We just passed the 20-session mark for our “The Lighthouse” Alternity campaign. Since we play it every other week for 5-6 hours, that’s a long time – nine months so far! I thought I’d chip in on how it’s going! (Other folks in the campaign, feel free and chime in in the comments…)
On the game system – Alternity’s pretty good really. It hits a good midpoint in the realism vs action curve. The use of different dice is confusing at first but any kind of gamer gets it down pretty soon. (For those who don’t know, it’s a d20 base, roll low, and bonuses/penalties are really increasing die types – so a “-2 bonus” means “roll d20 and subtract a d6”.) And the rich skill system is nice, there’s never “not a skill for that.” Really, the main problems with it are:
1. Too many overlapping skills sometimes, which causes stress when the GM isn’t liberal about which to allow. Especially with technical stuff and social stuff, there are often about 4 skills you think you should be able to use and Alternity isn’t helpful in recommending a standard remedy for that like “use anything plausible, and give questionable edge cases a +1 penalty”.
2. The mortal damage mechanic in conjunction with armor is wonky, often making a “pretty good shot” much better than a “superb shot”. There’s three kinds of hits, which as they get better usually do a bunch of stun, a bunch of wounds, or a couple points of mortal – but armor soaks the same die of damage no matter what, so there’s a lot of “I got an Amazing success and deal out 4 mortal!” and it just gets soaked by the armor, whereas “I got an Ordinary success and do 12 stun” they soak the same 4 and then go unconscious from the other 8 and you can fillet them at your discretion.
3. Suffers slightly from “D&D syndrome” where there’s too many stupid little sub-rules – I tend to ignore the weapon type vs range modifiers even when they’d benefit me because I hate fiddliness.
But for a pretty long out of print game, it stands up very well. (And there’s still a pretty lively user community at alternityrpg.net!) Once you learn it that is; the way the rules are randomly organized and split across the Player’s and GM’s books is perverse in its obtuseness.
On the characters – they are all pretty enjoyable. Each person is playing two, and so the characters that aren’t turning out to have much personality or role don’t hurt as much; the player just plays the other one more. And it differs at different points in the campaign – Chris used to play Ten-Zil Kem more but now he plays Rokk Tressor more, Bruce used to play Taveer more and now plays Lambert Fulson more. Patrick never really did much with Lenny the T’sa and sticks to Martin St. John unless prompted. I still split pretty evenly between Markus the warlion and Captain Takashi. Tim’s new and still feeling his characters out. The setup has worked out great; it’s kinda like having Babylon 5 and each player playing one Earthforce command staff and then one ambassador/other guy; you get different kinds of scenes but with most or all players being able to participate.
On the plot – Paul is mainly doing two things; one, taking us to the “External War” which is apparently a war between humans and right thinking aliens against a bunch of different hostile aliens, and two, using player-written plot cards to weave in a mess of subplots and character stuff. This works well in general. We went through a little stretch there where it was too much about the plot cards and not sufficiently about the main plot, which caused a couple of us to start grousing; problems with government bureaucracy and/or vermin are entertaining as a short diversion but after a couple hours of that you start thinking “Next…” But he’s compensated in the last 2-3 sessions and things are picking up again. And since we’re getting to 8th level plus we’re starting to get good at some things – so many skills means that if you don’t want to be totally incompetent at random important things that come up in 26th century life, you’re not real good at any of them till you get a lot more skill points to spend. I am betting level 3 is the highest anyone has in any skill.
Looks like we’re not winding this one up any time soon! Though part of me gets twitchy after so long and is like “Hey I wish I had an opportunity to play one of those Paizo APs, the other group sessions are bogarting all of them”, this one is still fun!
Anyway, if you’ve never taken a look before, our session summaries are 7+ page PDFs with just about every detail in them, so if you aren’t getting in this much gaming, come live vicariously through us.