Category Archives: Reviews & First Looks

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.

A Look At Awaken

Awaken_CoreA while back Zoltan Lečei from The Games Collective, a Croatian game developer,  contacted me and told me about their game Awaken which had been successfully funded by Kickstarter in 2015. Awaken is a Dark Fantasy Roleplaying Game with awesome artwork and an intriguing setting. Over the last few days I have been leafing through the book multiple times and I have to admit, I like what I am seeing.

The 217-paged book (Disclaimer: Zoltan provided me with a free PDF copy) is a sight to behold. What immediately becomes obvious that a lot of time and effort were put into the look of the game. As I mentioned before the quality of the exterior and interior art is awesome. Same goes for the layout. I’ve included a couple of art pieces from the book as examples throughout this post.

Awaken_BloodRitual

The game itself focuses on the Vasalli, people who spontaneously developed powerful abilities which go along with minor cosmetical changes. The supernatural powers of the Vasalli are said to be a gift from God, but their usage comes at a price. Vasalli unable to control their powers get corrupted in mind and body.

The setting is the Alliance of the Great Cities, eleven nation-states situated on a large peninsula, which barely survived a war against the underground-dwelling Vargans. These very-same Vargans have now returned and are a threat to the Alliance once more.

Awaken_Liboria

From what I’ve seen so far Awaken takes inspiration from many sources. The Vasalli are somewhat reminiscent of the Exalted. The Vagrans remind me of Dragon Age’s Darkspawn. The rules and some of the concepts are cleary inspired by White Wolf’s Storyteller games, but instead of using ten-sided dice, Awaken uses pools of d6. There are also huge colossi created by terrible rituals which transform multiple Vassali into one huge creature giving up their lives and individuality in the process – body horror at its finest.

Even though some inspirations seem obvious, from what I’ve seen so far, Awaken manages to mold everything into a coherent setting combined with a set of simple rules. Unfortunately I haven’t had the time to read the game thoroughly or even play it, but I looks intriguing enough to warrant a closer look.

Awaken_Battle

If you are into dark fantasy settings there are currently many games to choose from. Aside from Awaken, there’s Dragon Age, Shadow of Esteren, Symbaroum and many, many more. What speaks most in favor of Awaken is the awesome artwork, an interesting setting which is its own thing despite being inspired by many sources and the rules-light mechanics. Of course there are also a couple of problems. The book definitely needs some more editing. I noticed several small typos, and sometimes it becomes obvious that the texts were not written by native speakers. But my first impression of the book is definitely positive.

Again I have to stress this is not a proper review, since I haven’t had the chance to really get into the finer details of both Awaken’s setting or rules. I can only recommend that you check out Awaken for yourself. You can get the game in print or digital form from the official website or from RPGNow for $19.99 (PDF) or $49.99 (Hardcover) respectively. There’s a also a Print+PDF deal for $49.99.
If you want to check out what Awaken has to offer, there’s also a free (or rather PWYW which includes free) quickstart PDF.

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.