My first meeting with the Morrow Project came in the guise of Different Worlds Magazine, Issue 33 which I inherited along with two issues of Dragon, a copy of the AD&D 1e Players Handbook, Moldvay Basic Set, and a handful of modules. The meeting was brief. A short module featuring a plague carrying biker gang along with some Q&A of the authors. But it wormed the game into my brain and eventually I scrounged pdf's for it out of the corners of the internet and read through them.
And I was charmed. Its an old, idiosyncratic game but interesting in its presentation of details and has some surprisingly well made modules. So as I reread the Morrow Project's books I will be reviewing them, in hopes that this might introduce other folks to the game.
Now the obvious place to start would be the actual ruleset. But I shall do however I please, and instead we're starting with the very first module, "R001 Liberation At Riverton."
Players are team members of the "Morrow Project" (a secret enterprise to assist in rebuilding civilization after nuclear war) cryogenically frozen to wait out the imminent apocalypse which indeed, comes and goes. They wake up 150 years later in a 'bolthole' with supplies, armaments, and amphibious assault vehicle. Their mission is vague "fulfill the project's goals: help people, and make contact with prime base and other teams."
The players awaken in the vicinity of 'Riverton' a town of unnamed location*, near a National Guard training camp which was nuked during the war, although the nuke fell south of target. The town was subsequently razed in the war's immediate aftermath during fighting with refugees and marauders. Present day the town has been reduced to numerous isolated farmsteads and a small "town" in the southeast of the old ruins proper.
Ruling over the locals are the 'Imps' (derived from MP, the contraction of Military Police), remnants of the National Guard unit who had been stationed at the nearby camp. Over the years supplemented and supplanted by recruited vagabonds. They have a stockpile of military equipment, including small arms, mortars, jeeps, three trucks, and three tanks. The Imps spend their time roving about confiscating supplies and terrorizing the locals who are resigned to their fate.
Into this enter the players.
* The town of Riverton and the national guard camp are in fact, blatant serial number filed off versions of Grayling, Michigan and the nearby Camp Grayling. The regional map itself is an almost 1 to 1 reproduction of the local area (just compare the two on google maps).
Layout & Art
The module is very much a product of its time, and quite home made to boot. Information comes variously in dense, hard to scan blocks or in easy to read, broken up sections. Of spelling errors there are numerous. Nonetheless there's a clear amount of effort put into it, and its certainly far from the worst layout I've seen! It does its job (not to mention the printing quality and subsequent scan quality of the pdf I'm using are partially to blame for bad readability). The section describing the Imp camp is well laid out in particular.
The art meanwhile is sparse and also of homemade quality, nothing to write home about but fun in that charming early RPG game way. The maps provided for both the camp and town are a tad hard to read, but do their job. The keying is adequate, but given the size of many of the maps, as well as the blank space, on the page it might've been more useful to just write out building and room names rather than muck about with numbering/lettering.
The regional map feels superfluous, and does not provide all that much usable information. No particular farms are shown, nor an outline of the local ruins. And given the discrete nature of the module's few points of interest, it's fairly easy to run it as a theater of the mind pointcrawl. That said, it is still useful to know the relative positions of the town to the camp, the local lakes, and the old roadways running throughout. And I cannot fault the module too much for this map, given that it is typical of many other rpgs of the time (not to mention that point crawls didn't exist as a concept yet :P).
Farmers & Townies
The locals get a big, rambling, multi-paragraph long write up. They are a simple, isolationist lot, largely defined by their fear of the Imps*. While the write up is long, hard to scan, and repetitive in places, it does provide a good sense of their character and provides actionable information for how they'll react to both players and player actions.
Of the locals, the townies (who live in the small, mapped out 'town' beside the overgrown ruins) get the most description and their meaningfully differentiated from the farmers in their attitudes towards the Imps. Not true factional difference, but difference none the less. A blacksmith and his son (who salvage metal from the ruins), an innkeeper and his family, a "store" (run by wandering horse traders whose stock was stolen by the Imps several years ago), a doctor (former wandering "emdee"), and two farming families. In addition there's a ruined farmstead, the family mysteriously poisoned after refuting the Imps.
The secret of the farmstead is later revealed to be radiation poisoning from a "blue undead" one of the Morrow Projects few fantastical elements. A sort of radioactive zombie-ghoul, that the Imps keep in an old munitions bunker.
All together the module provides several npc's, hooks or at least interesting details for most, and provides an interesting problem for the players in that most of the locals are cowed by the Imps and too scared to take any action. Much of a play through might be sussing out the willingness of various townies and farmers to fight, or convincing the others.
*An important note. There’s several (at least four cases I think) of implied and pretty-much-just-outright-stated sexual assault in the module. None directly “shown” but aftermath and history of it springing from the Imp’s abuses are prevalent.
These fellows get a large chunk of writeup. Most of which is dedicated to describing their compound and equipment.
Most of the Imps we learn are thugs recruited from wandering brigands and are a foul, brutish lot with simple discipline, of which, quote "there are no good ones." They're the nasty bad guys to beat up essentially. However they are neither a unthinking horde nor are they without internal divisions! A detailed breakdown is given of how the Imps structure themselves (in a corrupted form of US army structuring)* and a write up of their officers.
The officers are divided up into four "nco's" (sargents essentially) and two "co's" (lieutenants all) all overseen by a simmering gout stricken "captain." Each is fairly well written up in terms of personality, and plenty of hints are given at how eager each is to go at each others throats.
Of equipment both weapons and misc. gear is described well, with information as to how exactly the Imps use each. Giving a complete picture of their tactics. Though the information is bit spread out and could be condensed into a 'battle plan' section. All the equipment in working order feels a bit extensive, but 150 years is a short enough time that I can buy it since its been taken care of consistently and is described with signs of use, wear, and inhabitance.
Of this I must also level my biggest criticism. That the Morrow Project suffers from an inordinate love for military gear, devoting altogether too much time to statting up the specifics of particular guns (though mercifully confined to the appendix for the most part) and vehicles leading the system and its adventures to flag in other areas. I find that the cultures of the post apocalyptic world aren't explored nearly as much as I would like.
Next comes the camp map and keying. All of which is goodly done, with many little details that add to the previously mentioned tactics, or simply provide implications and inspiration.
* While structure is described, exact numbers for each element (squad, platoon, etc) are not given. I would guess that the writers assumed the reader would be familiar with the terms.
The module finishes up with a rough outline of how play should go. While it does feature players auto-colliding with a recently pillaged farmstead, as a means to introduce them to the situation (and likely push them into aligning with the locals forthwith), it is largely open ended. More of a guideline for how the situation might play out unaltered upon player's introduction, than any kind of railroad.
Taking it alltogather, I would say that....
The modules strengths lie in its sandbox design that presents an immediate situation for the players to involve themselves in (granted, a very black and white one, but an immediate conflict none the less). With both a small social web to navigate and a dangerous and powerful opponent of whom the means of defeating is left open ended.
The modules flaws lie in the lack of stronger factions (though that is a halfhearted criticism since most of the npcs can be easily fleshed out into more dynamic factions from their description) and various small details of layout, system, and style which make it clunky to work with, but are far from sinking it as an adventure.
It works well either as a one shot hack and slash, shoot em up, or as an introduction into the post apocalyptic world for the players. However in the latter case some good hooks, implied or stated, to the broader world will have to be contrived by the referee.
All together a solid little module, and a strong start to this review series.
Where are the Imps making or getting the alcohol to fuel their vehicles?
An easy way to tie Riverton into a broader region would be to have the Imps trade with a nearby distillery or perhaps have oil fields (there are small oil fields near Grayling in real life) to fuel their vehicles.
The real Grayling sits right on the I75 Highway that cuts up the whole of Michigan and down down into the southern states, while likely in no great repair, it could be a connecting route for traders and their ilk. Of course the Imps are likely holding trade up with taxes and tariffs.