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James M. Wards
Metamorphosis Alpha

Fast Forward Entertainment

Reviewed by Brent Knorr, 2002

One of the earliest science fiction Roleplaying settings makes a comeback in this 25th Anniversary Edition of the Metamorphosis Alpha Science Fiction Campaign.   This is a 64 page softcover book Rules published by Fast Forward Entertainment. 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 which 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 asteroid.

This new version of the game plays more like a board game that a roleplaying game.  There are three phases that the players go through.  Phase 1 is shortly after the accident takes place, the ships 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.

The information given above all comes from Chapter 1, the Introduction. 

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 of these, 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 single die.

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 is 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 with any.

Chapter 5 describes the various equipment that is available to the characters, which includes 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, roll three six sided dice, then cross referencing the result on the “Doing Things Table”. Very quick and simple

Chapter 7 is another two pager, this one describes Mutations.  There are three types of Mutations, Physical, Mental, and Plant, and twelve 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-guide 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 problem with the 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 one paragraph descriptions.

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, 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 think is really needed 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.

Contact Information:
Fast Forward Entertainment, Inc.
6302 First Avenue
Lake Geneva, WI 53147

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