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Metamorphosis Alpha» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Metamorphosis Alpha : Its a jungle in there! rss

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Danny Stevens
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The Inside Cover

There is a forward by Gary Gygax and Brian Blume suggesting that this is a "new breed" of role playing game, because a world is created as the game is played. The best thing about this intro is that it suggests a "free form" style of play i.e. don't sweat the rules too much. That was the best piece of roleplaying advice I ever got.

Preliminaries

The introducion explains how the starship Warden was built and populated, headed off in the year 2290. Part way through its journey it hit a cloud of "space radiation". Most people died, living things mutated in exotic and dangerous ways, and the places with lots of trees were safer than everywhere else. The environments are simulated well enough for the descendants of the survivors not to even know they are on a ship. Technology and mutant powers replace D&D style magic.

A couple of paragraphs cover the "general gumph about roleplaying". Pages 4 to 9 describe the ship and its environs as initially designed, flora and fauna, devices and weapon systems. Its sketchy and leaves a lot of room for creating the current state of the world.

Characters

Then we get into character creation. The ability section has several tables that we would now call resistance tables a la Basic Role Playing, such as poison vs constitution. The Leadership Potential (charisma plus intelligence) section is interesting because generally only pure strain humans get one and the scores give different chances for befriending mutant creatures and mutant humans and a limit on the number of pure human followers you could have. This actually seemed to play out as an important ability in my campaigns, each human player character leading a motley crew of half a dozen mutant NPCs.

The most interesting part of character creation was mutating an animal or a human, rolling dice to determine the number of beneficial physical and mental mutations, and a smaller number of "defects" that offset the mutant powers somewhat. From a purely mechanical point of view there were some dreadful "take that" abilities, such as the invincible "Force Field Generation" mental power. I remember in game mastering I had to invent saving throw style rules for a number of these.

Plants and animals had some special mutation lists and ways of rolling them up and then a few pages held the inevitable...

Monster Manual


This contains descriptions of mutants that have become stable species on the ship. There are armoured, metal badgers, wolfoids with hands that stand upright, stabbing, deadly woodpeckers, giant venus flytraps, the fully intelligent singing vine and mutant human species sadly called #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5. Two of my early PCs were of type #3, only standing 1 foot tall. We had figurines for them with little, pointy heads so we called them pinheads.

Bash, Biff, Pow

The combat system is pretty much a straight version of D&D original. 3d6 are used to roll "to hit". Armour classes make it harder. Weapons do dice roll damage and creatures have hit points. A strange variation is that each weapon has a different damage amount depending on if the target is a creature, humanoid or pure human. Robots and their abilities also get a good innings here.

Wandering with my Swag

The section on wandering monster encounters and "treasure" comes next. The treasure tables include all sorts of high tech goodies like laser pistols and special personnel bracelets that will automatically open electronic doors. A major treasure form is the power packs that enable most of the other goodies, including the robots. Most tech devices are given a complexity rating and a character with a leadership rating is given a chance to work out how a device is actually used. This means most mutants have no chance according to game mechanics, and yet I remember scenarios with tech wielding mutants from time to time. If a character fails to work out how to use a piece of technology they also have danger ratings which ascribe a chance of the investigator causing harm to themselves or others by accident. This was a fun mechanism and I spent a lot of time redesigning things like laser pistols so the players, on having the items described to them, would not know what they actually were.


And then Some Bits

Finally there is some stuff about ship wide common language, currency (sort of) and odd bits about adventuring, a couple of sample decks with some encounters keyed onto them, a floor plan for a modular dwelling and a character sheet layout that could be copied.

And As For Me

I had a lot of fun game mastering this game in the late seventies. I had a lot of early GM experiences that improved my mastery. I fondly remember mapping the abandoned city as a sort of inverted dungeon that was ten stories tall. I killed off entire parties a couple of times and discovered that players don't like that and modified my style accordingly. The players just loved discovering the true nature of the world, finding elevator towers in the middle of a jungle or entering doorways in the sky in order to delve through the maintenance passageways.


Metamorphosis Alpha was an early RPG. Its mechanics are rudimentary and somewhat innocent. But its a great game to play.
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Eric Dodd
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Thanks Dan, great review.
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MSV Burns
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Nice look back at an early classic. This game, like The Morrow Project, is just aching to be reincarnated, perhaps with more modern, "story games"-style techniques. The Apocalypse World engine might work wonders here...
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Danny Stevens
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Marqos wrote:
Nice look back at an early classic. This game, like The Morrow Project, is just aching to be reincarnated, perhaps with more modern, "story games"-style techniques. The Apocalypse World engine might work wonders here...


Have a look at the upcoming 5th Edition !
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darjr
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There is a kickstarter to reprint this classic with the articles from dragon and other sources. It's also now including a GM screen, new maps of the warden and a poster of said maps. There are also new adventures and other items on the kickstarter.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1409961192/metamorphosi...
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