This weekend I was perusing the multitude of RPG blogs that I've got clogging up my feedreader and came upon one fellow's list of his Games of 2008. Intrigued I read on and he mentioned a new game called Alpha Omega, a post apocalyptic setting that he referred to as "Rifts done right."
Those three words had me intrigued, because among my personal projects going on is a task involving converting the RPG Rifts to a system that doesn't perform fellatio on deceased donkeys. After perusing the game's website and discovering that the book looked to have a rather high production value (it was pretty) and this was a brand new company's first product I felt incumbent to spend $30 of my hard-earned dollars on their PDF. This is pretty steep for a PDF, but it was also over 400 pages and I'm always one for supporting new game companies, especially when they're not D20.
After beginning my reading the first impressions were promising… then they got better… then they had me dancing jigs of excitement. The themes and setting of this book were absolutely beautiful! The setting was so rich and full of opportunity and adventure!
The premise of Alpha Omega is that 250 years in the future, humanity has endured much hardship, our neglect of our planet cased catastrophic disasters, resource competition from this turned into all-out nuclear war which decimated the world. Added to this a nearby comet unleashed a storm of meteors upon earth setting mankind back even further. Humanity was forced to retreat into massive arcologies where it closed it's self off from the hostile outside world.
Tied closely within this setting are the agendas of two alien races, called the Seraphim and Olaphem, essentially angels and devils though the game doesn't force mythical morality down one's throat preferring a more ying/yang approach. These aliens are on the cusp of returning to earth to carry out another stage of their eternal war. They've been gone for several millennia, and in their stead they left children from their occasional couplings with humans, called the nephalim, which existed amongst humanity for many years in hiding until circumstances forced them to reveal themselves. They are superhuman and possess magic and vast genetic superiorities to humans. The game also hosts a few other player option races that continue along these lines, lesser nephalim are diluted bloodline of the evolutionary aliens, the grigori are bio-engineered beings created to serve the Seraphim and Olaphem, and then the technology in the game opens up play possibility to androids, bio engineered people, mutants from the wastes, or an interesting vampire-like mutation of humans originating as a Mormon colony called the necrosi.
The science fiction aspects of the setting are crisp, well thought out and refreshing. I love them so much, character creation is the same, the options for character ideas is as limitless as the game advertises and each one has so much depth that I could barely contain my excitement.
Which is why my next section of reading was such a kick in the balls.
The system. It looks good superficially, almost simple even but this is a lie. It's a point based adaptation of D&D that feels like it was heavily influenced by GURPS, this would not be that horrible in theory, but then they created the mechanic that totally breaks the game. In Alpha Omega, 1 does not equal 1, or even 1 set die. Every number from 1-100 listed in the trait section refers to a section on a chart that tells you which dice to roll. 12 might equal 4d4's + 2d6. This complexity of dice conversion gets exponentially worse when you factor in resisted actions, multiple actions, combat or teamwork.
This game… this gem of creativity and potential has been completely RUINED by their dice mechanic. They actually say at the beginning of the game that they try to accommodate the play style of people who don't like to make rolls often, this should have set off warning bells in my head. I'm a gamer and game designer that prescribes to the school of thought that the system MUST be able to resolve any uncertainty or conflict that the players can get themselves into, but this one admits that their system sucks too much to do that. No wonder some players prefer an unrolled play style with this game, after reading their dice mechanics I can fully understand. Only masochistic engineers and mathematicians that jerk-off to the periodic table nightly would enjoy it. Metaphorically it's like the game designers created a stunning work of art, foiled it in gold, Ivory and ebony… and then lamenting the fact that their work of art wasn't big enough they pulled it from it's foundations and dropped it sloppily on the heaped corpses of dead dice manufacturers rotting in a swamp.
In that way Alpha Omega keeps unerringly to it's theme, good and bad, light and dark, beginning and end. The duality of the setting is represented in my favor for it. The setting is nearly perfect, as close to perfection as I've seen in a game world actually, but the dice mechanics are a disgrace. On the up-side at first glance I think it would be fairly simple to enact a better dice system and make the game playable. As for me, I've put the game aside and am wondering if I can hire their setting writers to build me a setting for Hardkore's game mechanics.
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