X-Com: UFO Defense

How would you adapt X-Com #1 for a TTRPG one-shot or campaign? Inspired by either the 1994 videogame or the remake from 2012?

Let’s get needlesssly specific!

  • What system would you use? What mechanics would you cut (hopefully a lot of them?), and what would you change or add?

  • Any ideas for COOL ALIENS to encounter? How about some fun science-fantasy gear?

  • How about the setting? What era – 60s, 90s, or far in the future? What city or continent would you put the characters in? Would you let them choose?

Would it be more like the gritty Delta Green, or more like the fun-tastic Agents of O.D.D., or maybe something even more old-school?

For this prompt, your adaptation does *not have to be literal. For example, I think the exciting part of that experience was the sense of discovery – of learning more about new alien species and technology, slowly revealed over many missions. So it might actually be better to create some new or totally unexpected aliens. Your own “bestiary,” if you will.

(Or maybe just borrow from another universe. Would it be fun to fight a Beholder or Mindflayer stepping out of a crashed UFO? And cast Bigby’s Magic Hand of Holy Hellfire whatnot all over Tokyo, London, or New York?)


@DreamingDragonslayer reminded me of this fun board game adaptation – Youtube review by Shut Up & Sit Down.

Edit: It also reminds me that there are a lot of spinning plates in X-Com, as envisioned in the main videogame series. Which, just in my humble opinion, means that a TTRPG group would need to decide on a narrower focus and cut at least 1 or 2 areas of concern for smoother speed of play.

Love this idea. The OG XCOM: UFO Defense is my favorite iteration of the game. All of my thoughts will be based on that version.

Here is a list if important mechanics that captures the essence of XCOM for me.

  • The Clock
  • Fear and panic
  • Inventory Management
  • Vision on the Geoscape/Battlescape
  • Story progression through discovery

The XCOM core is based around racing the clock against the horror of an alien invasion. The discovery part is super cool, but the tension behind sending waves of expendable soldiers against a horrific enemy equipped with technology and powers beyond their understanding is what anchors the gameplay for me.

The Clock
First thought would be steal the doomsday clock from Mork Borg to simulate the steps of the invasion.

Panic and fear
Mothership’s panic die from 1e is a fun model, but I would run it in reverse. Characters enter this world already terrified and woefully unprepared. As they save vs fear they become more resilient. I imagine this creating a sort of funnel tearing away at the initial squad until the lucky few emerge tempered by the horror.

Definitely not a fun-tastic game.

The truly terrifying part of XCOM is as you approach the end game the soldiers become reflections of the previously unknown aliens. They now embody fear and use it as a weapon against the aliens pushing them back to Cydonia. I don’t want to spoil the endgame, but the reality of the situation is super depressing.

That’s all for now, but I will be thinking about how to handle the bestiary. Fun stuff! Thanks for the topic.


Totally! I think the Mothership suggestion is totally great. I’ve played the new kickstarter version once, and I like how character creation works.

I had previously thought that Alien RPG would be a really good fit. Something like Agents of O.D.D. might be more appropriate for a pulp or heroic version of the story, which is fine and great, but a different experience than the OG X-Com.

I think the moments I remember the most from the first game are exactly like you describe –
I arrive at a crash site. I move my people out into some dark prairie farmland. Someone spots an alien. I have no idea what that creature is – never seen that type before! Then: actual moment of fear, despite pixelated graphics.

I forgot to mention DARKSHIP. :point_left: :eyes:

I am not generally keen on leveling systems, but the generic rookie to specialized soldier is another big theme running throughout the entire game of XCOM. Taking the funnel approach of rookies mechanically being without skill and upon surviving a mission gains a class then subsequent skills would achieve the desired vibe for me.

Okay yeah, the more I think about it the more this needs to happen.

UFOpaedia houses essentially all the data needed to convert the game.

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