Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness
Hello, I hope everyone is having a great weekend! This was supposed to go out yesterday, but migraines will change the order in which things get done. Still, we are working towards getting Untamed Dice back up and running with our TMNT episodes and today I have my review of those rules.
To start, let’s just walk about where this game comes in, because it isn’t a new game or an indie game. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness was written by Erick Wujcik and published by Palladium Books. For those of you who don’t know or are newer to the RPG scene, Palladium is mostly famous for its Rifts RPG and the various genre books that flowed out of it under the Heroes Unlimited rules. So this book isn’t new and the rules haven’t been updated since (as far as I know) but there were a number of supplements. I was actually introduced to this book, well, probably before I even started playing D&D. It was sitting along side my dad’s collection of original TMNT comics and not missing with his AD&D books (which are also on my shelf now). I LOVED the turtles as a kid and have always loved them. Enough so that I got to look at this book and eventually hold onto. I had it for around 7 years before I started buying the supplements to run a game. And it was another 5 or more before I finally played it. But I finally did and you will get to listen. Why do I tell you all this? So you can understand why it means a lot to me and a lot to share it. Oh, and so you understand any bias that might show, though I will try to be thorough.
The first thing we need to talk about are the rules. No mater how much you like the story if the rules are bad or difficult or convoluted, the game just won’t be fun. The rules for TMNT are taken straight from Heroes Unlimited, but you do not need any other books to play this game. All the rules you need to play a campaign of mutant animals fighting ninjas are in this one book. That is a big plus for Palladium. These rules aren’t too complicated, but have a decent degree of granularity. First, there are skills which are rolled using a dice percentage system. Like most, this means that if you have a 75% in chemistry you need to roll a 75 or less to succeed on that roll. All of the non-combat skills work like this and that is a good thing. There are also lots of skills to chose from, but they aren’t exactly balanced. Some are far superior to others in certain regards, simply giving a wider range of uses for that skill. Since skill points aren’t used but you instead have a set number of skills (dependent on education), certain choices would be better than others. Finally when it comes to skills, some better ones have prerequisites and while not necessarily bad it does mean a player has a certain amount of planning to do at character creation.
Outside of skills you have combat mechanics which involve rolling d20s and comparing them to certain numbers. For those used to modern games, there is a bit to get used to. Success of hitting armor vs hitting the person. Tracking damage to armor AND tracking your damage AND tracking your HP. Initiative is different but in a fantastic way. It generates a more stretched view of the battle with trained characters getting multiple actions over a single round of combat. Those trained in martial arts utilize these as a resource and can spend them recklessly, defensively, or some in-between. Generally, figuring out all of these things is not difficult and each one is described in a pretty straight forward way. The rules are very specific and tell you what you can and cannot do. I found it leaves little open for interpretation, but not in a bad way. The interpretation and cleverness is about how you use skills, planning and narrating non-combat scenes and in the tactics you utilize within combat. Furthermore, initiative is re-rolled every round helping to simulate the chaotic flow of battle, the push back and forth of different sides.
The final part of the rules I really want to mention that doesn’t delve into layout territory is the Bio-E system. This is how a character is made in Heroes Unlimited if they are some kind of mutant. Beginning with this book (I believe) the system allows you to take an animal and anthropomorphize it in whatever way you see fit. Many restrictions and benefits are based on size which is determined by starting animal and the specific animal determines your Bio-E points. These can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing your size which will change some physical attributes but potentially give you more points. These are then spent to make you more human and allow you to retain certain moves or skills from your animal past. It is a clever system that allows for a limitless number of unique characters, especially if you have the supplements that provide more base animals.
I want to talk about how the book is laid out, because that can be super important for feel, look, and play-ability. It will also dip its toe into rules, though. TMNT & Other Strangeness is a great looking book. The art inside is the style straight out of the original comics. Drawings are varied and interesting, and generally well fit to the columns and pages where they are located. I didn’t notice any that made the reading of the text around it confusing or difficult. Many of them were also comic panels to give you a nice feel of the type of action you are looking to elicit in playing the game. The text itself is well spaced and easy to read. Key words are in bold and certain portions are delineated via underlined heading words. Emphasis on certain words within descriptions are also highlighted via underlines or bolding to make sure they stand out.
As for the way the book is divided up, that is another story. The book is tight, obviously so. It was likely to save on printing costs and to fit as much in as little pages as possible. It isn’t obtrusive, but it does cause some issues, mostly derived from poor choice of order. It starts out with an introduction including portions on RPGs, animal characters, the setting, and the book in general. Pretty good, but then it rolls right into character creation without moving to another page or even breaking up the flow with art. Getting past that the character creation portion is broken down into numbered steps moving from attribute generation and description to animal type to cause of mutation. Here is where things begin to fall apart because there is not sufficient warning that attributes will change throughout the entirety of character creation, nor do they suggest you choose your skills when you are given some. Instead, they move onto a two-page spread on how Bio-E works. Without giving animals (or skills for that matter) we are moved to step 5 which is labeled equipment and money. Of course right after that they then have you wrap-up the character by picking alignments then move on to insanity and experience then tell you about skills and finally provide equipment. After all that is the animal section.
In my opinion it is very confusing when you are doing it. You are told a whole lot about all kinds of different things and then expected to work on them individually while being interrupted by things like experience and insanities you may get. All of this while leaving the Bio-E information (and the first step I find people would like to do in full) for last. It would have been much improved by moving Bio-E to step 3 and providing the animals there. Give us that two-page break down and right after give us our choices. Or at least give us a page number so we don’t get lost flipping back and forth. Then right after cause of mutation give us the skills and let us pick them. Finally, save all the alignment, insanity, and experience BS for after we have made the character.
Overall the remainder of the book has a better layout. Combat is broken into descriptive sections and, mostly, in a sensical order. It tells you about SDC, saving through, combat actions, initiative, and everything else you need to know. Weapon breakdowns can be found here and there are also sections on recovery, adventures, GMing, example scenarios, and example stats for classics like mousers and foot ninja. This is all straightforward and contained without requiring you to flip away from combat while you are in it. In general the book is compartmentailzed pretty well, but it feels as though someone took the character creation box, shook it up, and let you dig through with some of the compartments in the wrong place.
This is much more well represented within TMNT & Other Strangeness. Right off the bat the game is telling you its style and what to expect. The pictures and comic book panels all convey to you the action and adventure of ninja mutants running through New York. The scenarios provided for you exemplify the weird situations a group of mutants in this world can expect to get into. The mechanics themselves focus on making you work as a team as well as making you feel like you’re are doing a lot of fun martial arts wherever combat comes in. There is really little more about the story I can tell you, that you do not already know. It wasn’t made up for the game, made unique for the game, or explored new ground. These rules were specifically applied to, and the book written to, make you feel like a character in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I won’t spend time explaining that. Instead, if you are unfamiliar, go find a comic to read or a cartoon to watch!
Final Thoughts & Opinion
OK, so what do I think of this game? I love it. It is, honestly, a fantastic and fun game. The book is difficult to parse through, without experience in the system. Certain aspects of the mechanics are missing or hidden (what is this bonus % for death save being added to!? what’s the base!?) and the layout leaves something to be greatly desired at first. Once you figure it out, once you decide to make sure the players have a balanced array of backgrounds (a wild animal with no training would feel like garbage next to someone highly trained), and then get though the slow creation process you have a great time to look forward to. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone interested, but I would do so with warning. This game isn’t modern. It isn’t designed from decades of layout and conveyance experience. It isn’t streamlined and it is intended to be complex and granular in its capabilities. However, it isn’t difficult. I hope you notice the game begins to go quicker after we start and get some combat in. As the GM: read it and prep. Mark pages and make a handout of what the different combat actions are for players. This game requires a little extra effort and some getting used to, but if you ask me, it is worth it. The hardest commitment to make to this is probably buying it. Your best bet is finding it at a yard sale or watching eBay. Generally, the game is a bit niche, and even though it was printed 30 years ago you can get copies of it relatively cheap for an RPG. Hell, I got the giveaway copy for 50 cents.
What do you think of this game? Have you played it or are you going to try it out? Did you have any problems with the rules or suggestion on how to make life easier? Let us know by leaving a comment below!