Alternity

From 1d4chan
Alternity 1st Edition
AlternityLogo.png
RPG published by
Wizards of the Coast (TSR)
Authors Richard Baker
Bill Slavicsek
First Publication 1998 (1st Edition)
2018 (2nd Edition)


The last RPG from TSR.

In 1998, after TSR had been bought out by WotC, but before it was dropped as a separate brand, it released a generic rules set for science fiction role playing game. It was written by Bill Slavicsek and Richard Baker. Characters would be created by a points system for six statistics (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Will, and Personality) and take on one of five classes (Combat Specialist, Tech Operator, Free Agent, Diplomat, and Mindwalker). Classes were rather weakly defined with each class having an innate benefit and a discount on their appropriate skills, and except for psionic skills any character could eventually excel at anything they wanted to spend points on.

Despite being a nicely-illustrated book, having good reviews, and a well executed, unobtrusive ruleset, it had little in the way of actual sales on account of being dropped by Wizards of the Coast to focus on Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition and D20 Modern. Most of the materials for Alternity were ported into D20 Modern and its supplements d20 Future, and d20 Apocalypse, with Dark Matter even getting a book of its own, although the transition put on full display the direction 3rd & d20 were taking with strongly typed classes and feat fetishism.

In 2018 Richard Baker released a new edition of Alternity through Sasquatch Game Studio. It's not as good.

Mechanics[edit]

Alternity used a dual dice mechanic of rolling a control die (d20) and situation dice (such as d4) for resolving tasks but the dice size and number rolled could change due to circumstantial modifiers. The aim being to succeed by rolling under under a target number (such as a skill) then working out what degree of success or failure occurred.

The dice used were the d4, d6, d8, d12, and d20. The d10 was excluded. The situation dice could be subtracted to make the roll easier or added to make it harder. These were described as difficulty "steps", with all the factors that affect the complexity of attempting an action expressed in how many steps they add or subtract to the roll.

The use of positive and negative dice meant that there was some value to having two or three colors of dice when giving multiple players dice to roll, to represent positive, negative, and control dice.

Dice Actually Rolled Situation Dice Description Step Modifier Notes
d20-d20 -d20 No Sweat -5
d20-d12 -d12 Cakewalk -4
d20-d8 -d8 Extremely Easy -3
d20-d6 -d6 Very Easy -2
d20-d4 -d4 Easy -1
d20 None Average None Base situation dice for specialty skills.
d20+d4 +d4 Tough +1 Base situation dice for untrained skills and broad skills.
d20+d6 +d6 Hard +2
d20+d8 +d8 Challenging +3
d20+d12 +d12 Formidable +4
d20+d20 +d20 Grueling +5
d20+2d20 +2d20 Gargantuan +6
d20+3d20 +3d20 Nearly Impossible +7

The add or subtract nature of dice in Alternity produced a very different probability curve from dice pooling. Dice pools will always form a bell curve, where an add or subtract system produces a plateau where the probability of any outcome within the plateau is equal.

Skills[edit]

Alternity was an entirely skills based system with no class feats. Perks and flaws were minor feat-like effects priced in skillpoints (ambidextrous for example), but combat was resolved with skills, including armor operation and martial arts, and psionic spells were treated as skill-like except that they consumed psi energy, which if overused resulted in fatigue damage. Certain skills however have feat-like rank benefits which become available once a certain skill level is reached.

This "everything is a skill" approach greatly simplified the system (the core players handbook was barely 250 pages), but also meant that aside from mindwalkers the classes were pretty similar and it was largely up to the player to skill out the character they wanted to be.

Most skills could be used trained or untrained. When a broad skill is untrained, your score in that skill is equal one half of your character's ability for that skill, rounded down. When a specialty skill is untrained, the difficulty is increased 1 step (so +d4 instead of +0). For example, if you want to use the jump specialty of the athletics broad skill, and you have not trained either of the skills, and your strength score is 7, then your jump score is 3 (7/2 rounded down). Not a very good score, especially considering you'll be rolling a d20+d4 and need to get a 3 or less. Probably not gonna happen. If you've trained athletics but not jump, then your jump score is your strength score of 7, but the dice roll is still d20+d4 because no specialty. If you've trained jump to rank 1, then you get to add that 1 to your score, making your score 8, and since you've trained the specialty the +d4 drops off, meaning you need an 8 or less on a d20.

Combat & Damage[edit]

Damage comes in three flavors, low impact (LI), high impact (HI), and energy (EN), and in three levels of firepower (ordinary, good, amazing) and three levels of damage boxes (stun, wound, mortal). Armor also comes in three levels (ordinary, good, amazing) and has armor values for LI/HI/EN. In general, starships are considered amazing grade armor and weapons, vehicles good grade, and individual gear is typically ordinary grade.

When armor of a higher grade receives damage of a lower grade, the damage is degraded. A point of mortal damage by an ordinary firearm against good armor becomes a wound, a point of mortal damage by ordinary weapon against amazing armor also becomes a stun, and so on. One would suspect then that better damage against weaker armor is upgraded, but this is not the case. If your character somehow manage to take a point of stun damage from a spaceship weapon, it won't be upgraded to a point of mortal damage, the downgrading works in one direction only.

Profession[edit]

Combat Spec: All-purpose meathead murderhobo. Depending on skilling this could range from a roided-up spess mehreen with a railgun to a catsuited death cultist.

  • Action Check Score Increase: A combat spec's action check score is increased by 3 points.
  • Situation Bonus: Choose one specialty skill from those listed under these broad skills: Armor Operation, Unarmed Attack, Heavy Weapons, Modern Ranged Weapons, Melee Weapons, Primitive Ranged Weapons. That specialty skill's base situation die inproves from +d0 to -d4.

Free Agent: Shady murderhobo. More so than the others, free agents are defined by their skill discount list. They get most of the interaction skills, but also a selection of tech and combat skills tailored to being a sneaky rogue. They're the Red Mage of the system, dabbling in everything but excelling at nothing.

  • Action Check Score Increase: A free agent's action check score is increased by 2 points.
  • Resistance Bonus: Choose one ability and improve its resistance modifier by 1 step.
  • Last Resort Bonus: Free agent heroes start play with a number of last resort points based on their personality scores, but their maximum is increased by 1. Also, a free agent can spend 2 last resort points to alter an action instead of the usual 1 point.

Diplomat: Smoothtalking murderhobo. Gets all the interaction skills, and pick a backup profession to fall back on. Typically a diplomat character will not pick free agent as their secondary, as free agent is itself a hybrid class that overlaps a lot with diplomat to begin with.

  • Action Check Score Increase: A diplomat's action check score is increased by 1 point.
  • Contacts or Resources: A diplomat starts with contacts or resources described in the gamemaster guide.
  • Secondary Profession: Select a second profession. Your hero can purchase skills from that profession list for list price - 1 instead of list price.

Tech Op: Nerd murderhobo. Tech ops are the intelligence score profession, does all the sci-fi techie stuff. Modern medicine being a technical exercise, the Tech Op pulls double duty as the healer profession, although automatic nanite trauma packs are a thing in this sytem.

  • Action Check Score Increase: A tech op's action check score is increased by 1 point.
  • Accelerated Learning: Every time a tech op hero reaches a new achievement level, he receives the usual number of skill points plus extra skill points depending on the level he just reached.
Level Attained Extra Skill Points
2-5 1
6-10 2
11-15 3
16-20 4
21+ 5

Mindwalker: Psychic murderhobo. Mindwalkers have four psionic broad skills reflecting different groups of powers. ESP deals in all sensing powers, Telepathy is for psionic effects involving other minds, Biokinesis is about controlling the physical form, and Telekinesis involves controlling the surrounding environment. A jedi-like character is likely to split between esp and telekinesis, a navigator would be deep on esp for navcognition and precognition, a bene geserit would go heavy on biokinesis, and a solarian would invest in the bioweapon speciality.

  • Action Check Score Increase: A mindwalker's action check score is increased by 1 point.
  • Situation Bonus: Choose one psionic broad skill. That skill and all its specialty skills receive a situation die improvement of 1 step. The broad skill now has a base situation die of +d0 and all its specialty skills have a base situation die of -d4.

Star*Drive[edit]

The main far-future setting of the Alternity line. Star*Drive is set at the dawn of the 26th century, and humanity has spread out across the Orion Arm.

Publications:

  • Alien Compendium
  • Arms and Equipment
  • Star*Drive Campaign Setting
  • Klick Clack - An adventure in the Hammer's Star system dealing with the invading Klick aliens.
  • Outbound - A collection of several micro-adventures on unexplored worlds.
  • Planet of Darkness - An adventure of the "get rich quick" sort set on an intrigue-filled mining world.
  • Star Compendium - Expands out the Campaign Setting with six more worlds to explore.
  • Threats from Beyond - A collection of partially developed adventure hooks.

Novels:

  • Harbinger Trilogy (Starrise at Corrivale, Storm at Eldala, Nightfall at Algemron) - Marine gets set up as the fall guy for an assassination, but then becomes the pawn of a precursor alien AI that could tip the balance in a brewing war between the known space nations, and a unknown external alien threat.
  • Two of Minds - Street urchin fortune teller gets caught up in intrigue and turns out to be a latent psychic who was manifesting esp powers through his tarot deck.
  • On the Verge
  • Zero Point
  • Gridrunner

Dark Matter[edit]

The X-Files except they couldn't call it that. Dark Matter is a present-day conspiracy setting where secretive state and corporate entities are keeping the paranormal under wraps.

Gamma World[edit]

A re-release of TSR's old Gamma World. Alternity included mutations in the core rulebook so it's likely a Gamma World redux was on the list from day one.

StarCraft[edit]

Literally StarCraft. It was a licensed tie-in.