow my players’ minds, too, so HoD is very much for us.
What y’all think about it?
The first thing I want to discuss is the pre-gen PCs. There is a LOT going on with them, and Gaska put together a great, dysfunctional PC team speeding towards collision. Regardless, some of these are better fit for PCs than others, and here are my thoughts on them.
***Obviously, the following discussion will contain spoilers***
HIGH TIER CHARACTERS
These are the pre-gens I deem most suitable as player characters. There are 7 pre-gen characters in the game.
Cpt. Lugar: Owns the Cetorhina; has been to Erebos several times in the past; is secretly searching for her great aunt Aly who was part of the original Cronus mission; knows the CotG backstory (=ties the entire 26 Draconis campaign together). Lugar has a lot of agency, resources, and interest in the mission and should definitely be a PC STARTING character. Her usefulness in the story is also frontloaded – she knows stuff and is on a personal mission – and should she die halfway through the story, leaving Agenda Cards unfulfilled, that’s no problem; Lugar going out looking for her grand aunt is more effective than her actually finding the Perfected Aly.
Prof. Hedenström: Connection to Deep Void/Frontier War campaign (=the “shadow government bioweapons project” he was part of is obviously Deep Void); is the resident expert on the 26 Draconis Strain; useful skill-sets; has an Ash-like character twist in the 3rd Act. Like Lugar, Hedenström has agency and insights that makes him a good PC, and he goes all Ash/Burke/Golic on the others in the 3rd Act (=motivated to become one of the Fulfremmen); lots of potential here! Hedenström’s usefulness increases as the acts progress, and it would really be a shame if he died early. (I’m sure gonna fudge Critical Hit rolls to keep him alive, if able).
Col.-Doc. Drabikowski: A usual-suspect (=UPP scientist) adding tension and potential RPG moments; useful skill-sets; motivated to stop the Fulfremmen; and the center character in a late-game complication (=UPP trying to retrieve “Ironfish”). Again, this is a character with much agency, having specific mission objectives apart from the rest. Like Hedenström, Dabrikowski’s footprints in the story matures with time and she should stay alive at least until the MSS stuff starts happening.
These characters work fine as PCs, but are not as necessary as the above three.
Sgt. Sajaad: The only combat character; strongly motivated to protect the team; strongly motivated to investigate alien stuff; connection to Frontier War (=basically a Church of the Two Divines cultist); significant character arc. Sajaad starts out as a very helpful and useful ally, only to gradually turn into a Golic-style enemy of the group, and there’s a lot of RPG potential here. She’s capable of handling many dangerous situations, but will probably also be the one regularly put in dangerous situations; she MIGHT last a while or she MIGHT bite the dust early on. Should she perish before fulfilling her Agenda Card arc, it’s no big deal – you miss out on a fantastic character journey, but one that is not central to the plot. Basically, Sajaad finding god amidst all the terrible stuff happening at Erebos is just icing on the cake, and the story will move fine without it. I’d say Sajaad is a great replacement character for a dead PC, as she comes with weird motivations that she can easily have explored behind everyone’s backs. And… it might be fun to see the face of the player who gets Sajaad midway through the story, only to discover that their quiet and loyal bodyguard marine is actually a wacko xenomorph worshipper!
Dr. Lark: Motivated to keep the others alive and well; files on all the other team members (=source of tension and RPG moments); rogue synthetic; a (benign) character manipulator. Dr. Lark is a plot device, the machine in the PCs’ midst that will turn biomechanical just like the Fulfremmen. As such, she doesn’t have to be a PC – her arc will work just as well as an NPC – but some players would love the challenge to play her. She’s more of an internal character, and a player could play her so subtly that her wants, fears, and desires never come to the surface. Whether a PC or NPC, however, Lark should definitely endure into act 3, to begin metamorphosing into a biomechanical being!
Others: All three listed Erebos prison inmates are great replacement characters, but only if all three are introduced as a group (with a minimum of two being PCs). It would be fun if, late in the game when things have gone to hell and PCs start dropping as flies, the prisoners become a fresh “blank slate” PC group with their own motivations. Cool stuff. Similarly, SOF Commando Sub-Lt. Pfluger might be a good late-in-the-game replacement PC; not enough there to sustain her as a PC for the full scenario, but definitely enough motivation and agency for an act or (at most) two.
LOW TIER CHARACTERS
These characters are either too uninteresting to be player characters, or their function in the story is more in line with NPCs than PCs.
Dr. Ejiri: Motivated to keep the others alive and well; motivated to stop the Fulfremmen; skilled leader; stress reducer. Dr. Ejiri is a blank slate, a nothing character best suited as a GM device to guide the players along. Some players would love to explore a “freeform” character like this, with no set character arc, but to be honest, Dr. Ejiri is kind of boring.
Prof. Navarre: This character is nothing but a conflict generator, tied directly to another character’s (Drabikowski’s) arc, with nothing going on for themselves. He has a secret and a private mission, but neither are likely to come into play except for the one scene where Navarre confronts Drabikowski (which, in many groups, will happen privately between the two players having a chat away from the table). Like with Lark, Navarre’s internal stuff might never come into play, and it is a shame that Dr. Lark isn’t given some info on the real Navarre that could set up a confrontation between the two. Basically, Navarre is the most clear-cut NPC of the bunch, there just to be a wrench in the machinery and a stimulant to Drabikowski’s character. He’s basically Burke.
Grey 88-80: Lugar’s synthetic assistant has NO agency on its own (=acts only when ordered to) and is therefore poorly suited for being a PC, even a replacement PC. However, weird players (like myself, to be honest) would love the challenge of playing another character’s sentient tool, so there is that. But yeah, Grey is a last resort kind of PC choice.
Adrien: Ok, you pretty much HAVE to let a player pick the cat as their replacement PC, right? You have to. But beware, Adrien has very little agency and no real motivation in the story – he’s got nothing to do and, apart from the novelty factor, is probably not the most interesting character to play. He’s also a very difficult character to play in any way that is interesting to the story, ‘cause, as an actual cat, Adrien’s got no investment into anything going on. The best use of Adrien is as a stress reducer who manipulates other PCs into falling in love with him, so that he can become a source of trouble… which is clearly an NPC function. As it happens, my girlfriend accidentally learned that you can play a cat in HoD (=she glanced at one of the official preview pages released by FL which spoils this fact), and now she demands to get to play Adrien, but I have no idea what to do with him as a PC…