Designer’s Diary: Outland Arts – The Mutant Epoch


The Mutant Epoch
The Mutant Epoch is a complete system published by Outland Arts.
By William McAusland

Welcome to the twenty-second Designer’s Diary, a regular column where designers are given the opportunity to take readers on an in-depth ride through the design and development process of their system, setting, or product. If you’d like to share your product in the Designer’s Diary column, send a message to aaron@roleplayerschronicle.com.

Designer’s Description
The Mutant Epoch (TME) is a science fantasy, post-apocalyptic adventure setting and role-playing game. While many of the mutations, relics and beasts are fantastic and implausible scientifically, the milieu is gritty, brutal, and serious and designed with a mature audience in mind. This game uses the Outland System and is a fast paced, easy to learn and well supported traditional RPG. Our elevator pitch goes like this: “The Mutant Epoch is about humankind’s attempt to reclaim some semblance of civilization, calling upon its best and boldest to uncover the lost knowledge and power of the old ones.”

Purpose
The Mutant Epoch evolved from three points. First off, TME grew from a setting with extensive background material, full length fiction (a trilogy is in final edit) and regional source material such as the Crossroads Region (in production).

Secondly, The Mutant Epoch became better realized through stacks of artwork, comic snippets, storyboards, character and creature studies, factional insignia design, and lavish maps.

The third point and purpose of the game was to create the Outland System game mechanic to imbue life into the world. What better tool is available to a creator than to apply workable, dice-based statistics to vivid, unique characters, horrific creatures, powerful ancient relics and awesome machines which otherwise could only exist in static text? How else can fans of the setting actively immerse themselves into the TME world?

In short, our reason for developing The Mutant Epoch world as an RPG was to give life to the setting and allow others to plunge into an age of survival, exploration and high adventure, instead of just looking at art books or reading fiction about it. While its okay to consume passive entertainment like imagery and stories, tabletop gaming is an active entertainment form which allows fans to participate and be the lead characters in their own story. The Mutant Epoch simply provides an environment and framework to allow this.

Influences
The Mutant Epoch is influenced in three main ways: setting, art and RPG rules.

The setting is a blend of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth… but post-apocalyptic in flavor, with Mad Max’s Barter Town and Thunderdome, Costner’s Waterworld, Planet of the Apes, Aliens, John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, Conan the Barbarian and James Axler’s Deathlands series all scrambled together.

The art influences are varied and described in more detail below; however to summarize, we went with a mix of old school D&D classic ink art, modern digital concept art, finished color illustrations and looser graphite renderings.

The Outland System RPG rules are based on a half dozen earlier variants on itself, but so too, probably best described as a mix of TSR’s Star Frontiers game blended with 3rd edition D&D, classic Traveller and a host of subconsciously looted “best fits” from scores of other RPGs and miniatures war games.

Research
We did years of conscious research to develop the Outland System game mechanic, with a desire to make the rule set fast paced, logical, fun, and easy to pick up for both novice gamers and veterans alike. We originally looked at d20, OGL, OSRIC, 4e, Pathfinder and plenty of other available systems but none of them had the feel and functionality we needed to serve a post-apocalyptic world like The Mutant Epoch.

The setting research, on the other hand, came to us organically through years of writing, art, and gaming. External, non-gaming influences had a huge impact on the TME creators as well, with massive amount of non-fiction, history and current events, as well as fictional media contributing to the final look of the game world.

Art Direction
The primary creator of The Mutant Epoch, William McAusland, was an illustrator and graphic designer for 18 years before merging his writing and game design ambitions with his art. He originally set out to be a writer and only took up the illustrator’s path in hopes of doing the covers, maps and interior inks for his own stories, games and non-fiction publications.

Several other artists are now part of the Outland Arts team and will be contributing to Excavator Monthly magazine and forthcoming source books. TME uses hand inked imagery for the bulk of the illustrations, especially in the Hub Rules or other books where there are frequent small images amid the text. Digital illustrations in both grayscale and full color are also used, usually when full page or cover art is needed. Graphite art will become more frequent in upcoming books such as Mutant Beastiary One, Pitford: Gateway to the Ruins and the Crossroads Region Gazetteer book.

The Influences on McAusland’s illustration style include Howard Pile, James Gurney, Thomas R. McPhee, Frank Cho, John Buscema, Frazetta, and the great TSR masters such as Parkinson, Easley, Elmore Erol Otus, Jeff Dee, James Roslof and, in particular, Bill Willingham.

Tabletop RPGs and art are an essential mix. Most gamers can recognize an image from a classic game and instantly know which section, table or page that image came from. Art in games helps the GM and players quickly navigate to the text or table they are looking for, as well as describe an object, animal or other in-game detail to make it more vivid in the gamer’s mind. The entire TME RPG line is heavily illustrated and The Mutant Epoch hub rules book very likely has the most illustrations of any game book every produced. Nearly every piece of art in The Mutant Epoch line of books directly relates to accompanying text, either text within a publication, a chapter, section or specific paragraph, and only occurs as filler art in a table of contents, appendices or other list-like section.

Gaming Experience
The Mutant Epoch gaming experience is designed to accommodate the needs and playing styles of different groups. For example, if gamers are more interested in a dungeon crawl style of play, with lots of hack and slash action, then the ruins serve as a vast treasure trove, infested with threats both seen and unseen. There are distinct similarities between fantasy dungeons and PA ruins, especially when dig teams going underground.

Another gaming group might be more interested in the back story, and play like investigators trying to figure out how the former civilization collapsed, and perhaps how to bring a fragment of old world civilization into an age of barbarism. Another group could be keen on inter-factional or community relations and conflict, and either serve one group or merely wish to escape it. Finally, with multi-path adventures, like in our first published adventure The Mall of Doom, a gamer could challenge his or her knowledge of the rules and solo-play their way through an adventure.

Regardless of the playing style and interests of the game group, TME was created to foster a poker night feel to each session. Friends getting together with snacks and drinks, switching off the cell phones, TVs and outside world to work together to create a memorable, challenging and entertaining session. Through in-game persona, the players and GM craft an adventure wherein the players are the lead characters in their own post-apocalyptic saga. While this isn’t unique to The Mutant Epoch, we did want the game to be easy to learn and play, yet challenging on the actual characters, for casualties to be expected, the weird and wondrous to be uncovered, and each session to end at a cliff hanger moment, making players eager for the next session.

Comparison
The Mutant Epoch is a traditional role-playing game, and similar to Dungeons and Dragons, Gamma World, Mutant Future, and Darwin’s World, in the way it is played, but not using an OGL game mechanic. While other post-apocalyptic RPGs often have supplements and are supported, The Mutant Epoch has its own monthly magazine called Excavator Monthly, plus, the Society of Excavators. Whenever a person buys a copy of the TME hub rules, he or she can automatically sign up for the Society of Excavators (SOE). Members are given a user ID and password and can enter the huge free content area of the TME website, and join the member’s only forums.

The Outland System uses the full set of Polyhedron dice, but for combat uses d100 and has the defender use his defensive value (DV) against the attacker’s strike value (SV), shown as either zero of a negative number. Example, one character has a defense value of -14, while the attacker has a strike value of 60. (14 DV – 60 SV =46) the Attacker needs to roll a 01-46 to impact the defender, with a critical strike occurring on a 01 and a fumble on a 100. Rolls of 95-100 are always a miss, while rolls of 01-05 are always a strike. Damage is based on the weapon and often times the strength and skill of the attacker. That’s it. Simple subtraction is used to establish the odds of striking, a d100 roll, and then a roll for damage if a hit occurs. Of course there are variables to the attacker and defender for use of cover, shooting while riding a galloping horse, dodging, or other conditions, but these are straight forward and easy to apply. Called shots and other optional rules are also included in the TME hub rules books, and add options to the frequent fights that break out in most TME games.

Character traits are Endurance, Strength, Agility, Accuracy, Intelligence, Willpower and Appearance, and generated using a d100 on a trait generation table, with an average person having a trait of about 30, although lower and much higher scores are possible.

Characters exhibit growth through ranks, acquired by gaining experience factors. Advancing up into higher rank is beneficial to a character, but not as character enhancing or survival benefiting as gaining potent relics, working effectively together as a team or using common sense in a vary dangerous world.

Development Process
The Mutant Epoch went through several incarnations using different game mechanics, including a very early prototype that resembled third edition d20. We went with a percentile main combat and character generation system to allow for more diversity in character types, armor and weaponry nuances, and simplicity of combat and hazard resolution. The Outland System, as published, is the most elegant mechanic of any Outland Arts has created, or its creator’s have played.

Test playing and rules refinement have taken over half a decade, while the creation of other game mechanics, setting, theme, technology, bestiary, robotics and relic design took much longer.

Outland Arts is a small company, with a few core members and plenty of freelancers, and our publishing schedule is steady, but limited to a handful of new titles per season. Our design process for new books is first text creation followed by cover design, then layout showing illustration boxes to be filled. While the text goes to the proof readers and play testers, the illustrations for specific pages are rendered, scanned and placed into the document. We do both PDF and print copies of all our TME books, making them available through such online retailers as lulu.com, createspace.com, Amazon.com, Drivethrurpg.com and rpgnow.com.

We create products for a devoted and growing fan base, and when creating a game element, whether it is a creature, relic, NPC or some new optional rule, always design it from a player’s viewpoint, but make it appealing and readily usable to the game master. Our design and development process is probably not unlike other RPG publishers, and like others have a strong interest in seeing the tabletop gaming hobby both sustain itself and grow, thus work to put content into our books that offer something that only a dice-based, paper and pencil games can do. Trying to “put you in the game” is our game design philosophy. If we can provide The Mutant Epoch themed resources, media and merchandise to our customers to enjoy when not at the game table, we believe we can help them more deeply immerse themselves in the game and PA genre, as well as foster a life long appreciation for role-playing games and speculative entertainment of all kinds.

Outland Arts is primarily devoted to The Mutant Epoch milieu and has grandiose plans to make TME the world’s premier post-apocalyptic tabletop RPG and setting, but also interested in other publishing ventures. Children’s books, stock imagery, art books, poetry, genre novels and non-fiction are all in development.

To learn more about what we do, sign up for our free newsletter called Outland Arts Insider at www.mutantepoch .com.


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