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Spotlight on Alternacy, A Roleplaying System




AUTHOR: unknown


BASIC OUTLINE: generic game system without setting or scenarios.

DRAFT-TO-FINISH RATING: the rules are fairly developed and can be used as such.

COOL IDEAS: Talents; experience system.



Alternacy is a generic game system where characters are described through 16 talents (representing both attributes and abilities on a scale that goes from 0 to 10) and skills related to the talents (skills are rated on a scale that goes from 0 to 30). Situations are solved by rolling 2d5+skill+ad/disad mod (0 to +/- 15), and comparing to a difficulty threshold (6 to 40). The roles can be open ended (a roll of two results in a second negative roll, and a roll of 10 means that one re-rolls and adds both results).

There are developed rules for combat and damage.



I like this game. It's written in an unpretentious tone and makes for an interesting read. There are some things that are more complicated than they should be, though.



As I mentioned above, there are two ideas that caught my attention in this game: talents, and the experience system. Of those the latter is the most interesting. I'll discuss both ideas in sequence.

(I suggest that you read the Alternity rules before moving on to what comes next.)



What's interesting about talents (as presented in Alternacy) is that they allow us to drop Attributes. By attributes I mean the kind of things you find in classic RPG systems like TSR's D&D or Chaosium's BRP. Things like Strength, Intelligence, Size, etc. Those games do have derived attributes that are based on the basic attributes. Those derived attributes are the equivalent of Alternacy's talents.

For instance, if you compare Alternacy with BRP, talents are the equivalent of BRP's derived attributes and Skill Modifiers. So, the idea of talents is not new in itself. What's different is the notion that one can go without the basic attributes (as defined in the systems I mentioned) and go directly to the derived attributes which become primary. It will be up to the players to describe their characters in a way that's consistent with the derived attributes of their choice. (Say, if the character is very good in the talents of combat, dexterity, and physique, the physical description should reflect this.)

The talent system allows us to drop a level in character development while keeping the richness of the character's design. In that sense it makes for a simpler game while keeping its depth.

Talents are a nice idea, but the reason why I put Alternacy in my RPG design cool ideas drawer lies in another place. What I like the most about this game is the way it handles...



Alternacy has rules for both what we can call previous experience in the character creation section, and what we can call acquired experience in the skill adjustment section.

When creating a character the player chooses the skills the character developed in the course of his life before play. The exact level achieved in each skill is determined by answering five questions, and rating the answer to each question in a scale that goes from 1 to 10. The questions are the next:

The player just rates the skill development in each skill according to these five factors, and averages the five rates. The result is the 'Beginning Development Number'. It varies between 1 and 10. This number is cross referenced in a table with the level in the attribute that governs the skill. The result is the Skill Development Level which may range between 1 and 30. This level is used in skill tests.


The whole idea is very nice. These five factors allow us to understand how and why a character developed each skill. Yet, there are a couple of things that I would do differently from the author of Alternacy.

First, I dont like games that force me to use a calculator. I think that no game should force us to use math. So, I would simplify the rating system, and instead of using a 10 level scale for each factor, I would use a 3 level scale with 0, 1 and 2 as its values. So, the values of the factors would be the next:

The player would just rate each skill in each factor, and sum the five values. Im sure that the final result will not be very different from what we can do with the original rules.


(Here is one of the main points you will find in much of my columns. I'll always try to find ways to reach the same result we can reach in the original game, but ways that are more economical or more simple to use.)


The second point about this system is that the game only provides very loose guidelines on how to rate each factor, and how to rate different skills. I would develop these guidelines in the sense that:



Skill development follows similar concepts to those I've just presented for previous experience. The factors in skill development are:

You may notice that when we compare this to previous experience there's a new factor, Novelty; that there's less one factor, length of time; and that two factors present in previous experience are combined into a single factor. In fact length of time is not absent, it's just used in a different way, as I'll explain in a moment.

Unlike what happens in previous experience, the four factors present in skill development are not individually rated in a quantitative scale. They just provide guidelines for the player and GM to decide on how to qualify the overall development in the skill. This is done by selecting a Development Category (which values can be Increase, Hold or Decrease), and, if the skill value is to change, by deciding on the magnitude of the change (whether that change is Slight, Minor, Moderate, Major, or Drastic).

Once the player got the Development Category for the skill, the player must pick the Adjustment Points for the skill. These are based on the Development Category and length of time between two skill adjustments. The Adjustment Points are either positive or negative according to the direction of the adjustment (whether its an increase or a decrease), and their value is both based on the magnitude of the change and the length of time. (There's a chart that crosses time with magnitude to get that number.)

Finally the player rolls to see whether the skill changes. These rolls are based on the current level of the skill and the Adjustment Points. This is where things start to break apart. The player follows the next steps (for increase rolls, and I dropped the details):

If the player is rolling to decrease the skill, he proceeds in the same way but if he rolls equal or higher than the target he decreases one level.

What's wrong with this? Suppose your skill's current development level is 15. Your target is 20-15=5. If your skill is 10 the target is 10 (20-10), and if the skill is 25 the target is... -5. That means that the higher your skill is, the easier it is to augment it, and above level 17 success is guaranteed.


The system is very interesting, and consistent. Yet, I think that it's also rather complex, in fact too much complex to my tastes. A second problem is that skill development uses a set of factors that's similar to the one used in previous experience, but that's not equal to it, and that's used in a different way. I would rather have a more integrated system for both parts of the game.



So, what would the Ruleslawyer suggest?

(Since I already mentioned the changes I would introduce to the previous experience rules, I'll concentrate now on the skill development rules.)

The first task is to streamline the skill adjustments factors in order to make it similar to the previous experience factors. I would base skill development in the next factors: novelty, attitude, frequency, quality of training/results of usage, opportunity/facilities. As you can see, I follow Alternity in adding Novelty, and dropping Length of time from the factors relevant for skill development.


Length of time becomes a precondition of skill adjustment. It defines when the players can make adjustment tests. It is set by the GM according to the pace of his game.


The possible values of the factors are the same as in previous experience (in the case of the factors that are common to it):

This means that the sum of the factors can range from 0 to 10. Let's call this number the Development Target Number (DTN).


The next step is to roll 2d5 against the DTN. The result of the roll is adjusted with modifiers based on how skilled the character is, and how talented he is in the talent that relates to the skill.

-1 if the skill goes from 1 to 12

0 if the skill goes from 13 to 21

1 if the skill goes from 22 to 27

2 if the skill goes from 28 to 30

+2 if the talent is 0

+1 if the talent is 1 or 2

0 if the talent goes from 3 to 7

-1 if the talent is 8 or 9

-2 if the talent is 10

These modifiers are added to the roll of 2d5, which means that the sum of 2d5 plus modifiers can range between -1 and 7 in the best case, and between 6 and 14 in the worst case.

If the value rolled plus modifiers is below the DTN, the skill level increases 1 point. If that value is equal or above the DTN, the skill level doesn't change. If that value is twice the value of the DTN, the skill level decreases by 1 point.



Alternity gives us a very interesting way of dealing with character development, both at the character creation stage, and on what concerns character advancement. It deals with it by incorporating into it a set of factors that provide depth and detail based on actual role playing. What characters do - both 'real time play' and in 'idle time play' - reflects in the evolution of the character. That evolution can be either positive or negative.

This is excellent. Character development rules should deal with the kind of issues that Alternity's rules addresses.

Yet, Alternity rules can be simplified and streamlined. That's what I tried to do in the present column.


A final prevention: my proposals were not play tested. If someone is kind enough to play test it, please let me know how it did work out.

As always, your comments are more than welcome.

What do you think?

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