Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"I Didn't Know I Could Do THAT!"

The cockroachoid's claw tensed on the trigger of the laser rifle. The two mutants grimaced - their arms still held high in surrender - waiting for the final blast that would end their lives. Suddenly, the cockroachoid shrieked in agony as the rifle spontaneously erupted into flames. It dropped the smoldering, smoking device to the ground. The weapon lay there, dissolving into a puddle of plastic and wiring. The cockroachoid and the mutants all turned away from the melted rifle and looked at one another with confused surprise. The man-sized insect began shrieking again, this time clutching its head. Smoke began curling out from between its mandibles, and a fiery glow could be seen behind its eyes. The insectoid's head abruptly came ablaze, cutting its screams short. In moments, its charred husk lay next to the cooling slag that was once its weapon. The mutants stared at the smoking remains for a moment. One turned to the other, breaking the silence. "Did you do that, or did I?" he asked.


In a superhero or mutational apocalypse game, all of the characters start off with a handful of powers and abilities they gained through radiation exposure, genetic mutation, or some-such event. Over time, their DNA warped, imbuing them with superpowers or mutational abilities (depending on your genre). But a clever GM should ask himself, "Who says the PCs have stopped mutating?"

In the comics, superheroes often discover some hidden ability they never knew they possessed - some buried super-ability that has lain dormant until it begins to surface, usually during some traumatic or life-threatening event. Other times, the hidden power slowly manifests itself over time or the hero's normal abilities begin to misfire, cluing the hero in that something "isn't quite right." One GM I used to game with used this superhero cliche to great effect in an old Villains and Vigilantes campaign I played in. Unbeknownst to the players, he had rolled up one extra superpower we each had. During the course of a year, strange things began to happen during times of great stress. One character - Brainwave, the super-genius telekinetic - began hearing voices all of the time. It was suggested that he was developing some kind of schizophrenia due to the mental stressors of his powers. We actually roleplayed his decent into madness. In actuality, he was hearing the thoughts of those around him as his dormant power of telepathy began to manifest.

In a Mutant Future campaign, the same rules could apply. Before starting a campaign, the Mutant Lord should secretly roll up one additional mutation for each player without divulging his intent. Then, over the course of time, the ML can gradually introduce these new abilities into the game. Subtly at first, of course, but building in obviousness as time goes by. For example, Gruntor has the dormant mutation of gigantism. One morning, he finds his clothes have gotten tighter. Weeks later, he may find it difficult to fire a weapon because his finger cannot fit into the trigger guard. Eventually, he'll know something is up when he can no longer enter buildings without stooping. Another example: Jarvis has the dormant ability of telekinesis. When it first begins to surface, Jarvis may subconsciously move small items around. At first these items may just be thought of as lost or misplaced. Until one day, Jarvis wakes to find a party member's most prized possession in his pocket. How did it get there? Or, perhaps, during a heated firefight, Jarvis subconsciously pulls the pin of a grenade hanging off of a combatant's belt. Imagine the surprise when the enemy blows up for no apparent reason.

Once these dormant abilities are recognized and identified, the role-playing doesn't end. Just because they now have these new abilities doesn't mean they know how to use them! Experimentation and training sessions can be played out as the PCs learn what they can do and how it works. And if there are "mishaps," well, that's just the misadventures that could happen in the Mutant Future!


  1. Excellent piece! Your idea lends so much support to plot hooks (and fun gaming).

  2. I ran a short Gamma World solo game for my ex-wife. the character woke up without a memory of who they were surrounded by dead bodies. As the adventure progressed she kept 'discovering' her mutations. It was fun.

  3. I had a player who tried to abuse his ridiculous healing powers by running into a shed full of radioactive goop and just basking for a while. Every time I roll for radiation I roll a d100 and on make a 5% chance (1 on a d20 works too, or whatever you'd like to change it to I suppose) that they begin the transformation into an irradiated. As time went on he slowly noticed he couldn't get hurt by radiation weapons and that it tended to help him more than hurt him. And the irradiated zealots I'd placed in a corner of the map began to commune. It was really fun and the quest warped into finding the source of the voices in his head and eventually slaughtering the irradiated before they could nuke the wasteland once more. Just an idea :)