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Comparative review of Mutant Crawl Classics and the Umarican Survival Guide (Long as hell)

Imperialus

Explorer
So within a couple months of each other, we’ve been blessed with not one, but two different post-apocalyptic games/settings for Dungeon Crawl Classics. As a backer of both, and having just recently gotten the finalized PDF of the Umarican Survival Guide (USG) I figured I’d do a side by side comparison. As a point of disclosure, I have no connection with either company other than being a Kickstarter backer to both projects. I backed MCC at the 60 dollar level and USG at the 25 dollar level.

Umarican Survival Guide: 288 page PDF (including cover, table of contents etc.) 12 dollars on DTRPG.
Mutant Crawl Classics: 282 page PDF (including cover, table of contents etc.) Not yet available on DTRPG, Kickstarter PDF tier was 25 dollars.

The TLDR version is: Both are awesome. There are some things like artefacts and magic that I feel MCC does better, while other things like equipment, mutations (and classes in general) that I feel USG does better. Honestly, I’m going to be pulling from both to run my campaign. If you are on a tight budget and can only pick up one, I’d probably point you towards USG.

First up. Setting:One thing you need to realize is that both games have a different ‘tone’ even though they are both Post Apocalyptic. MCC is very much a ‘gamma world’ style of game. Makes sense, as that was kinda the goal but it’s important to be aware of that when picking it up. Humanity has, as a whole gone back to the stone age. Nevermind a laser rifle, a frying pan is probably beyond the understanding of a 0th level MCC character. Technology is sorcery and vice versa, at least as far as most people care or understand.

USG, on the other hand, feels more like Fallout. Guns are commonplace, (with Shells and Powder taking the place of Silver Pieces) and there is an entire class the Petrolhead dedicated to vehicles (and Gas Promissory Notes filling the role of Gold Pieces). High tech stuff is rare and unusual, but it does exist, and is for the most part still functional, albeit jury-rigged. Overall, I feel this makes Umarica much more recognizable as a future earth than Terra A.D.

This is a tough call to make since there is a lot of appeal in both settings. I personally prefer the setting vibe I get from Umarica, but it’s totally personal preference.

Layout and Artwork:
USG's layout is functional and should be familiar to just about anyone who has picked up an RPG before. It is certainly less polished than MCC, but that should come as no surprise given the difference both in budget, and experience of the publishing house. MCC is certainly easier to navigate, particularly in PDF form. USG only has bookmarks for the chapter headings (apart from Character Classes), while in MCC nearly any relevant rule can be found by drilling down the bookmarks tab. This makes a huge difference in usability at the table and is something I would encourage Shield of Faith to try and incorporate into their PDF's.

MCC certainly beats out USG when it comes to layout, at least as a PDF. Both work, but this is a case where Goodman Game's experience shows in the added functionality.
As far as artwork goes, USG is very well done. Clean black and while line art dominates, and it is very much in the style of RPG products from the late 80's and early 90's. Reminds me a lot of old Shadowrun products with a healthy dose of 2nd edition Warhammer 40K and RIFTS thrown in for good measure.

MCC, on the other hand, is what we've come to expect from Goodman Games. It's pretty freaking amazing.

The artwork is totally personal preference. I did feel that with a smaller stable of artists USG was able to maintain a more consistent style than MCC but that's picking nits.

Characters (creation and classes): Sorry Goodman, but Sheild of Faith has you beat hands down here. MCC has only two level 0 occupations. Hunter or gatherer... I'm sorry but I really expected more. I understand that this was written within the context of the PC's being neolithic tribesmen but it's limiting, and frankly kinda boring. USG, on the other hand, has 50 different starting occupations ranging from a debtors pit escapee to a vault dweller to a veterinarian.

When it comes to classes in general USG is a pretty clear winner again. There are 12 classes available, most of which have an MCC equivalent but there are also rules for Cyborgs, Robots, 'Grey' Aliens, and even weird kids based off of Peter Pan. There are no separate classes for Plantiants or Manimals, but if you have your heart set on playing one then they are rolled into options within the larger mutant class.

Comparing the two mutant classes they are VERY different. MCC mutations rely on rolls similar to casting checks. Some of the effects are permanent while others need to be rolled each time the mutation is used. USG on the other hand relies on a series of tables to reach different mutations that have set effects. When rolling the initial mutation there is also a %chance of additional positive or negative 'quirks' associated with the mutation.

For example "Claws" in MCC is a permanent mutation. When it 'develops' the player rolls a D20 plus his level plus any 'glowburn' he wants to spend. At the low end of 12-13 he gets claws that do 1d3 damage per strike. If he rolls a 32+ he gets 1d20 damage per strike, 3 attacks per action die and +5 to initiative.

Claws in USG do a base of 1d4 damage. When rolling for the mutation there is then a 30% chance that they also inflict poison damage, a 20% chance that their damage is increased to 1d6 with crits on a 19+. There is also a 45% chance that the character loses 1d3 agility and a 30% chance that the character will accidentally suffer 1 point of damage any time a 1 is rolled on an action die due to accidentally cutting himself. These rolls can be adjusted by using a mechanic called 'glow pool' that is based on the PC's stamina.

Again I think this comes down to personal preference. I kind of prefer the USG method since it creates a more consistent power curve. There is, for example, very reason for a PC not to glowburn himself into oblivion when gaining a permanent mutation in order to maximize his roll not unlike when a player rolls on the patron bond spell in DCC. None of the mutations in USG have the potential to be so powerful as to force a Judge to totally reinvent encounters for the remainder of a campaign due to a single lucky roll, but the variety and utility of most of them still allow for the creation of some pretty cool characters.

One class that MCC definitely comes out on top though is the Healer vs. USG's Cleric. The Cleric is basically a copy-pasta of DCC's Cleric class with sillier gods while MCC's healer works in a way that feels more like how someone would blend technology and faith together in order to patch someone together. I personally don't care all that much for USG's take on Gods in general. They are certainly amusing, particularly Elmos "The demonic puppet god of fear and pain" but for the most part I think they just come across as overly silly pop culture references that feel out of place.
USG Wizards vs MCC Shamans are interesting... The Shamans are definitely less powerful as they only have access to a limited number of 'patron spells' whereas Wizards are again pretty much a copy paste from DCC. This makes Shamans very reliant on artefacts and other technology in order to keep pace with other party members.

As for the other classes, Sentinels vs Wasteland Warriors are close enough for horseshoes, Rovers and Scavengers are pretty similar too, though USG's Technologist is an interesting variant on the same archetype.

USG also has the Robot, Cyborg, Fossorian (weird badger people) Feral Urchin, Grey, and Petrolhead to round out the class selection. Some are better than others. I love the Cyborg and Petrolhead for example while the Fossorian feels like someone in a playtest campaign wanted to play a dwarf so they reskinned that class, and the Feral Urchin wanders off too far into the realm of the silly for my taste.

Combat: The MCC combat is DCC combat with new art. USG on the other hand introduces some interesting rules around the idea of armour serving as damage reduction and suffering damage over time reducing its effectiveness. This is a really, really cool set of rules since it allows for the PC's to create strange piecemeal sets of armour and just fits the setting very well. That said however it does up the complexity considerably. We're not talking Shadowrun levels of complexity, but it does add another layer of rolling to any given combat round and serves as another thing to track on the character sheet. You could use normal DCC rules if you want, but the Robot and Cyborg classes would need some rejiggering if that is the route you want to take.

Equipment and Artifacts: MCC doesn't have much in the way of 'mundane' equipment. Leather armour, stone axes, etc. USG, on the other hand, has purchasing tables for everything from battleaxes and chainsaws to pneumatic rifles and slingshots along with firearms ranging from blunderbuss' to blaster rifles.

On the other hand, though MCC has some very extensive rules for the generation and use of artefacts which is something that USG lacks. Overall this ties back to the difference in theme between the two games. In MCC technology is this weird wonderful stuff that the PC's need to figure out how to use, possibly an adventure in and of itself. USG on the other hand portrays technology as a tool. A rare and expensive tool for sure, but not as something that would be totally alien to the PC's. Plus there is a weapon called the Saw Blade Slinger. That alone give USG one of the greatest equipment lists ever to be published.

Overall I generally like how USG does this better. There is nothing to prevent me from say eliminating laser weapons from the equipment table, and using them as artefact type weapons that need to be discovered using the MCC rules but it also allows me to put assault rifles in the hands of a powerful warlord's elite guard and not feel as though they would be totally out of place. Again though, this comes down to a question in tone, and USG just comes closer to my own personal preference in this regard. At the end of the day though this is likely something where the best outcome is a combination of both systems. I personally plan on using the equipment rules from USG, and adding the artefact checks to the USG classes for use when they find something really exotic.

Magic and Patrons: This one is another point in MCC's favour, but the two are largely interchangeable. The patrons of USG are the same as the Gods, and I already mentioned back with the Clerics that I found the USG gods to be rather silly. I mean if pop culture references are your bag, then by all means go the USG route, but at the very least the Intergalactic God of Rock and Roll needs to be Eddie not KIZZ. The Patron AI's from MCC fit the setting better, and manage to provide a good link to Terra AD's prehistory. This is one of those things though that I think any Judge is going to cherry pick from a wide variety of sources in order to create the setting he or she wants. In terms of mechanics I think the Patron AI's are a bit better fleshed out than the Gods from Umarica.

It is important to note as well though that USG has a small stable of additional spells on top of the patron spells that fit with the post apoc feel of the game. MCC ONLY has the patron spells.

Other bits and bobs:
MCC has a small Bestiary with a few dozen monsters to toss against PC's. Nice little add on, especially if you don't have DCC. MCC also has rules for getting AI to work with the PC's and a different take on the alignment system that works more along the lines of social groupings or philosophies than the traditional Law Nutrality Chaos of DCC. There is also a short level 0 adventure that is quite good.

USG has rules for vehicle combat that seems pretty well done as far as car combat goes. It's more complex than typical DCC combat, but again much simpler than something like Shadowrun. It's fast paced and encourages a lot of stunting and aggression on the part of the combatants. USG also has a fairly detailed writeup on the "Citadel of Scrap" which can serve as a hub for campaigns. Lots of room for a Judge to add stuff, but enough plot hooks and storylines to grab your interest.

At any rate, if you've stuck with me this long. Whew... Thanks. Now go out there, get irradiated and sling some dice with a vestigial limb or something.
 
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Bront

The man with the probe
Glad you like the USG. MCC has some interesting stuff too, but it didn't float my boat as much. Though I'll admit having a personal interest in the USG content likely has a bit to do with that.

There is a conversion appendix in the USG for converting stuff to USG, mostly it goes into the Armor rules and how to move them back and forth. If you don't like the armor rules, it shouldn't be too hard to reverse engineer them back to the standard armor rules.

As part of the USG kickstarter, the POD is coming soon (the first proofs needed a few minor changes, once we sign off on the second proofs, they're live for backers, and then for the public). We also have 2 different soucebooks/sandbox adventures on the way, and the Twisted Menagerie monster manual that at the moment think is coming out early next year. Heck, I have an adventure outline I've been procrastinating on that I have some stuff mapped out for from late last year, so that might get written and released at some point.

Honestly, its a great time to be a post-apocalyptic gamer. With 2 great products out there, GMs have plenty of opportunities to mix and match from each book and make the campaign they want.


Disclosure: I'm one of the authors involved in USG, helped run the kickstarter, and manage some of Shield of Faith's social media stuff.
 

Reidzilla

First Post
Thank you for the excellent comparative review! Bront covered most of any feedback I would have. If anyone has questions about the USG, please speak up!

Reid - Owner of Shield of Faith Studios, LLC
 

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