Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tommy's Take on Atomic Highway

Next on the slate is Atomic Highway, a post-apocalyptic game by Radioactive Ape Designs. See a pattern developing here?

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The price for the print version of the book is listed at $29.99, but the PDF is now free on RPGNow. This actually caused me to go check out the Radiaoactive Ape Designs website to make sure this wasn't a very bad sign, but apparently this is entirely because of the success of Atomic Highway. So go download it. It's free.

Unlike the last two games I've reviewed, Atomic Highway focuses more on toolkit stuff than fleshed out settings. It assumes a pretty basic post-apocalypse, with barter towns, scrounging, things like that. In wealthier communities, they have battlecar duels, but the days of cinema and pro sports are long gone, that sort of thing.

Character generation is point buy (18 points) spread out over seven stats: Muscle, Understanding, Tenacity, Appeal, Nimbleness, Toughness and Senses, with each ranking from 1 to 5. Each character gets a handful of skills at level 1, then you pick a Rearing and Pursuit which further customizes your character, with 4 points to finish it off. Other options include playing as a mutant (complete with random mutations) and other optional races if the GM approves.

Rearings grant you skills, weapons and gear and are basically how you were brought up. There are seven in this book, like Feral, Nomad, 'Steader and Trog (cave dwellers).

Pursuits are your main training as of the start of the game. These grant you further skills and equipment and include options like Bounty Hunter, Pit Fighter, Road Warrior and Shaman. There is more than double the amount of Rearings, giving you customization options.

The Attributes and Skills chapter gives you a helpful set of descriptors for what a given rank in a skill or each attribute means. For instance, skill of 3 is Professional, 5 is Master. Muscle of 1 is Weak, Tenacity of 5 is Indomitable, Toughness of 3 is Fit and so on. 20 skills supplement the 7 attributes.

The Mutations chart has 18 options, from Armor and Enhanced Senses to Natural Weapons and Winged. If you want a second mutation, you have to roll for a random Flaw as well, most of which aren't too crippling. Each mutation entry includes Possible Traits to help round out your character, like Echolation causing you to develop batlike ears, for instance.

The equipment chapter is pretty realistic, avoiding laser beams in favor of rocks, grenades, axes, mines, shotguns and etc. Atomic Highway doesn't use encumbrance, and doesn't even list "costs" for items, taking the stance that values of items will vary dramatically depending on circumstances.

Given the name of the game, you may not be surprised to learn that Atomic Highway (powered by the V6 Game Engine) has pretty extensive vehicle and vehicle customization rules. Take a base vehicle (some Pursuits start you off with Vehicle points), subtract the cost from your starting points, add Flaws if you like, and spend excess points customizing. For instance, the Road Warrior gets 20 points and can buy an SUV for 13 points. With the remaining 7, he can add an Oil Slick Dispenser, a Ram, a Heavy Machine Gun and light armor, and that's without adding Flaws! And there are a bunch of options provided.

There's also charts upon charts for scavenging, ranging from junk to food to clothing to weapons, like any good post apocalyptic game should have.

The game system is a dice pool. You roll your die pool based off of your Attribute, and each 6 is a success. You can reroll 6s, and if they come up as 6s again, they count as successes. Skills come in play as a pool of modifiers, which you can spend to bump up your dice to 6s. It's an interesting mechanic and one I'm not sure I've seen before. Rolling 1s means bad things happen (even if the PC succeeds), and there are rules in place for things like team efforts. PCs also have access to Fortune, which they can use to reroll 1s, reduce an opponent's successes, gain extra successes, make "Plot Tweaks" and so on.

Combat uses static initiative (based on Nimbleness), and while everyone gets one action a round, they can defend against a number of attacks equal to their Notice skill. Health is derived from Muscle, Tenacity and Toughness and tracked via boxes on the character sheet with both Lethal and Non-Lethal Damage in a manner similar to White Wolf games. Number of successes are generally multiplied by a Weapon Modifier to determine total damage.

There is also a second combat chapter focusing entirely on vehicular combat, with rules for collisions, chases, and even mounted combat, for the folks who can't afford cars.

There's a GM chapter that's fairly detailed, but basic stuff. Nothing most of you haven't read before...though there is a nice set of plot seeds to work with.

The setting chapter focuses on customizing your apocalypse aftermath, with a series of questions for you to answer to fill in the blanks. There is the History (when was Doomsday, why the did the War begin, how long ago was it, etc). This carries through, asking about what the world is like now, the weather, the settlements, etc. A few settlements are provided as examples.

The "bestiary" covers examples of most of the Pursuits, as well as a selection of common animals, including snakes, cows, canines, etc. However, it also includes a selection of more off the wall entries, like lopers (mutated horses), morlocks and abominations. Images are included for all but one of the monster entries, in a nice touch.

Gas Gouging is a sample adventure, involving the PCs having to take a refinery back from a gang that has captured it and forced the mutants that were there into working it for them.

There are two appendices, the first being guidelines for playing humanoid animals (no, Turtles are not an option and no, I don't know why)...the second is an optional addition to the mutation rules: Psychic powers. For the math guys, a full list of the V6 Engine Probabilities are also included, as is an index and character sheet.

The PDF also includes new vehicles and customizations, like airboats and loudspeakers as well as the Homebrewer's Guide, which breaks down the math on Rearings and Pursuits for folks wanting to make their own, as well as touching on the formulas for mutations, humanoid animals, vehicles, etc. Very nice addition for those that like to tinker.

WHAT WORKS: It's free and well-written. What more do you want? For a change of pace, it's lower powered and less "out there" than most post apocalyptic settings, though there is a supplement that can help you change that if you like. The vehicle emphasis makes for a nice change of pace as opposed to other post-apocalyptic RPGs. Oh...and random tables. I love random tables.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Again, it's free and well-written. What more do you want? I'm really not a fan of the Health system, personally, and some folks disliked the lack of gonzo, though that's what Irradiated Freaks is for. All those random tables and no adventure generator?

CONCLUSION: It's free and well-written. What more do you want? For a more "grounded" post-apocalypse setting, this gets you there without having to any dialing down of elements, as that's the default. There's one supplement out, and another still supposed to on the way, adding in zombie apocalypses, alien apocalypses and machine apocalypses. It's worth at least the download, though, because it's free.