(This post was originally published in 2013, but in celebration of the eBook launch of the new Metamorphosis Alpha eBook and upcoming “dead tree” version, I’m bringing this back for everyone to know why I was excited to work on this game property in the first place!)
“Metamorphosis Alpha—in any edition—stimulates the imagination, encourages keen thinking, and breaks the mold of typical fantasy and science fiction roleplaying games. If that doesn’t make it one of the best hobby games ever, I don’t know what would.”
— E. Gary Gygax
Hobby Games: The 100 Best
published by Green Ronin Publishing
Don’t worry, gang. This is not one of those posts where I pat myself on the back for work that I’ve done or show off something I’ve created. While I’m excited to bring you the new Metamorphosis Alpha Roleplaying Game, I want to tell you exactly why I wanted to work on this great property in the first place.
Sadly, the amazing place Metamorphosis Alpha in the history of our hobby has gotten buried beneath other, higher profile games. It’s literally the first scifi RPG ever published, and the second RPG product from TSR, Inc. (located in my adopted hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin). Jim Ward delivered something amazing to the gaming world the year after I was born — sorry to make you feel old, Jim! — and one of my primary mission statements is try and deliver on the same sense of adventure and fun as the original. So without further ado, here are my top 3 reasons I love Metamorphosis Alpha. If you don’t know anything at all about MA and want to read a quick summary of what it’s all about, just check out my company’s product page for it and head back here when you’re done!
1. It’s a dungeon crawl. In Space.
Like many others, my first love in tabletop RPGs was Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve fired arrows at dwellers in a forbidden city, assaulted the aerie of the slave lords, raided the vault of the drow, and horribly died in a tomb of horrors—because dungeons are fun. And by dungeons I mean contained environments that you can explore and get to know. In addition to being an early unifying experiences for so many RPG gamers, the reason why the Caves of Chaos and other classic dungeons are so beloved is because they are places small enough to feel like we know. The Warden (the spaceship in which Metamorphosis Alpha is set) is huge, a large enough locale with enough going on to write thousands of individuals stories—yet it’s still an environment that can be explored. The group can figure out what’s happening on each deck, solve mysteries, conquer challenges, and get to know their self-contained “world.”
I love epic fantasy worlds and sprawling scifi universes. But I think they have been so emphasized that many gamers have forgotten the strengths of intimacy in terms of settings. When a section of the Warden is explored, figured out, or conquered it’s a real achievement that means something and has consequences that stretch beyond the characters involved.
But the fun secret is that if the setting ever feels too limited or you just want to shake things up in your game, remember the Warden is a ship traveling through the vastness of space and anything might happen. The ship could ram an asteroid crawling with fungal alien life, it could crash onto any world you might imagine (or even gone full-circle back to Earth in the far future or weirdly back to the time of dinosaurs). You can have it both ways and keep your gaming options open!
2. You have fantastic mutant powers.
Characters in Metamorphosis Alpha aren’t just ordinary people running around a chaotic, half-ruined spaceship. Unless you’re playing a pure human, your character is a mutant that has unusual abilities like those ripped straight from your favorite superhero comics. You might be able to blast energy from your hands, mentally dominate your enemies, or leap tall structures in a single bound.
You’re not just limited to mutant humans, either. If you want to be a mutant bear, salamander, or honey badger you can just go for it. The roleplaying challenges of a mutant animal—who might be anthropomorphized or not—can be a lot of fun. And who wouldn’t want to play a bear covered in spikes that can stun enemies with a sonic roar? If that’s not weird enough for you, mutant plants are an option. You can be a stately fern, a collection of writhing vines, or a humble shrubbery with explosive berries.
There is a downside to the whole mutation thing, as some are known as “defects” and serve to make a character’s life more interesting (in the Chinese proverb sense). A mutant might be hideous to behold, have limbs that don’t bend properly, or may exude a scent that serves as a dinner bell to nearby predators.
Characters in MA are rarely dull, and no two are alike. For those who want to go the pure human route, those characters have advantages with technology, with the ship and its many computer systems and robots. Speaking of which …
3. You’re on a giant spaceship.
Dungeon crawl in the vein of fantasy RPGs? Check. Crazy comic-book-esque super powers? You betcha. But with all this it’s still a science fiction story and the Warden is a spaceship. It was originally a huge ark in space, carrying examples (and simulated environments) of all life on Earth so that one day the inhabitants would settle and populate a new world. Now the Warden is half-wrecked, still recovering from whatever disaster killed half the life on the ship and mutated almost everything else. Most life on the ship has gone primitive, with no true understanding they’re on a spaceship at all—it’s just their world, and it has walls. Survival is tricky business all on its own, with wolfoids and giant bees and other terrors a daily threat.
But it’s still a spaceship, with secrets to uncover and advanced technology to master. “Artifacts” in Metamorphosis Alpha are treated much in the way magical treasures are in other games, but in the end it’s about figuring out how tech works. When a new artifact is discovered the character has no way to know if it’s intended to roast an enemy with fire or toast bagels. Over time, though, characters can get better at this and come to understand what’s going on and figure out how to master the ship and learn where it’s going.
In brief, Metamorphosis Alpha is a delicious blend of multiple genres that combine for a game filled with exploration and action, wildly powerful characters, and mysterious advanced technology. In my work publishing the newest version of this classic property, my main mission statement is to get out of the way and simply show off why the game was so much fun in the first place. I hope that you’ll check it out!
If you want to take a look at “classic” MA, the first edition is available right now!
… and you can pre-order the new edition of Metamorphosis Alpha right here (free PDF version):
Shameless Self-Advertising Below
I’m using sex to sell. This is the part below the actual content where I hypocritically and shamelessly plug my own stuff!
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