A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer

10Nov/13Off

A Mutant’s Life

In case you haven't heard, I'm working on a new project. I'm bringing the apocalypse to the Archmage Engine!

Although I have a mental image for what I want this project to be, I've been curious as to what everyone else wants it to be. So I've been doing some research, acquiring rulebooks and reference materials for every other post-apocalyptic game system I can find. And, I must say, it's been somewhat interesting.

Mutations

One thing I've seen addressed time and time again is the concept of mutations. In a post-apocalyptic world, where you have to watch your step or you might fall in to a crater of radioactive sludge, everyone has a mutation of some sort. Some might be cosmetic, while others might be unbelievable. But almost all post-apocalyptic systems seen to expect mutations to be present, and actually they are expected to be quite common.

Tables of Tables

Most game systems I've seen provide massive tables and pages upon pages of information regarding mutations, and how they function both stylistically and mechanically. For example, the one system I currently have open next to me has over 120 possible mutations and spends close to 20 pages of fine print detailing them.

Although I understand that that's what people might want, the ability to customize their character with that level of detail, that kind of goes contrary to the principles of 13th Age and the Archmage Engine. 13th Age has been designed to be simple, providing only the rules that are necessary, and leaving everything else to be nothing more than a mutual understanding between player and GM.

Nowhere in the 13th Age book is there a d100 table that spans two pages, and I think that's by design. Providing something like that, with hundreds of possible mutations, goes contrary to everything the system was meant to be.

A Different Apocalypse

As I mentioned, most of these game systems also go with the assumption that mutations are common in the apocalypse because it was inevitably brought on by nuclear holocaust. Humans were stupid... they couldn't resist pushing the big red button... and here we are.

Does that have to be the case? An apocalypse can happen for a variety of reasons - nuclear war, meteor strike, zombie plague, aliens... - only a handful of which would have genetic mutation as a side effect.

My plan was actually to either make the apocalypse a result of various events, all occurring almost simultaneously, and their collective chaos causing the downfall of humanity. Either that or simply not define what caused the apocalypse at all, leaving it up to the DM to decide what caused the world to be how it is now.

Regardless of which approach is taken, mutations do not seem to be a requirement. At least to me, that is.

Limiting Options

All that being said, I'm considering not providing mutations in the same manner, or at least not providing mutations that are based on radioactive exposure.

What I'm envisioning is that a player can customize their character using a specific set of possibilities:

  • Cybernetic implants, upgrades or other technology brought on by advanced science. Anything from bionic arms to electronic eyes.
  • Biologic augmentation, brought on by advances in biology and genetic alterations. Not exactly mutations since that word does have negative connotations. This covers things from having an improved muscular and nervous system to having wings. It can also include cosmetic things like a forked tongue, but I'd like to keep those as options the player has chosen through science rather than a side effect of radiation exposure.

If you want to have a character that has some sort of genetic mutation, you're welcome to do so. But, unless you come to a mutual agreement with your GM, it will not have any mechanical impact. Only the above, which will be a somewhat limited set, will have a documented impact. Everything else is fair game but up to mutual acceptance.

Diversity of Races

Then the question comes up: what races should the game have? I wanted to have the two basic types: human (organic) and android/robotic (inorganic), but what to do beyond that? Given sufficient customization using the above I imagine that those two options would get the most play, but I still wanted to provide other options for diversity. But those options can't be something that could also be brought on by mutation or they would be redundant... I originally thought of a race that would have wings, but in thinking about it that's not much different than a human who has chosen to grow wings and darker skin. The races need to stand out.

That being said, I am choosing to create races based on animal and plant life, not direct descendants of human. Currently that includes sentient plants, insects and reptiles. All three of these currently have corresponding icons in the game world, so it kind of fits.

Furthermore, I am considering the possibility of providing a tight framework by which you can define your own class. Want to be a sentient rabbit with a gun? OK... Here's a list of racial attributes and powers you can choose from... Pick two or three. That covers the mechanics, which don't care whether you're a six foot tall rabbit with a gun or not; anything else is flavor text and up to you and the DM.

Feedback Requested

So I have to ask the question: for those of you that have expressed interest in a post-apocalyptic game setting... What are you looking for in terms of mutations? Do you want a 20-page long list of possibilities? Do you want the option of mutations at all, at least in the same form that's common amongst other post-apocalyptic game systems?

Comments (3) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Archmage is a pretty good choice for a project like this. Heck, you could run it in straight 13A with custom Icons, since OUTs and backgrounds are so freakin’ flexible.

    I can’t wait to see this – and it gives me warm gamer fuzzies to see your creative frustration regarding this genre finding an outlet.

  2. It seems like mutations could really be handled in the role of One Unique Things and backgrounds. Maybe have mutations function as a feat that grants some extra background points that can only be spent to clarify a particular mutation. The. You could add additional feats to it that give you more mechanical bite, like one for extra movement or extra limbs or the like. It would use the finesse of the system at large without spending too much time mechanically fleshing it out.

  3. I think instead of a traditional list with benefits and setbacks, just give a sidebar or page with lots of ideas (in the same way that Backgrounds were presented in 13th Age) for inspiration for the players.


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