YORKTON - One thing about role playing games, even those for solo play, they tend to evolve over time.
While that can be frustrating at times, books can become obsolete when rules change significantly, or at least far less useful.
And changes don’t always work as well for some. When Dungeons & Dragons released version five it was a homogenized play system where much of the uniqueness of characters was lost in an effort to allow players access to all things – at least in this player’s opinion.
But, games evolving also allow rough edges to be smoothed, mistakes corrected, and new things added.
For example, Rad Zone launched in April 2021, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. The game is a solo RPG effort which has players dealing with the effects of the sun’s radiation spiking, with the result being disastrous for humanity. Those who survived must struggle to survive, and that includes you as a player.
The game is darkly themed to be sure, so will not be for everyone, but it has it niche.
And now Rad Zone is back funding Rad Zone Totality.
The biggest change, might be that they have created rules for a two-player game of Rad Zone. Two survivors can now go on missions together. Rules have been updated, including mission adjustments and location navigation. This is rather cool since often RPG groups shrink over time and this allows a couple of buds to still role player at some level.
So a bit about the game from the Kickstarter page; “Rad Zone is a print and play, roll and write game . . . which revolves around a series of printable sheets. These are adjusted and updated while your characters are on their mission. A mission sees the survivor(s) head out and salvage vital resources for their bunker. A game session can be played with either a freshly generated character or one selected from the Rad Bunker Roster, perhaps a character you previously created who survived previous missions. The policy of the bunker is to send only one or two people at a time to reduce the level of radiation poisoning in the population, as well as reduce casualties.
“As well as needing to survive, you must also draw in new survivors from among those you encounter on your mission. The only way you will help humanity get through this crisis is if you not only save your core bunker crew, but also increase its size. Once you reach a certain number of people in your bunker, you win the campaign. If you lose ten people on missions, then you fail, and the rest of your survivors perish.
“Another way you can win the campaign is if you survive ten episodes. This means the Rad Bunker has just about made it through ... for the moment. You then have a choice of starting a new campaign with the same bunker or start another base with new characters.”
Besides the rules players don’t need a lot to play. “Rad Zone uses a D6 (six-sided dice) system. You will need at least three dice to play, preferably of three different colours. You will also need a pencil and eraser, plus red, yellow and green pens or colouring pencils. Along with these, you also need to print out or copy the sheets to play.”
It is ultimately an interesting proposition for players, survival in dark times, which reminds of the board game This War of Mine by designers Michal Oracz and Jakub Wisniewski.
It raised curiosity enough to contact Rad Zone designer Toby Lancaster of DR Games & Dark Realm Maps (www.DRgames.co.uk) with a few questions.
To start it’s always interesting to learn if designers play games too, and if so what they like.
“I grew up with a mix of board games, computer games and RPGS and Fighting Fantasy,” said Lancaster. “I naturally took on the role of Dungeon Master being the older brother and ran campaigns in (red box set) D&D then AD&D, Marvel Superheroes, Warhammer RPG and TMNT RPG amongst others.
“Writing campaigns and creating worlds and maps became second nature. I ran these for my brothers and friends.
“My own kids are now teenagers and I do the same for them, more in D&D5e though and we are going to be playing Star Wars 2nd Edition RPG this summer.”
The interest expanded to include computer gaming.
“I was obsessed with my C64 when I was a kid, then the Amiga and now the PC,” offered Lancaster. “This was all supplemented with a love for Games Workshop products. I ran a number of leagues in Blood Bowl, loved Heroquest and adored Talisman. I lost many hours in Gary Chalk’s illustrated version.
“On top of this I avidly collected miniatures for Warhammer Fantasy Battle, doing a series of 24 hour battles for charity. I found any excuse to play games and if it had a good cause then all the better.”
Lancaster’s education also ended up being perfect as a game designer.
“I did a degree in Fine Art and then a Masters which all fed into my own game design aspirations,” he said.
“But back then that wasn’t really a job option so I did it more as a hobby.”
Then for a time life took over.
“I met my wife and we had kids and the RPGs naturally took a back seat and only now that they are older can I once again indulge,” said Lancaster. “I still designed worlds and drew maps but became more involved with online gaming such as DayZ Standalone and survival games.
“Playing board games was also a great escape for me and still is. I love busting out Splendor, Shogun, Ticket to Ride and Pandemic.
“On top of all of this I am a collector, much to my wife’s chagrin although she has come to accept it. I collect retro 80’s toys as well as Kenner products, old RPG systems and cards such as Garbage Pail Kids and Magic the Gathering. I have many cultural influences to draw upon in my design and have been submerged in games all my life.”
With such a varied gaming background design was an almost obvious step, but why the world of Rad Zone?
“I love creating games I would like to play,” said Lancaster. “So, I came up with a number of ingredients I wanted to incorporate: survival, a post-apocalyptic theme, scavenging against the odds. This triggered in my mind a number of inspirations which I drew upon: Mad Max, the table top game Dark Future, online survival games like DayZ Standalone and, of course, a range of RPGs including the Dark Sun setting as well as -- though this might seem strange -- the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG.
“I was also inspired by my love of the Zombie theme; although we have no Zombies in Rad Zone Totality, and the scavenger runs you see in The Walking Dead and films with the same theme.
“I’m also pleased to acknowledge the influence of the Fighting Fantasy books and their ‘turn-to-a-number’ mechanism which features here in the Rad Zone Search Matrix.
So, what was Lancaster ultimately trying to achieve with the game?
“An exciting survival experience that would be interesting and full of narrative,” he replied. “Each session in my mind had to tell a story of exploring a harsh world where survival is difficult. It also had to be a campaign where the player character’s evolved and change in good and bad ways.”
“It’s a grim environment that is challenging and throws up risk and difficult choices. There is a random element when scanning but you have to make the choice of whether to interact with the resulting radiation scans. It has different original elements as well. People have commented on the journey mechanism and its originality as well as the awesome heat maps that appear as you scan the buildings.”
Of course there were challenges to designing Rad Zone.
“The most difficult aspect of designing any game for me is putting the ruleset together, making sure you cover every possible eventuality,” offered Lancaster. “Is it understandable? This is a challenge at the best of times. When we know something yourself it always makes sense but does it make sense to a new reader?”
So as the designer what are the best elements of Rad Zone.
“I like a number of elements in the game,” said Lancaster. “The Search Matrix is an exciting one. You can search curtain squares in the location maps and these throw up encounters you read in the Search Matrix. The game pops into reality when you do this.
“With the new Totality version, you can now also encounter characters in game and we are creating a new NPC matrix for this. When you come into the proximity zone of an NPC you roll and can make a few choices as to how your character reacts. The story is enrichened, it’s very much a Fighting Fantasy nod.”
While not suggesting anything startlingly new, Lancaster said Rad Zone offers a good mix of game elements.
“It is so hard to offer up what others don’t but I think what Rad Zone offers an interesting mix of mechanics,” he said. “You have a journey to the location which I cover below, an opportunity to explore a number of locations and then the experiences of my unique setting through the Search Matrix. It offers a narrative; its own individual story that is different every time you play it. That is intrinsic to the game. You will always have a unique adventure and a different story to tell.”