Posted in General Writing

Grey Matter – Alien Invasions in RPGS

Welcome back to My20sided life. It has been awhile. A friend of mine, Marc Plourde, over at, did a twitter poll awhile back asking if he should start back up his blog. He was a regular blogger for some time. I had read his stuff long before I started my own. Upon seeing the poll, however, I told him, if he started blogging again I would too. This led us to start chatting about what to blog about and possible collaborations. So we are going to try to push each other, feed off each other’s ideas, and create a blog dialogue if you will. Let’s see how this works out.

So last week Marc posted a Blog about Gideon IV, a world he was using for an Alien Invasion Cypher game. He had some neat ideas about making the game a bit more Survival Horror, and less plucky resistance. Well, Alien Invasion has been something on my mind in the RPG sense for some time. Something I have never gotten to the table. So, sit back, and I’ll tell you MY tale.

Back in the Mid ’90s when I was a freshman in High School I was introduced to two things that consumed a huge portion of my free time. One was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the other was a Computer game called X-Com: UFO Defense. (1994 Micropose)   X-Com was a complicated Computer where you controlled an organization trying to find out what the aliens were doing and stop an invasion. In the meat of the game, you controlled soldiers on a tactical map trying to find and kill/capture aliens that were terrorizing the populous or that wandered out of UFOs that you had shot down. The soldiers had names (you could rename them whatever you wanted) had their own stats and were persistent from mission to mission, unless you got them killed. Their deaths were permanent. The similarities between the soldiers in this game and an adventuring party in AD&D were not lost on teenage me. I kept thinking about the stories of these poor soldiers and how I convert X-Com to an RPG to bring to my high school friends.


My ideas of an X-Com style RPG never came to pass back then, however, with the Cypher System I have had a renewed interest in making this game a reality. I have written quite a bit that I wanted to give you all a taste of. Once I get my hands on CSR2 I might try to make my ideas of an Alien Invasion setting I call “Grey Matter” into a reality.


In 2022 they came. We were not prepared. We were on the brink of a global war. Bombings, assassination attempts, inept leaders and aggressive militants had spread the worlds fighting resources rather thin.   Some now say, the Aliens were behind it all.   They came. They were Highly advanced, Highly organized, and Tactically sound.   They conquered our planet in less than 3 months. After taking out our military resistance, they switched things up and offered us peace and prosperity.   What could the populous do? They couldn’t fight. They were sick of dying. The earth’s cobbled together leadership submitted to their offer. In some places, civilization was restored under the alien’s control. However, most of the world is now a wasteland. Populated by freedom-fighters and unknown alien activity. Life out here is rough. Supplies are low, but the desire to rid the earth of the Alien Menace is still strong.


My idea of Alien Invasion games has 2 styles.  The First being the Aliens are invading, and the players are instrumental in trying to repel the invasion. The other is the Aliens have already conquered the earth and the players are part of the underground resistance.

Both types have quite different tones and can tell widely different stories.


Invasion games usually have a hopeful tone. The force may be more advanced, it may have greater numbers, but they haven’t won yet. There is still hope.

This is Independence Day, Battlefield LA, War of the Worlds, even Starship Troopers.

Player adventures tend to start out more reactionary in the early game, as the players respond to what the aliens have done or are doing. Later in the campaign, the players should take the fight to the aliens. Finding bases, attacking mother ships and the like.

Invasion games should also be peppered with mysteries and discoveries, and maybe a bit of horror. What are the Aliens motivations, their end game? Is there a government cover-up? The reveal of a particularly disturbing alien behavior could spark many story elements.



Alien Occupation games are usually much darker in mood.  The Aliens have won.  Earth is theirs.  The players can fight back and be part of a resistance and they may even over-throw the aliens in the end, but the damage has already been done.

This is V (TV Series), Falling Skies (TV Series), Battlefield Earth, or XCom 2 (2016)

The flavor text above was an example of a setting of an Alien Occupation Campaign.

Survival is a main aspect of the beginning of an Occupation campaign.   Bonds with other survivors or other resistance members and keeping them safe are good early goals.  Early adventures tend to be a mix of initiated and reactionary.  The party may attack supply lines to get needed material or take out a propaganda center, or they could be trying to hide the group from alien purification patrols.  Later in the campaign, missions may include things like organizing a massive rebellion, destroying alien manufacturing centers, assassinating high command.

The first big question with occupation campaigns is; what are the aliens doing with the remaining human population?  Are they slaves, they rule over and use for labor, or have they tried to convince us they are benevolent overseers and bringers of peace?    The former will change the tone of the game even darker, while the latter adds a second layer to the conflict as the players are more likely to have to deal with humans that believe the alien message.

One of the cool things about an Alien invasion or Occupation game is that you can come up with your own reasonings. What are the Aliens, why are they here? Both things you as the GM need to decide early on. But the smaller mysteries the ones that appear at the table.  What is that thing? How does it work? Well, your players will speculate openly with each other at the table, coming up with their own wild ideas. As a GM you can just have your pick of the litter.

Take this Classic Alien Menace for instance:

Overseer (Level 6)

These large tripod legged machines are still a mystery to most of the Human Population. Are they big vehicles piloted by aliens, a large machine with their own AI’s, or Biomechanical beings all their own. Regardless of what they are their purpose is clear: Surveil and maintain order in the civilized sectors, or simply eradicate any resistance in the outskirts of society.

There are many possibilities once your players down one of these.

So these are just a few of my thoughts on what you can do with an Alien Invasion Campaign. This may be a topic I come back to in a future blog, for I have many more ideas and a lot of material, and maybe someday I’ll make this “Grey Matter” Supplement idea an actual thing.

Of course Alien invasions could just be Pulpy fun:


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