Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review: Metamorphosis Alpha, 1st Edition

MORBIUS: Back. To. The. Beginning!  - Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius.

There is a game going all the way back to the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of the roleplaying age, that has fascinated me.  I knew of it's children games, Gamma World and Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, but it has not be till recently that I have seen the father of sci-fi games.

Metamorphosis Alpha is considered to be the first popular Scifi game available.  While many of us heard of and purchased Traveller first (and that could be another entire week for me) MA really is the first. Published a year before the Traveller books.  Written by James "Drawmij" Ward, MA has deep ties with D&D.  The game was playtested by Ward and Gygax and others at TSR.  This lead to the aforementioned Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and Gamma World.  The forward of the game was written by Gygax and Brian Blume.

The basic game outline is that characters, human, mutant and other all live on a fantastic colony ship, The Warden, that has broken down.  The ship is basically a giant flying dungeon. In space.
The character creation rules, monsters and everything are like Original D&D through a distorted lens.  To use an analogy from computer programing if D&D/AD&D is Pascal then Metamorphosis Alpha is Modula. Naturally this makes Gamma World Modula 2, AD&D2 Turbo Pascal, D&D3 Borland Pascal, D&D4 Oberon, D&D5 Delphi and so on...

It would be a fantastic game to play when you are in a great old-school mood and I do know people that have made great long campaigns with it.  Think about it, the idea would later pop up in the series Red Dwarf.

The book itself is 40 pages which includes front and back cover, an updated errata sheet, pages of tables, character sheet and maps of the Warden.

The game itself is complete and a prime example of old-school minimalism.  Modern readers might be tempted to ask "is this it", but to these eyes it is succinct and complete at the same time.

MA of course is perfectly playable on it's own. Has been for 40 years.
But it also works great as a setting or a as a "Mega dungeon" in space.

Mix MA with any of the games I have been reveiwing over the last few days and you have a mysterious, ancient colony ship. 80 km long, 40 km wide and 14 km tall and filled with humans, mutants and who knows what else.   Think of the ship in "WALL-E" now fill it with mutants.

Honestly I am using it in my own old-school D&D game and it is part of my world's history.  The uses and re-uses of this game are endless.

The mutant rules in the book are easily ported over to any game.  So use them as mutants or aliens or even demons in your fantasy game.

At just under 6 bucks it is also a steal.
There are character sheets too for humans and mutants at a buck each.  Normally I think sheets should be free, but I am only paying $5.99 for the pdf.  If the sheets were free and the game was $7.99 I would not balk or fret at the price.

If you have any interest in old-school gaming, sci-fi gaming or even the roots of our hobby, then this is a fantastic game to add to your collection.
If you are playing any of the new "old-school" sci-fi games then I consider this a must buy.

1 comment:

David Pulver said...

I really liked the concept of metamorphosis alpha. Didn't own the game until a few years ago, but the idea of a generation starship was brilliant, and so I ran that under my variant Traveller rules in the 80s.

Meta Alpha did suffer from some weak game mechanics compared to D&D, mostly in character balance and leveling, but otherwise good fun, and I always found it was easier to GM than its sibling Gamma World.