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Friday 30 December 2016

The Zone Quartet I

Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Compendium 1 – Lair of the Saurians is the first supplement for Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, the post-apocalypse set RPG based on Mutant - År Noll, the Swedish RPG from Free League Publishing released in English by Modiphius Entertainment. At thirty-two pages, it is a slim supplement that presents various scenario set-ups and situations as well as new rules that can quickly and easily be dropped in a GM’s campaign and the sectors of his Zone map. This includes four Special Zone Sectors as per those given in the core rulebook and a set of new rules for long journeys and new monsters. Note that the review will contain some spoilers.

Given its length, what is impressive about Zone Compendium 1 – Lair of the Saurians is its productions values. They are the same as those of the core rulebook. The supplement is done in full colour, the illustrations are good, and the maps—more exploded diagrams than actual maps—are nicely done. True, they do not show every detail, but they show enough and from their overall descriptions, the GM will be able to describe the rest of the location with ease. Overall, this is a sturdy little book that feels good in the hand.

The four Special Zone Sectors in Zone Compendium 1 – Lair of the Saurians consist of the ‘Lair of the Saurians’, ‘The Oracle of the Silver Egg’, ‘A Seed of Evil’, and ‘The Family Homestead’. The first of these, the eponymous ‘Lair of the Saurians’ details a giant rusty metal tube that has washed up ashore on an island that is said to full of artefacts, but also home to plenty of Zone monsters. It is in fact a submarine, now home to a tribe of lizardmen or Saurians who do not understand what they have or what exactly it is they live in. The Saurians and their ‘tube’ is initially something for the player characters to investigate and then decide what they want to do about the Saurians. Do they attempt an alliance? Open trade relations? Or take it for themselves and the Ark? The arrival of scrap pirates are likely to spur both the player characters and the Saurians to action. Of course the location and the fact that this Special Zone Location involves a submarine does limit where it can be placed—a coastal location is required.

‘The Oracle of the Silver Egg’ is said to be home to a man who can any answer any question  and perhaps even point the way towards Eden, the refuge where safety from the Zone is said to be found. He is also said to prophesize the future. So many flock to gain answers and word of the future, but the price they are expected to pay is high—perhaps too high… Reminiscent of the Duncan Jones film, Moon, ‘The Oracle of the Silver Egg’ is more difficult to use than the previous ‘Lair of the Saurians’, but the GM should play up the weirdness of the environment with its highly advanced, ‘Enclave’ technology that this Special Zone Sector is previewing. (‘Enclave’ technology is to be detailed in a later supplement.)

Thankfully, the third entry, ‘A Seed of Evil’, is much, much easier to use as takes a campaign back to its start, the Ark where the character grew up and survived. Part of character creation in Mutant: Year Zero is to build a set of relationships both with the other player characters and NPCs within the Ark. Further, any expedition taken by the player characters out into the Zone is preceded by an Assembly where they discuss and decide the directions in which the Ark will develop. ‘A Seed of Evil’ folds neatly into this campaign framing because there is something that is making several of the NPCs that the player characters know, act differently. Although there is some investigation and combat involved, there is plenty of opportunity for roleplaying and interaction as the player characters have the chance to prove themselves to Ark more directly than going out and returning on expeditions.

Lastly, ‘The Family Homestead’ provides the GM with a weird throwback encounter to present to his players. This can be out in the Zone as the player characters are in the actual process of travelling or when they come across the home of a family of nine headed by Daddy Dearest Ragnar and Mommie Dearest Sveah as they go about their ever so normal activities. Mow the lawn, take their many dogs for a walk, go shopping in the abandoned shopping malls out in the Zone, take caravan holidays, and on. Which in the day and age of the post-apocalypse is going to appear really quite odd. In fact, once the player characters begin interacting with them, the GM should start playing up the weirdness, the abnormality of their normality, and so on. Part of this should be that the family are to an extent the equivalent of ‘Rednecks’ attempting to live the good life. Much like the Saurians, this family can be allies or enemies, but they should never escape being monsters…

Rounding out Zone Compendium 1 – Lair of the Saurians is a set of rules for handling long journeys. This takes the scale up from the standard one mile wide sectors of the Zone to twenty miles per sector. It includes a new Sector Environment tables and guidelines for the placement of ruins and artefacts. This is followed by a set of tables for creating and naming monsters.

Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Compendium 1 – Lair of the Saurians packs a lot of gaming punch into a relatively few number of pages. There are situations and encounters here that can add to a campaign immediately, but which also have the depth and detail to develop the campaign. Whether running a campaign of his own devising, the contents Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Compendium 1 – Lair of the Saurians is an excellent resource whose slots into any campaign.

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