Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tommy's Take on Darwin's World Survivor's Handbook

Converting your setting to Savage Worlds is a
great way to get my attention.

I'm still doing a theme on the list? Darwin's World Survivor's Handbook for Savage Worlds!

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Darwin's World is a post-apocalyptic setting by RPG Objects that has been adapted to some manner of the d20 system (sorry, I'm not up on the variations), but was brought over to Savage Worlds last year. That puts it in my wheelhouse just a bit. The Savage Worlds version has two books, the first of which is the Survivor's Handbook. You can get the 76 page PDF for $9.95, or get it in print for $19.95. The PDF download includes a printer friendly version as well as a "screen" version, and a map of the United States portion of Twisted Earth, which has been ravaged by disaster.

Darwin's World assumes that after American intervention ended World War II, the US reverted to isolationist policies. This ultimately set off a chain reaction where America - no longer the stewards of the world - developed faster than the recovering world, which spawned jealous reactions that led to invasion and nuclear (and biological) war. At the time the campaigns are assumed to have begun, no one is really sure how long it's been since The End. In the aftermath, the world is changing - man and animal alike - but the whole planet is dying.

Setting rules include the addition of Tech-Level, which determines what kind of gear the PCs can use, the new languages used on the Twisted Earth (like Ancient and Gutter talk), and a few skills being altered in how they function. A glossary of in-universe terms are also provided.

Character creatio is a lot like standard Savage Worlds, with the addition of Backgrounds. First things first, you decide between being Humans, First Generation Mutants, second Generation Mutants and Third Generation Mutants. Humans are pretty straight forward, with the free Edge and all. First Gen mutants are often outcasts, and start with three Mutations and a Major Defect. Second Generation mutants are a little better off, with less noticeable defects. Third generation mutants are "Super Mutants", with fewer defects but a superiority complex.

There are 11 Backgrounds, and they give bonus Edges, default Hindrances, starting languages, special conditions and the character's Tech Level. Ferals, for example, are Tech Level 1 and get bonus dice in Guts, Notice and Survival while Ritual Preservationists start off with a Vow, but also an Artifact Cache.

There's a whole mess of new Edges, such as ones the remove Defects, the interesting Horrifying Kill (in which you make enough of a mess of your opponent to give other opponent's pause), Boarding Party (for diving onto someone else's vehicle) and Power Edges that provide bonuses to Psionics (the only Arcane Background in the game). Occupations are also recommended, but have no mechanical impact on the game (other than helping to guide character creation).

The Major and Minor Mutation charts are handled with d100 rolls, with Minor Mutations granting things like Claws, Blindsight, Multiple Stomachs and Expanded Optic Orbit (which helps defend against Blindness). Major Mutations include Wings, Psychic Powers and even Eye Beams. Each mutation is given a description, complete with game mechanics. The Major and Minor defects also have random roll charts (d100 and d20, respectively). Minor defects include things like smelling bad, underdeveloped longs and dwarfism, while the Major defects can be things like Skeletal Deterioration, Cannibalism, Night Blindness and Cystic Fibrosis.

Psychic Powers are divided into three groups (Precognitive, Telepathic and Telekinetic). Where appropriate, Powers are merely reskinned versions of existing Powers with Trappings explaining how they fit. For example, Bolt becomes Telekinetic Throw, where you hurl objects at the opponent, Blast becomes Rain of Objects, and Boost Trait becomes Precognitive Trait. New Powers include Battleplan (which lets you redistribute your side's initiative cards...and take an opponent's card on a Raise), Perceive Outcome (which essentially lets you roll an action, including the spending of bennies, then deciding if you want to keep the action), and Telepathic Blindness (which removes the opponent's ability to see).

The Gear Chapter is what you would expect, complete with discussion on the Barter economy. It does include weapons up to energy weapons, for those curious.

The last section is the Survivor's Guide to Twisted Earth, essentially the Player's Gazetteer. For instance, The Big Hole is the treacherous - yet awe inspiring - pass those that are heading  west must deal with, while the Deadlands (no relation) hold the City of Lights, which is the other name of the oasis called Vegas. In fact, every location gets multiple paragraphs of description, and you can have fun matching up descriptions with the map locations to figure out what has become what. The book concludes with PC relevant information on the various factions in the wasteland, like the Knights of Route 66 (bandits that travel the legendary highway), Amazons (female survivalists), Rangers (the brutal law of the Deadlands), Ghouls (human and mutant cannibals) and several more.

WHAT WORKS: It's a very well done Savage Worlds presentation, especially with the combination of re-skinned powers combined with the selection of new Powers. The Mutations and Defects are very cool and well done without adding a ton of extra crunch to the rules. Many of the new Edges are similarly impressive.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The Mutants don't seem to be particularly balanced. That is, from a game balance perspective I'm not sure why anyone would pick a Gen 1 over a Gen 2 or a Gen 2 over a Gen 3. The setting isn't anything that just pops out in comparison to other post apocalyptic settings. Very minor complaint, but two of the Edges do require access to the Campaign Guide in order to use (the Artifact Cache Edges).

CONCLUSION: The setting feels fairly standard for the genre, but that could have a lot to do with this just being the Player's book. My tune may completely change with the GM's book. That said, most of the material here seems incredibly easy to strip for any post-apocalyptic Savage Worlds game with sci-fi elements, and the setting does also seem to lack a metaplot which can be a very good thing in many eyes (including my own). Recommended for Savages to at least strip mine the rules material even if they don't want to play around in the Twisted Earth.