Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness

It is 1985. One year ago, two guys named Kevin and Peter started publishing a comic book about martial-arts enabled terrapins out of their kitchen. In two more years, you won't be able to turn on a TV or look at a small child without seeing little plastic green shells and multicolored bandannas, turtles all the way down. In the meantime, though, there was only really one licensee for Eastman & Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and that was Palladium Books. This is their product.

Written over the course of three and a half weeks by Eric Wujcik, and illustrated throughout by Turtles creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, TMNT&OS was the second Palladium-published book I owned as a child, and the only one in my collection not written and illustrated by the Kevin Siembieda and Kevin Long. The artwork is a significant departure from the typical Palladium style, consisting primarily of repurposed panels from early issues of the black-and-white Ninja Turtles comic book.

There are a few examples of new and original artwork, in the form of character portraits for cases where the original comic does not provide an example of a particular critter.

The book also includes two brief comics. The first is a short, original strip titled Don't Judge A Book..., involving the Turtles, in Halloween costumes, fending off burglars in the Second Time Around antique shop. The second reprints the Ninja Turtles' origin story, excerpted from the first issue of the comic book.

Character creation follows the same random generation system that we all know and love/hate from Rifts. There are eight Attributes: IQ, Mental Endurance, Mental Affinity, Physical Strength, Physical Prowess, Physical Endurance, Physical Beauty, and Speed. A score for each is generated by rolling 3d6, so starting values should range from 3 - 18, with 10 being considered "normal" or "average." Scoring 16 or higher provides a bonus, which is sometimes incremental, other times exponential, depending on the Attribute. These bonuses do not advance at the same rate for every stat, nor does each stat necessarily follow a linear progression.

With its Attributes assigned, your mutant-to-be is just a few d% rolls away from completion. Random rolls determine your Animal Type (Urban/Rural/Wild/Wild Bird/Zoo), and each type has a second chart to determine your specific animal species, each with its own unique traits, strengths, and weaknesses. Species also determines your character's initial size class and Bio Energy Points (BIO-E), which provide certain bonuses and penalties to physical and mental stats (based on size), as well as the ability to improve certain characteristics and buy additional traits. This sort of mostly-randomized generation is pretty standard fair after something like V&V, but TMNT&OS takes it once step further, giving you a third d% chart to roll for the cause of your character's mutation. This may not sound like a big deal, except that it also involves randomly rolling your character's background and history. A quick roll of the dice determines whether your little critter was accidentally exposed to a leaking Mutagen container, or was deliberately engineered in a lab, as well as how he was raised from young mutant to teenager (trained in a secret government facility, raised as a human child by James Franco, etc), and determines his reactions and attitudes towards humanity. That's a lot of fluff to hinge on two ten sided dice.

Having worked out your Attributes, spent BIO-E to purchase humanoid characteristics (as desired), and figured out your background, it's time to look at skills and equipment. The number of skills your character can select, any free skills he qualifies for, any starting training, equipment, and cash, are all informed by his randomly rolled background. The skills list is absurdly detailed, easily on par with V&V's super power list. Skills are broken down by category and program, though several seem redundant to the modern gamer (Detect Ambush and Detect Concealment being separate, Disguise and Impersonation being separate, for example). Fortunately, you get to select a lot of skills, so it's fairly easy to build a competent character without having to sacrifice something obvious.

For this week's sheet, I warmed up my d6's d% and rolled up the following stats:

Attributes: 3d6 per stat

IQ: 7

ME: 14

MA: 9

PS: 9

PP: 10

PE: 16

PB: 11

Spd: 8

Animal type: 9: Urban

Specific Animal: 60: Pet Rodent (hamster)

Cause of Mutation: 91: Deliberately engineered & raised as assassin.

Starting cash (from mutation cause) 1d6 x $20,000

Cash roll: 6: $120,000.

Hamster Special Attributes:

BIO-E: 80

Growth Level 1

IQ: +2

ME: +1

PP: +1

Growth Level modifiers:

IQ: -8

PS: -12

PE: -4

Spd: +7

SDC: 5

So, before using BIO-E to physically alter my character, I get the following Attributes:

IQ: 1

ME: 15

MA: 9

PS: -3

PP: 11

PE: 16

PB: 11

Spd: 15

I have never, ever thought that I would ever blog the phrase "hamster special attributes." Also, this is the world's dumbest, fastest, weakest, and most durable assassin. Granted, there's a reason my little hamster is so dumb. As I mentioned earlier, growth and size are extremely important in character creation; right now, my little mutant is an entirely average sized hamster, with a whole mess of BIO-E points to spend. Breaking out the BIO-E worksheet, it's time to burn through those points to bring him up to human size, and purchase things like hands, walking on two legs, and speech. Bringing my critter up to size 8, gets rid of the IQ, PS, and PE penalties, but also costs me my speed bonus.

IQ: 9

ME: 15

MA: 9

PS: 11

PP: 11

PE: 20

PB: 11

Spd: 8

Skill selection is where the game starts to break down. Apparently, earlier editions of TMNT&OS had different rules for skills and firearms than the eighth printing being used here; the skills in this edition were lifted from Palladium's Robotech and Revised Heroes Unlimited games, and pasted in without much editing to make them fit. The result is a somewhat haphazard explanation of the skill system. The game at one point explicitly states that no skill can be taken more than once to accumulate more than one bonus, however some skills DO provide bonuses if taken more than once; the combat example given in the book explicitly mentions that a level 1 character has taken the Fencing skill three times, contradicting the earlier writeup on skills. In other words, don't take any skills more than once, unless the skill comes from a different edition of the game where it was designed to be taken more than once.

Furthermore, due to the mix-and-match firearm rules, a .45 automatic pistol does the same damage as a 12 gauge shotgun, while a 9mm pistol does half as much, and a katana falls right in the middle. On the plus side, the game does not add in Palladium's Occupational Character Class system; I suppose the author decided that the ten thousand different animal writeups was enough.

Here is my attempt to put together my final character sheet for TMNT&OS. I think it's playable, but honestly, I'm not sure. I feel about as confident with this sheet as I do with my Form 1040 every year, and it was exactly as much fun to fill out, while taking five or six times longer.

The character portrait was drawn by my eternally patient fiancee, who decided she also wanted to create a character sheet. After a brief explanation of the creation, growth step, and BIO-E rules, she generated the following:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness is long out of print, and will likely never see the light of day again, as Palladium Books no longer has the license. All images have been sourced from the 1989 Revised Edition.

After The Bomb is Palladium's spiritual successor to TMNT&OS, and is available at RPGNow.

The official Palladium Books website obviously contains additional information about the Palladium Megaverse products, particularly Rifts.

The official Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles website is strangely devoid of all information about the game, and the Mirage comic series it was based on.

In conclusion,

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