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What the Heck is System 26?

System 26 Logo

This week we launched the digital edition of the new Metamorphosis Alpha Roleplaying Game to strong sales and great response. (Thank you to those who backed our Kickstarter and jumped on-board early to check out our game!) It has been a mix of nostalgia for the classic 1976 version, enthusiasm for the “mutants on a spaceship” concept, and interest in this mysterious new rules engine called System 26™.

Lots of gamers interested in the system have been asking about System 26 to see if it matches their preferred styles of play. Rather than cut and paste an answer into a bunch of emails and forum posts, here is a quick overview.

Core Ideas

System 26 is intended to be a core set of mechanics that can be adapted to many different genres and styles. While no game engine is perfect for everything, the idea is to be able to accommodate most games that can be easy to learn with action that moves fast and quickly. It can be tuned up with more “crunch” for an old-school RPG feel (like Metamorphosis Alpha) or down for abstract, story-driven games that we plan to explore in the future. But it’s certainly a rules-light RPG, where the rules can be learned and only referenced occasionally.

d6 Dice Pool With Variable Difficulty

You only need standard six-sided dice for System 26 — gamer’s choice whether you prefer pips or numbers. And there’s one starting assumption that’s hidden in the very name of the game:

Unless it’s written on your character sheet, you are probably rolling two dice for an action.

Characters are defined in the ways they are extraordinary, actions at which they excel or routinely fail. And actions are defined by Traits, that always modify that basic roll of 2d. The game doesn’t care if your character is naturally gifted, trained, studied hard, or you learned kung fu by a jack plugged into the back of your head. That’s all window dressing and can be worked out through description and roleplaying. Qualities are situational, and only come into play under specific circumstances or define your character outside the realm of action. When your character performs an action, you-as-player roll a pool of dice—the standard 2d dice pool—more or less as modified by traits and qualities. Under normal circumstances a dice pool cannot go beyond five, though games that use things like superpowers or mutations or advanced technology may increase it. If modifying factors drag you down to less than one die, you’ve failed before you even tried.

Success & Failure

Difficulty for an action is broken into three simple categories: easy, average, hard. The minimum number needed to score achievements varies by difficulty. In a cinematic-action oriented game like Metamorphosis Alpha you need 3 or higher for an easy action, 4+ for average, 5+ for hard. (A more gritty incarnation might push those numbers up to 4, 5, 6.) A single achievement counts as bare-minimum success (hanging by your fingernails at the edge of the cliff) with up to three achievements for a respectable outcome. Anything above three achievements scores enhancements — think critical hits in other games but applies to all kinds of actions, not just combat. (You kick down the door and knock over the guard standing on the other side.) But in short, the more achievements you score, the more awesome happens.

If you don’t score any achievements, you fail at the action. If you roll snakes eyes (all 1s) you’ve got yourself an epic fail—a botch. (You fumble and drop your blade or give yourself a nose bleed through sheer fruitless concentration.) It’s also why trying actions with a smaller dice pool is more dangerous for a less-capable character.

Adjustable Level of Complexity

I just told you everything you need to know to sit down and get started in a System 26 game. The basics are deliberately simple and easy to remember so you can focus on the good stuff—the action and story being shared between everyone at the table. How much “crunch” versus “fluff” can and will be mixed in future incarnations of these rules. Metamorphosis Alpha is wahoo-action dungeon crawl in space with an old-school sensibility, so it has plenty of rules about how mutations work and the range of plasma rifles and cover and armor, etc. But we have future ideas for System 26 games that are more story-focused, using the dice to resolve dramatically uncertain actions and ignoring high levels of specific detail, all while holding onto the core concepts of dice pool, traits, and qualities.

We’d love to hear what you think of our new rules engine, play experiences with Metamorphosis Alpha, and ideas you might bring for other ways to explore the core mechanics. Enjoy, and game on!

System 26 Logo

METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA, its concepts, and its logo are ™ & © James M. Ward. Used with permission. System 26 and the System 26 logo are ™ owned by Jamie Chambers. All rights reserved.