This massive (almost 500 pages!) rewrite of Mutant Chronicles is visually appealing even before you start to read... when you do, Chapter 1: Welcome to Mutant Chronicles does double duty, starting with the mechanics of what is needed for play - you need d20s, d6s and counters - and why you need them, and then launching into more conceptual areas by explaining that it's a dieselpunk techno-fantasy game... and then while you are still scratching your head over that, explaining what is meant by those terms. In a near-future when humankind has spread throughout the solar system, something called Dark Symmetry has cast a blight over technology, meaning that many shiny new toys have been put away in favour of older tech that remains reliable. The whole game is built around the struggle between humanity and Dark Symmetry in three distinct time periods: the Dark Symmetry period (when it is trying to gain a foothold and a lot of the struggle passed by the 'man in the street'), the Dark Legions period (overt battle, the setting of the previous two editions and the miniatures skirmish game Warzone), and the Dark Eden period (when matters come to a head).
We then read about the factions, which include massive corporations and other organisations. These are described later on in the book, and further supplements addessing them are in the pipeline (whilst I do not usually mention future publications until they happen, these were included in the Kickstarter for this project and so it's very likely that they will materialise!). Those who do not wish to take regular employment within these organisations become freelancers, trading job security for freedom of action. There's a brief mention of the opposition (alien servants of Darkness and the heretics who support them, sometimes unwittingly), then it is on to a survey of known space. Earth is in tatters, poisoned and virtually uninhabitable, but there are burgeoning communities on Luna (Earth's moon) and the inner part of the solar system (Mercury, Venus, Mars and the asteroid belt). Further out is more sparsely colonised and was gobbled up readily by Dark Symmetry as soon as it arose.
Next comes Chapter 2: Mutant Chronicles Factions, which goes into more detail about the megacorporations that have taken the place of the nation-states of old and other groups as well. Each organisation has its own chapter later in the book, for now we get a thumbnail sketch, an overview. Familiar names to those who played earlier editions of this game, the corporations are Capitol, Bauhaus, Mishima, Imperial, and Cybertronic. Each has its own distinctive tone and character, just as the nations which preceeded them did - indeed you can see traces of, for example, Germanic and Scandinavian influences in Bauhaus and Japan in Mishima. Cybertronic proves an exception, the most recently-formed it draws on a wide range of cultures and embraces technology in a way unlike the others. There are other non-corporate factions too, described in similar manner: Whitestar (who cling to the remnants of Earth and view everyone else as deserters), the Cartel (who provide a meeting place for the corporations), the Brotherhood (a religious order, source of what social aid is around but vehemently opposed to Dark Symmetry) and Luna PD (much more than a mere police force!).
Up to now, this information is suitable for GM and player alike, but the next chapter, Chapter 3: Timeline of Mutant Chronicles, introduces a little red flag that points GMs at information (tucked away at the end of the chapter) that is for their eyes only. Leaving aside the fact that more than one member of a group might both GM and play the game, it's an issue that besets single-volume core rulebooks: you have to rely on player discretion to stay out of the things they shouldn't read! Of course, it often makes the game more fun if players do exercise restraint. Anyway, starting at the end of the 21st century, this chapter details the events that brought humanity to its current state with the Dark Symmetry era beginning in the late 25th century, following a 'golden age' of exploration and expansion. It's a heady sweep of future history which has its roots in a destruction of natural resources by corporate greed and overpopulation that sounds all too possible.
Next we move on to game mechanics with Chapter 4: Core Mechanics. Here the core of the game system is explained with details of skill tests, Momentum, Chronicle Points and the Dark Symmetry Pool. On the whole, it's best to roll low. A skill test is rolled on 2d20 with factors based on attributes, skills, bonus success, and difficulty added in; and basically determines whether or not a character succeeds in whatever it is that he is trying to do. The text digs into this in detail and provides plenty of examples to show you what is going on. Momentum is a neat mechanic which determines how well you succeeded, and allows for the choice of appropriate outcomes: did you do it faster, do a better job... Chronicle Points are awarded by the GM as he sees fit, to reward good role-play, clever planning, the overcoming of obstacles and so on; and may be used by the player to influence die rolls, perform extra actions in combat or even to take a moment to catch his breath and wipe light wounds off of his character sheet. The GM has the equivalent in Dark Symmetry Points, which can be gained when characters make a botch of things (as in, fail a die roll) or even when a player, seeing that a task is difficult, 'purchases' an extra d20 to roll to resolve it at the cost of giving the GM a Dark Symmetry Point. This kind of 'book-keeping' may seem a bit onerous, or liable to detract from the flow of the game, but handled with care it provides robust mechanics to manage developments.
Chapter 5: Character Lifepath starts you off on the character creation process. It is moderately time-consuming, but the depth of character that results is worth it. The standard method combines choice and chance by providing at each step the option to make a choice or roll the dice (you decide which, of course, before any dice are rolled); but if the party has already decided exactly what they want to play there is a completely point-based option. It's recommended that all characters in a party take this option if it is to be used at all to maintain balance between them. The whole process involves eight key decisions, and by the end you should have a good idea of who your character is, and how he came to be like that... his background life history is developed as part of the process, including significant events in his life. Next, Chapter 6: Experience and Gameplay Rewards shows how characters gain experience points and use them to develop and grow, then Chapter 7: Skills and Talents gives further details of all the options (as well as showing how to actually use skills in play) although they are assigned during the Lifepath process.
Throughout, the emphasis is on how the various aspects of your character can be used in play. It sounds more mechanical than it actually is: once you understand what everything means you will be able to use it to effect. This is a game in which a thorough understanding of the rules will aid effective role-play, unlike some games where it is sufficient for the GM to know the rules it is essential for the players to get to grips with them as well. Each aspect, such as Momentum and Character Points, performing actions and of course combat, gets a chapter (well, more than one chapter when it comes to combat!) explaining precisely how you can put everything to use. There are lots of examples to go along with explanations to make it all come to life. Note that madness and being consumed by darkness are as real threats as bullets in this game, and there are of course rules for that as well.
Both creatures of darkness and those of the light have the opportunity to learn specific powers - call them spells if you will - and there are a vast array for you to pick through. Eventually, however, we come to chapters covering equipment: vehicles, spacecraft, weapons and other equipment and gear. Each comes with a wealth of detail on construction, repair, operation and combat use. What a character has access to will often depend on his faction affilitation. An odd quirk of the armour system is a fondness for large shoulder pads: be prepared to look as if you are about to play American Football rather than engage in a brawl!
After an exhaustive discussion of gear, we move on to Chapter 25: Adversaries. This takes the GM through the process of creating all the NPCs required, with a truncated version of the lifepath process used for player-characters being suggested. Plenty examples and samples, and of course there are beings other than humans for the characters to contend with. Next comes Chapter 26: The Dark Soul and Apostles, with a wealth of detail on everything from the first contact with darkness (on Pluto, 2480AD if you must know) to how it has spread through the solar system and what is going on in the time in which the game is set. Although it's not mentioned overtly, this is probably GM territory. This is followed by a chapter on the Dark Legions (in effect a bestiary), including their weapons and equipment.
Next is an extensive chapter on Luna, the moon, which is now the primary home of humanity. There's masses here, locations to visit, lifestyle information and more - and a sequestered section of notes for the GM alone, suggesting that the rest can be made available to characters who have reason to know their way around! Then there is a chapter on freelancers, employees and jobs which looks at the various ways in which characters can make a living, followed by separate chapters on the corporations and other organisations which might be hiring. The wealth of detail is quite amazing, painting a vivid picture of life all ready for your party to come and inhabit it.
Then comes Chapter 38: Eras of Play which explores the different time periods available and what is going on in each before launching into Chapter 39: Gamemastering Mutant Chronicles, filled with good advice on how to run the game to effect, using the rules and the background material to drive your plots. The following chapter on Scenes and Environments continues in this vein and covers a whole lot more than the title might suggest. Finally, Sessions and Campaigns provides loads of ideas to get the GM going. An assortment of charts and worksheets, the index and a list of Kickstarter backers rounds the book off.
This is an elegant and masterful re-tooling of the original Mutant Chronicles, retaining the original flavour yet giving it a contemporary spin. If this kind of dark future appeals, this game should keep your group engrossed for many a gaming session.