Category Archives: Random musings

Is Anyone Still Playing Alternity?

TSR’s Alternity Roleplaying Game is one of my favorite games which I never actually played. It’s a generic science fiction roleplaying game which has some interesting mechanics, is somewhat related to AD&D, and powered a couple of interesting settings. If you want to learn more about this out-of-print game, I can recommend checking out or Shaun Welsh’s review here on the blog.

So why am I writing about a rather obscure and out-of-print roleplaýing game today? I guess I am in a somewhat nostalgic mood and I am always thinking about this great SF campaign I want to run someday. When it comes to systems I could use for that project, Alternity is pretty high on my list.

The majority of games I enjoy are rather rules-light but Alternity is an exception. I guess you could call it rules-medium, especially if you add in all the optional subsystems like FX (supernatural abilities like magic etc.), psionics, space combat and so on. In Alternity every weapon causes different damage according to the degree of success of the attack roll, and armor has different armor values for each type of damage (low impact, high impact, energy). For some this might be a tad too fiddly, but I think it fits the genre nicely.

The skill system is also quite intersting with broad skills (think of skill categories) which can only be bought once (and will not be improved afterwards) and speciality skills which allow the characters to specialize within these broad fields. Again this is a bit more complex than my usual fare, but it fits the scifi genre perfectly, especially if you’re favoring realism.

For several reasons Alternity never was a huge success. It had been released at a time when WotC had already been bought by WotC (or shortly before that) and WotC obviously favored a 3rd Edition of D&D over continued support for Alternity. At least some of the elements from Alternity made a reappearance in WotC’s d20 Modern line. Sometimes I wish they would at least make the Alternity books available in PDF form, as they’ve done with older editions of D&D. But I doubt that will happen anytime soon.

Since I am thinking about using Alternity as the rule system for a campaign I want to run in the future, I am interested in your thoughts on the system. Is anyone still playing Alternity? Has the system worked for you so far, or do you houserule a lot? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

I’ve Got The World Of Darkness On My Mind

Even though I am still running Star Trek using Where No Man Has Gone Before at the moment, I am already making plans for what to run after that. A while back I decided that running short campaigns is probably best for me. I still have quite a few Star Trek stories in me, but after that I want something completely different.

A couple of days ago, I had a chat about “Mage: 20th Anniversary” on IRC. Back in the day it was my favorite World of Darkness game, but alas I only played it once or twice. What I really like about Mage is its excellent Magick system. It’s not spell-based like in most games, but in Mage your creativity is basically the only limit of what you can do. Of course there’s also the problem that you can’t throw fireballs around or fly without reality kicking your ass. In the World of Darkness reality can be bent by mages, but if you are not subtle enough, you get into trouble. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Of course there are also Vampire and Werewolf, the two other WoD games I have fond memories of. While Mage is my favorite, these two games have also a lot of appeal. The politicking of the undead in Vampire and the tribal culture of the shapechangers in Werewolf have a certain charm as well. Even though I had my share of issues with certain types of WoD players, I still love the setting and the somewhat quirky rules.

Even though the New World of Darkness has a lot going for it, I prefer the old WoD, the one which I started playing with back in the late 1990s. When I leaf through on of the 20th Anniversary books I immediately feel at home. I understand the special lingo, I recognize the names of clans, traditions, people, et cetera. This never happens when I read one of the nWoD books. For some reason it’s hard for me to grok the setting. That’s why I decided to run a game set into the old World of Darkness in the future.

As far as I know the majority of my players haven’t played any WoD games before and are at least open to the idea. Over the next weeks I will try to introduce the games and the setting to them, so that we can come to a decision what game they are most interested in. A mixed campaign including Vampire, Werewolf, and Mage characters is pretty much impossible, so we have to decide on what they want to play first. After that I can take some time to prepare a campaign. With Star Trek it’s very easy for me to come up with new “episodes” between sessions, but for the WoD I need some more preparation.

I really hope that my players will be as excited as I am. The WoD can be an awesome place to play in if you have players who are interested in more than just killing people and taking their stuff. Although there’s nothing wrong with getting one’s fangs dirty from time to time. Zwinkerndes Smiley

So You Want to Run A Hard SciFi Campaign?

A friend of mine is currently working on a scifi campaign set into our solar system. Instead of a campaign spanning lightyears he plans to focus on our own cosmic backyard. Instead of racing through the galaxy with faster-than-light starships, the players will hobble along using more realistic technology.

If you’re planning to run a hard SF campaign, there’s one website you definitely should check out: Atomic Rockets. It’s a vast well of knowledge for scifi writers and gamemasters alike. You want to understand why reactionless drives can’t work or what project Orion was all about? Look no further! Especially if you want to keep a sense of realism to your campaign, you should make sure you make your research.

But even then you should consider your audience. If one of your players is a aerospace engineer or a physicist, you should make sure your science is rock solid, if you don’t want to get into discussions all the time. Or at least ask them if a certain level of handwaving is ok. If noone in your group has a firm grasp of physics, you can probably get away with a lot of bad science, as long as it feels plausible enough.

In most space opera games space travel is commonplace, cheap, and relatively safe (aside from random pirate attacks). This should never be the case in a hard SF campaign. While new technologies can make extended space travel more feasible, it will always be very dangerous. Space ships will probably still be very expensive, so only governments and multinational corporations own them. In addition to that interplanetary space ships will probably be pretty huge while the living compartments are rather small and very cramped.

Again, I can’t recommend Atomic Rockets enough at this point. The site is full of good information on realistic space flight, which can be sobering at times, but also very inspiring. It cites from a lot of Science Fiction books and movies, so you’ll easily find more sources for inspiration.

If you don’t want into too much detail regarding space flight, I advise using torchships. Torchships are space craft with high thrust and high acceleration, often using fusion reactors or even matter-antimatter-reactions as power sources. With a reasonably high acceleration, space travel becomes much easier. Instead of complex navigation you basically just “point and shoot”. As Atomic Rockets puts it, torchships are “unobtanium”, impossible to build at the moment, but plausible.

A torchship capable of constant acceleration of 1g or above can reach Mars in about 2 to 3 days, but reaching another solar system is still a totally different ballpark. But if you don’t mind putting your crew into the freezer for 6 years even trips to Alpha Centauri are possible.

So what are you’re thoughts on creating hard SF campaign? Have you ever done so? What experiences can you share? Please comment below!