Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hell on Earth Reloaded: The Worms' Turn Review

This is the first plot point campaign published for Hell on Earth Reloaded. It was released in 2015. The short version: It's really good, shows the potential of the setting post-Reckoners, and has me wanting to see more.

This one is centered around Junkyard and the Iron Alliance. It begins with efforts to recover from the big battle at the end of the previous edition of the game, then expands across the wasted west before coming back together with a direct threat to the city and bad news for humanity if the threat is not stopped. Denver, Raven, and the Rattlers/Wormlings are the main threats here.

The plot point itself has 9 "backbone" points. There's not a strong plot feel IMO until about #6, where 6-7-8-9 feel like they would run mainly sequentially. The first 5 though could be run in a different order and over a lengthy period of time if you wanted to. Now that's just the spine of the campaign and it takes up about half of the book - descriptions, maps, plot notes, NPC's.

Most of the second half of the book is 13 "Savage Tales" which are adventures that are not related directly to the plot but can be played in between the others. They range all over the west from Templar HQ in Boise to Seattle to the Mall of America to the swamps of Louisiana. Most of these are pretty interesting in their own right and given the quantity you could run a completely separate campaign just using them! Combined , if it takes one session for each one, that's 22 sessions of play in this one book. That's a great deal! Considering that's without adding anything of your own, it's a deal and sets up a zero-prep campaign that looks like a lot of fun.

Special Callout - one problem with a lot of plotted campaigns is that there's not a lot of discussion about what happens if the PC's fail. I've noticed this in everything from Pathfinder AP's to Shadowrun adventures to some of the adventures for other story-heavy games. This one has notes on exactly this kind of thing in most of the individual plot-points as well as an entire page discussing what happens if they fail in the finale. This was great and I'd love to see more of this kind of coverage in similar adventures.

What would make it better: Well, I don't see a whole lot wrong with this as-is.

  • "More" is better of course so more Tales would have been nice but 22 is really enough that I cannot complain. 
  • There are cyborgs and librarians in some of the adventures so the Companion is a handy thing to have. This is fine with me but some might see it as a negative. 
  • Dr. Hellstromme shows up in one of the Savage Tales as a quest-giver and seems to me like a stressed party could start trying to bring him in to solve larger problems - like the one driving the big finale. I think the easiest solution is to use his adventure early before the main thrust of things becomes apparent and then have a good answer as to why he's not answering the phone when the party calls him for help later. 

The Verdict: 

As a player:  this book is not for you. Let your GM get it. In fact, encourage them to do so.

As a GM:

  • If you're already running a game and have a definite direction you want to go I'd rate this as "useful" as it's good to have drop in adventures on hand even if you're not going to run the main thread. 
  • If you are running a game and do not have a set concept for the future then I'd say this is a "get" as it gives you one idea of how things could go and has a lot of useful parts.
  • If you are contemplating a new campaign of HOE RL but are not running yet then this becomes a must buy
So yes, I really like this campaign, as much as I like some of the best Pathfinder AP's. 

It also makes me wonder what they will put together next (there have to be more, right?) and it also makes me consider pulling together a "Classic" campaign from the old books to set up a prequel to this game. My players never played through much of the old published adventure line, so it could be a lot of fun - something to ponder for now. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hell on Earth Reloaded - Companion - A Review

This is a new book released in 2015 that expands Hell on Earth Reloaded.

That's not my favorite cover but let's just move on past that
The first half of the book is player material:

  • New edges
  • New hindrances
  • New gear
  • More vehicle options and some additional rules for vehicle combat
  • Info on Cyborgs
  • Info on Librarians
  • Info on Witches
It's all good stuff and useful. The Cyborg info is pretty thorough and brings the game up to where it was in the original version as far as player options. The librarian info expands on what could be done before, and the option to play a witch is new to the setting. We have a really nice mix of options here and we are moving forward again, adding new things to the game instead of catching up to where we were 13 years ago.

The second half of the book is all GM territory. 
  • Adventure Generator - this is a set of random tables,notes, and details for coming up wit hstuff on the fly. Even used as a list of ideas or adventure seeds there is a lot of material here, about 20 pages of material that is totally useable in-game. It's a very handy tool for running on the fly.
  • Settlement Generator  - a system for detailing and codifying what a settlement has or does not have, similar to the town stats in a d20 game.
  • Monsters - more opponents with full stats for the game. 
  • Relics - special unique gear with some unusual ability like the bones of Famine's horse or Cole Ballard's badge. Deadlands has things like this and they do still fit in the HOE world. 
All of the GM stuff is useful but I wouldn't call any of it essential. A lot of savage world campaigns feature an adventure generator so it's not a surprise to see it here and I have no problems with the quality but if you don;t use it the rest of this section gets a little thin. A lot of the monster section is stuff tied to the player half of the book like various types of cyborgs, librarians,and witches which is good but again not truly essential. 

Because you can't do this in Deadlands
So, is it worth getting? Well, if you're playing in a HOE Reloaded campaign, sure. Especially if you're interested in the character types listed above or if you're planning on spending a lot of time fighting from the driver's seat of a muscle car ... or the hood of a muscle car. It's a no-brainer there. 

If you're running a game, well, it's not as automatic but it's good material and it's a really good idea if any of your players are going to be picking it up. We all know how those cyborg players are...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hell on Earth Reloaded - Review

The rebirth of Hell on Earth took about ten years. The Unity for original HOE was released in 2002,  this book was released as a PDF in 2012. In that time Savage Worlds has become a reasonably popular system used for a wide swath of campaign settings and Deadlands Reloaded has seen an ever-growing set of supporting material. Some of us were wondering when HOE was going to get the full treatment and it finally arrived that year. In short: It's a really nice presentation of the setting.

First, it's a full-color hardback with a mix of new artwork and familiar art from the earlier version. It's a step away from the lurid green cover with the comic book/indie album cover look and that's fine. While the old ones certainly stood out on the shelf (like a biohazard warning) the new look is more ... mature. I like it.

First up is background and some history. This version covers in condensed from the whole thing with the Reckoners from Deadlands on up through the metaplot of the previous edition with the events of The Unity and the battle now known as the Harvest. There is also a quick tour of the wasted west - power groups, major towns, etc.

There is a section on character creation which is pretty standard for a savage worlds campaign book - edges, hindrances, other details relevant to the setting. There is also gear, vehicles, and the specific setting rules for Hell on Earth. Once the "applies to everyone" material is handled, there are sections on each of the arcane backgrounds - Doomsayers, Templars, Sykers, Toxic Shamans, and Junkers. Even the Harrowed are openly accepted as a standard character type in this version which is probably appropriate although I do miss the old approach of it being a sort of prestige class you earn by getting killed. The only thing missing from this section from the old is rules for Cyborgs but they weren't in the old core book either. Regardless, it is more than enough material to create a party with diversity and niche protection if that matters to your players. All of these "special" types come with some baggage from being what they are (in Hero terms think hunteds, honor codes, physical/mental disads) so being an otherwise normal guy with some skills and maybe a car or a nice gun is certainly an attractive option.

After the character stuff there is a nice long section on the world - cities, towns, fear levels, random encounters, notable NPCs, and the general flavor of each area or location. Some have changed quite a bit from the old version, some have not. It's a solid length for running a game without over-detailing the areas.

Monsters - the bestiary covers all the standards of HOE: automatons, doomsayers, walkin' dead, wormlings, and cultists plus NPC versions of character types like junkers and law dogs along with the more monstery things like maze dragons, blood wolves, and devil bats. It looks pretty thorough to me.

This is a strong setting with lots of options for characters and a lot of things to do. This plus a $10 copy of the Savage Worlds rulebook makes for a complete game with a ton of potential. If you played the original version and have some interest in running it again, it's definitely worth considering. If you have any interest in post-apocalyptic games, it's worth a look.

What about someone totally new to this, maybe someone who never played the old versions and maybe doesn't play Deadlands Reloaded either - what's in it for them? Well, if you like the idea of a western with cars and motorcycles instead of horses, automatic weapons instead of six-shooters, robots and mutants, robots, road gangs, and cultists instead of bandits and Indians, then look into it.  Think of it as a modern or near-future western with "powers' added on. You also need to like the Savage World rules to make the most of this. Assuming that it interests you and you like the mechanics then this is definitely the version of the game to get - don't worry about the old stuff as you don't need any of it to be up to date nor do you need it to run or play the game. It is a complete version of the setting.

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