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.
Yesterday afternoon I finally got a chance to run a session of Mutant Future. Five 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.