|Designer(s)||James M. Ward, Slade Henson (2nd edition)|
|Publisher(s)||TSR (1st edition and 2nd edition), Fast Forward Entertainment (3rd edition - also known as the 25th Anniversary Edition), Mudpuppy Games (4th edition), WardCo. (1st edition revised pdf and print edition)|
|Publication date||1976 (1st edition)
1994 (2nd edition)
2002 (3rd edition)
2006 (4th edition)
2007 (1st edition revised pdf)'
2011 (1st Lulu reprinted of 1st edition revised)'
|System(s)||Custom (1st edition), Amazing Engine (2nd edition), 3d6 (3rd and 4th editions)|
Metamorphosis Alpha is a science fiction role-playing game. It was created by James M. Ward and originally produced by TSR, the publisher of Dungeons & Dragons. It was the first science fiction role-playing game, published in July 1976.
The original edition of the game takes place on a generation spaceship, the starship Warden that has been struck by an unknown cataclysmic event that killed many of the colonists and crew. Thus, the characters must survive their missions in this ship (which they believe to be a world) where they no longer understand the technology around them and they encounter numerous mutated creatures. In essence, Metamorphosis Alpha is a dungeon crawl in space.
Players can opt to create a human, a mutated human, a mutated plant or a mutated creature as their character. A number of articles in Dragon expanded upon these options to include clones and robot characters as well as adding rules for cybernetics. There are five common player characteristics: radiation resistance, mental resistance, dexterity, strength, and constitution. Human players added a sixth characteristic, leadership potential, while mutated humans and creatures add a random number of mutations, both physical and mental. Metamorphosis Alpha's combat rules are very similar to those used in the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).
Metamorphosis Alpha is the intellectual precursor to Gamma World (1978), also produced by TSR.
Science fiction or science fantasy?
Metamorphosis Alpha has an emphasis on super science and an element of science fantasy (as confirmed by creator James M. Ward in 2006), leading to some confusion as to how the game should be classified. Ward has stated that the game is not "hard sci-fi". Some minor debate over Metamorphosis Alpha being classified as science fiction has taken place, but the inspiration for the game (see below), the statements of the author, and the marketing of the game itself favor science fiction.
In 1980, TSR released AD&D module S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. The module was based on the idea that a starship such as the Warden (though not the Warden itself, according to TSR founder Gary Gygax) becomes marooned in a D&D universe. In the module's foreword, Gygax writes that the module was written to introduce Metamorphosis Alpha to the wider D&D audience and to demonstrate how one might undertake science fiction/fantasy crossover.
Ward, the game's author, stated that the original inspiration for the game was Brian Aldiss's classic science fiction novel Non-Stop (also known as Starship, 1958). In the British RPG magazine White Dwarf, issue 1, Ian Livingstone wrote a review of the game and published his own additional rules for playing Metamorphosis Alpha on Aldiss's ship. However, it is often suggested that the game was inspired by Robert A. Heinlein's 1941 novel Orphans of the Sky. James M. Ward has stated that he was not familiar with the 1973 Canadian TV series The Starlost, a show with a similar concept, and that Metamorphosis Alpha is not based upon that series.
Ownership and rights
The rights to Metamorphosis Alpha are owned by James M. Ward. Ward also owns the rights to all Metamorphosis Alpha material previously published in Dragon. WardCo. (Ward's publishing business) has been granted permission by Steve Jackson Games and by Judges Guild (the estate of Bob Bledsaw Sr.) to host and republish some material. In 2008, Ward requested via public forums that sites hosting unlicensed copies of his original rules and the material previously published in Dragon magazine remove them, as they were a breach of his copyright and directly competed with products that he is selling. All permissions to host the Metamorphosis Alpha rules and the Metamorphosis Alpha articles in Dragon magazine, other than those being sold on behalf of WardCo., at sites other than at the official homepage have been rescinded. In 2010, Signal Fire Studios acquired the rights to produce a new edition of the game based upon Hasbro's 4th edition D&D. In 2011, Ward announced that he had negotiated a deal to produce a graphic novel of Metamorphosis Alpha.
Editions and supplements
Metamorphosis Alpha was first published in 1976 by TSR. It was written by James M. Ward and illustrated by Dave Sutherland III.
In 1981, Ward announced plans to rewrite the game as Metamorphosis Alpha to Omega, a supplement for the 1st edition Gamma World rules (Anon 1981). The Gamma World supplement was never completed, but in 1994, TSR used the title Metamorphosis Alpha to Omega for an Amazing Engine supplement (ISBN 1-56076-851-7) written by Slade Henson.
In 2002, Ward's company, Fast Forward Entertainment, published a new version of the game, entitled Metamorphosis Alpha: 25th Anniversary Edition. It was designed by Ward himself.
In 2006, Metamorphosis Alpha 4th Edition was released by Mudpuppy Games (ISBN 0-9763601-2-8). This edition contained original material by Ward and additional new material and photography by Craig J. Brain. The book cover and interior illustrations were painted and drawn by Jim Holloway with most of the cartography by Ryan Wolfe.
In 2007, WardCo. released an official errata sheet for Metamorphosis Alpha First Edition, which is available from the official website and released a revised edition of the first-edition rules through OneBookShelf as a PDF.
In 2010, WardCo. released The House On The Hill adventure module (ISBN 145360412X) for Metamorphosis Alpha (1st edition) as a PDF through OneBookshelf and the printed edition through Amazon. The adventure was written by Craig J. Brain, with bonus content by James M. Ward. The illustrations for the adventure were by Lee Smith and Dave Sutherland III.
In 2012, WardCo. released a reprint of the original edition of the game via Lulu with the addition of a new adventure and a number of corrections.
In 2014, WardCo and Goodman Games. released a hardbound deluxe edition of the original 1st edition via kickstarter including new adventures and consolidated other content from magazines and new content.
Robert R. Taylor reviewed Metamorphosis Alpha in The Space Gamer No. 10. Taylor concluded that "The game is definitely first rate and quite excellent. MA is highly recommended to someone interested in buying their first role-playing game since the rules are rich with guidelines to help the player in constructing his own ship."
Gary Gygax comments that "Metamorphosis Alpha is a game that breaks the typical level-progression reward mold but nevertheless offers a rich, if sometimes difficult to gain, array of player rewards — from the knowledge of the environment to beneficial character mutations, learned skills to the acquisition of tech items and other equipment. Furthermore it blends fantasy with weird and super science in a unique manner that is captivating to players with imaginations suited to such a startling mixture. Metamorphosis Alpha — in any edition — stimulates the imagination, encourages keen thinking, and breaks the mold of typical fantasy and science fiction roleplaying games. If that doesn't make it one of the best hobby games ever, I don't know what would."
David M. Ewalt, in his book Of Dice and Men, commented that Metamorphosis Alpha was "notable as the first role-playing game with a science-fiction setting. The game takes place on the starship Warden, a vast spaceship built by the player characters' ancestors; in the aftermath of some unknown disaster, their progeny survive on the ship but don't understand its technology and must fight mutated creatures to ensure their survival."
- Gamma World
- Non-Stop, a novel by Brian Aldiss with a similar plot
- Orphans of the Sky, a novel by Robert A. Heinlein with a similar plot
- The Starlost, a Canada/US TV series from 1973 has a similar premise
- Hull Zero Three, a 2010 novel by Greg Bear with a similar plot
- Pandorum, a 2009 film which shares similar plot elements
- Articles: Cruising the Infinite: Strategies for Human Interstellar Travel, by Paul Lucas Archived 2006-11-14 at the Wayback Machine.
- Metamorphosis Alpha Review
- "Metamorphosis Alpha 4th Edition (MPY1000)(Jim Ward's) [Hardcover]". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2010-09-04.
- Taylor, Robert R. (February–March 1977). "Reviews". The Space Gamer. Metagaming (10): 24.
- Gygax, Gary (2007). "Metamorphosis Alpha". In Lowder, James. Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Green Ronin Publishing. pp. 200–203. ISBN 978-1-932442-96-0.
- Ewalt, David M. (2013). Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It. Scribner. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-4516-4052-6.
- Anon 1981. 'RPGA Interview with... Jim Ward.' RPGA News, 3:6-12 (Winter 1981-82).
- James M. Ward's Metamorphosis Alpha Universe, retrieved June 16, 2006.