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Friday 12 March 2021

Robot Rampage

Robots Among Us is a supplement for Metamorphosis Alpha: Fantastic Role-Playing Game of Science Fiction Adventures on a Lost Starship. The first Science Fiction roleplaying game and the first post-apocalypse roleplaying game, Metamorphosis Alpha is set aboard the Starship Warden, a generation spaceship which has suffered an unknown catastrophic event which killed the crew and most of the million or so colonists and left the ship irradiated and many of the survivors and the flora and fauna aboard mutated. Some three centuries later, as Humans, Mutated Humans, Mutated Animals, and Mutated Plants, the Player Characters, knowing nothing of their captive universe, would leave their village to explore strange realm around them, wielding fantastic mutant powers and discovering how to wield fantastic devices of the gods and the ancients that is technology, ultimately learn of their enclosed world. Originally published in 1976, it would go on to influence a whole genre of roleplaying games, starting with Gamma World, right down to Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic from Goodman Games. And it would be Goodman Games which brought the roleplaying game back with the stunning Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition in 2016, and support the forty-year old roleplaying game with a number of supplements, many which would be collected in the ‘Metamorphosis Alpha Treasure Chest’.

The Starship Warden was stocked not just with thousands of robots, ready to help humanity settle the new world that the colony ship was destined for, but also large factories intended to manufacture yet more useful robots and automated terraforming machines ready to begin transforming the new world into a new paradise for humanity. However, these many robots were just as affected by the radiation cloud that caused the change as were the ship’s crew and colonists, and plant and animal stock, their A.I. brains warped and twisted and their programming altered beyond what their original designers intended. 
Metamorphosis Alpha focuses on the biological inhabitants of the Starship Warden, the Humans, Mutated Humans, Mutated Animals, and Mutated Plants. Robots Among Us switches the focus to the mechanical inhabitants of the Starship Warden to present a set of seventeen encounters with robots aboard the colony ship.

Written by Jim Ward, the designer of Metamorphosis Alpha, with many of them entertainingly illustrated by Jim Holloway, the entries in 
Robots Among Us range in length from half a page to two pages long. Each includes a subtitle which suggests what the encounter is about, such as ‘ Arc Bots – More Than Just Security’ and ‘300 Years And Counting – Butler Robot Ready To Serve’, an explanation of what is going on, some colour text—in bold—ready for the Game Master to read out to her players, and the stats for the one or more robots involved in the encounter. The writeup for each robot includes its normal reactions, so that the Game Master can easily gauge its actions. The Game Master will need to refer to the Metamorphosis Alpha rules for descriptions of the various Miscellaneous, Defensive, Weapon, and other systems installed into each of the robots, and in some cases will need to prepare an encounter to fit into her campaign, but others can be dropped straight in with almost no or little preparation. Their theme is always though, that of ‘robots gone awry’.

Robots Among Us includes encounters with warbots, security bots, horticultural bots, cargo bots, servant droids, bomb disposal bots, cleaning bots, med bots, and more. In ‘Bunker Bots’ the Player Characters are attacked out of the blue by a damaged bot, and tracking it back to its source reveals more; in ‘War Unit’, the Player Characters are visiting a village when they see a battle involving military bots nearby—do they join in, wait to salvage the battle, locate the source of the robots, or all three?; whilst in another village, everyone comes under attack by a host of war machines, but is saved by an intelligent tank that sat dormant for centuries almost like a statue outside the village! Given the short length of the encounters in Robots Among Us, it should be no surprise that many of them are combat orientated. Some of the more interesting encounters involve more roleplaying—upon the part of both Game Master and her players—than combat and whose events will play out over the course of several sessions beyond the pages of Robots Among Us. For example, in ‘300 Years And Counting’, the Player Characters encounter a robot butler who is still awaiting the return of its former masters and will treat them differently depending upon whether they are Humans, Mutated Humans, Mutated Animals, or Mutated Plants, a theme which runs throughout Robots Among Us and Metamorphosis Alpha and its subsequent descendants. Similarly, in ‘Mother Knows Best’, the Game Master gets to ramp up the camp when the Player Characters encounters a ‘Orabelle 3,000 Matron Unit’, and it starts to clean up after them and actually clean them and admonish them when they take actions which it perceives is dangerous!

Robots Among Us is well presented , neat and tidy, and an engaging read. In places, it could have been better organised to make it clear quite what is happening in each encounter. If there is an issue with Robots Among Us, it is perhaps that too many of the encounters do involve combat rather than other forms of conflict or engagement. However, that does make them easier to use by the Game Master, but it does also mean that the Game Master will want to use the encounters to be found in Robots Among Us judiciously, to mix them up with encounters. Of course, Robots Among Us provides plenty of support for the Metamorphosis Alpha Game Master, but this is supplement for a post apocalypse roleplaying game, so there is also a lot here which could be brought into the post apocalypse roleplaying game of the Game Master’s choice, whether that is Gamma World or Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic or any of the others. The content in the individual entries would require some adjustment, but the parred-back stats in Metamorphosis Alpha would make that relatively easy.

Robots Among Us is a useful supplement, a supplement which the Game Master can pull off the shelf and peruse and prepare an encounter with relative ease—though some encounters require more preparation times than others. 
Robots Among Us provides solid support for Metamorphosis Alpha, and with a little bit of effort, for other post apocalypse roleplaying games too.

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