Sunday, November 27, 2011

It's Not Easy Being Human

In Metamorphosis Alpha, a player may choose to play a mutant with superhuman powers or a human without superhuman powers. The world of Metamorphosis Alpha is a dangerous place even for characters with superhuman powers, so there seems to be little reason to play a boring human. To add insult to injury (or rather injury to insult in this case), 'True Humans' are susceptible to more damage from weapons (according to page 19). Metamorphosis Alpha does provide subtle incentives to play a human, but can those incentives outweigh the obvious advantages of mutant abilities?

The Metamorphosis Alpha rulebook contains two blank character sheets; one for humans and one for mutants. Essentially, the differences are that humans have the leadership potential ability and mutants have mutations. There are other differences between humans and mutants, most of which are not reflected on the character sheets. However, beneath the space for 'name,' the mutant character sheet has a space for 'creature type' while the human character sheet has a space for 'next of kin.' This underlies the sociability of humans as an advantage in Metamorphosis Alpha.

According to the section on Human Tribal Areas on page 23, all human player characters begin the game “in some sort of human settlement.” The implication is that mutant player characters do not begin the game as part of an organized society. (There is no section on Mutant Tribal Areas.) According to page 10, “Player mutations start in the forested area of the ship, with no material goods.”  Humans are “...assumed to possess the normal living materials common to [their] any other assorted items the referee sees fit to give...” (p. 11). Curiously, both the human and mutant character sheets have a section for 'judge-given items' separate from other item inventories. Societies of humanoids and mutant creatures are described in the rules, so depriving player character mutants of starting equipment and community support seems to be an artificially imposed factor in an attempt to balance humans against mutants.

Metamorphosis Alpha treats intelligence in inconsistent ways. The descriptions for the 'Time Field Manipulation' mutation and the 'Anti-Leadership Potential' mutation defect both treat intelligence as if it was an ability (like constitution or dexterity) with a maximum numerical value of 18. The 'Heightened Intelligence' mutation provides a bonus to mental resistance and “increases the ability to figure out ancient ship devices” (p. 14). The Devices, Equipment, Duals And Weapons* section on page 21 states, “While there is no separate category of intelligence, it is subsumed in leadership potential.”

Ward's article, “Some Ideas Missed In Metamorphosis Alpha” in issue number 5 of The Dragon (March 1977), claims that “...Mental roughly analogous to the Intelligence factor in D&D...” and should be used rather than leadership potential when figuring out technological items. This is incorporated in the 2007 official errata. When leadership potential was used as intelligence, only humans could figure out 'new' technology. This makes sense in that the technology was designed to be used by humans and humans could draw upon tribal folklore regarding technology. This also provides an advantage for human characters as opposed to mutants. Logically, however, what's to prevent someone (or something) from pressing buttons until a catastrophe occurs or the item's function is determined?

Leadership potential is an exclusively human ability. This is because, according to page 11, “nonhumans of any type” have an ingrained distrust of each other. (Do mutants not have 'next of kin' because they are estranged from them?) Again, this does not agree with the notion of organized societies of humanoid and mutant creature 'races' that are described in the rules. Because of leadership potential, human characters can acquire followers; another attempt to offset the advantages of mutations. The description of leadership potential continues:

When dealing with a mutated human, because of the change in him, he is too close to the “creature” and not close enough to the “human” to have this leadership potential.

When a player chooses to play a mutant character, he or she may play a mutant human ('humanoid') or a mutant creature ('monster-like'). The description of leadership potential suggests a 'spectrum' of human qualities, with 'human' at one extreme and 'creature' at the other. Evidently, mutated humans fall closer to the 'creature' end. At the risk of indulging in philosophical pedantry, what qualities are required in order to be human?

Page 10 expressly states what happens to a human who develops a mutation via radiation exposure, “...[H]is leadership potential is negated and his followers will...leave no matter what he does.” Will he be ostracized from his human community? What about non-obvious mutations? Page 10 also states that a player of a mutant human “...can pick mutations that will allow [the character] to pass among humans...” Certainly, there are benefits to being perceived as human.

Robotic units can be controlled by verbal orders from anyone with an appropriate color band, so it would seem that a human appearance is not necessary to control robots. However, per page 8, robots will not kill humans (or any form of life), but they will actively defend humans – apparently automatically. The main ship's computer, per page 23, will help humans but a “...mutant will be treated like any other dangerous creature...” Robots and the computer would have to rely on basic appearance and 'assume' that someone who looks like a human is a human.

Why can't a mutant who appears to be human have followers? Page 11 states that “...leadership potential is usually given to humans of pure strain...” (my emphasis). Would it be too unbalancing for mutants 'passing' as humans to have leadership potential? Having followers is symbolic of status as well as 'proof' of one's humanity.

Lastly, Ward's article, “The Total Person In Metamorphosis Alpha” in issue number 14 of The Dragon (May 1978), presents other advantages for humans – a +2 bonus against poisons and using d8s instead of d6s for hit point determination. (Alas, these advantages were not incorporated into the 2007 official errata.) Interestingly, the article also presents the possibility of a mutated human with a 'pure' human parent (a sort of 'half-mutant' as it were). Such a character receives the constitution benefits above and will not have a physical mutation defect. The character would necessarily come from “a mixed village of mutants and humans,” which provides the organized society benefits otherwise denied mutant humans. (This 'half-mutant' possibility is also excluded from the 2007 official errata.)

* I assumed that 'Duals' was supposed to be 'Tools,' but 'Duals' appears uncorrected in the 2007 official errata.


  1. Interesting that humans were considered to be the center of the universe in all TSR's main games, D&D, MA and Gamma World. Despite the obvious power of some of the mutations, and demi-human races in D&D, "leadership" is still a human thing.

    Not to put too much psycho-analysis into it, but despite all the grounding and referece material in fantasy and scifi leading up to the mid-70's, game designers still had to look at things through the prism of being human. Maybe that is really required to see the bizarre-ness of the games themselves, but it seems limiting. This is looking back on it 35 years later, but even as a 14 year old punk I noticed this an it struck me as odd.


  2. Hey, last week you had some people who were Following you. What happened? Were they all fans of Lexi? Offended by your pepper-spraying of a Beholder?

    Rest assured if I get an official ID, I'll follow you, baby.


  3. Don't worry, the followers are still there. Something's quirky with Blogger (what else is new?) and sometimes the followers don't appear.

    Humans are used as a baseline ('player identification' so to speak) against which other "races" are compared. Yet because they are familiar, they seem bland. In many cases (although this does not necessarily hold true in GW or MA), the prolific nature of humans is the 'logical' reason for their status as leaders.

    J.M. Stater put together a game, Pars Fortuna, that excludes humans as well as the usual fantasy races. It's an interesting experiment.

  4. Humans are used as a baseline ('player identification' so to speak) against which other "races" are compared. Yet because they are familiar, they seem bland.

    That's the reason I like B/X race-as-class so much. I used to hate it "back in the day", but now I love it. Humans are bland because magic-users, fighters, thieves, and clerics are not bland.

  5. Er, that should read:

    Humans are not bland because magic-users, fighters, thieves, and clerics are not bland.

  6. Humans seem bland in Metamorphosis Alpha because the other options have gonzo mutations.

    In B/X, humans have the advantage of versatility, which is another factor that contributes to their 'leadership' position.

    I agree that magic-users, fighters, thieves, and clerics are not bland. However, one could make the argument that dwarves, elves, and halflings are so interesting in and of themselves, they don't need profession-classes while humans are so dull, they can't hold their own as a race-class. No 'slanting passage' detection, no resistance to ghoul paralysis, no +1 with missile weapons...

  7. Nice articles! Wow - you almost HAVE to give humans d8 for hp, along with advantages on starting equipment and the ability to use tech. Otherwise, they are nigh unplayable.