Reviewed by Brent Knorr ©2002
Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion
One of the earliest science fiction Roleplaying
settings makes a comeback in this 25th Anniversary Edition of
James M. Ward's Metamorphosis Alpha Universe Science Fiction
Campaign. This is a 64
page softcover Rules book published by Fast Forward Entertainment.
Chapter 1 provides the necessary introductory
material. The Starship Warden has changed over the years; it's no longer
a colony ship that's been lost for generations, but rather, a Science
vessel that has been sent out to find lost colony ships.
When it finds the first one, the Warden runs into an invisible
object that punctures the hull. A
strange radiation flows through the breaches, causing massive damage to
the ship and turning the all of the crew into piles of white dust.
Only the combat troops are spared, protected by the suspended
animation pods that they are in. Soon,
alien invaders start moving into the Warden from the object, an enormous
This new version of the game plays more like a board
game than a roleplaying game. There
are three phases that the players go through.
Phase 1 starts shortly after the accident takes place while the
ship robots are trying to stem the tide of alien invasion as well as
repairing the damage to the ship. Robots
are the only characters available to play.
In Phase 2, the robots have activated the android
vats and have started producing androids to assist them in battling the
aliens and repairing the ship. Player characters now have the choice of
playing Robots or Androids
In Phase 3, the robot and android leaders have
decided that they cannot save the ship without human help, so the Combat
Troops are awakened.
The suggestion from the designer is to have your
players roll up Robot characters on the first night of play, and play
these through Phase 1. On the
second night of play, have them roll up android characters and play
through phase 2, then on the third night, roll up human combat troops and
start phase 3. In subsequent
sessions, let them decide which characters they like best and which phase
they prefer to play in. possibly playing in all three, and even letting
them use all three of their characters in the last and most difficult
phase of the game.
Chapter 2 describes the seventeen different levels
of the Starship Warden. Like
previous versions of the game, these descriptions are very general and it
is left to the gamemaster to fill in the details.
Each deck description gets roughly a third of a page and includes
how the deck changes in the different phases of the game.
Chapter 3 describes the Ability scores used in the
game and how they are used. There
are five Abilities: Constitution, Dexterity, Leadership Potential, Mental
Resistance, and Radiation Resistance.
These are generated using six sided dice, ranging from 1d+1 to 3d+3
depending on the type of character and the ability.
Your character also starts with a certain number of Luck points,
these are based on the Abilities, the lower the ability, the more luck
points you get. I guess the
logic is the worse your ability, the more luck you will need to survive!
These points get refreshed at the beginning of each gaming session.
A point can be spent before a die roll to add or subtract two from
a result, or two luck points can be spent after a die roll to re-roll a
Chapter 4 is Character Creation, with rules for
creating Robots, including options for designing your own robot, or you
can go to the Ship Robot Chart and pick one of those.
The robots on the chart have greater abilities than the ones you
can put together yourself. The
chapter includes descriptions of all the various equipment your robot can
be equipped with. This section is fairly extensive, taking up five and a
half pages. Next are the
rules for creating Androids. There
are four styles of android to choose from, and various android programs
that can be added to these styles. These rules take up about two and a
half pages. Finally, there are the rules for Human characters. These are
all Combat Troops and character creation only gets one sentence: "Simply
roll the dice as described at the beginning of Chapter 3, Character
Ability Scores, and you're done!"
Your Human character will accumulate mutations as they are exposed
to Radiation during his travels through the Warden, but they don't start
Chapter 5 describes the various equipments available
to the characters. They
include a Complexity rating that is used when trying to figure out how to
use the equipment. This covers roughly three pages.
Chapter 6 is a two-page chapter (including a half
page picture) simply entitled "Doing Things". This is really just a
matter of the GM assigning a difficulty number to the task the character
is attempting, choosing which ability is appropriate, rolling three
six-sided dice, then cross referencing the result on the "Doing Things
Table". Very quick and simple
Chapter 7 is another two pages describing Mutations.
There are three types of Mutations: Physical, Mental, and Plant,
and twelve sub-mutations for each mutation type.
Chapter 8 is Aliens & Creatures.
These are divided up by the Phase in which they first appear.
There are thirty-four different creatures described.
They share the same sort of statistics as player characters.
Chapter 9 covers Combat.
It's also a fairly straightforward system. Every sort of weapon is assigned a weapon class, ranging from
Weapon Class 21 for Fists, daggers and claws, to Weapon Class 11 for
Small, personal energy weapons and pistols, to Weapon Class 3 for
Self-guided weapons with artificial intelligence.
There is also a special Weapon Class 2, which is "A lucky shot"
which requires a player character to use all his remaining Luck points
(minimum of two) for the session but almost guarantees a successful hit.
You can improve your Weapon Class by 5 (i.e. WC 21 becomes WC 16) for
Weapon Classes 21 through 17 by becoming "Talented" with these weapon
types. This occurs when you kill 10 foes with that weapon type.
A character's chance to hit is found by comparing
the weapon class to the target's armor class on the Combat Table,
adjusted for range penalties. Eight
types of weapons are described, as well as 10 types of armor.
The armor classes also range from 21 (Human flesh) to 2 (Duralloy
armor plus force field). This chapter also describes what penalties apply
to different situations in combat, movement, encumbrance, and what can be
done in a turn.
Chapter 10 deals with Item Complexity.
Every item on the Starship Warden is given a Complexity Rating,
ranging from 1 for items like Bows and Arrows, to 10 for Computers and
Alien Devices. To figure out
how to use an item, there is an Item Complexity Chart that you roll dice
on to move through, with modifiers based on your Mental Resistance
ability. The higher the complexity rating, the further along the chart you
must progress. You are
limited to 20 rolls to figure out the item.
There is a good example provided on how to use the chart.
Chapter 11 is about Encounters. A table is provided, broken down by the deck of the ship you
are one and what Phase of the game you are in. I believe that there is a
minor problem with this table; you are supposed to roll a die to determine
what the encounter is, but the first set of ship levels has seven
encounters, the second set has six, and the last set has five.
Unfortunately, they didn't include the actual die numbers on the
chart. I think it's just a
matter of moving the dividing lines up by one line.
The last chapter, chapter 12, has a sample level,
Epsilon City, level 14. Fifteen
major areas of the city are described, roughly five per page, giving a
general description of what can be found in that area, roleplaying
opportunities, and what changes occur in the different Phases.
There are also three major Villains described, suitable for use on
Level 14. Each one gets a paragraph description.
I must say I'm not overly fond of this new version
of the game. There is an
awful lot of work that the Gamemaster will have to do to prepare the
campaign, as very little of the ship is actually described in enough
detail to be used immediately. This
isn't really a new problem as all the versions of Metamorphosis
Alpha suffer from this.
Yet the game system itself is incredibly simple, too simple in my
opinion. One thing I would
really like to see is an introductory adventure.
There is supposed to be additional material available online, but
at the time this article was written, nothing was available.
I also prefer the original premise where the Warden was a lost
colony ship, and you had a much wider range of characters that could be
played. I don't really like
the alien invasion scenario at all; I think the game will quickly
degenerate into a series of battles unless the GM is very careful.
Still, the book is fairly well organized and could prove to be a
good way to introduce new players to Roleplaying if you're willing to
put some work into the setting.
Metamorphosis Alpha is published by Fast Forward
Entertainment, Inc. They can
be contacted at:
Fast Forward Entertainment, Inc.
6302 First Avenue
Lake Geneva, WI 53147