Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mutant Future - Rules Lite or Not Enough Rules?

I love the random character generation which yields such interesting and unplanned results, I love the B/X ruleset as reincarnated in the form of Labyrinth Lord (which Mutant Future uses as its basic framework), and I love post-apocalyptic sci-fi; in short, I love Mutant Future and think it is a near perfect game. I am marshaling my thoughts in preparation for writing a Mutant Future review for RPG.NET, and I know the main thing that the typical RPG.NET reader will think is that Mutant Future does not have enough rules.  I am not just talking about a lack of specialized combat options or skills (which I do not even see as a lack).  Not everything is spelled out, especially when it comes to the effects of mutations.  A DM (excuse me, a Mutant Lord) needs to be able to think on his or her feet and come up with rulings on the spot to keep play moving forward.

One example among many that have come up in play in my campaign: Teleporting.  The text of the mental mutation "Teleport" reads,
"This ability allows the mutant to disappear from one location and appear in a location up to 20 miles distant without physically crossing the intervening space.  If the mutant has never been to the location he is teleporting to or is only slightly familiar it (ML's discretion) he has a 25% chance of suffering 10d6 damage upon arrival as he teleports into a space occupied by another object, or misjudges some aspect of the location.  If he is intimately familiar with his destination or has spent 2d4 hours conjuring an image of the location in his mind, he can teleport safely."
Seems straight forward enough, right?  This little paragraph has necessitated a whole host of rulings and house rules in play.  Does only the mutant himself teleport, or can he transport his clothing and gear with him? If he can teleport with gear, how much weight can he teleport with?  If he can carry fifty pounds of gear, what happens when he wraps his arms around the torso of a suit of powered armor worn by an opponent and attempts to teleport away with a section of the suit?  Can he carry living matter with him?  Does a location that the teleporter can see count as a location that he has been?  Is there a practical limit on how many times this ability can be used in a day - in other words, could the mutant blink in and out of existence, traveling 20 miles at a pop, teleporting a mile or two up in the air and teleporting again as he begins to fall, and in that fashion cover thousands of miles in an hour?  If the mutant has a mutation or ability gained from leveling up that grants extra attacks in a round, can he teleport and then make an attack in the same round?

While I have had no problem adjudicating these and other issues that have arisen with practically every mutation that my players have, I could see how some people might think that the game was incomplete because it does not explicitly address all the possible ramifications of the rules.

I guess this whole thing comes down to the role of the referee in a role playing game.  If you are of the opinion that the rules are there to create a level playing field, to prevent the adversarial DM from taking advantage of the players, and likewise to spell out every action that it is possible for a player to take, then you are not going to like Mutant Future (or OD&D, or B/X, or Labyrinth Lord).  If the group is okay with giving the referee the final say on rules interpretation and the referee has the trust of the players, then you may well find such rules lite games amazingly liberating.  I have slogged through combats that took hours in 3e and I am currently playing in a 4e campaign - while I personally enjoy the tactical thinking that the 4e rules encourage in combat, I have to say that far more interesting things happen during combat in my Mutant Future campaign precisely because there are very few rules governing what the players can do.


  1. I'm trying to finish Urutsk: World of Mystery.
    --Perhaps that will have more crunch for your tastes. :)

  2. > because it does not explicitly address all the possible ramifications of the rules.

    Anyone who thinks it's possible to create rules that address all possible ramifications seriously lacks imagination.

    I'm curious as to some of your rulings of teleportation, esp regarding fast travel. More than once reading your play reports I've thought "Damn, that teleport, shrinking dude seems super powerful. Just the sort of combo that can trivially work around any challenge puzzle I come up with.

  3. One of the things about Mutant Future is that it is not a "balanced" game. This is another thing that I have been thinking about while planning my review, because game balance, especially between PCs, seems to be one of the primary goals of the newer iterations of D&D. If you do random generation of mutations (which I highly recommend), it is quite possible to get an extremely powerful character. Teleport is definitely a powerful ability. I have ruled that it is an exhausting activity, akin to running. So you could pretty easily teleport, teleport and teleport again for five or ten minutes, but if you tried to do it for a straight hour you would be totally beat (unless you had a really high constitution). I would start having the player make constitution checks for each teleport after about 10 minutes of the activity, and a failed check would result in a disaster of some kind (probably the 10d6 damage kind!)
    I could have ruled more restrictively, but in general I think the world I have created is deadly enough without trying to restrict the players' powers too greatly. In play, it hasn't been a problem partly because Logan's (the teleporting, shrinking man) player plays him as a somewhat foolhardy, charge into danger, damn the consequences kind of guy, so even with his powerful mutations he is constantly near death! As an example, while the nuclear missile was still in the silo a session or two ago, he was in the same chamber as it and decided that he was just going to shoot his rocket launcher at its fuel tanks! His comrades chimed in over the com link (they scavenged com links from the military complex that allow them to communicate within a couple mile radius) and convinced him not to do it, but he was a few seconds from ending his own life in a glorious sacrifice.

    Some other rulings on Teleport that I have made - your clothing and gear come with you, up to 50 lbs (I think I was drawing on some teleport rules from an earlier edition of D&D there). You cannot teleport with living material (which came into play the first time he tried to teleport while holding one of the spiderbots that the party had reprogrammed - the force field generator and part of its computer were actually organic tissue, so they were left behind when he teleported!). Something only counts as your gear if you alone are carrying it - you can't try to teleport with something that someone else is also hanging on to.

    Another funny thing - I have ruled that your gear does not shrink with you when you reduce your size with the density alteration mutation, and while Logan was riding the missile he shrunk to increase his relative density and better withstand the intense G-forces, and when he did so all his clothing and gear went flying out over the desert traveling at near hundreds of miles an hour! He has still not managed to recover any of it.

  4. he shrunk to increase his relative density and better withstand the intense G-forces, and when he did so all his clothing and gear went flying out over the desert

    Haha, the Incredible Naked Shrinking Man...

    Looking at 2nd Edition Gamma World, the Teleportation power has a Range of 30km, only affects yourself and can be used once per hour. You can't teleport through force fields.

  5. You know, I have the 1st and 2d editions of Gamma World and never even thought to compare the text of the mutations with the Mutant Future versions when rules questions came up. Part of that is because when a rules question comes up in the game I would much rather just make a quick ruling than stop play to look up something in a book, but I am going to have to compare some of the mutations now.

  6. As an old Gamma World/Met Alpha guy from back in the day (early 80's) I have been thinking doing a Metamorphosis Alpha campaign based on MF. I started a thread on it today at OD&D Discussion. Here were my main points/questions:

    Has anyone used any kind of alternate to the random mutation generation? Don't want to change it too much, I'd just like a little bit of a more even power distribution in case a lot of folk want mutants (and who wouldn't?).

    Has anyone used skills in any way, shape, or form in MF?

    Does anyone use an alternate hit point method for NPC's? I really don't want every NPC in the game running around with 30-60 hit points. I was thinking something like this:

    0 level non-combatants (villagers, farmers, etc.) would have half their CON as hit points. You gotta have some normal mooks who can be killed with a single sword thrust.

    0-1st level rugged types have their CON as hit points.

    1st level and higher "heroic" type NPC's have hit points as PC's do.

    Does any of that sound like too big of a change? I want to keep the spirit of the rules, but I am always modding something or another.

  7. The HP changes you suggest would not be a big deal at all. It might change the general tenor of the game slightly, making the PC's a little more heroic and out of the ordinary, but the vast majority of the villains and monsters they face would not be affected by that change.

    As far as the mutation generation, the only change I made was to say that if a PC had as many or more harmful mutations as they did beneficial, they could reroll all the mutations. None of the players (and I have 11 players, and several of them have already gone through a few characters) have been disappointed with the results.

    If you were going to go to some form of a choose your mutation situation, you would have to be really careful that you don't end up with a bunch of uber PCs that you would be hard pressed to challenge. You might want to consider ranking mutations as Highly Beneficial, Beneficial, and Mildly Beneficial, and doing the same for the drawbacks; then, if the player chose a Highly Beneficial mutation they would have to choose a Highly Disadvantageous Drawback. Just a thought.

    I haven't missed skills at all, I just rule on the fly based on the characters back ground, but I can't imagine that you would have any problem adding them. Mutant Future is based on B/X D&D, after all, which is easily modified without upsetting any sort of intricate game balance (unlike 3e or 4e, for instance). All in all, I think Mutant Future is both an excellent game as is and a strong base that could withstand a lot of tweaking.

    Let me know what you end up doing, I seriously considered doing a Metamorphosis Alpha campaign instead of my current post-apocalyptic Willamette Valley shenanigans!



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