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Author Topic: Review: MUTANT Year Zero: Elysium (the name is kind of a hint)  (Read 239 times)

bromides

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Working through the backlog of books that I have but haven't read... I'm at Free League's "MUTANT Year Zero: Elysium", the 4th of the MUTANT settings using Free League's Year Zero engine (which powers their "ALIEN", "Coriolis", "Tales from the Loop", "Twilight:2000" RPGs... and more).

"MUTANT" is an old Swedish franchise, which Free League has rebooted into their Year Zero timeline.
"Elysium" is the 4th of the settings, (mostly) set within the Human enclave of Elysium I... a massive underground city that was created to preserve humanity against the Rot & the nuclear apocalypse in the world above.

Elysium I is the last of the enclaves, and society is reaching its breaking point. Imagine a massive human hive, extremely curated and managed by an entrenched leadership... with a huge proletarian population below them. Communist state in a bottle.

(With a name like "Elysium", you probably should have already gotten the hint that things are severely fkd up and about to explode.)

The rulebook for "MYZ: Elysium" contains all the rules you need to play (no need to pick up the original "MUTANT Year Zero") plus the Campaign, "Guardians of the Fall", which describes the events that lead to the fall of Elysium. If "MUTANT Year Zero" is mechanically based on death spirals, the entire campaign setting for "Elysium" is a death spiral.

You can soften the blow, and possibly create something better out of the ruins (because Elysium is a giant sh!thole dystopia)... but this game is clearly about the End of Days.

Is that good? Is that bad?

IMO, if you're playing for happy fun times and rainbows and happy safe spaces? Then you'll probably hate this.
If you're happy when you play in morally gray space (or sometimes completely evil) and you enjoy managing a sh!tshow to your benefit? Then this might be the game for you.

...

Chapter 2 gives you the character setup, which is good for a character-driven story. This is giving you the tools to conceptualize the rest of the book as you read it.

Player Characters are "Judicators" in the society of Elysium I.
The rulebook is very clear about who these Judicators are.

They are not the "good guys" (if good guys exist at all in the dystopia). Judicators are the enforcers of social order in the Enclave society.

There are many comparisons here... Judges in Judge Dredd, the present day FBI (as surveillors of PTAs and entrapment artists for every hot button issue of the day), the proposed Homeland Security Disinformation Governance Board (MinTruth), the Soviet НКВД (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs), the East German Stasi, the Nazi Gestapo. There's also a comparison to the "Paranoia" RPG (since you are playing agents of the tyrannical state), except with less slapstick and more noir combined with the blackest of black humor.

Almost every PC is armed with a high tech weapon (at minimum, a Gauss Pistol for anyone but the least combat-rated profession) unlike the garbage collector/survivors in the original "MUTANT Year Zero"... and this firepower provides PCs with the ability to be judge, jury, and executioner as they investigate "incidents" throughout the Enclave.

Incidents (as included in the random table) range from the personal (including Sexual Assault, Murder, Fraud) to wide-scale (Riots, Sabotage, Treason). Again... it's not "Happy Fun Time" in the Enclave. It's messy social decay.

Every PC is a member of one of the 4 Great Houses. Each Patrol of Judicators is expected to have 1 member from each Great House in order to preserve the illusion of fairness in the application of the law/social order.

In practice? Many of the incidents around Elysium are staged by the Great Houses to weaken their enemies and preserve their power. PC Judicators will be expected to provide cover for their Great House while undermining the others. And, since each Patrol has membership from all of the Great Houses, that means your PCs are expected to sabotage each other in the normal course of play.

And there it is. That's what makes "Elysium" special.
You're playing nasty, corrupt agents of a failed tyrannical state.

...

Rules?

It's the same basic Year Zero engine as the original "MYZ", which is very similar to the one in "Forbidden Lands". You get a bucket of dice (based on Attribute + Skill + Gear + any modifications), and you try to roll 6s. If you fail, you can choose to Push your roll (but only once per roll)... which risks trauma/damage to your character's ability and/or gear. Push yourself too many times, and you will accumulate trauma and break your stuff.

In game play, they describe this as the "death spiral", where damaged characters have to push themselves to succeed... accumulating more and more damage along the way.

For "Elysium", this seems to work. It reinforces the dredd (err, ah, "dread") within the setting. You don't have the perma-damage (Rot) as the normal MYZ, and you're at the top of Enclave society as a Judicator (so you ought to have some time/space to heal).

...

There are about 35 player-facing pages dedicated to the setting, although "setting" permeates the narrative in the book. Within the Character chapter, for instance, there are descriptions for the 4 Great Houses and their mechanical benefits within play... which are further expanded upon in the rules descriptions.

Everything in the narrative reinforces the setting, but the dedicated pages for setting amounts to about 35 pages or so.

...

Just over 1/2 of the book (~125 pages of the ~260 total pages) is dedicated to the Gamemaster and the Campaign, laying out the principles of "MYZ: Elysium" and the meta elements that drive the decay & fall of Elysium I.

I'll avoid spoilers here... but, essentially, the incidents get worse and the society breaks down.
Without the incidents, Elysium would be overcrowded and troubled (like a Communist country, where everyone has a job to do and everything is managed by the State).
With these incidents? Things fall apart. Food riots, buildings collapse, etc.

The Judicators are simply a bandage on a gaping wound, and the problems in society hit several breaking points before everything collapses.
And it's a spectacular sh!tshow collapse in the end.

So, what happens after the Campaign?

After the Fall (assuming your PCs survive the Fall), you can then embark on the "standard" campaign of "MUTANT: Year Zero"... you're survivors in the wreckage, and you try to rebuild society from there. (Everything from the original "MYZ" rulebook applies after that point.)

...

So, would I play this?

Yes. I've lived in a Communist country. I love the concept of the collapse of the tyrannical state.

It's a nasty campaign to play, but sometimes you do want to play the bad guys.
Judicators are 100% the bad guys as agents of a collapsing, tyrannical state.

Your players might be turned off by the inevitability of the Fall. It is hopeless, and the best you can achieve is to avoid total evil and manage a lesser evil.
Some players are simply overachievers by nature and will not respond well to this.

However, Elysium MUST fall... this is one of the guiding principles of the game.

And Judicators are agents of a tyrannical State. Is that something you really want to preserve? Do you really want to preserve Soviet Russia by eliminating the enemies of the State?

Yes, it's a weird premise... but it's probably one of the better "evil" campaigns that you can play.

I'd avoid this title if you need a traditional "Players-as-heroes" game. Get another Free League title instead of "Elysium"... perhaps even the original "MUTANT Year Zero", or perhaps "Genlab Alpha".

...

On wokeness... There's a small paragraph that describes the society as having gender equality, which I find to be lame. Soviet society also had equality, but Russian society was (and is) male dominated.
IMO, it's more interesting for the State to be gender-equal, but society to be not so much equal.

If Elysium is about dystopia, then happy rainbow gender equality (including trans identity) is something the author/translator can shove up their ass. It would be stupid to make a failed society woke for the sake of wokeness, but we live in a society.

At least this setting is minimally woke. There are female leaders, but the book doesn't seem to have racial quotas for NPCs. I also don't recall a trans NPC (i.e. trans for the sake of being trans and checking the box).

Battlemaster

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Re: Review: MUTANT Year Zero: Elysium (the name is kind of a hint)
« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2022, 08:09:36 AM »
Damn,  almost sounds like a rpg about playing rpg.net mods.  ;D
Fuck the fascist right and the fascist left.