Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Articles of Dragon: "Mutant Manual"

Since this blog could hardly be accused of intellectual rigor, I trust no one will object to my choosing the "Mutant Manual" as the "article" I wish to highlight from issue #98 (June 1985) of Dragon. Written by Randy Johns, Douglas A. Lent, John M. Maxstadt, William Tracy, and James M. Ward, the "Mutant Manual" was a 12-page insert that detailed 17 new mutants for use with Gamma World.

To say that I adored the "Mutant Manual" is a bit of an understatement. Along with only a handful of other articles, it became a permanent addition to my "referee's binder" in which I kept maps, notes, and photocopies of useful articles from Dragon, White Dwarf, and elsewhere. In the case of the "Mutant Manual," though, it wasn't a photocopy, but the original itself, which I carefully removed from the center of my copy of issue #98. Since I generally preferred to keep my copies of Dragon "pristine" -- a shock, I know -- the fact that I removed the "Mutant Manual" was a high tribute.

I'm not sure I can really convey why I liked it so much. Were I to describe any of its constituent mutants, like the flying squids, armor-plated rhinos, or post-apocalyptic sasquatches, I doubt most readers would find them particularly interesting and perhaps rightly so. Back in '85, though, I appreciated having a source of new mutants to throw at my players when we played Gamma World. Creating good monsters takes time and imagination, as many entries in the Monster Manual prove. You need more than a name and some game statistics to create a worthy monster -- an indescribable something that makes it more than the sum of its parts.

In my opinion, this is particularly the case with regards to Gamma World, where it's all too easy to take some normal animal, roll a few times on the mutations tables, and think you're done. More often than not, this led to some utterly ridiculous creatures that I could barely take seriously myself, let alone my players. So, having some ready-made mutants that weren't immediately laughable was invaluable to me. Whether others might deem the "Mutant Manual" a success in this regard is a matter of opinion, of course, but I loved it and still strongly associate it with the my fondest memories of Gamma World.


  1. And would fit in nicely with a game based on Lanier's Hiero books.

  2. We had an entire group of "utterly ridiculous creatures", but then again we did play GW for light-hearted relief from our much more serious AD&D sessions.

    I seem to recall the following PCs: a human-sized scallop with psi powers (and legs), an extremely intelligent giant silkworm with a very tough astroturf hide, and a gun-toting mutant squirrel named Chuck Nuts.

  3. I've always had a hard time taking this kind of mutant seriously, although I can understand the attraction of any coherent set, and I do agree on a creature needing that certain something to bring it to life. In my experience it's usually a question of there being either a sudden creative spark or else a slow accumulation of concepts shaped by the place in the environment, outside influences and any purpose it might have.

    Getting that something when creating post apocalyptic mutants is a bit easier, a more readily identifiable process, which is possibly why the more random ones can seem to be missing it. It can be as simple as taking an existing creature, considering whether it would survive the initial shock then looking at its development side-by-side with the development of a niche it might move into or hold against rivals. The approach could work for any existing world too, even beyond our own, although it doesn't necessarily account for any creatures that might be evolved deliberately, or be evolving themselves...

  4. I am now loading my Dragon Archive Disc into my computer's drive and searching for this article.  I'll be seeing if I can adapt them for the new GW.  "Super Team Go," my group's band of adventurers, need some additional foes.

  5. I don't know if this would be of interest to anyone, but here is a PDF entitled Mutant Manual II that might contain some interesting things to add to a campaign :)