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Friday 24 January 2020

Future History is a Killer

Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is the seventh release for Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, the spiritual successor to Gamma World published by Goodman Games. It is the second adventure to be designed for use with player characters who are Zero Level after the first, Mutant Crawl Classics #1: Hive of the Overmind. What this means is that it is a Character Funnel, one of the features of both the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game and the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game it is mechanically based upon—in which initially, a player is expected to roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through 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, known as Terra A.D., or ‘Terra After Disaster’, 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. Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones differs from Mutant Crawl Classics #1: Hive of the Overmind and other Character Funnels, in that it is designed for play under certain circumstances, with multiple players and characters, and in the case of the characters—none of them are expected to survive!

In the classic Character Funnel, each player begins play with three or four Level Zero characters and roleplays them from the start of the scenario until the end, hoping that one or more survives to accrue enough Experience Points to achieve First Level. In Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones, each player gets one Zero Level character, not three or four, and when that character dies—which is highly likely in Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones—his player is out of the scenario and leaves the table whilst a new player with a new character takes his place. When a second character dies and his player leaves the table, another player can join the table and take his place, including any player who has already lost a character during play. However, each time a new player—whether completely new or returning to the game after having lost a previous character—sits down and joins the game, he does so with a completely new, Zero Level character.

Essentially, Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is designed for high character and high player turnover. In order to facilitate this, a Judge wanting to run this will need a lot of players. The scenario is written for between eight and ten players, but that is just the number of players sat at the table, for the Judge will need half of that again—if not the same number to get the fullest use out of the scenario—in order to have a sufficient supply of replacement players. (The Judge will also have to prepare numerous Zero Level player characters.) This supports the play of Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones as a tournament scenario at a convention. The winners of which will be the players who either had the most characters survive, or rather, killed the least number of characters.

To support all of this death and mayhem, Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is the post apocalyptic equivalent of the funhouse dungeon, a madhouse carnival of death, in which the player characters will fumble their way through, all but blindly making mistakes which hopefully, the other characters—either those currently in play or those waiting to be played by the players ready to step in with the death of the next characters—will learn from. In other words, this is an adventure in which the characters and their players learn from the deaths of other characters and the temporary ejection of their players from the game.

The adventure itself begins with an earthquake which exposes an artefact, some kind of portal, of the Ancients. It leads to a strange chamber beyond from which various rooms can be accessed, one at a time, almost at random. These locations, most of them single rooms, are of all historical significance, enabling the characters to explore some of the events which led up to the Great Disaster that resulted in Terra, A.D.—Terra ‘After Disaster’—the world in which the characters live. Most of them are fairly detailed and many of them have a puzzle element to them, as well as a combat element. In keeping with the tone and design of the ‘dungeon’ or complex, most are also deadly. Many of the encounters heavily reference an array of Science Fiction films old and new, and both Judge and players will enjoy spotting them, whilst the Judge will enjoy roleplaying these references. More obvious references are made in the actual random encounters, many of which can be played as is, or expanded upon by the Judge. There is also scope here for the Judge to create his own encounters, again drawing from iconic Science Fiction movies and other settings.

Interestingly, Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones does something which few if any other scenarios for the post apocalyptic roleplaying do and that is, enable a player character to make contact with an AI patron. This is particularly important for the Shaman character Class, which specialises in ancient lore and knowledge and serves a god—or AI patron—which will in return grant wetware programs of great power as well as the Invoke Patron AI program. This always seems glossed over in Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, so it is interesting to see it presented here, though a Shaman choosing and making first contact with his AI patron has the potential to be an adventure in itself.

Physically, Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is well presented. The artwork is a variety of styles, but all of it fitting. The centrespread map is clear and easy to read. If there is an issue with the scenario in terms of its presentation, it is that it is brought to an end somewhat abruptly.

Rounding out Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is a set of advice and notes on running it as a tournament adventure. These highlight how useful and useless the scenario actually is. Useful if the Judge wants to run a demonstration or tournament scenario at a convention involving a larger number of players than a scenario for almost any roleplaying game would normally ask for. Unfortunately that calls for certain circumstances and for the most part, because those numbers do not fit the standard pattern of six players and one Game Master, such numbers are rarely called for in convention scenarios and difficult to organise. Useless because this is not a scenario that can easily be run at home using the given format, so the Judge will need to adjust the player and character numbers accordingly.

Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is a mad funhouse dungeon comprised of excerpts from our future prior to the Great Disaster. It has some delightful Science Fiction film references that the Judge will enjoy bringing into play and the players will find themselves roleplaying encounters from those and other films as they explore the location. Mutant Crawl Classics #7: Reliquary of the Ancient Ones is deadly, fun, and silly, but ultimately of limited utility.

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