With the fervor surrounding superhero movies thanks to the recent releases of Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, I thought I’d use it as an excuse to revisit my first (and still one of my favorite) role-playing game system, Alternity.
The twin jewels of the Alternity game design was modularity and setting-independence. Alternity was a ruleset first, not a setting so you could create any sort of place you could imagine. It had rules for environments and hazards related to the environment. It had rules for creating distant planets. It had tables to generate random star systems.
The rules were modular as well. If you set your game on earth, you could ignore all the rules for extreme environments. If you built a Victorian-era steampunk game, then you could ignore the rules for modern firearms and bulletproof vests, as well as the chapter on computers. If you didn’t want mutants or cybernetic enhancements in your campaign, then you could ignore those rules as well.
The modular design also made it possible to rewrite rules as necessary. The final chapters of the Player’s Handbook and Gamemaster’s Guide gave rules for psionics, cybernetics, and what the game called “FX,” or “special effects.” Things that were beyond the ken of ordinary science. The FX rules got rewritten by Sean K. Reynolds as part of the Dark Matter campaign setting, then later released as a stand-alone guide book called Beyond Science: A Guide to FX.
The rewritten rules saw the FX functioning closer to ordinary skills, with a broad skill tied to a core ability and specialty skills with a much more narrow application. The old way had the player design her own specialty skill without a broad skill, and then estimate the cost based on a table considering several factors. It could make learning a single spell or having a single superpower cost as much as 20 skill points.
The new rules allowed for more versatile characters, but there was still typically a steep, steep cost to build a character. The initial skill points depend on a character’s Intelligence score, and average Intelligence leads to 35-55 skill points. Superpower broad skills cost 9 points, and each specialty skill costs between 2-4 points for the first level. That means that you could spend 11-14 points for a single superpower, which in some cases could be half of your allotment of starting skill points.
With superheroes on everyone’s mind, this month I will lay out a way for fans of the vintage Alternity RPG to create a superhero campaign. The Alternity Personalities column will feature my version of the Incredibles. At the end, you should have in your hands a playable campaign.