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

Sunday 30 June 2024

Getting Marvelous

It is surprising to think that there have been five roleplaying games based on Marvel Comics in the last four decades, going all the way back to Marvel Super Heroes published by TSR, Inc. in 1984 before coming all the way up to date with the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game published by Marvel Universe in 2023—and even that was not the first roleplaying game published by Marvel. The Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game lets you play using a huge cast of characters—heroes and villains, from Abomination, Agatha Harkness, and Baron Mordo to Ultron, Venom, and Vulture, from American Chavez, Ant-Man, and Beast to the Winter Soldier, Wolverine—both Laura Kinney and Logan, and Wong. There are over one-hundred-and-twenty-eight villain and hero writeups in the pages of the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game, a mix of the well-known and the lesser known—and all of them playable. A group can play at street level with characters such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man—both Miles Morales and Peter Parker; join the Avengers with heroes like Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, Hulk, Squirrel Girl, and Thor—both Jane Foster and Thor; stand up for mutants such as the X-Men with Beast, Colossus, Cyclops, Iceman, Professor X, and Storm; or go to the stars with Captain Marvel, Gamora, Groot, Nebula, Nightcrawler, Rocket Raccoon, and Star-Lord. Thus, it allows the players to roleplay a wide variety of the Marvel Universe’s heroes from both the comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe—both on the big screen and the small screen. Or alternatively, the players can create heroes of their own, from heroes of the street to heroes of the cosmos.

The Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game leaps into the mechanics first. It uses what the game calls the Marvel 616 System. This is named for Marvel-616, the universe where the majority of the stories are told in the Marvel comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That conceit aside, the Marvel 616 System uses three six-sided dice. The middle one of these is called the Marvel die and is either a die of a different colour or an official Marvel Multiverse die which has the Marvel logo on the six face. To have his hero undertake an action, a player rolls the three dice or ‘d616’, adds the relevant ability score, and if it is equal to, or exceeds, the Target Number succeeds. A Target Number typically ranges between eleven and sixteen, but can be further adjusted depending upon how trivial or absurdly difficult the action is. There are three possible special outcomes. One is if the result on the Marvel die is the Marvel logo or a six on the die of a different colour. This is a Fantastic Success and will typically double damage inflicted in combat or grant an ‘Edge’ or bonus on the hero’s next action. It is possible to roll a Fantastic Failure, meaning that the result on the Marvel die is the Marvel logo, but that the roll has failed. This means that although the action has failed, something beneficial has still happened to the hero. This is handled as a narrative effect. There is no critical failure mechanic. There is however, an ‘Ultimate Fantastic Roll’. This is a roll of a six on the two standard dice and the Marvel logo on the Marvel die, which guarantees a success on the action no matter how difficult, and enables the hero to ignore any Troubles besetting him. The dice can also be modified by Edges and Troubles. An Edge comes from favourable circumstances and allows one die per Edge to be rerolled and the highest value used, whilst a Trouble comes from unfavourable situations and forces a player to reroll one of his highest dice results per Trouble and use the lowest value. Edges and Troubles cancel each other out.

Combat uses the same mechanics, beginning with rolling for initiative. This roll cannot fail, as it determines the order in which the combatants act. The fun wrinkle here is that if a Hero or a villain rolls a Fantastic Success, then they have a bonus round in which only they act! A Hero can take one standard action, such as attack, dodge, escape, grab, move, and so on per turn, as well as a reaction like escape, fastball special, help teammate, skulk, and more. Attacks are made against a defender’s Defence Scores—derived from his abilities—and the damage determined by the result of the roll of the Marvel Die, which is then multiplied by the attacker’s Rank. The multiplier for the damage can be altered by the attacker’s powers and decreased by the defender’s powers. It is easy for a Hero to inflict sufficient damage to kill, but the default assumption is that any character with the Heroic Tag will hold back sufficiently to inflict enough damage to take a defender out of a fight, but not kill him. If the Heroes or villains are members of a team, then together they can also perform a team manoeuvre, such as “Avengers Assemble!”, once per fight, which can be an offensive, defensive, or rally team manoeuvre. It costs Focus per participant to activate a manoeuvre. The rules also cover attacking and ploughing through objects, whilst a knockback effect requires the Mighty power and a Fantastic Success to succeed.

Some twenty powers—or rather power sets—are described in Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game, from Elemental Control, Illusion, and Magic to Telepathy, Teleportation, and Weather control. Each power consists of at least one basic power and then extra powers which alter or improve the basic power. These are ranked, so that the basic power is Rank 1 and then the other Rank 2, Rank 3, and so on. For example, Phase Self is the Rank 1 power for Phasing, but Phase Object and Partial Phase are Rank 2. In addition, there are Basic Powers. These include Brawling, Combat Trickery, Flight, Iconic Weapon, Mighty, and more. Most require the Special Training Origin to have, but Special Training is the means by which highly skilled characters, such as Hawkeye or Shang-Chi, can be created. Overall, the powers and power sets cover most of the hero types that a player might want to design, but what they are not, is necessarily flexible. Each power does a set thing and what a Hero is in general not trying to do is push the envelope beyond those limits. There is scope for it narratively, at least, if a player rolls a Fantastic Success.

A Hero in the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game has a Rank, which determines how much damage he can suffer, how many points can be assigned to ability scores, and how many powers and traits he can have. The Rank ranges from Rank 1 and Rookie to Rank 6 and Cosmic. He has six abilities. These are Melee (which also covers strength), Agility, Resilience, Vigilance, Ego, and Logic, and together they form the acronym, M.A.R.V.E.L. They can be zero or less, but they can be much higher. Each works as a straight modifier in the Marvel 616 System. Health is how much damage a Hero can suffer, whilst Focus represents his concentration and willpower. A Hero has karma equal to his Rank. Karma is spent to inflict Trouble on a villain or to give a Hero an Edge. Once used, it is earned through good roleplaying, being heroic, use of a Hero’s catchphrase at the appropriate time, and if a Trait causes the Hero a problem.

A Hero will have several Traits and Tags. Traits typically provide an Edge, whilst Tags are roleplaying hooks. For example, Ms. Marvel has the Traits of Determination, Glibness, Honest, and Quick Learner, and the Tags of Heroic, Inhuman Genes, Mentor: Captain Marvel, Obligation: School, Secret Identity, and Young. Glibness allows her to talk to anyone for the first time and persuade them to give her a hand, which gives her an Edge of her Ego checks, whilst Obligation: School will cause her problems if she fails to attend school or do her homework. A Hero’s Traits and Tags are derived from the two elements of his Backstory, his Origins and Occupation.

Creating a Hero is a matter of a player making choices based upon the Hero’s Rank, assigning Ability points, and then choosing Origins and Occupation, followed by powers. Notably, if a Hero has powers from fewer Power Sets rather than more, he gains a bonus number of powers. A player can also choose to reduce the number of powers his hero has to increase his abilities or add traits.

Codename: Mother Penitencia
Rank: 2
Karma: 2

Real Name: Violetta Santillan
Occupation: Health Care Worker
Origin: Magic: Demonic
Base: Chicago

Melee 1 Defence Score 11
Agility 0 Defence Score 10
Resilience 2 Defence Score 12
Vigilance 1 Defence Score 11
Ego 3 Defence Score 13
Logic 3 Defence Score 13

Health 60 Focus 90

Magic (Demonic): Sense Sins, Penance Stare, Hellfire Chains
Magic: Sense Supernatural
Teleportation: Blink, Teleport 1, Blink Barrage

Tags: Chaotic, Supernatural, Obligation: Family, Obligation: Night School, Heroic
Traits: Clinician, First Aid, Out of Shape, Skeptical, Secret Identity

Background: Violetta Santillan is in her thirties, a health care worker who works in a care facility. She has been studying to be a doctor, but illness in the family meant she had to drop out of school and then she had a family of her own. As the children have got older, she has been trying to go back to school to study. After one of the residents died, he left her a book. When she opened it, she was suddenly cast into Hell and told that she would be the next wielder of the powers of penitence. She is deeply conflicted about her new role, especially as it transforms her, her eyes blazing black, black horns curling from her head, her fingernails turning jet black. So far, she has stopped a couple of attempted robberies at the care facility, and dealt with a street robbery. Worse, she is taunted by the demon, Irzollath, who claims that the gift of penitence was not hers to take and taunts her to act immorally.

Almost a fifth of Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is dedicated to detailing its powers and power sets, whilst two fifths are dedicated to detailing the one-hundred-and-twenty-eight heroes and villains. The chapter on the Marvel Multiverse itself packs in a lot of information, covering history, the current state of Earth-616, other universes and dimensions, and moving between. However, it is a broad overview at best. For the Narrator there is solid advice on setting up and running a game, the scope of a game—from single issues to ongoing series, as well as on how to handle some of the more difficult aspects of the setting and super heroics. This includes interdimensional and time travel, mind control, illusions, and more, as well as hero death—and return. Oddly, this chapter is also where social interaction is covered, which essentially boils down to Logic and Ego attacks versus a target’s Logic Defence or Ego Defence. Overall, the Narrator advice is more than decent.

Unfortunately, Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is not without its issues. One is a matter of choice, given the number of heroes and villains in the roleplaying, there is likely to be characters missing for some reader. Notably, both Silver Surfer and Kate Bishop are missing from the list, whereas Titania of Gamma Fight is included. The A.I.M. Agent, Average Civilian, and Night Nurse are the only Rank 1 characters listed, but not police officer. The writing tends towards the succinct, leaving Narrator and players alike unclear as how powers work or in particular, tags, work. In this, Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is better suited to the experienced Narrator, who is likely to be more aware of the storytelling style of roleplaying. The powers could have been better organised. The powers are listed alphabetically rather than by power set, and the power set trees, showing the reader what power he needs to choose for his Hero before getting the one he wants, placed at the back. So, there is a lot of flipping back and forth during creation and there are no page numbers listed in the power set trees making it even more awkward. Lastly, there is no scenario in the book, unfortunately. In this, and in the lack of an example of play, the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game does not necessarily serve the Marvel fan coming to roleplaying for the first time. More experienced roleplayers will have no issue picking up and playing the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game, but may want to look at other superhero roleplaying games if they want more choices and greater flexibility.

Physically, the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is a fantastic looking book. How could it not be? After all, it has access to, and does draw from an incredible back catalogue of artwork. A nice touch is that the chapters are colour-coded for ease of access. However, it does need a slight edit in places.

The Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game does give what you want with a roleplaying game based on a huge comic book universe and franchise. It lets you play your favourite heroes from the Marvel universe, but it also lets you create your own heroes and take them on their own adventures in the Marvel universe. It feels fantastically comprehensive in the choice of Marvel heroes to play and the types of Marvel-style heroes to create and play. Overall, the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is a very solid, very serviceable, and very playable superhero roleplaying game that will be appreciated by fans of the Marvel Universe.

Saturday 29 June 2024

Runes & Ragnarök

Ragnarök has fallen and the Twilight of the Gods nears when all will end, as the Norns have foretold from the beginning. The celestial wolves, Skoll and Hati, have finally chased down the Sun and the Moon, and in devouring them plunged Midgard into a time when there is little difference between day and night. The howl of Garm, Hel’s hound, has been heard all across the realms of Yggdrasil, and Fimbulwinter has fallen on Midgard, blanketing all of the known lands in ice and snow so that no man can sow seed or raise crops, and man has been set against man, family against family, karl against karl, kingdom against kingdom, as food and resources grow scare and they are forced to fight to survive. Where the Vikings once raided foreigners for gold and other plunder, and were greatly feared across all of Midgard, now they raid each other. It is the Sword Age, the second act of Ragnarök, the Wind Age when Surt, the Jotun Keeper of Fire, will lead his fiery host across Bifrost Bridge lay siege to Asgard is yet to come. Beyond that lies the Sword Age, when the final battle will be joined between the gods—or Aesir—and the Jotun and Surt will split the sky with a sword brighter than the sun and so set Yggdrasil ablaze with divine fire. After that, who knows? As the gods and the Jotun prepare for battle, the people of Midgard are faced by another threat—the crusaders of the White Christ ride from the south to drive out all Aesir and Jotun, and convert at the point of the sword. Yet even in this time of great stress and desperation, as the gods prepare for war against the Jotun, as in tales and sagas told of old, there is the need for heroes, for mighty warriors, clever skalds, and wily witches, to stand against the chaos of now and the chaos to come. Some will fall in the fight, some will return, and many will take inspiration from those who have fallen before them! Will they change destiny or will they embrace the fate of Midgard and the other realms of Yggdrasil as was foretold?

This is the set-up for Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök, a roleplaying inspired not only by Norse myths and sagas, but by the Norse runes too. Published by Pendelhaven, Inc., this is a radically immersive roleplaying game that presents its end of days in swathes of swallowing black, blanketing white, and fiery orange and engages the players and their heroes through thematically appropriate, but challenging mechanics. Make no mistake, there is a steep learning curve to Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök, both in terms of learning to play and teaching to play. This is because Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök is a diceless roleplaying game, instead using the Norse runes or Futhark, as a gaming mechanic. Therein lies one of the first issues with Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök—and that is the degree of buy-in upon everyone’s part. Every player requires his own set of Runes, tokens marked with the Futhark, plus a bag from which they can be dawn. These Runes can be cardboard, but there are more expensive options, including a set of steel Futhark! A print and play option is readily available, but they are not as effective and lack the impact of drawing something physical and uncertain from a bag. In addition, playmats are required for various aspects of the game’s play, and admittedly, all of this combined, especially with the pulling of the Runes from the bag gives Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök a very physical feel at the table.

A Player Character in Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök is a Dweller, an inhabitant of Midgard, whereas the NPC inhabitants are called Denizens. He has three types of Runes—Physical, Mental, and Spiritual. They range in value for a Dweller between one and six, one being weak in that area, whilst six represents the peak of human potential. Beyond that and the Viking is approaching the gods in terms of his abilities. The Runes are colour coded to the three types of Ayetts of the Futhark. Red Ayett for Physical, blue Ayett for Mental, and green Ayett for Spiritual. There are a total of twenty-four Runes, eight per Ayett, plus an extra one, Void, which represents the spaces between the branches of Yggdrasil, and also a Viking’s soul. A Dweller’s life force is represented by Essence, which is also the number of Runes he knows. Destiny is the Dweller’s ability to affect the world around him, represented by the number of Runes his player can draw when resolving an action. The actual drawing process is known as the Wyrd, meaning ‘to reveal your destiny’. In addition, a Dweller knows a number of active powers, passive powers, and skills equal to his Essence for each. Thus, if he has an Essence of six, he knows six active powers, six passive powers, and six skills. These are mapped or bound onto the Runes.

To create a Dweller, a player spends points on Essence and Destiny based on the Level that the Norn—as the Game Master is known in Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök—with Destiny costing more than Essence. It is also possible spend the points of Level on upgrades such as ‘Troll-Blood (Aspect)’ or ‘Legend/Infamy’, but these require the character to have Dwellers in the heavens, that is, previous characters having died and gone on valiantly to fight in the afterlife. So, they are not available necessarily until a player has lost one or more characters in heroic circumstances. When they are available, they grant access to certain powers and skills. The player then performs a Wyrd, drawing Runes from his bag equal to the decided upon Essence. A player can also draw for his character’s personality, motivation and ambitions, social standing—which includes net worth and literacy, social connections, and name. These are all optional, but do add flavour to a campaign.

Then the player choses an archetype. Five of these are given in Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök and each comes with three specialisations. The three archetypes are the Galdr, who wields rune magic; Maidens of Ratatosk are mischief-makers who seek adventure; Seithkona are witches who inflict spiritual damage; Skalds have been blessed with the Mead of Poetry; and Ulfhednar are warriors who fight like wolfpacks. Each of these has three specialisations. For example, the Maidens of Ratatosk have the Death Dancer, who inspires her allies and frustrates her foes with a flawless mix of death and grace; the Scorn Dominatrix, a dark flower in a bed of weeds capable of distracting her opponents; and the Aggravatrix whose insults and taunts drive her opponents into a rage! In general, the female Archetypes are more interesting than the male or the shared Archetypes, and another issue is that five is not enough! Fortunately, supplements such as Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök- Denizens of the North and Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök- Lords of the Ash.

Each Archetype has not one, but three seven-by-seven boards. There is a board each for each Archetype’s Active Powers, Passive Powers, and Skills. There are some base options that Dweller of the Archetype and Specialisation should always have, tied to his Void, and after that, whenever a Dweller gains a Level and higher Essence, he can select other connected options from the board, as well as adding more Runes to his bag to be drawn for the Wyrd. The very outer edges of each board only became available, like the Upgrades when one or more of a player’s Dwellers have died.

Name: Biflindi
Level: 20
Essence: 12
Destiny: 4
Physical: 4
Mental: 3
Spiritual: 5

Archetype: Skald
Specialisation: Poet
Active Powers: Night of the Long Knives (Spell Song) (Void), Melody of Discord, Muspeli Nightmares, Meadows of a Vanagard, Analytical Power Stance, Evasive Manoeuvre, Lunging Attack, Versatile Combat Manoeuvre, Backstab, Power Attack, Apples of Idun, Arcane Shield, Devour Thought
Passive Powers: Suave Singers (Void), Warrior of Song, Carried by Song, Stealthy Striker, Tactician, Fleet-Footed, Insight, Mob Mentality, Leaping Striker, Nimble, Agility, Tactical Advantage, Combat Awareness
Skills: Survival Urban (Void), Sense Motive, Read and Write, Drinking/Wenching, Verbal Manipulation, Omens/Portents, Lore: Personas, Etiquette, Lore: Locales, Perform, Riding, Perception, Lore: Arcana, Feather Fingers

Personality: Cynic
Motivation and Ambitions: Secrecy
Social Standing: Undertaker
Social Connections: Town Guard

Mechanically, under the Runic Game System of Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök, when a Dweller wants to undertake an action or perform a skill, his player performs a Wyrd equal to his Destiny. The aim is to draw enough Runes of the right Ayett to successfully perform the action or skill. A player can also morph two Runes of another Ayett into the right one. Each successfully drawn Rune reduces the difficulty of a task, ranging from one for Trivial to five for Unlikely. If it is reduced to zero, the Dweller has been successful, but if the difficulty has been reduced to one or two, it is possible to achieve a marginal or imperfect success. The difficulty is also reduced by the skill level possessed by the Dweller. That sounds simple enough, but a player’s Runes are tracked back and forth across a play mat, whether they are in-play or in-hand, the latter being held to activate Active Powers and thus shift them to the appropriate spaces on the Play Mat. Combat and spellcasting use the same mechanics, plus, in order to use Active Powers, a player will be chaining Runes in order to activate and maintain them, and this requires more knowledge of the Runes and the mapping out of the Rune Chain on a hex map. All of which, when combined with the Play Mat, the boards for the Active Powers, Passive Powers, and Skills, and so on, makes for a very busy table and a lot for each player to keep track of. Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök works very hard to teach the rules and show each of these aspects of the game work, but it is a lot to take in and grasp.

For the Norn, there is a great bestiary of Denizens and Thanes. These include some very familiar to the genre and the culture, including the Crusader, familiars such as cats and ravens, polar bear, trolls, and winter rusalki. They are joined by the less familiar, like the Haugbui, cursed undead bound to remain in the land of the living or less familiar versions of the familiar, like Kobolds who wield illusions, telekinesis, and shape changing. Others, like the Mugger and the Zealot, represent Denizens forced to desperation by the changed circumstances of Midgard. Besides a handful of magical items, there is a treasure generator, and also ‘The Saga’, intended as an introductory scenario. It is based on the 13th-century story, ‘Egil’s Saga’. It gives some guidance to Dweller creation and is designed to be played by Ninth Level Dwellers. It is set on the islands of Atloy and Saudoy, to which the owner, Bard, invites King Erik Bloodaxe to a ceremony that will honour Erik’s father, the former king, and also the Vaettir, the spirit native to the island. The Dwellers are forced by a storm to stay on the island as the ceremony takes place and get to feast and participate. Unfortunately, the festivities take a bad turn when the host is killed and the King orders the murderer found. This is an excellent scenario, nicely detailed and nuanced, with scope for the Dwellers to side with the king or even with the culprit if he is found. There is the chance for the Dwellers to prove themselves worthy heroes in the eyes of the king as well and they will probably come away well rewarded. Lastly, Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök includes all of the various Play Mats and play aids that the Norn and the players will need to play the roleplaying game.

Physically, Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök is a fantastic looking roleplaying game. The artwork is superb, echoing a style that British readers will recognise as similar to the classic children’s animated series, Noggin the Nog, but full of mythic power and energy. The writing could be clearer, but the book does try.

Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök is a fantastically thematic roleplaying, bringing to life the heroics of the great Norse sagas at the Twilight of the Gods. That theme shows in the use of the Runes throughout as the mechanic and in the very physicality of the Wyrd, the drawing of the Runes and placing then to power abilities and so be mighty heroes of the age. Yet both are an impediment to play. Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök is not a roleplaying game that can be simply picked up and played. It has to be learned and it has to be taught. That takes commitment. It also has to be supported physically. That too, takes commitment. Fate of the Norns: Ragnarök is the Norse-est of Norse roleplaying games, a game that will deliver a Viking roleplaying experience like no other, but the commitment required means it is no mere casual game.

[Free RPG Day] Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart Guide

Now in its seventeenth year, Free RPG Day for 2024 took place on Saturday, June 22nd. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. This included dice, miniatures, vouchers, and more. Thanks to the generosity of Waylands Forge in Birmingham, Reviews from R’lyeh was able to get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day.


Quick-starts are means of trying out a roleplaying game before you buy. Each should provide a Game Master with sufficient background to introduce and explain the setting to her players, the rules to run the scenario included, and a set of ready-to-play, pre-generated characters that the players can pick up and understand almost as soon as they have sat down to play. The scenario itself should provide an introduction to the setting for the players as well as to the type of adventures that their characters will have and just an idea of some of the things their characters will be doing on said adventures. All of which should be packaged up in an easy-to-understand booklet whose contents, with a minimum of preparation upon the part of the Game Master, can be brought to the table and run for her gaming group in a single evening’s session—or perhaps too. And at the end of it, Game Master and players alike should ideally know whether they want to play the game again, perhaps purchasing another adventure or even the full rules for the roleplaying game.

Alternatively, if the Game Master already has the full rules for the roleplaying game for the quick-start is for, then what it provides is a sample scenario that she can still run as an introduction or even as part of her campaign for the roleplaying game. The ideal quick-start should entice and intrigue a playing group, but above all effectively introduce and teach the roleplaying game, as well as showcase both rules and setting.


What is it?
Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart Guide introduces Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game, an adaptation of the RuneScape MMORPG, sat in the medieval fantasy world of Gielinor.

It includes the rules to play and a scenario, ‘Trance of Ellar’.

It can be played with up to six Player Characters. They are not included in the Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart Guide, but can be downloaded here.

It is a thirty-six page, full colour book.

The quick-start is decently illustrated with a decent map of Gielinor.

The Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart Guide is published by Steamforged Games.

How long will it take to play?
Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart Guide can be played through in a single session, or two sessions at most.

What else do you need to play?
The Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart Guide requires multiple six-sided dice.

Where is it set?
Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart Guide is set in the city of Varrock.

Who do you play?
There are six ready-to-play Player Characters available to play with the
Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart Guide. They consist of a Ranger/Explorer, Farmer/Soldier, Forester/Druid, Miner/Wanderer, Cutpurse/Raider, and Apprentice Wizard/Travelling Healer.

How is a Player Character defined?
A Player Character in the Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart Guide and thus Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game has three attributes—Strength, Agility, and Intellect—and points in a range of up to twenty-one skills. Values for both the attributes and the skills typically range between one and five for the pre-generated Player Characters, but can go much higher. All six pre-generated Player Characters are human.

How do the mechanics work?
Mechanically, the Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart Guide and thus Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game, is based around rolls of three six-sided dice. The target number which the player has to roll equal to or under is equal to the total of the appropriate attribute and skill for the action that the player wants his character to undertake. If a triple value is roll and it is under the target number, the Player Character will gain an extra benefit, including doubling damage in combat. If the roll is a triple value and above the target number, the Player Character suffers a consequence. If the circumstances of a situation favour the Player Character, then the roll is made with Advantage, an extra die is rolled, and the three lowest results kept. Conversely, if the circumstances are not favourable, the role is made at Disadvantage and an extra die is rolled and the highest three results kept.

All rolls are player-facing. This means that the players always roll the dice whilst the Game Master never does.

The explanation of the rules also cover crafting and gaining resources.

How does combat work?
Conflict in the Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart uses the same core mechanics. The rules for conflict cover both ranged and close combat. The Player Characters always act first—except when the Player Characters are ambushed—and both Player Characters and enemies can take two actions per round. This includes Move, Melee Attack, Ranged Attack, Cast a Spell, Use a Skill, and more. Neither Player Character nor enemy is constricted in what actions they can take, so that a Player Character could take a Melee Attack twice in a round!

If an attack is successful, it inflicts the base damage for the weapon, but if the roll for the attack is one or more under the Target Number, the attack inflicts the special ability of the weapon. This might be to inflict a Bleed effect which causes ongoing damage, a Puncture attack which ignores the Soak effect of armour, and Swift, which allows a second attack at Advantage. If the attack is successful and two or more under the Target Number, then it deals the special effect of the weapon wielded and extra damage equal to the difference between the Target Number and number rolled.

Armour soaks damage on a one-for-one basis. In addition, it is possible to actively defend against an attack. This is treated as a standard skill roll and if successful soaks damage equal to the
equal to the difference between the Target Number and number rolled. This is in addition to the standard amount soaked by the armour.

Damage is deducted from Player Character’s Life Points, which roughly equal to forty-five points for the six pre-generated Player Characters. However, much like in an MMORPG, death is not necessarily the end of a Player Character. If a Player Character does die, Death will claim his prize, typically some equipment, a weapon or a piece of armour, or some money, and be resurrected, typically at the end of a battle. Death will also deliver a ticking off for the carelessness of the Player Character in getting himself killed.

How does magic work?
Magic in Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game uses Runes. The spellcaster expends the correct number of Runes to cast a spell and the player makes a skill check using the character’s Magic skill. If the result of the skill test is equal to the Target Number, the spell is successfully cast. If the spell inflicts damage, it takes effect. However, all spells have an effect which is triggered if the result of the skill test is lower than the Target Number. This can be an effect similar to those inflicted in combat or it can be particular to the spell. For example, Fire Bolt does nine damage if the spell is simply cast, but if the skill test result is lower than the Target Number, it also inflicts Incendiary, meaning that the target takes ongoing damage. However, this only applies to spells which inflict damage. If a spell does not do damage, then its effect is triggered if the roll is equal to the Target Number or less.

The Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart lists five spells and the pre-generated Player Character spellcaster starts play with numerous Runes which he can use to cast them.

What do you play?
The scenario in the Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart is ‘Trance of Ellar’, which takes up half of the quick-start. It is designed to be played by one to five Player Characters in one or two sessions. One of the Player Characters should be a spellcaster. It takes place in Varrock, the capital city of the kingdom of Misthalin, which has recently been beset by an outbreak of criminal activities. Businesses have been ransacked, churches broken into, and the city walls vandalised. The Player Characters are first hired by an aggrieved business owner and then the king to investigate the criminal activities. The investigation is quite straightforward and following an encounter with an unexpected victim, the Player Characters receive a summons from the King and put on the trail of the person responsible for the crimes, leading to a final battle with a demon!

Is it easy to prepare?
The core rules presented in
the Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart are easy to prepare and understand, and the scenario itself is quite straightforward. Overall, it requires very little in the way of preparation.

Is it worth it?
Yes. The
Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart is a serviceable introduction to both its setting and its rules. Both are easy to grasp, and anyone familiar with the RuneScape MMORPG will have issue adapting to the tabletop version.

Where can you get it?
The Runescape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game – Quickstart is available to download here.

Friday 28 June 2024

Friday Filler: For the Queen

The kingdom has suffered trouble and strife for as long as many of its citizens can remember. Yet there is hope on the horizon. The Queen has decided to entreat with a distant power and hopes to enter an alliance that will ensure peace for the nation. She has assembled the retinue that will accompany her on what will prove to be a long and arduous journey, testing the loyalties of members of the retinue, and ultimately forcing each of them to decide whether their love of the Queen is enough to guarantee their support in the face of an attack! This is the set-up for For the Queen, a collaborative storytelling game published by Darrington Press. Designed to be played by between two and six players, aged thirteen and up, it has a playing time of between thirty minutes and two hours. It is easy to set up and play, requires no preparation, no Game Master, and in asking a lot of questions of the players, creates characters, relationships, a world, and ultimately a story.

The place to start with For the Queen is not with how the game is played, but with its physicality. For the Queen comes in a very sturdy little box—designed to look like a pocketbook—which slips easily into a bag and makes a very handy addition to any game night or convention. The artwork on the box is eye-catching, but it is only a hint of things to come. Inside the box there are ninety-one cards. These consist of sixty Question Cards, seventeen Rules Cards, an X-Card, and thirteen Queen Cards. The Rules Cards contain one rule or aspect of the game each and they are read out in order, one player after another, and in the process, set the game up. There are barely eleven rules in the game and they are very easy to grasp. The sixty Question Cards consist of one or two questions which will serve as prompts to the players’ imaginations. For example, “Why are some others at the royal court jealous of your relationship with the Queen?” or “What question do you wish you could ask the Queen? What keeps you from asking it?” One Question Card has the statement and question, “The Queen is under attack. Do you defend her?” When this Question Card is drawn, it indicates the final round of the game and unlike the other Question Cards, it is one that everyone answers.

However, the most eye-catching cards are the Queen Cards. There are thirteen of these, each doubled-sided, with an illustration on each side, except for the last card which lists all of the Queens. Each illustration depicts a queen, but a different queen each time. A Birthday Queen. A Pirate Queen. A Drag Queen. A Queen Mother. A Cyberpunk Queen. A Shadow Queen. And so on, with the players picking just one of these as their Queen for their journey and their play through of For the Queen. The choice of Queen will heavily influence the story told. A journey made with the Pirate Queen will lend itself to a very different journey and story compared to one made with a CEO Queen. This is the main variable in the game—a different Queen Card means a different genre and a different story. Essentially, the Queen Card serves as the initial prompt for the players and is something that they will return to again and again over the course of a game.

The last thing done as part of set-up is to shuffle the sixty Question Cards and then the “The Queen is under attack. Do you defend her?” Question Card is placed into the deck. The closer it is placed to the bottom of the deck, the longer the game will last. Then the game begins. The players take it in turn to draw a Question Card and answer it. The Question Cards really do one thing—they push each player to examine his relationship with the Queen. In doing so, the player will also create a character for himself and establish that relationship, which depending on the Question Cards drawn and answered, will probably be a negative one, or at least a nuanced and conflicted one. As a player draws and answers more and more Question Cards, it will ultimately influence his answer to the last Question Card, “The Queen is under attack. Do you defend her?”.

When a player draws a Question Card, he is not duty bound to answer it. If he does not want to answer it because its question makes him uncomfortable, he can simply tap the X-Card included in the game and move on. Similarly, if the game is straying into a subject matter that makes a player uncomfortable, that player can simply tap the X-Card included in the game and the subject matter can be excised from the game. The other option if a player does not want to answer a Question Card is for him to pass it to the next player, which can sometimes reveal something big about that player and his character. When a player is answering a Question Card, the other players are free to ask questions of him and to get him to elaborate and reveal more about his character’s relationship to the Queen. This, though, does not mean that For the Queen becomes a game of interrogation, but one of gentle inquiry, and if it does become of interrogation, there is always the X-Card.

Physically, For the Queen is beautiful. The writing is simple, clear, and direct.

For the Queen is about discovering who you are in relationship to a central figure, the Queen, and what the nature of the relationship is. The longer the player, the more Question Cards are drawn and answered, and the deeper and more nuanced the relationship becomes, and thus the more difficult answering the last Question Card, “The Queen is under attack. Do you defend her?”, becomes. It constantly asks direct questions of the players, pushing them to improvise answers that build both the relationships between the Queen and her retinue and the world through which they must journey. The result is a tensely enthralling experience as each Question Card is drawn and more secrets are revealed about the relationships between the players and their Queen, that you immediately want to play it again.

For the Queen is a brilliantly tense and engaging storytelling game of creative improvisation. Its easy set-up and portability means that it is ready to play in minutes wherever you are. For the Queen is the perfect game to pack for game nights and for conventions to play when there is no game, in between games, and when a player or two cannot make it

[Free RPG Day] Unnatural Disaster

Now in its seventeenth year, Free RPG Day for 2024 took place on Saturday, June 22nd. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. This included dice, miniatures, vouchers, and more. Thanks to the generosity of Waylands Forge in Birmingham, Reviews from R’lyeh was able to get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day.


Unnatural Disaster
 is a scenario for not one roleplaying game, but four! Published by Renegade Games Studios, it can be used with the Transformers Roleplaying Game, the G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game, the Power Rangers Roleplaying Game, or the My Little Pony Roleplaying Game. This is not to say that the scenario can be used by one or more of them together, but rather be run using whichever one of the four roleplaying games that the Game Master is running. This is done by combining the plot of the scenario with the villains, minions, device, and purpose given for each one of the four different roleplaying games and referenced in their pages. In addition, the Game Master needs to use the suggested Metropolitan City for each setting or use one from her own campaign, the Innocents in danger throughout the scenario, the reasons for the Player Characters being there, and the Supervisor who will working alongside the NPCs.

For example, the Villains for Unnatural Disaster for the My Little Pony Roleplaying Game are listed as the Diamond Dog, Cooper, his Minions are three Parasprites, the Device is the Crown of the Hive Queen, and the purpose is to dig for the gems that the Diamond Dogs love. The Metropolitan City is Manehattan, the Innocents who will be placed in danger are Manehattanitte Ponies and other creatures, the Player Characters are there for a ‘Rarity For You’ paid internship, and the supervisor is Sassy Saddles. In comparison, the Villains for the G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game is The Garnet of the Crimson Guard, whose Minions are five COBRA Troopers, the Device is The Weather Dominator, and the Purpose is for The Garnet is to make an impression and so rise up the ranks of the COBRA. The Metropolitan City is Los Angeles, the Innocents who will be placed in danger are the Angelenos, the Player Characters are there on an Undercover Urban Assignment, and the supervisor is Roadblock. All the Game Master has to do is to remember to refer to the particular elements from the roleplaying game she is running and use them during play.

Unnatural Disaster is a three-act scenario which begins en media res with the Menagerie District of Metropolitan City being best by an earthquake and the Player Characters being caught up in the middle of it. As the Player Characters unearth themselves from the cave-in and navigate the aftershocks, they discover the district to be in disarray and the citizens in a state of panic and in need of help. There are three sub missions here. These are escorting innocents to safety, stabilising structures, stopping bad behaviour—that is, looting and similar actions. In each case, these are clearly explained with suggestions as to which skills should be used and how. Notable are the suggestions as to how to deal with the incidences of bad behaviour. The Player Characters might try an emotional approach with a heart-to-heart; a logical approach to persuade that what the miscreants are doing, that it is not worth it; or a physical approach if all else fails. It also states that there is no one way to solve the problem, but there is probably an ideal way—and the advice for the Game Master essentially covers them all.

In addition to helping citizens of the Menagerie District recover in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and get to safety, the Player Characters are also doing one more thing—they are looking for clues as the cause of the disaster. The first of which is the initial point of the earthquake, which looks very different—‘unnatural’ if you will—to what the obvious signs of an earthquake should be. This clue-gathering will ultimately, with a bit of thought by the players and the use of a handout grid to work what clues their characters have found to date, point to the possible source of the disaster and its location. This leads into the third and final act, in which they will climb down into a basement and confront the villain responsible for the earthquake. This sets up a big battle in which the Player Characters can defeat the villain, capture him, and shut down the device to prevent it doing any further damage, all before the authorities turn up to take the villains into custody and begin the clean up of the city.

Lastly, there is advice for the Game Master as to whether or not the Player Characters should go up a Level and some suggestions as a possible sequel, though these are understandably generic given that the scenario is designed to work with four different roleplaying games! Reward definitely comes though, in the form of bonuses to any social skill tests whilst in the Menagerie District. The citizens will not forget the aid rendered by the Player Characters.

Physically, Unnatural Disaster is a decently, cleanly laid out booklet with artwork from all four roleplaying games. The map is clear and simple, and easy to use. However, it does need an edit in places.

Unnatural Disaster is a straightforward, uncomplicated scenario—whichever roleplaying game the Game Master is running it for. It can be played in a single session and it gives plenty of opportunities for the Player Characters to be heroic, which is exactly what you want whether you are playing the Transformers Roleplaying Game, the G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game, the Power Rangers Roleplaying Game, or the My Little Pony Roleplaying Game.

Monday 24 June 2024

[Free RPG Day] Sword of the Brigand King

Now in its seventeenth year, Free RPG Day for 2024 took place on Saturday, June 22nd. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. This included dice, miniatures, vouchers, and more. Thanks to the generosity of Waylands Forge in Birmingham, Reviews from R’lyeh was able to get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day.


Sword of the Brigand King for Return to Dark Tower Fantasy Roleplaying is an intriguing release for Free RPG Day 2024 due to both the roleplaying game it is an introduction to and its format. Published by 9th Level Games, it is a mini-scenario designed to be played in thirty minutes, an introduction to Return to Dark Tower Fantasy Roleplaying, the roleplaying game set in the same world as the board game, Return to Dark Tower, the sequel from Restoration Games to Dark Tower, the electronic board game published by Milton Bradley in 1981. It is fair to say that Dark Tower and its sequel are swathed in nostalgia, so there is a fascination about and the resulting roleplaying game. The format of Sword of the Brigand King is surprisingly clever. It is done as a notebook complete with tear-off pages. A slim notebook at that, just ten pages long. Flip the pages open and the Adversary—as the Game Master is known—is taken, step-by-step, through the process of setting the game up, explaining the rules, handing out the characters, and then running the encounters. As she does so, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more on the back page of each page and in each case, it is literally and physically, player-facing. So, opposite the page where the Adversary explains the rules is the character sheet for the Bog Witch, then flip over the page where the Adversary explains the rules and on the back of that is character sheet for the Dyrad Outrider. In the case of each of the four Player Characters, the Adversary tears them from the notepad that is Sword of the Brigand King and hands them to her players. Each of the four Player Characters can folded in half to form a triangle with the character on the player-facing side and an illustration facing everyone else on the front. Once the Adversary starts running the scenario, the player-facing side gives maps for each of the scenes in Sword of the Brigand King.

A Player Character in Sword of the Brigand King and thus Return to Dark Tower Fantasy Roleplaying, is defined by four attributes—Books, Boots, Blades, and Bones. Books covers senses and knowledge, Boots physical action, Blades combat, and Bones to be brave and strong. Each Player Character has a run of numbers assigned to each attribute. For example, the Bog Witch has ‘2 and 3’ assigned to Books, ‘3, 4, and 5’ to Boots, ‘4, 5, 6, and 7’ to Blades’, and ‘5, 6, 7,8, and 9’ to Bones. To have his character undertake an action, a player rolls a single die, the size of which depends on the character. A Bog Witch always rolls a four-sided die, for example. In order to roll higher than the maximum on the die, the player needs to roll the maximum on the die, and that allows him to roll again and add the result. In addition, if the player rolls a one and can justify to the Adversary that his character can do an action, he succeeds. In addition, some Player Characters can undertake actions with Advantage, meaning that two dice are rolled and the highest selected.

If a roll is a failure or something bad happens to a Player Character, there is a chance that he is in danger and takes a point of Danger. In which case, the player rolls his character’s die type and if the result is equal to or less than the character’s current Danger value, the character dies! If the roll is above his character’s current Danger value, he survives. Thus, Player Characters with low die types need to be careful, but the system—called the Polymorph System—and used also for the Mazes Fantasy Roleplaying, also published by 9th Level Games, can be lethal. This is especially so with combat, as the system is player-facing, that is, all the rolls in the game are made by the players. So, missing an opponent, means there is a chance of being fatally struck and killed by an opponent!

There are four Player Characters. The Howling Barbarian, Dryad Outrider, and Bog Watch are all companions to a Brutal Warlord, who have all come to Plains of Plovo in search of Glavius, the Bandit King, an agent of the Dark Tower, whom they have sworn to kill. The local villagers, having been subject to the predations of the Bandit King, happily provide the Player Characters with a map to his hiding place, a hilltop fort in the Cloudrest Mountains. The adventure itself consists of just a few locations, a twisting cavern, the courtyard to the fort, and the great hall where the Bandit King, Glavius, is waiting for the scenario’s big showdown. Succeed and the Player Characters will have come away knowing that have defeated one of the agents of the Dark Tower and won themselves some useful artefacts.

Physically, Sword of the Brigand King is surprisingly well presented, in that it is surprise to work out exactly how it works and when you do… The information is clearly and cleverly presented for both the Adversary and the Player Characters in a format which is reminiscent of the flipbooks used for the scenarios for the Dark Sun setting for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition from TSR, Inc. However, the rules for the play are not quite as clearly presented for the Adversary as they could have been, but most of them become apparent once you play.

Sword of the Brigand King is a bit cheap and cheerful, but it does succeed in what it sets out to do, and that is present a simple, direct, and exciting roleplaying experience in thirty minutes. It does this with easy to learn rules, a very straightforward scenario, and a clever format.

Marseille Mirages

Achtung! Cthulhu is the roleplaying game of fast-paced pulp action and Mythos magic published by Modiphius Entertainment. It is pitches the Allied Agents of the Britain’s Section M, the United States’ Majestic, and the brave Resistance into a secret war against those Nazi Agents and organisations which would command and entreat with the occult and forces beyond the understanding of mankind. They are willing to risk their lives and their sanity against malicious Nazi villains and the unfathomable gods and monsters of the Mythos themselves, each striving for supremacy in mankind’s darkest yet finest hour! Yet even the darkest of drives to take advantage of the Mythos is riven by differing ideologies and approaches pandering to Hitler’s whims. The Black Sun consists of Nazi warrior-sorcerers supreme who use foul magic and summoned creatures from nameless dimensions to dominate the battlefields of men, whilst Nachtwölfe, the Night Wolves utilise technology, biological enhancements, and wunderwaffen (wonder weapons) to win the war for Germany. Ultimately, both utilise and fall under the malign influence of the Mythos, the forces of which have their own unknowable designs…

Achtung! Cthulhu Mission: Operation Marseille is a short adventure for the roleplaying game. It takes place in the summer of 1941 in Southern France, then governed by the pro-Nazi Vichy government. Section M has learned from its Maquis contacts that soldiers of the Black Sun are about to perform a ritual which could unleash the power and influence of the Dreamlands on the port city of Marseille. Section M’s orders for its Agents are clear—disrupt the ritual, and then, if possible, eliminate both the Black Sun researcher, Eveline Schrötter, and her assistant, the Black Sun Master, Lisette Laurent, and destroy the research. They are then to take refuge in a Maquis safehouse—a book shop called Joie de Livres—for a few hours before proceeding to the harbour where evacuation has been arranged.

The operation begins en media res. The Agents are on site and the ritual is about to begin. Thus, the opening scene will be a big fight! With what might be the climax of any other scenario of Lovecraftian investigative horror addressed up front, the question is, what is the rest of Achtung! Cthulhu Mission: Operation Marseille all about? Simple—consequences and escape! All the Agents have to do is get from the ritual site at Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul to the safehouse, lay low for a few hours, and then make their way to the port, hop onto the already arranged boat, and sail to safety. Naturally, both the forces of the Black Sun and the Vichy authorities with its Armistice Army, will outlooking for the interlopers who sabotaged an important German research project. There are also members of the public who support the Vichy government and they will have no issue reporting the presence of foreigners to the authorities. That is to be expected. What is not to be expected is the increasingly weird series of hallucinations that the Agents begin to experience as they make their escape. Affected by Dreamlands energy from the ritual, the Agents will find themselves cast into blizzard-bound mountains where something unnatural hunts them; a chasm splits open the street and the Agents must climb out under a rain of iridescent burning spheres; and lastly, they must solve puzzles if they are to escape a Daliesque dinner party!

These three are not the only hallucinations that will beset the Agents as they attempt to escape the city—merely the major ones. The scenario’s second appendix details nine minor hallucinations that can affect the Agents. These include seeing a lurker in the dark which the Agent is sure is hunting him and the Dreamlands-appropriate ‘being pursued by cats’. Each minor hallucination is done as a handout and enforces the ‘Hallucinating’ Truth on the Agent imposed at the start of the scenario by the Black Sun ritual, a fact that means he can affected by it again and again. If they are repeated, the Game Master is advised to vary it slightly according to the situation. This condition cannot be removed by normal means. It is possible to do it within the scenario, but it requires a spellcaster, it is difficult, and more importantly, it takes time. Unfortunately, time is not something that the Agents have on their side. They need to escape the city and they are being hunted. Whilst laying low is likely to make it more difficult for the Vichy authorities and its Armistice Army forces to find the Agents, laying low is likely to make it easier for the Black Sun troopers to find them—they do have the means to do so! Lastly, the Agents must get to Port in Marseille, find their contact who arranged their evacuation, and make their escape from France across the Mediterranean. Of course, Black Sun will be chasing them all the way…

All of which is played out against the clock. Quite literally, as one of the handouts in the scenario’s first appendix is a pocket watch. The majority of the handouts consist of mathematical puzzles that the players and their Agents must solve during one of the hallucinations. Some of them are harder than others.

Physically, Achtung! Cthulhu Mission: Operation Marseille is well presented. There are no illustrations. However, the layout is big and bold and the handouts and the cartography—especially the latter—more than make up for the absence of any illustrations.

Achtung! Cthulhu Mission: Operation Marseille combines fast-paced action with woozy weirdness as the Agents are hunted across a city under pro-Nazi control. It is playable in a single session (or two) and its en media res set-up makes it very easy to drop into or even start a campaign.

Sunday 23 June 2024

Discovering Numenera

Civilisations rise and fall, and even transcend, and they all leave their mark on their landscape. Islands of crystal float in the sky. Massive machines, some abandoned, some still operational, wheeze and groan to purposes unknown, thrust high into the sky and deep into the ground. A plain of broken glass stretches to the horizon. The Iron Wind whips across the landscape, fundamentally transforming all caught within its cloud, flesh and non-flesh alike, into new forms. Enormous humanoid statues drift aimlessly across the sky, their purpose long forgotten. A castle continues to expand and grow as more people settle within its walls. The Great Slab stands thousands of feet high and almost ten miles square, a block of synth, metal, and organics, its sides slick with a reddish-black oil that prevents anyone from climbing it or discovering the entirely different ecosystem on its top. Scattered across this landscape borne of nanotech, gravitic technology, genetic engineering, spatial warping, and superdense polymers are smaller devices, all together called numenera. Artifacts that protect the wearer with an invisible force field, arm him with a weapon with the power of the sun, or a pair of lenses that allow the viewer to read any language. Cyphers that when thrown detonate causing a singularity to rip at the fabric of the universe, ingested give the ability to see ten times as far as normal, or fires an anchoring magnet which then creates a bridge. Oddities like a musical instrument which only unmelodic notes, a cape that billows in the wind even if there is no air, or a synth disc that restores a single piece of rotten fruit or vegetable to being fully edible. These are all waiting to be discovered, utilised, and even traded for. The ill-educated may look at all of this and call it magic, but most know that these are the remnants of past ages civilisations—civilisations that reached the far depths of space, engineered planets, toyed with reality, sidestepped into other parallels, and more, waiting to be found, examined, and their secrets revealed. Many devices can be found and worked, some not, but all know that the knowledge of how they are made has long been forgotten. This is the Ninth World.

The Ninth World is our Earth a billion years into the future. It is one continent, still settled humans, though some are abhumans—mutants, crossbreeds, the genetically engineered, and their descendants, or they are visitants, who have come to Earth, but are not native to it. Many reside in the Steadfast, a collection of kingdoms and principalities that exist under the watchful benevolence of the Amber Pope, whose Aeon Priests of the Order of Truth revere the peoples of the past and their knowledge and technology. The Order of Truth not only studies the past and its technologies, it tries to find a use for them to the betterment of the peoples of the Steadfast. The peoples of the Ninth World make use of the technology that they can scavenge—and which the Aeon Priests tell them is safe to use, turning it into armour, weapons, and everyday devices and tools to enhance the mediaeval technology they currently possess. In particular, they employ numenera—Artifacts, Cyphers, and Oddities— bits of technology leftover from past civilizations, that may have an obvious function; may have once had an obvious function, but what that has been lost and the device is put to another use; or may have once had an obvious function, but what that was, has been lost and can no longer be discerned.

The is the setting for Numenera, a Science Fantasy roleplaying game of exploration and adventure the very far future, originally published in 2013 by Monte Cook Games. It is often forgotten what a big hit Numenera was, introducing a style of play that looked familiar—the exploration of labyrinths and complexes—but placing it in a very different genre and thus shorn of that familiarity and its historical constraints. Numenera would go on to win the 2014 Origins Award for ‘Best New Roleplaying Game’, the 2014 Ennie Award for Best Writing, the 2014 Ennie Award for Best Setting, and 2014 Ennie Award for Product of the Year, be the basis of its own set of mechanics in the form of the Cypher System, and introduce new ideas in terms of roleplaying, such as player-facing mechanics and Game Master Intrusions, a new way of narratively increasing tension and awarding Experience Points. Funded via a Kickstarter campaign, the second edition of Numenera is split into two volumes, Numenera Discovery and Numenera Destiny. Of these, Numenera Discovery, presents the setting of the Ninth World with everything needed to play including character creation, rules, Cyphers, a bestiary, advice for the Game Master, and some ready-to-pay scenarios. Numenera Destiny expands the setting with new Player Character archetypes, salvaging and crafting rules, numenera, scenarios, and more, all designed to facilitate campaign play in charting the future of the Ninth World is part of that play.

Numenera Discovery opens with some setting fiction, ‘The Amber Monolith’, before going on to explain what the Ninth World is and how it differs from other roleplaying games and even from how the world is viewed in the here and now, whether that is a more cosmopolitan outlook, an acceptance though not an understanding of the technology of the past, and a medievalism without the burden of history. The rules and mechanics are clearly explained before the character creation is explained.

Characters in Numenera are primarily humans in one form or another—visitants are an advanced option and one of three Types—Glaives, Nanos, or Jacks. Glaives are warriors, either wearing heavy armour and wielding heavy weaponry or relying on light arms and armour to give them movement and agility. Nanos are sorcerers, capable of tapping into the Numenera to alter reality or learn more about it, wielding ‘Esoteries’ to command nano-spirits. Jacks are somewhere in between, being flexible in what they can do, capable of learning to fight, using ‘Esoteries’, and more. At their core, each character is defined by three stats—Might, Speed, and Intellect, and a descriptive sentence. This sentence has the structure of “I am a [adjective] [noun] who [verbs]”, where the noun is the character’s Type; the adjective a descriptor, such as Clever or Swift, that defines the character and how he does things; and the verb is the Focus or what the character does that makes him unique. For example, “I am an Intelligent Nano who Talks to Machines”. A player will also need to assign some points to the three Stats and choose some options in terms of Background—how the character became a Glaive, Nano, or Jack—and select some skills from the Type. The choice of descriptor and the verb further defines and modifies the character, whilst the Background and the Connection help hook the character into the setting. Characters begin at Tier One and can advance as far as Tier Six, gaining skills and abilities along the way. An appendix details some non-human character options.

Here, though, are the first major changes to Numenera Discovery. Whilst Foci remain relatively unchanged, there have been changes to the Descriptors. Notably, this includes both ‘Creates Unique Objects’ and ‘Leads’, which have been removed as essentially what they did is covered in the second book, Numenera Destiny. One new addition is ‘Speaks With a Silver Tongue’, which makes the character highly persuasive. Of the three Types, the Glaive and the Jack have undergone tweaks to varying degrees to make both more interesting to play. The Fighting Move options for the Glaive now include ‘Aggression’, ‘Fleet of Foot’, ‘Impressive Display’, and ‘Misdirect’, as well as ‘No Need for Weapons’ and ‘Trained Without Armour’. These allow for some interesting combinations, such as ‘Aggression’, which grants the Glaive an asset on attacks whilst hindering Speed rolls against attacks, and ‘No Need for Weapons’, which increases damage from unarmed attacks, so the Glaive becomes a brawling berserker. ‘Fleet of Foot’ lets a Glaive combine movement with actions, and with ‘Misdirect’ which enables him to deflect attacks at him back at others, he could zip around the battlefield disrupting attacks.

Whilst the Nano is unchanged, the biggest changes have been made to the Jack. Named for ‘Jack of all trades’, the Jack never quite felt distinctive enough between the Glaive and the Nano. Although there is some crossover still between the Glaive and the Jack with abilities such as ‘Trained in Armor’ and ‘Fleet of Foot’, but the new abilities like ‘Create Deadly Poison’, ‘Critter Companion’, ‘Face Morph’, ‘Link Senses’, and others all serve to make the Jack unique rather than being a bit of both the Glaive and the Nano, but not fully one or the other. One major addition is a set of suggested Cyphers that each character type can begin play with.

“I am a Clever Jack who Speaks With a Silver Tongue”
Tier One Jack
Might 10 (Edge 0)
Speed 12 (Edge 0)
Intellect 16 (Edge 1) Effort 1
Cyphers (2): machine control implant, visage changer
Oddities: Small square cage that puts whatever single creature is inside it into stasis
Tricks of the Trade: Face Morph (2+ Intellect), Late Inspiration (3+ Intellect), Flex Skill
Skills: Interactions Involving Lies or Trickery (Trained); Defence Rolls to Resist Mental Effects (Trained); All Tasks Involving, Identifying, or Assessing Danger, Lies, Quality, Importance, Function, or Power (Trained); Persuasion, Deception, and Intimidation (Trained); Lock Picking (Trained) Inability: Studying or Retaining Trivial Knowledge (Hindered)
Equipment: Book of Favourite Words, Clothing, two weapons, explorer’s pack, pack of light tools, 8 shins Connection: You’re drinking buddies with a number of the local guards and glaives.
Origin: Born Lucky

Mechanically, Numenera Discovery—as with the other Cypher System roleplaying games which have followed—is player facing—and in its original version, arguably was one of the first systems to be player facing. Thus, in combat, a player not only rolls for his character to make an attack, but also rolls to avoid any attacks made against his character. Essentially this shifts the game’s mechanical elements from the Game Master to the player, leaving the Game Master to focus on the story, on roleplaying NPCs, and so on. When it comes to tasks, the character is attempting to overcome a Task Difficulty, ranging from one and Simple to ten and Impossible. This is done on a twenty-sided die. The target number is actually three times the Task Difficulty. So, a Task Difficulty of four or Difficult, means that the target number is twelve, whilst a Task Difficulty of seven or Formidable, means that the target number is twenty-one. The aim of the player is to lower this Task Difficulty. This can be done in a number of ways.

Modifiers, whether from favourable circumstances, skills, or good equipment, can decrease the Difficulty, whilst skills give bonuses to the roll. Trained skills—skills can either be Practised or Trained—can reduce the Difficulty, but the primary method is for a player to spend points from his relevant Stat pools. This is called applying Effort. Applying the first level of Effort, which will reduce the target number by one, is three points from the relevant Stat pool. Additional applications of Effort beyond this cost two points. The cost of spending points from a Stat pool is reduced by its associated Edge, which if the Edge is high enough, can reduce the Effort to zero, which means that the Player Character gets to do the action for free—or effortlessly!

Rolls of one enable a free GM Intrusion—essentially a complication to the current situation that does reward the Player Character with any Experience Points, whereas rolls of seventeen and eighteen in combat grant damage bonuses. Rolls of nineteen and twenty in combat can also grant damage bonuses, but alternatively, can grant minor and major effects. For example, distracting an opponent or striking a specific body part. Rolls of nineteen and twenty in non-combat situations grant minor and major effects, which the player and Game Master can decide on in play. In combat, light weapons always inflict two points of damage, medium weapons four points, and heavy weapons six points, and damage is reduced by armour. NPCs simply possess a Level, which like the Task Difficulty ranges between one and ten and is multiplied by three to get a target number to successfully attack them.

Experience Points under the Cypher System are earned in several ways, primarily through achieving objectives, making interesting discoveries, and so on. However, they are not awarded for simply killing monsters or finding treasure. There are two significant means of a Player Character gaining Experience Points. The first is ‘GM Intrusion’. These are designed to make a situation and the Player Character’s life more interesting or more complicated. For example, the Player Character might automatically set off a trap or an NPC important to the Player Character is imperilled. Suggested Intrusions are given for the three character Types and also for all of the ninety or more Foci. When this occurs, the Game Master makes an Intrusion and offers the player and his character two Experience Points. The player does not have to accept this ‘GM Intrusion’, but this costs an Experience Point. If he does accept the Intrusion, the player receives the two Experience Points, keeps one and then gives the other to another player, explaining why he and his character deserves the other Experience Point. The ‘GM Intrusion’ mechanic encourages a player to accept story and situational complications and place their character in danger, making the story much more exciting.

The major mechanical addition is the ‘Player Intrusion’, the reverse of the ‘GM Intrusion’. With this, a player spends an Experience Point to present a solution to a problem or complication. These make relatively small, quite immediate changes to a situation. For example, a Cypher or Artifact is expended, but it might be that the situation really demands the device’s use again, so the player decides to make a ‘Player Intrusion’ and at the cost of single Experience Point, give it one more use of charge or a player wants to reroll a failed task.

Creatures and numenera—Artifacts, Cyphers, Oddities—receive their own sections. There is a wide selection of both in Numenera Discovery, though with very little change between this edition of the roleplaying game and the first. A nice touch is that for each of the creatures, the Game Master is given an ‘Intrusion’ which he can use to make the encounter more challenging. One notable aspect of Numenera Discovery is that the Player Characters are limited in the number of Cyphers that they can each possess by their Type (Glaive, Nano, or Jack). Possess too many and a Player Character’s Cyphers begin to have side effects, sometimes dangerous ones. The people of the Ninth World know this and distrust those with too many. This limit is both a game mechanic and a setting mechanic. It both enforces the fleeting nature of Cyphers and the need to use—because using them is fundamentally cool—whilst at the same preventing any player from just hoarding them.

A good fifth of Numenera Discovery is dedicated to the setting of the Steadfast, its environs and beyond, literally, The Beyond. This is anything that lies outside of the nine kingdoms of the Steadfast and the Beyond the Beyond is also detailed. One such location Beyond the Beyond is The University of Doors, a place of learning found in an alternate universe that can only be reached via one or more hidden doors—getting to the door could be an adventure in itself. These sections are full of interesting details and places—such as the ‘mud’ city of Nihliesh, built atop an ancient, but immobile city-vehicle; that the lady Anatrea of Castle Aventur hosts salons for scholars and nanos, such is her fascination with numenera; and that a sphere of an unknown black material is rumoured to constantly roll across the Plain of Kataru. Several organisations besides the Order of Truth, including the Convergence, whose members value numenera as much as the Order of Truth, but for themselves rather than for society itself; the Angulan Knights, who are dedicated to humanity’s advancement and have the blessings of Order of Truth and ride the great xi-drakes as mounts; and the Jagged Dream, a secret anarchist cult dedicated to engineering conflict on a massive scale, are also detailed.

Similarly, a good tenth of Numenera Discovery is dedicated to advice for the Game Master on running the game. This covers how to use the rules, how to build a story, and how to realise the Ninth World. There is guidance on how to use GM Intrusions, including as a narrative tool and as a resolution mechanic, along with plenty of examples; handling the flow of information, when to have the players roll dice, how to encourage player creativity, and a lot more. There is advice on running the first few sessions and beyond, as well as suggestions on how to use the Ninth World by shifting the genre, for example, by making it a post-apocalyptic or weird horror setting, a look at what sciences and technologies can be found across the Ninth World, and numerous scenario ideas in addition to the three scenarios already included in Numenera Discovery. The three are each very different. ‘Taker of Sorrow’ is an introductory scenario for both players and the Game Master, an investigation into an outbreak of monsters, weirdly mouthy and emotional lumps of carnivorous flesh, that are plaguing the route the Player Characters are travelling on. It includes some diversions that the Game Master can place in the Player Characters’ way—and even places the second adventure, ‘Vault of Reflections’, nearby as a diversion, but otherwise, ‘Taker of Sorrow’ is a straightforward affair. That second scenario, ‘Vault of Reflections’, focuses on exploration and encounters with the weird technologies left behind by a previous age, whilst the third scenario, ‘Legacy’ is an investigative affair set in and around a university. Notably it uses an abbreviated adventure format that links its various scenes as a flowchart, and relies on a mix of stealth and interaction than the previous two scenarios. All three scenarios are new to this edition and do a decent job of showcasing the types of adventure possible in Numenera Discovery.

Physically, Numenera Discovery is very well presented and put together. Although it needs a slight edit in places, the book is well written, and everything is easy to grasp. Above all, the artwork is excellent and this is a great looking book.

As a second edition, the changes introduced with Numenera Discovery are more adjustments—for example, the tweaks to both the Glaive and the Jack character types and the addition of the Player Intrusion mechanic—to make the roleplaying game more interesting to play rather than a series of wholesale overhauls. Otherwise, the innovative rules and mechanics remain the same and as playable as ever. The fact that Numenera Discovery has not been changed since its publication shows how little needed to be changed to make what was a good game simply better.

Numenera Discovery is a very complete introduction to the Ninth World and more. It has everything that a Game Master and her players need to play Numenera—rules, scenarios, advice, the lot—and it remains the definitive edition of the core rules for Numenera.

Saturday 22 June 2024

Mutant Miniature Mayhem

Since 2015, we have been able to leave the Ark and explore the post-apocalypse, perhaps discover what happened, and even search for somewhere safe to live alongside the different groups. First with the mutants of Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, then with the uplifted animals of Mutant: Genlab Alpha, the robots of Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, and with the surviving humans of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium. These four books consist of campaigns in their own right and they come together in The Gray Death, but the relationships between these diverse groups is not always an easy one and with resources scarce, including artefacts left over from before in the Old Age, it can lead to these very different groups coming to blows—and worse! This then, is the set-up for Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars, a skirmish wargame set in a post-apocalyptic future which takes place in an area known as the Zone.

Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe is a complete skirmish game which comes with everything that you need to play. This includes miniatures, rules, dice, cards, terrain, and more, all designed to be played by two players, aged fourteen and up, and plays in roughly ninety minutes. An expansion, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Robots & Psionics adds a second set of factions so that four players can play. Published by Free League Publishing following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars is notable for a number of things. Most obviously, that it is set in the Mutant: Year Zero universe, and not only that, but it is compatible with the four setting and campaign books for Mutant: Year Zero and the Year Zero mechanics such that it is possible to take a Player Character from one of the roleplaying games and adapt it to Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars. In fact, fans of Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Mutant: Genlab Alpha will recognise many of figures in Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe as being based on the artwork from those books. As will fans of the computer game, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. Both Dux, a duck hybrid, and Bormin, a pig hybrid, are included as miniatures in the core game.

Further, it is designed by Andy Chambers, whose wargames pedigree is unparalleled—Necromunda, Battlefleet Gothic, and Warhammer Fantasy Battle for Games Workshop and Dropzone Commander from Hawk Games. Altogether, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe sounds like an attractive package—and that is before you even get to open the box.

Inside Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars can be found ten miniatures, over eighty cards, over one hundred tokens, ten custom dice, three sheets of cardboard terrain, a map sheet, a measuring rule, and a rulebook. Open the book and the first thing you see is the map sheet and the cardboard terrain. The map sheet is thirty-six inches square, on heavy paper, and double-sided. Both show a rough scrubland in green and brown, whilst one of them has a dual carriage way running across it. The terrain is done in full colour and on heavy cardstock, slotting together easily to create a total of ten pieces, consisting of walls, trees, and the ruins of buildings, some of them with an upper floor. The terrain also comes apart easily for easy storage. The measuring rule and the tokens are bright and breezy and easy to use and see. The dice consist of two sets, the yellow base dice and the black gear dice, and they are easy to read and feel good in the hand. The cards come in two sizes. The standard size cards consist of the character cards which list each character’s stats, starting gear, and mutations. They are double-sided, one side showing the character healthy, the other when he is bloodied. Other standard size cards depict obstacles and monsters that might be encountered during play. The small cards consist of the starting equipment and mutations for the characters, as well as artefacts that can be found and are often being fought over in Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars.

Then of course, there are the miniatures. These are done in 32 millimetre, a durable plastic, and divided into two sets of five. One set of five from the Ark Mutants and one set of five from the Genlab Tribe Mutants. The Nova Cult Mutants and the Mechatron Robots do not appear in Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe, but are included in the expansion, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Robots & Psionics. All ten miniatures are highly detailed and highly individualised and really stand out in play. Lastly, the miniatures, cards, and dice all sit in their own tray which has a lid, for very easy storage. There is even an empty slot on the try in which the game’s tokens can be readily stored.

The rules booklet runs to just twenty-four pages—and half of that is dedicated to the core set’s five scenarios. Each character or miniature is defined by four Attributes—Ranged, Melee, Survival, and Health. Ranged and Melee covers the types of attacks a miniature can make, Survival a measure of how well he avoid the dangers of the Zone or take advantage of them, and Health indicates how much damage he can take before he is Broken and cannot act until he recovers. Miniatures also have Mutations and Modules. The Modules are specific to Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Robots & Psionics, whilst everyone else uses Mutations. Ark Mutants use physical mutations, like ‘Acid Spit’ and ‘Four-Armed’, whilst ‘Antlers’ and ‘Flight Response’ are used by the Genlab Alpha Mutants. These are activated in play using M-points, which a player acquires by pushing combat rolls or from Zone cards.

Mechanically, anyone who has played Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days or any roleplaying game from Free League Publishing will be familiar with Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars. They all use the Year Zero engine. This involves a player rolling six-sided dice and aiming to roll one or more successes, indicated by the Radiation symbol. The dice pool will be made up of two dice types. The yellow Base Dice are rolled for a miniature’s Attributes, whilst the black Gear Dice are rolled for any weapons he is wielding, armour he is wearing, or item he is using. One success is enough to hit, but more Successes indicates more hits and more potential damage inflicted. If the attack is a miss or the player wants more Successes, he can Push the roll. This allows him to reroll any dice that did not roll Radiation symbols or Biohazard symbols on the base Dice or the Explosion Symbols on the Gear Dice. Pushing a dice roll, though, has consequences. If there are any Biohazard symbols on the base Dice generates M-points, whilst Explosion Symbols on the Gear Dice indicate damage has been done to the gear used, reducing the bonuses that the Gear provides. If that bonus is reduced to zero, then that Gear is broken and can no longer be used.

Any miniature which is successfully attacked will take damage equal to the number of Radiation symbols rolled on both the Base Dice and the Gear Dice. Fortunately, armour and cover can provide protection— armour and cover against ranged attacks and armour only against melee attacks. Armour and cover indicate the number of Gear Dice the defending player rolls and for each success or Radiation symbol rolled, the damage suffered is reduced by one. Damage is deducted from a miniature’s Health and if this falls below zero, he is Broken. In which case, the only action he can take is a Recovery action and if successful, he is considered to be Bloodied. His player turns the miniature’s card over onto its Bloodied side, and if the miniature suffers enough damage again to be considered Broken, he is actually Taken Out and removed from the game.

Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars is played as a series of rounds. At the start of a round, an Action Token is placed in a cup for each miniature. Over the course of a round, when a token from a faction is drawn, that faction’s player can activate one of his miniatures who has not been yet activated. This continues until all of the Action Tokens have been drawn and each miniature activated. When activated, a miniature can do one of two options. Either enter Overwatch so that the miniature can make a ranged later in the round, or take an Action. This can be ‘Move & Attack’, ‘Aimed Fire’, ‘Charge’, ‘Recover’, ‘Assist recovery’, ‘Simple Operation’, ‘Activate Mutation/Module’, and more. All of the Actions are clearly explained and many are accompanied by an example. The rules also cover finding, using, and losing artefacts, and adding Zone Tokens which add a random event determined by drawing a Zone Card. These might indicate that the miniature has discovered a ‘Rot Hotspot’ and must make a Survival Test, gaining an M-point if it is passed and a point of damage if failed, set off an event in the scenario with a ‘Trigger card, or disturbed a monster in the Zone, such as a Razorback or a Landshark. There are only four monsters in Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars, but they are all nasty.

In addition, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars includes rules for campaign which allows the miniatures to improve and keep a single found artefact each between scenarios, a guide to converting characters from the roleplaying games, and solo play. The latter allow a player to play on his own or co-operate with another, the rules suggesting that this is a good way to teach the rules. The advice is that solo play should not involve too complex a scenario. There is also a quick and dirty guide for a player creating his own characters, but the player would have to provide his own miniatures.

Play in Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars continues until either one faction has all of its miniatures are Taken Out or have left the table, or the scenario objectives have been achieved. There are five scenarios in Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars. These start with ‘Throw Down’, a simple scrap between factions for artefacts and Victory Points gained from defeating the other side, but with a time limit set by a worsening shower of acid rain! They continue with ‘Block War’, which has the same objectives as well as Victory Points gained from holding buildings. Others involve a street fight for juicy loot, a chase, and the defence of one faction’s ark. They are all fairly straightforward, uncomplicated affairs. For veteran wargamers they may be too basic, but for anyone new to the hobby, they are fine.

Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars is easy to learn and set-up. From opening the box to setting up, the first game can be ready in thirty minutes. The rules are light enough to read in that time and setting up the first scenario and the terrain is very easy. Then once it is set up, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars is fun to play. It helps that the artwork on the cards captures the vibrancy, weirdness, and grottiness of the Zone, and the miniatures reflect this. There is a giddy absurdity to leading a mutant with insect wings, another wearing a diving helmet who can give off spores, and another who can eat the Rot that poisons everyone into a scrap against anthropomorphic duck armed with a crossbow, a boar-man with a giant club who charges into battle, and Moose-man who can gore with antlers, all fighting over a flamethrower, cooking pan that can be worn on the head as armour, or a speed limit sign that can be used as a shield! As with any skirmish game, it plays fast with lots of back-and-forth action, the Action Token mechanic means that play can swing this way or that, as can the dice rolls. Plus, as with any other Year Zero engine game, there is always that need to Push the rolls to succeed, but knowing that if you do, there may be consequences. The game is not too tactically complex either, a player needing to take advantage of cover, try and work his miniatures into the right position to get close enough to close with a melee attack, and then when the time is right unleash a devasting Mutation move! The miniatures or mutants are quite hardy, so it take two or more attempts them to be Broken and then again Taken Out, aided of course, by the luck of the Action Tokens and the dice rolls.

Physically, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe is very well put together and every is of a decent quality. The cards and the tokens are bright and colourful, the terrain and the map sheet are sturdy if suitably drab, the dice feel good in the hand, and the rulebook is light and easy to read. Above all, the miniatures are superb and really stand out in play, and are pleasingly individual so that you do get attached to them.

Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe is very impressive, very complete, and above all, very accessible. A veteran wargamer will pick this up with ease and appreciate its fast-playing, light mechanics, whilst anyone new to wargaming will be eased in those same light mechanics. Anyone who has played any of the roleplaying games that this skirmish game is based upon will find much that is familiar and also pick the game up with ease. All will love the miniatures that capture the weirdness and wackiness of the Zone. Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe is fun, fast, and sometimes freaky with the mutations, a great skirmish wargaming adaptation of the Mutant: Year Zero setting.