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Saturday 28 March 2020

Brave New Mutant: Year Zero

At the end of the fourth and most recent campaign and campaign set in Free League Publishing’s Mutant: Year Zero post-apocalyptic future, there remained one big question, “What happens next?” Since 2014, the publisher has been exploring the place of mutants with Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, anthropomorphic animals with Mutant: Genlab Alpha, robots with Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, and Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, and by with each release revealing a bit more the world and the disaster which brought it to its current state. Each release also saw the four different groups encountering one or more of the other groups for the first time, if only fleetingly, in the wake of the events which played out in Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, all four groups are together and interacting with each other. This is the new world of Mutant: Year Zero presented in a mini-campaign for setting, Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death.

Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death takes place in the Zone, the region first explored in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days. The default Zone is The Big Smoke—essentially bombed out, flattened, and ravaged London—but it can easily be moved to the Game Master’s own Zone. All that it requires is a long body of water which boats can easily travel up and down. Advice is given on how to run it as a stand-alone adventure, but really Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death is designed to be run as part of campaign, specifically after Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, and ideally after Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, Mutant: Genlab Alpha, and Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying. In addition, to get the best out of Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death, the Game Master should also have run Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator. Since the campaign takes place after the events of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, there no restrictions on what type of characters the players can roleplay—be it mutants, animals, robots, or humans. This is one of the features of the brave new Mutant: Year Zero world.

As Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death opens, the world has changed. There is more trade and interaction between the different groups, there are more boats on the river, and so on, but there are ominous signs. In the depths of a snowy winter, there are disappearances around the Ark, including of people important to the Player Characters, and there are shadows in the sky—vehicles which float in the air and move fast. The Player Characters come across a Zone Rider—one of the couriers who carry messages back and forth across the Zone—under attack by a band of orderly and well-equipped soldiers. If they come to the Zone Rider’s rescue, or from a contact later on if they decide not to intervene, they learn of a mysterious new organisation known as the Army of the Dawn. It has recently taken over a wretched junktown to the west and renamed it Dawnville. The Player Characters are tasked with travelling to Dawnville, which is shortly to stage a wrestling tournament, to find out more information. To prepare themselves for that, it is suggested that the Player Characters visit two other places to conduct some investigation and learn what they can about the Army of Dawn. The first is a trading post run by Oscar Battenburg, an enclave Human from Elysium I known to trade slaves to the Army of Dawn, the second is the Showboat Saga, which travels up and the river putting on entertainments and which recently visited the Dawnville.

The Player Characters are also given a deadline—the wrestling tournament takes place in a week. To get them across the Zone in time, the Player Characters are lent a big-wheeled all-terrain robot vehicle and given some equipment. It is also likely that they will have been able to scavenge the guns and the armour of the Army of Dawn soldiers who attacked the Zone Rider—in particular, the tin helms which give the Army of Dawn soldiers the look of Great War soldiers. In comparison to a normal Mutant: Year Zero campaign, the Player Characters will be able to zip across the Zone, and with initially three locations—or as Mutant: Year Zero terms them, ‘Special Zone Sectors’—there is scope for the Game Master to run random encounters and ‘Special Zone Sectors’ of her own in between these three.

Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death actually consists of five ‘Special Zone Sectors’, not three, although the first three can be run in any order, followed by the fourth and fifth in that order. Each of these locations is nicely detailed and includes full stats for each of the NPCs, clear maps—both full illustrations of the locations and floorplans where needed, and events which play out when the Player Characters visit them. The five ‘Special Zone Sectors’ are all different in scope and theme. So ‘The Showboat Saga’ has a certain extravagance to it with its comparatively lavish performances and restaurant which becomes a mini-murder mystery, whilst ‘Dawnville’ is essentially ‘Bartertown’ from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome—complete with the equivalent of its own ‘Thunderdome’, which of course is where the wrestling tournament takes place. For the most part, the encounters involve a fair degree of stealth and subterfuge as well as combat. Certainly, the wrestling tournament will appeal to characters and players who like physical combat.

So what is going on in Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death? Well, its events do stem from what happened at the end of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium and the fact that it involves an army—the ‘Army of Dawn’—points towards a new force wanting to conquer the whole of the Zone. This is a genre staple, a new military arising to threaten the fledgling communities working to survive in the weird world order of the post-apocalyptic planet, but it well handled in Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death

Now Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death describes itself as a campaign, but at best it is a mini-campaign. With just five ‘Special Zone Sectors’, this is really more of scenario than a campaign and the first few, ‘The Showboat Saga’ and ‘Battenburg’s Trading Post’ in particular, are short, playable in a single session, two at the very most. The later ‘Special Zone Sectors’ are longer and more involved, and it will probably run to two or three sessions. Fortunately, the fact that the first few ‘Special Zone Sectors’ can be run in any order provides the Game Master with room to add her own content and perhaps bulk up Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death a little.

Physically, Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death is well written, nicely presented in full colour with excellent cinematic-style artwork. Some of the illustrations show scenes that can happen in the campaign and the likelihood is that the Game Master will really want them to happen—such as a gunfight aboard an airship—because they look fun! However, it does need an edit in places and some of the artwork still has Swedish signs and writing on it. The campaign also comes with some good handouts, including newspapers and event posters, both a sign of the growing new civilisation of Mutant: Year Zero. These handouts though, are not collated at the end of the book.

As a campaign—or really a scenario—Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death begins to show what the new world of Mutant: Year Zero is like, the beginnings of new civilisations.  It returns to the openness of Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days after the closed and confined worlds of Mutant: Genlab Alpha, Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, and Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, and of course, it brings each of the inhabitants of the four campaign settings together much post-apocalyptic roleplaying games of old, such as Gamma World.  In fact, with the new set-up, a Game Master with access to those old post-apocalyptic scenarios written in the early 1980s could actually adapt them to the world of Mutant: Year Zero. Overall, Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death shows us what the new world of Mutant: Year Zero is like and has the Player Characters confront the first threat to it in an action-packed scenario. It is though, just the next chapter. 

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