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Thursday, 19 July 2018

Under the End of the World

In classic post apocalypse gaming, players get to roleplay Humans, Mutants, Mutated Animals, and Androids. So far, in the Swedish roleplaying game, Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, players have got to play Mutants, leaving the Ark that is their home to explore the Zone beyond and the metaplot which underlies the setting—a search for Eden and perhaps the fate of the Ancients. Then with Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha, they got to play mutated animals, living in Paradise Valley under the careful eye of the metallic Watchers from their base in the Labyrinth. Its standalone campaign, ‘Escape from Paradise’ could be played as precursor to, or could lead into, ‘The Path to Eden’, the campaign in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days. In addition to introducing Mutated Animals, one thing Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha also did was provide the setting with its first look at robots! Now, with the release of Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, robots come to the fore, with complete rules for creating and roleplaying them as player characters, plus a setting and a campaign.

As with Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha, this new supplement and roleplaying game was originally published in Swedish by Free League Publishing, before being released in English by Modiphius Entertainment following a successful Kickstarter campaign. The setting for Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying is Mechatron-7, a sub-sea manufacturing and supply base for Noatun, one of the three Titan powers which fought the apocalypse. The last order its central mainframe, NODOS was to continue manufacturing materiel in support of the war, and this it has done for decades—at the very least—and the giant undersea dome’s facilities have long begun to deteriorate. With contact with the outside world long lost, the facility is no longer receiving supplies or raw materials, leading to an inability to conduct repairs or conduct maintenance, even generate power. Yet NODOS has its orders and continues to manufacture what it can, filling warehouses in readiness for shipment, but in reality just crushing previously manufactured goods. In the years since the Humans left, the robots have continued their assignments as well as emulating Human activities more and more, including eating grease puddings and drinking oil drinks, and enjoying robot entertainment like Pong. Other robots have simply worn out and been broken down into scrap, but with no robots being manufactured, some new robots have been put together from the scrapped parts, although none of these ‘new’ robots can access the Collective or are recognised by NODOS as being part of the Collective. It is into this bubble of advancing decrepitude that the player character robots suddenly achieve self-awareness…

The character creation in Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying is most complex of the three when compared with Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha. Each robot is constructed first from three parts—head, torso, and undercarriage—which determines not only what a robot looks like and its primary means of movement, but also its core attributes, armour, and the number of modules it can have installed. The four attributes are Servos (Strength), Stability (Agility), Processor (Wits), and Network (Empathy). A player also needs to assign points to his robot’s programs, including the special program unique to each robot model. There are six robot models—Battle Robot, Cleaning Robot, Companion Robot, Coordination Robot, Protocol Robot, Scrap Robot, and Security Robot—and like the roles in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha, a model provides an appearance, personality, and so on, as well as a robot’s relationships, its  gear and its big dream. It also provides a rank number, representing a robot’s place in the Hierarchy of Mechatron-7. What is interesting about this design process is that players are encouraged to min-max their robot designs, to get the best of their robots. Further, as the campaign progresses, a robot may also be able to find scrap parts and so replace its head, torso, and undercarriage and so possibly improve its attributes, armour, and the number of modules it can mount. That said, during robot creation, no player character robot can have the same head, torso, or undercarriage as any other. Eight of each are provided to choose from.

Edsel WST-242
Model: Security Robot
Hierarchy: 4
Chassis Parts:
Head: Kordura Mod 022
Torso: Modessi RK ‘Uni’
Undercarriage: LBM Terra 004

Description:
Colour: White with black markings
Voice: Firm and serious
Features: Jackey marked ‘NoPol’
Metalic head with human-like features, lightweight barrel torso with thin arms, and thick robot legs with heavy feet.

Personality: Patient Chatterbox

Attributes
Servos 4, Stability 3, Processor 3, Network 3
Armour: 5
Modules 1 (Head:1, Torso: 0, Undercarriage: 1)
Secondary Function: Command Override

Skills
Protect (Servos) 2, Overload (Servos) 0, Force (Servos) 0, Assault (Servos) 1, Infiltrate (Stability) 0, Move (Stability) 1, Shoot (Stability) 2, Scan (Processor) 2, Datamine (Processor) 0, Analyse (Processor) 0, Question (Network) 0, Interact (Network) 2, Repair (Network) 0

Modules
Interrogator, Riot Control

Relationships
Niamh BWR-508 (PC) does not respect the laws of the Collective. You will have to take action.
You hate… The cleaning droid Dusty BPD-857, who always triggers the alrm when it’s cleaning restricted areas.
You need to protect… The Coordination droid Rufaro DYM-097, who has helped you many times with difficult tasks.

Your Big Dream
To break a difficult case and be celebrated as a hero of the Collective

Gear
Stun gun, lock bolt

Mechanically, Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying uses the same system as Mutant: Year Zero—a mix of specialised dice and cards, also published by Free League Publishing and Modiphius Entertainment. The content of cards though, representing Chassis parts, Modules, and Artefacts are reproduced in the pages of Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying and so are not absolutely necessary to play game. The dice are another matter. All six-sided dice, they are divided into three types—the yellow Base dice, the green Skill dice, and the black Gear dice. In addition to the number six all dice are marked with the radiation symbol on that face. This indicates a success when rolled. On the 1 face of the yellow Base dice there is a biohazard symbol, whilst on the 1 face of the black Gear dice, there is an explosion symbol. Rolling either symbol is counted as a failure. The green Skill dice do not have an extra symbol of their 1 faces. Now a game of Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying can be run without using the specific Mutant: Year Zero dice, but it does at least require pools of the three different coloured dice to represent the Base, Gear, and Program dice.

To undertake an action, a robot’s player assembles a dice pool consisting of Base, Gear, and Program dice. These should be yellow Base dice equal to the attribute used, black Gear dice equal to the Bonus for the item of any Gear used, and green Program dice equal to his skill. A roll of six (radiation) on any of the dice rolled counts as a success, but rolling more successes are better as these can be spent on stunts. The types of stunt available are listed skill by skill. So with the Assault Program, you might inflict extra damage, grab an opponent’s weapon, or knock it over, while with Analyze, you would not only work out what a creature or phenomenon is, but also whether or not it could hurt you or you could hurt it. If no sixes are rolled, then the action is a failure. The results are even worse if ones or biohazard symbols on the yellow Base dice or explosion symbols on the black Gear dice are rolled. If a player fails to roll any radiation symbols—or not enough, he can push the roll and reroll any dice that did came up as Biohazard, Explosion, or Radiation symbols. Even if a player makes a successful roll, his robot can still suffer damage for any Biohazard symbols rolled.

Instead of Mutant Points or Feral Points, a robot has Energy Points. They work as a power source to fuel devices, as currency, and as Experience Points. Inside Mechatron-7 and a robot can freely charge its batteries at its charging station, though there will be some sectors of the facility where it has no access or there are none working. One use of Energy Points is to power Modules. There is the danger though, when a robot uses a Module that it will overheat, draining further power, cause a memory wipe, and so on. Another use for Energy Points is to buy off damage, on a one-for-one basis, whether suffered as a result of Biohazard symbols rolled, accident, or combat.

For the most part, combat in Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying works in the same way as it does in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha, with one major exception. Robots can engage in Logic battles as well as physical battles. These require a logical argument and the use of the Interact Program. A robot’s place in the Hierarchy can provide a bonus to the robot which has a higher rank in Mechatron-7’s structure. Another thing is that robots can also suffer from viruses and there are programs too available which a robot can become addicted to in Mechatron-7.

As well as detailing Mechatron-7 and providing artefacts and various robots and monsters, Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying includes quite a lengthy campaign in the form of ‘Ghosts in the Machine’. This begins with each of the player character robots becoming self-aware and being detected as defective and sent to the Turing Robot Sanatorium. There they are assigned to the Quality Assurance Program and then given work orders as Error Eliminator Unit #457. What this means is the robots are going to be sent out to deal with difficult situations and robots—some of whom may also be self-aware, which may be the cause of their problems—despite the fact that the player character robots are also self-aware. So there is an element of satire here, much like the roleplaying game Paranoia or many of the works of author Philip K. Dick.

The campaign is a mix of Work Order missions and events and roughly be divided into two parts. The second half pushes the campaign out of Mechatron-7 and back again, essentially plugging Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying into Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha. Overall, the campaign is excellent, but it definitely feels like the half in Mechatron-7 should be longer and that there should be more Work Orders.

What is interesting is that in Mechatron-7 and in ‘Ghosts in the Machine’ the Development Levels—Food, Culture, Technology, and Warfare—of both Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha are inverted. The aim in those settings is for the player characters to increase their Ark’s Development Levels and so improve the technologies they have access to. In Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, the Collective is measured by a different four—Energy, Production, Defence, and Information. Instead of working to improve them, the player characters are working to prevent their decline. They can improve the ratings in each, but cannot prevent their decline. So essentially, as the campaign progresses, the level of technology and facilities they have access to also declines. Eventually, just like the plot of the campaign, this will push the player characters out of Mechatron-7 and out into the wider world, following the pattern set by ‘Paradise Valley’ in Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha.

Both the campaign and the game in general is supported by some excellent advice for the Game Master. This consists of a series of short pointers—‘Robots are Machines’, ‘The Collective Means Safety and Control’, ‘Robots are Individuals’, ‘The Decay is Inevitable’, ‘There Is Never Enough Energy’, ‘The Outside Is a Threat’, ‘Let the PCs Become Scrap’, and It Can Be Funny Too. The ‘Let the PCs Become Scrap’ is interesting as a foil to the earlier advice to letting the players min-max their robots, essentially advising the Game Master not to hold back in order to demonstrate that their robots are at risk, whether in Mechatron-7 or outside.

Physically, Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying is as impressive as the previous two volumes. This is grim, but not without a sense of humour. That said—and despite the satirical edge to the world of Mechatron-7 and the Collective—Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying is a not a game to be played for pure laughs. The book even warns against this. Any humour present is sardonic at most, for neither the setting nor the campaign never let the Game Master or the players forget the grim nature of the robots’ predicament. The book is also very nicely illustrated, but the cover by Simon Stålenhag is particularly good, neatly encapsulating the themes at the heart of the supplement.

Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying is a mix of Judge Dredd meets Blade Runner meets Paranoia all built into the nicely detailed location of Mechatron-7 whilst still leaving room for the Game Master to add her own places and Work Orders. If there is an issue with Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying is that the first half of the ‘Ghosts in the Machine’ is over too soon, not giving the Game Master and her players time to explore the complex and the Collective. That said, this supplement does a fantastic job of expanding upon the greater setting of Mutant: Year Zero and like Mutant: Year Zero – Genlab Alpha before it, can be used as a roleplaying game in its own right, or used to plug into an ongoing campaign run by the Game Master and so can be used to introduce both new characters and new character types. It is the most complex of the three books to date, in terms of character design, of its Energy Point economy, and its core concepts. It enables the players to explore new characters—only physically complete—as they become aware of what they are and who they are, essentially from the point of their birth. Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying is a dark satire upon robotic identity and robots finding their place in a ‘brave new world’.