April 20, 2024

Mutants in the Heavens ~ Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra

RockyMountainNavy, 14 February 2024

“Through the tiny portholes of the space capsule, you see the city hanging weightlessly beneath the stars – massive, sprawling, gleaming. A myriad of metal shapes connected by tubes and wires, like a huge hanging mobile over Earth, the poisoned cradle of humanity.”

“The thrusters of your capsule push you onward through the maze of wires and ladders. Drawing closer, it becomes clear that there is something wrong with this star city. You float past large holes, torn wires, and cracked satellite dishes. It seems the Apocalypse reached all the way to the heavens.” – Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra, 5.

Courtesy Free League Publishing 

If you follow my roleplaying game postings, you know that I love sci-fi and military RPGs. I think Free League Publishing was also paying attention because the next release in the Mutant Year Zero series is a campaign module set in space. Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra leaves the devastation of the Earth behind and sets the stage for thrilling adventures in space.
Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra is not a complete game but a campaign module of adventures, settings, and new rules for use in your Mutant Year Zero adventures in Earth’s orbit to the solar system and “perhaps further still” (Ad Astra 5).

“In this roleplaying game you play mutated human beings in a fallen world. On your shoulders rest the greatest responsibility of all: to save the last glimmer of human civilization from total annihilation.”

“Welcome to Mutant Year Zero,” Mutant Year Zero, 8

Although Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra is fully compatible with the Mutant Year Zero core rulebook, it is recommended that players also use Mutant: Genlab Alpha and Mutant: Mechatron. I have neither product at the moment; if you are somewhat familiar with the Year Zero Engine it should not be hard to use the characters given. If you want to make your own furries anthropomorphic or robotic characters then the other books are required.


Courtesy Free League Publishing

For those of you who are familiar with the Year Zero Engine that powers Mutant Year Zero understand that Ad Astra uses the Dice Pool version of the game engine. The Dice Pool fork of the game design uses d6 and d66 for Base Die, Stress Die, and Gear Die. The core mechanism is to roll a pool of d6 and try to get 6s for success while avoiding 1s. The Dice Pool fork of the Year Zero Engine also powers other Free League Publishing games such as ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game or War Stories from Firelock Games.

Physically, Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra is 140 pages of full-color beauty. The illustrations are credited to award-winning comic book writer and artist Kim W. Andersson with graphic design by Christian Granath. As is usual for a Free League Publishing product it is the color illustrations and subtle background tones on the pages that help fully immerse you in the setting.


Courtesy Free League Publishing

Inside Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra are eight chapters. Chapter 1, “To the Stars,” provides the broad background and introduction to the Ad Astra setting and adventures. Chapter 2 through Chapter 6 are each a different location and adventure with appropriate background and non-player characters. Chapter 7, “New Rules,” introduces rules for adventuring in space along with a new role – Pilot as well as rules for space ships. Chapter 8, “The Solar System,” provides information about the planets and other locations in the solar system for your own adventuring use.


Courtesy Free League Publishing


The Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra campaign is designed to be a natural next step following “The Path to Eden” campaign in the core rulebook. It doesn’t have to be; Chapter 1 includes ideas for adding Ad Astra to other campaigns. Be warned, however, that Ad Astra should be treated from cover-to-cover as a Gamemaster-only book given material players might (or should) know is freely mixed with GM-only adventure material.

The new rules introduced in Ad Astra focus on how to play in space. In Chapter 7 the GM will find new movement rules for weightlessness, that new role of Pilot, new—or adjusted—skills, and new talents. There are also new Mutations, Powers, and Modules for space. Helpfully, on page 107 is a call-out named “Without Mechatron” that maps robot stats to Year Zero Engine attributes or skills.

Spaceships in Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra are treated as a form of Gear with skill bonuses. The rules for space travel are straight-forward and easy to use. Space battles work like regular vehicle combat using a vehicle (spaceship) made up of multiple parts. For the Traveller RPG player in me there is enough gear-head system engineer in the Ad Astra rules to be interesting but grounding it in the Year Zero Engine keeps it from becoming too complex and technical.


Courtesy Free League Publishing

While there are new rules and setting material in the later chapters, the most valuable parts of Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra are found in the adventure chapters. Not only do the chapters string together to form a campaign, each could be a stand-alone adventure. Each chapter give the GM relevant background and setting material and more than a few non-player characters as well as advice when playing a space setting unlike those previously used in Mutant Year Zero. I also appreciate that alternative player approaches are given; the alternative approach gives another pathway to entering the adventure or even allows new players to enter the campaign at some point other than the beginning.

Personally, I had previously read the Mutant Year Zero core rulebook and though a fan of the Year Zero Engine was not very interested in the setting. Other Year Zero Engine games like Twilight: 2000 4th Edition or ALIEN: The Roleplaying Game or War Stories: A World War 2 RPG are already in my tabletop RPG play rotation. I must admit that Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra is interesting enough that it made me reconsider my position. Like I said above, I am a sucker for sci-fi RPGs and the setting of Ad Astra, built upon a game engine I am familiar and comfortable with, has drawn me in.


Courtesy Free League Publishing

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Regimental Commander Brant for getting me added to the Free League Publishing preview group on behalf of The Armchair Dragoons. I also must thank Free League Publishing for providing early digital access and press materials (like the illustrations above) for Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra. Without the generosity of these two entities I would almost certainly have missed out on Mutant Year Zero: Ad Astra—much to my detriment. Thank you!


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