Fallout tabletop RPG review: They made combat in the wasteland fun againApril 10, 2021
For those of you still sore at how Fallout 76 turned out, I’ve got good news: Life in the Wasteland is fun again, and it’s all because of a new tabletop role-playing game. Fallout: The Roleplaying Game from Modiphius Entertainment brings the Fallout franchise back to its roots as a tabletop game with the kinds of turn-based rules that made the original game so enjoyable — especially in how it deals with combat.
The original Fallout video game was supposed to be based on a tabletop role-playing system called GURPS — also known as the Generic Universal RolePlaying System. Then, the developers of the video game had to design their own new tabletop game to serve as their foundation. Bethesda Softworks bought the franchise and turned it into a real-time action game, and now Modiphius is bringing it back to the table.
Fallout: The Roleplaying Game is currently in production and is expected to ship as a physical book this summer. Those who pre-order a copy from the Modiphius webstore for £38 (about $52) can get the PDF version right now. There are still a few typos, and some referential page numbers are missing. But it’s the full book, intended for both players and game masters. It’s more than 430 pages long, and includes monster stat blocks and a short campaign. All the mechanical stuff about combat is right upfront, and only accounts for about 12 pages.
Ranged weapons are hard to do well in a TTRPG, and there are plenty of reasons why. Tabletop miniatures games are all about minutiae. When I’m playing something like Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team, I love haggling over range and line of sight. But when I’m playing a role-playing game, it’s just as much about the conversations I’m having with nonplayer characters and other kinds of random social encounters as it is about shooting guns. Combat in a TTRPG should, more often than not, be a means to a narrative end.
Modiphius understands that problem implicitly. Its 2d20 system has been tuned to accommodate Fallout’s proclivity toward exotic small arms, but in a way that won’t bog your game down.
It all starts with the movement system. During combat, the battlefield is divided into zones instead of individual spaces. That front part of the Red Rocket gas station? The one with the cashier’s counter and the rack of magazines? Yeah, that’s a zone. And the area out front with the pumps, that’s another zone. The inside of the garage is a zone, and the roof area — upstairs, right around the rocket itself — that’s a zone as well.
Want to move from the garage into the area with the pumps? That’ll take you two turns, one to move into the cashier zone and another to go to the zone with the pumps outside. Each turn, you’ll need to spend an action point to keep moving, and everyone on the battlefield gets one action point per turn. That tends to make fights pretty brisk, since you’re either moving or shooting.
Modiphius uses zones to simplify range. Yes, you can shoot at people in the same zone with your pistol. If they’re in the next zone or two zones away, you’ll need to have the right kind of kit to take aim and hope to hit them.
You can spend more than one action point on your turn. That lets you do stuff like move and fire your gun. You can even spend multiple action points to fire guns multiple times. Action points are earned throughout the entire play session, fairly easily, by succeeding on challenges when you’re rolling dice in other phases of the game. Roll extremely well when you’re trying to pick an easy lock, and you can stash those extra action points away until you need them — and then cash them in to take out that Super Mutant right when it counts.
Things appear to get more complicated with the cover system, but they’re actually not all that bad. Cover works via line of sight and impacts your damage resistance per body part. If your gun arm isn’t behind the wall you’re taking cover behind, it becomes a juicy target for those ghouls outside of the gas station that you’ve been pestering for the last few rounds.
It sounds counterintuitive, but that increase in specificity makes playing Fallout: The Roleplaying Game without miniatures much easier and more streamlined than it would be otherwise. It turns cover mechanics into just another narrative ball that the game master and players can bat back and forth. Rather than cover being something that needs to be adjudicated by getting down to eye level with the miniatures on the table, you and your friends can just pretend.
The other features that make Fallout: The Roleplaying Game so inviting are the character classes. There’s a Vault Dweller class, of course, as well as a Super Mutant and a Ghoul. You can even start the game as an initiate in the Brotherhood of Steel. But my favorite by far is the Mister Handy class. Not only does it restrict which kinds of limbs you can have at the start of the game, it also encourages restricting your character’s worldview and even their vocabulary to fit within the narrow confines of their original programming. Imagine spending the next year role-playing as the voice of Fallout 4’s Codsworth. The whole game is filled with the kind of goofy, dark comedy that the franchise has always been known for.
Fallout: The Roleplaying Game is available now as a pre-production PDF. The game was reviewed using a copy provided by Modiphius Entertainment. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.