The Morrow Project
Author: Kevin Dockery, Robert Sadler, and Richard Tucholka
Publisher: Timeline LTD.
Page Count: 74
Available in Print: $19.99
Deep underground in bomb-proof shelters sleeps specialty-trained personnel, whose sole purpose is to help the survivors of a foretold disaster. Their mission, to rebuild from the ashes of destruction and restore order to a world in chaos. Well, that’s was the plan, but something went wrong. Instead of waking from their sleep after the levels of radiation reached safe levels they slept and slept. Nobody knows what happened to Prime Base, the place where the wake-up call was to come from or what triggered the sleeping agents to wake now. All they know it’s 150 years passed their wake up time and the world still needs help in rebuilding, if that’s still the mission.
First published in 1980, The Morrow Project RPG was the fourth roleplaying game to use a post-apocalyptic world as their default setting. Since then, The Morrow Project has gone through four editions; the latest in 2013. The longest-standing edition, 29 years, was the third edition, printed in 1984. Between the first and third editions, not much about the game has changed. In the third edition, a supplementary booklet was saddle-stitched in the center which contained an expansion to the core rules. These rules were optional and when used could further enhance as well as complicate the system. The fourth edition takes those optional rules and further smooths out the overall play of the game. In this review, we are going to be looking at the third edition.
What was The Morrow Project?
In 1962 the top U.S. industrialists attended a private meeting at the behest of Bruce Edward Morrow. How he got them all to attend is not known. Whatever he did or said to convince those industrialists paved the way for The Morrow Project. You see Bruce Morrow had a special gift to see into the future. What he saw was terrifying. He saw the world he knew destroyed by the exchange of nuclear weapons. He could not stop the destruction, but with the knowledge of the impending doom, he could prepare for it. With financial backing secured, he was able to develop The Morrow Project to help the survivors in the aftermath. Spread throughout the country and deep in the Earth, secret bunkers held cryogenically frozen personnel trained in specialized skills along with a few supplies and equipment. They would sleep until the recall signal from Prime Base, the main headquarters for the project was received. Once activated the teams would emerge to assess the damage and report back to Prime Base for further instructions. To protect The Morrow Project Teams, the locations of other buried teams and Prime Base were kept secret. When activated orders issued by Prime Base would include their mission brief and coordinates to the closest underground supply cache. In The Morrow Project RPG 3rd edition players take on the roles of freshly thawed personnel who wake up 150 years passed their activation date to find all communications to Prime Base severed.
To begin The Morrow Project the gamemaster first decides the position within the United States to place the sleeping team. Usually, teams are a good distance from major populations centers. Once the gamemaster has determined where the players will begin, he turns to a frighteningly detailed chart of nuclear weapons. Using an everyday map the gamemaster locates the closest major city listed on the chart to the sleeping team and nukes it. Target, Target Type, Nearest Town, and Type of Missile Charts, as well as impact patterns, are provided to help maximize the destruction of the playing field. Once the bombs are dropped additional charts help to determine their effects on the landscape. They range from biological, radioactive contamination, or mutations. Mutations and exposure to radiation in this game aren’t the fun kinds you’ll find in science-fiction games like Gamma World. In both instances, the results have real-world consequences.
To speed up destroying your playing field a gamemaster can take advantage of the interwebs. Thanks to the College of Arts and Letters, Stevens Institute of Technology you can easily destroy your game world with NUKEMAP by Alex Wellerstein. Just move the impact marker to the detonation area, select the yield of the warhead, adjust the height of the burst and detonate to see the terrifying results with the optional casualty list and radioactive fallout. You can dive even deeper into the advanced options if you like. It makes for a much quicker setup but does take away some of the fun.
Once the playing field has a nice covering of nuclear fallout it’s time for your players to create their sleeping heroes. The characters in The Morrow Project uses stat based attributes similar to Dungeons and Dragons. Familiar attributes are Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma. In addition to the familiar attributes, there is Accuracy which is used when firing weapons and Luck for times when you really need it the most. If the supplemental rules are used, the attribute Intelligence is added. To find the value of each attribute, players roll 4D6 and then minus four from the total.
Structure and Blood Points
The next step is to find out the value of the character’s Structure and Blood Points by multiplying Strength by the Constitution attribute. Structure points are similar to hit points with the added caveat that each part of the character’s body can take only so much damage. Once that damage exceeds its damage limit, that body part no longer functions. To add on top of structural damage is bleed damage in the form of Blood Points. Each time a character is hit, the wound has a chance to bleed. The rate of bleeding is determined by the type of wound and the care the wound receives after the initial damage. With each passing round, Blood Points are subtracted. When all the Blood Points are gone the character bleeds to death. Characters who suffer a large amount of blood loss can regain Blood Points through rest or transfusions. If they get a blood transfusion they need to be sure they are compatible with the donor’s blood type. Charts to determine the character’s blood type are included in character creation.
It’s already been determined that extrasensory perception abilities exist in this game world. Morrow had them and so can the player characters. Chances of a PC having this special gift are slim but if they do there is a chart of PSI abilities. The PSI powers available to characters are Empathy, Healing, Telepathy, Telekinesis, and Pyrotechnics at varying degrees.
Actions and Movements
In “The Morrow Project” a character’s dexterity determines how many actions they can perform in a single round. The higher the dexterity the more actions they can perform. A chart of suggested actions and their movement requirements help the player and gamemaster determine what can be accomplished in a round(s). Along with action movement, there is physical movement. Being a simulation game rates for different types of terrain, modes of transportation are listed in meters per turn. A character running or taking an action in combat is subject to endurance loss. Endurance is calculated with the Constitution and Dexterity stat. When a character loses too much endurance their ability to take actions is effected. To combat this a player can rest or use stimulants to prolong the effects.
Skills and Teams
Before we leave the character creation section if the optional supplemental rules are used characters can choose to have a set of skills. A percentile system adapted from Chaosium is used to determine failure or success in each skill. Players will want to choose skills that fit and compliment the type of team they are part of. There are four types of teams in the game. They are Science, Recon, MARS, and Speciality teams. Science teams are composed of Ph.D. holders like Mathematicians, Bio Chemists, Nuclear Physicists, and the like. Recon teams are an assorted bunch. They were designated the first teams to waken and tasked to survey the land and report back to Prime Base. Recon teams are designed to be mobile and lightly armed. MARS is an abbreviation for Mobile Assault, Rescue, and Strike Force. These are the guy to call when you need heavy firepower. They are armed to the teeth with the skills to match. These units are composed of well-trained soldiers dedicated to protecting the project. Lastly, we have specialty teams that are comprised of specialized personnel for a specific purpose. For example, there are engineering, agriculture, psychological teams, or whatever the gamemaster thinks they need.
Into the Freezer
Once the players have their character finished, which is based on the type of team the group will be playing, it’s time to put them on ice. Each player character is placed in a cryogenic chamber for a “Cold Sleep”. The characters can be put in “Cold Sleep” starting as early as 1964 up to the destruction of the Earth in 1989. Characters frozen early might wake up to find weaponry or equipment they have never seen before. As new technologies were developed equipment was upgraded. Worry not because each updated arsenal comes with a training manual. It’s up to the gamemaster as to determine what the characters will wake up to in terms of arms and equipment.
Explosives, Armor, and Bullets oh my!
“The Morrow Project” features 22 pages of guns, explosives, equipment, and vehicles to choose from. Each entry has an illustration or grayscale photographs of the items along with highly-detail specifications. If the game master feels overwhelmed a list of standard equipment is at the ready.
Once the gamemaster has figured out the firepower at play it’s time to see what kind of damage it can bring. Rules for firearms, throwing grenades, setting charges, and personal protection of body armor follows the catalog of arms and equipment. Each section is highly detailed in its execution down to the amount and type of explosive needed to breach different thicknesses of barriers. Its purpose is to give players and gamemasters the most realistic simulation of combat based on the weaponry used. If played by the book the gamemaster and players will need to know precisely where each character is during combat. Explosion damage, for example, is calculated base on the proximity to the point of detonation. The closer a character is to the explosion the more damage it will suffer.
To aid PCs they have the option to wear personal protective armor. When hit in these protected areas the potential damage is reduced by the stopping power of the armor. Any excess damage points effects the PCs and Structure and Bleeding points are deducted. Overtime a character’s armor will weaken with use and need to be repaired or replaced to work effectively.
Looks like Rain
Looking to add more atmosphere to the setting? “The Morrow Project” features a series of weather charts that you can roll on or simply choose from. Randomly rolling on the charts can determine the type of weather, intensity, and directions in which it is moving. There is even a section for special weather events like tornados. The tornado chart features a rollable chart that tells you the direction the path of destruction takes. You can even use the same table and scale it up for a hurricane.
To assist the gamemaster in understanding and to develop their post-apocalyptic world the rulebook covers topics like technology, communications, energy, weaponry, and construction technologies. For pre-apocalyptic structures, an aging chart is used to see how well they’ve held up.
The Good, The Bad, and the Lazy
In the PCs travels they are bound to encounter survivors. Not all are going to be welcoming. If the gamemaster wishes they can roll on a chart to determine how survivors or other NPCs will react to the PCs. Adding to the randomness, gamemaster can also roll on a chart to determine the technology level of the NPCs. If a firefight breaks out and the gamemaster doesn’t want to stat out each expendable NPC they can use the “NPC Fast Kill” chart. This chart is broken into two sections with each section having effects of the attack. The first section lists NPC hit with a single shot. The second section lists NPCs hit with area effect weapons, shotguns, or automatic fire. The effects range from no effect to immediate death.
Encounters can range from humans to fauna. A healthy collection for both is provided for the gamemaster to use. Each section of humans is listed much like the D&D Monster Manual. It lists their name, geographical location, level of hostility, numbers found, technology level, power/resources, weapons, and brief descriptions.
When it comes to the fauna “The Morrow Project” separates them into two categories normal and mutant. The normal faun is creatures we see today, chipmunks, weasels, and bears. Their stat blocks are simple with only a few key attributes and a brief description of the animal. The mutant fauna is based on normal animals with time changing them every so. For example, we have the Electric Catfish and Smother. Electric Catfish can inflict 400 volts of electricity and a Smother is a tree boa that has wings that allow it to glide in the air. Grouped with the mutant fauna are mutant humans. The “Maggots” are an example of mutant humans. They are half the size of normal humans and dwell underground. They are nocturnal cannibals and attack with claws and their teeth.
Finishing up the rulebook is some advice and guidance for gamemasters. The final pages consist of useful conversion charts for measurements, a glossary of abbreviations, a conversion scale, and a bibliography of the publications used.
As I read through the rulebook it’s clear that “The Morrow Project” is a simulation-style RPG. Its two columns of black and white type mixed with line art and grayscale photographs featuring hyper-detailed information on weaponry, equipment, vehicles, and simulation oriented combat rules. Playing by the book players and gamemasters will discover a very grim and deadly system of rules. The game is scalable, as a gamemaster, you can choose how much realism and crunch you add to the game.
Personally, I don’t see myself running this as written. The combat rules call for precise placement of each character on the battlefield where I like to treat combat with a broad brush. I do love the setting and the premise of the game, with its fish out of water trope. The charts are fairly unique which can add considerable flavor to the game. Overall I’d use some, but not all of it.
Don’t go just yet
If after reading this review you decide that this game is not for you “The Morrow Project” still has a lot to offer. The countless number of unique tables and charts found in the rulebook can be used elsewhere. If I ever decide to include nuclear weapons in my “Top Secret: NWO” game you now know where I’m going to turn to get the specs and consequences from. Or if I need a weather chart to roll in for my D&D game. My players better pray that I don’t unleash a tornado upon them. Even the NPC reaction charts would be useful in other RPG games. And for all those cryptozoological and legendary creature fans out there this game has Bigfoot as one of the Mutant Fauna. There is a lot “The Morrow Project” can offer even if you don’t get it to play the game.
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