Mutant Year Zero
Do you like Fallout? Do you like the X-men? Do you like building a town? Well, if you answered yes then I have a treat for you. A rpg that combines all the above. A whacky, bleak post apocalypse where you control mutants imbued with amazing mutant powers and build up your own little piece of civilization in the time beyond the end of days. Mutant Year Zero is a solid pen and paper roleplaying game from Modiphius. So, grab your favourite games master and some dice as it is time to rise from the ashes in the search for New Eden.
As a rpg the setting is most of the presence that Mutant Year Zero brings but it has a solid set of mechanics that serve as the underlying basis. You roll die to pass skill checks. The number of dice set by skills and the difficulty of the action attempted. A roll of a 6 on any of the dice is a success. If no 6’s are rolled then something bad happens instead. Then if you failed you can ‘push the roll’ and attempt it again but risking damage from any 1’s that appear. This makes for a streamlined game that puts most of the player focus on their unique powers and feats rather than granular number crunching. The player characters are powerful but also still very much susceptible to the often-deadly nature of the game. Beyond the basic skill checks/stats you have powers, feats, and artifacts which govern the play. Powers being the mutant super powers you possess (Pyrokinesis, mind control, magnetism etc.), feats representing special training (surgeon, jury-rigging etc.) and artifacts being powerful items that can be employed such as smoke grenades, a scooter, or a chainsaw. So, a lot of the characters agency comes through thematically to affect them mechanically.
So, what makes a mutant different from say a wizard or a warrior. Well first off you pick a class. This gives you a starting inventory as well as a preferred stat and a powerful unique ability. These fundamentally change the way you play the game. Are you a boss with a slew of minions to work for you. Perhaps a gearhead who can craft pretty much anything out of scrap. Or a Stalker who can navigate the zone (wasteland) with some degree of safety and gain powerful old one technology such as a flamethrower or an energy drink… This also determines your social standing and relationships with each other in the ark(settlement). Once this is picked you allocate stat points, talents, and a few other fundamentals such as bullets (Also serves as currency) and how many days of water/food you have. Then just before you kick off on adventure you roll a random mutation. This also drastically affects how you play. At this point your character might gain the ability of telekinesis, or become half lizard with natural camouflage, or perhaps sprout wings and gain flight. There is a whole host of different mutant powers to potentially gain and through using them in game there is also the chance to further mutate and gain an additional powers!
The Ark functions as a persistent settlement that your characters belong to. It is almost like another jointly controlled character in itself. As you quest around and scavenge new gear you can improve the Ark. Each session begins with an out of character discussion of what projects to undertake as a community. These can then be contributed to by the characters in the normal session. You also have a lot of creative freedom when designing your Ark. Is it a pre-war bunker complex, a shanty town built
upon a dam, or maybe a cruise ship that washed up ashore. The Ark serves as a hub to prepare gear and develop character relationships with a myriad of npc’s(providing your dm has the range and spreadsheets to track them…) So between expeditions into the zone you can pursue various personal goals. Maybe building a vehicle, taming a wild beast or running a smuggling ring. The Ark is as much an area to explore and play in as the zone is, and there are several tables worth of random events and plot hooks that are focused on the Ark. You might get a disease outbreak or have a serial killer emerge. There is a lot of variety and a lot of the results contribute to the world being a mortal place. Highlighted by the end of session roll to see how many of the population have died that session. This can be mitigated by improving the settlement as you increase the stats for food, culture, technology, and warfare. The in turn unlocks more projects you can undertake as you rediscover society. There are also options to take your settlement in a dark direction. Perhaps you built farms to increase your food production, perhaps you resorted to cannibalism. The options are there…
So outside of the Ark you have the Zone. The post-apocalyptic wasteland that is full of monsters, rot(radiation), and strange phenomena. This is divided into a grid for ease of tracking. Each section is then randomly generated as the players explore them. So, you get some truly chaotic areas. Sometimes this works incredibly well. I had a sector generate with a glassified field and a pitch-black monolith in the centre. A very characterful generation that provided the hook for an entire mini arc. The threats in the Zone are also varied. There are your classic post-apocalyptic mutants, animals, other survivors etc. But there are also some fun things such as parasitic fish spawn that will infect your characters if you are not careful enough with your water supply.
It is almost a game of three distinct parts which can be played in several different styles. You have the mutant player characters with their super powers. The Ark that persists, grows, and hosts them. Then the Zone outside of the Ark which can host a myriad of other settings. There is a huge scope for tinkering and twisting it to your own design. You can lift and create individual zones from pretty much any existing property or make one entirely your own. A whacky post apocalypse with bizarre happenings or a more grounded and bleak interpretation of life after the cataclysm. Mutant Year Zero is a robust and diverse enough ruleset that you have almost no limits on the style of game you want to run.
There are a few drawbacks to Mutant Year Zero. Some of the formatting and grammar could be more concise and there are a few minor spelling mistakes. Beyond this there are some questionable subjects used within the game that might be best edited out depending on the current audience. The books itself mentions this via a forewarning within one of the zone examples. There is also a slight disconnect between offering a complete sandbox and offering a narrative which takes some careful planning and dm’ing to pull off. There is also the disconnect that some players will face coming to MYZ after playing something like Dungeons and Dragons where they go from playing semi-immortal adventurers to characters that can easily be one shot or killed without much notice. These however are all teething problems that a session zero and some planning can compensate for.
Mutant Year Zero is a fantastic alternative roleplaying game. It fills with right itch of something that has enough player customization and mechanics without getting too bogged down by minutia and number crunching. It also allows for a great scope of creation when making the game world. It is a setting that lends itself to going from a very light hearted session to a very intense and gritty one. You are also given the tools to implement most sci fi and post-apocalyptic elements that you can imagine. At a whim you can introduce a talking bear with a flamethrower or a bloodthirsty cleaning robot. It goes to show that classic fantasy is not the only rpg genre where you can have a massive amount of creative freedom. The lighter rules set also means you have more time to craft the adventures and characters as you are not held down by them. There are also a good number of expansions out now that allows you to play other characters types such as animal mutants, robots, or even the remnants of humanity. Mutant Year Zero is a solid and rewarding choice to diverge your usual RPG game night. Just remember to bring food, water and plenty of bullets!