26 April 2013

A Review of Mutants & Machine-guns

What Is It?

Mutants & Machine-guns is an eight page post-apocalyptic role playing game from Experimental Playground. EP has been around for quite a few years now making print and play board games, but this is their first attempt at an RPG. Like EP's many board games, Mutants & Machine-guns is a completely free download and available in multiple languages (English, French and Spanish).

How Does It Work?

As you would expect from a small game like M&Mg the rules are very basic. Character creation boils down to selecting one of different archetypes: Pure Human, Human Mutant and Evolved Animal.  The archetype choice determines HP, progression rate and number of mutations. Players then distribute four points between Might, Reflex, Wits and Influence. M&Mg is a little unusual in that it allows a character to have zero in one or more of their stats. There is a large list of mutations to round out character creation as well as an equipment list; however, there is no mention on how to decide starting equipment.

All non-combat conflicts in M&Mg are handled by a 2d6+attribute roll vs. target number. It isn't anything special, but it should be accessible to beginner and veteran alike. Combat in this game is strange and has more in common with JRPGs than tabletop RPGs. Characters roll for initiative and then select one action from a list to perform each round. From there it is a back and forth with very little tactical choice. Even escaping from combat is an action choice and it grants an attack of opportunity and then a guaranteed escape. Like I said, it's as if the designers copied a JRPG menu for this game and it makes combat feel  restrictive and repetitive. Luckily characters don't have much health and combat shouldn't normally last more than a few rounds.

The only other thing in the rulebook is a couple of example monsters. There are no survival or exploration sections and no example adventures despite the progression mechanic relying on completing adventures. For my purposes I assumed that an adventure was equal to one session, but since it is not defined it is open to interpretation.

Final Thoughts

Mutants & Machine-guns has nice a cover that belies the poor layout within. My number one complaint about this game isn't regarding the system, although that is also weak. My ire is directed at the font choice, a blocky faux-pixel affair used for heading and text alike. The rules are short and I was still fatigued after the first page thanks to the somewhat blurry font.

Layout problems aside, M&Mg isn't terrible. The author's successfully get the gonzo, post-apocalyptic feel right with what few details are in the game and the 2d6 vs. TN system is about as average as you can get in the tabletop RPG world. Where the game stumbles is with its combat system, which is clumsy and needlessly slows the game down. The game could be significantly improved by dropping the dedicated combat system and using the extra space to add survival, scavenging and exploration rules to the game.

A little more time in the oven is what Mutants & Machine-guns needs more than anything. I think it has the potential to become a very nice little RPG if the designers rethink combat and add a few more post-apocalyptic trappings. Oh, and the layout needs a second pass as well.

If you want to try Mutants & Machine-guns for yourself, it is available as a free download here.

23 April 2013

Experimenting With Wild Magic in Dungeon World

Last session we playtested a class that I have been working on for Dungeon World, the Wild Mage. A friend from out of town is taking on the role for a couple of weeks while he is visiting and he ran with the idea. Without further preamble, here are the wild magic highlights from the session.

Capturing Mist

The first major use of wild magic in the game came early on. The adventurers were investigating a mysterious blue mist that originated from a well in the centre of town. The poking and proddings of a certain halfling caused an explosive release of the mist to blast out of the well and start to cloud over the town.

In response to the outbreak of mist Enkadash the Wild Mage used his Arcane Conduit move, which works similarly to a Wizard's ritual only it results in unpredictable drawbacks and twisted results. Enkadash managed to use his magic to gather up and confine the mist in a sphere, but in the process was hideously transformed into an orc and magnetized. This ultimately lead to some hilarious role play between Enkadash and Joln the Cleric where they argued about how magic was supposed to work.

Inadvertent Gate

Joln is a cleric of The Nameless One, a mysterious deity that collects secrets. All of The Nameless One's listeners (clerics) carry a glass orb that they use to collect information for their god and Joln couldn't pass up a chance to learn about Enkadash's unusual magic. He had Joln channel his magic into the orb, but the magic surged and proved much more powerful than expected. So powerful, in fact, that it expanded the link to The Nameless One into a full blown gate into the god's domain!

The Nameless One's power leaked from the portal and townsfolk were called to it like rats to the pied piper to spill their secrets. The group tried to keep townsfolk away for as long as possible, but it was a losing battle. Joln, either out of heroism or spiritual curiosity, stepped through the gate with the orb and closed the link between the material world and The Nameless One's domain. This was a completely unexpected turn of events, but I think it will lead to a very interesting adventure in the near future. Unfortuantely, it also means that the group is without a proper cleric for the time being. Joln's player has taken control of a follower for the time being.

Light Surge

Wild Magic surged once again as the group explored a dungeon accessed from the town's well. This time it happened when Enkadash tried to cast a simple light spell and it instead summoned an unseen servant. The players just handed a torch to the servant, so it all worked out more or less the same.

Boom, Headshot!

In a battle with some subterannean zombies Enkadash unleashed his Arcane Conduit again. A pulse of energy blasted out from his person and exploded the head of every zombie in the room. The drawback this time? Enkadash became blind to everything except magical energy. This proved to be only a minor inconvenciece as he was able to use the unseen servant as a guide through the rest of the dungeon.

Wild Mage Isn't Ready Yet

I need to weaken the Arcane Conduit move. At this point the drawbacks are not making it the risky, last resort choice that I had intended it to be. The Wizard's Ritual is balanced by allowing the GM to place restrictions on it. Arcane Conduit as currently written can be used whenever the Wild Mage would like and is balanced only by drawbacks. I think I will need to make Arcane Conduit less reliable even on a 10+ result by giving the GM license to twist results in the same manner as a genie would twist a wish; the trick is getting the wording right. I also need to play around with the drawbacks, there isn't any rhyme or reason to them at this point.

17 April 2013

Campaign Pitch: The Dungeon Apocalypse

I enjoyed putting together my last campaign pitch, so here is another one that brings dungeon crawling to a broken Earth. This pitch is inspired by the tradition of megadungeons and what little I know of a Japanese RPG called Meikyuu Kingdom.

The Dungeon Apocalypse

People thought they knew what what the apocalypse would be, that they were ready for it. Some thought it would come in the form of nuclear warfare, gray goo, viruses, climate change or divine judgment. They were all wrong. The apocalypse, when it came, was something that nobody could have predicted.

The world warped. Buildings twisted and groaned as they were forced into new arrangements. Earth, trees, and even people were caught up in the rearrangement of everything. There was no stopping whatever unseen force molded the world into its new form: a labyrinth that spanned entire continents. The walls were made from whatever was in the area. Cars, bricks and bones were smashed and crammed together into the thick, tall walls that wind across the world.

Survivors scavenge what they can from the labyrinth walls. Those that are lucky might be able to find or fashion a tool they can use to bore through them and begin constructing some form of civilization, but the maze fights them at every turn. Whatever force reshaped the world didn't stop at just making a titanic maze. Something lingers, something that changes animal and man alike. The farther from other humans and what remains of civilization you go, the more people change. The labyrinth twists men and beasts as surely as it twisted the world, changing them into monsters. Those that get lost in the labyrinth lose their humanity.

Google Maps + The GIMP + Maze

Life Behind The Walls

People alway find a way to survive and that is just as true in a giant, world spanning labyrinth. The world population was reduced by the crushing creation of the maze, but enough men and women survived to create small pockets of civilization. They tunnel through walls to increase their living space and search the twisted rubble for useful items.

The Lost

Those that tray too far from what remains of civilization become as distorted as the world they live in. They become The Lost and their bodies change into monstrous forms a they wander the maze. The Lost are more than just the remain of humans. Animals, plants and anything else living that manages to live isolated in the labyrinth becomes lost and transforms into something both more and less than it was before.

The Lost are constant threat to survivors. Scavengers may be stalked or stumble across something dangerous or predatory Lost may even prey upon survivors while they are gathered in their homes.

Reclaiming The Earth

So you want to be a hero in this world of dungeons?  It can be done, but it won't be easy.  Destroy the walls of the labyrinth and bring back a world without walls. It is a bigger job than any one man can hope to accomplish, but there may be a way other than forcing the walls down with manpower and hammers. Scattered around the world are Origin Points, locations where the labyrinth seemed to grow out of as it bent the world to its design. Someone brave, skilled and very lucky might be able to make their way to these points and discover a way to bring down the walls.

How Would I Run It?

I would use D20 Modern or something like it to run the game. A nice medium crunch system that would make the actual dungeon crawling satisfying. As far as actually starting the campaign goes, I think I would fast forward a generation or two after the apocalypse happened, give it enough time for some communities to be built and monsters to be created. I would start the game with the PCs discovering a dying man while out scavenging and with his last breath he tells them of an origin point and passes a tattered map to them.

The mood of the game would be heroic. This might be a post-apocalyptic setting, but it won't have the depressed mood or as much of the horror element. This game would be about the quest and the growth of the heroes, a very traditional fantasy journey style of play.

12 April 2013

Flipping through FolkLore

F'olkLore appeared on my radar late last week and since it bills itself as a simple fantasy RPG with only a $1 price tag I knew that I would have to take a look.

What Is It?

FolkLore is an ultralight fantasy RPG from Seth Zaloudek. It weighs in at four half pages in total. I say half pages because the author's intent is for the game to be folded into brochures and handed to each player at the table. The game features a whimsical black and white art style which is sadly limited to only the cover panel. Still, the graceful cover design carries over into the rest of the product and places it a cut above most other ultralight RPGs.

How Does It Work?

Simplicity shines in FolkLore with an easy to use dice pool mechanic acting as the backbone of the game. Players designate points into the governing attributes Body, Mind and Social and these make up the basis of every character. Whenever a conflict/challenge/test/check occurs players roll a number of d6 equal to the relevant attribute, add additional dice for player-defined character traits and equipment and then count successes. It all reminds me of Marvel Heroic Role Playing, albeit on a much smaller scale.

There are a few other neat mechanics crammed into this little game and the one I found most interesting was the gamble feature. Instead of fumbles working the way we all know and love, in FolkLore anytime a player fails a check they have the option of gambling. If they lose the gamble roll they suffer a fumble, but if they win they succeed at a challenge they would have otherwise failed. Each time a player wins a gamble subsequent gambles become more difficult. I can't say I have ever seen fumbles handled like this before and I think it is nice, elegant take.

FolkLore also makes use of a simple relationship mechanic that ties player characters together. It isn't nearly as robust as Fate's starring aspects or Apocalypse World's Hx, but they get the job done.

Final Thoughts

FolkLore may just become my favourite ultralight RPG. I don't often use ultralight RPG systems, being content with merely light games such as Dungeon World or Technoir; however, FolkLore is a nice little package. It is attractive and easy to hand out to players. I could see myself using it with RPG beginners or at conventions. If you are in the market for a very light RPG then you could do far worse than FolkLore. Other ultralight games might be free, but FolkLore's layout alone is worth shelling out a dollar for.

FolkLore is available from DriveThruRPG for $1 and it already has an equally light adventure to go with it.

8 April 2013

Monday Monster: Deadwood Fungus

Anybody that has taken a look at Seedfall will know I have a thing for killer plants. Here's another one for you.

I used this monster during my last game and, to be honest, it wasn't as much fun as I had hoped. Once the players realized it was a plant and it couldn't chase them they just ran away.

2 April 2013

Halfling Name Generator

It has been a few weeks since my last name generator and today I am finishing off the short races with a halfling name generator. I used a mix of hobbit, middle english and paizo halfling names to seed the generator and added some things into the gaps that felt like they would fit. I am also trying something a little bit differently in how I handle the name generation, but I doubt many of you are interested in that.


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