I've been interested in this book since it came out in ...2009? That seems quite a bit farther back than I thought but that's what the rest of the internet says too. I did take my time getting to this one. Ah well - it's been on my radar for a while because:
- This version is for Savage Worlds - one of my favorite systems
- It's a post-apocalyptic setting - another favorite
- It's by Kenneth Hite - a name I know and while I'm not a fan of everything he has done it's almost always worth a look.
While the traditional Nuclear/Biological/Chemical apocalypse that defined games from Gamma World to Twilight 2000 has gone out of fashion over the past decade or two there is still some room to explore and TDAR gets right to it: late in WW2 the Nazi's manage to summon the Midgard Serpent from Norse mythology into the world. It's hostile and humongous - the head is 350 miles across. America flies a B-29 into it's eye and sets off an atomic bomb. The thrashing, venom-spewing serpent dies but wrecks much of civilization in the process. This is known as "Serpentfall" and is the event that defines the setting. The venom is both poisonous and mutagenic and it cause all kinds of problems.
So we have 1940's tech, a devastated world, weird science (various devices based on serpent parts) and some magic (also based on serpent parts). It's presented as a pulp adventure setting:
Know, O Prince, that between the years when the Serpent fell and the oceans drank America and the gleaming cities, and the rise of the Sons of Space, there was an Age undreamed of, when nations guttered low and flared brilliant across the poisoned world like dying stars – California and Texas each claiming the flag of the West, France torn asunder and facing the desert, harsh Mexico, slumbering Brazil, Argentina where the seeds of Thule lay waiting, ancient lands of Persia and Arabia and Iraq between two empires, the coldly clutching Soviet Union whispering behind its Wall of Serpent, Japan whose warriors wore steel and silk and khaki. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Australia, the last green and pleasant land, ringed around by its dominions and bulwarked by the sea.
Yeah ... that passage alone starts my wheels turning. Yes, I am a fan of Conan. Mix in some Indiana Jones and you have something I'm willing to call "genius".
The book is 128 pages. A four page overview covers the general state of the world and what happened in the aftermath. The next 40 or so pages cover player character options like sample roles, edges and hindrances, gear, weapons, vehicles, and ophi-tech. The last 70 pages cover each region of the world in more detail, the opposition (from bandits to monsters), sample adventures, an adventure generator, and what looks to me like everything you would need to run a campaign in this setting.
The hero section does have some mechanical bits but a lot of the words are dedicated to how to make a character that fits in to the setting. Concepts, roles, professions, military ranks - all are addressed in enough detail to be useful without overdoing it.
|That green thing in the middle is the body of the serpent that's exposed.|
The setting section besides doing the travelogue duty I would expect also has great nuggets like "Top 5 places to be attacked by pirates" and "Top 5 places to find a remote castle ruled by a madman" - this is great for adding color to the world and for answering questions in play. There are statblocks for important NPCs and notes on various organizations. . There is a random city generator and a nice breakdown of urban demographics post-serpentfall. There is a random adventure generator and an example of using it to create and flesh out an adventure.
The opposition section covers the basics like bandits, thugs, soldiers, and cultists of various levels. It also covers giant things like scorpions, alligators, gila-monsters, and of course snakes - there are a lot of giant snakes in this world as you might imagine. There's also wilder stuff like frost giants, hydras, and soviet man-apes. You don't just get weird Nazi stuff - you get weird Soviet stuff too.
Closest comparison: It feels a little like Deadlands to me - the world is normal up to a particular moment then weird stuff starts happening. Deadlands has Fear Levels to show how much influence the Reckoners have in a given area. TDAR has Serpent Taint rated in various levels that has similar effects. In Deadlands the key to weird science is ghost rock while here it is ophi-tech. Mining the carcass of the serpent is a thing here, just like mining for ghost rock in Deadlands. Ophi-tech and resources are a point of international intrigue much as they are in Deadlands too. The big difference is that the world is far worse off in TDAR. If you found Deadlands wild west setting to restrictive or too small, well, most of Europe and a bunch of Africa and North America are devastated wastelands so you have all kinds of room to roam.
It's more Deadlands than Hell on Earth (the Deadlands post-apoc setting) because in TDAR, like Deadlands, there are still nation-states out there. In HOE there's not much organized society left past the "city" stage of things. One other point of difference for both is that all of the Deadlands games are very much centered around North America while this game is worldwide in scope.
For supporting material the publisher has options but given the setting you can go beyond that. Weird War 2 has a whole bunch of mechanics, gear, and concepts that would work here. Achtung! Cthulu has another layer of options to be mined.
I really like this book. the concept is amazing. It works for barbarian adventuring. It works for spies going behind the "serpent curtain". It works for a "save the world" campaign. As a game book It hits just about the perfect spot for me in terms of covering enough information to run a game without overdoing it.