Sunday, 4 September 2016

We play Mutant: Year Zero

This weekend was the annual convention of the BURPS, the Brighton University Roleplaying Society. While I have not had the privilege of attending that august institution, I was able to participate in their annual RPG reunion, which is what it is really. This year it was held at the Dice Saloon in Brighton, which I would heartily recommend you visit if you are interested in gaming, and happen to be down in Sussex. It is certainly growing on me as a gaming venue.

I signed up for two games this year, both of which I was curious to try out. I generally take the opportunity to play new games at cons, which I'm interested in getting a feel for. My first ever game of WFRP was held at Dragonmeet back in 2000, IIRC.

This post really relates to my first experience with Mutant Year Zero, from Modiphius. It is a post-apocalypse setting, many, many years after the downfall of human civilization. We played a group of inhabitants of the Ark, which was a community of about 200 souls living on the old Brighton Pier. MY0 characters are distinguished by their specialisms, hence we had a fixer, a junk head (mechanic), an enforcer (combat monkey), a chronicler of some kind (a historian who was meant to be able to provide us with intelligence on artefacts and knowledge of the by-gone era of the Ancients) and myself playing a stalker (scout). We also had a slave.

It is interesting to note that in our Ark, most of the population were slaves. It functioned as a sort of oligarchy. As a stalker, my character was one of the few with experience of traveling in the wilderness, capable of leading our party to its destination. In this case, we were tasked with finding another settlement called Deepwood, which was rumoured to have access to large supplies of gunpowder. We were to see if we could locate this group and negotiate a trade deal.

Our slave was played as a player character: he was the property of the fixer, but it was interesting how the two of them interacted, and indeed how the slave character worked his own agenda, on a couple of occasions finding and secretly keeping artefacts from the rest of the group.

Note: MY0 has a campaign component that allows players to help plan and manage the progress of their settlement. This sounds very interesting, in that it provides more purpose to the adventures, and is reminiscent of King Arthur Pendragon. However, as a one shot game, it does not work as well, as this part of the setting goes by the wayside.

MY0 uses d6 dice pools, essentially combining dice from core attributes, skills, other abilities (e.g. my stalker's capability with tracking and navigation, which gave him an additional 2D) and kit. So, in my case, my character had a pair of scrap binoculars (made from other bits and pieces rather than original ones) which added 1D to rolls where he was using them.

You only require one 6 result to succeed. If you don't have any successes, you can push the roll, by re-rolling. This time around, however, if you receive any 1 results, bad things can happen. A 1 on your gear die, for example, can cause that item to malfunction. The enforcer character, for instance, rolled a 1 on his gear die while using a rifle in a fight with Zone Ghouls, which caused it to jam. The junk head was not able to fix it, so it became a club.

Bullets are the main currency in the game: not only are they used as ammo in firearms, but buying equipment, food and shelter also requires them. Having said that, players need to keep careful track of food and petrol too, as this can be a useful trading commodity, and is consumed quickly as you travel across country.

MY0 does feel a little bit like a traditional hex crawl game, in that the map of the region you are located in is an important part of the whole game. We were using a very nice map of post-apocalyptic Sussex, which I suspect was home made and is not commercially available. For example, our encounter with the Zone Ghouls took place in Newhaven! In a campaign, I expect players are meant to gradually explore the area as they pursue the objectives of their settlement. Encumbrance becomes very important in this game, as if you are traveling on foot, you are very limited in what you can carry. We used a boat to navigate along the coast for part of our quest, but once we set off inland, we quickly became more limited in our access to equipment. Stashing materiel as you go looks to be a useful tactic.

Artifacts from the Ancients is an entertaining part of the game - there seems to be a deck of artifact cards available from Modiphius, which I would heartily recommend. We found some useful items, like a fully-loaded assault rifle in an abandoned light house, an unopened can of Coke, a book, and even a bicycle. One character found some caffeine pills which allowed him to take most of the night watches, although he didn't tell us he had them. We became aware he was becoming more jumpy than usual.

All characters have access to mutant powers, which are powered by mutation points. For the most part they seem quite subtle - mine was improved reflexes. Mutation points can be gained if you push a roll - you are rewarded for taking the risk. If you push a roll and fail while using a mutation, however, you can acquire a NEW mutation. Sadly, this did not happen in our game, but I got the impression that the player does not have the choice of what that mutation might be...

Finally, there is a sister game to MY0 called Genlab Alpha, in which the players can be hybrid animal survivors. Some commentators speculate that this is a homage to another game, After the Bomb, published by Palladium Games in 1986. In our adventure, we learned from some dinosaur-riding explorers we encountered, that Deepwood was actually a community of human-hating rabbit hybrids! Sadly, we ran out of time and were not able to complete the adventure. This was partly because we spent so much time planning and equipping our expedition. Again, I don't think MY0 works very well as a one shot experience, but I was very pleased to have an opportunity to play it, and would be keen to take part if a longer campaign arc was ever on offer.

Some people may be in two minds about Genlab Alpha, but personally I think that sounds like fun too. Post-apocalyptic gaming seems to be enjoying a bit of a rebirth at the moment (one feels that the end of the Cold War nudged it to the back burner for a while there). Much of this new enthusiasm can be attributed to Fall Out and The Walking Dead, I suspect, but I'm glad to see it back with a vengeance!