Friday, June 29, 2012

The Warlock's Review: Hell on Earth Reloaded (First Impressions)

Boy, oh boy! 

I really wasn't expecting this to come out so quickly, or so stealthily for that matter.  While I'm a fairly frequent poster on the Pinnacle Entertainment message boards, I'm not sure anyone not on the inside really anticipated such a quick release for Hell on Earth Reloaded--the long-awaited "reloading" of the post-apocalyptic Deadlands sequel game.

As you might remember, I've been pretty psyched for this release for quite a while.  Since picking up the Hell on Earth original editions at Origins last year--and getting them signed by Shane Lacy Hensley!--I'd been looking forward to seeing a "Reloaded" style Savage Worlds edition.

This was only further confirmed in my mind after running my "Ravenous in Reno" scenario both for my home Friday night group and at WittCon IX.  While the sheer amount of background info on the Hell on Earth world is worth having and reading, the clunkiness of the original rule-set was a bit alarming, after enjoying the increased speed and clarity of the Savage Worlds rules.

Hell on Earth Reloaded
Now available at the Pinnacle Entertainment Store
Firstly, this book is gorgeous.  While maintaining the custom of using a combination of new art and art from prior "classic" supplements, the layout of HoER is immaculate.  It's easy to read, easy to follow, and comes with a gloriously voluminous index.  The book has numerous sidebars which are set off with grimy, jagged steel and yellow and black 'caution' tape.  The art simply oozes a feel of "after the bomb," which perfectly fits with the genre's idiom.

Content-wise, the book is pretty much what you'd expect:  mainly setting information, detailing power groups and locations in the Wasted West, compiling and condensing the numerous classic volumes into a single book.  While this seems to be an onerous task, HoER does a more than adequate job of trimming the fat, while still including some of the great encounters of the earlier game.  Some of my personal favorites--DempseyWorld and the Mall of America--were left intact, which definitely scored bonus points in my book!

Mechanically, many of the biggest changes came in terms of the Arcane Backgrounds.  HoER contains five rejuvenated backgrounds:  the Templar, Doomsayer, Syker, Toxic Shaman and Junkers.  I was pleased to see how these were handled--while all of the five operate on power points, each background has unique elements that reinforce their traits.  Templars, for example, automatically gain the "Improved Trademark Weapon" edge for their starting sword, but can only cast spells (aside from Healing) on themselves.  Junkers only start with a single device, but start the game with the Gadgeteer edge automatically, and can distill 'spook juice' (ghost-rock powered gasoline) with enough time and supplies.  Sykers and Doomsayers each get access to unique powers, accessible to no other arcane background.

A heretic Doomsayer, ready to nuke some
 unlucky waster in the Wasted West!
This wasn't to say that Hell on Earth Reloaded wasn't without its own surprises, though.  Firstly, I was a bit shocked to see the timeline advance, after the events of the classic adventure "The Unity".  That said, the timeline doesn't advance very far--only 6 months--though the setting does seem more hopeful, now that the Reckoners have been whisked away.  But, with numerous threats still waiting in the wings--Raven, the Combine, and numerous others--there's plenty for your survivors to do!

Another slightly shocking element that I found in HoER came in the fact that you could, in fact, begin the game as an undead Harrowed!  Yes, friends and neighbors, you can start the game as a walkin' dead, powered only by your very own manitou!  I rather like this option, though not as much as the "Operation Damocles Soldier" edge.  "ODS"provides a slightly more limited version of the "Veteran of the Weird West" edge, turning your player into a cryogencically frozen soldier devoted to restoring the United States to glory.  This makes for a great "Omega Man" archetype, which immediately got my character-creation juices flowing.

Two slightly odd changes that I was surprised to see included dealt with Fear checks and with Bennies/Fate Chips.  You see, in Deadlands Reloaded, Fear checks are made using the "Guts" skill, but modified by a rank-based bonus called Grit.  Grit often offset penalties for fighting particularly frightening monsters or by an area's Fear Level.  However, in HoER, Fear checks are made via Spirit roll, which is more in line with the current Savage Worlds rules.  While Fear Levels still exist, Grit and Guts became edges, allowing wasters to ignore the Fear Level in various increments.

While I removed the "Guts" skill from my own home Deadlands game, I was a bit stunned to see that become canon.  But, considering that this removal puts the game more in line with Savage Worlds Deluxe, I can understand the change.  The change I don't understand, however, came in terms of Fate Chips.  While Deadlands itself uses four separate types of Bennies, which have varying degrees of utility, HoER reduces this system back down to the generic system listed in Savage Worlds.  I can't say I really agree with this change, and I'll likely house-rule it back to the original Fate Chip system, if I run HoER anytime in the near future.

Due to page length, there are a few omissions that would have been great to see but didn't quite make it into the HoER final draft.  Information on cybernetics is sparse, instead referring back to the Smith and Robards Catalog from Deadlands.  Witches are nowhere to be seen, though they were poorly supported even in "classic" Hell on Earth.  I'd have loved to see a little more on Raven's machinations following the Battle of Worms, though there's both a companion in the works as well as a plot point campaign.  Given the superior quality of "The Flood" and the huge amount of material in "The Last Sons", I'll likely be picking it up as soon as it's released!

Truthfully though, these are slight nit-picks.  Hell on Earth Reloaded makes for a spectacularly savage and long-overdue entry into the market, just in time for GenCon.  I'm already planning on revamping my heroes from "Ravenous in Reno," and may just be planning on putting out a scenario for next year's "Savage Saturday" at Origins.  If you love Deadlands, Savage Worlds, or are looking for a new post-apocalyptic game, you won't be disappointed with Hell on Earth Reloaded!

6 comments:

  1. Always been a bigger fan of the original Deadlands setting. This may have something to do with a problem that plagues gamers the world over.

    I picked up the original Deadlanda a week after release and bought any supplement I could. After a while I started playing around with the idea that it was all going to go wrong. there just didn't seem to be any way for the world to come back from the brink, and a lot more likely that it would in fact tumble further down. I was a young and innocent GM, so I cobbled together a fun little section of my then months long campaign involving time travel.

    guess what kind of world my players found in the future. Roll on a while and Pinnacle release Hell on Earth. All my players had a big old laugh at the thought of Pinnacle installing a brain chip in everyone who bought their game to reap the ideas from their minds. Since then, I've just stuck to the basics.

    Although I did grab the Savage Worlds reloaded stuff. I loved it, but my players missed all the little details that had to be dropped for the sake of streamlining and I haven't had much chance to play it since.

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  2. Turns out that within a few days, Pinnacle announced that they were making a "Hell on Earth Companion" with a plot point campaign, cyborgs, and witches. So all the things that are missing will be rectified in time!

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  3. Shorty--my group had pretty much the opposite experience. We played the Reloaded versions first, then went back and tried classic. The classic rules felt very clunky to us, after the streamlining of the Reloaded ones. Things like Wind, hit locations, and the 10 stat array (rather than 5) really felt excessive. That said, I'm glad to hear it worked for your game! Thanks for the comment!

    Journeyman--I saw that on the Pinnacle boards! Now I have something ELSE to look forward to! :D

    Cheers!

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