Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mutant Epoch

Game Premise

It is the far flung future. Human civilisation has crumbled, torn apart by catastrophic warfare waged with the worst weapons humanity has ever known. Nobody really knows who started the conflicts, whether it was warring nations, apocalyptic cults or genocidal robots. All that matters is the here and now.

People gather in communities to both trade resources and for mutual protection. Some are incredibly xenophobic, others tolerant, some bastions of pre-epoch relics, others savages. Some people band to form groups that deal as troubleshooters for communities and also sift through the rubble of civilization to find lost relics or goods to trade. These are the Excavators and you are one of them. Will you survive the myriad dangers of the Mutant Epoch to find fame and fortune? Or will you be yet another casualty of this grim era?

Game Overview
Mutant Epoch is a relatively recent post-apocalyptic RPG with a somewhat delightful focus on old-school exploration. Its features include bizarrely specific details and ecological rules (27% chance you have a bounty on your head; Elk mutants can only use their horns as weapons from August until February), absolutely no concern for balance and tables absolutely everywhere, for everything. It will also be the first game I cover where character generation is 100% random. It's a level based system, with characters starting at Rank 1 and going up ranks as they gain experience, the main benefit of this being some random form of advancement, meaning pretty much every skill or feature your character has is due to the whims of chance.

The rules cover a staggering array of character types, particularly when it comes to mutants. In two test drives of the character creation system I had two mutants, one who had odd-coloured cosmetic features, pointed ears and a mental mutation while the other was a monstrosity with three extra pairs of ribs, quills, bat wings instead of arms and eyes that lit up with lamps, leaving aside about 4 other mutations I can’t even remember. If mutants aren’t your thing, then don’t worry because there are also Bioreplicas (think replicants from Blade Runner), Trans-humans (think Captain America), Clones, Cyborgs and regular old Pure-strain Humans. This game is decidedly not for those who need balance, though. A few unlucky rolls in the beginning can mean the difference between an escaped pleasure clone slave with nothing to their name but the clothes on their back and a case of lice or a mutant assassin with three different pieces of awesome tech and mutations that turn them into a walking one-deviant army.

Mutant Epoch is a percentile based system, where to succeed you are required to roll under a certain number with a d100 (generally this is done using two ten sided dice, one representing the tens, the other the numeral, although actual d100s exist). The number you have to beat is usually either a Hazard Check, which is determined by cross referencing your relevant Trait with a prescribed difficult setting (From A checks being the easiest to M checks being the hardest) on the table or 50 plus or minus modifiers when trying to hit someone in the fight.

While I do kind of love the comprehensive detail (any game with dedicated rules for kicking someone in the nuts will get a thumbs up from me, plus the accompanying picture is pure gold), I’m concerned how it would work out in actual play. I don’t mind rules-heavy systems generally, but I feel like there would be a lot of deciding whether to drop a bunch of the minor rules or getting bogged down making sure they’re applied correctly. Still, this is decidedly one of those games where character creation is a delightful minigame in itself.

The Character

Step 1) Character Type

The very first thing I do is randomly roll on one of the three tables provided (Beginning, Experienced and Master) to determine my Character Type, which determines whether I'm an ordinary human, an artificial human, some kind of freakish mutant or a cyborg. The reason there is three different tables is supposedly to ensure that beginning players aren't overwhelmed by trickier character types, while the Master table makes it more likely to have a 'challenging' character. I don't believe this for one second, and this is the one bit of the game that truly annoys me because the supposedly trickier option absent from the Beggining table is Mutant, Freakish, which just means you have lots of mutations to juggle around that often make you more awesome anyway. It also ignores two vital points, first that the two worst possible character types, Bioreplica, Pleasure and Clone, Comfort (both of which have terrible stats and also likely to end up with a terrible Caste as well) are present in the Beginning table and conspicuously absent from the Master table. The second is that even if you have an awesome character, the bit where you often get shafted is in fact the Caste section, which I'll get to later.

Anyway, enough complaining. I'm going to roll on the Experienced table because it's the one that gives me potential access to all character types. The result of my percentile roll, 62, means I am going to be creating a Bestial Human. This is going to be interesting! Bestial Humans are sort of human/animal hybrids, the result of either severe mutation or genetic engineering. The reason I say it's interesting is because Bestial Humans have their own separate tables for a bunch of steps for character generation.

I guess this is also a good stage to determine exactly what kind of Bestial Human I am. Rolling on the Bestial Human Determination Table, I'm going to be creating a Humanoid Deer or Deer Folk as they are apparently known.

Step 2) Trait Rolling

Next up I have to determine my character's Traits, this game's version of ability scores or attributes. Mutant Epoch has eight of these, Endurance (stamina, toughness and general health, also your hit points), Strength (physical power), Agility (reflexes), Accuracy (aim and hand-eye coordination), Intelligence (memory, critical thinking and book smarts), Perception (sensory abilities), Willpower (mental fortitude and drive) and Appearance (good looks). Your average human being will have a 25 in each of these stats. While some of the stats have little side benefits (strength increases your damage, accuracy your ability to hit), their main purpose is to see what you need to roll under in a hazard check. So, a character with a 25 in endurance is going to have a 52% chance at resisting the effects of a Type B poison, while a character with an endurance of 55 is going to have an 81% chance.

Normally one determines their ability scores by rolling in order on the Trait Value Determination Table (this is the standard method, there are others listed out). However, Bestial Humans work a little differently. For most abilities they use the standard table and then get to add modifiers depending on species, but for intelligence and appearance each type of bestial human has its own separate roll altogether (so, a mutant deer rolls different than a mutant spider, for example). This is because as a rule bestial humans tend to be thicker and not very attractive by human standards.

Rolling on the ordinary table now. Starting with Endurance, my result is 80+1d20 which is pretty massive. Rolling said d20, I get an 8, meaning my base score is 88. I then add the deer modifier of +20, so my Endurance is 108. Awesome. For strength I get a more disappointing result of 21 to which I then add +12 for a total of 33. Agility gets me a 20, +18 for a total of 38. I also get a 20 for Accuracy, adding 4 for 24. For Intelligence, instead of the standard table I roll 8+d20, for a total of 26. Back to the standard table for Perception, where I get 23, adding 13 for a total of 36. For Willpower I get 29 which goes unmodified. Finally, I get to roll 7+d10 for Appearance for a whopping total of 9. Apart from my massive Endurance score, my deerfolk is a bit below average in pretty much anything, although with an above average human intelligence score he's a veritable genius among mutant deerkind.

Step 3) Character History by Caste

Caution: This step is absolutely massive.

Everyone had some other kind of profession before they became an excavator and in Mutant Epoch this is represented by you Caste. This is the step that can make or break your character, because your caste modifies your traits, determines your starting skills and your starting equipment. If you're lucky you'll be some kind of veteran soldier with awesome skills and a few choice pieces of tech. If you're not, you'll be an escaped slave with zero skills, a bunch of penalties and no equipment to speak of. Your character type effects what caste your likely to be, so bestial humans can't be roles requiring social graces, cyborgs are almost universally soldiers or thugs of some kind and if you're unlucky enough to be an artificial humanoid of some kind your probably going to be some variety of escaped slave.

Rolling in the bestial human section of the Character's Pre-Game Caste Determination Table, it seems my character was a Mercenary of some kind. Cool, mercenaries are one of the better castes to start with.

The first thing the caste does is alter my traits by rolling under the relevant section of the Caste Based Details Table. My time as a mercenary means my deerfolk's endurance is increased by +8, strength by +4, agility by +4 and accuracy by +1.

Next up, I get skills. Being a mercenary automatically gives me d3 points in Brawling (note, this is a d6 roll divided by two, round up) and an unlucky roll means I get 1 of those. I also get d6 rolls on the Warrior section of the Starting Skill Sets Rolls Table and d4 under the Misc section, for 3 and 4 rolls respectively. For the former, my three rolls result in me having 1 rank in each of Disguise Artist, Knife Fighter and Stealth. The latter gives my another point in Disguise Artist and 1 point each in Junk Crafter, Medic and Wilderness Survival.

Did you think that step was over? Hah, sucker. Flicking to the mercenary part of the Caste Descriptions, turns out I have a whole bunch of chances to have more skills. Firstly, I roll to see if I'm literate, which it turns out I'm not. I'm going to gloss over all the skills I have a chance to roll for an simply skip ahead to the results. After missing out on every opportunity to I end up with an extra three rolls on the Criminal section of the previous table, which results in me getting another point in Knife Fighter and 2 points in Pick Pocket. How the hell a big mutant deer is supposed to be good at subtly picking pockets or the art of disguise is beyond me, but there you go. According to the knife fighter skill, I can trade in one of my other skills for Knife Throwing, making my character an all-around knife expert. Goodbye, ranks in Disguise Artist, it's not like a mutant deer can make much use of you anyway.

I guess since this is the only part of the character creation process where Skills are determined, I should explain them. Unlike most game systems, skills in Mutant Epoch don't follow a unified mechanic of conflict resolution. Instead, each has its own wacky little subsystem. Some, like disguise artist or stealth, make the character better at doing things anyone can do, which is the traditional way skills are handled. Some, like knife fighter or brawl, make you better at fighting with certain weapons. A couple, like wilderness survival and junk crafter instead give you specific abilities no one without the skill can perform. For example, with wilderness survival my deer-dude can forage for food, construct basic traps and even make a bow without rolling, assuming the right resources. I'm not going to go through what each of my skills does, because they're mostly self explanatory. I will note, however, that my point in medic means I can deliver babies. Awesome.

Turns out in this step I also determine my starting equipment. Each caste has an Outfitting Code that corresponds to a package of stuff they get and for mercenaries, this code is Well Equipped. Turning to the Outfitting New Character's Section, I look at the lists to see what I get. I get a buttload of misc adventuring gear I'm not going to bother listing until the Finished Product, but I will note that as well as getting 78 silver pieces (the game's standard currency) and missing out on two potential rolls to score a trained dog (but I love dogs), I have inherited three relics, advanced weapons of lost civilisation! The first is a Stun Pistol with 21 shots remaining, the second a Pocket Pistol with 5 rounds in the clip and finally a Disc Saw, a militarised version of the woodworking tool that has enough charge in its power cell for 109 rounds of use. Nice. I'm not quite done yet. I still get to roll on both the Starting Arms and Starting Armour table, and my well-equipped status means I'm more likely to end up with awesome stuff. For arms, I start off with a Musket Pistol with 8 shots, a Sabre and a Knife. For armour, I get Sports Padding and a Sports Helmet, in this case modified hockey gear with goalie mask. Badass. One last note, because of my knife thrower skill, I also start off with 6 Throwing Knives. This is one detail I like about the system, they make sure you can actually use your skills.

The final part in this step is a couple of mostly fluff rolls. Mercenaries have a 43% chance of owning a horse, which my character apparently doesn't. It also appears I split from my old squad on good terms, which is good because I don't have to roll every time we meet a mercenary squad to see if it's them, aching for revenge.

Step 4) Gender

I can either pick my character's gender or roll with 50% odds either way. This is actually a pretty relevant choice for me, since only boy deer get goring antlers (although the book does note that since they might be genetically engineered for combat they might have antlers anyway, but that's the coward's way out, I say). Since I'm getting into the spirit of random rolling, I'm going to roll and it turns out my deer-dude is in fact a deer-dame! Deerfolk ladies don't get goring antlers, but they still have hard skulls that can head butt for d10 stun damage, doubled if they charge 6m or more first.

Step 5) Height and Weight

This is a surprisingly important step, at least according to the game. Gigantic birds won't try and swoop off with a big character, while smaller and lighter ones will have bonuses to stealth and such. Most characters roll on a standard table, but once again bestial humans have their own. Interestingly, while the standard table is divided by make and female, there's no such division for bestial humans. You'd think with massive size variations between genders and this game's love of detail there would. Anyway, rolling gives my character a weight of 132 kg and a height of 2.11 metres. She's pretty skinny, even for someone that size.

Step 6) Handed

Yep, there's a separate step and an entire table (albeit a small one) to determine handedness, the main application being which hand you can wield a weapon with without a penalty, although if you're lucky enough to be Ambidextrous you can swing your weapons around like some kind of mutant ninja. The table is strongly weighted towards Right Handedness and my character is no exception it seems. If you thought this was a bizarrely specific step, wait until you see...

Step 7) Swimming Ability

A whole table for this one too. Drowning is apparently a big enough hazard that this has to have its own separate table. According to my roll, my character is a Strong Swimmer. This means she doesn't need to even make a hazard check to stay afloat in anything less than raging rivers and even then the checks she has to make are fairly simple.

Step 8) Age

This is mostly fluff, especially since even though there are certain effects that kick in with ageing games rarely go on for long enough (in game time, that is) that it matters. Most characters are aged somewhere between 18 and 25 when play starts, but bestial humanoid table strikes again! My character starts off at 10 years of age.

Step 9) Mutations and Implants

Depending on your character type, you might get mutations or cybernetic implants. Bestial humans don't get any implants, but they do have a 34% chance of mutations, which I get! Turns out she'll have 2 Prime Mutations, 2 Minor Mutations and was lucky enough to have 0 Flaw Mutations. Let's go hit the relevant tables.

Prime Mutations are the grandiose and awesome ones, including psychic powers, wings, multiple heads, super strength and so on. My first roll on the Primary Mutation Table nets me Body Disproportion, which means one of my body parts is grossly massive. Rolling randomly to determine which part, I get a result of 8, which means two parts are distorted. Rolling again twice, I firstly get Giant Hips and Legs, which doubles my ground and swimming speed, gives me an extra 1m in height, gives me an awesome kick attack that deals 2d10 damage (your average kick deals d6 damage) and increases my weight by 35kg. On the downside, it reduces my appearance trait by 4 points. The second roll gives me a Massive Upper Body, which increases my strength by 15 and endurance by 25, in exchange for -1m in speed per round (offset by giant legs), reduces my agility by 10 and appearance by 6 (note: it's now at the minimum of 1) and an increase of my weight by 13kg. Rolling for my second prime mutation, I get Size Decrease. Things are about to get weird. So, my character is now 80cm tall, which increases her agility by 6 points, decreases her strength by 1 point and her endurance by 5 points and gives her 3 de facto points in the Stealth Skill. So I now have a tiny, bizarrely muscular deer who can sneak up to you and then promptly kick the shit out of you with her oversized legs. Awesome.

Now there's the Minor Mutations, which aren't as cool as prime mutations and mostly have cosmetic and sometimes even negative effects. My first roll gets me a Physical Alteration, which requires me to roll on the separate Physical Alterations Table (couldn't they have just put this in the main table?), which comes up as Sharp Fingernails, giving me tiny talons that add +2 to unarmed attacks. Awesome. The second roll gets me Blood Colour Alteration, which is essentially a cosmetic effect, although the book notes that the superstitious may use it as a reason to paint you as a demon (because being a pygmy deerdame with one of those roid bodies isn't reason enough?). Turns out she has Turquoise Blood.

Step 10) Name Character

Suddenly, out of nowhere, in the middle of the process, I get to name my character. What's a good name for a deer mutant? Turns out the Mutant Epoch website, or at least the members-only section has a list of names for inspiration. Looking through them, though, nothing really catches my eye. Time for a bit of world-building! The herd of mutant deer my character originated from was also the 'mercenary company' she worked for. They're genetically engineered guerilla troops, genetically bred to be inserted into enemy territory and make strikes on strategic positions in wilderness areas (whose idea it was to choose deer stock is anyone's guess. Scientists are a crazy lot). This self-sufficient and nomadic troop also names its young after the location they are born. My character was born on the outskirts of the town of Kali (the remnants of Kalispell in Montana) and thus that shall be her name. Finally, I have something other than pronouns to refer to her by!

Step 11) Image

Hell no. I'm not good enough to draw a mutant dwarf deer decked out in armoured hockey gear that bleeds turquoise. If an artistically-inclined person wants to have a go, please, by all means.

Step 12) Defense Value

A character's Defense Value (or DV) is the number subtracted from an opponent's Strike Value (or SV) to determine the number that needs to be rolled under on a d100 to hit. A character's base DV is 0, now we need to apply the modifiers. Kali has a modified agility score of 38, which gives her a DV modifier of -2 (don't worry, negatives are good). Being a mutant deer gives her -8, while her sports armour and helmet combine to subtract another 21 points. This gives her a total DV of -31. This means that you average human with an SV of 50 would need to roll a 19 or under to hit her, so it's not too shabby.

Step 13) Strike Values

As I explained above, the Strike Value (SV) is a modifier to a baseline of 50 that a character needs to roll (minus DV and any other modifiers) to hit something. Each different attack can have different modifiers to it, many inherent to the weapons, so let's go one by one. With an accuracy of 26, Kali gets no bonuses to SV generally. Her 1 rank in brawl means she gets +3 to all unarmed attacks, including her mighty kicks and her headbutt which already has a bonus of +10 for a total of +13. Her two ranks in knife fighter give her a bonus of +4 with those, and knife throwing gives her +6 when throwing. Her sabre has no inherent SV bonus and neither does her dagger, but her musket pistol gets a +7. Looking at her relic weapons, she gets a +15 with her stun pistol, and +5 with both her pocket pistol and disc saw.

Step 14) Damage Values

As well as their bonuses to hit, each weapon does a different amount of endurance damage. I should note that thanks to Kali's modified strength trait of 56, she gets a +6 to all melee damage. Her usual unarmed attacks deal d6 damage +3 thanks to her brawling skill and talon mutation. Her kicks, on the other hand, do 2d10 damage. Thanks to knife fighting she gets to do d8+2 with her knives or d10+2 with daggers and when throwing she gets d8+3 (I should also mention that she can do the former twice in a round). Her sabre does d20+2, while her musket pistol gets a mere d20. Looking at her relic weapons, her stun pistol deals 2d20 (but she can only knock people out with it, no killing), her pocket pistol d20 (probably should stick with the musket) and her disc saw 2d12+2. She's definitely more brutal in melee, but that stun pistol can come in handy.

Step 15) Purchase Gear

This is an optional step. If your game starts in a trade town, you can use your silver pieces to buy additional gear. I think I'm going to pass.

Step 16) Complete!

I'm going to use this officially designated step to breathe a sigh of relief and marvel back at how long this post took to write. If it's daunting to read, I promise it's not as bad actually sitting down and making characters in person! I'm actually surprised I got such a coherent and awesome character out of this: Kali, the badass mutant deer-midget with the body of a steroid abuser, relic weapons, hockey gear and all the skills of a crazy survivalist.

The Finished Product

Kali, Mutant Deer Mercenary

Rank 1

Endurance: 136 (heals 17 endurance per day)

Strength: 56 (+6 to melee damage, thrown weapons have +30% range)

Agility: 38 (-2 to DV, +0.25m/round speed)

Accuracy: 26 (no bonuses or penalties)

Perception: 36 (+1 to initiative)

Intelligence: 26

Willpower: 29

Appearance: 1

Height: 80cm

Weight: 68kg

Eyes: Green

Skin: Hazel

Handedness: Right

Base SV: 0-50

DV: -31

Intitiative: +3 (+1 perception, +2 mutant deer)

Speed: Base 25.5m, Armoured 24.5m (note: speed in metres/round is equivalent to km/h)

Mutations: Giant Hips and Legs, Massive Upper Body, Size Decrease, Sharp Fingernails, Turquoise Blood.

Skills: Brawl 1, Junk Crafter 1, Knife Fighting 2, Knife Throwing 2, Medic 1, Pick Pocket 2, Stealth 4, Wilderness Survival; Strong Swimmer

Attacks: Unarmed 0-53 (1d6+7 stun), Kicks 0-53 (2d10+7), Headbutt 0-63 (1d10+7 stun), Sabre 0-50 (d20+8), Knife 0-54 stabbing, 0-56 throwing (d8+8 stab/d8+3 thrown), Dagger 0-54 (d10_10 stabbing), Musket Pistol 0-57 (d20), Stun Pistol 0-65 (2d20 stun), Pocket Pistol 0-55 (d20), Disc Saw 0-55 (2d12+8)

Equipment: 78sp, 11 days dried rations, backpack 10 candles, bone dice, coin pouch, cutlery set, dagger, disc saw (109 rounds of charge), fishing gear, knife, musket pistol (8 shots), pocket pistol (5 shots), poncho, 5m rope, sabre, sewing kit, shovel, soap, sports padding, sports helmet, stun pistol (21 shots), winter sleeping bag, tent 6 throwing knives, tinder box, toothbrush, 8 torches, towel, water skin (2L, full), whetstone, work boots and gloves

How I'd Run It

Due to RPG writers writing what they know, pretty much every single apocalypse RPG is set in the remnants of the US. But you know what I'd do? Post-apocalyptic Europe. You have all these iconic locations and a wide variety of cultures in a geographic area not much larger than the US. Imagine it. A palace built on the Eiffel Tower. Malta transformed into a Tortuga for sky pirates. Warlords styling themselves on Caesar, Napoleon and Stalin seeking to conquer the continent. Chernobyl a holy site for crazy radiation worshipping cultists. Clashes between savage tribes emulating ancient cultures and robots reflecting sleek, efficient German and Scandinavian design.

I'd run it as a pretty pure sandbox, letting PCs explore the many wonders and dangers postapocalyptic Europe has to offer out of pure curiosity. Hell, I might even have players look up a landmark or aspect of European culture, submit it and then if they reach the appropriate area, have it explored. There would be absolutely no fear of running out of material or potential for adventure.


  1. Huh, now this is interesting. May have to take a look at this sometime.

  2. One of my original plans was to make the Snapture using this system and fudging it. But I think I might save that for the next game I'm doing.

  3. Given what you've said about all the various subsystems required for skills, and the general record heaviness of the system (keeping track of each individual charge in a circular saw?), it seems like it might be more fun to just make the character than to play to actually the game... and the character creation seemed pretty intense at that.

    I'm glad the gods were with you for this one and you ended up with a surprisingly useful and humerous character (although I was a little disappointed that you opted to ditch disguise, I was imagining a mutant deer disguising itself in several bizarre and ineffective ways).

    The Post-Apocalyptic Europe sounds great though, you should run it. Although possibly not in this system.