Fallout has had an interesting journey to its place in geek culture. It started out as a GURPS computer game, turned into a series of RPGs from a beloved team, expanded its hold on gamers with a shift to first person gaming and currently exists as a slowly but surely improving MMORPG. It seemed inevitable that the setting would return to the tabletop. Modiphius has taken on several licenses using its 2d20 system and sent a review copy of the PDF for its latest to me. Does it fit like a smart looking fedora? Or is it as useful as completely drained power armor?
For those unfamiliar with 2d20, it is a roll-under system where players roll 2d20 under an attribute plus a skill to gain successes. Tasks have a difficulty from 1-5 successes. Players can gain extra successes through critical rolls of 1 or by gaining additional dice by purchasing them with momentum. If a player rolls more successes than needed, they can use them to purchase additional effects like more damage or information, or they can bank those successes to use later. The designers are second only to Free League in adapting the basic engine to fit different genres and licensees. Sometimes the games are very grainy. Sometimes they are not.
In this case, lead designers Nathan Dowdell and Sam Webb along with Alison Cybe, Donathin Frye and Virgina Page hit the middle of the pack. Making a character is rather simple; pick a species, assign attribute points to once that match the game, pick a perk modeled after ones across the franchise and the character is ready. The team seemed to go out of their way to adjust 2d20 in a way that would be immediately recognizable to players of the later Fallout games. That includes adjusting game terms and mechanics like momentum and determination to things like Action Points and Luck.
There are six broad character types: Brotherhood of Steel, Ghoul, Super Mutant, Mister Handy, Survivor and Vault Dweller. These aren’t classes in a strict sense; they mostly give you a starting perk and a chart to determine your starting equipment. Some of the character choices have some fun subtypes, like several Mister Handy builds that can be mixed and matched, like a Miss Nanny personality stuck in a Mister Gutsy body. There are a few character types I would have liked to see as playable that show up in the enemies section, like Protectrons or Synths. I hope that as more books are released for the line these types get added to the game.
The complexity comes in with character gear. Gear customization is a major part of the video games and that focus continues in Fallout. Most of a character’s abilities come out of the weapons and armor they carry and the game expects players to fiddle around with their loadouts as they scavenge the wasteland. Games where gear really matters have gone out of vogue in modern designs, but Fallout shows a way forward where players can modify basic gear without flipping through dozens of gear books. If anything, the company should consider gear decks so players can assemble their cool guns in a tableau while they play.
Combat is a mixture of abstract elements and gritter detail. Hit locations matter, but only on a critical success. Ranges are defined by zones but they have an ideal zone where they function. Ammo is counted but the system offers a risk/system where more shots fired mean more damage dice and therefore a better chance at a critical hit. This models different play styles of Fallout well, with some players taking a measured approach to battles and others changing forth and blasting with both hands.
Seekers of lore might be disappointed by the fact that the game concentrates on Fallout 4. Don’t pick up the book expecting a timeline and backstory of all the games. The information is useful for playing in the Boston setting, but I saw a missed opportunity here. Rather than a specific setting I would have preferred advice on how to turn your own city into a Fallout setting. Part of the joy of these games is walking past a location that you recognize and see how the setting has changed it. The first thing I would do at my table is sit down and discuss what local landmarks we’d want in the game and how we could satirize issues in the city through the various factions within the game.
Fallout is a strong translation of the electronic RPG to a tabletop format. If you enjoy those elements of the game and want a tabletop RPG that plays to them, this is an excellent pickup. It’s also a good choice for GMs wanting to hook friends who love video games but have been shy about getting into tabletop. For fans of the video game looking for material they want to convert into their favorite system, they will head back out into the wasteland, unsatisfied.