Thursday, February 18, 2016

Loot! Part 2: S&W WhiteBox and Metamorphosis Alpha

Remember that post with 4 mini-reviews of stuff I got for my birthday? Here we go again talking about the rest (took me long enough ...) and some more stuff I got my hands on last year (still not all of it, but I promise I will get there eventually). Just like last time, I'll give a short opinion and/or impression with pictures and some ideas what you'll get and where you'd have to go to get it. Let's go to the LOOT!

5. Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox

Yeah folks, you got that right. I own that now. Part of one of the cornerstones (S&W family) of what is called the Old School Revival (or whatever, you know what I mean). I even read the piece by now and got to say I have ... opinions about it.

First things first: it's beautifully done. Layout, artwork, writing, the whole things feels, for the lack of a better word, right. It is very short and rules light and obviously a game of the D&D variety. If you know your (early) D&D it gives you a great frame to build your own game around. And that's just that: I wouldn't give this game to a newbie Dungeon Master, as I don't think it could be called "complete" in a sense that allows someone starting with rpgs to get all he needs to rule a game.

I know, I know, there are those out there that'd tell me that the first D&D didn't offer much more (less even!) than what is presented here. But I gotta say, move on, we are in the year 2016 by now and if one thing is known to be necessary to make a game complete, it's giving it the proper DM-tools to run it. It is one of the first things that got added to D&D as it was growing up back then and I think it's lacking here.

Just a few examples: morale is mentioned, but left to the DM to decide how it works and there is no Monster Reaction, no index, not even (!) a table of contents. As the person using the book the most (the DM) you are left with nothing to work it or create out of it other than being told to make it up (which I believe to be very problematic, btw). Again, if you know what you are doing, it's not a big deal (although I think that morale and Monster Reaction procedures aren't things you should leave out), but if you are new to it, you'd be lost.

It's a mixed bag for me, to be honest. Love it as an artifact and I can see how people would use it to build their own games around. It is compatible with all the other retro-clones out there and highly adaptable. But it's also for the "initiated" only and contrary to what they say in the introduction, I don't think it's for beginners and, in that sense, basic or complete.

Still, the pdf is free (here and, I kid you not, with a table of contents*). Well, you can't go wrong there. Same goes for the rest of the S&W family (get the core rules here). The print is on lulu ...

6. Metamorphosis Alpha

First things first: I'm utterly fascinated by this game. First of all, it's the first Science Fiction role playing game ever, so it has that whole "Buy me, I'm an artifact!"-thing going. But it also has this great premise that after a catastrophe involving lots of radiation on a generation ship, killing most of the crew. Lots of chaos, mutants all over the place and the rest of the humans on board struggle to survive and (this is the kicker) completely forgot that they are on a star ship headed somewhere or what that catastrophe had been. Player characters are sentient beings living and exploring the strange world surrounding them ... I think it's brilliant.

Now that I own it I got to say, it really doesn't disappoint. Sure, it has shitty layout, a very small font and no artwork to speak of (really, don't), but man does this game deliver in every other aspect. It is short (32 A4 pages) and it gives a DM everything he might need to (and I really, really love that) do it all by himself. The whole ship. There is some ideas how it could be structured and what a ship like this most likely will have, there are mutation tables and some items like robots or laser pistols and some rules to make it all work.

Again, this is a fairly light system, but the focus on the DM and how to make it work, all those tables and ideas, a sample ship area, a sample living area, some ideas about tribes and more mutations, all of it to the point and with no unnecessary fillers, make this a very inspirational read. Honestly, this is how it's done.

I believe they didn't think back in 1976 that more than the Dungeon Master would actually read or use that book, so it's written with that person in mind. A player might actually never touch that book and there are many reasons why that is a good thing, too (for one, the passengers aren't aware that they are on a giant space ship, so why spoil the players?). This works so well that it left me wondering why it isn't done more often today.

In fact, I'd go as far as saying that when the Dungeon Master is finished preparing his own ship there'll be no need to have that book at the table at all. And I can't help myself but think that this is how it should be. The DM makes the game his own and that's all a group needs. Metamorphosis Alpha comes highly recommended and you might get it at lulu or drivethrurpg.

Enough for today

There are more little reviews like this coming, but I'll leave at that for now. I was happy to get both books and I treasure them, if not for the same reasons.

*Alright, I just found out as I double checked my research (as I do from time to time) and this surprises me. It's a huge oversight. In a pdf it's next to useless, but in the print version, where you could actually use a table of contents, it wasn't deemed necessary? Yeah ...


  1. I have heard nothing but positive things about Metamorphosis Alpha (well, for the most part) the format is antiquated, but the premise is sound. I'm going to have to keep my eyes open. I suppose that I could always buy the PDF and print it myself, but I tell you, that jacket is a work of art!

    1. It's totally worth it, in my opinion. Not only as, what one might call, a historical document, but as a game, really. And lulu has discounts on a regular basis (like 30% off and free shipping just 2 days ago), so you can't go wrong there. But don't mention the art :D

  2. Speaking as someone with a growing fondness for White Box, I agree with your assessment, and kinda think it was unwise that Mythmere ever offered it in hardcopy. Doing so gives the false impression that it's a finished game, when the text all but demands that it been polished and modded to taste to play. That's why its available in straight RTF, after all.

    1. It sure explains a lot, actually. But the things I felt missing would have been 3, maybe 4 pages more and this would be as complete as it needed to be (in my opinion, anyway). Having no table of contents is a big no-no, if you ask me. But yeah, as I said in the post, I can see how people would use it to make their own thing. It is really easy with having an rtf and most of the work done (a few new ideas, slap some layout unto it and you are basically good to go, right?). So it also does a lot as it is. But still, it's a missed opportunity.