Character Collection: Dark•Matter (Alternity)

August 2nd, 2010character collection, rpg

I was turned onto Alternity about this time last year. Though I forget the source of the initial spark, the fire caught quick and burned bright. I read everything I could on it, scouring Wikipedia, online reviews, and the excellent fan community website Something about the game hooked me and, through resources such as Noble Knight, gifts from very generous friends, and the occasional rare find at used book stores, I’ve managed to collect almost everything that was released for the line.

You could say I’ve become quite the fan. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance yet to play it. I haven’t even made a character. But I’m going to fix that last part right now.

A Bit about Alternity
Designed by Bill Slavicsek and Richard Baker, Alternity was TSR’s sci-fi cousin to its fantasy titan Dungeons & Dragons. Two books form the basis of the system, the Player’s Handbook and the Gamemaster Guide, with supplements rounding out the core concept and a handful of campaign settings that tort the system towards various ends.

Alternity is a generic system, as much as any system can be generic, and differentiates itself from its cousin in a couple notable ways. The first is a roll-under system, which has a penalty- and bonus-focused step system where a player rolls a control die (d20) and another die (anything from d4 to 3d20) and either adds or subtracts that second die from the control die based on situational modifiers and whatnot. The second notable is an experience system based on achievements, wherein characters get access to bigger and better things (such as leveling up skills and abilities) by completing certain goals throughout a game session. It’s a subtle touch, but given its place in history, a much-needed one. Oh, and a third is its initiative system, called Action Check, which has this cool four-phase system for determining who acts when. I won’t get into it too much here but more information can be found online. I really like that set-up for actions.

The Alternity game line lived for just over two years. During its development prior to release, its parent TSR was bought out by Wizards of the Coast, and then, in 2000, Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition introduced d20 and its open gaming license and changed the face of popular gaming. Though the Alternity system was a casualty of that shift, parts of it did live to see the light of day yet again.

Campaign Settings
Four official campaign settings were released: two original, one classic, and one licensed.

The first original setting, Star*Drive, took the Alternity to its logical space opera extension. Star*Drive concerned itself with life in the Verge and had all the juicy space opera bits you could want: exotic locales, strange alien races, fragile alliances, and far-reaching political machinations. This was the most supported of all the Alternity lines.

The second original setting, Dark•Matter, took Alternity to a rather unexpected place: modern conspiracy horror. Four books were released for this setting but they’re good stuff: the main campaign setting, a weapons and equipment guide, a lengthy scenario, and a brilliant monster book called Xenoforms.

The third setting was the revival of the venerable post-apocalyptic stage, Gamma World. This was the setting’s fifth incarnation and also its shortest as it only saw one book, the core book, released.

The fourth and final setting was StarCraft, based on Blizzard Entertainment’s wildly popular eponymous real-time strategy game for the PC. Released as a box set, the product included a couple booklets and some dice, everything you needed to play the game. It used a streamlined (for some, stripped down) version of the Alternity rules.

The two signature Alternity settings were brought back under d20 Modern and d20 Future respectively.

Let’s Make a Character
For the character collection today, I’ve chosen my favorite of the official campaign settings, Dark•Matter. In Dark•Matter, you are an agent of the Hoffmann Institute, a shadowy global conspiracy that studies the true history of the world, collects and catalogs bizarre finds, and protects all us regular folk from things that bump and snarl and drive mortals beyond the brink of madness.

It’s like Wolfgang Baur and Monte Cook, the authors of the core book, read my mind and wrote a game specifically to draw me in. (And, given the concept, maybe they did. *cue theremin music*)

Game: Dark•Matter
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
System: Alternity
Books Needed: Alternity Player’s Handbook, Dark•Matter Campaign Setting Core Book

Note: Character creation rules are contained within the Alternity Player’s Handbook with additional skills, perks, and flaws presented in the Dark•Matter main book. According to page 20 in the aforementioned Player’s Handbook, you can create a character in nine steps. Also, though Dark•Matter includes its own version of the character sheet, I’m using a generic Alternity sheet as that’s what I can print from PDF.

Let’s begin!

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Character Collection: Cybergeneration

April 15th, 2010character collection, rpg

Back before my life took a turn for the crowded, I promised I’d make a new character every week from one of the games in my roleplaying library. Okay, I’ve lost some time but let’s not dwell on such things.

For character collection this week, I’ve chosen one of my favorite games, R. Talsorian‘s follow-up to their hit game Cyberpunk 2020, a strange little dark future-anime-superheroes gem called Cybergeneration.

Originally a supplement for its older brother, Cybergeneration became its own game with the expanded 2nd Edition released in 1993. The corebook was followed by three rules and setting expansions (the “Documents of the Revolution” supplements which you’ll know because they all end in -Front) and an introductory adventure called Bastille Day. Ten years later, Firestorm Ink picked up the license and released a player’s guide called Generation Gap, a sourcebook/adventure called Researching Medicine, and a recent PDF called Mile High Dragon which presents a new city setting. All seven physical books are available through places like Noble Knight et al. If you’re inclined to the genre, or just like well-written games that do new things, they’re a great investment.

Cybergeneration is a weird game that I believe was, like a lot of Mike Pondsmith/R. Talsorian’s work, ahead of the curve and ahead of its time. While I have no idea of the sales data for the line, I think the shortage of supplements (compared to Cyberpunk 2020) speaks volumes (no pun intended). This is a shame, because there are a lot of good ideas in the game, not the least of which is the unique way the game engages the reader and leads them through character creation.

Which is what we’ll get to right now.

Game: Cybergeneration
Publisher: R. Talsorian Games
System: Interlock
Books Needed: Just the main book

In an alternate timeline to the classic Cyberpunk 2020, the sub-18 children of 2027 fight for survival on the mean streets of the ISA. On top of dealing with puberty, insecurity, and feeling like guppies in the shark tank, they must evade the BuReloc goons whose duty it is to neutralize any of them who pose a threat. See, these kids have been exposed to something called the Carbon Plague. Nasty little bug that kills any adults it infects. The kids, it just changes. And not peach fuzz and squeaky voice changes but crazy superhero-type biz. Meat that turns into metal, souls that infect machinery, that kinda stuff.

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Character Collection: The Esoterrorists

March 28th, 2010character collection, rpg

This new feature is getting a late start as I’ve been sidelined by illness these past few days.

For this almost-inaugural edition of Character Collection, I’ve chose a game I recently acquired (and spoke about some previously): The Esoterrorists. Let’s get to it.

Game: The Esoterrorists
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
Books Needed: Just the main book.

The Esoterrorists is a game about normal people with regular jobs who also fight back against the machinations of the titular network of reality-hating ne’er-do-wells. The Esoterrorists get their name from being terrorists, yes, but they’re esoteric. Estoeric terrorists. Eso-terrorists. Esoterrorists. See? Huh? HUH? C’mon, it’s clever.

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Too Many Games, Too Few Characters

March 22nd, 2010character collection

A couple weeks ago, I finally catalogued my pen and paper game collection. I’ve been into RPGs for almost two decades, and I’ve worked in the industry for almost half that, so I’ve accumulated a fair amount of books. Nowhere near the collections some folks have, sure, but still a fair amount.

The problem is that my game schedule has been pathetic these past *grumble*mumble* years what with work and family and trying to coordinate with other people’s schedules and all the other stuff that marginalizes fun time. This has left almost all of them unplayed and most of them unread beyond a cursory skim.

I’d like to change all that.

While I highly doubt I’ll be able to play all the games on my shelf, I can make characters for them. Inspired by Matt McFarland’s efforts over at his LiveJournal, I’ve decided that I will go through my entire game collection and make a character for each game I can.

I will try to post one new character every week under the “character collection” tag. I don’t foresee an order to it. I’ll probably just pick a game that suits my fancy and go with it.

I’m doing this to scratch the itch that not playing has left. I’m also hoping to open up discussion about these games as a lot of them are older titles that maybe haven’t gotten much love as of late. For some, it might be interesting to see how these games have changed from an older edition to a newer one or simply be reminded of an old favorite.

I like having the excuse to crack open some of these books again.

Anyway, the first character will be up this week. I hope you enjoy it!

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Character Collection: Maschine Zeit

March 8th, 2010character collection, rpg

Maschine Zeit is a new horror RPG currently being developed by David A. Hill Jr for publication by Machine Age Productions. David put the call out a few days ago for folks to playtest the character creation rules and, intrigued as I was by the concept, I quickly volunteered.

The basic premise of Maschine Zeit is pretty cool. In the future, the larger nations launch a bunch of space stations into orbit. The program takes off quickly, despite some major setbacks, and is touted as a way off the Earth—which is good because the old blue lady is kinda circling the drain at this point.

About 10% of Future Earth’s population ends up on these stations—about a billion people, says the game, which sounds good to me given the timeline—and it’s all pretty idyllic until they all die horribly in a radioactive pulse.

Luckily, you don’t play those people.

Not so luckily, you play the people who are sent to these hulks, each with his or her own agenda and thanks to the funding of a party that brings its own agenda on top of that one. Also, these stations are haunted by stuff that really, really wants to kill you.

If you’re imagining a pen-and-paper Dead Space, we’re sharing a mindlink here. If you’re now thinking that sounds like awesome-hella fun, allow me to send you a digital high-five.


(I make a character after the jump.)

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