This past weekend I got my copy of the latest Mutant: Year Zero supplement, called Mutant: Genlab Alpha. It’s so new, in fact, that it’s not for public release yet; I got it back joining the Kickstarter. If you’re looking forward to this, though, you can live vicariously with me as I make a character with this new book.
Unlike other MYZ supplements (like Dead Blue Sea or the Zone Compendiums), this doesn’t add new areas to your existing campaign. In fact, it can be played as a totally independent game if you like. Characters in Genlab Alpha are mutated animals given anthropogenic forms and culture. They live in Paradise Valley (somehow a really sinister name) overseen by the Watchers… Creepy. There’s a chapter for integrating this story with the mutants story common to most MYZ campaigns (like the one I previously posted about), but I’m focusing on the chapter about characters.
Animal Type and Tribe
This is a little misleading because there’s actually one thing to choose here. The type of animal your character is determines what their tribe is: all the dogs (wolves, foxes, and hounsd) are in one tribe, all the cats (lynxes, cougars, and housecats) are in another, etc. There are nine tribes in all: dogs, cats, rats, apes, reptiles, rabbits, badgers, bears, and moose. All of them (except moose) have a habitat of their own and a section of the valley that’s all theirs.
Choosing your animal type decides several different mechanical things about the character: your key attribute (like Role in MYZ), your animal powers, and recovering Instinct (which I have to read about but it sounds important). I could weigh and choose everything but for some reason badger is calling out for me so I’m just going for it.
I don’t have to be an actual badger, I could be a weasel, wolverine, or anything else that fits. I’m going with a pine martin (I might be re-reading the Mouse Guard RPG book for another project).
Animal characters still have roles, just like mutants, but they’re new roles based on the needs of Paradise Valley. There are five roles: healer, hunter, warrior, seer, and scavenger. I like the idea of a woodsy badger, so I’m going with hunter. This gives me a new key attribute (Agility) and a special skill (Hunt).
Names and Appearance
My appearance as a pine martin is going to be lanky and slightly ragged. He doesn’t spend a lot of time in his tribe’s habitat so his coat and clothing are a bit unkempt and full of twigs and the like. He’s got a blank expression most of the time, except for his eyes which are feverishly intense and always looking around.
Genlab Alpha characters also have two different names: a lab name and a resistance name. The lab name is the one they were assigned by the mysterious Watchers, and many animals consider it a slave name. Badger tribe members are usually named after winter sports athletes (each tribe has their own naming source) with a number following for their place in the geneline. I’m going to name him Berglund 20 after the center for the St. Louis Blues (go Blues!) and my son’s birthday (go son!).
Those animals in the resistance against the Watchers choose other names to fight back fundamentally. Berglund isn’t too worried about this political stuff, he just wants to bring back enough food for his people.
Age, Attributes, and Skills
There are three age categories in Genlab Alpha, the choice of which determines whether you have high attributes or high skills. There are youngsters (high attribute, low skill), mature (balanced), and elder (low attribute, high skill). I see Berglund as a crafty fixture in the habitat so I’m going with elder. He can be slow and steady instead of fast and strong (not that I think “elders” are really that old in Paradise Valley).
As an elder I get 13 points to distribute among the four Attributes (Strength, Agility, Wits, and Instinct) and they have to be between 2 and 4. I have the option of putting one of my key attributes (Strength for badger and Agility for hunter) to 5, but with my points I’m going to stick with 3 in each except for 4 in Strength. He’s a tough old coot.
You might have noticed Instinct in there. This replaces Empathy that mutant characters have and it’s dependent on what type of animal you are. It’s decreased by doubt and, for badgers, recovered by protecting your tribe or current flock.
Elders get 12 points in Skills and my max in starting skills is 3. I;m going to pick out five at 2 (same reasoning as with Iota) and then add one to two of those: Sneak 2, Scout 2, Know Nature 3, Fight 2, Shoot 2, and Hunt 3.
Talent and Animal Power
Berglund gets to choose a Talent from the list of my role and I’m going with Trapper. This definitely fits the whole “slow and steady” approach to hunting so I’m going with it.
The new feature in Genlab Alpha, replacing mutant powers, are animal powers. Rather than rolling, you choose ones that match your animal type from a list. Out of the badger list, I’m choosing Predator (claws and fangs for attacking with) and Sixth Sense (bonus to sensing danger) for Berglund. Something offensive and something defensive.
The last thing to come up with before the Relationships (which I’m waiting for) is rank. Animal tribes have a definite pecking order, decided by age and role. Berglund’s an elder (+6) and hunter (+0) so his Rank is 6. Considering the highest you can start with is 9 I’m comfortable with that.
I certainly think Berglund is grudgingly respected in the habitat. He’s been around for so long and come through for the tribe so often that people have to treat him well. His demeanor and hermit lifestyle, however, make it difficult to actually like him, though.
Here’s a copy of Berglund’s Character Sheet in case you want to borrow him.
Genlad Alpha is every bit as fun and interesting as the original Mutant: Year Zero. The animal characters are similar enough to mutants that they are a seamless transition for people who’ve played before, but the mechanical changes that were made make them feel very different. Best of all, the maps and descriptions of Paradise Valley make it clearly an awesome setting for GMs to torture animals in… and not feel badly about it!