Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: Mutant Crawl Classics Role-Playing Game

Anyone who regularly (or periodically) visits this blog knows that I'm a big fan of DCC.  I've reviewed DCC materials in this blog, not to mention the fact that I went to Gen Con last year to GM a bunch of DCC sessions (and I'm slated to do it again this year).  

So you'd expect me to be the ideal customer for Mutant Crawl Classics, Goodman Games recent RPG set in a post-apocalyptic world.  Heck, I Kickstarted it last year, pledging enough for a hardcover rulebook plus a print block of the first eight adventures/supplements.  So I'm all in, right?


Fun in the PA

Well, I've got some bad news for you.  Cutting to the chase: I'm not very happy with MCC.  It's not unsalvageable, but if you expect MCC to be the ode to role-playing perfection that is DCC, then you will be woefully disappointed.

What is this?  Say it ain't so!  Sorry, folks, it's so.

Let's get right to it and break down my complaints.

DCC Rip-Off

It's right there in the name.  Think about it; what's a "mutant crawl"?  The name of the game thoughtlessly apes the name of its illustrious predecessor.  That's a tip-off for what's to come.


Hello gonzo my old friend

Mechanically, MCC does not innovate on the DCC platform.  The special DCC mechanics that made it distinct and exciting are simply remixed and (occasionally) renamed.  Unfortunately, this sometimes feels a bit forced.  Here are some examples:

  • Luck mechanics: Plantients spend Luck just like Halflings from DCC (two-for-one bonuses, spend on any character's roll, recover two Luck per day). Pure humans recover one (or two) Luck per day.
  • Mutations and wetware: Mutations and wetware are both activated like DCC spells in that you roll every time you use them to determine the effect.
  • Spellburn: What is called "spellburn" in DCC is called "glowburn" in MCC.  This is rationalized that mutants and shamans consume radioactive materials to boost their powers.  
Quick aside: really???  Glowburn is an obvious example of laziness.  They barely changed the name, and rationalized the process as the consumption of radioactive materials...that you just carry around with you?  This is supposed to make sense?  Even for pure strain humans activating wetware?

Also, are casting rolls really the right mechanic for mutations?  It feels shoehorned in.  I know that *CC loves its randomness, but isn't the fact that you roll for mutations random enough?

Laziness is an obvious specter hanging over these arbitrary borrowings from MCC's older sibling.  In addition, the net effect of this DCC remix is that the intended effect of these special mechanics is diminished.  The way they were assigned in DCC gave each class its own special thing that set it apart from the others.  That fine tuning is lost when the mechanics are redistributed with less care.  Which is the case, here.

Sadly, MCC neglected to use the Deed Die mechanic from DCC.  The reason this is disappointing is because it's one mechanic that can be explained without any difficulty.  Plus, it's cool!  But alas, MCC swiped pretty much all the mechanical sugar from DCC except this bit.

Incomplete mechanics

This is a major peeve: what happened to wetware?  You want to play a wizard in MCC?  You're in luck; the Shaman class has "spells" and patrons!  And the patrons listed in the book are actually pretty cool and individualized.  

Fantastic, let's pick out our spellswetware...oh wait, what's this?  The Shaman can only cast spells that are specific to his or her patron?  OK, let's check these patron listings - wait a second!  Each patron only lists three spells!  One for each of the first three levels, and that's it.

Read closely, the Shaman class sucks.  Shaman's must "cast" their Patron Bonds to see how many wetware programs they can run per day.  A good roll gives the player a handful of executions per day.  And since these spells can be "lost," a first- or second-level Shaman who loses a program will effectively lose their only program for the day.

That's all pretty lousy; there's no doubt that the Shaman is significantly weaker than the DCC Wizard.  But that may be acceptable within MCC.  I've yet to perform any sort of analysis of the competing merits of different classes, although it does seem like they're "powered down" with respect to their DCC counterparts (i.e. nobody gets a Deed Die, the closest equivalent of the Thief has far fewer skills, etc.)


Incomplete!

But what is a problem is the fact that the rulebook explicitly omits a big chunk of the wetware list!  Specifically, no fourth- and fifth-level programs are listed - just levels one through three.  And I'll remind you that only one program of each level is listed per patron.
Astute readers of this tome will note that shamans of 7th-level of higher are capable of learning 4th and 5th level wetware programs, which are not covered in this volume. Wetware programs of these levels, and possibly higher, will be covered in future high-level MCC RPG adventures and supplements. 
All in all, this gives the impression of extreme laziness.  I'm almost inclined to think that the reason that Shamans get so few "spells" is because they ran out of time to design them all.  Certainly, it's breaking new ground for Goodman Games that they are releasing a role-playing game that does not have all the rules under one book.

This isn't the only place we run into these kinds of gaps.  Check out this text in the description of the Yvox:
A sample yvox is provided here, but additional versions can be created using both the MCC RPG mutation tables and the dragon generation rules in Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.
Apparently, some of the rules for MCC are actually found in the DCC rulebook!  Why couldn't they just edit and reprint those rules here.

Unrealized setting

Mutant Crawl Classics gets a big chunk of its DNA from Dungeon Crawl Classics, but there's another chromosome that we haven't talked about: Gamma World.  TSR's old post-apocalyptic game casts a deep shadow over MCC.  A number of setting features seem to have been borrowed with minimal scraping off of serial numbers.  For instance, what GW called "cryptic alliances" are called "archaic alignments" in DCC.

MCC is a bit vague about the cause and nature of the apocalypse, or even then when (how long ago?) and the where (was this our Earth?).  In this sense, it deviates from its roots, but not enough.  Periodic references are made to things like the involvement of alien species on Earth before the (undescribed) cataclysm.  It is mentioned that the pre-apocalyptic society was not like our own; even if this was Earth, the fall of man happens in our (perhaps distant) future.


I'd swear the badger- and the rabbit-men are straight out of Gamma World

This sort of vagueness could be a strength, allowing the GM to define his or her own apocalypse.  However, I find the result to be frustratingly vague.  The reluctance to pin anything down means that the setting itself lacks distinct flavor.  All I can see - and this is mainly suggested by the artwork - is that the environment is gonzo with mutated life.  But I have no idea what life is actually like in this world.

That's not really a problem in a generic fantasy setting like DCC, where we all arrive knowing the "default" genre rules.  It's much less helpful for MCC, where there's less of an understanding of what a "standard" post-apocalyptic world looks like, especially a thousand years after the apocalypse!

The inclusion of the Patron AIs does add a bit of specificity and flavor to the world of MCC.  In fact, their section of the rules is probably one of the more interesting ones.  More of this would have been a good thing.

Summary

Mutant Crawl Classics could have been so much more, or so much less.  I could imagine it working better in one of two forms: either a supplement for DCC (like Peril on the Purple Planet) or by diving deeper into what makes it distinct.  Even for a supplement to DCC, I would have wanted to see more in the way of new mechanics.


It fits right in!

I could very easily imagine running an MCC campaign as straight-up fantasy, with a little bit of a weird twist.  Minimizing the hints that this is actually a technological post-apocalypse could make for an interesting twist on fantasy.  Think about how Adventure Time (usually) puts its big Ragnarok far into the background.  

I can imagine Plantients being presented as some kind of woodland faerie race, and Manimals seeming like fantasy Beastmen.  I would love to see an Anomalous Subsurface Environment style of wizard i.e. a madman who has learned to jury-rig ancient super-science technology to do bizarre and dangerous things.  

I imagine pure strain humans very differently - they have HP equal to their Stamina, which goes up by one point per level, and they gain a new psychic power and a new technological artifact every level.  No combat bonuses or anything else.  That would be very different from any current DCC classes and it could be fun to play.  

But it would also require a new set of mechanics and a lot of playtesting.  It's clear that MCC was rushed out the door.  Not much playtesting is needed when you don't introduce much in terms of new mechanics.  Setting elements don't need to be run by as many players when they're decades old - you know how they will be used in the game.

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