Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 16 September 2018

The Symbaroum Campaign I

In comparison to many other roleplaying games, the pattern of support for 
Symbaroum, the near-Dark Ages fantasy roleplaying game from Swedish publisher, Järnringen, distributed in English by Modiphius Entertainment, has been to focus primarily on scenarios. The Copper Crown, Adventure Pack 1 in the Symbaroum: Gamemaster Screen, and Adventure Pack 2 have supported the roleplaying game with an array of interesting and challenging scenarios. The exception to this is, of course, Symbaroum’s only supplement, Advanced Player’s Guide, but the amount of content to play ramps up with the release of Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden

Published following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden is actually the inaugurial part of Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns, a seven-part campaign! In actuality, not all of the book is devoted to the campaign itself. It is divided into three sections. The first provides a description of Thistle Hold and its unhappy neighbour, Blackmoor; the second an expanded section for the Game Master on a variety of matters; and the third the start of campaign in full. It should be noted that the first section, devoted to Thistle Hold and Blackmoor, is designed to be accessed by the players, especially those players with characters who have been moving in and out of Thistlehold for a while and got to know their way around and a little of people’s attitudes (and in the process, have earned the fifty Experience Points needed to play the campaign). The rest of the book is very much for the Game Master’s eyes, for not does it contain the first part of the campaign, it also reveals secrets about Thistle Hold—and beyond!

The first section is ‘The Hunter’s Harbour’, which expands upon the description of Thistle Hold in the core rulebook, which focuses upon the fortified town’s taverns, inns, places of entertainment, and the like as well as various trading establishments. This focus is intentional, since it reflects life for many in the town, for most go out to eat and drink rather than do so at home. Certainly this is the case for the many treasure hunters who have struck it lucky with a find in the Davokar forest and want to enjoy their new found wealth instead of spending time in their rented rooms. So, there is a range of malted beers to be had at the Brew and you can eat cheaply and tastily from the offal menu at the Slaughterhouse; games of chance and strategy can be played and bet upon at Benego’s and bets can also be placed on Fight Day at the Abomitorium where fights between gladiators and beasts dragged from Davokar are staged; the wealthy and the well-behaved can stay the Court and Harp where Queen Korinthia stayed or if you are lucky and wealthy, stay at the Winged Ladle, the inn built into the crown of a tree! Establishments where the welcome matches the price are also available. Also detailed are the important organisations and factions in town—the Sun Temple, the Merchants’ House, the Monastery of the Twilight Friars, the town seat from where Mayor Lasifor Nightpitch and staff govern Thistle Hold and access to Davokar, and so on. Many of these factions and organisations have a role to play in the Wrath Of The Warden campaign.

Where the description of Thistle Hold adds to and builds upon material contained in the core rulebook, Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden expands beyond the frontier town’s palisades to gives details about Blackmoor. This is essentially a suburb of Thistle Hold, a tent town where those who cannot afford to live or trade behind its wooden walls. Without Thistle Hold’s regulations, Blackmoor has a deserved reputation for lawlessness and a higher turnover of residents, but there are some sections where order is kept. The description of both Thistle Hold and Blackmoor runs to just over twenty pages, but this is only the publicly available information, including updated maps of both locations. There is more information in the Game Master’s section—‘In the Shadow of the Beacon’—which reveals the secrets of each of the new locations, mostly minor secrets, and mostly tied up in Thistle Hold’s relatively short past, but included are one or two major secrets to Symbaroum and its setting that should be all but impossible for the players and their characters to ever learn. The players and their characters may encounter some of these secrets, certainly some of the mysteries to Symbaroum in the course of the campaign.

The other two parts of the Game Master’s Section discuss ‘Goal Orientated Roleplaying’ and provide a host of supplementary mechanics. The latter, whether the monstrous trait of Fire Breath, the Raise Undead ritual, an array of artefacts, or the rules for conducting research or handling fleeing and following, are not actually new. They previously appeared in Adventure Pack 1, but are reprinted here because they pertain to the Wrath of the Warden part of the campaign. If the Game Master does not have Adventure Pack 1, then their inclusion is undeniably useful, but if she does, there is an undeniable redundancy to this section. ‘Goal Orientated Roleplaying’ is new though, and looks at the type of adventure or scenarios where the players and their characters set out to achieve objectives such as establishing outposts and going on expeditions into the Davokar Forest. Five steps—or phases—are discussed for each and these are designed to work with the suggestions and tables found in Adventure Pack 1 for going on treasure hunts. To accompany these new guidelines, two sets of ruins are included as possible goals or objectives for the player characters. One is a former villa, the other small castle and estate, both quite rich in terms of the loot to be found, but both nasty pockets of corruptions and danger. Of the two, the castle is more involving and presents more opportunities for roleplaying, but both are easy to drop into an ongoing campaign. Like the start of the campaign which follows the Game Master’s Section, neither is designed for inexperienced characters. That said neither is suited for inclusion in Wrath of the Warden, but could be used prior to the Game Master starting the campaign.

The last section in Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden is the start of the campaign proper. As the opening part of the Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns campaign, Wrath Of The Warden has some requirements. First, it is not designed for new characters. Instead, they should have at least fifty Experience Points each. Second, they should have the reputation of being prepared to deal with the evils of the Davokar Forest that sometimes beset the town. Third, they should have played through the scenario, ‘The Mark of the Beast’, from The Copper Crown. If successful, this should have favourably established their reputation. In fact, playing through the whole of ‘The Chronicle of the Copper Crown’—consisting of ‘The Promised Land’ from Symbaroum Core Rulebook and ‘The Mark of the Beast’ and ‘Tomb of Dying Dreams’ would go some way to providing the fifty Experience Points needed to be ready to play Wrath Of The Warden.

More than half of Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden is dedicated to the first part of the campaign. Like the previous two sections, it is divided into three parts, in this case, three acts. Of these, the first and third are quite linear in structure, the second and middle much more open with the player characters being left to decide what actions they want to take, lines of enquiry they want to follow, and who they want to speak to. Although there are several diversions and plot threads which will take them outside of Thistle Hold, for the most part, the bulk of the action takes place within its wooden walls. At its most basic, this part of the campaign concerns itself with the fate of a potential new patron who promises much if the player characters come to work for her. Unfortunately, a great disaster strikes Thistle Hold and this patron goes missing. Finding her will lead the player characters to come into contact with the great and good, the greedy and the ambitious, and the dissolute and the driven of Thistle Hold, many of them the town’s notables. The good news is that many are willing to help, though they might have a task for the adventurers in the meantime, which leads to a wide variety of tasks to undertake and things to do. The bad news is there are factions in the town who do not want them to succeed. 

Even during the linear acts of Wrath of the Warden, there is a good mix of action and roleplaying, but this really ramps during the middle act, combining it with a strong investigative thread. The Game Master should have fun too, as she will have a good sized cast to portray from all walks of life. The campaign also fairly detailed, it will require no little preparation upon the Game Master’s part, especially the second act, which makes very good use of the content presented earlier in the book. To facilitate the investigation, the campaign also comes with a handful of very nicely produced handouts, though it will probably be a good idea if one of the players takes notes the campaign proceeds.

With so many NPCs to be found in the campaign, it might have been useful for there to have been a set of portraits to show the players. The other thing which is missing is a good clue tree. There is a flow chart, but this feels clumsy and linear, not really effective as it needs to be to support the sandbox aspect of the otherwise strong middle act. The advice could have been stronger for what the Game Master needs to do should her players take their characters deviate wildly from the linear flow chart.

Physically, Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden manages to both impress and depress. Impressively, the book is laid out in Symbarom’s house style in full colour and illustrated with some stunning pieces of art. Not all of this art is new, but as it does provide superb depictions of Thistle Hold, this is less of an issue that it might have been. A nice physical touch is that it includes two bound bookmarks, which makes marking important information a little easier. Depressingly, Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden is not so badly edited as dreadfully localised. There are some very clumsy turns of phrase in the supplement’s writing, which are highly indicative of the publisher’s need for a professional English language editor.

Even at its most basic, Thistle Hold – Wrath Of The Warden expands greatly upon the settings of Thistle Hold and Blackmoor and there are secrets here enough for the Game Master to weave into her campaign and add mystery aplenty. The material also provides solid support, in conjunction the content in the core rulebook, for Wrath of the Warden which follows. Wrath of the Warden is rich and meaty in terms of content, grim and perilous in terms of tone, providing multiple sessions of roleplaying as well as setting everything up for the next part of the Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Idolatry not Ideal

Marked ‘Module 1’, Idol of the Orcs was the first official scenario to be published by Goblinoid Games for use with its retroclone, Labyrinth Lord. As the first release, it is a low level adventure, an introductory adventure, one with a familiar set-up and a familiar Dungeons & Dragons enemy. Designed for characters of between First and Third Levels, it takes place in a region recently beset by surprisingly well organised Orc attacks upon local farms and passing travellers. The adventurers are charged with the task with striking at the Orcs in order to put an end to this menace, their having been tracked back to the Caverns of the Sacerns.

The blurb on the front hints that there is something behind the Orc activities, a sinister voice giving the tribe instructions from the darkness, a demonic force which lies at the heart of the Orc lair. This is the first of several clever ideas and elements contained within the pages of Idol of the Orcs, but between them are long strands of somewhat bland game play that detract from the scenario’s cleverness. The cleverness comes in the form of just four rooms or encounters—and that across three levels of a dungeon and some forty locations. The first of these is how the Orcs are getting their new found direction. At the end of their lair is a cave with a demonic idol and it is this which has been giving them orders and advice in return for sacrifices and worship. Yet the idol is simply a statue and a hollow one at that, and there is somebody inside giving that advice in a nice nod to The Wizard of Oz. Take that one step further and then that somebody is not actually evil just desperate, which sets up a good roleplaying scene for both the Labyrinth Lord and her players. The other rooms involve a strange magical item which gives out some random effects, some beneficial, others not; a mysterious encounter with a drowning person; and an inflammatory final experience in a chapel. There are of course other rooms and encounters to be found throughout the dungeon, but these are of lesser interest and between them there is much tramping around and various fights which do not really matter.

Rounding out the scenario is a pair of appendices. The first of these is Appendix A, which gives ‘Suggestions For Better Game Play’. This gives advice on handling treasure, both monetary and magical, how to be better dungeon explorers, to be prepared, and to know when to quit. It is solid advice, perhaps even familiar advice to more experienced players, but anyone coming to Labyrinth Lord—and thus Dungeons & Dragons-style play—for the first time, it is useful. The second appendix, Appendix B, provides seven pre-generated adventurers of First and Second Level, all very easy to use.

Idol of the Orcs is well written, the illustrations are good, and the burgundy and white trade dress is singular and attractive. The maps are also clear and easy to read, although terribly inspiring in their design. One definite issue is with the Rumours Table, which lists sixteen rumours and then provides a method for rolling them that makes some impossible to learn. (The Labyrinth Lord should not double the roll of an eight-sided die, but add eight instead, or simply add four more rumours so that she can roll a twenty-sided die instead.)

There is a longstanding piece of advice that when writing a review that the reviewer does not tell the author how said reviewer would have designed the thing being reviewed. This reviewer and this review will adhere to that advice. Instead, it will make some suggestions as to how make Idol of the Orcs a more interesting adventure and a more enjoyable adventure for the Labyrinth Lord and players alike. First, lay some clues pointing towards a change in the raiding pattern of the Orcs, from disorganised sorties to well planned attacks, to suggest a change in their behavior and so add a mystery to the campaign. Ideally, these should be placed around and about the caves where the Orcs have their hideout. Second, add some clues about the caverns and their use prior to the Orcs occupying them. This should be hints and rumours rather than anything definite. Third, let the player characters encounter an Orc raiding party and learn something from it. Perhaps one of the Orcs lets slip about its new master or the Orcs seem particularly cunning… Fourth, change the profession of the clue giver from a midwife—after all, what player character in a Dungeons & Dragons-style adventure is in the habit of visiting a midwife? Five, give the players and their characters the chance to explore the rumours presented in the introduction. Sixth, add some clues in the dungeon to the secrets of the deeper levels. Seventh, add some more of the interesting rooms that are the highlight of the adventure. There are probably more things which could be done to Idol of the Orcs to make it an interesting and exciting adventure, but these are just some starting points for a Labyrinth Lord wanting a fixer-upper.

Ultimately—and as written—it is impossible to really recommend Idol of the Orcs as a first scenario for Labyrinth Lord—or any other retroclone. Its set-up is underdeveloped, its dungeons are linear and simplistic, and there really no reward for the player characters to go deal with the threat which triggers the adventure. Perhaps though, it could serve as a project for a Labyrinth Lord or Dungeon Master to develop into something more and work into a campaign setting of her own. Until then though, Idol of the Orcs is a disappointing first ‘Official’ scenario for a retroclone as solid as Labyrinth Lord.

Friday Filler: Movable Type

Movable Type: The Pick-and-pass word game for families, friends, and word nuts is the card game of drafting letters, spelling words, and winning letters to create one final game winning word, all whilst attempting to meet the challenge presented by an array of classic authors, from Ada Lovelace and Agatha Christie to Oscar Wilde and Lu Xun. Published by Uncanny Games following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Movable Type is designed to be played by between one and six players in roughly twenty-five minutes or so. In actuality, it is designed for two to six players, but the rules do include a solo variant.

The consists of some one-hundred-and ten cards. These consist of seventy-six Letter Cards and nine Vowel Cards, nineteen Author Cards, five Round Tracking Cards, and one Solo Game Card. The Letter and Vowel Cards are clearly marked with their letter and vary in point value from one for A, E, I, and O up to six for J and K. Each Author Challenge Card is nicely illustrated with a portrait of the author and provides either an extra letter, an extra syllable, or an action. So for example, the Johannes Gutenberg Author Challenge gives a player the letter L to add to his collection if he plays a twelve letter word; the Louisa May Alcott Author Challenge allows a player to add the top card from the deck to his collection if he plays a word shorter than anyone else; and the H.P. Lovecraft Author Challenge gives a player the ING vowel to add to his collection if he plays a word without any vowels in it! (The designer, of course, getting to make some literary jokes here.)

Movable Type is played over five rounds. In the first four rounds, each player receives a hand of five Letter Cards. He chooses one of these cards and places it face down in front of him. He then passes his hand to neighbouring player—the direction changing from round to round—and receives a hand from his other neighbouring player. Players continue drafting and passing the cards until they have five Letter Cards in front of him. At the end of the drafting process, each player attempts to spell a word using both the letters they drafted and some of the common letters and vowels on the table. Anyone can use these common letters in their word and they can also use letters twice if they appear as doubles in the word. Once everyone has revealed and scored their word, the player with highest scoring word gets to draft any of the letters on the table into his collection. Then the player with next highest scoring word gets to draft any of these letters and so on and so on down to the player with the lowest scoring word. If a player’s word fulfills the conditions of an Author Challenge Card, he takes the appropriate card too.

Over the course of the first four rounds, each player is trying to win as many Letter Cards and Author Challenge Cards as they can to add to their collection. It is these cards which each player will use to spell out a word in the fifth and final word in the game’s last round. There is an extra challenge here in that a player cannot look at the cards in his collection once they have been added to it—he has to rely upon his memory as to what his collection contains until the fifth round when he can use them. The player with the highest scoring word created using the Letter and Vowel Cards in his collection in the fifth round wins the game.

Physically, Movable Type is simply, if handsomely presented. The cards are of decent quality and easy to read, whilst the Author Challenge Cards are pleasingly done and themed. The rules are easy to understand and easy to teach. The solo variant is played against a separate Author Challenge Card, called the Brontë Sisters Solo-Bot, in which a player attempts to play cards which outscore the sisters who get the Letter Cards that the player does not use. The playing time is the same as the full game, but the rules and mechanics are actually more complex. It should be noted though, that like most word games, having a dictionary to hand to settle any word disputes is a necessity.

To be fair, Movable Type is not going to be a game for everyone. After all, not everyone is good at spelling or enjoys it. The likelihood is that players who are will have an advantage over those who are not. Movable Type is unlikely to be a game for the latter, whilst the former will doubtless enjoy it. The game is light enough for casual players to enjoy and challenge enough for more experienced players to play at the same level.

Initially, the play of Movable Type is counter intuitive as it would seem that a player’s word score from round to round should add up to something, perhaps a final total at the end of the game. That it does not—through the drafting mechanic, the Author Challenge Cards, and the hidden Letter Cards—actually lifts what would otherwise be a simplistic and obvious word game into a design with some depth, providing an extra level of challenge and thoughtful play. Movable Type: The Pick-and-pass word game for families, friends, and word nuts presents an interesting twist upon spelling and word games and should appeal to ardent and casual gamers who like both. 

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Other OSR: Classic Fantasy

It is impossible to ignore the influence of Dungeons & Dragons and the effect that its imprint has had on the gaming hobby. It remains the most popular roleplaying game some forty or more years since it was first published, and it is a design and a set-up which for many was their first experience of roleplaying—and one to which they return again and again. This explains the popularity of the Old School Renaissance and the many retroclones—roleplaying games which seek to emulate the mechanics and play style of previous editions Dungeons & Dragons—which that movement has spawned in the last fifteen years. Just as with the Indie Game movement before it began as an amateur endeavour, so did the Old School Renaissance, and just as with the Indie Game movement before it, many of the aspects of the Old School Renaissance are being adopted by mainstream roleplaying publishers who go on to publish retroclones of their own. Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, published by Goodman Games is a perfect example of this. Other publishers have been around long enough for them to publish new editions of their games which originally appeared in the first few years of the hobby, whilst still others are taking their new, more contemporary games and mapping them onto the retroclone.

Classic Fantasy: Dungeoneering Adventures, d100 Style! is an example of a publisher taking an existing roleplaying game and mapping it back onto the roleplaying game designs of the Old School Renaissance. Published by The Design Mechanism, it is a supplement for use with Mythras, the set of rules previously published as RuneQuest 6, and now presented as a streamlined version of Basic Roleplaying, the skills based, percentile system derived from RuneQuest which would be used in a wide variety of roleplaying games. One important aspect of Mythras is that it includes Passions—loyalties, beliefs, and feelings towards someone or something, that are again measured as percentiles and which work in a similar fashion to the Personal Traits of the King Arthur Pendragon RPG. In essence, Mythras can be described as a ‘Skills & Passions’ percentile, simulation roleplaying game, designed to handle detail and grit in its gameplay, but without being overly complex.

Thus, Classic Fantasy: Dungeoneering Adventures, d100 Style! is designed to take the percentile system of Mythras and map it onto the Class and Level set-up of Dungeons & Dragons and its various iterations and interpretations. Which is most odd indeed, for arguably, what the original RuneQuest and thus Basic Roleplaying was designed to do was everything that Dungeon & Dragons did not. In Dungeons & Dragons, characters are defined by their role—or Class—and are restricted to the powers and abilities of their Class; characters acquire Experience Points from adventuring—killing monsters, finding treasure, and sometimes story awards too—which when the amount exceeds a set threshold, a character gains a Level and all of the benefits of that Level; and various elements of the game are abstract in nature, including Armour Class, Hit Points, and so on. In the first iterations of the venerable roleplaying game, only the Thief Class had specific skills! RuneQuest and thus Basic Roleplaying, used neither Classes or Levels; everyone had skills and could learn any skill given time, and they improved them by learning and doing, one skill at a time; weapon skills were learned weapon by weapon, armour protected a character against damage rather than made you harder to hit, with hit locations having Hit Points and being protected by pieces of armour; and of course, everyone had access to magic too in one form or another. All of which is possible in Mythras, but in order to do classic Class and Level fantasy, not all of this is possible in Classic Fantasy. What it does mean though, if your Ork Berserker has the ‘voice of an angel’, then he can learn to sing and improve his skill and does not have to become a Bard to do it! (Which of course is not allowed in Classic Fantasy…)

To create a character in Mythras, a player rolls dice to determine his character’s base attributes—Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, and Charisma. From these are derived several factors, including Damage and Experience Modifiers, Healing Rate, Height and Weight, Hit Points, and Strike Rank, plus Action Points, spent to act in combat, and Luck Points, used to give a character an edge, whether a dice roll, the mitigation of damage or unfavourable circumstances, or a vital advantage in combat. Each character also receives the same set of standard skills, the base value for each one determined by adding two attributes or doubling a single attribute. Then, the player takes his character through three steps. The first is to select the character’s Culture—Barbarian, Civilised, Nomadic, or Primitive; the second step his Career, the third his Bonus skill points. At each step a character receives a set number of points to assign to skills, either to a character’s standard skills or his professional skills, the latter type of skill, such as Commerce, Gambling, and Mysticism, gained after years of practice and learning. Some professional skills come from a character’s Culture; the others come from his choice of Class. A character’s choice of culture also determines the Classes available to him. Although the base values for both types of skills are determined by a character’s attributes, the granting of the same number of skill points throughout the process serves to balance character generation.

For the most part, character creation in Classic Fantasy follows these steps, but the first change is in selecting a Race. In Mythras, the default Race is Human, but like the roleplaying games of old, Classic Fantasy also offers Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, and Halfling as its other Races. The choice of Race will determine the number of dice to be rolled for Attributes and also the choice of Classes available. In some retroclones Race is treated as a character’s Class, but in Classic Fantasy, it is a character’s Culture. Humans have Barbarian, Civilised, Nomadic, or Primitive as their Culture and like the Cultures of the Demi-Humans, determines the choice of Classes to choose from. Where Humans gain an extra Luck Point and an extra Experience Roll in addition to the standard and professional skills from their Culture, Dwarves gain Magic and Poison Resistance, Infravision, and Tunnel Sense; Elves gain Infravision, Resistance to Sleep and Charm, Unaffected by Raise Dead, Stealthy, and Secret and Concealed Object Detection; Halflings gain Magic and Poison Resistance, Stealthy, and Exposure Tolerance (Feet). The other Races receive similar abilities modelling similar elements found in their design in retroclones.

Classic Fantasy offers twelve Classes—Bard, Berserker, Cavalier, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Magic-User, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Thief, and Thief-Acrobat. As well as standard and professional skills, each Class provides a Combat Style, a package of weapons in which members of the Class are trained—such as only honourable weapons for the Cavalier Class and daggers, darts, knives, slings, and staves for Magic-Users, and a number of Abilities and Talents. Some of the Talents are organised into Tiers and a character needs more Experience Rolls to select them. Where Classes in Dungeons & Dragons et al are organised into Levels, in Classic Fantasy they are organised into Ranks—and just the five per Class. Now Ranks are not Levels, representing progression in an organisation, such as a guild or order, rather than an abstract measure of achievement. To increase in Rank, a character needs to advance their Class’ five prerequisite skills, for example, the Ranger Class has Athletics, Channel, Combat Style (Ranger), Piety (Specific Nature Deity), and Stealth. These all need to be at 50% for a character to qualify for Rank 1, otherwise they remain Rank 0, and then at 70% for Rank 2 and so on… In some Classes, Rank is organised as a pyramid, so to progress, characters of those Classes will need to wait for a spot to open up.

In addition, all characters have Passions. During the process of generation, a character gains them from their Culture or Race, and then from their Class. One of these has to be a Moral Philosophy, either Good, Neutral, or Evil, to which a trait or two is attached. Some Classes require a strict Moral Philosophy, for example, a Druid must have Neutral (Respectful of Nature and Strives for Balance). Some Classes also require a character to take an oath and again, this is treated as a Passion. In this way, Passions model the morality of the Alignment systems to be found in various retroclones, but because they are measured as percentiles and can go up and down—depending upon how a player roleplays his character—they offer a more nuanced alternative.

Our sample character is Ned Smith, a simple blacksmith’s son from the town of Blaineford Forum. His older brother is more skilled than he is and so he has decided to search out fame and fortune elsewhere. He has decided to put to use the martial skills he learned as member of the town’s militia.

Ned Smith
Age: 18 Culture: Civilised
Fighter Rank 1

STR 18 CON 15 SIZ 14 DEX 11 INT 15 POW 12 CHA 14

Action Points: 3 Damage Modifier: +1D4 Experience Modifier: +1 Healing Rate: 3
Build: Medium Height: 182 cm Weight: 95 kg
Hit Points
Head 6 Chest 8 Abdomen 7 L. Arm 4 R. Arm 4 L. Leg 6 R. Leg 6
Luck Points: 3
Magic Points: 12
Healing Rate: 3
Movement Rate: 6
Experience Rolls: 1

Standard Skills:
Athletics 52%, Boating 33%, Brawn 52%, Combat Style (Fighter) 62%, Conceal 28%, Customs 70%, Dance 25%, Deceit 34%, Drive 28%, Endurance 50%, Evade 42%, First Aid 36%, Influence 33%, Insight 42%, Language (Common Tongue) 69%, Locale 35%, Perception 39%, Ride 28%, Sing 26%, Stealth 26%, Swim 33%, Unarmed 52%, Willpower 39%

Professional Skills:
Commerce 44%, Craft (Blacksmith) 41%, Lore (Military History) 40%, Lore (Strategy & Tactics) 50%, Streetwise 41%, Survival 47%

Armour Proficiency, Combat Proficiency, Weapon Specialisation (Axe) (+10%/+1 Action Point)

Moral Philosophy: Good (Helpful, Honest) 58%
Loyalty to Town/City (Blaineford Forum) 57%
Love (Mother) 56%
Hate (gang) 56%

Mail shirt & Coif (5 AP Head, Arms, Chest, Abdomen), Laminated Greaves (4 AP), Battleaxe (1d6+1), Dagger (1d4+1), Shortspear (1d8+1)

In the main, Classic Fantasy uses the mechanics of Mythras, but it adds to them in order to emulate its genre. This includes rules for locked and stuck doors, repairing arms and armour, searching rooms and finding secret or concealed doors, securing doors, traps—with several examples, visibility underground, and where to rest and recover. These all emphasise the dungeoneering aspects of the genre and thus Classic Fantasy. Instead of the Strike Rank system of Mythras, initiative is used in Classic Fantasy, but the primary change to the combat mechanics is to offer rules for miniatures combat. In effect, what these do is shift the mechanics of Mythras further away from the simulation of Basic Roleplaying to the wargaming roots of Dungeons & Dragons and thus the hobby.

Where in the roleplaying games that it is emulating have Experience Points, Mythras and thus Classic Fantasy, have Experience Rolls. As per Mythras, these are awarded by the Game Master at certain points in a campaign or at the end of a scenario and can be used by a player to improve any of his character’s skills. (In a traditional Basic Roleplaying game, they are earned skill by skill and only those skills which have earned an Experience Roll can be improved.) Although attaining a new Rank does not cost any Experience Rolls, some Classes do offer higher tier talents which cost more Experience Rolls to purchase. When a skill is improved, it will be increased by no more than five percentiles, which means that character improvement is relatively slow—although a Game Master can reward her players with more Experience Rolls for a faster game—and even slower in terms of rising in Rank. And that is if the player focuses primarily on his character’s five Class prerequisite skills necessary to raise in Rank.   

Mythras offers four types of magic—Folk Magic, Animism, Sorcery, and Thesim. Classic Fantasy offers just the two disciplines—arcane and divine, the first primarily the domain of the Magic-User, the latter primarily the domain of the Cleric. The Arcane Bard can also cast arcane spells, whilst the Druidic Bard, the Druid, the Paladin, and the Ranger can cast divine spells. Where magic and spells in most retroclones are Vancian in nature, essentially memorise, cast, and forget, Classic Fantasy offers a little more flexibility and a few more options. Arcane spellcasters still have to memorise their spells and divine spellcasters still have to pray to their deity, and spells are forgotten once cast, they require Magic Points to be expended and a skill roll to be made for a spell to be successfully cast. In addition, a spellcaster can increase the Intensity of a spell to increase its effect or its Magnitude to make it harder to disbelieve or dispel. Both cost extra Magic Points beyond the basic cost of casting. Many of the arcane and divine spells listed will be recognised as versions of those found in the Old School Renaissance and includes cantrips for the arcane spellcaster.

Similarly, the bestiary and the treasure section are full entries which will very familiar to anyone who has played Dungeons & Dragons or another retroclone. From the Red Dragon and the Kobold to the Bag of Holding and Girdle of Giant Strength, Classic Fantasy covers just about every standard a Game Monster would want to populate her dungeon (world) with and reward her players and their characters with, in turn providing a reinterpretation of each for the Mythras system. There are some new magic items too, like the Broom of Hostility and the Flagon of Curses, as well as guides for the Game Master to develop her own. Rounding out the supplement is a discussion of the cosmology common to retroclones and the deities of Greymoor, the implied setting for Classic Fantasy. This is useful if the Game Master is running a game not set in a specific world. Lastly, there is a set of encounter tables in an appendix.

Physically, Classic Fantasy is a decently presented black and white hardback book which echoes the look of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons core rulebooks. Numerous artists illustrate the book, some of the artwork being very good, some of it being rather cartoony. Another issue is that the tables—and there are quite a few tables in the book—are not always easy to read as the text is quite small. The only thing that is perhaps missing, is a conversion guide to Classic Fantasy the Old School Rennaisence.

Classic Fantasy: Dungeoneering Adventures, d100 Style! is designed as a reinterpretation of classic Class and Level fantasy roleplaying, reworking it to function using a percentile mechanic with more realistic combat and more nuanced spell casting. Yet given its core mechanics, it is a grittier and deadlier reinterpretation, and with its emphasis on skills and passions, it brings a greater sense of individuality and nuance to each and every character. Overall, Classic Fantasy: Dungeoneering Adventures, d100 Style! is the percentile retroclone with which to take Mythras down a dungeon to fight dragons and steal treasure, as it successfully brings the Basic Roleplaying mechanics to old style gaming.

Big Brew, Bitsy Box

In the past, small games tended not to offer a lot of game play, serving mainly as a filler in between longer, more in-depth games or as games to play with casual players. Not so with the ‘Microgame’, which originally appeared as mini-wargames such as Metagaming Concepts’ Ogre, MicroGame #1—first released in 1977 and since published by Steve Jackson Games in various formats—and with the growth in popularity of Euro games, has seen a revival of the format, most notably, the ‘Tiny Epic’ series from Gamelyn Games. These pack enough game play and depth into their boxes that it easy to imagine them having been as a standard big box games, but as Microgames, their components can be just as good (if much smaller), their game play can be as thoughtful, and they can be both far more portable and more inexpensive.

Microbrew is a Microgame which should appeal to gamers of a certain age and their love of beer—especially their love of craft beer from microbreweries. Thus, you have a small game about brewing small beers. Published by One Free Elephant, best known for Carcosa – A Lovecraftian board game of Cults and Madness, a version of Carcassonne infected by the Mythos, Microbrew is a two-player worker placement game with elements of pattern building and recognition. The two players lead rival brewing crews at a brewery, competing to brew, bottle, and serve beers to their thirsty customers. If they can brew and serve the right beer to the right customer—for every customer has his preferred beer—then they will not only make money, they will also ensure the loyalty of those customers.

Microbrew comes with quite a lot of components. These start with the four Copper Still cards, each player receiving two of these to form the Copper Still in which he will brew his beer. The Copper Still is marked with sixteen interconnected spaces divided into four equal columns (a fifth column can be added during the game). It will be filled with Wort tokens of varying strengths (Wort being the liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing of beer or whisky which is fermented by brewing yeast to produce alcohol) and by ‘brewing’ moving the Wort around in the Copper Still, a brewer will be able to match a recipe, more or less—hopefully more—that he can serve to his thirsty customers. Each Copper Still card also has a track for the amount of money a player has.

Between the players is the Brewery, again made up of two cards. It is marked with Brew, Bottle, Serve, Mash, Flush, Break, Advertise, and Manage Actions which a player can assign his workers to. There are two wrinkles here. One is that there is a Brewmaster in charge at the brewery and he constantly moves from the Manage Action to the Flush Action to the Advertise Action, and then back round again. When he arrives on one of these Actions, they automatically happen. The other is that when a player has placed a worker on an Action, it does not block that Action for the other player. If a player really wants to, then he can displace his opponent’s worker and take that Action, but this gives his opponent a chance to place his worker elsewhere, effectively giving him an extra action. This is a nice touch, providing a solution to the frustration of players being blocked from taking an action.

The Customer Cards all prefer particular types of beer, such as the Englishman’s love of English Milk Stout and the Jamaican’s like of Jamaican Tropical Stout, indicated by the particular recipe each card. When a Thirsty Customer is served a beer, he will pay a player money, the amount depending upon the quality of the beer and whether it included a favourite flavour, such as a sweet for the Scottish Wee Heavy. If a Thirsty Customer is served a beer which they rate as perfect—that is, matches their preferred beer—they become a Loyal Customer. If a Thirsty Customer was not served a perfect beer, he has had his fill of beer for this round, but will return the next round as a Thirsty Customer once again. It is possible to keep serving a Thirsty Customer imperfect beer from round to round in order to make money, but it is also a viable tactic to serve a Thirsty Customer an imperfect beer, not just for the money, but to force your opponent to serve an imperfect beer to another Thirsty Customer instead of the intended Thirsty Customer for whom they had the perfect beer and so prevent him from gaining them as a Loyal Customer.

The Recipe Cards are all marked with the four Worts they need from one column in a player’s Copper Still to be brewed perfectly. The fewer correct Worts a recipe has when served, the less money it will make for a player when served. Similarly, if there is a contaminant in the beer it will make less money. Each player usually has one Recipe Card which is kept secret, so that he has one potential perfect recipe he can serve, whilst there are at least three face up on the table that either player can attempt to brew.

The last cards are the Reputation Cards. These are objective cards, one of which is kept public, whilst each receives two to keep secret. Typically, they are fulfilled by brewing the most recipes of a particular flavour or acquiring Loyal Customers flying particular flag. If fulfilled, they score a player the equivalent of extra Loyal Customers at the end of the game.

Lastly, there are the wooden tokens. Most are the yellow, orange, and brown Wort tokens, but there are also Green Malting tokens which can clog up a Copper Still (one or more being added at the start of the game, depending upon the desired complexity); tokens to track a player’s money, a management token, upgrade tokens to add a fifth column to a player’s Copper Still, and three Workers per player. 

The rules pamphlet is double-sided and folds to fit in the game’s tin—like everything else. The tin is actually packed quite tightly with the components. It also forms a part of the game’s play too, Worts being drawn blind from it when a player needs to refill part of his Copper Still.

Game play itself is made up of Rounds divided into two phases. In the Work Phase, each player takes it in turn to place his Workers in the Brewery and take their Actions. In the Rest Phase, Workers return for reassignment, Customers served imperfect beer last round Thirsty Customers again, any Customers who became Loyal Customers and any recipes made last round are replaced, and the Management token moves to take a new action.

There are a number of Actions at the heart of the game which are essential to brewing beer. These are Brew, Bottle, and Serve. The Brew Action allows a player to move one Wort token in his Copper Still up or down, swapping places with the Worts above or below it. Dark Worts always want to settle, whilst light Worts always want to rise, and as long as there is a light Wort below it, a dark Wort can keep settling and swapping places. Equally, as long as there is a dark Wort above it, a light Wort can keep rising and swapping places. This allows a player to radically alter the arrangement of Worts in his Copper Still, his aim being to have Worts in a column match those on a Recipe Card—either in his hand or face up on the able. They do not need to match the order of Worts on the recipe card, just the colours. This is the puzzle element to Microbrew, a player having to arrange the colours or Worts on his Copper Still card to get a match with those on a recipe card.

To Bottle a beer, a player takes the Worts from one column of his Copper Still and places them on a Recipe Card, hopefully one where the colour of the Worts match as much as possible. Once a beer has been bottled, it has to ferment. Whenever a player uses on of his Workers to take an Action or passes because he no more Workers to place, each bottled beer ferments. This is simply the removal of one of the Wort tokens from the Recipe Card. When they are all removed the beer is ready to serve. Once served, the player keeps the Recipe Card, but cannot brew it again.

What this means that brewing takes time and fermentation. In game terms, at least six or seven Actions over two or three rounds, although this will speed up once either player hires a third Worker. It is also likely that a player will have more than the one recipe on the go—and one piece of advice tis that a player should always have a beer of any kind fermenting as it might not be the perfect beer that any of the Customers currently want, but it will gain you some money and money will buy you upgrade, new staff, and advertising.

Other Actions include Mash (draw more Worts blind from the tin to fill a player’s Copper Still), Flush (return all discarded Worts to the tin and then swap any from any from the player’s Copper Still—that is, not blind!), Advertise (draw an extra Loyal Customer and an extra Thirty Customer), Manage (Overtime—gain an extra Action; Three recipes—add Recipe Cards to a player’s hand and those face up; Hire Staff—add a third Worker), and Break (a player’s Workers use the vending machine and earn him money and all Customers who have had a beer become Thirsty Customers once again). The Overtime, Three Recipes, Hire Staff, and Upgrade Actions cost a player money.

Play continues Round by Round until the last card from the Customer Deck is drawn or all of the Customers are loyal to one player or the other. The player with the most Loyal Customers, including any extra from Reputation cards, is the winner, the amount of money serving as a tie breaker if needed. Game length is roughly between thirty and sixty minutes, probably towards the latter when first learning the game and if a second set of Microbrew is added to the first to allow for a three to four player game (although another two different sets of meeples will be needed if this done.)

Physically, Microbrew is impressive. For such a small game—physically, at least—the components are all nicely done, if of course, a bit small. This may make the game a bit fiddly in places to play, especially when manipulating the Worts in a player’s Copper Still. The rules pamphlet feels a bit light, but that is a more an issue with the amount of space there is in the tin. The rules do need a close read though, as the lack of space means that they are succinct and perhaps in places could have done with more of an explanation. The advantage to the small size is Microbrew is very portable and even when in play, takes up very little space.

There are essentially two paths to victory in Microbrew. One is brew the prefect beers, sell to the right Thirsty Customers and turn them into Loyal Customers. The other is sell imperfect beers as fast as possible, raise enough money to pay to Advertise and so gain more Loyal Customers and more potential Loyal Customers, but that methods gets more expensive, the more Loyal Customers a player has. Then of course, a player can switch back and forth between the two paths. The game has a strong puzzle/pattern recognition element in the manipulation of the Worts in a player’s Copper Still and getting that right can quickly set a player up with lots of fermenting beers and potential sales. The capacity for a player to undercut another player by selling an imperfect beer adds a nice tactical element to the game play, whilst the hidden Recipe and Reputation cards give a player something to work towards without his opponent being able to actively block him.

One Free Elephant has taken the theme of brewing beer and microbreweries and done a very nice job of applying that to Microbrew. Overall, Microbrew is packaged small, but does a big job of brewing beer and satisfying thirsty customers.


Currently, Microbrew is being funded on Kickstarter.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Friday Filler: Phaunt's Tower

Phaunt’s Tower is the first release from new publisher, Farsight Games, a scenario written for used with Swords & Wizardry White Box, but which could easily be adapted to Swords & Wizardry Continual Light or other Old School Renaissance retroclones. Designed to be played by a party of four adventurers of any Class, of between First and Third Levels, although a Fighter is an absolute must as the adventure involves a lot of combat, Phaunt’s Tower offers a single session or so of play and its fantasy is generic enough that a Dungeon Master can drop the adventure into a campaign of her own design.

The setting for Phaunt’s Tower is the town of Wherwest, best known as home of its liege lord, the high Level wizard, Phaunt. Indeed, his tall tower stands over and dominates the town. Each year, the town hosts the ‘The Festival of the Stones’, a day of dancing, competitions, drinking, and general merriment, including archery and grand melee contests at which Lord Phaunt hands out magical swords and bows as prizes. The player characters are free to engage in the contests or not, but after the contests have ended, they are approached by both Lord Phaunt and Captain Snodgard, the head of the town guard. Someone has been snooping around the wizard’s tower and both want the matter investigated. As that happens though, there is a huge explosion atop the tower and all chaos breaks loose! The adventurers have a new task—find out what happened and put a stop to it!

What follows is a hard fight to the top of the remains of Lord Phaunt’s tower, through wave after wave of demonic creatures, where a further mystery is to be found. The main encounters to be had involve combat, but alongside that, the scenario includes some interesting decision points where following one course of action may make the challenges faced by the player characters that little more difficult or when they have to make a moral choice. Perhaps the quirkiest encounter is with a sloppy Gelatinous Cube, but over all, the adventure is straightforward.

Phaunt’s Tower is not perfect. It needs another edit and it could do with further development, primarily of the town of Wherwest. In the introduction it states, “This is a town full of opportunities at every corner, adventure through every door and danger at every turn. Glory and gold awaits! That is, if you can get past your first night here.” Unfortunately, there is not enough information here to support that assertion and whilst this is the first scenario to be set in the town, it is a pity that more information could not have been provided as support. Further, whilst the two competitions included as part of ‘The Festival of the Stones’ do help the adventurers with the events to come, it is a pity that just the two competitions are given and very obvious ones at that. Certainly some social and some magical competitions could have been included, the latter especially given that Lord Phaunt is a wizard himself!

Besides the need for another edit, Phaunt’s Tower is decently produced and presented. The illustrations—also drawn and inked by the author—are reasonable enough, but the plans of the tower are really rather good.

Phaunt’s Tower needs more development in terms of the town of Wherwest, but the core adventure is solid enough to provide an evening’s worth of play. Perhaps the best aspect of the scenario is that a Dungeon Master can easily take that and drop it into setting of her own. This is a reasonable first adventure, but future releases from Farsight Games will need to be more sophisticated and provide more of a game.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Game Like It’s Another 1978

Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic is a barbarians and blasters, mutants and mayhem, AIs as gods, wetware as magic take upon Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Published by Goodman Games following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game takes the mechanics and set-up of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game maps them onto a post-apocalyptic future a la the 1978 genre pioneer, Gamma World. What this means is that the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game is a Class and Level game based on the d20 System, but which uses dice other the standard polyhedrals; that it is possible to play Level Zero characters going out on their first adventure to hopefully survive and return as First Level adventurers; and that it is compatible, so that characters from the one roleplaying game could visit the other and vice versa and the Game Master can mix and match content as is her wont.

The setting for the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game is Terra A.D.—Terra ‘After Disaster’—sometime in a future. Sometime in the past, a Great Disaster befell the world—perhaps a nuclear war, perhaps Ragnarok, perhaps the fall of Atlantis—and shattered its continents, its environments, its ecologies, and its civilisations. The world of Terra A.D. might have been our world once, but not it is geographically undefined, awaiting the input of the Game Master. Now many years later, Terra A.D. has been populated by a great number of new species, many of whom have achieved sentience and intelligence, including plants and animals. They have also acquired wondrous mutations which sometimes give them an edge in surviving the dangerous world of Terra A.D. with its ever-constant threat of mutagens and radiation which threaten to twist and alter their genomes even further. Other mutations are detrimental to their survival. Under the ever present ‘Sky Arc’ which glows night and day—though no moon—the descendants of the survivors of the Great Disaster venture out from the safety of their tribes and homes to explore the world of Terra A.D. They are at best Stone Age barbarians, but they are not stupid, for they know that within the ruins of the Ancients lie items of technology which will help them survive, help them defend against predators and rivals, and perhaps help them build a better life. They may find allies in secret societies known as Archaic Alignments, but they may find enemies for not all secret societies their aims.

The Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game has four Races or Genotypes—Pure Strain Human, Mutant, Manimal, and Plantient. Mutants—humans with mutations, Manimals—mutated intelligent animals, and Plantient—sentient, mutated plants, all have mutations where the Pure Strain Human does not. The Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game also treats Race—or Genotype—as Class, so that Mutant, Manimal, and Plantient are also Classes. For the Pure Strain Human, there are four Classes to choose from. These are the Sentinel, the Shaman, the Healer, and the Rover—roughly the equivalent of the Fighter, the Wizard, the Cleric, and the Thief. Sentinels are warriors with high Hit Points, extra attacks (eventually), and bonuses to understand artefact arms and armour. Shaman specialise in ancient lore and knowledge and serve an AI patron, who in return will grant wetware programs of great power as well as the Invoke Patron AI program. Healers have a greater understanding of the Ancients’ healing artefacts and can use natural remedies to heal others a little each day. Rovers have a knack for circumventing the computer secured doors and containers of the Ancients. All four Classes have an advantage when being recognised by AIs and all are lucky to varying degrees, able to recover the Luck a player will have his character burn to improve dice rolls and so on. 

Of the other three Classes, they can all suffer from Radburn and evolve by gaining or losing mutations if exposed to other mutagens. They can use ‘Glowburn’ to burn off points of their physical attributes to gain bonuses to their mutation rolls. Mutants can strike fear into their opponents because of their odd appearance and may be easily recognised by an AI Manimals have a natural attack, pack mentality, and are rarely recognised by any AI Plantients also have a natural attack, either thorns or spiny missiles, can emit pheromones to make others like them, and can easily hide in vegetation outside. Plantients are never recognised by any AI All characters have an Archaic Alignment and belong to a secret society of some type. All seven Classes only go up to Tenth Level.

Characters in the Mutant Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, just like in Dungeons & Dragons, have six Abilities – Strength, Agility, Stamina, Personality, Intelligence, and Luck, each rolled on three six-sided dice. These are rolled in strict order, because after all, life in Terra A.D. is simply tough. Each character has a birth sign, which indicates the situation when their Luck bonus comes into play, and a Genotype. If a character is a Mutant, Manimal, or Plantient, then a player gets to roll on an appropriate set of tables to determine their character’s appearance. Lastly, a quick roll determines whether the character is a hunter or gatherer, only sets their base equipment—wooden spear or leather sack respectively.

Our sample character is Fingy, a strong, but somewhat dim and unperceptive sentient plant or Plantient. When roused, he is probably as spikey as his appearance and when he does get into danger, well, he is lucky.

Zero Level Plantient
STR 16 (+2) AGL 10 STM 12
PER 06 (-1) INT 04 (-2) LCK 15 (+1)
Hit Points: 4
Saving Throws
Fortitude +0 Reflex +0 Willpower -1
Birth Sign: Eco-Bot
Luck Benefit: Hit Points
Weapon: Flint Dagger (1d4)
Equipment: Leather Sack, Leather Rucksack, Bone Necklace, Flint Dagger
Appearance: Cacti (Prickly Pear)

At this point of course, a character is only Level Zero. As in Dungeon Crawl Classics, what a player is supposed to do is roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through a Character Funnel. This is a generally nasty, deadly adventure, which surviving will prove a challenge. Those that do survive receive enough Experience Points to advance to First Level and gain all of the advantages of their Class. In terms of the setting, this is a’ Rite of Passage’ and in Mutants, Manimals, and Plantients, the stress of it will trigger ‘Metagenesis’, their DNA expressing itself and their mutations blossoming forth.

In Fingy’s case, he can zap enemies around him through the ground with electricity, sense enemies and others nearby by tasting the air, and he is fast. The electricity has probably made him jittery, but when he wants to, he can move so fast, he gets two actions per round. (This is represented by the extra action die, a second die that can be rolled to make another attack in a round.) 

First Level Plantient (Sprout)
STR 16 (+2) AGL 10 STM 12
PER 06 (-1) INT 04 (-2) LCK 15 (+1)
Hit Points: 10
Saving Throws
Fortitude +1 Reflex +0 Willpower +0
Birth Sign: Eco-Bot
Luck Benefit: Hit Points
Action Dice: d20+d16

Class Abilities: Fragrance Pheromones (gain 2 Luck per point spent, regenerate 2/day), Can’t See the Forest for the Trees (Hide in Greenery 50%), Radburn, Glowburn, AI Recognition (Never)
Archaic Alignment: The Atomic Equinox
Artefact Check: -1

Physical Mutations
Electrical Generation (Fingy’s feet glow and an electrical pulse shoots through the ground to the target)
Extra Senses (Long flicking, extensible tongue that tastes the air)
Increased Speed (Unable to remain still at rest or when sleeping, Move +20’)

Weapon: Flint Dagger (1d4), Thrown Thorny Spines (1d4)
Equipment: Leather Sack, Leather Rucksack, Bone Necklace
Appearance: Cacti (Prickly Pear)

Of the six core Abilities, Luck is the one that needs the most explanation. It is used for various different skill checks and rolls, for each character’s single Luck Benefit—for example, in the case of Fingy, to add to his Hit Points each Level. It also affects critical hit, fumble, and various other rolls. It can even be burned to gain a one-off bonus on a point for point basis. This though, is a permanent use and once used, it is gone. That said, some Classes do regain Luck and some can share it out too. 

Nearly a quarter of the book is devoted to mental mutations, physical mutations, and defects, of which there are some twenty-seven of each, plus eight each of the physical and mental mega mutations. Ranging from Amplimorph to Wings, Absorption to Time Stop, Asymmetrical Body to Weak Willed, the mutations are a mix of the active and the passive. Passive mutations have a one-time, permanent effect, both the effect and manifestation type—there being four per mutation—being rolled for when a character acquires them. So, for example, the Heightened Intelligence mutation might manifest as an overly large head, a completely hairless head and body, an atrophied body, or the character being an advanced future version of himself. To determine the effect, the character’s player rolls a mutation check roll on the accompanying table (there is a table for each mutation or defect) and might get a defect or a cosmetic change, or his Intelligence Ability might go up by between one and seven points and be able to work how artefacts work, and so on. With active mutations, this is rolled each time the mutation is used. So, for example, the Light Generation physical mutation enables a character to generate blasts of photons, which might manifest as the mutant’s hands flashing, his eyes shooting beams of light, his skin incandescing momentarily, or being surrounded by a ball of light which is then discharged at the target. Its effects range from it failing to work and causing a defect or simply failing to blinding someone temporarily, stunning targets, hypnotising them, and more.

A player can spend his character’s Luck to get a better effect for his mutation. He can also though, use ‘Glowburn’. Instead of burning Luck, he can choose to permanently burn points on a one for one basis from his character’s physical Abilities to improve a mutation check roll. This represents the damage done by the character have ingested small amounts of mutagens or radioactive materials to temporarily enhance his mutant ability.

Now essentially, the mutations in Mutant Crawl Classics work and use tables like the spells in Dungeon Crawl Classics. Referring to is okay when making a mutation check roll for passive mutations, but for active mutations, both player and Game Master are going to be referring to these tables quite a lot. This is because every time an active mutation is used, its effect varies enough not make it easy to note them down for easy reference.

Similarly, Shaman have tables to determine the manifestation and effect of their wetware programs. They gain such programs by pledging their service to a Patron AI and finding a more experienced shaman pledged to that Patron AI and who can initiate them. There are eight Patron AIs given in total, ranging from ACHROMA (Ad-hoc Computer Hierarchy with Recursive Optical Memory AI) and GAEA (Global Earth Array AI) to TETRAPLEX (Transcendent Extrapolating Term Research AI, Plexed) and UKUR (Universal Kinetic Underground Rail). Some of these AIs co-operate and so are categorised into three Alliances, the Mainframe of Order, the Grid of Net Neutrality, and the Mainframe of Entropy, which together can be seen as the nearest that Mutant Crawl Classics gets to the traditional Alignment of Dungeons & Dragons.

In return for his service to his Patron AI, a Shaman learns one basic program, Invoke Patron AI. He runs this to contact his Patron and in return is granted further wetware programs and potentially, other benefits. In addition, there is a chance of the Shaman gaining Taint from his association with his Patron AI. These vary from Patron AI to Patron AI, so with Invoke Patron AI, ACHROMA might grant a temporary Intelligence boost (which can be expended as Glowburn), holographic duplicates, advanced hacking abilities, and so on; but the effects of Taint cause the Shaman to become more computer-like. Like all Patron AI, ACHROMA grants three programs—Security Override, Artificial Intelligence Hack, and EMP, available at First, Second, and Third Level. There are a number of issues with this, the primary one being there no programs available once a Shaman reaches Seventh Level and beyond… The other one being a lack of choice in terms of the programs available, which limits the abilities and powers a Shaman has from session to session. Now the option would be to use the spells from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, but again there are issues with this. Mutant Crawl Classics does not provide a list of Dungeon Crawl Classics spells which are appropriate to each Patron AI and as much as the Arthur C. Clarke adage that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’—or in this case this reverse of it—applies here, the spells from Dungeon Crawl Classics do not have the feel of the wetware programs of Mutant Crawl Classics.

One thing all player characters have is an Archaic Alignment. These are not the Alignments of Dungeons & Dragons and its iterations, but rather semi-secret organisations with common belief systems, interests, and goals. All grant their members benefits, such as safe passage and hospitality for members of the Clan of the Cog. Other benefits are mechanical, so members of Children of the Glow—Mutants, Manimals, and Plantients—gain a +5 bonus to all mutation check rolls. Some nine Archaic Alignments are given, although three are open only to NPCs, such as The Gene Police and The Technorabble.

Mechanically, the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game uses the same rules as the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. It uses the basics of the d20 System, so it will be familiar to a wide array of gamers. There are some relatively minor differences, mainly in the use of Action Dice. To undertake an action, a player rolls an Action Die and adds to the result any of his character’s Attribute bonuses, Luck bonus, and Level bonuses that apply. This is usually against the base Difficulty Class of ten, with difficulties raising or falling by five. In most cases, the Action Die is a twenty-sided die, but this can change. Like the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game uses another seven in addition to those standard six. These are the three, the five, the seven, the fourteen, the sixteen, the twenty-four, and the thirty-sided dice. These are arranged in a ladder or ‘dice-chain’ that goes up from the twenty-sided die to the twenty-four-sided die and then to the thirty-sided, and down from the twenty-sided die to the sixteen-sided die and then to the fourteen-sided die and so on. So, characters gain a second Action Die at Fifth Level, which rises up the ladder as the characters gain new Levels, and this second Action Die can be used to make another attack in combat or another act.

Of course, a major aspect of the post apocalypse genre in roleplaying is the recovery and reuse of the technology of the past. The rules cover a diverse array of items, from arms and armour to vehicles and medical equipment as well as various tools and robots and AIs. The Game Master is given advice on the placement of such devices as well as how to describe them to the players in the way in which their barbarian characters would perceive them. To understand how to operate such devices, a player will need to make an Artefact Check for his character. This is a simple roll on a twenty-sided die rather than following a flowchart as in previous iterations of this roleplaying genre. A character’s Intelligence, Class, and Level will add bonuses to the roll, whilst a device’s Complexity Modifier will add a penalty. In general, a roll of 17 or more on the die will be enough to gain a basic understanding of any one device. This process takes time, a character examining a device in detail over thirty minutes or so, but in an emergency, a Combat Artefact Check can be done in a single Round of action. This is done without the benefit of any modifiers bar the Complexity Modifier and requires a point of Luck to be expended. Once one character knows how to use a device though, he can teach it to others with relatively little difficulty.

Given how weird the player characters can be, it is no surprise that the monsters of Terra A.D. are just as weird, such as the Cactacea Rex, a mutated cactus with a carapace and regeneration and the Tibbars, mutated rabbits with the ability to drain energy from living creatures and technological devices. They are feared for both this and the fact that that they have foul dispositions. Surprisingly few monsters are given in the pages of Mutant Crawl Classics, but they are enough to support the Game Master writing her own scenarios. Long-time fans of Gamma World will recognise some of the entries, such as the Glazkin and the Yvox, as updates of classics from that game. Others are very modern additions, such as Data Ghosts, Quantum Cats, and Tardigrades.

Optional rules are provided for crossing the settings of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game; Appendix ‘M’—instead of Appendix ‘N’ provides an appropriate list of reading and watching material; and ‘Assault on the Sky-High Tower’, a Level 0-1 MCC RPG Adventure provides a Rite of Passage for many Zero Level characters or a suitable encounter for Level One characters. It consists of a couple of relatively easy encounters before the characters explore a dungeon-in-the-sky, essentially an apartment. This is a funhouse sort of adventure with lots of detail, plenty of things to find, and a few things to fight. Survivors should certainly come home with artefacts of the Ancients enough to pass their Rite of Passage and so become adults. Lastly, a full colour map of Terra A.D. is provided as an insert. It is pretty, but really is just a blaze of bright colours without a lot of detail.

Physically, the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game is well written and well presented. The rules are easy to understand and the index will help the Game Master find everything as needed, although players of both the Shaman and Mutants should definitely note the page numbers where their wetware programs and their mutations are described for quick access during play. Done in black and white throughout, the book is liberally illustrated by a variety of artists. Some of the artwork is a bit cartoony, but it is great to see Russ Nicholson illustrating the book.

Unfortunately, Mutant Crawl Classics is not without its problems and what those problems come down to is the same problem that beset Gamma World in 1978—Mutants versus Pure Strain Humans. Right at the start of a campaign, Mutants, Manimals, and Plantients get the abilities from their Classes as well as their whizz-bang mutations and well, the Classes for Pure Strain Humans get just the abilities from their Classes. Now yes, they do get more Luck in general and they do get bonuses to their artefact rolls, but in comparison to the inherent power of mutations, they are very limited. So the Healer only has the special ability to heal and they do not get very much of that either. Similarly, the Rover can get into things, but essentially, that is really all that makes him special. In comparison, the Sentinel gets to fight better and the Shaman gets to cast some interesting spells—or rather run some interesting pieces of wetware—but he has to work at obtaining them as they are far from a given, and again, they are very limited in number. Now these are potentially not uninteresting character Classes, and each does go some way towards evening things up between the unpowered Pure Strain Human and the three mutated Classes—an imbalance between character types which has existed in post-apocalyptic roleplaying games of this type all the way back to 1978’s Gamma World. It is still not enough though and it is most disappointing that the Shaman is not given enough wetware to play around with and that the Healer is not given in terms of Class abilities.

That said, there is one reason why Pure Strain Humans feel somewhat underwhelming in terms of the possible Races to select from. They are expected to uncover artefacts and then use them to protect themselves and their tribe, to ensure their survival and even build a better world, as they travel in and around the nearby region, exploring the world of Terra A.D. and having adventures. Thus, Terra A.D, should be a dangerous world, but a world where technology can be readily found, its use and purpose determined, and employed.

There are mechanical imbalance issues at the heart of Mutant Crawl Classics, but then there have been mechanical imbalance issues at the heart of every post-apocalypse roleplaying game going all the way back to Gamma World, and Mutant Crawl Classics does a great deal to address those imbalances with the improved Classes and the greater affinity for technology for Purse Strain Humans. Elsewhere it adds mechanical depth and flavour with the rules for mutations and wetware programs, the Archaic Alignments, and for handling artefacts. Yet it never feels complex, but in places it definitely feels as if it needs a companion volume to better develop the setting and provide support for the Classes. Put aside those issues though, and there is a great deal to like about Mutant Crawl Classics, the way it handles mutations and technology, the inclusion of Patron AIs, the implied gonzo nature of Terra A.D., and the use of Archaic Alignments as social rather than personal constraint. Overall, Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic is bonkers fun, not only a love letter to Gamma World, but its spiritual successor too.