Welcome back, dice fondlers! Let us briefly recap last week— we were building both the Zone and, more importantly, the Ark that our characters inhabit. The Ark is our bastion against the end of the world, the place our characters are struggling to keep intact in the face of all threats, and the territory the Bosses are fighting over. So far, we’ve established a basic map, gotten an idea of the major inhabitants of our home, and started to answer questions like “How the heck do we have fresh water?” With me so far? Good. Then let’s dive back in!
Player Step: Character Dens
Now that we’ve got the bulk of our Ark created, let’s take just a moment and have each of our players determine exactly where their character’s Den is in The Ark. Who lives near them? How close are they to the important features of the Ark? These are decisions not to be taken lightly when you realize that everyone is vulnerable in their sleep, and with the infighting of the Bosses, safe spaces may be in short supply. With that out of the way, our character creation portion is finished. We do still have features of our Ark to flesh out though.
Setting the Seasons
However, before we go any further into the development of our Ark, we need to determine one feature of our setting. Which season is it? This is an important factor to take into consideration as we continue talking about our Ark, its Developmental Levels (we’ll get to them in a moment), and what sort of projects the People need to be working on in order to keep the settlement alive. Each season has its own concerns that your table will have to address.
Furthermore, don’t feel limited by the standard “tv show” style seasons either. While summer, spring, fall, and winter are fine labels for the year’s quarters, your geographic location does a great deal to define exactly what these look like. Which season is the rainy season in your Zone? Which is the dry season? Don’t be afraid to set up strange, futuristic weather problems as a feature of a given season. While defining a season by when sea levels rise by ten feet may seem like a horrifying prospect, if you A: make sure that your Ark’s design makes sense as to how you’ve survived so far, and B: plan your starting season accordingly, you’ll be fine. Don’t handicap your table by starting with something like the “Season of Death”, in which a swarm of horrifying death locusts infests the Ark. You’ll be woefully unprepared for them unless you’re specifically looking for Hardcore Mode.
Four Development Levels
With that out of the way, let’s talk Developmental Levels. There are four categories: Food Source, Culture, Technology, and Warfare. Food Source is pretty self-explanatory; it’s the rating for how hard it is to find a meal in The Ark. Culture speaks to how well the People understand the Ancients and the impact of the artifacts they unearth. For example, higher Culture tiers mean the People may all reach general literacy, or have improved inclusivity in governance. Technology is the measure of how well the People grasp the technical aspects of the artifacts and ruins around them. As Technology increases, the People gain the capacity to build distilleries, steam engines, or perhaps even breach-loading rifles without having to scavenge them from the ruins.
Finally, Warfare is the simple measure of how prepared the People are for conflict. At its peak, the Warfare rating indicates that the People aren’t just ragtag villagers— instead, they’ve built themselves a small army that not only can defend the Ark, but that can also strike out at the enemies of the People across the Zone. Each category has a rating of 0-39 and is broken into four tiers: 0-9, 10-19, 20-29, and 30-39. At the start of a new campaign, the Ark has 12 points to distribute among the four tiers. You heard me right— 12 points. The only way you’re cool enough to reach the second tier in a feature right off the rip is to be pretty sucky at everything else. Don’t worry, though! That’s the whole point— you’re going to lead the People to improve the Ark, and you’re going to bring back sweet ancient artifacts to help solve everyone’s problems, right? Right!?
Speaking of the People and their Projects, as the game begins, your players will, AS PLAYERS (this part is important), take part in an Assembly of The People and nominate projects that the Ark is undertaking. Players don’t have to agree, although if every player focuses on the same project, that project will complete faster. Each complete Project will affect your Developmental Levels, as well as become a permanent feature of the Ark. Don’t let me understate how important Projects are. While Projects like Defenses are exactly what you would expect, Ark features like Cannibalism or Mills are both Projects that players can willfully choose to have the Ark develop in order to handle food shortages. Your players will determine whether Autocracy, Free Enterprise, or Collectivism win out in the end. Furthermore, as players explore, they can add Artifacts they find to the Dawn Vault, the People’s storage center for ancient artifact storage and research.
With that, The Ark is a living, breathing community for your players and their characters to shape as they see fit. Mutant: Year Zero embraces player choice and is a great choice for sandbox campaigns, as players should see fit to shape the world in their image. That’s the whole point! I hope you’ve enjoyed Mutant: Year Zero as much as I have. Now, next week we’ll be moving on to a new game, and shaking up the format a little. Until then, my dear dice jockeys, remember to…