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Tangents: A Sourcebook for Alternity
Bruce R. Cordell
TSR/Wizards of the Coast, 96 pages


Art: Randy Post
Tangents: A Sourcebook for Alternity
Tangents Information
Lucid Technologies has a problem. Its secret research into dimensional travel has been sabotaged by fanatics, and the multimillion-dollar facility is now only a bombed-out crater. But where are the terrorists? They've been blown into alternate dimensions, victims of the very technology they sought to destroy.

The heroes must track the interdimensional castaways through superspace, travelling through parallel worlds that run the gamut from primitive savagery to nuclear desolation. If the heroes fail in their quest to end the terrorists' rampage through alternate dimensions, there's no predicting the consequences!

TSR Catalogue

A review by Don Bassingthwaite (with Tannin Leap, Kriewes' Bodyservant, and Osh Dok 6/56)

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Journal Entry: Tannin Leap

So there I was, walking along happy as can be, the tribe way back over the horizon and nothing around for gazelength, when this thing drops out of the sky and nearly hits me on the head. Well, okay, it was a good mile away, but that's close enough. At first I thought maybe it was some kind of bird, but when I got over to it, it turned out to be a book. No hint of where it came from but from the way it hit, it must have fallen a long way, like someone sent it up in a highkite and it came loose -- but why would anyone do a stupid thing like that?

And here's the weird thing: I've never seen anything like it. It's a lot like the gamebooks I used to play as a kid, but the way it's put together is weird. There's this picture on the cover -- pretty groovy -- and the text is broken up into three narrow vertical strips instead of just running right across the page. It's for some game called Alternity and I've never heard of that before. It's supposed to be a guidebook that lets the gamemaster run adventures across alternate realities. Now that's cool. But kind of eerie, too. The way the book just showed up like that makes you wonder if there really are alternate realities...

Eavesdropping: Kriewes' Bodyservant

*It must be destroyed!* Kriewes' thrashed his massive tail in agitation and his Bodyservant pressed tight against his master's side to avoid being torn away by the churning water. *It can only be the work of the Sleeping Darkness.*

Branna floated calmly, her Hands turning the pages of the human book that Branna had found. *Kriewes, really. Isn't it just as possible that it's merely well-preserved -- and not some instrument of the dark forces? Look here.* The Hands pointed in response to her mistress' mental command. *Theories of 'superspace,' random universe generation, superspatial phenomena, means of moving between universes. Clearly this is some simple extrapolation of human beliefs, not ocean science.*

*There are some who say the Darkness sleeps in another universe.* Kriewes' moved in to take a closer look. His Bodyservant moved, too. Under the guise of grooming his master, he slipped up towards Kriewes' head for a look of his own. He suspected that maybe Kriewes' had the right of it. Human civilization had ended generations ago when the Oceanlords had flooded the surface in self-defense. Anything soft had long since disintegrated in the water, but the book still looked fresh...

Orders: Osh Dok 6/56

"This book, Dok, have you read it?" Osh Dok 6/56 looked at Osh Kad 4/12 and shook its mid-branches. The Osh line was acutely aware of proper actions. Osh Dok would not even consider looking at the strange, alien book until it had been given proper clearance. It had been left alone with the book for sometime before Osh Kad had returned. Clearly a test of the strength of its Osh genes. Osh Dok had heard that some other Osh of the sixth generation had begun to falter as mutations fouled the purity of the genetic material. An Osh of less purity might have sneaked a glance between the covers of the book.

Osh Kad nodded in approval. "You are being reassigned, Dok. You will be leading a squadron of Prana, a special exploratory team." It waved a twig, silencing Dok's question before the younger Osh could ask it. "Dok, the Founder's Council believes this book is the first sign of an invasion. I know you are familiar with the Transtitial Project -- this book details technology which mirrors that project, but in such simplified terms that it must be meant for the casual reader. And any world in which such terms can be so easily bandied about must be advanced indeed. The Council believes we must attack before they do. Your team will be scouts in our attack on this place called 'Earth'..."

Review: Don Bassingthwaite

Welcome to Tangents, the sourcebook of alternate reality for Alternity -- and a very spiffy little sourcebook it is! Why bother whipping about the universe on starships when there are whole planets just waiting to be explored right under your feet?

Anyone who has seen an episode of Sliders, read Harry Turtledove, or watched that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Enterprise C pops out of a rift in time and suddenly the crew is fighting a losing war against the Klingons will know what an alternate reality is. For the rest of you (hello, is there anybody there?), an alternate reality posits a universe where something different happened in the past, with the result that the present is different in some way from what we know. Maybe the Nazis won WWII and the Third Reich reigns supreme. Maybe the Celts forged a united empire instead of Rome and Druids shake mistletoe in stone circles around the world. Maybe everyone is freaking out about global warming instead of a new ice age. Little difference or big differences (or big, big differences), Tangents gives you the opportunity to explore the infinite realms of What-If...

The information is all pretty straightforward. The book starts with an explanation of superspace theory, laying the groundwork for all of the adventures that follow. Superspace is like a bundle of threads or wires, each a separate timestream or tangent, with clusters of tangents often sharing similar histories (hence, the "Nazi Ascendancy Cluster" or the "Nuclear Armageddon Cluster"). Theoretically, an x,y type coordinate system can be used to represent the degree and type of divergence from a baseline reality: tangents can differ in terms of their historical (the Union fought in favour of slavery), biological (sentient apes fought in favour of slavery), cosmological (the Earth is a forest planet -- nice for the apes), or fantastic (dragons burned the forests, ate the apes, and enslaved all of the humans) natures. Unfortunately, the coordinates aren't much more than window dressing, lending a certain scientific air to tangent descriptions. Don't get too caught up in them.

Of course, the biggest problem any gamemaster will face in running a Tangents game will likely be coming up with worlds to explore. The book has a great solution for this, a set of simple random tables that allows you to generate primary and secondary attributes for tangents quickly and with a nice variety of elements. As always, don't try to let the dice do all the work for you -- let your imagination play with what they turn up. If you'd rather not leave anything to chance, just use the tangent characteristics here as a guide. Each characteristic has a hint for incorporating it into a tangent -- or use the tangents in the adventures at the back of the book or the excellent examples in the section detailing superspace hazards to give you some inspiration. The only problem with the section is in the editing: a couple of characteristics change names between the tables and the descriptions, while the description for at least one, grasslands world, appears to be missing altogether. It's a small problem. The tangent generation section is actually a really nifty tool and I daresay you could probably find a use for it in almost any RPG. Anyone remember the old AD&D adventure Queen of the Demonweb Pits and those pocket dimensions that opened off of Lolth's lair? Pure Tangents.

A little less strong is the section of the book that deals with the methods of passing between tangents. There are a goodly number suggested: black hole diving, gates, paraskiffs and striders, quantum tunnelers, psionics, magic, and the ever popular gate. At first glance, this might seem like a good selection, but start looking at them and you'll realize there are some severe limitations. Many of the options are of a high progress level and possibly unavailable, others are rare, and others (psionics, magic, and superpowers) may not be suitable for most campaigns. For a campaign running in the "contemporary Earth" setting Tangents suggests as a starting point, only one option is really viable: the quantum tunneler, a handheld device that creates vortexes between tangents. Hmmm... sound familiar? There's a certain lack of "tangent" flavour, not necessarily in the method of transit so much as in the style of the technology. Why are all quantum tunnelers handheld devices? Why do all paraskiffs look "something like a VW Bug without wheels?" I'd say use these descriptions for the rules, but change the appearance or function to suit the environment. (One word on a really funky and original tangent "technology" described in the books, quantum psychedelics: groovy. Tune in, turn on, drop tangent.)

The back half of the book is taken up by an introductory adventure designed to get players into a Tangents campaign. The main gist of the adventure is a rescue mission: researchers have been blown into alternate tangents by an explosion at a quantum tunneler research facility. Complicating matters are an industrial espionage team from a competing research company desperate for the quantum tunneler technology and a squad of religious fanatics on a crusade through the tangents. This is a great adventure with a little something for everyone: combat, diplomacy, and intrigue. The tangents the heroes visit are good examples of what can be done with alternate worlds.

While there isn't enough Tangents material to merit a full-fledged campaign setting like Star*Drive (Tangents is, by the way, compatible with Star*Drive and there's even a specific overlap with it), this smaller book does a fantastic job of introducing some rich source material for Alternity. If you don't want to base a whole campaign around tangent travel, there's always the possibility of attaching a Tangents adventure to an existing campaign. And there's a wealth of inspirational material to draw from: a handy little bibliography in the back suggests a number of novels, TV shows, and movies to guide your Tangents experience (I'd add one of my own to the list: some of the sourcebooks for West End Games' Torg would make excellent Tangents material). I like it.

The tangents I generated randomly for this review:
Tannin Leap's World -- Tangent travellers arrive high in the sky: Earth isn't missing so much as about 2 km away from where it's supposed to be. Travellers making it safely to the ground find a very flat world, sparsely populated by advanced yet nomadic cultures. (Primary attribute: Earth "missing". Secondary attributes: grasslands world, monarchy.)
The World of Kriewes' Bodyservant: The whales were much smarter than humans thought and practice a form of magic. They eventually found a way to melt the polar ice caps, flooding the world in retaliation for human abuses. Now humans are modified to serve their cetacean masters and live as slaves. But there is a dark evil that lurks in the oceans... (Primary attribute: sentient dolphins/whales. Secondary attributes: horror elements, drowned world.)
The World of Osh Dok 6/56: Humans never developed on this world, where sentient plants obsessed with genetic purity rule in a fascist dictatorship supported by a few cloned genetic lines. (Primary attribute: sentient plants. Secondary attributes: Nazi influence, cloning technology. Even the strangest combinations can produce some interesting worlds).
Don Bassingthwaite's World: Yes, I generated four tangents. Spot the difference. (Primary attribute: baseline reality. Secondary attribute: arctic world.)

Copyright © 1999 by Don Bassingthwaite

Don Bassingthwaite is the author of Such Pain (HarperPrism), Breathe Deeply (White Wolf), and Pomegranates Full and Fine (White Wolf), tie-in novels to White Wolf's World of Darkness role-playing games. He can't remember when he started reading science fiction, but has been gaming since high school (and, boy, is his dice arm tired!).


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