Of Cathedrals and Cyberpunk
An Introduction to Mutant Chronicles
Technology has advanced. Man had built towers of steel and glass that hid the sun from the streets of his cities. He had concurred diseases and almost outwitted death. He had built great Thinking Engines to run his empire for him. He had reached to the stars, and left Earth is abandoned and lost. But he reached too far, and finally succumbed to his hubris.
A tablet found on Pluto, the outermost boundary of our solar system had released The Dark Legion into our world, and man shuddered in fear. Cities became crowded death traps, not engineering marvels. Science became a method of inventing bigger and better killing machines, not a method for improving life. People become each others enemies, not friends.
But against The Darkness, a sparkle of Light was lit in the minds, hearts, and souls of the chosen few. Theirs is the mission of taking the battle to the Darkness, of reclaiming the world for mankind. Theirs is the mission to return light to a world without light. Theirs is the mission to return faith to a world without faith. Theirs is the mission to return hope to a world without hope.
Some dry statistics
Mutant Chronicles starts out as a class based system, but drops this concept almost immediately after the initial character creation. When creating a character, the player must choose an archetype, which will effect his initial Basic Capabilities (characteristics), his Social Standing and grant him special bonuses/limitations. However, after the initial character creation the character may use the Hero Points (experience) it gained however the player sees fit, regardless of the character's archetype. The two exceptions of this rule are Brotherhood and Dark Legion characters who progress in their (un)holy paths by level.
A character is described by six Basic Capabilities - strength, physique, coordination, intelligence, mental strength and personality, and by its social standing that may be more important than all of the former capabilities put together, like in any cyberpunk campaign setting.
The character creation system relies on lots of die rolls and a large element of randomness. Not only do the players roll their basic capabilities, but they also roll on event tables to determine the events that have shaped their characters history. To the best of my knowledge, no other system puts this amount of randomness into the character creation. It is an interesting concept and can be excellent for mind storming, but it can also be somewhat disturbing for players who make up complicated background stories before sitting down to write up their characters.
Mutant Chronicles is designed to be an action-packed and flowing system. The basic consideration in the system is speed and gameflow, although it does try to make considerations of reality. Altogether, it is quite a playable system, balancing these two considerations neatly.
The Powers to Be
The world of Mutant Chronicles is divided into eight major powers who control the world. In most cases, it is quite obvious which real world powers the game refers too.
Mankind is basically divided into five major Megacorporations - Capitol (which is obviously a metaphor for the USA), Imperial (the British Empire, in its days of glory), Bauhaus (classic Europe), Mishima (the far east, especially Japan) and Cybertronic (today's so-called citizens of the global village). To handle negotiation and treaties between the Megacorporations and to coordinate the struggle against The Dark Legion, The Cartel (an obvious metaphor to today's UN) was founded. It is made up of representatives from all the Megacorporations and from the Brotherhood, but lacks any real power.
The Brotherhood is the organized religion of the world of Mutant Chronicles. It was founded to do battle against The Darkness, and so it does. However, it is not certain how many innocents have fallen pray to its Inquisition, and how many more have died because the technology that could have saved them was destroyed or was never researched under the Brotherhood's Edicts.
The Darkness is a force of pure darkness and evil, awoken by man's hubris. It not only infests the thoughts and hearts of men, slowly corrupting them, but it also physically manifests as the Dark Legion and mounts attacks on humanity's strongholds.
Religion, Heresy and Internal Contradictions
Mutant Chronicles is a game of contradictions. On the one hand, it is a cyberpunk game, a genre devoted to the lack of cause, to the disillusion about concepts like "good" and "evil" and to the concentration on the individual. On the other hand, it is a heroic game of the struggle between Light and Darkness and of the players taking the slightest spark into the midst of darkness. By reading various source books and novels, or even by paying attention to different chapters in the same book, it seems as though the game designers haven't quite made up their minds on what exactly they want their game to be. A dark cyberpunk campaign, with demons added on for extra flavoring? A heroic battle between Light and Darkness with guns and flame-throwers instead of swords and shields? Something in the middle?
Personally, after reading the rulebook, I wasn't quite sure if the descriptions of The Brotherhood were a ploy to convert players to Christianity, an ironic saying about organized religions in general, or a bit of both.
On the one hand, this void leaves the GM with a lot of space to improvise and to give the campaign his own personal taste. On the other hand, it leaves him somewhat confused by a game that gives him contradicting signs. They could have done better if they had stuck to one idea, and left players who didn't like to find a game better suiting them.
Mutant Chronicles is a weird system and campaign setting. It started out with a burst, not only as an RPG, but also as a CCG (Doomtrooper), a board-game (Warzone) and a series of novels (In Lunacy, Frenzy and Dementia). However, it had quickly died out and the company that produced it (Target Games) no longer exists, to the best of my knowledge.
And it isn't hard to see why. Mutant Chronicles is a complicated game, full of internal contradictions. It isn't quite a cyberpunk game, yet it isn't really a heroic game. It is too simple to be realistic, yet too complicated to be completely rule-indifferent. It is definitely not a game for your average gamer.
However, if this review intrigued you, and if you enjoy throwing everything except the kitchen sink into a campaign just to see what comes out, Mutant Chronicles might just be the game for you.
As noted, Target Games no longer exists. However, if you wish to learn more, you can visit The Unofficial Mutant Chronicles RPG Website.
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Image by Joseph Barnhard