Fallout 2d20 Review
Just for disclosure – I was involved in the playtesting of this game starting from the first Beta and have been running an ongoing campaign using those rules while we waited for the final release.
There’s now an official Fallout tabletop RPG from the folks at Modiphius who’ve previously brought us Star Trek Adventures, Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, John Carter, Dishonored and Dune. They’re certainly no strangers to the world of licensed IPs and when they launched the Fallout Wasteland Warfare miniature game I had strong suspicions a full RPG would be along at some point. Does it hold to the standards set for their other games? Does it feel like Fallout? Let’s take a look!
So far I have only received the pdf – when you pre-order the physical product the company sends you the pdf right away – and it looks “right”. The colour scheme and chapters headers and font choices all feel like what I would expect and there’s some truly excellent artwork (apparently all provided by Bethesda) which invokes both the sort of odd 50s cheeriness and the dour post apocalyptic setting. I can’t wait to get my hands on the physical book and at 400+ pages it’s a pretty good size.
Over the last dozen years Modiphius has published many games using their 2d20 system and each of the ones I’ve played (Conan, John Carter, Start Trek, Fallout) has changed things slightly to better fit the particular game. The core mechanics though are always the same you roll some d20s vs. a target number. Success are compared to a difficulty and any excess successes become a pool of points that can be spent by the players to do certain things. Overall I find the 2d20 system to be pretty easy to grasp and I do appreciate that each game has its own tweaks and changes that better fit the license.
While not quite as granular as Conan, this implementation of the system is still somewhat crunchier than Star Trek Adventures or John Carter.
Yes, characters have S.P.E.C.I.A.L attributes, skills and Perks. It wouldn’t be Fallout if you had Dexterity or Wits as an Attribute and no Perks to choose between as you level up. You have a limited number of points for Attributes and for Skills and there’s never quite enough to go around but as you level you’ll be able to pick up more points in both.
Tag Skills are a key element of most Fallout games and they are an important part of the game mechanics and character creation. During creation a character chooses three Tag skills. Those skills start at level 2 instead of 0. Additionally each Tag skill provides a small amount of additional starting gear. During game play your Tag skill determines if you scored a critical success or not.
There’s somewhere around 94 perks (!) so there’s plenty to chose from as you level up. True to the source material some of them are very situational so care needs to be taken when selecting them lest you take a thing that’s not useful.
When making your character you don’t have to be the Sole Survivor or The Vault Dweller. There’s six different origins each of which gives you a tangible benefit and a mostly roleplay based drawback. Your character can be a survivor out in the wastes or a BoS initiate, a Super Mutant or a Mister Handy (or variant). While there’s only six origins that’s enough to convey the Fallout feel.
Let’s face facts, Fallout is gear heavy. Food, drink, chems, books, magazines, armor, weapons, mods, power armor etc. etc. It is extensive and the equipment section of the book is nearly 100 pages! It’s not all just pages and pages of gear though. In this section are rules for rarity, haggling, selling gear, weapon Qualities and Effects as well as the mods available for weapons and armor. Not every mod from Fallout 4 is present (no MIRV mod for the Fat-Man because game balance…) but it’s still an impressive list.
While there’s no Settlement management rules (yet!) there are rules for characters modding their gear. I know for many people this is a big part of the appeal to the later Fallout games and it’s definitely represented well. The crafting/modding rules are somewhat simplified from the video game (and the playtest) and instead of needing specific components (like screws and adhesive!) mods require either Common, Uncommon or Rare components based on the Complexity. Having used a system more similar to the video games during the playtest I can say I much prefer this stripped down version to manage. If a group wanted to be more granular it’s pretty easy to grab the recipes from a Fallout website and use the full list of screws, rubber, steel, copper etc.
The default setting is The Commonwealth and there’s about fifty pages of material devoted to it. Locations (both specific and general), important events, sample quests and some encounter tables. It’s a great deal of material, though not super in depth. Beyond that there’s also information on the various pre-war corporations (like Nuke Cola and Red Rocket) and a dedicated section on Vault-Tec. There’s more than enough material here for any fan of the Fallout games to run in their own world.
What would Fallout be without Mole Rats and Bloat Flies, Deathclaws and Mirelurks? There’s a pretty decent bestiary/NPC section that covers all the classics one would expect. There’s also some basic rules for both leveling up critters and NPCs (similar to how the video games scale things) and for Mighty and Legendary versions of things. I’m a bit disappointed that Legendary Creatures don’t mutate like they do in Fallout 4 but that’s something that can be house ruled or added in in a sourcebook.
With the exception of some of the things found in expansion packs or other games I’m hard pressed to think of a critter or NPC in Fallout 4 that’s not represented.
GM Tools/Running the Game
Much like their Conan and John Carter games, there is a GM Toolkit coming for Fallout which is good because that’s where the game can fall short.
So many charts for loot. I really do judge a post-apocalyptic game by their random crap to find system. It’s really hard to beat Atomic Highway in that regard but the tables here cover all the Fallout stuff and are divided by type (Weapon, Armor, Food, Chems etc.). In the playtest there were extensive junk tables for all the clipboards and Jangles the Moon Monkey toys but that was a significant page count so I understand reducing it to component type (Common/Uncommon/Rare) rather than specifics.
While not always a key part of Fallout games many people enjoy this aspect of post apocalyptic games and it’s nice to see the inclusion of rules for hunger, thirst, exposure etc. It is an extra thing to track but it does add a depth to the survival game.
There’s a pretty thorough but brief chapter on running the game. It includes the basics like how to adjudicate difficulties and how to design a quest but it also includes some handy advice on safety and consent as well as how to provide a Fallout experience. It’s important to remember that Fallout isn’t Mad Max or The Book of Eli. It has its own feel and tone to the post apocalyptic tropes. From the 50s never ended aesthetic to the bitter, raspy voiced ghouls and the too happy to help Protectrons, the GM needs to be aware of the tone. Part of the GM section mentions things like making choices matter (hands up, who destroyed Megaton in FO3?) and the dark humor that pervades the game.
The game includes a 20 page starting adventure. I do like when games have this as it’s a great way to see how the pieces fit together. Sometimes looking at the disparate chunks of game design makes more sense when you see everything in context.
The Less Good
To be clear, this isn’t bad. Just less good. Unfortunately with things like costs and page count limits etc. there are things that end up left out or moved or whatever.
Fallout is all about exploration and finding things. There were travel rules in the playtest and my understanding is that they will be part of the aforementioned GM Toolkit but really they should be part of the base game. GM’s shouldn’t need to pay extra to get rules for a key part of the experience.
Leaning Heavily into Fallout 4
I have no doubt that there will be sourcebooks to cover the settings of the different games. That very much fits in with how Modiphius structures things. I just kind of wish that the game was a broader overview of the different settings.
Yes, I know that I also listed this as a “good” inclusion. I stand by that but not at the expense of the travel rules (which easily could have used those 20 pages).
I’ve been a fan of Modiphius and their 2d20 system since I picked up Conan a few years ago. Their attention to detail and faithfulness to the source materials is a huge thing for me when it comes to licensed IPs. Fallout delivers that to a much beloved video game setting. When you run or play it “feels” right – whether it’s spending Action Points to be more effective or targeting an area with your Pip-Boy, sneaking through a Raider camp or dosing up with Psycho before unleashing hell. For a core book it provides a lot of info and I can’t wait to see what else they have in store down the road.