Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mutant Trolls

So a space jockey and a barbarian go into a bar...

The golden crown of Random Character Generation is the Random Mutation Chart. You can end up with awesome mental powers to fry your enemies or somehow you can find yourself allergic to oxygen. You never know how a mutant will turn out. You can end up with an übermensch, a gimp or something in-between. So I've been knocking around some way to integrate random mutations into my D&D campaigns. Here are my thoughts so far.

Mutant as Class – This how the appendix in the back of Mutant Future suggests mashing up your science fantasy and vanilla fantasy. Mutant Humanoid, Mutant Animal and such are classes just like Elf and Halfling. Key parameters (damage, duration, etc) in several mutations are changed to per level variables. For example, something that does a flat 10d6 damage in Mutant Future is now rated 1d6 per level instead.

I’m not keen on Mutant as Class as presented in MF for two reasons. 1) You can’t play a Llama that is also a Lama. 2) Attempting to balance Random Mutations strikes me as just plain wrong. The balance, if any, enters into the picture because you have a chance of rolling Gamma Death Eyebeams but you also have a chance of rolling up Born Without A Face.

Mutant as Race – This is basically how AD&D would do it. I pick Avocado as my race and Ninja has my class and get on with my life. Fairly simple but sometimes I feel pretty strongly that Elf is a Class. Still, I’ve got to admit that at this point if a player told me “I want to run an Elf Thief” I would relent. I’d prefer if the player asked me to run an Octopus or a Balrog or something crazy like that, but I’d let an Elf Thief slide. The platonic ideal of the Elf class may appeal to me, but players ought to get a say in what they run as well. Unless I were to start using a table like this when I DMed:

1) Fighter
2) Magic-User
3) Cleric
4) Thief
5) If Con > 8 then Dwarf, otherwise roll d4.
6) If Int > 8 then Elf, otherwise roll d4.
7) If Con > 8 and Dex > 8 then Halfling, otherwise roll d4.
8) Roll d100 and ask DM to look up result on his Secret Bonus Class Chart.

I haven’t yet figured out whether I really want to do that or not, so I’m going to continue operating under the assumption that the players should get to some choice in PC type. Still I’d prefer not to add one more list of things players have to pick from at chargen. I like chargen as speedy as possible so someone with a dead PC can get right back into the thick of it as fast as dice and pencils allow.

Mutant as Template – This is the approach of Encounter Critical. In EC you pick (or roll) your race and your class and then you may optionally select one or more templates like Cave Primitive or Mutated. Selecting the latter indicates that you will be rolling 1-3 times on the random mutations chart and taking whatever the dice give you. That seems fair. A part of me wants to dictate that all PCs have a flat 1 in 6 chance of starting out mutated, but for some unfathomable reason not everyone likes to roll on those kind of charts. The other issue is that unless you build a Gnu or Aardvark class no one can play a Mutant Gnu or Mutant Aardvark. Or maybe general Anthropomorphic Animal and Ambulatory Plant classes are needed, on top of which you could layer the funky mutations given by the mutant template.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. My very first published RPG book (Weirder Tales: A Space Opera, for Avalon Hill) had botha mutation table and a Jim Holloway cover, so in many ways the entire career has been a downhill slope from there.

    One of the things left vague in Encounter Critical is the nature of the mutation decision ... Hank & Jim (Ireland, not Holloway) specify that you can choose to roll up to three times for any character, but _don't_ specify whether the choice has to be made before any of the rolls ("I'm going to take two mutation rolls") or as you go ("Woohoo! Aqua-me! I'm gonna quit while I'm ahead!")

    It is my practice in play to let the players come to their own conclusions about this, and to not interfere. I've observed that most groups do settle on one or another pretty quickly.

    My biggest hat in the mutation ring is on the way, with the multi-table mutation-implying system (replacing single linear linear table) for the upcoming Risus version of Wierder Tales ... Very much looking forward to the blindtest results on that one ...

  3. Okay, I'm not going to delete another post just to correct "botha" :)

  4. My votes:

    1). Template
    2). Race
    3). Class

    In that order

  5. I'd agree with Timeshadows, unless there were a way...hmmm

    Could you make up a character as normal and then give up some standard abilities in favor of Mutations or is that too 'new school'?

  6. Mutants are monsters. They exist to be destroyed in mortal combat with player characters.

    ; )