Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Mutant Epoch RPG

Welcome to Strange

I've heard a lot of words being thrown around like "gonzo", "old school", and "weird". Ok, fair enough. I believe Mutant Epoch (after awhile the "The" just gets dropped like a radioactive potato sprouting cybernetic lobster arms with florescent orange tendrils!) has its own tangy flavor and style. In the world of post-apocalyptic tabletop RPGs, it's a force to be reckoned with. But "tangy" is subjective; it depends on the ingredients and the individuals tasting it. Alright, put your splatter-proof bibs on and let's take a look at what goes into this Mutant Epoch's zesty BBQ garlic cheese spread!

So many character types! There's no race/class system here. You pick (or more likely, roll) to see if your a trans-human, android, ghost mutant, pure stock human, etc, and then roll on a table determining your pre-adventuring caste (including skills), traits (ability scores), mutations, implants, etc. Even size/weight, whether you're right or left handed (or ambidextrous if you're lucky), and if you can swim worth a damn are taken into consideration. Roll, punk!

Traits like strength, perception, and intelligence are used. Nice and old school, though there's something to be said for originality to spice up overly familiar RPG concepts. One thing I particularly liked was the table on generating those traits. Since they go from 1 - 100, I assumed (and have seen it in other games) a player rolls a 1d100 for each one, meaning that a trait or two could be in the 90's while another character could have abysmal scores. Thankfully, there's a table in order to keep things on a more level playing field. And yet, there's plenty of random chance to get a character like none other. That's right, no two PCs in an adventuring party will be exactly the same. The odds are probably a million to 1 against.

I've read a number of ME reviews that go extensively into character creation, rolling for mutations, etc. So, I'm not going to do that here... or am I?  In this case, I feel its justified since going through PC generation is one of the primary reasons for picking ME up.

Drowg the Super-Handsome, a Human/Horse Assassin

We start by rolling on the Character Type table.  There are three options, I'm going with the middle one, "Experienced Player".  My result is a 65, which means I'm a... Bestial Human.  No!  That's the one I kind of didn't want.  Oh well, the dice decide.  I shall be their obedient vessel.

Now Trait rolling... 

Endurance: [37] raw % roll was 62

Strength: [18] raw % roll was 14 (Ouch, guess he's not going to be wrestling mutants in the slave pits.  Pity.)

Agility: [79] raw % roll was 96 (Awesome!  He may not be strong, but he's quick... perhaps slippery?  Because of my high roll, my result was actually 60 + 1d20.  I rolled a 19.)

Accuracy: [29] raw % roll was 46 (Pretty average.)

Intelligence: [59] I rolled an 83 which translated into 40 + 1d20.  (Yes, another 19.  I'm on fire today!)

Perception: [21]  I rolled a 21

Willpower: [50]  I rolled an 84 which translated into 40 + 1d20 (rolled a 10.)

Appearance: [118]  Wow, I rolled a natural 100 which translated into 100 +1d20.  (He's a real looker!  Seriously, not making this rolls up.  This is the first time I've rolled these dice.  They came out of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess grindhouse box.  Thanks, James!)

Pre-Game Caste: I rolled a 61... Assassin.  Cool!  Now, the Bestial Human table... 73.  That means horse.  What?  Between my Caste and Human/Horse genetics, I get quite a few favorable modifiers to my Traits.  A whopping + 57 to Endurance!  Can that be right?  +25 to strength?  Another 21 points added to my appearance of 118?!?  Jesus Mutant Christ! Additionally, there's only a 50% that drugs will affect me and a 5% chance that the opposite effect will happen.

Being an assassin gives me the following skills: martial arts and knife throwing were automatic. Lying, pick pocket, dodge, unarmed combat, and wilderness survival I rolled for (wilderness survival I already had one skill point in because I'm half horse).  Also, I have black ninja gear... I guess it's tailor fitted for my immense stature.  Oh yeah, that's another thing.  Everything is in meters, centimeters, kilograms, and all those measurements alien to Americans.  Well, I know I'm big.  That's enough.

I had a 33% chance of having some mutations, but rolled too high for that.  :(  No ability to read/write. 

Ok, let's look at Trait Value Modifiers... 94 Endurance means my healing rate is 9.  That's how many hit points I can regain naturally each day.  My damage bonus is +2 and range of throwing things is +10%.  Agility Defense Value is -10 and then another -7 for being half horse and then -5 because of my dodge skill (that means I take away 22 points from people attacking me).  My Strike Value is +2.  

I'm also right handed and a strong swimmer.

Because I'm Rank 1 (Ranks are pretty much like levels).  I have a 50-50 chance of hitting something, but then it's modified by my +2.  So, everything I want to try and hit someone, I roll a percentile and if it comes anywhere between 01 and 52, I hit.  If my opponent has a Defense Value of -10, then I would only hit with a roll of 01 to 42.

As you can see, this is one crazy motherfucking system.  Pretty cool, but involved.  Lots of rolling, chart consultation, and modifiers up the wazoo!  Nifty in theory, but I won't know how it works in practice until my group actually plays ME.

I can see that rolling 6 characters is going to take about half of our 4 hour game session.  At least the remaining 2 hours can get be action packed, trying out combat and exploring a ruined city.  

Back to the Review

Some concepts were not intuitive (for me). Endurance is a trait and that number also doubles as a character's hit points, I assume. When I run it (and I'm really looking forward to that day), I'll probably drop some of the non-essential stuff like complicated combat moves and the type of over-complications which bog down the first few sessions when everyone is learning the rules. Not everything is spelled out but it tries to think of everything.  ME bills itself as an RPG for experienced players. Noobs are welcome, but are advised to watch and learn from those who've been around the block of ruins. This is the Outland system - expect an eye-gouge before that blonde mutant with the nice boobs opens up all three of her legs for you. Novice GMs should prepare themselves for some growing pains.

There's a lot of tables, many arbitrary percentages for likely narratives - your former owner wants his slave back, etc. Sometimes, you're rolling on a table to get a random number of things (which you roll) in order to find out how many times and in which categories you roll on a brand new table. Not a deal-breaker, obviously, but if you detest that sort of thing, then perhaps ME isn't for you.

For many, the layout might be a disadvantage. The type is a bit small (a youtube reviewer claimed he had to read the entire book with a magnifying glass!), though I didn't have any trouble reading it, and quite a bit seems kind of run together without nice paragraph breaks separating them for a cleaner look.  But the good news is that its 240 pages would come to something like 320 in most RPG books.  A lot of text, tables, and artwork. Let's talk about that. The artwork is pretty awesome. Some of it is a little cartoon-y or juvenile, but most illustrations fit the genre. Art throughout the book - everywhere! Of course, some of the images are pretty small, like 2" x 2", 1" x 3", or even 1" x 1", making it difficult to see any detail or even appreciate how cool a certain creature, mutant, or weapon is.

People compare ME to Gamma World. I never had the pleasure of running, reading, nor playing GW, so it's hard for me to say. However, some of ME reminds me of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness RPG along with a sourcebook called After The Bomb. Freaky human/animal mutant hybrids scavenging for fuel, food, and weapons in a post-nuclear wasteland. I'm not sure if Gamma World or similar RPGs include magic, but ME doesn't. There are psionic powers and hi-tech relics which seem magical to some, but this is not a scifi-fantasy post-modern mix like Shadowrun or Rifts. However, an introductory paragraph or two suggests that would be a cool addition to the game. Also, the creator, William McAusland, says there's a fantasy RPG using the Outland System coming out soon.

ME has hazard checks (saving throws), weapon codes, unlooted corpse classifications, a random hit location table (with only 1 in 20 chance of "torso"?), quite a few mentions of prostitution, erotic art practitioners, and sex-bots, as well as, quite a few tips on forming a campaign. GMs need it, too, because the post-apocalyptic genre just doesn't have as many ready made, go-to ideas as standard fantasy or scifi. There's probably only a dozen fantastic post-apocalyptic films I can think of - not all of them will be inspirational regarding the GM's particular campaign. Hundreds, if you count traditional scifi or fantasy.

There are some typos, but that just comes with the territory. Alright, I think that pretty much covers it. The ME website has a lot of cool stuff, including a members only area accessible once you email Mr. McAusland with the code at the back of your book or PDF. Basically, this is a sweet (and tangy) post-apocalypse RPG if you like that sorta thing. Maybe a bit too Gygaxian for some, but those who want AD&D with laser eyes, chainsaw hands, crab claws, and tentacles should get more than their money's worth.  It's not a perfect fit for everyone, but a few will absolutely love this!


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