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Wild Cards: A Mutants & Masterminds Campaign Setting by John Jos. Miller
Edited by Steve Kenson
Review by Drew Bittner
Green Ronin Publishing Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 1934547115
Date: 9 July 2008 List Price $39.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Interview: John Jos Miller / Show Official Info /

From game to books to games once again.

The Wild Cards series, edited by George R.R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass, has become the longest-running shared world series in science fiction. Now John Jos. Miller, one of the series' original writers, takes the story back to its roots for the Mutants & Masterminds game system. Players can take on the roles of aces (the rare, superpowered but normal-looking folk who win the wild card lottery), jokers (deformed and freakish but often powerful individuals) and nats (ordinary humans) who live in this strange but exciting world.

It started off as a game but became so much more.

In 1986, a group of writers realized that an addiction to a roleplaying game run by George R.R. Martin was cutting into their productivity as writers. Being creative types, they figured they could make a buck on their hobby... and Wild Cards was born.

Now the series returns to its roots. Green Ronin Publishing has released a terrific supplement with the WILD CARDS: A Mutants & Masterminds Campaign Setting sourcebook by John Jos. Miller (see our interview link).

Miller--one of the series' original and ongoing writers--has brought the complex, fascinating world of the Wild Cards (survivors of an alien virus that kills 90% of infectees and gives the rest superhuman talents from the godlike to the ridiculous) into the Mutants & Masterminds game.

The book is divided up about as you'd expect, with the first segment a thorough history of Wild Cards Earth. This history covers the first 17 books in the series (leaving out Inside Straight, last year's release and the major relaunch of the series); supposedly the new Tor Books series will be included in future releases.

That history is long and very convoluted, but Miller does an amazing job of condensing the major points into an easy-to-follow format, explaining the series' high points with almost journalistic concision.

After this, a large and comprehensive chapter on character building walks gamers through how to design and build aces, jokers, nats, and aliens. Many suggestions are made for how to construct "theme" characters, including how to model the players themselves as wild cards. In this book, character creation (which is either the most or least fun part of the game) becomes a blast.

The next section is a compendium of about 90 major characters, from the Great and Powerful Turtle to Dr. Tachyon to Fortunato to... well, all the way down to reporter Digger Downs and street thug Bludgeon. These write-ups vary from the very long and thorough (especially for the heavy hitters like Tachyon, Turtle, Mark Meadows and so on) down to a few paragraphs and their game statistics. The chapter is a great snapshot of characters from all walks of life and all levels of power--some of them are out of play in the books, but that's no barrier to gameplay! Because...

The end of the book is an extensive walk-through for game masters on how to build roleplaying adventures in the Wild Cards universe. Miller covers everything from how to balance different levels of power and gamer experience to ideas for campaigns (series of gaming sessions adding up to one gigantic, long-term adventure). These include stock modern gaming tropes such as police, private eyes or military squads, but Miller also provides mechanics for running the characters as contestants in American Hero (the reality game show featured in the most recent novel), as well as clever, very playable twists on classic superhero/supervillain gameplay. There are also suggestions offered for setting the game in different eras of Wild Card history, allowing players to interact with bygone greats such as Puppetman, the Black Shadow, the Four Aces, or Dr. Tachyon himself.

In fact, this last section is where the book distinguishes itself. Miller has invested tremendous thought and insight in how gamers can make this world their own. Nearly every model of gameplay has something interesting to offer, and roleplayers (especially those who are ready to move out of four-color comic book adventure) are going to find this an answer to their needs.

The sourcebook adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Miller's research is exhaustive and extraordinarily illuminating--I thought I was pretty well-versed in Wild Cards lore, but the amount I relearned in reading the sourcebook was astounding. Miller's scholarship goes above and beyond; this is not just a terrific game setting, it's pretty much required reading for any Wild Cards fan.

Miller has done a top-notch job of making the world easy to grasp and game. Roleplayers eager to find (or rediscover) this terrific SF world--and set their own adventures in this rough-and-ready superhuman world--should buy this book.


Our Readers Respond

From: Captain Geek
    I have been a fan of Wild Cards since the books first came out WAAAAAAAY back when. I'm looking forward to the new RPG and hope it lives up to the standards of both the Wild Cards books and the Mutants & Masterminds Game.

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