Alternity

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A Table Top Role Playing Game using generic classes, layered skill system and the main roll based on d20, but with extra dice stepping.

Classic

Published by TSR, Inc. (then newly a subsidiary of Wizards of the Coast) in 1998. Just as TSR's flagship RPG, Dungeons & Dragons, provided a way to play almost any kind of Fantasy campaign, Alternity was intended to do the same for Science Fiction, with rules and scenarios for Faster-Than-Light Travel, Psychic Powers, Alternate Universes, and other common sci-fi tropes. Unfortunately for sales, the game was hindered by a clunky ruleset.

The core product line gave general rules for various different kinds of sci-fi genres, but like D&D, Alternity offered players a variety of premade campaign settings. Four were published:

Alternity was discontinued around the same time as D&D's 2nd edition. Because Wizards still owns the intellectual rights to Alternity, some of its elements have cropped up in later products, including remakes of Star*Drive and Dark•Matter in D20 Modern and another new edition of Gamma World based on D&D 4th edition rules.

The strong (and ground-breaking back then, though even now few games have these elements on the same level) sides of Alternity are hierarchical skill system and great capability for scaling [1] - both good for expansion.

  • Ability scores: the same 6 as in Dungeons & Dragons, but Wisdom is called Will and Charisma is called Personality.
  • Secondary abilities: "Action Check Score" (initiative) = (Dex+Int)/2 + profession bonus and "actions per round", based on Constitution and Will.
  • Roll: Basic mechanics is roll-under and a mix between linearly adjusted roll and Dice Stepping systems: base d20 with another dice added or substracted as an adjustment, determined by the sum of bonuses and penalties. Situational difficulty modifiers usually are within 3 steps, whether up or down.
  • There are 3 kinds of check:
    1. Action (i.e. initiative) compared vs. other characters,
    2. Skill vs. skill score and
    3. Feat (i.e. generic action) vs. ability score.
Results have degrees of success: Critical Failure (always 1/20 chance), Failure, Ordinary success, Good success, Amazing success - or for Action check Marginal/Ordinary/Good/Amazing.
  • Skills are split to Broad and Specialty, somewhat like weapon group proficiencies in AD&D2.x - a Broad skill cover many Specialty skills and is acquired either on its own via dabbling or profession-based general knowledge (it's still better than untrained) or via having specialty skills under it.
E.g. broad skill "Modern Ranged Weapons" has specialty Pistol, Rifle or SMG - skill with one gives a good idea of the whole category, but not being equally good with the rest. Or broad skill of "Medical Science" has specialty skills Forensics, Medical Knowledge, Surgery and Treatment, so a surgeon who doesn't have Forensics still can may try an educated guess at it - with penalty, but better than non-medics.
    • Skills normally don't synergize, but for some skills it's the main effect: ranks in Medical Knowledge give minor bonus to Treatment checks. Speaking of which, there's imperfection of the system: e.g. skill "Medical Science - Treatment" does the same as "Knowledge - First Aid", but more.

The "official" fan site is AlternityRPG.Net - it also hosts free fast-play booklets and some of the supplements.

Remake

Sasquatch Game Studio announced in August 2016 that they are developing a new version. Time will tell. Links to beta versions are posted and discussed on EN World forums. Alternity 2017 was announced on Kickstarter.

The first setting is Protostar - the age of exploration shortly after humanity colonized Solar System and found a stargate wormhole leading to everywhere else.


Tropes used in Alternity include:


  • Badass Longcoat: One of the most widespread low grade (but fairly good - better than Battle Vest) body armor types is CF Longcoat.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Armor gives variable Damage Reduction (separate for each damage type), but allows secondary damage. The upside is that rolls reflect differentiation and coverage (such as offset to 0 if an armor doesn't effectively cover the whole body, e.g.1d6-2 means it soaks up to 4 points of damage, but ⅓ of the time does nothing). The downside is that this method can be tricky with adjustments — which starts the moment Armor-Piercing Attacks are introduced. Some weapons (like stun or EMP) modify the general attack/defense procedure.
  • Character Class: Base classes and subclasses are called "professions" and "careers". A career has skill package and signature equipment.
    • Combat Specs - all sort of warriors relying on training and physical abilities, whether brawlers or gunmen; combat vehicle pilots using reaction, endurance and tactical savvy also may fall under this. Gets bonus to Action.
    • Diplomats - those who work with people. Negotiators, managers, merchants, priests, artists, etc.
    • Free Agents - generic troubleshooters, explorers, Intrepid Reporters, spies and thieves, etc - people skilled in a little of everything as they don't know what exactly to expect the next time. Gets bonus to Action.
    • Tech Ops - specialists in use and/or maintainance of specific type of equipment and other intellect- and agility- based skills (this includes most medics, and most pilots).
    • (optional) Mindwalker - using Psychic Powers.
  • Damage Typing: Generally, it's Low Impact (bludgeon), High Impact (bullets) or Energy (everything else).
  • Design-It-Yourself Equipment: Spaceship customization rules for Star Drive, expanded in “Starships Perks & Flaws” article by Eckelberry & Collins in Dragon #255,
    • Later full overhaul as Warships system (available for free on AlternityRPG.Net)
  • Magic and Powers: Originally, Psychic Powers developed fully with separate class and "FX skills" of Arcane Magic, Faith and Superpowers (broad, with speciality skills for specific powers).
  • Multiple Life Bars: There are 3 pools of Durability: Stun - Wound - Mortal, plus Fatigue (not linked to the Durability bars). Most weapons do w/w/m damage depending on attack success, brawling does s/s/s, but martial arts allow s/s/w. More severe damage comes with bonus of 1 less severe. Running out of the pool knocks the character out and from this point continues to the next pool 2:1 (unless it's mortal - then the character just bites it). Mortal and Fatigue also inflict penalties on actions. Simple enough.
    • For sturdier creatures and vehicles there are categories of Toughness, corresponding to categories of Firepower for weapons, difference between which offsets the base damage track appropriate for the attack. Unlike clumsy two variants in Rifts (that quickly collapsed to one), uniform approach makes these smoothly scalable from vermin stings to battleships.
  • Point Build System: Skills and Perks/Flaws running on variable Skill Points costs.
  • Rules Conversions: Dungeons & Dragons, of course (AD&D monsters into Alternity in Dragon #262), Star Frontiers (Dragon Annual #3), Traveller (in #270) and Top Secret (in #271). Also, Battlezone (in #257) and Fallout 2 (weapons in #259).
    • Gamma World (some animal PCs in #270), and Action Check E-Zine had conversions of GW creatures from the first to the last issue.
  • Signature Device: Careers usually are assigned "signature equipment".
  • Technology Levels/Tech Tree: "Progress Level" is combined with "Tech Track" sideways options - a device's availability prerequisites may be PL or both.

Remake (Beta Test release): Uses much the same basic dice stepping system as old Alternity, but roll-over. However, there's no "Critical Failure", only 4 results to a roll, sometimes leaving only 3 meaningful results. Of course, its still more than usual. Also, the good rolls are named "Excellent" and "Stellar", more ridiculously YMMV. Since it's a Beta version, there's possibility that this or that mechanics may be skipped as pre-calculated values or omitted for simplification, but exist in a full system, rather than will be glued on the side later. There are things that will inevitably become important, like effects of creature size.

  • Attributes: still 6 renamed D&D stats, but Will became even more vague "Focus". Meaning that perception-related rolls will still weirdly correlate with things.
  • Action Initiative: Initiative is called Initiative now. Also, it's cyclic (AD&D1/Hackmaster style) initiative, which allows to use variable weapon speed, but without detritus that dragged it down in AD&D1. Adjustments are few, however.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Armor still works as damage absorption, but now it's a flat value… so the coverage/differential armoring isn't reflected?
    • Movement adjustments for armor are absolute values. Which is a dubious method, given creatures of varied sizes — while alone and for fixed items it does make sense ("you can't even move this thing"), when it's not the only adjustment (which also makes sense), weird results are quite possible. Just look at d20.
  • Damage Typing: Reduced to 2 (Physical and Energy).
  • Multiple Life Bars: to the point they don't work as Hit Points any more. The Durability bands are short, but there are more bands in the stack, associated with worse and worse penalties, i.e. there's no Just a Flesh Wound, but a wider range of damage severity from scratch to fatal. Fairly easy to map directly to critical hit charts in an expansion (their own or 3rd party).
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: "Hero Points".


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  1. shown off in Warships free sourcebook - you use the same mechanics for everything from a space golf cart to fleet carrier, and it remains compatible through every step