Alpha Omega: The Encountered Volume 1 - First Look
by Patrick Irwin
This review will follow the format of the Encountered: Volume 1 section by section, providing an overview of game systems and content contained therein without attempting to communicate all the details necessary to game in AO. The Encountered is essentially an NPC/creature sourcebook intended to be used almost exclusively by GMs.
Note the Encountered uses the same NavBar style of page numbering and navigation aid mentioned in my review of the Core Manual, and the book's layout is the same as that of the Core Manual, with a short spine and a wide cover.
It also maintains the same standard of visual appeal held to for the Core Manual, and has even more beautiful art that its predecessor.
The statistical charts so common in the Core Manual are also present in force and have a numbering system to aid in organization. The table of contents is well-presented and comprehensive and coupled with the NavBar on every page makes navigation of the text quick and easy.
Section 1: Introduction
The introduction is the standard fare of RPG NPC sourcebooks, containing the usual cautions about metagaming and the distinction between player and character knowledge, as well as explanations for the folio numbering system used for page numbers, the NavBar, and the table and diagram numbering system. This section closes with a semi-immersive forward from the director of the New World Science and Engineering Commission (NWSEC), an in-game organization. The forward explains the Encountered: Volume 1 is not intended to be a comprehensive look at the creatures of the New World, but rather to demonstrate the breadth and diversity of those creatures. Translation: "don't worry, nerds, we're publishing more of these."
Section 2: Anatomy of a Creature
This section is intended to provide readers with the lexicon and understanding they'll need to make sense of the contents of each creature entry. Fair warning, the two-page spread art that serves as cover to the section is a bit unnerving if you're not expecting it. The section describes the various types of creature (Freaks of Nature, Tech Fiends, Abominations, Spiritual Creatures, and Demons) and the concept of Creature Categories, a numerical ranking of 1 through 10 indicating increasing threat level as threat category increases. All the game-mechanic-related terms used throughout the rest of the book are explained over six pages and accompanied by a sample creature entry with numbered tags for tracking as an example.
Based on play-testing, these entries seem to contain all relevant information accessible to GMs at a glance, rarely taking up more than a page.
Section 3: Freaks of Nature
Each section dedicated to creatures is organized by creature type, with the critters appearing in ascending Creature Category. The Freak of Nature category is dedicated to those creatures of the New World at least partly recognizable as having roots in that natural world; huge rats with face-tentacles and multiple sets of eyes, jellyfish that travel through the air, and half-monkey, half-spider monstrosities all call this section home, as do Entities or Elementals, beings composed entirely of elemental energy or matter. Elementals can be summoned or controlled using Wielding, making it possible for PCs to gain them as allies.
The designers have done an excellent job of taking the familiar and twisting it, sometimes with another creature and at other times with a bit of madness to make even the lower-category creatures feel genuinely threatening. They are aided in this by the fantastic art this section boasts.
The Colonials, a race of massive insects, are the faction presented here, a fairly stock sci-fi trope with a few interesting twists; their central hive is contained in an immense creature, called the Colonial Pilgrim, which weighs over two million pounds and travels the globe by flight, establishing colonies seemingly at random, albeit very slowly.
Many stock critters are introduced as well; the kraken, the sasquatch and a whole host of spider-variants all make an appearance.
As the creature category of the entries increases, some beasties capable of truly apocalyptic actions are introduced; armoured behemoths capable of destroying cities, massive protoplasmic entities that absorb every living thing they come into contact with and a heat-radiating cross between a T-rex, stegosaurus, and triceratops are showcased.
Section 4: Tech Fiends
Tech Fiends are those creatures of the New World whose nature is primarily technological, be it robotic or cybernetic. The entries here tend to score lower on the terrifying scale and higher on the awesome-robot scale responsible for the success of the Transformers franchise.
The usual variety of androids and surveillance robots makes an appearance, and three factions account for many of the entries in this section; the Garra Zenteer, Augmented Sentience, and the Technocratic Coalition or Tech-Coa (my personal favourite).
It's not all classic robot archetypes, either, as held up by such charmers as the cybernetically bound man-snake hybrid, the Garra Zenteer Naga, and the Tech-Coa's nation of cybernetic soldiers ranges from augmented shock troops to genetically engineered giants with their limbs replaced with heavy weapons.
The Loth foundry - a faction introduced in the Core Manual - also has several entries in the Awesome Robot category.
Section 5: Spiritual Creatures
This section is dedicated to the straight-up supernatural occupants of the New World, the ghosts and the ghoulies, and the things that don't bump in the night because you never hear them coming. Wielding heavily influences the creatures in this section, with many being particularly vulnerable to Wielding and some unable to be affected by anything else.
Various categories of spirits round out the page count for this section, and its capstones are the Omega Convergence and the Alpha Absolver, the respective be-all, end-alls of the two primary Sources of spiritual Wielding.
As Category 10 entities, these two nasties are diametrically opposed and functionally omnipotent, and provide the closest analogue to gods in Alpha Omega. These things could be a GM's wet dream as far as ultimate allies or nemeses for their PCs go, providing a heady background to a campaign.
Section 6: Abominations
Created deliberately for mayhem and destruction, the abomination category is home to exclusively bad news creatures; there are no allies to be found in this category.
The undead, genetically engineered deviants, and hybrids of supernatural energy and technology belong to this type. All your stock undead appear here (skeletons and zombies and zombie-dogs) as well as some more exotic flavours unique to AO, such as the cyborg zombie.
The Scag faction makes its appearance, providing a host of warriors whose own biology is their weapon, and numerous other genetically altered entities, such as a part-rhino, part-octopus, mostly-humanoid slave race, and a Wielding-aided transformed warrior of African and North American tribal peoples.
The section provides examples of interactions between nature and Omega energy that often produce horrifying exemplars of humanity gone wrong, spiritually enhanced killers and Wielders. Numerous types of Liches would provide ideal long-term NPC adversaries for PCs.
Section 7: Demons
Both the art and some of the descriptions of some of the creatures in this section can be hard to swallow. If you object to depiction and description of seriously horrific human misery, then I'm not kidding: skip this section.
Two types of demons are introduced in this section; the Damned and the Legion, and while the Legion tends toward the classic fantasy archetypes of imps and horned warriors with scarlet skin, cloven feet and tails, the Damned is another bag of chips altogether.
More details will be provided in the faction section, but suffice to say that this section contains some of the most twisted imaginings of what demonic parasites would do to their human hosts that I've ever dealt with.
If you do get past that fact, the monsters in this section would be great for a horror-driven campaign or to add some variety to a regular game's encounters, and the Legion would provide a great overarching enemy for almost any campaign.
Section 8: Factions
This section introduces each faction in full, and does a good job of filling in their background and history enough to give a GM a headstart on incorporating them into his or her campaign.
Augmented Sentience is an army of Artificial Intelligences with the ultimate goal of destroying mankind. This is a fairly simple, clear-cut, these-are-bad-guys kind of group, suitable as an endgame enemy for a campaign or as an influencing faction on the main action.
The Colonials are an insectoid race that has widely colonized Africa and is beginning to colonize on other continents as well. Not necessarily hostile or friendly, could be used easily as a swayable faction or as an outright enemy or ally.
The Garra Zenteer are a Columbia-based military force of semi-enslaved cyborgs governed by a group called the Creators who use the Garra Zenteer as their own personal army in pursuit of their own ends. A very shades-of-grey type of group with many possible roles in a campaign.
The Legion is composed at its core of a group of fallen Ophanum who betrayed their people in the last Evolutionary War and have been corrupted with Omega energy to become demons and gather followers to themselves. They are the only group known to be directly governed by the Omega Convergence, with their leader having been in direct contact with that entity since before his betrayal of his people. Again, these guys are black hats and could easily serve as the basis for an entire campaign.
The Scag are actually known by the derogatory form of their real name, which is Scientific Agnostics, and are a group of former humans who took the responsibility and course of their genetic evolution into their own hands to better fight what they see as the corruption of nature by humanity's corporations and cities. Within that framework, there is certainly room for shifting roles in a campaign as short-term allies but long-term enemies.
The Technocratic Coalition is an entire nation of cybernetic soldiers dedicated to the defence of a group of nearby city states. They're painted primarily as good guys, but with their role as soldiers could be incorporated into any role within a campaign.
The Damned are the creepy-crawly demons, parasites that use the misery and hate of human hosts to flourish and gain power. Not interested in allies, only slaves, the average campaign is going to have but one use for these guys: bullet absorption.
Section 9: Creature Discovery
This section is devoted to explaining the process used by the designers to create the contents of the Encountered so that GMs can manufacture their own creatures and stamp their own creative seal onto their game. Creature Category is broken down and the process is illustrated clearly enough to manage in only a little longer than standard character creation would take, following many of the same steps. Illustrations and charts are provided in plenty.
Section 10: Encounter Management
A selection of tips for new GMs on basic encounter management and an explanation of matters unique to AO and the process for building a challenging but not overwhelming encounter. Sadly missing here is any kind of pre-built encounters or even a continual example.
Section 11: Creature Templates
These are a series of templates that a GM can use to quickly modify an existing creature to put his or her own spin on it or to make it fit better into a situation. These are relatively easy to apply compared to creature discovery, and combine bonuses and penalties effectively to provide gameplay changes as well as merely thematic changes.
Read the a longer, more detailed look at each section of the Alpha Omega Core Manual
Check out the shorter first-look review of Alpha Omega
Read other reviews