[As a brief caveat, it's been a long time since I last wrote a review, and mainly have done brief review-type posts/rants on the Trinity Universe forums. I apologize, thus, if the format of this review isn't quite to taste.
I'm not going to include a setting overview, mainly because there are several good reviews for the Storyteller iteration of Aberrant on rpg.net, if you search for them. Mainly I intend to focus on how the d20 Aberrant system functions, and how it difers from the original Storyteller version.
-bard, Gentleman for Hire and Mystery Archaeologist]
Product Information & Book Description:
Aberrant was originally published in 1999 using a "lite" version of the Storyteller system. It was the second book in the Trinity Universe line (the first book being Trinity [originally Aeon], the third being Adventure!). While Trinity focuses on space-opera science fiction, and Adventure! on pulp action, Aberrant focuses on super-humans in a near-future. Storyteller Aberrant (here on in refered to as AST) had some 10 or 12 supplement books published for it: one Storyteller screen plus book, one major setting book (Year One), two modules (Phase 1 and Phase 2), 6 "splat" books (Teragen, Project Utopia, Directive, Expose: Aberrants, reignofevil.com, and Church of Michael the Archangel), three general group books (Elites, Underworld, and XWF), and one Players Guide. There may have been a few others, unfortunatly I don't have my main RPG library on hand. So far, no supplements have been announced for Aberrant d20 (referred to after this as Ad20), though the product's just been released, so we probably won't see any additional releases until the fall (Trinity d20 is slated for release in August).
Physically, Ad20 is a hardcover book, 229 pages long, of standard dimensions. The cover art is identical to the AST core, though it has been stretched to fit. Frankly, I prefer the AST front cover, as the smaller size and slightly more vibrant colors highlight the three central figures in the foreground (left: Divis Mal, center: Randal "The Fireman" Portman, right: Caestus Pax). The back cover contains a series of of four panels cut on wavering diagonals with white rips or lightning, showcasing various Novas (the setting's term for superhumans) doing various super-human acts. The Ad20 back cover provides much more detail for the back images due to the books size than the AST version.
The inside covers are nice. They are composed of the covers of ten of the AST books with their titles and cover text removed, and a small "Issue no#" added beside the word "Aberrant". This emphasizes right off, I think, the fact that this is a super-hero game. It was also a nice use of the cover art, because some of the books DO have nice covers (it's also the only chance you'll have in Ad20 to see "The Fireman" in color [bottom, far left hand corner]).
The first 98 pages of Ad20 are taken wholesale from AST. The size is increased, which is good because at times some of the AST art was hard to pick out, and some of the text was a bit too small to be comfortably read at times. However, the first 98 pages of AST were in full color, which really served to properly showcase some of the illustrations (The picture of "The Fireman" erupting is fantastic when seen in color, but kind of lackluster when in B&W). The main section of the book takes pictures from a variety of Aberrant books (notably: The class pic for The Investigator is taken from Aberrant: Directive, and the pic for The Scoundrel is taken from Aberrant: Year One). The only NEW piece of artwork I can find appears to be the picture used for The Scholar class, though it's entirely possible it's a pic from Aberrant: Phase 2, which I haven't read much of.
Chapter One: Character
The first chapter sets out general character creation guidelines. You need the D&D 3rd ed PHB, but those already familiar with the rules won't even really need the book on hand for anything other than the experience chart.
The first step in Ad20 character creation is the Superhuman Racial Template. For those already familiar with Adventure! d20, this functions pretty much the same as the templates there. Taking the Superhuman template turns your character into a Nova. Whereas in AST each PC started with Quantum 1 and could increase it with Freebie and Nova Points, Ad20 works the system a bit differently. To determine your starting Quantum, take the average of your Strength, Intelligent, and Constitution. Then figure out what the bonus would be if the resulting number were an attribute, and thats your Quantum (thus Quantum at character generation will range between 1 and 4). It then goes up by 1 every three core class levels, or by 1 for every two Aberrant Levels taken (more on those in a bit). The Superhuman template also allows you to take up to two additional "Superhuman Levels". Superhuman 1 gives you access to Level 2 Quantum Powers, and Superhuman 2 gives you access to Level 3 Quantum Powers.
Quantum Powers are recieved through "power slots". Essentially, every odd level (1, 3, 5, etc.) the character takes, he gets another power slot. Powers cost their level in slots to purchase, though a slot can also be given over to a Mega-Attribute or Mega-Attribute Enhancement (though these can also be bought with Feat slots as well). Power slots can be saved to buy level 2 or 3 powers in lieu of buying another level 1.
After this, the book deals with the classes in the game, being: Entertainer (artists, musicians, actors, etc.), Investigator (cops, PIs, secret agents, investigative journalists, photographers, etc.), Scholar (scientists, hackers, archaeologists, adventurers, etc.), Scoundrel (criminals), and Warrior (self evident). Of these, Scholar and Warrior seem to be the most common, with Scholar representing just about any profession that seeks knowledge, including reporters, adventurers, and scientists. Warrior covers any combat related profession. I really felt that there should have been some sort of Everyman-type class in the game, to represent people of no general specialty upon their Eruption, though I suppose after a while just about anyone can be crammed into one of these classes.
I was not overly impressed with the Prestige Classes. While Adventure! d20 had such interesting Prestige Classes as "Barbarian Warlord" and "Criminal Mastermind", Ad20 offers up: Crusader (devotion to fighting for a given cause), Disciple (Martial arts master), Gladiator (essentially a professional athlete), Inventor (self evident), Mercenary (self evident), Spy (self evident), and Vigilante (costumed superheroes). With a bit of work, once again, you can cram most of the signature Aberrant NPCs into these classes (...I keep wondering if "Iron Skin" Andy Vance counts as a Crusader for gay rights, I really can't seem to find any other appropriate Prestige Class for him).
Skills get a very quick rundown, each getting no more than a sentance or two. Almost all the Skills have been moved into the modern age, though I'm sure that most of them can be found in D20 Modern. There are some new skills that are added and fully fleshed out (Computer Use, Demolitions, Drive, Investigate, Pilot, Repair, and Research), though they're not really anything overly new or special (once again, you could find them in stuff like d20 Modern and Spycraft).
Chapter Two: Feats
The General Feats aren't really anything to get up and holler about. They're pretty standard stuff, most of which is in the Player's Handbook anyway.
Background Feats are, however, pretty neat. Basically White Wolf took levels 1, 3, and 5 from the Backgrounds in AST, and transformed them into three feats under each Background. Thus, the Ally Background is made up of the Feats: Loyal Friend, Boon Companion, and Band of Heroes. To have one, you need the one before it. Pretty straightforward. Very nice touch to the game, and it really keeps up the feel of ABerrant. Additionally, it adds several Backgrounds that WEREN'T in AST, but are instead taken from Adventure! (Nemesis, Sanctum, and Quantum Device). This rounds out the game with Adventure! and Trinity, and finally allows many players to play Iron Man-type heroes, which was a longstanding problem with AST.
Finally, there are the Super-Human Feats, which are basically the re-writing of the Mega-Attributes into d20. Mega-Attributes are one of the two main divisions of super-powers in Aberrant (internal, whereas Quantum Powers are external), and are defined as a Nova using Quantum energy to increase his mental, physical, and social prowess. In AST, Mega-Attributes (MA) were exceedingly powerful. Each MA die in AST yielded between 2 and 3 successes per roll (rather than the standard 1), and thus characters with MA weren't twice as powerful in a given attribute...they were triple, or even potentially quadruply powerful! MAs in AST also had Enhancements, which were little tricks using the enhanced attributes. This was stuff like using Mega-Strenght to leap tall buildings in a single bound (Quantum Leap), using Mega-Intelligence to remember the capital of every country on Earth (Eidetic Memory), or minor shape shifting with Mega-Appearence (Copycat). While Enhancements were pretty cool (and the Mega-Stamina enhancements kicked up a character's Soak to ungodly levels at times), the focus was far more on the innate bonuses given by the MAs themselves. Mega-Strength, in fact, used its own system (there were no other powers in the book that functioned like it). Basically for every dot of Mega-Strength you took in AST, you gained five automatic successes to all Strength-related rolls. This meant that Mega-Strength was easily one of the most abusable powers in the book, and was phenomenally more effective than other MAs.
In Ad20, the focus on Mega-Attributes shifts dramatically. Rather than buying levels in an MA, the six MA (corresponding to the six d20 Attributes) are now Superhuman Feats. Buying a Mega-Attribute is a one time deal that grants you a boost to the corresponding attribute (Mega-Strength boosts Strength, Mega-Wisdom boosts Wisdom, etc.) equal to your Quantum rating. While the bonus isn't quite as dramatic as in AST, it can still provide a decent bonus, especially if you have a high attribute rating and a high Quantum score. The focus of MAs is now, thus, on their Enhancements. Mega-Strength no longer allows a character to heft a battleship over his head and hold it there for hours without making any rolls, with only a few levels of the power. Now, Mega-Attributes are defined by their Enhancements, rather than the Enhancements just being a bit of extra icing on the cake. If you want a Nova who can lift a lot, you take the Lifter Enhancement and for every two power points you spend, you double your Quantum score for the purpose of lifting a single object. If you want to be able to knock heavy weight boxers out in a single punch, take Crush.
Mega-Constitution is the one place where the system changes dramatically. In AST, most Mega-Stamina Enhancements were free. They were always on, and they gave rather considerable Soak bonuses. In Ad20, ALL Mega-Consitution Enhancements cost power points. There are three "damage reducer" Enhancements: Durability (four levels, Quantum x.5/x1/x1.5/x2) which grants Damage Reduction, Hardbody grants your Quantum in natural AC, and Resiliency turns lethal damage into non-lethal. The duration on all of them is the same: 1power point gets you the Enhancement active for a number of rounds equal to your Constitution bonus. This really isn't too bad, since most fights in d20 don't often take more than 5-10 rounds, so your average Nova is probably dropping only 2 or 3pp per fight to keep a given Enhancement up. Now, some diehard Aberrant players (especially those who love playing bricks) may find this kind of dissapointing. In AST, you could get incredibly high Soak pools (into the 20s without even taking Armor, Invulnerability, or Force Field) by just maxing out on Mega-Stamina. The numbers granted by Mega-Con enhancements aren't very high, but considering that the best guns in the Ad20 book deal 2d10 damage, and your average mook has maybe a +2 Attack Bonus, the bonuses to AC and Damage Reduction DO make a difference, despite seeming to be rather low.
Overall, the new focus on Enhancements means that Mega-Attributes become just another Quantum Power, rather than being a whole, super-poewrful class all their own. A Nova is naturally enhanced by the Mega-Attribute Feat itself, but he needs to further define HOW that Attribute is "mega" with Enhancements, which I think gives a lot more description to the power.
Chapter Three: Quantum
Chapter 3 deals is only 5 or 6 pages long, but deals with all the basics on Quantum and Taint. I like the length, its concise and to the point.
Quantum Benefits, the first main bit, deals with all the systematic benefits a Nova gains from being a Nova (immunity to all disesases and poisons, being able to go for your Quantum in days without food, water, or sleep, etc.). The next section, Power POints, deals with calculating and spending Power POints (which are the defalt Trinity Universe d20 term for Inspiration, Quantum, and Psi Points from Adventure, Aberrant, and Trinity ST). The new equation for calculating PP is a bit different from the one in AST (AST: 20+[Quantum x2], Ad20: 10+[Level]+[Quantum x3]), but it seems to work out to a pretty good equivilant. The section also covers the maximum number of PP a Nova is able to spend per round (which can be increased with the Node Background Feats), recovering PP, and converting Hit Points to Power POints (which is a conversion to the ability of Novas to "die for power" and convert Health Levels to Quantum Points in AST).
The next section is Taint, which introduces rules for "Taint Poisoning", which occurs when characters attempt to recover PP quicker than usual, or use a power stunt, and fail. I basically replaces characters gaining Temporary Taint in AST when they botched a power stunt roll. The Taint section also introduces Aberrant Levels, which allow a character to progress much faster in his powers and Quantum, but at the cost of taking on Aberrations. Aberrations are pretty much taken wholesale from AST (complete with the picture of a guy that looks like the Vulture from "Spiderman" on crack, drawn by the talented, though deranged, Guy Davis), though there are d20 rules in many of the powers that, in AST, originally had no systematic effect (like Colored Skin). Overall, the Aberrations are handled pretty well.
Chapter Four: Quantum Powers
This chapter covers non-Mega-Attribute Quantum Powers, as well as the system for purchasing powers and Extras (which enhance certain aspects of the powers). The powers are taken, once again, wholesale from AST, along with their accompanying pictures. You can tell when a power was broken down into several different powers (like Telepathy, more on that in a minute) because the powers do not have a picture of a character with that ability above them.
By and large, most of the powers from AST were kept and converted into d20. Some, however, were altered. Clone goes from a level 2 power with a rather confusing mechanic (Clone, originally, in AST produced progressivly weaker and weaker copies) into a Level 3 power with a number of techniques. Telepathy, which origianlly was a level 2 power that provided three different effects (memory alteration, mind reading, and mental communication) is broken into three different powers (Memory Alteration, Mental Scan, and Telepathy). Size Morph also becomes a level 1 power. The Elemantal Mastery (creation and control of an element) power was removed altogether, and its techniques were added into Elemental Anima (control over an element). Elemental Mastery is now an Elemental Anima Technique where, for an additional 2pp, any other EA power can be used without the required element being present (so a pyrokinetic could create a gout of fire rather than controlling an existing source of flame, etc.).
Armor and Force Field work somewhat differentally now. In AST, Armor just meant that your Nova was tough (providing +3B/3L soak per level). In Ad20, Armor is more of a Colossus/Iceman effect, where it represents armor plats, scales, ice sheaths, or the like covering a character's body, and providing a bonus to AC. It functions as armor, and gives penalties to some skill checks, speed, and functions as encumberance. It also costs pp to activate and maintain now, rather than being permanent. Force Field now provides a straight up Deflection bonus to your AC. Its cost is identical to Armor, though it has a lower duration and offers no encumberance penalties.
The powers seem to function relativly well within a modern d20 setting. I think perhaps some of the defensive powers should have given Damage Reduction as opposed to Armor Class, but then again it DOES make sense that they provide AC bonuses. I think that things will probably work out in the end in fights between Novas and regular humans. The dynamic between Novas and regular humans is still there.
Chapter Five: Super-Science
Chapter five is taken wholesale from Adventure! d20, with the d20 conversions of Adventure! super-science. The rules allow players to have PCs in the same line as Iron Man and Batman, and also allows for the super-science creations that so define Aberrant as a near-future setting.
Chapter Six: Drama
This chapter covers rules for Stunts (circumstance bonuses for good description), Dramatic Editing (taken from Adventure! d20 once again). The Dramatic Editing rules are quite welcome in Aberrant, allowing for a more super-hero-type setting if desired by the GM.
The chapter also covers super-science and setting material in the year 2008 (the setting date for Aberrant). It also covers firearms and chase rules for vehicles (the later of which is taken from Spycraft). The chase rules are neat, but I don't really think they're all that nessecary for Aberrant, which has never seemed to be much into car chases in the ST version.
Chapter Seven: Character
Chapter six covers the basic stuff for running a game of Aberrant. This is mostly taken from AST, along with accompanying illustrations, though is somewhat abridged from the AST stuff. It does a nice job, though it once again fails to provide any sort of list of setting references for Aberrant.
Appendix One: Allegiances and Antagonists
This section covers major NPCs in the Aberrant setting, something that was sorely lacking in the AST corebook. While it doesn't cover ALL the major NPCs, it covers many of the major ones (Divis Mal, Caestus Pax, Director Thetis, Max Mercer, The Fireman, Alejandra, etc.) as well as some of the minor ones, in addition to the aims of their parent organizations like Project Utopia and the Teragen. This is pretty much in the same style as the section in Adventure! of the same name, is REALLY useful (in AST, there was a lot of misconceptions of what some characters, like Caestus Pax, could do, this is fixed up in Ad20).
Aberrant d20 is, while not better than ST Aberrant, certainly an interesting book. The system changes do work decently in the d20 system, and aside from a few slight changes it retains the same general power level as before. My personal suggestion is, to best model AST characters, start characters at somewhere around Superhuman 1/Aberrant 2/Core 4-6, which allows for a Quantum of between 4 and 7, as well as a good number of power slots. While not quite on par with the overall power level of ST Aberrant, Aberrant d20 DOES come close.