Mutants In The Now Brings A Fresh Look At Other Strangeness

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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.
 

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

Julian Kay

RPG Freelancer
Because I can't leave well enough alone, Mutants in the Now just got a major update! This has been to clean up and clarify the material for a second printing, an upcoming translation, the next Kickstarter, and more. It's now available wherever you got your copy- Kickstarter, itch.io, DriveThruRPG, or Indie Press Revolution. And if you don't have a physical copy, it's an excellent time to get the new printing.

A lot of this work is to clean things up before the first expansion coming up, Mutants in the Next! I'm really looking forward to talking about it more soon once all of its (mutant) ducks are in a row.

 

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MGibster

Legend
I still have my original copy of TMNT and other strangeness.
Bought cause I was big TMNT fan as a kid. Don’t think I’ve ever played it though
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness is kind of an odd duck. When it was published in late 1985, a full two years before the cartoon debuted, it was based off the gritty comic book which really wasn't at all kid friendly. The difference in tone between the cartoon and the comics/RPG was somewhat jarring. While I never really got into the cartoon, I did enjoy the 1990 movie. I've read somewhere that Kevin Siembieda of Palladium felt the cartoon's kiddie appeal hurt the RPG and caused sales to falter.
 

Julian Kay

RPG Freelancer
I'm offering a $10 discount on physical purchases of the Revised Edition of Mutants in the Now for those who bought physical copies of the Kickstarter Edition. Details are in the Kickstarter post.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness is kind of an odd duck. When it was published in late 1985, a full two years before the cartoon debuted, it was based off the gritty comic book which really wasn't at all kid friendly. The difference in tone between the cartoon and the comics/RPG was somewhat jarring. While I never really got into the cartoon, I did enjoy the 1990 movie. I've read somewhere that Kevin Siembieda of Palladium felt the cartoon's kiddie appeal hurt the RPG and caused sales to falter.

I think that may be true, but at the same time I have to wonder just how saturated the market was at that point for the core. It sold very well, and by 1987, there's a certain point where everybody has a copy, or at least can borrow a copy from a friend.
 

aramis erak

Legend
I'm offering a $10 discount on physical purchases of the Revised Edition of Mutants in the Now for those who bought physical copies of the Kickstarter Edition. Details are in the Kickstarter post.



I think that may be true, but at the same time I have to wonder just how saturated the market was at that point for the core. It sold very well, and by 1987, there's a certain point where everybody has a copy, or at least can borrow a copy from a friend.
It was STILL making the rounds secondhand in Anchorage in the early 2010's. Many who outgrew it found it was resellable... even collectible... beat up copies circulate through grades 4-12 hands in a secondhand after-market, and good copies go for $60+

Plus, when the TMNT license ended, KS and EW maintained After the Bomb, which is essentially a revised edition sans the comic book's included art, and the writeups of canonical characters.
 

Julian Kay

RPG Freelancer
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Sign up to be notified when the Kickstarter for Mutants in the Next goes live! With human-born mutants, wild mutations, more species, new mutations, expanded psionics, nefarious villains, and more, this is going to be a big deal! Keeping Sophie's involvement quiet is a tremendous weight for me to lift off (given she's the present scribe and sometimes-artist on IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and having both her and Fábio is gonna be dynamite.

But that, as they say, is not all. I've got a number of notable tabletop creatives to reveal during the main campaign and via stretch goals, so please spread the word. There'll be a lot to reveal going forward, so please join us for the Next mutation!
 

Julian Kay

RPG Freelancer
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And the Next Kickstarter is live... Now! Adding human-born mutants, wild mutations, new species, weird psionics, fighting styles, sinister villains, and so much more!

With Sophie Campbell and Fábio Fontes illustrating, I can reveal Will Jobst (Torq, Black Mass, This Discord Has Ghosts in It) as the editor!

Moreover, there's a slate of creators set to include via stretch goals, including:
  • Comics and game author Crystal Fraiser (Cheer Up, Pathfinder, Gamma Flight)
  • Illustrator Darren M.A. Calvert (Mutants & Masterminds, Acquisitions Incorporated)
  • Game designer and translator Ewen Cluney (Maid, Golden Sky Stories, Magical Fury)
  • Game designer and programmer Steve Radbaugh (Mines of Immortia, Heavy Metal Thunder Mouse)
There's a lot to be hype for; where Now set the core, Next is going to let me get really strange. So give it a look, and come back to tell me what you think!
 


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