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A Look Back To The Mutant Future

Mutant Future
Mutant Future cover

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but life kept getting in the way. However, Russell’s own retrospective on the Mutant Future game I ran at the office prompted me to move this up in my queue. Go ahead and read his post first, since the first half of this will be a response to that post, before I dive into some of my other conclusions.

Nature’s Slot Machine

Russell’s dead right about my main intentions with the game — I wanted to push the random elements of the game in a quasi-sandbox style. There were a number of reasons why I did that, but the main one was that I wanted to see if random elements could produce a cohesive narrative. 1 Justin had run a game of Labyrinth Lord late last year, but I wanted to examine the same style of gaming but outside of a D&D structure.

Russell’s also right that the strict adherence to letting the dice fall where they may got to annoy me after a while as GM. I knew it would be futile to run the game completely seriously, but I didn’t want it to become slapstick. And yet, when a random encounter on the empty plains led to the group killing a monster and finding a cache of coins, I was left with a hilarious scene with John’s Pure Human explaining that the shadow wolf was nature’s slot machine. In another encounter, fighting a relatively low HD monster landed the party an extremely powerful warp sword (which is totally not a lightsaber, no way, nuh uh).

Russell’s comment about the encounter tables turning the sandbox into a beach is pretty accurate (and an analogy I’m likely going to steal and use at some point) — by going purely random and letting the dice dictate the world, the underlying logic of the world eroded more and more. For games like Paranoia, this is actually a boon — any random element can be easily blamed on the increasingly insane Computer — but for a game with a narrative spine going through it, it became a problem.

Continue reading A Look Back To The Mutant Future

  1. That’s why I was studying games like NetHack at the same time.

An Afternoon in the Mutant Future

Yesterday afternoon I finally got a chance to run a session of Mutant Future. Mutant Future CoverFive of my friends from work got together over lunch with their randomly-created characters to sit down and play.

First, a brief description of the game. The splash text says “Mutant Future is a post-apocalyptic science fantasy RPG, in the same flavor of similar genre games from the late 70s and early 80s. Enter a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland filled with mutants, ruins, and radiation! You can take the role of an android, mutant human, mutant animal, pure human, and even a mutant plant! Seek wealth and ancient technological artifacts. Enter vast underground complexes, and avoid killer robots!” Essentially, that boils down to the writers taking the OGL, turning it into a very close replica of an early edition of Dungeons & Dragons (Labyrinth Lord), and taking that game and turning it into a not-entirely-accurate version of Gamma World.

I was planning to run a session of this during our Thanksgiving gaming night (which ended up being a test run of D&D 4e instead), so I decided to run it at work. The idea is to run it as a series of loosely-connected encounters that people could jump into and out of as time permitted. While some of my desire to run this was to enjoy some nostalgic old-school gaming, some of it was also to try and find the enjoyment in what are often considered to be drawbacks to older system designs — random character creation, level-based increases, and a complete disregard for game balance. Since Gamma World is often run on a sliding scale between “utterly gonzo” and “completely straight-faced,” I decided to shoot for somewhere in the middle, and see what happened.

The game ended up being slightly more gonzo than I envisioned, but in retrospect that’s probably the best place to hold it. The story was very simple, and based on a modified version of the “War Never Ends” encounter from The Savage AfterWorld blog. I was a bit nervous about the game, but it ended up being a lot of fun, and I’m certainly looking forward to next week. A few things I learned:

  • “Hopeless” characters can still be a lot of fun. Justin rolled a character that was completely deaf, utterly stupid, and heavily armored. I think we all anticipated that he would dive into a conflict and gloriously parish, but it turned out that the miscommunication between the characters was part of the fun.
  • Powerful monsters can be taken down with creativity and the right circumstances. But blindly diving into combat has advantages, too.
  • Rulings over rolls makes things move a lot faster.
  • Sometimes, junk merchants have warp-field swords hidden away. Just because.
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