Tagged: RPG

Mutant Year Zero – probably no happy ever after?

Every now and again, in amongst the dozens and dozens of games that I get to look at I find something that really piques my interest, something that is suitably familiar or perhaps very different.  Every now and again there is a game that I really want to play, or more likely that I really want to run.

Mutant Year Zero is definitely one of those games.

YearZero_coverIn fact, it is both familiar and yet different.  The familiarity comes from the simple nature of the mechanics.  It’s a little bit old school; simple archetypes with a point building system for character creation.  The numbers are simple to handle, skill levels, attributes and gear denote the number of d6 you roll for success.  And for that reason it’s a comfortable system to learn, it takes minutes not hours to pick up the rules and generate your first character.

But then, it’s also sufficiently different and innovative. Your character is a mutant and it is the mutant powers that will most likely keep her alive in the very hostile post-apocalyptic world of Mutant Year Zero.  But then, using those powers has a cost and one that will slowly but surely cause you to degenerate and die. Along the way you’ll become more powerful as your body continues to mutate, and this will kill you – if the environment, the deadly Rot, the others struggling to survive in this world don’t get you first.

For me another huge part of this game is its collaborative nature – your best chance of survival is with others by your side.  For that reason, character creation includes detailing relationships with the other player characters and also with significant NPC’s.  There is a strong community focus, you have grown up in an Ark – a refuge from the hazards outside.  You contribute to the development of the Ark, you have a role to play in its society and in decisions that shape how it grows.

I almost passed this game by, there are so many post-apocalyptic survival games and I was suspicious of the fact that you can buy custom d6’s with symbols instead of the 1’s and 6’s.  There is also a deck of cards which are referred to in the rules, and I’m always sceptical of games that “need” these little extra expensive goodies to work properly.  But whilst having played with them I would recommend the extras (especially the dice), you don’t need them, after all they are just d6’s and everything in the card decks can be found as tables and descriptions in the core book.  They are enhancements, not essentials.

I’ve played a few standalone games, (and I’ll be running one at this years ReuniCon RPG Day in Brighton on the 3rd September), and they work really well, but I think the real beauty of this game would be in playing an extended campaign watching the character’s stories unfold as they pursue their big dreams, as they develop their community and as they finally succumb to the inevitability of the environment.  This is a very story led game, there is an overarching metaplot detailed within the core book and it is up to the GM as to how much this plays into their specific game.

What will be important is survival, the need to eat and drink regularly, to track your bullets (not just for your weapons but as currency), to look after your health and to balance the use of your mutant powers, the need to “push” your dice rolls against the ongoing impact to and deterioration of your character.

One last thing that I think is worth a mention is the use of maps – not for the purpose of miniatures or pseudo-wargaming, but for discovering, recording and detailing the player’s environment.  You’ll start the game with a mostly empty Zone map – there are two provided with the setting, but you might find it interesting to create your own based on your home town or a favourite place.  My games have focussed on Brighton, the Palace pier partially collapsed and become the Ark for my adventurers, a defensible sprawl with a population of around 200.  The coastline, the towns, cities and the south downs have become the areas to explore and with rumours of a larger city – The Big Smoke – even further North across the Infected Rot lands.  Players will note points of interest scribble notes on the maps, share them with other explorers, discovering and creating their game world as they go.

Mutant Year Zero is a great game, it is balanced and intriguing, it makes for good story led collaborative roleplaying.  It will appeal across the age ranges and is accessible to both new and experienced players.  The core book runs to around 280 pages and the production values are also very high, the quality of the artwork, the comic book styling also makes you want to read it.

Available from the Modiphius store for £34.99 in Print/PDF or £14.99 for the PDF.

Nocturnal Media – Acknowledging a worldwide hobby

Roleplaying games are enjoyed worldwide and Stewart Wieck and Nocturnal Media seem to be on a mission to bring the very best foreign language games to English speaking audiences.

Nocturnal Media

Recently Nocturnal ran a very successful Kickstarter with the aim of publishing a translation of the classic Spanish RPG Aquellare (or “Coven”).  I’d been aware of Aquellare for many years; courtesy of a Spanish friend and long time Lovecraftian horror fan Amada Cabrera, so backing a project to translate this classic was for me an obvious choice.  If you too are not of faint heart, and like your medieval horror realistic and dark, then I urge you to head over to the Nocturnal Media website and consider treating yourself to a preorder of Aquellare while you still can!

Since the success of the Aquellare KS Nocturnal have announced their plans to publish a number of other outstanding Spanish language games that definitely deserve the attention of English-speaking gamers, and indeed they have already entered into the necessary agreements to do so over the course of the coming year.  Look out for the the first of these, Adventures in the East Mark”(AEM), created by Pedro Gil and published by Holocubierta Ediciones. AEM is a pre-eminent example of an OSR game that’s endorsed in an introduction by none other than Frank Mentzer.  See here for more detail.

But, despite how exciting I find all of this, it is not the games from Spain that drove me to my keyboard this morning, but a French title Hellywood.  Originally published in 2008 Hellywood is set in 1949 in the California city of Heaven Harbor, nicknamed “Hellywood”. It is a homage to the hardboiled, and gritty noir genre of RPG.  Made more challenging for its occupants by the fact that it seems to sit on Hell’s very doorstep.

There is no winning in Heaven Harbor, a city consumed by corruption, greed… & demons. There is only surviving for as long as you can.

In a nice touch the GM in a Hellywood game is referred to as the “voice-over” whilst players take on the roles of  Heaven Harbor inhabitants. Everyday people such as cops, bouncers, bums, thugs, artists, bartenders, trying to make sense of and hopefully survive the shadowy events around them. There is even scope to play the role of a “hornhead” — a golem, succubus, seraphim or possessed — a result of the mysterious Day of Ashes when Heaven Harbor and Hell came much closer together.

At the time of writing, there are just 13 days to run on the Kickstarter for Hellywood, and hopefully its on track to deliver a great game.  You can read all about it on the Kickstarter page, but there are a couple of things that I think merit note here.  Firstly, Hellywood is a very story led and “visual” game, the concept of the voice-over, the system based on the game of “craps” all lend themselves to an immersive and rich story.  Secondly, even though Hellywood provides a thoroughly detailed setting in Heaven Harbor there is more material available to get you going straight away.  Whilst stretch goal on the Kickstarter are looking to add more scenarios, included in the project from launch is the brand-new supplement, Justice of Angels.

Justice of Angels will be an enormous, estimated 300+ pages, hardcover book. Justice of Angels details a twelve-story campaign featuring three interconnected tales and is the subject of a parallel crowdfunding project by John Doe Editions.  Both projects are stand-alone, but there are joint stretch goals unlocked for backers based on the combined funding of the two projects. This unique collaboration has already achieved the stretch goal for a poster map of Heaven Harbor. Which means that all Kickstarter backers who pledge for a printed Hellywood rulebook ($45+) will now also receive this reward!

I’m excited by pretty much everything going on at Nocturnal Media at present.  From their acquisition of the almost legendary West End Games, to an already stunning line up of games which is being further enriched by this recognition that our global hobby has some hidden gems ripe for sharing with a wider audience.

Check out the Hellywood Kickstarter, you won’t be disappointed,

Jusqu’à la prochaine fois , au revoir …


YOLO – The Last Bullet Edition


Back in 2013, in preparation for that years ReuniCon RPG Day event – “The Zombiethon ReuniCon”– we pulled together a small RPG which we called YOLO.

YOLO, or more precisely “YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE”, is a highly cinematic and easy to play RPG of Everyday People surviving in a post zombie-apocalypse future.  I think at the time we had ambitions to flesh it out more (pardon the pun) and turn it into a saleable product.  There was certainly lots of notes and potential material dreamt up at the time.  But as it happens, we kept it short and light and it is really just a bit of RPG fun.  It might be that at some point in the future the “Survivors Edition” might make an appearance, but in truth there are no shortage of Zombie Horror survival RPGs out there.  We do think that YOLO – The Last Bullet Edition does however fill a gap in the market, for a highly cinematic, rules lite, pick up and play game of Zombie mashing mayhem.

YOLO – The Last Bullet Edition, was written using the brilliant Wushu ruleset.  You can find out all about Wushu here.  It is worth looking at I’ve played many games using Wushu and it is a an excellent rules-lite system for highly cinematic, kick-ass roleplaying.

Anyway, YOLO has never previously been made available on the web, but as we are approaching this years ReuniCon event we thought it might be nice to share it.  You can download the PDF here, or by clicking the image above, or by visiting our Download Stacks.

Hope you enjoy,


YOLO – The Last Bullet Edition

“YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE” – is a highly cinematic and easy to play RPG of Everyday People surviving in a post zombie-apocalypse future.  It was written to use the most excellent Open “Wushu” game system.

Crestfallen RPG – Bronze Age Fantasy RPG

This week has been very busy for me for all sorts of reasons which I won’t go into here, but during the course of this week I have made time to read a detailed playtest copy of “Crestfallen”, a bronze age fantasy RPG which will launch itself on Kickstarter today.

It is fair to say that I get to see a lot of playtest documents; either through Kickstarter’s that I back, or through people looking for reviews on miskatonic.co.uk, or more commonly from people simply looking for some experienced feedback and an impartial, critical eye.  Crestfallen came to me in a slightly different way. This time it came about through social media, and I actually asked to have a look by signing up on the games website and dropping the games author a note.  I don’t do this often so I think it is important to say why I did.

Crestfallen grabbed my attention for a few reasons, the first of which is the setting itself.  I haven’t come across anything with which to make a direct comparison in terms of story, and genre.  Clearly its a fantasy game, but its roots are firmly placed in the deep soil of Bronze age history and what is known of the people of that period, their beliefs, lives and deaths, their challenging and brutal existence in a world of real awe and wonder.  To use the authors own words Crestfallen is; “a game about man’s relationship to the natural world”.

The World Tree has been murdered, and Sky Father is dying. The natural world is unravelling and clashing against itself – natural and supernatural disasters are everywhere.

The characters that you will play in Crestfallen, cover a wide range of bronze age society, skills and outlooks. The possibilities range from Politicians, to Seducers, from Scholars to Death Dealers, the social spectrum is broad and makes for colourful, descriptive story led characters.  These characters live in a world that they can’t fully understand, interaction with the supernatural are an everyday occurrence, magic is real, necessary and frightening.  The magic of Crestfallen is based upon real research and interpretation of real world shamanism and druidism, it is not full of spell lists and quick fireballs.  In Crestfallen the magic is largely ritualistic, it takes time and effort, can involve the participation of many characters, and it may not always work. Magic is part of the adventure not just a tool or weapon.  Like many other other things in the game it is a challenge for your characters to overcome.

crestfallenSpeaking of magic leads nicely into one of the other key concepts of Crestfallen that I like a great deal.  That  is the carefully crafted “twin world” setting.  (This is a concept that I have enjoyed in other games; for example Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, or the excellent reworking of the same for Terror Australis to give characters a chance to play in Alcheringa). Crestfallen takes this concept and uses it not as an alternative to “normal” play but as an integral part of the setting.  Characters will experience the ethereal Otherlands first hand, piercing the veil themselves, or may be visited by spirits from beyond.  You might even choose to have characters that are killed live on in the Otherlands as ancestor spirits, especially if they have unfinished business to complete before they can “move on” and be reincarnated into the world.  The playtest document contained enough information for me to really get a feel for the Otherlands, its races, its flora and fauna, and I can see how future supplements or materials could really build upon this aspect of the game.  Interestingly, I can see many areas of future development for Crestfallen, not to suggest that anything is lacking, in fact quite the contrary, there is  so much in the concept that people will want to know more about it.  Crestfallen and the land of Kerun has the potential to keep growing as your characters explore and survive and I think the authors have a really exciting opportunity.

Finally Crestfallen piqued my interest with its underlying story construct, a long term plot line that will influence your own story arcs, subtly controlling and influencing the characters lives and actions;

Kerun, the mortal world, is in the grip of a supernatural Ice Age brought about by the creator goddess – Earth Mother. Inside a sentient glacier simply called “The Ice” is a prisoner – the insane goddess Annwn. Like an animal chewing off it’s own limb to escape a snare, she is doing everything in her power to break free. When she does, she will break the world in half. She MUST be stopped.

I like this premise a great deal, it serves to emphasise that the characters are not fully in control, that there are events way beyond their direct influence but upon which their individual actions may have a bearing.  I like to think that in a game of Crestfallen the characters relationship with Annwn would play out on many levels, with the characters largely unaware of their importance in her story.

It came as no surprise once I had read the playtest that Crestfallen has been in the works for a number of years, in fact as many as fifteen years ago it made its first real appearance.  There is on the web already a good following for Crestfallen and in the playtest document this maturity is evident.

With that in mind I think it is worth taking a a moment to describe the book that I reviewed. It was an official playtest copy of a very advanced game development.  It is already in a state that is both readable and playable and indeed I took the time to generate a couple of characters as a way to better get to understand the game – an approach I like to take – and in general the layout of the book made this very easy. The playtest copy was a pdf of just over 240 pages and is, as you would expect in a draft layout, missing some art items and with others clearly used as placeholders.  It had comprehensive contents pages which made finding my way around very easy, there are also a lot of call outs/sidebar boxes which explain key concepts or provide expanded detail. It is also clear that this is a work of passion, a labour of love, and as such there are a few areas where it will benefit from that final editorial review as part of its publication. Sometimes its hard to see the whole picture when you are that close to the detail.  Despite these pre-production  foibles, the structure of the book was there to be seen and the integration with the Fate core rules is also apparent.  That integration in itself is nicely done, this isn’t a couple of hundred pages of Fate core with forty pages of background layered on top, no – this is a complete game setting making the most of a solid creative commons based ruleset.

I admire the fact that the author has chosen to use Fate core. With such a “different” setting the temptation to try and create a specific set of mechanics must have been there, and like many projects it may well have got lost on the way.  Recognising that Fate copes well with the challenges posed by the Crestfallen setting; the ritual magic, the spiritual world, the seemingly malevolent and intelligent weather, and the dangers of travel as things which need to be fought and beaten, the need to deal with whole communities or armies – all of these things can be managed within the constructs of Fate, with all but the addition of some specific guidelines or rulings which Crestfallen does in a well considered and practical way.

Crestfallen deserves to be a successful Kickstarter, to see publication and to reach a wider audience of gamers who I have no doubt will enjoy it immensely.  As noted before the Kickstarter launched today (and you can find details here), you can also keep up-to-date with the game on the website www.whiterosegames.com, through Facebook and on Twitter.

We look forward to backing the project and more importantly to playing the game properly at some point in the near future, we wish the authors much success and hope that after reading this you feel like taking a look at the Kickstarter for yourself.

Ia! F’tagn!