Monday, March 16, 2015

It's Hell on Earth Week! - The Introduction and a Quick Look at the Past

HOE original lurid green cover
Doesn't that cover just scream "Spring!"
... well, it is here at the blog. The week after Spring Break seemed like a good time for this so I'm going to be talking about the Hell on Earth RPG this week.

Hell on Earth is an offshoot of the Deadlands Weird West setting. More specifically, it is one possible future of that setting, 200 years after the main timeframe of that game. That's a fairly unusual take on things. Star Trek has a few eras of play, and Star Wars mainly looked backwards with the KOTOR era set thousands of years in the past. Traveller did something similar too, going backwards in its own timeline. Most fantasy games don't even touch on this kind of thing. So going from the old west to a hi-tech post-apocalyptic setting was a pretty interesting move. The tone was different too: In Deadlands you're fighting the good fight against evil while in HOE , well, those guys lost and now you have to live with the consequences and try to do something about it.

The main concept of the setting is that in the 2070's war breaks out and in addition to the usual nuclear/biological/chemical arsenal there is also the supernatural twist of ghost rock from Deadlands, specifically ghost rock bombs, which have even nastier side effects than plain old nuclear weapons. Lots of people die and the world is altered to the point that the four horsemen of the apocalypse materialize and kill, well, just about everybody.

HOE d20 cover, also ... Denver! 

What you're left with is the post nuclear ruins of a high tech society - tech guys, cyborgs, psykers, soldiers, road warriors, mutants - mixed with some supernatural elements like zombies, werewolves, ghosts, evil spirits - and it all makes sense within the setting. There is still some emphasis on Native American elements similar to Deadlands but not as much - with so many other sub-cultures around like sykers and mutants the Indians are one option among many rather than the alternative culture.

What it gives you is a game with a ton of options for players and the GM, and the ability to emphasize whatever aspects of a post-apocalyptic game you want to focus on. Mutants with wild powers and stop-sign shields like Gamma World? There's material for that. Low-tech gritty cars & crossbows type survival? There's material for that. Fighting men with swords against evil monsters ala D&D? There's material for that.

The creator has said that the main inspirations behind the game were The Road Warrior movie and the Wasteland computer game and it shows. Those two things were a notable part of my own 80's teenagerhood and that's probably why this game connects so well with me. (That's "Fallout" to you 90's teenagers and Fallout 3 to you 2000's teenagers BTW). It does play a lot like a high-tech western. To the above inspirations, I would also add a fair amount of Evil Dead/Army of Darkness.

The game had a pretty extensive line of support being published regularly from 1998 to 2002. The list of published works is here. That year was when Savage Worlds took off and began the great change-over for Pinnacle. It's taken a while, but Hell on Earth Reloaded is finally turning into a full supported game line of its own this year. Before I start getting into that I wanted to take a minute to talk about the original.

The original game had a great setting and a bunch of character types for players. The system was the same as Deadlands with some changes for things like vehicles, tech skills, and the new power type things like Templars, Sykers, Doomsayers, etc. Being at all familiar with Deadlands meant that you knew how the system worked and just needed to worry about a few details that might apply to your own character.

The Wasted West was the "big supplementary book" that appeared at almost the same time as the core book and had a bunch of geographic information. The core book would get your game up and going while TWW had details on say Texas vs. the Northwest vs. California plus a few more details for  characters and the rules that looked like the usual "cut for space" material but was nice to have. This sets up the setting as of 2094.

The game followed the 90's "splatbook" approach as well, with a book for each of the more common character types. Some of these added quite a bit to the background of the world and some even had adventures in the back which was a nice twist.

There were several adventures published as well and these were interesting but not essential until we got The Boise Horror and The Unity. That's where the metaplot set in and if you wanted a finale for a campaign these were it. Boise Horror resolves the main mystery of the Templars and sets up the current state of the world since the core book. Then The Unity takes just about every dangling thread from the prior material on the setting and sends the party on an epic run to face off with a bunch of evil -  diplomacy, travel, combat - it's all in there and it looks like a lot of fun.

Special mention: one of the "dime novels" features a trip to a post-apocalyptic Disneyworld type park, with all of the technological and supernatural complications you can imagine. My players will face that one day if I ever run this again.

The best parts of the original game in my opinion though were the location books - Denver, City O' Sin, Iron Oasis, and Shattered Coast. Just one of those was probably good for at least a year of running in and around the area it covered, the spotlight locations of the Wasted West. Denver is a lot like the flashback (flash forward?) scenes in the Terminator movies with flying HK's and armored exoskeletons patrolling through ruined urban landscapes. City O' Sin is post-nuclear Vegas where the mutants rule from the theme buildings of the strip. Shattered Coast is the great maze of Deadlands pushed ahead 200 years. Iron Oasis is the only "friendly" location on the list for many PC types and even it has bloodsports and some problems of its own. These too had adventures contained within. The Vegas mutant adventure is pretty cool. Denver's was my favorite though. Let's just say it starts with a stealth insertion done by landing a glider on top of a tall building and eventually involves the fate of air force one. It actually forms a trilogy with Boise Horror and Unity that would make for an epic campaign.

So one could run around the wasted west for years using the original system. There were no major gaps in the rules, a ton of setting information, and lots of options for characters, locations, plots etc. without being quite as wide-open-kitchen-sink as say Rifts. The Unity wrapped up the major metaplot from the original core book (and a lot of original Deadlands too in a way) but even then it's not like it's not still a post-nuclear wasteland full of zombies, mutants, robots, and criminals. Which is where Reloaded picks up. More on that tomorrow

No comments: