[Review] Alpha Blue (Core Rules); A game best played with one hand…

[Core Rules]
Alpha Blue (2016)
Venger As’Nas Satanis (Kor’Thalis Publishing)
Summary; Star Trek TOS Season 3 + Star Wars + Blade Runner + Blake’s 7 + Red Dwarf + Heavy Metal + Futurama + Doctor Who + Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy + Dark Matter + The Orville + Deep Throat (did I miss one?)

Disclaimer: Sponsored content. This review is very sexy and you might not be able to handle this level of erotic review prowess.

2d4 pleasure-bots are performing fellatio upon a wyrmslorr while utilizing a sexual device that looks like neon chopsticks.
– Possible Sight upon first arrival on Alpha Blue

Janua’ari is ongoing. Science fiction is a serious contender for my favorite genre of all time. Before I waxed rhapsodically about unscrupulous ruffians breaking into ancient temples and stealing fist-sized rubies from under the watchful eyes of evil cults, I dreamed of C-beams glittering in Tannhauser Gate, rode the back of Shai-Hulud with Mua’dib or discovered that this was not in fact Ceti Alpha VI. My favorite game to GM remains Dark Heresy to this day, and playing space truckers in my buddy’s Stars Without Number campaign is probably my all time favorite.

Reading your way through the canon of science-fiction, you get the idea its all pretty serious and poignant stuff. The far-future operatic dramas of Hyperion, Dune or Star Wars, the grandiose scope of the Xeelee or Galactic Centre sequence or the utopianism of Star Trek or Smith’s Instrumentality of Man are works of moving poignancy and imagination. But there is another side to science fiction, a funny, light-hearted, often corny side of sci-fi: Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, Futurama, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and about half of the Original Series. The side of sci-fi that Larry Niven wrote with one hand, when he spent half of Ringworld Engineers and all of Ringworld Throne talking about interspecies fucking or that Andrew J. Offut wrote with no hands. If you mix those with the cantina scene from Star Wars and about 20 hours worth of 70s pornography, you’ve got a pretty good idea what Alpha Blue is about. As anyone who grew up on a diet of Belgian science fiction comics can readily tell you, the only reason man would explore space is if there was something there that would help him get laid!

Orion slave girl.jpg

Alpha Blue by Venger Satanis is a 114-page parody porn sci-fi game best described as a setting with a rulesystem bolted to it to facilitate the satiric emulation of episodes of 60s-80s science fiction shows, only with way more sleaze. I don’t think I would have ever checked it out on my own so I am glad Venger ran over me with his purple truck on his way to work and threw a review copy out of the window with a quick “sorry hoss!” before carrying on because Alpha Blue is actually unexpectedly, unironically good.

Before we get into why its good, let me take a moment to piss off the author by opining that for all its merits and despite its VERY rules-light nature it is most certainly NOT an OSR game, lacking utterly the resource management system element crucial to the old games and indulging in the degeneracy of meta-narrative mechanics so as to support the emulation of a particular fictional medium. The game offers ABUNDANT random tables to facilitate the type of ad-hoc, sandbox style play we have come to expect but a quick look at the adventure seeds makes it obvious this is a game meant for short, frenetic, sleazy adventures that can be solved in a session or two, like your favourite episodes. Not to mention the overal EXCELLENT production value, with attractive sleazy art pieces [0] In short: hand in your gun and your OSR badge hoss, you made a storygame. And its awesome!

slave leia

Part I: System.

A big part of making a good game is making sure your system lines up well with your setting since it is inevitably going to be driving the decision-making. My big problem with game lines like early WoD was the dichotomy between the supposedly serious personal horror on the narrative side and the power-gaming X-men With Black Eyeliner system on the mechanical side. Alpha Blue has a system that is EMMINENTLY SUITABLE for quick exciting tongue-in-cheek comedy space action game with simple, exciting combat with a minimal of bookkeeping or equipment optimization that would just ruin the flow. This is not 4D Chess, this is Space Checkers, and it facilitates the Space Checkers playstyle pretty well.

All checks are handled via d6s. 2d6 is a normal check, 1d6 is disadvantage, 3d6 is advantage. The highest of the numbers rolled counts, anything above a 3 is a success (with different gradations of success and failure i.e 4 is a partial success). Anything from rolling to hit to uh… recalibrating Six of Nine’s tertiary adjunct is resolved in this fashion.

kirk+charlie

 

Combat is pretty fast and loose with a few hard rules LIKE A NARRATIVE GAME. Whoever speaks up first gets initiative (with a mention of some extenuating circumstances like ambushes). Damage is exploding d6s, determined by the type of success and varies enormously as a result (if your highest number is a 4, d6 damage, but if you were to, say, roll 2 6’s to hit the damage is 4d6). Hit points start at 25 and increase with 5 per level (to a maximum of 70 at 10th level), you go unconscious at zero and die at -your level and damage remains essentially static throughout the game. Armour is a static number between 1 and 4 that is subtracted from damage taken. After a fight you can heal part of your injuries (more if you get treated by a physician) and after 8 hours all your injuries are gone.

Another bit of genre emulation VERY MUCH appropriate for a genre emulation game is the ability to STEAL THE SPOTLIGHT. Once per session, any character may double his dice pool on a single roll to look ‘super awesome.’ The Space Dungeon Master is also allowed to do this once per session so as to ‘ juice-up a diabolical villain, absurd
smoothie-bot using unlicensed banana-shaped dildos, or NPC trying to save a planet on the brink of destruction.’

As an amusing rule, again, appropriate in a game where you must get into a character if you are to refine your farcical space-adventuring, even if you die (which the game enables heartily), you [1] have a 2 in 6 chance cybernetic Resurrection, pretty good odds. The rules are fairly forgiving and engage in a bit of world-building: because of universal healthcare, you can get replacement limbs for free, but because of scarcity on Alpha Blue [2], the quality of the limb varies tremendously, though the effect is cosmetic and social. It is just as likely you will end up with a perfectly fine cloned limb as you are with a cybernetic tentacle hand, which adds to the charm of the game. If you fuck up you won’t necessarily die but at least you will look silly (and suffer possible implant rejection drawbacks). Possible drawbacks include mutations, turning evil or inappropriate groping of women. Nice.

Bonus points for quick-and-dirty but functional object destruction rules, virtually essential in game with laser beams, generators, easily jostled blaster-proof barrels etc.

Note on OSR conversion: There are some basic guidelines for converting OSR statts to Alpha Blue [3], though I question the method of AC – 10 = number of Armour points, which can generate very high amounts of armor that would be unreasonable in the context of the game. Although Venger does remind us that:

But ignore all that if it seems too cumbersome or fiddly. The important thing is to make characters who are supposed to be good at something shine like a thousand
suns… right up until that moment where they critically fail and poop their pants in front of their comrades, friends, relatives, and innocent bystanders minding their own business.

barbarella

Part II: Character creation.

Character creation in Alpha Blue is pretty neat and is accomplished by rolling on several bazillion random tables like a see-through negligé version of Traveller. There is not much MECHANICAL differentiation between characters but there is a shitload of BACKGROUND/ROLEPLAYING differentiation which is most important in a comedy game. Rather then describe at length, the general gist of six bazillion random tables, I thought it would be fun to generate one or more Alpha Blue Characters in process to give you a pretty good grasp of what is involved.

Alpha Blue is pretty intuitive for a sci-fi fan, which means that even before I had arrived at the character creation chapter I had already envisioned a party of Decker Ford (trench-coat wearing pervy private eye) Captain. James T. Shatner (slightly overweight starship lieutenant with combover) and some sort of blue alien/robot sexual deviant named Flork. Let’s dig in.

Every character can pick between a roll on the Scoundrel Career class or a roll on the Respectable Career table. Normal characters can roll twice (on either table) and pick whichever, alternatively you can spice up your character by a roll on the Something Special Table, making him an alien or making him a Mutant. Careers affect your starting credits (or Blue Bucks), with the Scoundrel Career having higher starting cash but a possibility of being a wanted man. Other then that, the Space GM decides whether or not your class would give you advantage on a roll, sort of like Sorcerer or Kingdom of Nothing.

Our character will be Decker Ford, his profession shall be (roll) Con Man, and we are spicing things up by rolling on the something Special table.

2.  Zedi: You have learned The Way during your travels to other planets. It allows you to
influence others, dominate the weak-minded, and electrocute people with lightning that
shoots out of your fingers.

Ahaah, awesome! Another roll on the wanted table means that our Zedi Con Man (new name Jim Sleazewalker, member of the renegade Knights in Blue Satin later described in the book) has attracted the attention of another law agent, which the SDM [4] will get to use for some fodder during the session. The d100 mutation table is worth a mention since it contains both awesome powers, fluff and drawbacks. Mad props for including a result where you only THINK you have said powers, reminding me of Paranoia (an excellent game!). There are some excellent random alien generation tables too, complete with a plethora of alien forms of autism to give it that akward Star Trek feel.

Successful parenthood is acknowledged by stoically listening to one’s own child verbally
abusing them.

Instead of saying, “My bad”… this alien will dislodge one of his eyeballs so that the critic or offended individual or party may skull-fuck him.

Dislikes being dry and clean in favor of being wet, slimy, dirty, gross, and covered in
something disgusting.

Okay, so Decker Ford is a Zedi Con Man but what did he do before he came to Alpha Blue? We can roll for that too! There are combination tables! In a nice nodd to traveler, low results on the last table have a percentage chance of killing your character, while high results involve…say, always getting advantage on your dealings with sex workers (an overpowered ability in Alpha Blue if I ever saw one).

A) The day Jim Sleazewalker decided to leave home because of the war…
B) A mysterious portal of swirling energy opened up, transporting him to a strange spaceship…
C) A dying, penis-headed alien taught you how to use the artillery on his spaceship before taking you to the rings of New Saturn. [always get advantage when using ship weaponry]

Oh…awesome! These tables are great but this is the one instance where I hoped Venger would have expanded them. d6 * d8 * d12 still leaves room for 576 unique combinations but its likely the GM will see fit to add other, even more ridiculous combinations in time. Well done hoss!

butterfly dancing

In case we are starved for inspiration, Alpha Blue has extensive corny 70s outfit generation tables too!

Jim wears Outré Cotton Mustard Yellow, Orange Sunburst, Yellow Green Space Pyjamas [reversible, inside plaid] (everyone in space either wears a uniform or some form of space pyjamas). I am going to assume the pattern is spots and garish bands of color. This might be the most elaborate tacky outfit generator of all time.

We still have to equip Jim with a weapon, but fortunately for us all the weapons do the same amount of damage and the differences are cosmetic only, taken from a bazillion different sci-fi universes. I decide upon an energy sword with the stipulation that because of an irregularity in the magnetic containment projectors the tip of the blade lags behind the rest, making it appear floppy, rather then erect.

One of the big things to buy in Alpha Blue. The armor rules are brilliant in their simplicity. Armor is subtracted directly from damage but for every point of armor you wear it takes you one round longer to extricate yourself from a fight if things go apeshit, and interesting trade-off. Equipment is otherwise VERY general, with prices listed for common, rare or unique technology. I assume in Alpha Blue you are expected to make things up as you go along and react to flashes of insight, rather then exercise caution and meticulous planning when going on an adventure, again in keeping with keeping things fresh and exciting.

We spend our 300 Blue Bucks on a Black, sleeveless jacket that we wear over our Space Pyjamas, giving us an armour rating of 1.

So what kind of Guy is Jim? We roll a 6 on his astrological sign (yup), and we figure out that, like many progressives of the current year, Jim is Cancer.

Group and friendship oriented, deep, offbeat sense of humor, dependable, but can be
moody and insecure. 

Fucking A for getting the wording EXACTLY RIGHT. Next up we can generate an organization that Jim knows (The Last Starfighter Guild) and find out that Jim has a fuck buddy in that organization. Nice.

Man I can go all night with this. Jim doesn’t have a fetish yet. Banging anyone in Alpha Blue gives you 5 temporary hit points while indulging in your fetish (with full description), gives you an extra chance to steal the spotlight, but resisting a chance to indulge in your fetish takes a successfully saving throw. This game is weird. Unfortunately for Jim and myself, we roll a 25, which means Amputees. Yikes. It’s not the worst result on there but its pretty close. The degeneracy here might be a little bit much for some, as such I would implore Venger to create a table of more wholesome life-affirming fetishes suitable for a moral audience[5]. Jim is also a Breast man.

total recall

There’s more, and we are TOTALLY going to use this option. We can start with 10.000 extra credits (or more, if we want to live dangerously), at the cost of owing that money to SOME VERY DANGEROUS PEOPLE. Fuck yeah, say I! We owe the money in the form of…uh, money (duh) to a high-level universal gangster who will Shake us down for whatever we have whenever its least convenient. We figure that this gangster is Krollos, a renegade time-lord-like guy who occupied himself with money-laundering across space and time and travels around in a TARDIS that looks like a public lavatory. We are going to spend that 10k on hookers and blow.

So.

Jim Sleazewalker (lvl 1 Zedi Con Man)
Hp: 25
Dice pool (2d6)
Special: Advantage on all ship weaponry rolls, Zedi Powers
Armour: 1

Equipment: Floppy Energy Sword, space pyjamas, sleeveless leather jacket, 10k in blue bucks + spare change, 10k debt to Krollos, surprising amount of pictures of girls getting fitted for cybernetic limbs.

There are some miscellaneous tables that are not really related to character creation. Damn fine.

Part III: Setting. 

By far the largest part of the Alpha Blue corebook is spent fleshing out the titular Alpha Blue space station and the universe surrounding it. Fortunately for me I will not have to go into encyclopedic detail to give a good impression because Alpha Blue follows in the footsteps of Popular RPGs everywhere by stealing and stealing well. A delicious casserole of Star Trek is served, covered in rich Star Wars gravy, thick helpings of Doctor Who and marinated in an oily mixture of miscellaneous sf. Add low brow erotica and cook to flavor.

The setting begins by outlining the major players, all factions that should be immediately familiar to even casual sci-fi fans: Analogues of the Federation with earth a mega-corporation dominated third-world planet, Klingons, Daleks, Space Catholicism (but no For Teh Emprah! sadly), Mega-corporations and Brain Bugs! The only one that seems out-of-place is the Interstellar Caliphate, if only because it seems too directly analogous to its real-world counterpart and any intended satire or political commentary seems too ham-fisted. I likes me a good joke about goat-fucking as much as the next chap but subtlety and context is the name of the game here.

suluthenakedtime

The universe building has a few intriguing elements that cannot be immediately traced back and are worth mentioning. Human beings are actually prevalent throughout the universe, originating on many worlds besides earth, and serve as a type of genetic rosetta stone, allowing them to interbreed with almost all other species thus codifying one of the more interesting elements of Star Trek TOS and Doctor Who and serving to explain why everyone is interested in dirty alien sex. Hooks are liberally scattered across the work, and the writing is surprisingly good for a comedy game, becoming downright intriguing in places. The mysterious Black Hole that serves as a gateway for extra-dimensional invaders, the reality-warping hell-worlds of the Black frontier, the leader of the Unification Wars fomenting rebellion on Alpha Blue etc. The world building is perhaps best compared to a dumb blonde, a little light on substance but she’s got it where it counts baby! Awwww Yeah [6]! Science fiction series tropes like the shaking of the ship whenever something bad happens are codified into the lore of the universe.

The setting is often conveyed in true OSR fashion, with a shitload of random tables, pretty good random tables. Mysterious radiation, Time-warp denizens, Star ship salvage, hidden asteroid bases. What constitutes a typical Alpha Blue adventure is conveyed through these random tables.

A point of criticism is that this section needed editing. The order in which these little entries are conveyed seems haphazard and a little random. A fucking criminal syndicate faction shows up 20 pages after the factions have been covered. By far the best approach would have been to group these topics into different groups (which is done, sort of..), a second option would have been to do it by alphabet and label the whole Encyclopedia Galaxia or something equally pretentious.

seven of nine

Alpha Blue is a space station in the vein of Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5, beginning its life as a treatment facility for overly horny patients in an effort to cleanse the human race of most of its sexual urges, and now serving as a drug-drenched, crime-ridden space-brothel with more hookers per cubic metre then anywhere in the galaxy. Its wicked, evoking visions of Blade Runner with the garish sleaze of Jabba’s Palace. A place of cybernetic prostitutes, neon, garish decoration, wild-west laser gunfights in the corridors, space coke and space venereal diseases (2 in 6 chance of contagion, 1 in 6 with an Alpha blue Satisfyer) and virtual sex chambers that tap into alien dimensions. Its gonzo, its sleazy, its a little silly and its totally awesome. Sign me up. Once again Venger delivers a hook or intriguing idea (presumably with his other hand while typing it up) so the place feels very gameable. Alpha Blue alone provides enough material for multiple, very sleazy, ridiculous sessions, let alone the wider universe.

The random tables do a second thing very well and that is to convey a style of GMing. I get the impression Alpha Blue is very much meant to be played off the cuff, with improvisation, humor and imagination taking precedence over carefully constructed plots. Ideas for content are fired at you at breakneck speed, from party contents to robot personality quirks in a torrential deluge of gonzo sf. You walk in on people banging, what kind of sex are they having (d30 table)?

The weakest section of the book is probably the layout of Alpha Blue itself, which covers all the major sections on the 500.000 population space station. While the Casino Royale ‘Bleu’ is pretty atmospheric, most of the other locations gain only a sentence or two, which is not really enough to bring the places to life. They are not useless, far from it, but this section doesn’t pack the imaginative punch as the rest of the book, becoming downright lazy at times.

Gift Shop
This is where visitors can pick up a cheap little souvenir to remind them of their stay on Alpha Blue, such as tshirts with amusing slogans like “I stayed in Alpha Blue and all I got was drunk, high, and laid.”

wise-old-traveler

After this Venger jumps right into the action by covering NPC-Faction related shit, beginning with a Motivation Table that is secretly just another d12 adventure hooks and continuing on to the description of the major incentive for banging prostitutes all the time in Alpha Blue: Temporary HP! That’s right! You get 2 temporary hp (lasting 24 hours) for each time you get laid, multiplied by the freak factor of the girl (1 meaning ordinary, 5 meaning Alpha Blue Satisfier [7].

Again, entries are presented in a sort of stream-of-consciousness fashion, making it hard to find where everything is, though everything is nicely indexed in the front.

Lest I forgot, besides all the hooks, Alpha blue also dumps some more elaborate adventure descriptions on us, lest we somehow miraculously go away from it not knowing what to run. This batch seeks to emulate classic 60s sci-fi television episodes, complete with distress calls, planets of hats, beligerent aliens demanding Blake Rogers, Doomsday devices and some Sword and Sorcery thrown in there because WHY THE FUCK NOT? I like this method of writing your own system: you keep everything pretty rules light, you spend most of your time on the setting AND YOU STUFF IT FULL OF ADVENTURE IDEAS UNTIL IT BURSTS.

riker shirtless

The book proceeds with a write-up of several NPCs. They are all either prostitutes or nymphomaniancs, but they also have hopes, dreams and MORE QUEST HOOKS INVOLVING SPACE ADVENTURE! Some are actually refugees from the Purple Isles, presumably allowing for Sword Adventure as well.

A few sample adversaries are provided but they serve more as a general indication of the type of statts likely adversaries are going to have then decent entries in their own right, with the Brain Bugs being something of an exception. The ‘Squirters’ just raise a sort of groan and most of the other adversaries are a little forgettable.

The book ends with a surprisingly insightful deconstruction of Old Doctor Who Episode Structures and provides a taxonomy of the types of characters that are most often encountered during these arcs, presumably aiding the GM in emulating the episode by episode style that Alpha Blue seems geared towards.

Character sheets are provided in the back and have enough room for most you are likely going to need, though a parallel box to keep track of lost hp would have been helpful.

bortus

Alpha Blue came as a welcome surprise. I don’t think I would have ever checked it out myself and when Venger sent it to me I was pretty skeptical. It takes a very humble, intelligent, insightful, handsome and courageous man to admit he may have been wrong, and I am that man beyond a doubt.
Alpha Blue is simple without being banal or seeming like a ripoff and utterly suited to a fast-paced comedy game, going so far as to include various mechanics to facilitate the smut as well as the episode-by-episode format. There is an astonishing amount of material conveyed in little more then a hundred pages. The setting is a thrown-together mixture of references that works surprisingly well and you can hardly go a page or two without Venger cramming yet another adventure idea down your throat. True to its nature, Alpha Blue begs to be used on a table [8] rather then admired from afar. A fucking edit wouldn’t kill it though.

While it won’t replace either Stars Without Number or Dark Heresy as my twin platonic ideals of space adventure ever, Alpha Blue does something few have tried, light-hearted space comedy, and succeeds by giving it its all, albeit it sweatily, loudly and as an embarrassment to your parents. Would recommend. 7.5 out of 10. Now if you will excuse me, I gotta go do something.

Check it out here in the adult section: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/168961/Alpha-Blue 

the naked now2

[0] There are a few small drawings that would seem to be more appropriate for an isles of putrescence game that were maybe recycled but most of the space art is awesome and at times reminiscent of heavy metal
[1] Or a major villain
[2] The titular space brothel that is the focal point of the setting
[3] Or reversed. Alpha Blue mechanics are very simple.
[4] Alpha Blue GM’s are awarded the title of Space Dungeon Master
[5] One person could have a sexual attraction to people other then his lawfully wedded partner, one could be attracted to women’s exposed ankles, one have a liking for fertile young women not wearing a featureless grey smock and covering their hair only in a thin, silk cap, one could have an unnatural attraction to Orientals and one character could perhaps fantasize about being with two attractive women in a consensual fashion but would probably pass out before his body would allow him to commit such a woefully sinful act.
[6] I felt that crass sex jokes would be the only medium that could really convey Alpha Blue
[7] With your mum being about a 3.
[8] Again, like your mum

 

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8 thoughts on “[Review] Alpha Blue (Core Rules); A game best played with one hand…

  1. Intriguing. How hard would it be to convert this adventure/setting to something less overtly satirical and sexual? I’m not against those things, but I’m wondering how easy it would be to mash-up Alpha Blue or use this in an existing sci-fi campaign.

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    1. I think you could probably dial down the sleaze and have yourself a wholesome SW/Star trek/Doctor Who clone. I feel an integral part of the Alpha Blue experience would sort of be missing but the system can be converted easily and it comes about as close to vanilla SF as I have seen because of its source material. On the other hand, there is Stars Without Number…

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      1. Maybe it would lose something, but I think you sell yourself short; it sounds like there are a number of good ideas that stray outside your themes. If I wanted to use Alpha Blue in a larger campaign, like as a decadent corner of a Stars Without Number campaign, I’d keep the sleaze but I’d need to dial down some of the overt humor, like the skull-fucking thing.

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      2. Oh yeah, Alpha Blue can definitely be used as a resource and toned down or whatever. But if someone was looking for a generic or kitchen sink sci-fi RPG without comedic sleaze, there are a dozen contenders that will probably do it better.

        But Alpha Blue will juice up your mostly straight-laced campaign, that’s for sure!

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