Alternity memories…

The recent post by HyenaSpotz about the Alternity RPG really struck home! I was a big fan of the game when it came out and his terrific review of the game brought back some great memories. When Alternity was announced I was immediately interested; the fact that it would be a “generic” sci-fi system I could use to create my own campaigns was right up my alley. I was an AD&D 2nd ed. fan and was sure this game would do for sci-fi what AD&D did for fantasy. I snatched up the Fast Play Rules and was planning my campaign even before the core books came out.

As I have said before, I am a compulsive home brewer so it should be no surprise I had been tinkering with a sci-fi setting since high school. Many aliens looked like the aliens from Marvel Comics or DC’s Legion of Super Heroes (I had no artistic talent to draw them and back then I had no access to the Internet… Yes there was such a time!), but I had come up with this idea where the human race had begun a Diaspora to the stars and arrived in a galaxy populated by many diverse alien races. I had done some freeform role playing in the setting, tried adapting it to Star Frontiers, but to no avail.

Then along came Alternity! After what seemed like forever the book finally came out. I had already played a brief (and not terribly successful) session using the Fast Play Rules so I dove right in. I loved the book and soon was writing up the statistics for new alien races, the story of the setting and rudimentary star map.

The year Alternity came out was special for many reasons and Alternity is inexorably linked with many wonderful memories. Alternity came out the year I got married and I as reading the books and writing for the game all through the preparations. My campaign featured biogenetically enhanced knights thematically organized around the mythologies of Earth’s ancient past, each order possessing powers based on the mutations chapter. The Tangents books had not come out yet. Puerto Rico was hit by a terrible hurricane that year and we were without power for about a week, I remember sitting by candlelight and flashlight writing up the stats for the different orders. To say the Alternity RPG engrossed me is an understatement.

I did not play the game until about a year later and we had a blast. The game lasted between twelve or sixteen sessions and sadly it petered out. The group consisted of six players, one of which despised the rules (he never “got it” but now admits he never tried and did not want to really play the game back them) and another a power gamer who created a robot character and exploited the rules (you are a dear friend but you know who you are!). I did not master the rules enough to spot these game breaking combinations early enough to stop them until the game was underway.

Despite those two factors the game was a lot of fun to play. The toolbox approach fit my style of gaming perfectly, it allowed me to construct the campaign I wanted and once characters were written up all the information they needed was there on their character sheet. There was minimal rules look up, with the exception of the psychic powers. The dice mechanic was intuitive and easy to adjudicate from a Game Master’s perspective. The way characters took damage was sometimes confusing for the players, but you have to understand we played AD&D almost exclusively for years (with the occasional RIFTS, Heroes Unlimited or World of Darkness game, don’t judge us it was the 90s) so it was only a matter of getting used to the new system.

Alternity was a fun game to play and the supplements were also top notch. However, unlike most fans I was NOT enamored by the Star*Drive campaign. The setting struck me as needlessly complex and a case of “throw in everything AND the kitchens sink” design philosophy! And then there was the art… I cannot recall a single piece of art that I liked from that book; it made me cringe as I leafed through it. Some of the supplements for the setting were useful. Dark-Matter was another matter (pun intended)! Here was an engrossing and well developed modern conspiracy game that showed the potential of the game system.

But by the time the book came out we had stopped playing Alternity. I think it was a mix of some players’ unwillingness to learn a new system and the siren call of a long running fantasy campaign everyone wanted to get back to.  I never got the Alternity version of Gamma World so I can’t really say anything about it.

The campaign lived on and we played it again using the dX system by Guardians of Order. I hope to someday revisit it; this campaign is almost as important to me as my fantasy campaign. Heck, I even got a tattoo of the symbol of the political alliance that gave the campaign its name.

Now looking back and rereading the rules they seem so simple and straightforward. Not long after Alternity was cancelled we switched to D&D 3rd edition, and we had some pretty rough growing pains adapting to that system. But we stuck to it and eventually came to love it, I’m sure that is we had stuck to Alternity we would have mastered it as well.

Now as I ponder my possibilities for a future sci-fi game I have considered using Savage Worlds, Cortex, Stars Without Number, but after reading HyenaSpotz post Alternity has suddenly become a contender. I have to print out some Fast Play Rules and hand them to my players to see what they think. Will this be the year of Alternity? I’ll let you know…

Thanks again to HyenaSpots for his inspiration and bringing back so many wonderful memories!

PS- If you liked the Player’s Fast Play Rules linked on the first paragraph, here is the link to the Game Master Fast Play Rules, enjoy!

8 thoughts on “Alternity memories…”

  1. Alternity (and Stardrive too) is a bitter sweet topic for me. And unfortunately a project hat had a lot going against it. It came right at the end of TSR, so it didn't get the time, marketing and over site it should have. It has some great art (the covers of the books were awesome, and some of the internals had promise), but unfortunately it also had some real crap that would have been weeded out if they'd had more time and budget. One of the designers had explained that a lot of the art that ended up in the book they had thought were initial concepts drafts, but when the deadline came and the artists said "Oh, no.. .that was it" it was to late to get new art.

    Also against it was the initial concept had StarDrive and Alternity being one thing. Somewhere along the way it was dictate that ti should be taken apart to become a more generic rule set and setting book. And while ultimately I think that is a good idea, it did have a "rushing" effect on the final products.

    I have a soft spot for the StarDrive setting. It is the space equivalent of a kitchen sink setting, but a lot of the back story and plots really inspired me at the time. My GM and I would spend hours just discussing possibilities on what the Precursors were, and why the Externals were invading, and on and on…

    1. I agree, especially the artwork in the Star*Drive books is pretty bad. And the core rules show that they were designed especially with the Star*Drive setting in mind. But overall its a pretty solid game that did age rather well. I reread parts of it in the last days and I have to admit it looks definitely better than I remember it.

      I really wish someone would buy the game from WotC, rerelease it in its current form and then later design a 2nd edition. Alternity is definitely a game that has deserved a second chance.

  2. @Zakharov, so do I! Seems to be a lot of love for Alternity recently…

    @worldwithoutsyn, thanks for dropping by, loved the post on the starship maps and your blog in general. I am a HUGE ROM fan, I have almost all the comics, missing only three and most of his appearances. There was a revival some years back, Space Knights (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaceknights) worth checking out!

    @justaguy, that is all very informative. Back then I was not as interested in following the details of the industry and missed all the drama. It is really a shame because this game could have had a great run.

    @Stargazer that would be awesome, a new Alternity, we can dream!

  3. Yes, I to was a huge fan of Alternity, and I still pull out the books and read through them to think about the campaigns I wish I had run with it. To be honest, when WotC picked up the Star Wars license but before they had announced their plans, I had hoped they would use Alternity as the engine to run it. But it was shortly after that they announced Alternity was coming to an end and that Star Wars would be another d20 game. I actually still have some hard feeling about the announcement to cancel Alternity, but that is another thing altogether.

  4. I’m looking to start up a game of Alternity and even went out of the way and started to buy books in advance just to make sure i had some to pass around to the players. I’ve loved the system from the start and like others I didn’t like Star*Drive too much and never played in it. My games got so busy i made some Freespace 2 mods to run some of the space battles.

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