I’m doing my best to figure out what year it was, but it had to be 1978 or 1979. It was a Friday or Saturday night, and I had been offered a chance to ride with a friend to attend a “gaming club” that met weekly in a back room on the second floor of the Pensacola Sears store. I had absolutely NO IDEA what to expect, and I honestly figured it would be a bunch of board games set up. We arrived, walked in, and my world changed in less than an hour.
If I recall correctly, there were five or six folding tables spread out with a lot of adults scattered around them. My friend and I were the youngest ones there, but we were greeted warmly, invited in, and pointed to a few open chairs. Little did I know that surrounding me was an amazing collection of games that were in their infancy and that I would be introduced to over the next few months. But the game that I would play that night and that would introduce me to the world of RPGs was a simple little game that was contained in one little rule book…
Again, my recollection of that night is a bit vague with over 30 years having passed, but I do recall joining four or five other players as we rolled up these very strange fictional characters. It was explained to us that WE were the characters, and we had awakened on a ship called the Warden and joined a few others (we would learn that they were called NPCs, or non-player characters), and that we were going to have to use our brains and our brawn to survive in the days to come and help our new friends on a very special mission.
We had discovered a cache of food in a room that had been revealed during an explosion on board the ancient ship. As we entered the room, we discovered other survivors on the ship were already grabbing and running away with the valuable food. Some immediately started eating it there… and then they started to die. One of our number (I think it was an actual player, not an NPC) used a special skill to detect radiation. The food was poisoned and only one or two of the players were actually immune. One of the NPCs was aware of a special machine that was rumored to have been able to remove radiation from any item placed inside. And that was our goal for the evening.
We fought mutants, we found strange technology (and I believe I got injured when I pressed a button that I shouldn’t have…), and an hour or so later we found the machine, saved our food collection, and made some new friends on the Warden when we agreed to share the knowledge of the machine.
The adventure lasted less than two hours, I believe, but on the drive home all I could talk about with my friend was the game. We recalled a few fights, and the discovery of the machine and how we had to access the computer for instructions on its use. We compared the notes we had written down on our paper sheets (plain paper, not real characters sheets), and can I just tell you that I would pay dearly to have those original game sheets back from so many years ago. For someone who wasn’t actively involved in sports, hadn’t yet discovered girls (well, I’d discovered them, but not vice-versa), and had plenty of time and a good bit of savings on my hands, this was my origin story.
I only played MA one more time over the next few years — the gaming group became a predominantly D&D-focused gaming group, and I had developed my own circle of friends who were enjoying playing D&D (and moving on to AD&D) on our own. The little room at Sears went from a weekly visit to monthly to finally a good memory.
I’ve been fortunate to have kept hold of much of my gaming materials over the years (mainly thanks to a great mom who stored everything safely away as I moved through college, career, and into a family of my own), but there’s always been one thing missing from my collection — that original Metamorphosis Alpha game.
Metamorphosis Alpha has gone through a number of revisions and releases, including a 2012 Kickstarter project with updated rules. (And yes, I backed it.) But I’ve always wanted a copy of the original rulebook… and they’re hard to find, believe me. My Nostalgia Shelf has D&D, AD&D, Top Secret, Star Trek RPG, Car Wars, and so many other things on it that take me back… and I’d love to put an original MA rulebook up there with all the rest. And now I can.
Goodman Games has just released its own Kickstarter project that is re-releasing the original rulebook in a hardback collector’s edition along with some new game modules and other swag. The original rulebook was 32 pages and came with tiny print, but not the hardback — estimated size is to be 128 pages with a larger, improved font size. In addition to the original rules, Goodman Games is loading this book up with all sorts of extras that include a Foreword by the MA creator himself, James M. Ward, a history of MA by Jon Peterson (author of the most excellent gaming history book ever, Playing at the World), eighteen original MA gaming supplements/articles (from a variety of sources including Dragon and Space Gamer magazines), Warden deck plans, an introductory adventure by Ward along with some of his original game design notes. You can find the full Table of Contents here — it’s substantial.
Along with the book, Goodman Games is offering some ready-to-play adventures for MA, a poster, and a bag of dice for any backers. A limited number of autographed gold-foil copies of the book are also being made available (as well as a limited number of unsigned versions). New art is being created and will be in addition to the original art that will come in the 32 page original rulebook tucked into the hardback.
It’s a piece of history — the first scifi RPG. My first RPG. And I imagine there are other fans of Metamorphosis Alpha out there who are going to be smiling at this news. But don’t wait too long. (As I’m writing this, only 23 days remain for the project.)
Yeah, I backed it. Duh.
Note: If you’re interested, Goodman Games also released a YouTube video of the gathering where the MA Kickstarter project was announced with James M. Ward present and discussing the game, the rulebooks (old and new), and answering questions. You can view that video here — jump to the 37:50 mark for the MA interview and announcement.