Review: Alpha Omega Core Rulebook

For quite some time I was interested in getting Alpha Omega for myself, but for some reason I never bought it. Then a few weeks ago, I had a chat with someone from Mind Storm Labs on Facebook. I thanked them for their friend request and we then chatted about Alpha Omega. Then they asked me, if I would like to review it and I was more than happy to accept. I was told to expect up to three weeks for shipping. So I waited impatiently…
In the morning of the 31st of December I finally picked up the Alpha Omega core rulebook at our local customs office. And wow, this was definitely one of the best-looking games I’ve ever seen. I want to thank the guys from Mind Storm Labs again for providing me with this free review copy!

Alpha Omega is a post-apocalyptic roleplaying game set into the year 2280. Mankind has survived a brutal world war and nature’s backlash in walled cities and huge arcologies. Nation states have ceased to exist and are replaced by city states. And humanity is not alone. They share their world with the Evolutionaries, the offspring of two alien species who are fighting a war that predates humanity. And for some undisclosed reason they use Earth as a battle ground every 10,000 years.

Alpha Omega Core Rulebook An example of AO's gorgeous artwork Some nice, clean layout

Presentation and Production Values
The 408-paged hardcover book is full-color and contains a lot of high-quality artwork. What makes it stand out is the format. As you can see in the photograph it uses a pretty uncommon horizontal format. While it allows very cool panoramic artwork, the book always stands out in my bookshelf. Ok, you can’t have it all. 😉 The binding seems to be very high quality, too. So, it’s no surprise I picked the Alpha Omega line for Best Production Value in my “Best & Worst of Gaming 2009” series. It’s well deserved indeed.

But the format is not everything what sets Alpha Omega apart. It doesn’t use page numbering. Yes, you read that right. Instead of the usual page numbers the book uses the so called NavBar (you can probably make it out in the photos above.) and folio numbering. I am not sure if this makes looking for certain sections easier or harder, but it’s at least a novel idea.

Let’s have a look at the setting again. In the introduction I wrote about the war of the two species which are called Seraph and Ophanum. The Seraph very much look like Angels and the Ophanum are – you probably guessed it already – demons. They wage this endless war and every 10,000 years they come to Earth. But they are surprised how fast humanity has developed high technology and not all of their offspring are on their side anymore. Aside from this Evolutionary War in the backdrop, there is the conflict between the surviving city states and the wilderness which is overrun by strange monsters and mutated humans. The setting is so varied, I can easily imagine running three or more different campaign styles with it.

The number of available player species is mindboggling. Aside from humans, there are Necrosi (which are genetically altered humans with pale features and extremely acute hearing and low-light vision), Remnants (mutants from the wilderness outside the cities), Bio-Engineered (humans engineered for certain tasks like war, hard labour or entertainment), Nephilim (half-terrans with Seraph or Ophanum parentage), Lesser Nephilim, Grigori (Bio-engineered servants of the aliens), Lesser Grigori (offspring of a Earth native and a Grigori), Anunnaki (the rare offspring of a Nephilim of Ophanum and one of Seraph descent) and Artificial Intelligences (basically robots or androids). Each species has different abilities, drawbacks and genetic deviations that the player can choose from. The species also affects the minimum, maximum and base ranks of the seven Core Qualities (aka attributes).

Game Mechanics
Alpha Omega uses the so-called 6-6 System, which looks awfully complex at first, probably because the designers used a lot of non-standard terms like Core Qualities instead of attributes. If you haven’t played dozens of other games before, you probably won’t mind, but veterans like me, have a hard time at first.
There are also dozens of abilities, drawbacks, genetic deviations and skills to choose from, so if you are used to smaller systems, like Savage Worlds, you might feel overwhelmed fast. But if you are willing to spend some time getting into the rules, you’ll notice that it’s actually isn’t that bad.
The main problem is probably that the character creation was placed before all the necessary rules have been explained. If you try to read the book in sequence, you will have a lot of open questions when you come to the Game Mechanics chapter.

The basic system is pretty easy. When a character wants to perform a complex action, his player has to roll the dice to determine success. Each skill and wielding source (Alpha Omega’s version of magic) has a quality associated to it (you would probably call it rank or level in most other games). Using a table you can determine which dice pool corresponds to the given quality score. You then roll the dice and have to beat a certain difficulty to succeed. Combat in Alpha Omega can be as crunchy as you wish. The game assumes three different styles: Imagined Combat, Model and Game Grid Combat and Model and Terrain Combat. I would probably prefer the first, describing the actions to my players, but if you wish you could probably go all the way and use tactical miniature combat. There are a lot of optional rules, so you can scale the “crunchiness” pretty good and a lot of examples to explain things. Nice!

Alpha Omega’s magic system (called Wielding) is player driven and very freeform. Basically the player describes what he wants to do, but of course there are limits to what a Wielder can do. There is Innate, Arcane and Spiritual Wielding which equates to Psionics, Magic and Divine Powers respectively. Each Wielding “school” has access to certain Sources with determine what Core Quality is used in the wielding check. The second component is the Intention. Intentions are what shape the Source into effect. Basically the player can freely combine his Sources and Intentions to create countless Wielding Effects. But there’s also a handy list of sample effects to get inspirations from. The magic system of Alpha Omega has a lot of promise and I am really interested how it works out in actual play.

Alpha Omega has me actually overwhelmed – but in a good way! It’s stunningly beautiful, full of cool ideas and options and it has some promising mechanics especially when the Wielding system is concerned. The only drawback I see so far is that the rules can be a bit intimidating at first, but aside from that it’s a great game that is definitely worth a look. If you love epic post-apocalyptic sci-fi settings, you won’t be disappointed by Alpha Omega!

By the way, I just noticed that you can get the Alpha Omega Core Rulebook, a preview of the Creature Manual and the adventure Milk Run for just $24.95 at RPGNow (RPGNow Affiliate Link).