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

Saturday 23 December 2023

[Fanzine Focus XXXIII] Mutant High School

On the tail of Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with
Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed another Dungeon Master and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970sDungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, and Travellerbut fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.

Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry. Another popular choice of system for fanzines, is Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, such as Crawl! and Crawling Under a Broken Moon. One aspect of Crawling Under a Broken Moon is that it is designed to be played using the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game and not the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, despite it presenting a post-apocalyptic setting. Not so Mutant High School.

Mutant High School is a fanzine inspired by The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ’Em High, Weird Science, et al—and although it does not list it, at least tonally, the roleplaying game, Teenagers from Outerspace, published by R. Talsorian Games, Inc.
Published by Goodman Games, Mutant High School is set in No-Go City, some time in the near future. Formerly the city of Fresno, California, the radioactive waste capital of North America, an earthquake burst the underground storage tank for the waste, causing a geyser to erupt and shower the inhabitants in mutagenic goo that not only mutated every single one of them, but also made them sufficiently toxic themselves that any encounter with them who is not already mutated, has a chance of mutating them. So, the authorities swept in, locked down the city, built a wall around it, and with the enactment of the ‘Maximum Extreme Disproportionate Response to Emergent Mutations Act’—also known as the ‘MEDeR’M’ act—strictly controlled access to the city, with guards in hazmat suits on the walls and the ever-present buzzing of surveillance drones. Both internet access and mobile connection have been severely curtailed. Since Ooze Day, the former Fresno has been dubbed No-Go City or the Mutant Quarter.

As a consequence, the inhabitants of No-Go City have to get by on limited resources and information access. Which includes its students at Bullroar High School. For example, with no other high school to compete against, Coach Phelan, a Plantient strain of the coffee plant, has set up rival teams. Elsewhere, the inhabitants of No-Go City have been forced to recycle over and over, including turning vehicles into rough and ready jalopies (or rickety rides), cloths and so on, whilst there is a thriving black market—if the smugglers can get it past the guards and the roly-polys (or robo-police, who only have an occasional chance of identifying No-Go City inhabitants as actually being human!)—for almost everything else. Alternatively, the inhabitants have access to their own homegrown drugs, including ‘27/7 Dust’, a potent stimulant, and ‘Telepathashish’, a telepathic weed that is sentient and encourages everyone nearby to say, “Just say yes”.

In terms of characters, a player takes the role of either a Mutant, Manimal, or Plantient, but not Pure Strain Human, who is a high school student. Otherwise, Player Characters are normal, First Level rather than Zero Level, and instead of rolling for Background, a player rolls for Archetype, such as Band Geek, Goth, or Punk. This provides some equipment and a special ability. For example, the Motorhead starts play with a rickety ride, a piecemeal toolkit, and +1d on all attempts to repair automobile and small engines. Besides their mutations, each Player Character is also ‘Best in Town’ at something, making them stand out, whether that is a specific form of attack, using a mutation, a skill check, and so on, and possesses a ‘Cool Mutation’, a mutation that makes them physically stand out even more, but which does not provide any other detail.

Since the inhabitants of No-Go City have the misfortune to live there, they are prone to bad luck. Instead of Fleeting Luck as per Mutant Crawl Classics, the inhabitants and thus the Player Characters have ‘Oozing Luck’. Gained for rolls of natural twenty and good play and lost for rolls of natural one, Luck in No-Go City tends to either stick around or ooze away. It can actually go below zero and impose a penalty to the Player Character’s Luck attribute. The use of Oozing Luck is tied into the ‘Mute-Guffin’, which is badly named because it is not a silent ‘guffin’, but rather an NPC with an agenda that is connected to the one of the Judge’s storylines. A Player Character can earn a point of Oozing Luck for successfully identifying the ‘Mute-Guffin’ and for successfully supporting the ‘Mute-Guffin’, but lose a point if the ‘Mute-Guffin’ is identified incorrectly. There is an option suggested for the opposite of a ‘Mute-Guffin’, the ‘Anti-Mute-Guffin’.

Running to just sixteen pages, there is still a lot of background in Mutant High School, covering studying and exams, find equipment, the wall surrounding the city, and various factions in and outside the city. Inside the city, ‘The Church of the Burbling Redeemer’, a law-abiding new cult lead by the mutant fusion of five interfaith council members who preach the beneficence of mutating slime and want to spread its effects beyond the wall; the sheriff and his Robo-Polys in near constant conflict with the criminal motorcycle gang, the Ultras; and the ‘Toxic Truthers’, outsiders who refuse to believe in Ooze Day and its effects, and resent not being able to walk about the twenty-five square miles blocked off by the wall as every true patriot should be allowed to do. Some even believe that the toxicity of No-Go City will cure all manner of ailments, which is why big pharma is denying them access!

Rounding out Mutant City High is a set of descriptions of various events that happen in No-Go City and an adventure hook, ‘Prom Night’. There is just about enough here to help a Judge get a mini-campaign started.

Physically, Mutant City High is decently produced, as you would expect for a release from Goodman games. It is lightly illustrated, but everything else is well explained, although the background does come after the rules for character creation, so that does read oddly, at least initially. A map of No-Go City would have been useful.

Mutant High School offers an alternative to the post-apocalyptic future of Terra A.D. of Mutant Crawl Classics. On one level it reads an alternative roleplaying setting of the nineteen eighties, but there is contemporary strand to it that effectively makes Mutant High School a Lockdown-era roleplaying setting, although one seen through a weird and wacky lens. Mutant High School packs a lot into its scant few pages, its combination of the weird and the familiar making it easy to develop further content for by the Judge, but really Mutant High School deserves more than just the one issue of the fanzine and even its own supplement.

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