First Impressions – Fallout: Wasteland Warfare RPG
There’s something delightfully ramshackle about Modiphius’ quest to bring roleplaying into the nuclear wastes of Fallout, and though it’s not the most intuitive experience out there the whole thing is stuffed with retro-futuristic personality and some genuinely fascinating mechanics.
A lot of the game’s quirks can probably be attributed to the fact that – though it’s entirely possible to run standalone – the RPG is essentially a hacked-together expansion for the Wasteland Warfare miniature skirmish game. This has a couple of advantages, like an incredibly robust combat system and a huge range of beautiful models begging to be played with, but brings with it a reliance on proprietary dice and a rather mind-bending approach to any task that doesn’t involve a gun.
However, one of the things that Fallout has always hammered home is that ‘weird’ doesn’t have to mean ‘bad’.
Deathclaws & Drive-thrus
If you’ve somehow managed to avoid the videogame series in its entirety, the Fallout universe is the mutated child of Mad Max and The Jetsons. Each game is set in a post-apocalyptic United States where the nuclear revolution kept the spirit of 1950s suburbia chugging along right until the moment the bombs dropped.
This is the world that our heroes find themselves in, filling the shoes of leather-clad raiders, irradiated ghouls and escapees from bizarre nuclear bunkers known as vaults. The sheer range of character options to hand are impressive, ranging from regular humans to robots and hulking supermutants, but your ability to customise and tweak them is strangely limited.
The reason for both of these factors is that each character the players have access to is based upon a unit from the wargame or the short list of pre-gens in the rulebook. Their stats, base armour and movement speed are all determined by a card that sits on top of the character sheet.
Of course, there are plenty of ways to add on extra skills, perks and gear as a character levels up, but if you envision your super-suave scout having a little more natural charisma than the baseline unit you’re out of luck – unless you homebrew, anyway.
Weapons have the same treatment, as do suits of powered armour and other gizmos. All the cards you could possibly need are available for free download on the Modiphius website, but if you’re not in the mood for printing up your own copies you need to either pick up a copy of the miniatures game or hang on until December 2019, when the RPG starter box is slated for release.
To somebody used to more traditional methods of rolling up adventurers and reading character sheets, building your first few characters can feel limiting. If there’s a silver lining, however, it does make the creation process super-speedy, while the generous allotment of extra abilities brought on by perks and gifts allow plenty of other ways to personalise your character.
Sure, that scout isn’t going to pump the charisma on their card, but if you’re willing to invest the XP you can always take ‘Gift of the Gab’ and ‘Charismatic’ to boost it through the back door. While you’re doing that you might as well also pick up a perk that lets them see in the dark and pop as many pills as they like without becoming addicted to reflect their party lifestyle – both elements that may end up being more flavourful than a simple +1 here or there.
No Symbol Matter
If you take a look over the character sheets or unit cards from Fallout you’re going to notice a whole lot of symbols everywhere. There are symbols for which attribute you use for lockpicking, symbols for what kind of quick actions you can make in combat and symbols how much of the battlefield your Molotov cocktail sets ablaze.
These were designed to keep battles snappy when one player controls multiple units at a time, and once you spend some time working out what they mean and when they apply, they serve their purpose well. However, it does mean that the initial learning curve for players is positively vertical.
One of the wonderful things about most RPGs is that if you’re vaguely familiar with the hobby you can skim over a character sheet, read through some abilities, compare a couple numbers numbers and walk away with a fairly solid picture of what the character is all about. In Fallout you’re completely stuck unless you know the code. Is a red in movement better than a green? Why do different cards have heart symbols next to different stats?
Is this up-front opacity worth it for the speedy combat further down the line? Honestly, it’s hard to tell without more gameplay under our belts, but it’ll be fascinating to see how this pans out in a game with players who’ve never skimmed a wargame roster before.
And finally, we come to the core mechanic. Which is a little odd.
Well, that might actually be unfair. At its heart Fallout is based on a roll-under system with extra dice showing symbols that put a twist on the results. Neither of these are unusual concepts in themselves, but the devil – or possible deathclaw – is in the details.
Let’s start with the basics. Everything from sneaking past a squad of supermutant to nailing a ghoul with a plasma rifle is handled with a roll of the same proprietary dice used in the wargame, one of which will always be a white-coloured Skill Dice. If this spits out a number equal to or below a character’s relevant attribute the roll is a success – the shot hits, the guards don’t spot anything.
Things start to get a little more involved, though, when you start adding a whole rainbow of multi-coloured dice to your pool.
In combat these are usually provided by the weapon you’re using, so a shotgun may offer some extra Damage Dice at close range while a hunting rifle adds in a pair of Armour Reduction Dice. Outside of battles, however, you’ll still be adding these dice to checks, where they usually reflect how well-trained you are in the current task.
As well as the standard Skill Dice, a technician who’s invested a fair amount of XP into computer hacking may find themselves rolling a couple of Damage Dice that boost the magnitude of successful checks, as well as an bonus Accuracy Dice that makes the base-level task a little easier. You throw all of these, and maybe a red Armour Dice to represent a well-defended mainframe, and piece together what their combined values mean in-game.
There are a lot of proprietary dice systems out there and all of them take a little while to click, but Fallout took a little longer than usual. It’s a mechanism that looks ungainly and possibly broken the first time you read it through, but once it gets up and running there’s something strangely compelling about it.
When you rank up a skill, for example, you get to choose what sort of dice you want to buy. Do you want to buy a Damage Dice to increase the magnitude of your successes? Would it be better to grab an Accuracy Dice to help guarantee that you pass in the first place?
It’s a truly fascinating way to grow a character, and something that has naturally formed from the jury-rigged nature of the system and the need to use the wargame’s tools to build an RPG.
This, perhaps, is the heart of Fallout: Wasteland Warfare RPG. It’s the tabletop incarnation of the fire helmet and baseball mitt armour worn by the endless streams of raiders roaming the irradiated wastes – a unique creation strung together from unlikely components, but still strangely effective.
It’s weird and wacky and a little confusing, but there’s a lot of potential on display.
(This is a game that’s going to need a solid bit of playtesting before we’re happy to give a final opinion. Expect a full review in the next few weeks)