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

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David J. Buck

David J. Buck


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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