Friday, January 23, 2015

Tommy's Take on Deadlands: Hell on Earth Reloaded Companion

To my view, a setting companion should be something that contains nothing that you NEED, but stuff that you might WANT. Seem like a fair guideline? This book aims to do just that for Hell on Earth Reloaded.
ETHICS IN GAME JOURNALISM DISCLAIMER: I am a massive Savage Worlds fanboy. I am also a massive Deadlands fanboy. The reason for this is because I have largely had more fun with Savage Worlds and Deadlands than I have almost anything in tabletop gaming. The other thing, and this is important: I am currently working on a freelance contract for Pinnacle on a non-HoE related project. When I was provided this review product from Pinnacle, that contract has never mentioned, and it did not factor into my review in any way. The only reason I mention it is because, for all my flaws, I tend to be completely honest. I have included an affiliate link to RPGNow to buy the book. Using that link could provide me and the blog with a portion of the sales.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This book requires the Hell on Earth setting book and the Savage Worlds rulebook, and weighs in at a pretty lean 96 pages, running $20 in print or $10 in PDF. It is divided into three major sections, as Deadlands books tend to be.

The Player's section includes new gear (riot shields, crowbars, metal detectors, flechette guns, that sort of thing), as well as new Edges and Hindrances, some of which are going to be familiar to Hell on Earth fans (like Cyborg, so you can make your Harrowed into half-man, half-machine or a pair of Backgrounds, both familiar to Hell on Earth fans, as Bookworms and Witches become available). The highlight of the player section to me, since the details on the Arcane Backgrounds and being a Cyborg are actually contained in No Man's Land, are the setting rules, which focus on emulating what a warzone the land has become, with tips and guidelines for throwing in forgotten minefields and boobytraps, among other hazards. Vehicle combat is also revisited here (something way more relevant to the Wasted West than the Weird West).

Everyone who knows Deadlands books knows the cool stuff is in the No Man's Land section, and that's where we get the details on playing Bookworms, Cyborgs and Witches. Bookworms are a damning indictment of ereaders (ironic, as I'm reviewing a PDF), because Book Spirits only reside in physical texts, and if you don't have the text on you, you can't access the powers. If the text is destroyed, you lose access to the powers until you find a replacement. There's even a neat Edge that lets you gain a power that Bookworms are normally restricted from having because the book has the essence of another Arcane Background attached to it.

Cyborgs are Harrowed who have been turned into machine men by the military. Their AI has directives they have to follow, but they get options for Edges, like armor plating, the ability to transform their face into someone else's, implanted weapons and more.

Witches are...pretty much witches (and Warlocks, though magic going wrong for a Warlock is much harsher than it is for a Witch). Witches also have access to the Familiar Edge, which will be familiar (no pun intended) to folks who use the Fantasy Companion.

The centerpiece of the Marshal's Handbook is the random adventure generator, and I love random adventure generators. This table largely uses d20 die rolls, with the first determining the type of adventure, and then directing you on what to use from there (and meant to be used in conjunction with the encounter tables from the Hell on Earth Reloaded book). It's a great set of tables, built for Hell on Earth instead of just rehashing existing tables. The random fun continues with random settlement tables, for quick generation of the settlements your posse might run across.

The bestiary chapter gives generic statblocks for the character types covered in this book, as well as such treats as Killdeer, feral automatons, and even Spider-Heads...which are actually beetles that were human heads. Yeah, about as creepy as it sounds. Also included are relics from historical figures and Deadlands lore, like the skull of Ronan Lynch (old school Deadlands fans know him), bones from Famine's Horse and General Patton's "Swagger Stick".

SIX POINT SUMMARY:

1) The book is full of things you might want, but don't NEED, making it fill the role of a companion pretty well.

2) If you have struggled with how to handle witches in Deadlands Reloaded (a topic that Deadlands Classic covered but Reloaded has glossed over), witches here can cover that need.

3) Rules for vehicle customization should appease any gearheads in your group, as well as the vehicular combat rules.

4) The random adventure generator is pretty neat, and I'm pretty sure it's unique to this book, not a reskinned generator from another, which has tended to happen a lot.

5) Harrowed have always been kind of a "favored son" in Deadlands, and giving everyone the ability to Count Coup kinda diminished that a bit...but all the extra perks from being a cyborg make that come roaring back (though it is counterbalanced by cyborgs having a extra Directives to follow).

6) There's a lot of recycled art, but that doesn't bother me given how old the original Hell on Earth books are, so the art isn't technically within the same game line, and the using the art to evoke the original line is a nice touch at points.

I would say this is well worth getting for a Hell on Earth Reloaded fan, and might be worth getting in general for ripping stuff out (like Witches or the vehicle bits), if you have the cash to spare and the need to fulfill...but it answers the call of its primary purpose - a companion to Hell on Earth Reloaded - admirably.