I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review: Alpha Blue

Disclaimer: after reading (and reviewing) Liberation of the Demon Slayer*, and learning that the author (Venger As'Nas Satanis) was looking for reviews of his work, I asked him for a review copy (PDF) of one of his games, and he sent me Alpha Blue*... so that is how I ended with a space-sex-comedy RPG review in this blog.

Let's make some things clear...

Let me save you some time before I start the review: if you dislike dirty jokes, vulgar language, sexual references, comedy RPGs or products that are mostly aimed at a specific niche (mainly, but not exclusively, heterosexual "dudes" that were born around 1970-1980 and will understand most references), this game is probably not for you.

In fact, if you prefer not to read about this stuff, you might want to skip the review; I usually avoid profanity and keep things PG-13 around here (IMO), but that might prove difficult for this product.

With that said, Alpha Blue is not particularly explicit or gory; it is not really "shocking" to most people (your mileage may vary, of course; it does contain one or two references to sexual assault, and at least one mention of necrophilia and bestiality in a random table), because it never takes itself too seriously.

"Shock for shock's sake" is not really the point of the module - everything seems aimed for maximum fun, instead, although the humor might not hit the spot 100% of the time. I've seen a lot worse in terms of sex and violence in RPGs, even some pretty mainstream ones.

This is mostly rated-R stuff; something on the level of Barbarella, the Heavy Metal flicks (or the Metal Hurlant Chronicles TV-series, maybe even the comics), Kung Fury or American Pie. Yes, it does contain some references for "unconventional" sex acts, but so do some of, say, Kevin Smith's movies.

If this sounds interesting to you, read on.

What is Alpha Blue? And what is it good for?

Alpha Blue is, mostly, a space brothel. Well, it is also some other stuff. Basic, a independent space station that roams around offering not only sex (by specialized working girls) but also drugs, weapons gambling and other amenities. This book contains a setting and a system geared towards space-sex-comedy gaming, with lots of random tables.

Alpha Blue is a comedy RPG, and for a specific type of comedy, one you would find in Spaceballs and sex comedies from the 70's and 80's. I had never heard of The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue, a porn movie from 1980 that seems to be the main inspiration; in any case, the absurdity of porno plotlines seems to be more important than their explicitness. Interestingly enough, Alpha Blue hints at some deeper "philosophical questions" in the campaign advice, but, like in those movies, philosophy is not really the focus.

This means Alpha Blue plays to a very restricted audience; sci-fi RPGs are small when compared to fantasy ones, and comedy RPGs are even rarer. Sex comedy sci-fi RPGs? That is a first for me.

Nevertheless, I can see some "mainstream" uses for Alpha Blue. Mostly, it can be used for running a raunchy Paranoia campaign or a space-DCC sexy funnel (that sounds strange...). In fact, Paranoia seem like a perfect fit, since Alpha Blue is ruled by an insane computer with severe mood swings, and PCs are pretty easy to create... and replace.

It is also fair to say that you can use Alpha Blues without the sexy bits to generate a gonzo space-comedy game. While that would make about half the book unusable, the remaining half is certainly worthwhile.

The book

Alpha Blue is a looker. The cover, art and typography are all high quality and, most important, establish the mood that the author is apparently shooting for. Everything looks good if not always impressive. The PDF has 114 B&W pages, including 4 white pages for notes. The maps are specially nice, but unfortunately not very useful, since they are schematics with no references to locations, function, etc., as you can see below.

The organization is a lot better than Liberation of the Demon Slayer; with a decent table of contents and few self-explanatory chapters referencing the system, characters, setting, adventure seeds, GM advice, etc. It is still a somewhat "chaotic" book, and the author goes full "stream of consciousness" from time to time and follows no apparent order within some sections, but overall is a well-organized PDF and very easy to use.

The system

Alpha Blue contains its own RPG system. It is very simple doesn't feel quite complete (the author includes some conversion notes to OSR stuff, which seem good enough too), but it works surprisingly well. Basically, you roll one or more d6s and use only the best result, ranging from "No, and..." (a critical failure) on a 1 to "Yes, and..." (a critical success) on a 6.

I really like this choice, to be honest. You can always use another system if you want more detail, but Alpha Blue, unlike many RPG books, focus only on what is important to the genre and wastes no time in useless details.

What DOES Alpha Blue detail? Everything that is relevant to the game: occupations, mutations, aliens, sexual fantasies (women are enticing to most men and women in the book, with "men" being a fetish), fashion, and so on. It does so through a series of random table, which seems like a good choice for this type of game.

Rolling a character is really tempting, so let's try:

Name: Dask Jorana.
Career: Pirate. 
Wanted Man? You've been careful and law enforcement is ignorant of your plans… for now.
Mutation: Ice touch: freezing temperatures transferred by physical contact.
Prior experiences: The first time you visited an alien planet ... You stowed away on a mercenary starship ... Sadly, you were shoved into a pool of molten acid lava. Banzai, buckaroo! [33% chance of death]
Fashion: Orange sunburst leather sexy space pajamas.
Weapon: Warp Hammer.
Fetish: Exhibitionism.

...And so on. As you can see, creating a colorful character is quick and easy, which is a good thing since you can die on chargen. And you're not really safe after chargen, either.

The setting

Alpha Blue describes both the space station and the universe surrounding it. As far as settings go, Alpha Blue is quite complete: warring factions with different goals, multiple motives for interacting with the ship, interesting NPCs, treasure, intrigue, etc.

It has many, many references to classic sci-fi, old movies, current mainstream media, hard rock songs, Venger's other books, and so on, which is not a bad thing provided you can get at least a few of those references.

It is not all about amusing the reader, though. Alpha Blue does seem to strike a good balance between usability and humor.

In conclusion

Alpha blue is good looking, well organized, well written and packs plenty of interesting content. On the other hand, it is certainly not for everybody. If the premise interests you, I would recommend checking it out.

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