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Friday, 7 May 2021

Views of the Warden

The Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players 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’.

Next to come out of the ‘Metamorphosis Alpha Treasure Chest’ is Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show PlayersThere is no denying the power of a good handout, whether is the matchbook from the Stumbling Tiger Bar found in Jackson Elias’ hotel room at the start of Masks of Nyarlathotep or the Origami-style elemental stones from The Doomstones campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying or the rotating puzzle from The Chained Coffin for Dungeon Crawl Classics or the opening screen crawl scripts for West End Games’ Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. They engage the players and draw them into the world of the roleplaying game, building atmosphere and a sense of immersion. Yet for most fantasy roleplaying games, handouts take the form of maps, but there is a special case for Dungeons & Dragons. Going all the way back to S1 Tomb of Horrors, certainly Advanced Dungeons & Dragons has had a history of including a separate booklet of images keyed to locations in a scenario, so that when the adventurers reach a particular location, the Dungeon Master can flip to the relevant image in the Illustration Booklet and show it to her players. These illustrations brought each location alive and made the Dungeon Master’s task all the easier, and it is from these Illustration Booklets, for S1 Tomb of Horrors or more recently, Dwimmermount, that the Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players draws from for its inspiration.

The Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players is simply a book of illustrations of scenes aboard the Starship Warden. Unlike the Illustration Booklets for S1 Tomb of Horrors or Dwimmermount, there is no text associated with the images in its pages. Or indeed, an actual scenario associated with it. What you have instead is literally a booklet of images. Appearing in landscape and portrait formats, one image per page, they include a Tiger Mutant Animal in armour and firing a rocket straight at the viewer—and thus the Player Characters; a woman dressed in the clothes of the Ancients, asleep in her cyropod; and a bunch of scruffy Pure Strain Humans, bearded and armed with flint spears, looking nervously into a strange hole in the wall. Some are humorous, like the four Wolfoids, clearly enjoying themselves travelling in some ancient vehicle, the passengers with their feet, whilst others are horrifying, such as the Pure Strain Human being strapped down by medbots whilst staring at the metal leg they are about to replace his own with! Then some are intriguing, like the entrance to a bunker or a facility marked as ‘Level 5’, the ground before it strewn with dirt out of which protrudes one of the many infamous coloured arm bands to be found aboard the Starship Warden and which will grant access to certain keyed areas.

However, because there is no text in the Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players and so each picture is not displaying a specific scene or encounter, these images are not actually intended to be shown to the players—at least not at first. Their initial role is to severe as inspiration for the Game Master, for the Game Master to write scenarios and scenes in which the images can be shown to the players and illustrate what their characters can see. For example, perhaps one of the Player Characters’ friends has gone to serve the Ancients, but when they discover him, they see him about to undergo leg upgrade surgery at the hands of the medbots or during the rites to the holy carp in the lake upon whose shores the Player Characters’ village stands, the giant fish is suddenly attacked by something tentacular. Is this tentacled attacker a mutated beast, a robot gone rogue, or what else could it be?

The all but text free Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players does another thing and that is showcase the artwork of the late Jim Holloway, drawings here each to a brief given by author, James Ward. And they are good pieces of art, interesting, a little quirky, and hopefully for the Game Master, inspirational, and her players, illustrative. And like so many supplements for Metamorphosis Alpha, the Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players works with almost any post-apocalyptic roleplaying game, from Gamma World to Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic. Ultimately though, the Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players is not a book that a Metamorphosis Alpha or other post-apocalypse Game Master absolutely needs, but short of ideas, it might provide much-needed inspiration for the next adventure.

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