Per Astra Ad Aspera - a Mephisto review
The campaign The Path to Eden in the core rule book of Mutant Year Zero presented the player characters with the opportunity to board a rocket to leave the devastated post-apocalyptic Earth behind. This leads to the end of the campaign and refers to a planned expansion. Now, several years after the core rule book was published, the campaign volume Ad Astra has been released, which introduces the campaign based on this escape from Earth.
The sourcebook begins with an introduction that expands on the background and metaplot of the game, sheds some light on the activities of the Titan Powers outside of Earth, and introduces other projects of these great powers. This adds a few more background details to the world of Mutant Year Zero.
Even though Ad Astra is basically designed to tie in with the campaign from the core rule book, the book provides numerous suggestions as to where the player characters can alternatively find the opportunity to travel into space. Of course, they can also theoretically start the game directly there.
The new campaign begins on the space station Jotunheim—and leads from there through half the solar system. However, moving the setting to space changes some of the game's basics. Just like the zones on Earth, space is a dangerous place and constantly harbors deadly risks. While the characters have their home base on the Ark in the basic setting, here it is their spaceship that serves as their home. However, the characters are space travelers by chance and must quickly realize that despite the seemingly high-tech setting, everything here also decays, breaks down, and can become useless.
In Ad Astra, the player characters have a central goal, as the Jotunheim station, which is their first port of call, will not be able to survive for long without their help. Starting from this initial situation, the book leads through the campaign in several chapters. Upon arriving in Jotunheim, the characters are confronted with the major problems of the space station, which is threatened with destruction. As the player characters have arrived at the station on a rocket, they are selected as suitable candidates for a space mission to save Jotunheim. But before they get started, they first have to repair an old, broken ship, which then serves as a base and vehicle for the player characters. Of course, there is a lot to discover and experience on the space station as a new setting, and so smaller missions, locations and people are introduced in the usual way of Mutant Year Zero.
The next stopovers depend on the decisions of the player characters. For example, a possible destination may be to visit the moon to procure helium-3 or to follow their primary trail towards Mars or the asteroid belt before finally heading to Jupiter for the finale.
While the start and end points of the campaign are fixed, the stations in between are flexible and offer the strange to bizarre settings typical for Mutant Year Zero, which are sometimes dark, sometimes humorous, but always have surprises in store. However, no more should be mentioned here to avoid spoilers. For the other locations, too, you will find profiles of the most important characters, descriptions of the locations, the usual overview map, and various scenario ideas that the player characters can follow. All locations offer a mixture of high-tech and decay so that the players are confronted with strange robots, alien mutants, fierce power struggles, intrigues, and more. The setting utilizes all the character types from the various Mutant Year Zero books: thus, in addition to normal humans and mutants, mutated animals and robots can also be found here as non-player characters.
The grand finale finally takes place on Jupiter, and here the player characters will once again have to make far-reaching and momentous decisions.
Basically, the campaign is well-developed and fits into the metaplot. As is usual for Mutant Year Zero, it mainly describes the situation and possibilities of the locations without offering concrete, detailed adventures with a pre-planned course. It is up to the players to decide how they want to deal with the situations.
In addition to this background, there are some new rules that deal with weightlessness in space, introduce a new role, namely the pilot, and also modify the use of skills in space. There are also a few new talents and mutations that fit the setting, as well as further rules-related information on spaceships, events in space, and, finally, space combat. Corresponding random tables provide scenario approaches, and additional equipment is also presented.
It is important for the group composition that the role of the Gearhead is actually of central importance, if not indispensable, for Ad Astra, as repairs to the spaceship or spacesuits have to be carried out time and again. The focus here is also more on the condition of the spaceship, while the resources known from Mutant Year Zero—grub and water—are no longer relevant. The equipment and the setting are much more high-tech, but here, too, the decay ensures that the post-apocalyptic flair is maintained.
The book concludes with a short tour of other locations in the solar system that play no role in the official campaign but offer hooks for additional sessions, such as Mercury, Venus, or the moons of Saturn.
Ad Astra thus offers an exciting and comprehensive campaign that should be enough for many game sessions and introduces a new setting that offers new perspectives without leaving the core ideas of Mutant Year Zero behind. The new setting also shifts the atmosphere of the game a good deal. It makes a significant difference whether you are a survivor of the apocalypse fighting for survival in ruined zones or flying your spaceship through the decaying legacy of a high-tech civilization through the solar system.
From my point of view, Ad Astra is a campaign that is well suited if the classic setting has been exhausted by the gaming group and the player characters literally want to set off for new (and quite distant) shores. The book is well-written, offers exciting and quirky ideas, and is beautifully and coherently illustrated, making it the perfect opportunity for gaming groups who intend to delve into the ruined depths of space and face new dangers and risks.