Long time RPG players might remember the name Alternity from the popular game from the 1990s. This version of Alternity is not some sort of remake or reboot of the 90s game. It is its own creation, with its own feeling and mechanics to it. But it also draws its inspiration from the original. That game is its heritage, as the Sasquatch Game Studio likes to put it. Original Alternity team member Richard Baker, along with David Noonan and Stephen Schubert, bring a combined 50+ years of RPG design experience to the game and it shows in ease and flow of the game and how it’s presented.
Alternity is an open world game, using a skills-based challenge system. It’s science fiction based, but the rules aren’t linked to any specific setting. Do you want to a Planet of the Apes game? Do it! Firefly? You bet. Your own original creation? This is the perfect system for you.
Once you’ve determined the world you want to explore, and the story you want to tell, the obvious next step is coming with the characters take will tell that story. The best thing I can say about this stage is that Alternity put the “creative” back in character creation. Coming up with WHO you want your character to be is more important to the game than the statistics that make up your character on paper. As you go through the more technical parts of your character, you’ll find yourself brought back to this point. The rules are what guides the story, they aren’t the point of it. Similarly, the game isn’t built around a combined-arms strategy that pushes players to select a specific set of archetypes in order to survive.
One of the things that most closely ties this Alternity to its previous incarnation is how skill rolls are handled. Players roll a d20 for their skill, and add or subtract a second die that is determined by the difficulty of the task (called steps of difficulty). One step harder and you would roll and subtract a d4 from your d20 skill roll, for one step easier you roll and add that 1d4. For two steps easier or harder, roll a d6. Four steps would be a d12. Something so mind-bogglingly easy or hard that you almost shouldn’t bother rolling might be six steps in either direction with not one, but two additional d20s. But rolling the dice is only half the fun. Players and their GM can, and should, negotiate what the difficulty will be for a roll. The player states their case for a roll being easier, while the GM points out the factors making it harder.
I like to add even more tension to a roll by putting the final difficulty die into a cup to be rolled blind. (Green dice for easier, red for harder)
The other two “Big Concepts” in the rules are how turn order and damage are tracked. During a conflict, time is measured in Action Rounds, which are further broken down into eight Impulses. When you perform an action it takes a certain number of impulses, moving ahead on the circular impulse track that many spaces. The player furthest back on the track takes their action first, so if one player takes a three Impulse action player two could potentially take a two Impulse action and then take another action before the first player acts again.
Tracking damage is one of the neater rules in Alternity. There aren’t any hit points, instead, there is a durability track, with checkboxes for the severity of the wound. If an opponent deals you a Serious Wound, you would check that box. On their next attack, they may only Graze you, so you check off that box and it wouldn’t really have much effect compared to the existing Serious Wound. Here’s the thing, if all the wound boxes at a certain level of full, you check the next higher open box. Death by a thousand paper cuts cut become a thing. Assuming you survive the battle, minor scrapes will heal automatically depending on the wound type, while worse wounds will probably need first aid.
The physical layout of the has some brilliant points and a few annoying ones as well. The overall page layout is great. The main text is all heavily inset from the edge, which makes room for a ton of great notes in that space. Some of those notes are important clarifications that are easier to point out than to actually integrate into the flow of the main text. The other thing it allows for, and I can’t tell you how much I love this enough, is that when you have a sidebar, it bleeds into that open space. You can’t fail to notice it’s there. Some rulebooks have really obvious sidebar boxes, but they interrupt whatever text surrounds it, often between pages. I hate that. Some rulebooks are more subtle with their sidebars, they blend well. They blend so well that I’ve had to stop and figure out if I missed a page of whatever came before. I hate that too. Alternity has put those sidebars out of the way, with room for the surrounding text the carry around it, keeping a great flow. Love it.
The only thing I didn’t like is that the descriptions of the species and archetypes blend together. One description will end and the next starts immediately three-quarters of the way down the page. It’s a minor thing, and it reduces the page count, which saves money, which ultimately is good for players too. But with the rest of the book being so clearly and beautifully done, this just felt lacking as a result.
There’s are a ton more things I could go into, but I’ll just end this off with a couple last thoughts.
Driving is awesome. You get a one-step bonus if the car is red. Why? Because they can.
“Sooner or later you’re going to find yourself outside your ship without a spacesuit, and that’s not where you want to be.” I don’t know why this section of the rules exists, but it’s awesome.
Given that this is an American publisher, my only thought on in-game measurements is that the future is here, and it’s metric.
This is a great game, with great mechanics. There are a number of sourcebooks that are planned going forward, so grab the core book now and start playing.