TMNT RPG: Why I Love Being a Turtle

Long, long ago, when I was just a wee lad, I was at the local comic store, which also sold roleplaying games. There, in one of the boxes used to house the gaming books, I stumbled across the TMNT RPG. This book was actually called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness and was part of a licensing deal pulled off by Palladium books. My adolescent mind couldn’t resist. It was the height on Ninja Turtle fever, or maybe the tail end of it. . . I couldn’t buy that book and gotten it home fast enough.

teenage mutant ninja turtles and other strangeness

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Roleplaying Game Was Far From Perfect

One of the first things about this book I found intriguing was how thin it was to include an entire game Back then, the RPGs I was familiar with were easily twice this size and hardcover for a main book. But, here was this thin, glossy, softcover purporting to be a roleplaying game. That would make it easier than other games, right? Right? Well, yes and no.

Most roleplayers I’ve encountered even love or hate Palladium games. In some cases, concepts from this game have made it into the running jokes gamers share amongst themselves. Some really like a lot of the ideas in the game, but are not necessarily enthralled with the system. Of course, back then, my young mind didn’t see the inherent problems with the Palladium system or the rules of the TMNT RPG. To be clear, there were many. For one, there were a lot of things left out of or not covered in the game book.  Looking back, I defend this by saying somethings you just know as a player. Others, you can infer. This, of course, would explain the size of the book–less codification = fewer pages.

I Still Loved Playing the TMNT RPG

Back then, though, I really enjoyed the game. It was the first game I had played in with so many options. Other than that, other games I had played at the time were limited a massive count of 1. And you, it was that game. You know, I had choices there, but they were limited mostly to class and race and gear. Here, in the TMNT RPG, however, I got to build my character up. What type of mutant animal were there? How far or how much had they mutated? What kind of training had they received? For me, this was all new and exciting and I’ll never forget that wave of excitement I could get just making a character. The games we played were just as entertaining. Instead of a generic fantasy world, we were taking on crime lords with fists and bullets in major, modern, metropolitan areas.

Ultimately, it would be this game that made me realize Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy games weren’t the only roleplaying games I could enjoy with my friends. It would be the game that introduced me to a multitude of other games. Heroes and Champions, World of Darkness, Shadowrun, the list goes on. Dungeons & Dragons may have gotten me into the game, but the TMNT RPG was my gateway.

Why the Game was Awesome

I mentioned that this was only the second RPG I had experience with. That would’ve made me somewhere between 11 and 13. In a lot of ways, the Palladium games in general were everything that a boy that age wanted. This was further expanded upon in their Rifts line of games, but we’ll talk about that another time. The system itself was based on a combination of a d20 roll high and a d% roll low systems.

Right at the beginning, you were supposed to roll up your character’s stats–their attributes. There were 8 different ones to roll–P.S. (Physical Strength), P.P. (Physical Prowess), P.E. (Physical Endurance), I.Q. (Intelligence, hard to consider it actual Intelligence Quotient), M.E. (Mental Endurance), M.A. (Mental Affinity), P.B. (Physical Beauty), and Spd. (Speed). You were to roll 3d6, meaning the typical upper limit of your stats would be 18. But here, you were creating heroes, so anything that came up 16, 17, or 18 meant you could roll an additional 1d6–so the limit for you now becomes 24. So, right off the bat, with some good rolls, you had the ability to create someone almost superhuman. Bigger numbers was always better back in the day. It only took minutes to figure out where to put your biggest stats, too. Then, through your skill training, you could pump up your physical stats even more. This game was crazy. If you wanted to be good with non-physical skills, drop big numbers in I.Q. and you got an across the board bonus to any of those.

Go one step further into defining differences between the TMNT RPG and that other game and you would find Hand to Hand combat. There were actual fighting styles you could equip your character with, which would give them particular bonuses on different types of attacks. Yes, there were different types of attacks you could do. Now, here you were doing jump kicks and flips that did more than just standard unarmed damage. You were not just firing a gun–you were aiming, bursting, or shooting wild. Your characters weren’t just trained to use weapons. Instead, the weapon proficiencies here provided cumulative bonuses as you leveled up.

But, What About the MUTANT Part of the Game?

The rest of the things I mentioned above are pretty standard across the Palladium string of games. The TMNT RPG wouldn’t be what it was without the mutant aspect, would it? Of course not! This game allowed you to roll or choose a base animal. Based on the animal selected, you would get a number of BIO-E points, or Bio-Energy to spend on their mutations. How human looking they were, whether they had opposable thumbs, their size, and special abilities could all be purchased with these points. That kind of customization was cool and something I have enjoyed in various games until now. Even Dungeons & Dragons, as it progressed, realized giving people the ability to build a fighter with two of the same race and class being very different was something gamers wanted.

This part of the system was kinda neat. You could give up some characteristics to gain others. I don’t know how many pint-sized mutants with enough strength to knock down an apartment building with a punch and razor sharp claws I saw back there, but let’s assume it was more than a couple. Sure, other games did this back in the day–GURPS and HERO System come to mind. However, with those, there were a lot more options, lot more math. It wasn’t complicated math, it was just the amount of effort that it took to figure it all out was a bit more than with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness.

There Was More than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness

The core book spawned off several successor books. Mutants Down Under, In Space, and more. Unlike a lot of supplemental material since then and even today, these books often did not introduce new rules–only new options based on the existing rules. There were exceptions to this, of course, like Road Hogs, which contained rules for road combat and building out custom vehicles. It wasn’t like Pathfinder of D&D 3x games where those options built upon existing options. Why is this important? Those other games are great for min-max players who like to figure out which combination of powers and feats make them the most powerful combat wombat in the game. Me, I just wanted to be a mutant wombat in combat.

The way Palladium is written, all their books are made to go together. So, you could easily bring the martial arts and Occupational Character Classes (O.C.C.s) from Ninjas & Superspies over to the TMNT RPG or the mutant freedom fighters into Rifts. Today, I’d love to find a game that lets me have the customization of the mutant animals without over-complicating things. I have yet to find it. Have any suggestions?



  1. You had me at combat 🙂
    I’d heard about this game, but never any details, so this was fun to read, and learn about the game and imagine this is where you got hooked 🙂


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