We walked among the gaping ruins and rusty car wrecks, monuments to the fall of the Ancients. Naphta had been taken by a Deathworm and the Rot had driven Hugust insane. We had no grub left and there was only rotwater to drink. But we had to keep going. We had to find Eden. We could not return to the Ark empty-handed, the fate of the People rested on our shoulders. Suddenly, Franton, the insect-like Stalker leading our way through the wasteland, stopped. “Zone-Ghouls”, he hissed, drawing his scrap rifle. I inhaled, ready to spew out a cascade of flames at anyone who dared come close. In the next instant, a chilling shriek rose from the ruins around us.
Mutant: Year Zero takes you to the world after the great Apocalypse. Humanity’s proud civilization has fallen. The cities are dead wastelands, winds sweeping along empty streets turned into graveyards. But life remains. Among the ruins, the People live. You are the heirs of humanity – but not quite human anymore. Your bodies and minds are capable of superhuman feats. You are mutants.
Another Franchise-Starting Post-Apocalyptic RPG [ edit ]
It's extremely rare for an RPG's system to be so good that it launches an entire series of other RPGs based on it, as Apocalypse World did. It's also extremely difficult for an RPG to be rated high enough to crack RPG Geek's top 50 RPGs, as Apocalypse World also did.
Amazingly though, Apocalypse World isn't the only post-apocalyptic RPG to achieve both of these feats: another RPG, Mutant: Year Zero, currently sits at position #36 on RPG Geek, and its "Year Zero Engine" has been used to power RPGs as diverse as the official Alien, Blade Runner, and Tales from the Loop RPGs.
On top of that, M:YZ also has something that Apocalypse Wold doesn't: a successful video game (Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden). Plus an earlier (1993) variant of the game resulted in a (less successful) movie, the 2008 Mutant Chronicles (starring Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, and John Malkovich).
A Swedish Take On Fallout, Gamma World, etc. [ edit ]
Mutant was a Swedish RPG first published all the way back in 1984 (as a competitor to TSR's Gamma World). In 1993 a variant version of the game, called Mutant Chronicles and set farther into the future, was released in America.
Meanwhile, back in Sweden, the game's makers were working on a new version of the original game, which they released in 2002 as "Mutant: Undergångens arvtagare". It wasn't until 2014 that that game was finally translated and released in English by Free League Publishing as "Mutant: Year Zero".
A Familiar Post-Apocalyptic Setting [ edit ]
Mutant: Year Zero offers a familiar setting, of mutated humans struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic environment. The core premise of the game's main story is that the group has long lived in an "Ark", similar to a Fallout vault, and has been guided by an Elder.
However, the Elder is now old and dying, and supplies are running out, so (just as in many Fallout games) the adventurers must head out and explore the wasteland, either to look for short-term supplies like food and water, or to try and find the mythical "Eden" that the Elder believes will offer shelter.
Plot-wise, it's certainly not the most unique take, but the game's familiar story will likely be welcomed by many fans of the post-apocalyptic genre. Where Mutant: Year Zero really differentiates itself from other games is its rules.
Mutant: Year Zero, First Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse
Character Creation [ edit ]
Before character creation begins, the GM must create the campaign's "Ark" (the refuge from which the characters are based), which like a character has game stats (eg. Technology or Food Supply). Two pre-generated arks are provided (for New York and London), or the GM can develop their own custom Ark.
Once the Ark is done the players begin character creation by selecting one of eight Roles for their character. These are similar to classes in other RPGs, for instance Boss (leader), Gearhead (repairman), or Stalker (ranger).
Attributes and Skills
Next the player assigns 14 points between the four Attributes of Strength, Agility, Wits, and Empathy. Every Attribute must have at least two points, and no Attribute can go above four, except for the primary Attribute for the character's Role (which can go up to five.
Next the player assigns ten points among their skills. There are twelve skills (eg. Endure, Fight, Know the Zone, or Heal), plus each Role has a unique skill (which they must put at least one point into). No skill can have more than three points.
Talents and Mutations
Next the player picks from one of three Talents from their Role, and gets their gear (determined by Role). Finally the character determines their mutation, either by drawing them from a deck or via a roll. Mutations are fairly powerful, but require spending Mutation Points. A player can opt to get a second mutation in exchange for reducing one Attribute to 1.
Core Mechanics [ edit ]
To perform an action in Mutant: Year Zero a player rolls a number of d6s equal to the number of points in the corresponding Attribute, plus the corresponding Skill, plus the Gear Bonus of any Gear used. In order to succeed they need to roll at least one 6, with multiple 6's indicating a greater degree of success.
If the character is unhappy with the result, they can "push" the roll, which lets them re-roll any non-six results. However, if they roll any ones on the re-roll, they face a negative result from pushing.
If the die that rolled a one was a gear die, that piece of gear has its rating lowered by one. Otherwise, the player suffers a point of "trauma to the corresponding Attribute (if an Attribute is reduced to 0 by trauma the player becomes incapacitated).
Combat [ edit ]
Initiative is determined by having all players roll a d6 and add their Agility score (with some mutations and Talents also offering initiative bonuses). The GM then does the same for the NPCs, and any NPCs with the same initiative score share a roll and act together. Unlike in most games, a combat turn is not a fixed amount of time, but can instead range from 10 seconds to several minutes.
On a turn a player can take one action and one maneuver. An action could mean rolling a skill check or using a mutation power, while maneuvers can involve moving, drawing a weapon, etc.
Movement notably does not use a fixed movement amount. Instead, the distance between a character and their enemies is expressed in "range categories", such as arm's length, near (a few steps away), short (within 20-30 yards), etc. Each movement maneuver let's the character move one range category.
To attack a character uses a Fight skill check (for close combat) or a Shoot check (for ranged). For ranged attacks cover and the distance from the defender can add penalties to the roll. If the attack succeeds, the target suffers the weapon's damage, plus extra damage for any extra 6's rolled on the attack. Instead of dealing extra damage a player could opt to have other side effects, such as knocking the target's weapon out of their hand.
Mutant: Year Zero has four types of injuries or "trauma": damage (which lowers the character's strength), fatigue (which lowers agility), confusion (which lowers wits) and doubt (which lowers empathy). Weapons are the main source of damage, while the other injury types happen in the course of the game (eg. a 1 on a die roll when pushing causes a point of trauma). If any attribute is lowered to 0 the character is "broken" (the exact details of that depend on which stat was broken).
Armor can help reduce damage: when a character wearing armor is attacked they can make an armor check, and each 6 rolled reduces a point of damage. However, each 1 rolled results in damage to the armor itself.
Is it Any Good? [ edit ]
As previously mentioned, not only has Mutant: Year Zero been a success on its own, but it's also spawned a number of completely unrelated games that use it's same "year zero" underlying rules. At the same time, the game's success has also resulted in the release of several companion games, including "Genlab Alpha" (which focuses on mutant animals), "Mechatron" (robots), and "Elysium" (intrigue adventures in a wealthy post-apocalyptic enclave).
But while having a lot of "offspring" suggests that a game is good, it certainly doesn't guarantee it. So to determine that, let's look at how reviewers have treated the game. On Drive Thru RPG (which only posts reviews from paid customers), with 114 ratings, the game has a very high 4.8/5 average score. Similarly on RPG Geek, with 47 ratings, it earned an average score of 8.26/10. That might seem a little low, but keep in mind that places Mutant: Year Zero as the 31st best RPG ... out of every game on RPG Geek (virtually every published RPG)!
In short, the massive success of Mutant: Year Zero and it's offspring is no fluke: it's the result of a solid and well-designed game system (so well-designed it was able to be lifted and used for completely different RPGs). If you're looking for a post-apocalyptic world where mutants and their mutations feature prominently, Mutant: Year Zero is definitely the first game you should look at.