Tags: atomic highway

Post-Apocalypse Android Action! Take 5!

Less androids. MORE TURTLES!

I remember when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first appeared in the shops, the original Eastman and Laird comics, back in the mid-80's. No-one would have believed back then that it would explode into the cultural phenomonon that it became and indeed continues to be. I didn't give it much more than a glance back then certainly, although I did appreciate the crossovers it had with Stan Sakai's "Usagi Yojimbo" and Dave Sim's ever cheerful "Cerebus the Aardvark" (not to mention "The Flaming Carrot", Ut!).

One of the first companies to pick up on it wasn't any multi-media broadcating giant however, it was a role playing game company, Palladium, who in 1985 produced the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness" RPG, both as a stand-alone game and as a supplement to their wider Rifts gameline. I didn't pay much attention to this at the time either actually, I wasn't into any of Palladium's games. The company was always there in the background though, trundling on while other companies seemed to come and go, churning out a slow but steady stream of Rifts books and other titles.

Palladium eventually stopped renewing their lisence to produce TMNT games, presumably due to increasing costs as the big boys started to realise the potential of turtle power and the whole franchise started to shift into high gear, but not before they'd expanded the background with a few books set in the turtles' continuity and a few they developed as a post-apocalypse setting, starting with "After the Bomb" in 1986. I do recall it was quite a fan favourite among the furry community because of the focus on anthropomorphic animals.

All that was a long time ago, however...

I occasionally watch the 2012-2017 Nickelodeon animated series when it's on. It's quite well made, amusing and packed with little references to the original comics and other bits of pop culture. I recently saw the three-part alternative continuity finale to the final series with an elderly bearded Raphael (yes, bearded) chanelling both Mad Max and Logan as he and a robot-bodied Donatello drive a heavily armed and armored truck across a post-apocalyptic wasteland. At the start the others are believed to be dead (events prove otherwise), along with almost every human on Earth, mutant animals now making up the majority of sentient life.

"Now hang on" I thought, "didn't Palladium do this?"

Yes, this little mini-series seems to be a direct shout-out to the "After the Bomb" line of the original RPG. Which both reminded me of its existence and sort of made me want to find out more. A bit of trading later and I am now the owner of the TMNT game core rules and the "After the Bomb" and "Road Hogs" post-apocalypse supplements. The latter of these does actually contain a comic with a community of warrior monk turtles led by an elderly and slightly senile turtle who is, while never named, quite clearly Raphael. Might pick up the other books, just for the background. If I was actually going to play a game in this setting I probably wouldn't use the Palladium house system, it was good for its day but nowadays seems a little clunky and complicated. I'd probably use the books for source material but employ something a bit simpler and cinematic to actually play, "Atomic Highway", with it's beautifully simple "D6 Engine" would be ideal (nice to see that Gallant Knight Games have picked this up from original creators Radioactive Ape Designs and intend to eventually do more with it).

The original corebook did have a tiny bit of contoversy attached to it. If your character suffered some kind of trauma there was the possibility they could develop a mental illness. One form of this was a variety of sexual deviation which unfortunately listed homosexuality alongside such others as pedophilia in the table for it. Obviously being gay is not a sexual deviation, so people objected to that, while others complained about sexual devations being mentioned at all, so in some places (mainly the USA) they had to cover the table with a white sticky label and later printings removed it completely (my copy has it intact). It's a little unfair as the games authors were not saying that homosexuality itself was a deviation (at least I hope they weren't) but that trauma could cause you to switch sexual orientation. Perhaps the wording and placement could have been a little better thought out though.

In late 2001 Palladium brought out a second edition of the "After the Bomb" game which dispensed with any mention of the TMNT franchise and included a set of core rules that would allow you to play the game without the need for the original core rulebook. It also tweaked and updated the setting having the bomb being a secondary cause of the apocalypse, the primary one being a bio-engineered plague released as a prank by students who didn't think it would do much harm. Oops. I did pick this up too (thank you Wayne's Books, once again) but I still think that Atomic Highway would be a better system to play it (amusingly the main book for that has an illustration of an erzatz Shredder and ninja turtle facing off, so I'm clearly not the only one to think it).

Cowabunga, dudes!

Deep Red Seven Dwarf(s)

Been going over the Red Dwarf RPG from Deep 7 for a while now, running through the XPG system it uses to re-familiarise myself with it. It's pretty basic, six standard stats with 20 points to divide between them (modifiers for the various droids, gelfs and evolved animals), 30 points for skills, various assets to be balanced against liabilities. The skill resolution was equally simple, the relevant stat + skill gives you a target number to be rolled under on 2D6 (with modifications for difficulty). Easy enough.

However, checking around for any useful material on the internet I found that there are a quite a few people who have a problem with it, namely that it's inordinately difficult for low level characters to succeed at any task they attempt. Given a stat of 3, a skill of 1 and a normal task (an average set up) you only have around a 17% chance of success. Which is a bit low. I know that Dwarf crew are supposed to be a bunch of useless smegheads, so this could be played for laughs, but I dunno...

I remember playing Warhammer many years back and being frustrated at how completely inept 1st level characters were. First level mages in particular didn't have any spells! We had a house rule that magic users were allowed to start at 2nd level so that they had at least a few useful abilities and didn't instantly die when someone directed so much as a mean glance at them. Given that I'd want any players to be at least a little more competent than this I looked at reworking the rules a little and my thoughts turned to the V6 gaming engine used by Radioactive Ape Designs' Atomic Highway RPG. This was a dice pool system, the player rolled a number of dice equal to the relevant stat and hoped for sixes (only one was needed for a difficult task, easy ones were automatic successes), using however many points he had in any relevant skill to bump up dice that fell short to a 6. This system was geared to making sure players succeeded far more often than failed, if anything it went too far the other way. So I started looking at how to modify it, making 1 success required for a normal task, 2 for difficult, etc.

But, as it turns out, I don't need to do this. Looking through some more stuff on the internet I found that in the Deep 7 fantasy RPG Arrowflight, while the 2nd edition used the same XPG as Red Dwarf, the old 1st edition system used their initial "Deep" mechanic, which was a dice pool system. Your skill level plus a modifier for difficulty was the target number, under which you had to roll below on a number of D6s equal to your relevant stat, each dice rolled under was one success point, the more points, the greater the success. This is, as you can see, pretty similar to the V6 engine. Furthermore this was practically the only major difference between the systems, stats and skills were the same, only the resolution mechanic had changed. Digging a bit more I even found a conversion from the Deep system to the XPG system on the Arrowflight Yahoo Groups site (after much straining, and failing, to recall my Yahoo account password- thankfully my Hotmail one is set up to receive from here as well) AND I was able to get the "AI-add on 0.1" file that came out as a very small free extra bit for the Red Dwarf RPG from the Yahoo site for THAT as well. The conversion can quickly be run in reverse to de-convert the newer system back into the old one.

The positive of the Deep system is that you succeed more, the negative is that so can things that are trying to kill you, apparently it can be quite lethal, but I've been seeing a lot of praise for the 1st edition Arrowflight system by die-hard fans, and the game did get a lot of acclaim from gaming reviewers when it first appeared. Of course that means that I now had to obtain it, which proved tricky. Drivethrrpg was only selling the 2nd edition, even as a pdf, even though it still had a number of 1st edition supplements for sale. Amazon.co.uk didn't have any for sale in this country at all, no second-hand sites had it. I did find it on Amazon.com however, with one seller having a good conditon copy and willing to ship internationally, the cost of shipping is over three times the price of the game mind you, but this was only a few dollars so it's not very much at all.

Splendissimo! A month or so for shipping and then, look out Earth, the slime's coming home!

Post-Apocalypse Android Action! Take Three!

Only this time, er... without the androids.

In my quest to find an alternative system to use with the Justifiers RPG setting I've picked up a new game, Atomic Highway, from Colin Chapman's Radioactive Ape Designs, published by Cubicle 7. I have been looking at the Fate system as used in the Bulldogs! RPG, and while I can see the advantages of that (and I love the setting) it didn't quite have that quick and dirty feel I was looking for, something a bit more... 80's, if that makes any sense, to reflect the origins of the original game.

Atomic Highway has caught my eye a few times, saw it in Orc's Nest in Central London and was quite taken with the design. Then found it was free to order as a PDF on the Drivethru RPG site, so I grabbed it. It is indeed a quick and dirty post-apocalyptic RPG, very much in the Road Warrior mode, scattered communities (of various flavours- tribal villages, isolationist farmsteads, bartertowns, left-over technological enclaves) all tied together by salvaged truck convoys, preyed on and protected by crossbow and axe wielding raiders and guardians. I'm sure you get the picture. It's quite a "hard" post-apoc setting unlike, say, Gamma World, which is gleefully, gloriously silly (something for which I adore it). Yes, there are mutants and monstrosities but the base setting doesn't make these too outrageous. It's only in the appendicies at the back that you get basic rules for humanoid animals and a few psychic powers. The game mechanics are good too, the "V6 Engine" (as it is called) emphasises speed and action, favours success over failure and uses a simple success rule, you roll a number of D6 according to the attribute (Muscle, Understanding, Nimbleness, etc.) your character possesses and hope to throw sixes. Appropriate skill points can be used to "bump-up" rolls to get the required sixes. Most tasks only need one success, really tough challenges may require four or five. There's a fair emphasis on personal and vehicle combat but given the game setting that's hardly surprising. The system also has something called Fortune Points that operate much like the Fate system's Fate Points, giving players a chance to even up otherwise impossible odds and make those one chance in a million moves that a hero needs to accomplish nine times out of ten.

Atomic Highway has already been well received for the ease of use of the system, being praised for the excellent gamesmastering notes for beginners and nicely worked out details like the section on scavenging. I must admit the section on humanoid animals had got my attention, but what got me really interested was the first and currently only supplement, Irradiated Freaks. This expands greatly on those appendicies from the first game, adding a load more humanoid animals to the mix, extra psychic abilities, a menagerie of monsters and a whole new array of mutations.

So what we have here is a system that already has rules for dozens of different types of humanoid animals, cinematic game mechanics and a clear bias towards driving across bleak landcapes and getting shooty towards hulking monstrosities with more teeth than brain cells. Could you use this to play a Justifiers game? Hell yes. Ideally of course I'd like to see rules for cybernetics, aliens and high tech thrown in. This is easy enough to do, I already have plans, but there is a second supplement for Atomic Highway on the horizon, Twisted Apocalypse, that looks like it's going to provide pretty much all of these with the currently absent androids thrown in as well. Oh, and zombies too. There's no clear release date as yet other than "sometime in 2012" and Mr Chapman is busy with other things such as writing stuff for the Frankenstinian RPG Dark Harvest (and other minor distractions such as a teaching job and being a father) but I'm hopeful of eventually getting my hands on this before too long.

As for the original Atomic Highway setting, I was suddenly struck with the realisation that I have a perfect miniatures accompaniment to this, the old Battlecars board game from Games Workshop. I bought this when it first came out, got the Battlebikes expansion too and have already enjoyed myself creating additional vehicles like trucks, so I'm going to dig it out, dust it off and see again what fun you can have with a bit of armor plating, a turbo charger and a rocket launcher. What's that Miss Turner, "We Don't Need Another Hero"? Don't worry ma'am, you ain't getting one...