Thursday, June 3, 2010

Dungeons in Space Part 2

In which I gush about another out-of-print RPG.

I don’t know how many of you have owned, played, or are in any way familiar with the (Swedish?) RPG Mutant Chronicles. Yes, it was made into a rather poor film on the SciFi channel starring Hellboy and that guy from Hung (wow, do I watch a lot of TV or what?). For what it’s worth, the premise of the game is much better than the premise of the film…’course, as I said the game is still out-of-print.

[though per Wikipedia, the rights have been picked up by Paradox Entertainment, another Swedish company though one operating out of the USA]

The game setting is A LOT like the Warhammer 40,000 universe, save that it takes place entirely within our own solar system, there are no aliens (there ARE demons), and humanity has not yet been united by a single religion of humanity, instead being factionalized by a number of mega-corporations. The gear and the tone, however, are even closer to WH40K, though, and prior to GW’s own Rogue Trader RPG, etc. I would have pointed to Mutant Chronicles as the closest thing to a WH40K RPG on the market.

While the 1993 RPG may be (currently) out of print, the MC setting has been recycled and re-used many times over the years: in addition to the film, there were several novels, comic books, a collectible card game, at least two miniature/war games with the associated minis, a video game, and a board game.

I don’t know which was published first, but my first introduction to the Mutant Chronicles setting was the Siege of the Citadel board game. This was circa 1995 for me…I had graduated from college and suddenly had a bunch of spare money burning a hole in my pocket, which led me to a rabid frenzy of wargaming and miniature purchases. SotC is NOT a wargame, but it does have plastic miniatures, which I dutifully painted up to look like the characters on the box (for the most part, all the Mutant Chronicles products have excellent, excellent artwork).

Although Siege is a board game, it has some RPG qualities to it…each player is responsible for a team of “Doomtrooper” (a pair of warriors) each of which is somewhat customizable with equipment. The team improves over time, gaining experience points for killing monsters, and credits (money) for completing mission objectives. The experience system translates directly into increased effectiveness in-game with better chances to hit, and better ability to resist damage.

While there is no “game master,” per se, players of the board game take turns playing the antagonist “Dark Legion;” the demonic denizens of the Citadel to which the Doomtroopers are laying siege. Even though the DL’s Doomtroopers are not present during the mission, the DL player can earn XP and credits by damaging/killing the other players’ Doomtroopers or thwarting them in their mission objectives. Doomtrooper teams can be antagonistic to each other (they all work for rival mega-corporations) or somewhat cooperative in defeating the Dark Legion player…most games of SotC are a good mixture of both.

THIS is the “space dungeon” I was referencing in my original post.

It would be fairly easy to turn Siege of the Citadel into a B/X like dungeon crawl RPG. To me, it reads as if the designers said “if we wanted to run a Dungeons & Dragons game that included power armor and heavy weapons, what would it look like?”

It would look pretty much exactly like SotC.

Here’s the gist: it’s the far future. Earth has been used up, but the mega-corporations have colonized many of the planets in the solar system (the Moon, Mercury, Mars, Venus, and the asteroid belt). A group of Imperial Conquistadors accidentally break an ancient, alien seal on the mysterious “Tenth Planet” (Nero) unleashing a demonic horde to plague humanity.

In addition to insidious infiltration and corruption (of both human spirit and technology) the demons have huge war machines and churn out plenty of monsters, some bio-engineered from normal people, including human corpses (yes, there are undead legionnaires, in addition to cybermantic monstrosities) all housed in huge mobile citadels similar to the “crawling towers” found in Rifts Wormwood. These citadels dot the planes of Mars and the jungles of Venus, spewing forth creatures and engines of destruction to wipe out the human cities on these distant worlds, even as they push in towards Holy Luna.

The Doomtroopers are crack special forces types drawn from the elite soldiers of each mega-corp, charged with infiltrating the citadels and bringing them down from within by dint of combat skill and massive firepower. They are humanity’s proactive defense in the fight against demonic encroachment. Each Doomtrooper team consists of a pair of fighters, one expert in hand-to-hand while the other is a fire support specialist.

[within the Mutant Chronicles RPG and certain expansions to SotC, players can also be members of the Holy Inquisition of the Cathedral of Luna…think assassins, librarians, and inquisitors of the WH40K universe]

Does that not sound like dungeon delving in space? No you don’t get gold directly from the “dungeons” you’re raiding, and any “magic items” found are likely to be cursed and best left alone. However, your team WILL get rewarded by their employers (the Cathedral or the Cartel of maga-corps) as well as growing in power and ability. Also like D&D, improvement of effectiveness is somewhat linked to the acquisition of new and better gear, such gear being made available to the teams that perform better.

And who doesn’t want to hose a bunch of blade-toting zombies with a micro-gun?

The Mutant Chronicles RPG is a lot more than the Siege of the Citadel board game…it is a hugely detailed futuristic world/setting. Perhaps to its detriment…there is SO much information there, so many splat books, so many options, that it can be a bit over-whelming to decide how best to situate the campaign (no, it’s NOT as dis-jointed as Rifts). The fact that it has kind of clunky combat (for my tastes) coupled with a combat-heavy atmosphere, and yet a “story flavored” (a la World of Darkness) fiction-heavy quality to the writing kind of kills it for me. Oh…and the skill system of course. Especially considering each new splat book offers a handful of new skills to incorporate into the game (much as the BECMI gazetteers did for Mystara).

But I think it would be pretty easy to turn it into a basic 64-page RPG. And I do mean “Basic” a la the Tom Moldvay or Holmes edition rules. I wouldn’t take this one OUT of the dungeon…er, “citadel.” The adventuring classes (Doomtroopers, Inquisitors) lose the need for their turtle shell/carapace armor – not to mention panzerknackers, chainsaws, and heavy flamers – outside the subterranean setting. For a combat-heavy dungeon delve in space, the Mutant Chronicles really fits the bill.

Of course, my version won’t include a skill system.
; )

[by the way, any new readers who missed it before might find my Chronicles of Mutation micro-game to be of interest. This is NOT the Doomtrooper/Siege of the Citadel setting, but rather “urban adventuring” in the MC setting. Characters are freelancers working for the Cathedral helping to root out heretics and demon worshippers. You can download the one-page micro-game here]


  1. Siege of the Citadel sounds a lot like Space Hulk or Advanced Space Crusade. Given the broad similarities between Mutant Chronicles and 40K, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the board game versions also have things in common.

  2. @ Kelvin...having played both Space Hulk and Siege of the Citadel, I have to say I actually find SotC much more interesting, both theme-wise and play-wise.

    However, SH has a definite "Old School" feel to it...what more does one need but horror and scrabbling claws while locked in an airless tin can?
    ; )