Next Saturday I’m going to be running more outer-space adventures at Pasadena’s D&D meetup, using the 4lternity variant of 4th edition D&D I’ve been working on.

In the spirit of the recently announced 5e D&D/D&D Next, here’s a description of 4lternity broken down into modular components.

Module: Gamma World Math

D&D Gamma World showed that you could simplify 4e D&D by fixing the math used on player characters. Instead of scores (defenses, skills, attack rolls, etc.) being based on this:

Attribute + 1/2 Level + Extra Bonuses (feats, items, class bonuses, etc.)

In Gamma World they’re based on this:

Attribute + Level

This gets rid of the need for “enhancement bonuses” on weapons, armor, and neck slot items; for “feat taxes;” for “inherent bonuses;” for tier-based scaling bonuses; and other little fiddly bits.

Module: Alternity Skills

4th edition D&D has 17 skills. Alternity has 40 skills. 4lternity uses the vastly expanded Alternity list for skills, because that’s what a science fiction game requires for distinguishing characters.

The features of the Alternity skill module are:

  • Your race gives you 6 skills for free.
  • Your class gives you more skills, chosen from your list of class skills.
  • You get to choose bonus skills (those which aren’t necessarily class skills) as well, with the number modified by your Intelligence modifier.
  • Each skill has subskills called specialties.
  • You choose your specialties from your list of class specialties.
  • You get bonus specialties with the number modified by your Wisdom modifier.
  • Gamma World math: If you’re trained in a skill, you get Ability Modifier + 2 + Level as your skill roll. If you’re trained in a specialty, that adds an extra +2.
  • Alternity skills aren’t just non-combat, but include skills that you use when making attacks: Modern Ranged Weapons, Primitive Ranged Weapons, Unarmed Combat, Melee Weapons, Heavy Weapons. (This accounts in part for why the skill list is longer than D&D.)

Module: Alternity Classes

The classes for 4lternity are adaptations of the original five Alternity character classes to 4e D&D rules — with the classes primarily built as subclasses or variants of the existing Essentials classes. The classes are:

  • Combat Spec: A variant of fighter, with a defender aura that’s modified for use with ranged weapons.
  • Diplomat: A variant of warlord with a focus on directing the battle, and a free “multiclass” into one of the other classes.
  • Free Agent: A variant of rogue with sneak attack and backstab abilities, plus fast talk for getting into or out of a jam.
  • Mindwalker: A variant psion with a broad range of mental powers based on 5 psionic disciplines.
  • Tech Op: An Int-based martial controller with specialization in a field of technology or science.

Module: Alternity Races

The standard D&D races are replaced with:

  • Humans: as per 4e D&D.
  • Fraal: psionic “grey” aliens.
  • Mechalus: cybernetic pacifistic aliens.
  • Sesheyan: winged jungle-born aliens.
  • T’sa: quick, reptilian aliens.
  • Weren: large furred aliens.

See my player handout Welcome to the Verge for better descriptions of the Alternity races.

Module: Alternity Equipment

The weapons and armor from Alternity actually extend the 4e D&D list instead of replacing it. Stats for “primitive” weapons or armor such as swords, bows and chainmail remain the same as in 4e D&D; the list just expands onward to cover more advanced weapons and armor.

  • Weapons do either “impact” damage or “energy” damage, instead of D&D’s plethora of typed damage. (There’s also “bleed” and “psychic” damage types in 4lternity.)
  • High tech armor provides resistance against impact and/or energy damage.
  • There are a number of new weapon properties such as energized, autofire, and piercing which are used to stat up futuristic weapons.
  • Weapons have an accuracy rating (-2 to +2) instead of a proficiency bonus; the math works out the same but comes at it from a different angle.

Alternity, WotC’s late, lamented sci-fi RPG, has a pretty interesting way of doing “initiative” (known as action checks): You make a roll against your action check score, and get an Amazing result, a Good, an Ordinary, or a Marginal. That represents the first phase, out of four, that you’ll be able to act.

Your next action comes on the following phase, and if you have three actions, your third is on the phase after that — assuming that you rolled high enough on the action check. A hero with 3 actions needs to get a Good result on the action check to use all of her available actions in a given round.

So, it can get kind of complex, and you roll an action check each round — which means this all needs to be tracked. Back in the day, ten years ago, I would use a whiteboard on a wall, with columns drawn representing each of the phases and rows representing each hero or enemy. I’d place a checkmark in the appropriate square to represent their action on that phase, and then erase it when they acted.

Alternity Action Checks: Amazing, Good, Ordinary, Marginal

Now that I’ve started up Alternity, I figured there must be a better way — and there is! I have a lot of craft-foam tokens and markers that I use in 4e D&D, and they’re in a variety of colors. (Most are 1-inch square, although some are 1-inch-diameter round.)

Each hero gets to choose a color, like pink or yellow or blue or green, that will represent them on the action check tracker. I have them give me one token for each action they can (theoretically) take in a round.

When combat starts, I choose another color (or colors) for their opponents, usually something like brown or black or white or tan. I ask the players for their action check results, and then place their colored action token in the appropriate phase on a my action check tracker, and do the same for their opponents.

Then it’s just a simple case of going through the phases and removing each token as the action is taken, and setting it aside. At the end of the round, I’ve got an empty action check tracker, and a pile of tokens — ready for next round’s action checks!

If you play Alternity and would like to download a copy of my action check tracker, here’s a link; it also includes a tracker for the current round of combat. Of course, a piece of paper with four phases written on it is pretty easy for you to make up youreself; I created the prototype of the action check tracker with two 3-by-5 cards and a Sharpie!

Updated! I’m running a campaign of Alternity — TSR’s late, lamented science fiction game from the end of the 1990s — and so I whipped up a character sheet for the Star*Drive setting. You can download it, if you want:


7 Nov 2501 2009: Newly updated to include better layout for skills, enough durability boxes for werens, the Stealth skill (which was accidentally left out), and a footer with the download URL.