Tag Archives: review

Mutant:Year Zero

I have read just about everything that is available to get for free several times in the past couple of weeks and this looks like an awesome game and I really want to play/run it.

I am mechanically minded so I will start with my impressions of the detail of the system and work outwards to the bigger picture.

D6/D66/D666

I love this mechanic. At some point every GM is going to start to write their own adventures and being able to scale from six options to the 36 possible outcomes of the D66 to the 200+ options to the D666 is so simple, consistent and elegant. The mechanism gives you as much granularity as you could possibly wish for. D6 for initiative is simple enough and D66 for criticals gives you enough variety that injuries mean something. I don’t know what a hit point looks like but a broken nose means something. It seems that most fighter types will be able to take 5 points of trauma and weapons seem to do a typical 2 points per hit. This implies that fights are going to be short and bloody, no slug fests here.

The game play seems to be very social, something that I have been increasingly aware of recently both in my own games and in games I have reviewed. I like this but, as has been noted elsewhere, M:YZ is not a game for online or PBP play. It needs that sort of ‘around the table’ discussion and collaboration.

Character creation from what I have seen is really fast and easy to grasp. I am not a fan of dice and random rolls in character creation. This is a personal choice and I can see the occasional amusement of playing a warrior with a terrible strength or constitution. I would not want to do that every time. M:YZ thankfully uses a simple point buy system of sharing 14 points amongst four attributes and ten points amongst 12 basic skills. There is just as much emphasis put on relationships as there is on attributes and skills. This is something I wholeheartedly agree with. The only random factor in the rules I have seen is your mutation. In the quick start rules there are three mutations per character and you roll a D6 to select.

The Setting

I really like this vision of the post apocalypse. I have fond memories of Gamma World and to some extent this is a more grown up version of that vision. The setting is a role player’s setting, not a dungeon crawlers or hack and slashers setting. In that Gamma World version everyone wanted powered armour and big weaponry, from what I have seen the emphasis is more on collaboration and internal struggles with your fellow mutants and the survival of your ark.

My one and only concern is over the setting though and it is possibly completely irrelevant or wrong. There is something about M:YZ that reminds me of the original Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium?) game. I think it is the hint of an underlying menace. There are warnings at the front of the rules for players not to pry further into the rules regarding this. I wonder if once this secret is known, if the game will lose some of its return value. Even if I am right, does that detract any from the game? I think without that undercurrent the setting would lack a certain ‘something’. The setting is extremely hostile and even your mutations are out to get you. I do not think characters are going to live very long if you try and go out all guns blazing, or using a bat to try and solve your problems. This is not that sort of game. I suspect that unearthing that hidden story may never happen for a great many groups.

Finally, I would like to mention the job that Free League Publishing have done with the game materials. The writing is excellent and the art is more than adequate to imagine the setting. Page layout is possibly a bit of a nerdy thing to get excited about but it is of such massive importance to how we respond to a book. If you cannot find what you need then the rules appear opaque. If the pages are too dense with text then the rules become difficult to absorb. These are the little things that, although no single one makes or breaks a book, can change our perception of a rulebook and therefore the game. M:YZ was laid out by an extremely talented page designer.

I don’t do scores, I think games are too complex to boil down to a single ‘marks out of ten’ or ‘stars out of five’. I can imagine that reviews before me have given this game nines and tens and it would be well justified. I know I am picky and hard to please but this game is probably the best game I have read in a decade.

Conan II

I have based this look at the Conan rpg on the quick start rules and the Conan Free RPG Day 2017 version Pit of Kutallu.

When Michael reviewed the full rule book the overall impression I came away with was ambivalence towards the game but then Michael is not a real Conan fan. Conan was my way into RPGs in the first place.

So putting the 2d20 system aside (more about that later) how has Conan and Hyboria been treated? With the greatest respect is my impression. The books are littered with vignettes taken from Robert E. Howards original works and these set the scene and bring the setting to live. The quick start book even starts with an essay on what is canon and who Howard’s creation was taken and expanded upon.

I have read through two adventures; Pit of Kutallu, which showcases the dark Cthulhu-esque shared background of Hyboria and To Race The Thunder which is set on the very edges of Aquilonia.

I may be somewhat biased here but these adventures are written in the same style as I tend to write my own. I am not a lover of maps and room by room descriptions. These adventures describe challenges or encounters and the GM may use or ignore them as they see fit or are needed to challenge the players. There is another quality to them and this is ‘relative encounters’.

‘Relative Encounters’

In many classic published adventures; a location will be described and then you are told there are 5 guards stationed here, what they are carrying and any treasure. When the PCs roll up they meet or avoid the guards depend on their choices. These static encounters have the danger of being over powered or under powered depending on the make up of the party. We play a game based upon dice and random things happen.

All the adventure encounters in these publications use a more relative way of describing the numbers encountered such as ‘one less than the number of characters’ or ‘three times the number of characters plus two more’. It doesn’t matter how many characters are in the party, the danger level of the adventures self-regulates. I don’t know if this is a Conan ‘thing’ or just a modern adventure writing ‘thing’, either way it is excellent and I will adopt it for all my future adventures.

Another feature, this may just be because the sample I have looked at are intended to be single shot adventures, but NPCs are designated as being suitable for use as PCs. Should a player die in the game session they can take up the reins of one of these NPCs to complete the adventure. This points to the adventure being well written. It also gives the GM a free hand relating to danger. I am not a ‘killing’ GM. I do not go out of my way to stack dangers against the PCs. At the same time I like to let the dice fall where they may. I am running a game set in the Forgotten Realms right now and the party have two possible options for raising a fallen character, both of which are single use, one is a scroll and the other will be consumed when used. Giving them that ability means that my hands are free to play my monsters and NPC opponents to the best of their ability. Seeding the adventures with potential pregen characters also frees up the GM.

So, as published Conan is a 2d20 system but Modiphius also publish a d20 to 2d20 conversion document to help those moving from the Mongoose Conan game. WotC incidentally publish a D6 to d20 conversion guidelines document relating to the StarWars franchise. This means that junking the 2d20 system, the only element that I don’t like, and adopting either d20 or an OpenD6 system are viable options. My D6 bookshelf has grown to 5 books now and I like what I am reading.

Conclusion

So will I buy Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of core book? It is a relatively cheap book and certainly good value for money at nearly 500 pages. I think this is a good possibility and kills two birds with one stone, to use the cliché, I could tempt my main group of players with Conan and feed them the D6 system at the same time. So right now Conan is on my ‘I want to play’ pile.

Review: Kobold Quarterly #21

Kobold Quarterly #21 I’m a bit late to the game, but I had a chance to read my very first issue of Kobold Quarterly, which provides content for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, Pathfinder by Paizo, and Green Ronin’s AGE System.

The magazine is reminiscent of Dragon back when you could still get it in print. Much of the material has a similar bent: new classes, in-depth monster articles, scads of new magical items, and it looks like Skip Williams is still answering your rules questions! There is also a letters section, which I have always enjoyed in my magazines.

Let’s touch on some of the articles, shall we?

The Shaman by Mark Radle, art by Rick Hershey

Any class that lets you examine the entrails of animals for a bonus to saving throws is pretty decent in my book! Overall I enjoy this Pathfinder take on a shaman character, though I feel it steps too heavily on the druid in a lot of ways. Is it necessary for every nature-based class to have Wild Empathy, Woodland Stride, Wild Shape, and an animal companion? I do see it a lot. The shaman seeks to spice it up a bit, at least, by making the companion a spirit rather than a normal woodland creature. Also, the class’s use of spontaneous casting seems odd given its otherwise ritualistic nature (with many of its abilities taking rounds or minutes to complete).

I enjoy playing druids, though, and would happily play this in lieu of one. The abilities that do distinguish it from the druid (Blood Divination, Commune with Spirits, Whispers of the Spirits, etc.) are superb. I would just like to see more of them!

Daughters of Lilith by Sersa Victory, art by Claudio Pozas

Unfortunately I just couldn’t get into this article on the ecology of the succubus. Sometimes, when something mysterious is laid bare (no pun intended), it loses its allure. Sersa’s article is an earnest effort at a detached, scholarly interpretation of the life and times of a sex demon in all its unpleasant detail. I’d say it succeeds, yet for that very reason it fails to grab me.

One truly cool thing, though: the Infernal Conspiracy gambit. Once per tier, your character can basically say, hey, that person over there is a succubus who is friendly to my cause. That’s really damn neat. Are gambits a thing? If so, I’ve completely missed them.

It’s a Mystery by Zeb Cook, art by Emile Denis and Jeremy Mohler

These are the kinds of articles I live for, and it is without a doubt my favorite in the whole magazine. I’ve been working on a few off-kilter religions in my own campaign world(s), trying to distinguish them from being "just another pantheon," and this piece is full of invaluable advice. Secret religious and philosophical societies are awesome. Zeb discusses what some underlying motivations for these cults might be, how to join, and the implications of being in one.

I’ll be putting most of the advice in this article to use very soon, I imagine!

Of course, there are several other articles in the issue, including a look at why monotheism isn’t prevalent in fantasy games, and spellcasting backgrounds for the AGE system. Despite a few personal quibbles here and there (nothing is perfect, after all), I  enjoyed this issue and would recommend it to anyone playing one of the three games covered. I look forward to seeing more AGE material within the pages of Kobold Quarterly, and might even break out my Dragon Age box set once more!

Note from the Editor: You can buy this issue of Kobold Quarterly directly from the KQ store for $5.99 (PDF only) or $8.99 (Print+PDF).