Look Back In Strangeness: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness Game
  • Look Back In Strangeness: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness Game


    In 1984, comic creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird put the final touches on their 3,000-copy limited run of a satirical comic dubbed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The first issue promptly sells out and becomes an overnight sensation. Prompted by the success of the comic, Eastman and Laird form Mirage Studios to produce more issues. Their success opens the door to the Turtles crossing over into other media. In 1985, Palladium Books obtains the license to produce an RPG based on the terrapin ninjas and from this agreement, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness role-playing game was born.


    That book, designed by Erick Wujcik, would be the core rules of a game line that would be expanded with the 1986 release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, a set of adventures for the setting. Additional books would appear throughout the game's life, including the post-apocalyptic After the Bomb.

    My introduction to RPGs began with the basic D&D boxed set in 1992. I discovered Advanced Dungeons & Dragons four years later.

    In the interim, I played TMNT almost exclusively. Some great memories came from that time, like when my diminutive mole pilot character, Digsby Jones, had to overcome his fear of digging to get the party out of an altercation with the Terror Bears. Then, there was the time Digsby crashed a plane, resulting in a Total Party Kill. After that, our group began creating back-up characters for each session, just in case. The game was completely different from anything we'd ever played and as such, we enjoyed it immensely until life got in the way.
    Fast forward 25 years and I find myself revisiting the book and a few of its supplements. I'm amazed at just how well the game holds up to my memories of it. Character creation is probably the most fun aspect of this game.

    Everything is determined randomly at first: your attributes, speed, hit points, type of animal, cause of mutation, starting funds, etc. Then, the player can easily customize their mutant character by using Bio-Energy points to give their animal character human attributes such as human hands, a human appearance, psionic abilities and more.

    A unique fixture of this game is the ability of players to form a team of the same animal, similar to the turtles themselves. The possibilities are endless. The only true downfall here is Palladium's convoluted attribute naming system. Characters sheets contain only the abbreviated forms of each attribute, so unless a player knows what P.E., M.E., etc. mean off the top of their heads, it can be confusing during play. This minor gripe aside, it's still tremendously fun to roll up characters.

    Once characters are created, the players choose skills, an alignment, an occupation and equipment. Because TMNT is set in modern times, skills are appropriate for the period. Players first choose a few skill sets—espionage, piloting, weapon proficiencies, among others—and then secondary skills. Then, the player purchases armor, weapons and other equipment as their funds allow. Alignments range from good to evil and are on par with other RPGs of the time.

    The combat system is ported directly from Heroes Unlimited, another Palladium Books game. I like the idea of structural damage points and everything having a certain hit threshold before it's destroyed. I also quite enjoyed perusing the equipment sections once. The best part about combat is damage and defensive techniques. For instance, characters may parry attacks or dodge them with ease. Armor also has its own version of hit points that must be taken down significantly for the character's own hit points to be affected. The game is not without its faults and can seem clunky, but I'm happy I had the opportunity to play it during the 90s and plan to revisit the game with a new group soon.
    The equipment in the game is typical of what one would find in early TMNT comics: ray guns, laser rifles, and other high-tech stuff mixed with martial arts weaponry. The simple, pencil drawings of weapons truly fit the book's aesthetic and give it more of a comic book sensibility, rather than that of an RPG. The book is rounded out by an exclusive comic, "Don't Judge a Book," stats for all four of the turtles, stats for various bad guys the GM may use for the game and my favorite gaming TMNT baddies, the Terror Bears.

    The Terror Bears are exclusive to the Palladium RPG series and, as far as I know, never appeared in any other TMNT media. Born from unethical experimentation, the bears are tormented and experimented upon in a lab. They begin to exhibit signs of psionic ability and communication, which only causes them to be studied further. Eventually, they escape the lab and spend their days sleeping and watching television. Late at night, the Terror Bears—Pain Bear, Fear Bear, Doom Bear and Nightmare Bear—go out on the town to stir up trouble.

    In an obvious parody of the Care Bears, each bear has a symbol on belly denoting its abilities: a mushroom cloud, vampire, ghost and weapons. They're incredibly fascinating and surprisingly well-rounded for what they are. The now defunct Dark Horse miniatures produced a line of TMNT and Other Strangeness miniatures, which included the Terror Bears. These are hard to find these days and tend to pricey.

    Some say 1987 dealt a fateful blow to the RPG series: the TMNT cartoon series premiered, rendering the once gritty, violent characters more family-friendly. Palladium Books founder Kevin Siembieda believed this, stating once in an interview the cartoon, along with the 1990 feature film were the cause of the decline in sales for the RPG. I'm certain this holds some merit, but as a TMNT fan whom knew of the cartoon version of the turtles prior to the original version, finding this RPG was like striking gold.

    contributed by David Buck
    Comments 20 Comments
    1. lyle.spade's Avatar
      lyle.spade -
      ...had a mutant wolverine commando character in that game.
    1. J.L. Duncan's Avatar
      J.L. Duncan -
      Oh boy, TMNT! Let me go put some peanut butter on my pepperoni pizza and come back... (reference to that cheesy cartoon)

      We played Palladium Fantasy as a one shot (from D&D Basic) then it was onto TMNT. Agree, character creation is a blast. Later we would mesh this and Ninjas & Superspies another game by Eric Wujcik. Great Memories.
    1. buda's Avatar
      buda -
      Ah, 1986, when April was still a computer programmer.
    1. Nevvur's Avatar
      Nevvur -
      I forgot I played this once. It was me, my best friend, and two guys we met at the FLGS. We were ages 14-17. When I say I played it once, I mean literally only one session. I can barely remember anything about it, except me and my best friend strangely both rolled armadillos. The other player got a weasel, and I do recall being jealous of his enhanced metabolism ability.

      We ended up switching to a game called Darkurthe Legends the next get-together. That group lasted for about 6 months before splitting, but I learned and liked the system well enough to try my hand at running it for another group of friends. The Darkurthe setting would go on to inspire many aspects of my current homebrew world, though its current incarnation is wholly unrecognizable from the inspiration.

      In a sense, my homebrew owes its existence to the unsatisfying experience we had with the TMNT RPG. I think it was mostly the fact I rolled an armadillo.

      Anyway, thanks for the trip down memory lane!
    1. coz's Avatar
      coz -
      Wait, you mean people actually use a non-Rifts Palladium book for something other than as a sourcebook for RIFTS?

      I kid. Mostly.
    1. moldyderp's Avatar
      moldyderp -
      Played this for a few years growing up because the game we really wanted to be playing, Dungeons & Dragons, was of course "evil" and we'd all be sacrificing dogs and chickens, and of course ourselves as we learned from Blackleaf, if we went down that path. After TMNT we graduated into Ninjas & Superspies. Great fun!
    1. Lord_Blacksteel's Avatar
      Lord_Blacksteel -
      This may be the game where the Palladium system worked best. Fantasy was OK, and Heroes Unlimited was ... limited, but adding in guns and martial arts with a cut-down set of powers worked pretty well in this game at that time.
    1. hejtmane's Avatar
      hejtmane -
      Played it loved it for doing something different when we did a d&d break I prefer the 1st edition before the revised edition. Took for ever to create a character lol but it was fun building them I am weird about that.

      The roll with punch fall for the win

      Sent from my Pixel XL using Tapatalk
    1. Kyle Henderson's Avatar
      Kyle Henderson -
      There ARE the Dream Beavers though, which are an homage to the bears.
    1. Nostalgia Ward's Avatar
      Nostalgia Ward -
      Quote Originally Posted by buda View Post
      Ah, 1986, when April was still a computer programmer.
      And a time when Baxter Stockman wasn't a bumbling, incompetent fly-creature! I loved volume 1 of the Mirage comics. It was a great story arc.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      I have a memory of playing a session of this game. I think all our characters had some feature where we couldn't talk, but could telepathically communicate our thoughts.

      It all went downhill when the scenario started with us hanging out at our home/office/base/lair and then the phone started ringing - each PC looked at the rest and shrugged . . .
    1. prosfilaes's Avatar
      prosfilaes -
      An indie comic book got turned into a mainstream cartoon and that caused the RPG to stop selling? I certainly bought my copy having only seen the TV show. Given the wrong TV show, I can imagine that, but the TV show was successful. It seems much more likely that the natural lifespan of a product was playing it, that they'd sold copies of the corebook to most of the people interested in buying a copy.
    1. nijineko's Avatar
      nijineko -
      Mutant Coyote with bouncing, stretching, and various physical defenses powers... was nearly indestructible. And a good thing too, as my DM watched the same Saturday morning stuff I did, so my character kept falling (or getting thrown) off of heights, getting things dropped on him from heights, explosions and gunfire galore, plus of course - getting run over crossing empty roads....
    1. Zarithar's Avatar
      Zarithar -
      I loved this game so much. It's what I wanted Gamma World to be basically (After the Bomb supplement).
    1. grimfish's Avatar
      grimfish -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nevvur View Post
      I think it was mostly the fact I rolled an armadillo.
      I had an armadillo and he was one of my favorite characters of all time! Honestly I can’t remember if he was any good. He just ended up being a blast to play. TMNT and Heroes Unlimited were my favorite games. I liked the percentile dice and structural damage. Rules were very lacking but somehow that never seemed to matter. I think I have two copies of this book!


      Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      We had a group of Kilted Killer Keltic Kows.
    1. Ascavilya's Avatar
      Ascavilya -
      Still have my copy of TMNT on the shelf along with the Turtles Go to Hollywood sourcebook. Haven't played it in years but it came up in discussion with my gaming group recently and they were keen to give it a go so I would say that's on the cards at some point.
    1. Nostalgia Ward's Avatar
      Nostalgia Ward -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      We had a group of Kilted Killer Keltic Kows.
      I would love to hear more about this!
    1. Jeremy E Grenemyer's Avatar
      Jeremy E Grenemyer -
      This book was a great alternative to D&D whenever our group grew tired of playing.

      It was also one of those rare gaming sourcebooks that was pure fun to read.
    1. raleel's Avatar
      raleel -
      Still have all my books. Ran a game with 14 players one time, including character creation. It nearly broke me. Also made a mutant weasel juicer in cyclone body armor for a one shot - I mean, really, how long was he going to have being a mutant weasel juicer?

      We occasionally talk about doing a TMNT game, though often with a different system, which would mess with character creation I suppose
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