Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tommy's Take on Hell on Earth Reloaded

The Reckoners are gone, the world still sucks.

As you may know, I'm a pretty big Savage Worlds fan and a pretty big Deadlands fan (understatements on both of those things). I've never played Hell on Earth, though I own all of the Classic books. Hell on Earth Reloaded finally brings Hell on Earth to the Savage Worlds rules.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Hell on Earth Reloaded is currently up for preorder, though the PDF is available. The PDF runs $24.99 and Hell on Earth does require the Savage Worlds rules, though it doesn't require any of the Deadlands books. For those who don't know, Hell on Earth is a possible future for the Deadlands setting, a post-apocalyptic crapsack world.

As is Deadlands tradition, this book is divided into three sections: The Player's Guide, No Man's Land and The Marshal's Handbook. The Player's Guide covers the players' setting knowledge, character creation, gear and setting rules. The setting is 2097, America is a blasted wasteland, and has been since 2081, when ghost rock bombs killed six billion people. Since it was ghost rock that powered the bombs, Ground Zero at each blast isn't an irradiated pit, but a Deadland. Even though it's the future, it's still very much the wild, lawless west, with society collapsed. Law Dogs take it upon themselves to defend the innocent and punish the wicked, Doomsayers are trying to eradicate what's left of humanity, Ravenites are Native Americans that have embraced technology, Templars religious zealots...and that's just a taste of the factions fighting for the soul of the Wasted West. Hell on Earth Reloaded picks up after the The Harvest, for those that played the Unity adventure back in the day, and the Reckoners have not been seen since.

Some classic Deadlands Hindrances appear in familiar or altered form, like Grim Servant o' Death (which causes folks to die around you), Heavy Sleeper and Slowpoke, as well as new Hindrances like Mutant (complete with a random draw chart to determine the mutation). Arcane Backgrounds include Doomsayers (who have mastered radiation), Junkers (the evolution of Mad Scientists), Sykers (psionicists), Templars (the evolution of Blessed) and Toxic Shamans (who communicate with the mutated spirits). Other Edges include Veteran o' the Wasted Waste, Don't Get 'im Riled (an old Deadlands standby that lets you add Wound modifiers to your Fighting and Fighting damage rolls), Law Dog, and even Harrowed is now available as a starting Edge. The equipment chapter is pretty extensive, including Scrounging rules alongside weapons, armor, equipment, drugs and vehicles (complete with list of modifications you can make to vehicles).

Harrowed in Deadlands could "Count Coup", stealing abilities from Hell on Earth, ANYONE can count coup. Of course, you can also comeback from the dead as a Harrowed...if fate smiles(frowns?) on you.

No Man's Land pretty much focuses on the Arcane Backgrounds. Doomsayers have tried to master the radioactive storm, gaining mutations (often favorable), and have a couple of new powers exclusive to them, like Mutate!, which can force Mutations into others. The Harrowed section looks a lot like the one from Deadlands Reloaded, but Harrowed are largely the same, so it makes sense. Junkers get access to a huge variety of powers and a free version of the Gadgeteer Edge, with other Edge options including one that gives a bonus on Scavenging rolls. Sykers are the psionicists mentioned above, who have tapped into the power of the Hunting Grounds. They can fry their own brains, but can also get vicious Edges like Overkill that allow them to take on Fatigue in order to ramp up their damage with their powers. Templars are Knights who have a handful of Powers and some great Edges like Shield of the Saints (which prevents supernaturally evil enemies from ganging up on them) and Blessing of the Saints (which lets them roll a d10 Wild Die if they spend a benny). Toxic Shamans come in two stripes: Caretakers and Corrupters,a a Good/Evil flipside of the same coin.

The Marshal's Handbook covers...everything else. Like how spirits can speak through radios, as well as things like the Mutation table, Veteran o' the Wasted West table, Scroungin' tables and so on. Each of the important locations of the Wasted West is covered in this chapter, with relevant encounter types (as well as random encounter tables for the regions). For instance, Fort 51 used to be a Fear level 0 in Deadlands...but is now Fear level 6 thanks to a bomb being dropped on it. The City o' Gloom has now become Junkyard, with a reference to the new Smith & Robards catalog for those wanting to incorporate bionic enhancements. Denver, which seemed a focal point of activty in Deadlands (though maybe that was just our groups) is now under the control of General Throckmorton's Combine, and is a Deadland itself. Devil's Tower (one of the more polarizing locations in Deadlands lore, due to the adventure trilogy it's tied to and the inhabitants of the tower) also gets a decent sized treatment. Mardi Gras is now a city, oil is the alternative energy source (downright safe and friendly next to ghost rock), and there's even a tractor-trailor convoy called the Night Convoy, which serves as a callback to the infamous Night Train. There's even a line in there that implies that the Reckoners are not gone, just hiding.

The Monsters & Misfits section is a suitably impressive collection of Hell on Earth favorites, starting with a slew of automatons. Bloodwolves (vampire/werewolf hybrids) make their return, alongside classic Deadlands beasts like Devil Bats and Maze Dragons. Generic stat blocks about, with Doomsayers, Black Hats, Martial Artists and so on represented, ending with a section on named personalities, starting with Dr. Darius Hellstromme.

The book ends with an index and character sheet.

WHAT WORKS: A good, one book overview of the setting, covering all of the major bits of the Hell on Earth. A lot of the camp has been toned down, focusing on the world being a harsh and deadly place, and that's included here because I see so many people saying that can't take the Deadlands games seriously because of the "camp" (which I've never understood, but there you go). Even if you never use the setting (or use it straight), there's a good chunk of material to mine, from Edges to Powers to Monsters.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Hell on Earth no longer uses Fate Chips, which makes me sad as I have always associated "chips" with "Deadlands". It also makes the Fate Eater's name a little less "on the nose". Given the sheer amount of Hell on Earth material out there, and the treatment of the Deadlands Reloaded line, you can't help but feel like you should hold off diving in and playing before the rest of the (unannounced, as far as I know) books come out. The implication that The Reckoners are just in hiding takes some punch away from the Classic adventure in which your PC group can hunt them down and kill them on Banshee, though this is also mitigated somewhat by the realization that there might not have been a ton of folks that even read that, much less played it.

CONCLUSION: I love Deadlands, but I've always held the Weird West above the Wasted West (and Noir interests me more than Post-Apocalypse), but I've sure always heard good stuff from people who have PLAYED and not just READ Hell on Earth. If this is a standalone product, and I doubt it is, it's a "really good" product. If it's the first of a new line (like I figure it is), then it's a great starting point. For my money, it's really hard to go wrong with Savage Worlds...or Deadlands. I'd sure like to play a Law Dog...or a Templar...someday.