Monday, January 20, 2014

Life in the Valley: Session #1 (1.12.14)

Play began centered on the village of Thrayorb, a tiny collection of timber buildings surrounded by a wooden palisade on the banks of the River. Thrayorb is home to a tribe of True Humans known as the Tsali and serves as the trade hub for several allied mutants dwelling nearby. The Tsali and local friendly mutants enjoy a symbiotic relationship, assisting one another for mutual survival. If something were to happen to the residents of Thrayorb, not just the Tsali tribe would be affected.

Two days ago, a loud thunderclap occurred far to the direction of Windward. One sharp-eyed hunter claimed to have noticed a thin column of puce smoke rising in that direction, but distance made it difficult to confirm. The following morning, a number of the Tsali woke suffering from a mysterious illness. Purple-black pustules oozing green pus dot their flesh, their bodies are wracked with pain, and they suffer from an insatiable thirst. The Knower of Things and several of the herb-wise tribesfolk began treatment of the sick, but none had seen these symptoms before. The following day, even more of the tribe became ill and it was clear that the infected would not survive the disease.

The Knower of Things called together the few healthy residents of Thrayorb and the environs. This small group included Shadow, a young Tsali who had not yet undergone the trials of adulthood, Xamot/Tomax, a two-headed mutant human who dwelled in a cave near the village; Jackbo, another mutated human who acted as liaison between the village and the local mutants and is renowned for his ability to get that diverse group to cooperate; and “Joe,” a mutant river otter who appears otherwise identical to his Earthly ancestors.

The Tsali shaman gravely informed the group that drastic measures had to be taken if the tribe was to be healed. Someone must travel to the distant “House of Silent Men,” a place known to possess powerful medicine which had helped the tribe in the distant past. The House was only two day’s journey in the direction of Risingwind, but it lay on the far side of the lands claimed by the Teeth People, the Tsali ancient enemy. The Teeth People were cannibals and the stuff of nightmares to the average Tsali tribesman, but there was no other choice if the tribe was to be saved. Should the group of young adult succeed in their quests, Shadow would be raised to full adult status in the tribe and the rest of the mutants would be owed a mighty boon by the Tsali. The group accepted their charge and prepared to depart immediately.

With the directions given to them by the Knower of Things memorized, the group left the village, following the Rive toward the direction of Windward. They were to travel until the River met with other waters, then cross to the forest on the other side. There, the land of the Teeth People began and it was suggested they not tarry too long.

The group had only been traveling an hour when Xamot/Tomax’s superior hearing detected something heading in their direction on the opposite side of the River. Identifying the noise as a lumbering piercer, the group decided that caution was the best course of action. Joe and Jackbo enacted their chameleon powers to disappear while Xamot/Tomax and Shadow clambered up trees to hide.

The fearsome mutant bear broke from the forest on the opposite shore, staggering on two legs and sniffing the air. Scratching its back with its deadly quills, the piercer sought the air for the scent it thought it detected, but the wind was blowing in the party’s favor and it failed to pick up their scent. Pausing to drink from the River, the piercer soon ventured off in the direction from which the group had come. The young explorers breathed a sigh of relief before climbing back down to the ground or allowing their camouflage to lapse.

The band resumed travel and reached the meeting place of the two waters an hour after their encounter with the piercer. The River and another waterway came together in a “Y” before continuing in the direction of Sunset. In the fork of the waters was a grove of reeds and cattails. The cattails bore brilliant orange punks at their tips and the reeds were topped with a collection of thistles. Shadow gathered a stone from the rocky shore and lobbed it into the grove, hoping to startle any creature lurking in ambush. The only visible result was that the thistles atop one of the reeds vanished from view, seeming to disappear entirely. The party puzzled over this for a moment, but seeing no obvious danger, began contemplating how to cross the water.

Joe dove into the waterway to see if he could locate a shallow stretch that would be easily fordable by his less-aquatic comrades. As he swam in the water, however, his tiny limbs began to be wracked with pain. Swimming to the surface, Joe saw a number of rising welts under his sleek fur and was alarmed to notice the lumps seemed to be moving as if something was boring through his flesh. Back on shore, Xamot/Tomax had begun to approach the reedy grove when his muscles, too, began to ache. He was suffering from the same symptoms as Joe.

The group rapidly gathered together and Xamot/Tomax began digging under his skin with a knife, cutting towards the objects burrowing through his flesh. Amidst the blood, the bicephalic mutant discovered a tiny thistle identical to those atop the reeds. Two more also coursed through his flesh towards his torso. Having identified the culprit, knives appeared in the groups hands as they went to work on Joe and Xamot/Tomax, slicing into their skin to remove the burrowing nettles. A few less than deft cuts were made as untrained hands tried the delicate operations, resulting in larger wounds than intended. Both Joe and Xamot/Tomax blood splattered the rocky river bank, but the troublesome (and potentially lethal) thistles were removed before they could burrow too deep beneath the skin to be extracted.

Having identified the plants as a threat, the group retreat 100’ back along the River before crossing to the far side and returning to where the waters met. On the far side of the wide waterway stood the ominous forest of the Teeth People, but how to reach it? Shadow unslung here wicker, killdeer hide-covered shield and place it atop the water’s surface. The concave object floated gently in the water and, seizing upon this idea, promptly employed the shield as an impromptu flotation device/boogey board. She reached the far shore easily with Joe merrily swimming along beside her.

Jackbo waded into the river and began tentative strokes as he paddled his way through the current. Xamot/Tomax two heads turned to look at one another, shrugged his wide shoulders, and plunged into the current behind him.  Unfortunately for the two (three?) mutants, the current soon got the best of them and begin pulling them downstream. Jackbo strove against the water, finally overcoming its drag and staggering to the shore. Xamot/Tomax had no such luck and the party raced along the bank and the current dragged him along.

To complicate matters, Shadow’s eyes caught movement in the water as a 6’ long shape swam towards the stuggling mutant. She called out a warning and Joe plunged back into the river, gracefully swimming towards Xamot/Tomax. Alerted by his companion’s cry, one of Xamot/Tomax heads turned downstream to see a long, silver-green river eel with three eyes and a long, sharp horn rapidly approaching with the intent to make a meal of him. Xamot/Tomax called upon his ability to create illusions in the minds of the weak-willed, confusing the eel’s brain with the sight of a piercer swimming through the depths towards it. Alarmed (and somewhat befuddled), the horned eel turned and swam downstream in search of an easier—and less confusing—meal. Joe reached the struggling mutant and managed to help tow Xamot/Tomax to shore.

Now on the verge of the Teeth People’s lands, the group recalled the Knower of Thing’s instructions: Travel in the direction of Risingwind and before the end of the first day they’d encounter a trail running roughly Sunrise to Sunset. Roughly a day beyond that was the edge of the forest and the hills that held the House of Silent Men. If they were lucky, the group would achieve the hills and depart the Teeth People’s lands before they were discovered. The band pushed into the utterly unknown forest, their senses alert for danger.

Some hours passed as they navigated between the boles of great trees and across rocky, fog-laden gullies. Once again, Xamot/Tomax’s keen hearing detected something approaching, the sound of feet padding softly amongst the mosses and ferns of the rainforest. The band prepared to meet this new threat, readying spears and axes as Joe and Jackbo camouflaged themselves.

Bursting from the ferns some 60’ away came a pair of bobcats, sparks glittering in their eyes. The pair closed the distance swiftly as Shadow hurled her spear at the predators. The missile scraped along one of the cat’s sides, producing an angry screech but little actualy harm. Xamot/Tomax conjured up an image of a Dark Mean, one of the sky demons that plagued the Tsali tribe, and drove the flying beast towards the cats. Joe snuck through the underbrush to flank the cats while Jackbo, still concealed, stepped up next to Shadow, axe in hand.

The illusion of the Dark Mean was enough to startle one of the bobcats into flight, but its mate showed no such fear. Blasts of electricity leaped from its eyes towards Shadow, but her body, trained by the hunt, dodged the shocking bolts. Jackbo swung his axe, but the cat jumped aside, causing Joe’s own assault from behind to miss as the otter leapt upon the place where the beast had been milliseconds before. Shadow drew her remaining weapon, a knife hanging from the killdeer sheath on her belt, and tossed the blade savagely at her assailant, but her attack also missed the now-cautious cat.

Xamot/Tomax, one head still driving the Dark Mean at the bobcat with narrow misses, used his other mind to create the illusion that he’d grown 20’ tall and now towered threateningly over the cat. Have suffered a wound and beset on all sides by enemies, the cat bounded back into the forest, taking an axe blow from Jackbo in its retreat. Several minutes passed and the forest once again grew peaceful, the sound of birdsong replacing the noise of pitched battle. Shadow collected her weapons as Xamot/Tomax banished his illusions and the band pressed on.

Not long after the battle, a break in the trees was spotted and Joe advanced to investigate. Before him, as he was told, ran a trail of packed earth winding through the forest. This was the pathway the Knower of Things had told the party to look for. They seemed on course and, with an hour remaining in the day, crossed the path and continued in the direction of Risingwind.

The sun dove towards the hills and night rapidly fell in the Valley. The group debated on the best way to pass the night in hostile territory, suggesting they climb into the canopy above and secure themselves with vines, but the creepers proved too thick and not pliable enough to be utilized as ropes. Xamot/Tomax discovered a small cavity between two stones and it was then decided to use the gap as a camp. Joe slid into the underbrush to make himself scarce and the group kept watch in shifts throughout the night.

The sun rose the following morning without danger falling upon the band. As the sun rose, the same question echoed in the mind of each of them: Would they reach the House of Silent Men before the Teeth People found them? They gathered their things and departed their camp site, fading from view into the forest mist.


Mutated Humanoid
Played by: Scott

Home Location: Thrayorb Village
Height: 5’ 11”
Weight: 160 lbs
Age: 16
Sex: Male

Radiation Resistance: 9
Constitution: 8
Dexterity: 14
Strength: 8
Mental Resistance: 13

Hit Points: 26
Armor Class: 1 (Heightened Dexterity)

Physical Mutations
Double Vision (D)
Heightened Dexterity
Heightened Hearing
Multiple Body Parts (2nd head)

Mental Mutations
Dual Brain
Illusion Generation
Poor Dual Brain (D)

Stone axe
7 bundles of demonbane plant


Played by: Mary

Home Location: Thrayorb Village
Height: 4’ 10”
Weight: 100 lbs
Age: 16
Sex: Female

Radiation Resistance: 13
Constitution: 7
Dexterity: 12
Strength: 7
Leadership Potential: 8
Mental Resistance: 9

Hit Points: 36
Armor Class: 7 (wicker, killdeer hide-covered shield)



Mutated Creature (Otter)
Played by: Dan

Home Location: Down By the River
Height: 2’ 4”
Weight: 25 lbs
Age: ?
Sex: Male

Radiation Resistance: 9
Constitution: 12
Dexterity: 13
Strength: 13
Mental Resistance: 18

Hit Points: 46
Armor Class: 6 (small size)

Physical Mutations
Chameleon Powers
Electrical Generation
No Resistance to Poison

Mental Mutations
Epilepsy (D)
Heightened Intelligence



Mutated Humanoid
Played by: Tom

Home Location: Thrayorb Village
Height: 5’ 11”
Weight: 180 lbs
Age: 16
Sex: Male

Radiation Resistance: 10
Constitution: 12
Dexterity: 9
Strength: 13
Mental Resistance: 15
Leadership Potential*: 11

*LP abilty due to Genius (Economic) mental mutation

Hit Points: 35
Armor Class: 7 (wicker, killdeer hide-covered shield)

Physical Mutations
Chameleon Powers
Double Effect of Physical Forces (D)

Mental Mutations
Anti-Reflection (D)
Genius (Economic)
Life Leech
Mental Control Over Physical States

Stone axe
Bag of Red Moss (5 uses)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Background Handout for the Players

Although the players are well-aware we’re playing Metamorphosis Alpha, their characters have no idea they are aboard a starship. As far as the PCs are concerned, they live in a verdant river valley in a temperate rainforest. The following is the handout they each received prior to making characters. It reflects what they’d know about the Valley, their tribe, and other information that might be pertinent to survival.

Starting Player Handout

The Tsali Tribe lives in “The Valley,” a forested river valley rich with wildlife and with excellent conditions for growing crops. The climate and environment is that of a temperate rainforest (think the Pacific Northwest). The tribe consists of roughly 200 true humans living in a small village along a river. A wooden palisade protects the village from both aggressive rival tribes and dangerous animals. The Tsali survive by hunting both the “blue eaters” (azure squirrels the size of pigs and dumb as posts) and the “killdeer,” large and potentially lethal herbivores. Food is supplemented by fields of robust corn that is harvested twice a year.

A handful of mutants, both humanoid and animal, live close to the village and are on friendly terms with the Tsali. These mutants regularly help the tribe during the corn harvest, serving as guards and lookouts while the tribe’s weaker members (the elderly, children, and the non-warrior women) reap the fields. In return for this and similar service, the allied mutants receive a share of the bounty.


The Tsali have two leaders, Omar the Chieftain, who oversees the survival and well-being of the tribe, and the Knower of Things, the clan shaman. The Knower is responsible for all religious ceremony, the interpretation and implementing of laws and punishment, and protecting the tribe from illness and the Dark Means, vicious sky demons that sometimes carry off wayward tribe members.

Beneath these two are any adult who provides for the clan: hunters, gatherers, bakers, craftspeople, and the like. They have the right to speak openly at tribal gatherings. Adulthood in the clan is achieved by undertaking a rite of passage upon reaching one’s sixteenth year. The rite varies from year to year and person to person as deemed appropriate by the Knower of Things.

Below the tribe’s adults are the unproven. This social level consists of young adults who’ve yet to undertake their rites of passage, adults who’ve failed their rites or for some reason cannot be productive members of the tribe, and allied mutants. On rare occasions, allied mutants who’ve demonstrated themselves as great friends to the clan are adopted as full adults by the tribe, but these are exceptional cases. Unproven may attend, but cannot speak publically at, tribal gatherings.

Beneath the unproven are the tribe’s children and the occasional slave capture in battle. They may not attend tribal gatherings and have no say in the daily workings of the Tsali.


The tribe worships two goddesses: the Queen of Dawn and the Queen of Twilight. The existence of these deities cannot be doubted, for they have appeared in the sky on numerous occasions. When the Queens wish to make their divine decrees known to the residents of the valley, one or both of their faces suddenly appear in the heavens as ghostly apparitions and they speak cryptic messages. The Knower of Things then meditates upon their odd words, deciphers their meanings, and reveals to the tribe the goddesses’ commandments. The Queens never appear for long, vanishing immediately after voicing their demands. Some belief that one of the Queens wishes ill for the tribe, while the other protects them. Which deity is which is left open to debate.

There is also a legend in the tribe that a dark day will come upon the Valley in some distant time. When this day arrives, the great wolf, Ojuc, will descend upon the Valley bringing with it fire and destruction. It is widely believed that Ojuc has come at least once before as ancient signs of massive fires are still encountered in far-flung areas of the Valley.

The tribe believes that each person is judged by the Queens when they die. Those who’ve led productive lives, served the tribe, and obeyed the clan’s laws are allowed to go to the Underworld, where paradise awaits. Those who’ve shirked their duties or disobeyed the tribe’s customs are banished to the Upperworld, a horrible place filled with demons even more terrible than the Dark Means.

The tribe’s dead are cremated, their ashes scattered amongst the corn fields or in the forest as desired by the deceased’s survivors.


The Tsali are a simple people. They know of the wheel and can make fire, but do not know the secret of working with metal. Some steel objects, specifically knives and mirrors, are found amongst the tribe, but these were obtained by trade. Hunting is done with spears and bows & arrows. In battle, warriors use wicker shields covered with killdeer hide to defend themselves.

Other Residents of the Valley

The tribe lives a secluded existence and doesn’t often encounter other groups of humans or mutants, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there! The most often encountered group is a tribe of mutant humans called the Teeth People. The Teeth People dwell in the forest on the far side of the river, and are the sworn enemy of the tribe. The Teeth People have raided the tribe in the past, carrying off members to meet a horrible end in the Teeth People’s stew pots. The Teeth People get their name from their great, oversized mouths filled with razor-sharp fangs. The Teeth People have no eyes and are blind without exception, but possess an unearthly sense of smell that not only compensates for their lack of eyes but allows them to track prey with unerring ability.

Towards Sunrise are two other tribe: The Salmen People and the Ghost Tribe. The Salmen People are mutants that dwell along the shore of a lake (and if Derik the Far-Traveled can be believed, sometime in the lake, itself). They are neutral in regards to the Tsali. The Ghost Tribe are another clan of true humans. They get their name from their custom of decorating their bodies with chalk and wearing bleached accouterments.
It is said that a tribe of Wolfoids lives far towards Sunset, but no Tsali currently alive has ever encountered them.

The worst enemy of the Tsali are the Dark Means. Dark Means take the form 10’ long hornets of black and crimson coloration. They possess human-like hands on two of their limbs. They dwell somewhere towards Stormend, always descending upon the village from that direction.

Lastly, it is known that Outsiders, members of strange tribes beyond the Valley, sometimes visit here. Where exactly they hail from is unknown. These rare visitors come to a place far in the direction of Sunrise known as the “Mootplace.” There, news is shared and goods are traded. Very few of the Tsali have been to the Mootplace and only Derik the Far-Traveled has been there several times.

Things You Know
  • Deer in the Valley are good eating and their hides useful for making many things. The antlers of the bucks are extremely poisonous, however, and capable of killing a grown human or mutant.
  • The red moss that grows on the sunset side of trees in the Valley can be brewed into a tea that helps counteract poison if administered soon after exposure.
  • A yellow, low-growing shrub known as “demonbane” can be dried and wrapped into long, torch-sized bundles. When set aflame, these bundle burn slowly and the smoke they produce keep the Dark Means away.
  • It rains for two hours every other day in the Valley at high sun. Every other day. Without fail.
  • Wind always blows from the same direction (Windward), pushing storm clouds in the opposite direction (Stormend).
  • A terrible and greatly feared creature lives in the Valley. Never seen, but known by its bloodcurdling screams in the night, this fearsome monster is the Lorg. It is said to be a hairy beast capable of eating a person whole. You have heard its screams and would know them if you heard them again.
  • Dimpled fruits and berries, especially those colored purple and green, are highly toxic.

Dusting off the Archive

Hello, there!

It’s been over two years since I last posted anything here on the Archive. It seems that I’ve been a victim of my own success, and I’ve spent a lot more time writing adventures and running convention games than refereeing a regular campaign. That’s just one of the drawbacks of working in the gaming industry. Your recreation becomes your vocation.

I made a promise to myself that I’d have more fun in 2014, however, and as part of that resolution I decided to run a game that has absolutely nothing to do with the elves, dwarves, and other fantastical creatures that make up the majority of my day-to-day gaming work. In short, I’m running the classic 1976 version of Metamorphosis Alpha. Metamorphosis Alpha (or “Metalpha” as I like to abbreviate it because that makes it “metal”) shares a lot of the same imaginary topography as the original three little booklet set of Dungeon & Dragons. Metalpha is all about exploration, discovery, and often sudden death, with everything you need in a skinny rulebook. After carting both Pathfinder and Dungeon Crawl Classics tomes with me to gaming events, a softcover 36 pp. rulebook is a dream come true!

I also decided to give Metalpha a go based on my experiences with the OSR. Although I had been playing D&D since 1980, I never had much experience with the original White Box rules. Participating in the OSR taught me the value of returning to the roots of game to discover where certain rules and creations originated, thereby giving me a greater understanding of the game. I’ve been a big fan of Gamma World since 1981 when I was introduced to the original boxed set, but have never run Metalpha. I theorize that by doing so, I’ll be rewarded with a deeper appreciation and understanding of my second-favorite RPG. So far, that assumption seems to be true.

I’ve reorganized this blog to accommodate a new influx of Metamorphosis Alpha-related material. Like before, I’ll use this venue to post after action game reports, PC sheets, house rules, rule clarifications, and newly created material for Metalpha. All the original Labyrinth Lord campaign posts are still here; I just bumped them down the sidebar a bit. In time, you’ll hopefully get as in-depth a view of my Metamorphosis Alpha game as you did my Labyrinth Lord Stonehell campaign. I hope you enjoy the ride and find entertainment, inspiration, and things to outright steal here. So let’s visit the depths of outer space where a generational starship, forever changed by calamity, drifts through the vacuum…