Licensed RPGs are the shooting stars of tabletop roleplaying games. They burn brightly, hopefully beautifully and then are lost to history once the license ends. Many live on in the library shelves of those who love them. Some are sold for ridiculous amounts on the internet. A few are reborn as retroclones with the mechanics intact and the potentially litigious IP stripped away. Such is the case with Mutants In The Now, a game from Julian Kay that is very clearly inspired by Erick Wujcik’s classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness RPG. What does the adaptation keep? What does it throw away? Let’s take a look at my GOOP-filled review.
Mutants In The Now centers on a group of mutants in a modern day setting. Each character is some sort of mutated anthropomorphic animal with some mixture of light powers based on their animal origin and possibly psychic powers because why not. The characters struggle to discover the secret of their origins as well as negotiate a tricky path between the factions that wish to control them such as a shadowy corporation, an ancient ninja clan or an alien conspiracy. The setting here is heavily implied, but fans can probably pull something together with a skim of the original game or checking out some episodes of the various series on streaming.
(My child is a fan of the 2012 TMNT series currently on Hulu in America. It even has a couple of episodes that reference the After The Bomb/TMNT crossover from late in the gaming line. It's a great nickel tour of franchise history.)
The meat of the game remains the mutation and customization options for the animals. Here’s where Kay begins some slight modifications from the original. First, players decide their origin story, which determines the animal charts where players roll their animals. This choice also determines how many rerolls the players get throughout the process. Leftover rerolls convert into extra health points if they go unused. Players then roll their attributes and get their first opportunity to spend rerolls. Even so, there’s an incentive to keep poor attribute rolls: they are worth more GOO-P points to spend on mutations. You maybe be an unintelligent rat, but you might be a giant unintelligent rat that can take a hit from a bus.
This section is organized well, especially compared to the original game. Each page offers nine animals with various traits that can be purchased as well as a starting set of common traits that can be upgraded. The pages following the animals offer an explanation of the common traits, a look at the more rare ones and ends with a look at psychic powers and more exotic options. The animals range from elephants to chickens but it doesn’t take too long to get whatever you might want to the right mixture of human and animal.
Fighting styles are next and these too, are expanded. There is the requisite collection of martial arts updated to reflect more of an MMA world. But there are also fighting types that reflect the animal instincts of the characters. Does the combat style Improvisational Panic mean a Jackie Chan style of running around throwing everything they can at a bad guy or a chicken running around frantically trying to flee the battle? It all depends on the combat narration. One interesting element that’s a pretty clear lift from another game is the Escalation Die from 13th Age. Not only does it speed up the d20 based combat, it also encourages games to model the fiction and hold more powerful moves till the end.
There are other elements from other games added into Mutants In The Now. Advantage and disadvantage appears here as well as stepping up and stepping down damage die types in the style of Cortex Prime. There’s still a lot of skill management going on here but it's been streamlined into skill packages that are based on the background elements selected early on. I really like that the game has plenty of packages to choose from but there’s a wild card element in all of them. Animal background affects three attributes, for example, but players pick two and then a third one that doesn’t have to be part of the package. Skills are the same way, so if you want to be a wild animal that knows a lot about particle physics, it’s as simple as using that open skill and creating a backstory where your possum grew up reading a retired professor's old textbooks. Mutants In The Now walks a great line between the wild stories of random skill rolls with character concepts borne out of making SCUBA training and falconry expertise make sense and building a character that feels at home in a gonzo modern mutant setting.
Much of this review has been a compare and contrast between this game and the game that it is inspired by. Does Mutants In The Now stand on its own? For the most part, yes. It feels similar to the type of game I would make if I were going to play a TMNT-inspired game where I wanted to use the older materials but not the older system. But if I didn’t have those materials, I would definitely want a Session Zero where we all discussed the setting we wanted to do. Would it be bright and cheery like the cartoons? Gritty and brooding like the original comics? Given the transdimensional elements of the stories, maybe even something like Into The Turtle Verse? The setting outside of the basics of mutated animal PCs are a blank slate, so GMs should be ready to put in some work there.
Mutants In The Now is an excellent update of a classic RPG but also is a great choice for fans of teenagers, mutants, ninjas or turtles.