Game: Darwin’s World
Series: Darwin’s World: d20
Review Dated: 23rd, December 2001
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 27
Average Score: 6.75
It seems like an absolute age that I have been harbouring a hunger for a real, gritty and fully radiated post-apocalyptic roleplaying game. Darwin’s World is a downloadable game that uses the d20 system and has been published by RPGObjects. If the idea of a PDF RPG is a strange or a new one to you then this essay in the Lost Archives might help explain things.
Not all the same e-publishers offer you the same deal on their products. RPGObjects have done the honourable thing and made it easy for you to update your book at no extra cost. That is to say, when traditional paper based publishers scramble to issue an errata or go as far as printing off a “revised” edition, the electronic format of Darwin’s World allows you to simply upgrade your copy over the internet. Just as well, says I. I am perfectly happy at reading off my computer but if I am going to loose the lovely feeling of being able to chase the dog around the house with my new hardback then I am going to demand every possible benefit that the electronic format can bring to bare.
Darwin’s World is fun. The premise is simple enough, a slightly altered timeline in which technologies raced ahead and cultures crawled at a snails pace. America sealed itself off and turned her back on the rest of the world. Conflict was inevitable and when it broke loose it ripped free in horrific waves of chemical, biological and nuclear blasts. The world was torn apart and human kind nearly destroyed. Nearly destroyed. Some humans lived through the chaotic apocalyptic wars in hidden and secure underground bunkers. Of those few humans who survived without such protection evolved (and devolved) into mutants. The game rightly points out that most extreme mutations are horrible and fatal. In a world were daily life is a battle fought with tooth and nail those mutants that suffered least lasted the longest and over the generations those with more practical mutations and with stable physiology become the norm. The text gives the example of how a deformed arm of a mother might be reborn as a tentacle in her child. Yes, a degree of suspension of disbelief is required but if you can’t manage that then you ask yourself what you’re doing as a roleplayer.
I think you could play Darwin’s World in a number of ways and there are certainly variations on the theme. This is what makes it such a fun game in my eyes. My natural inkling would be to run a game where the poor players had to desperately fight for survival among the ruins of a once great city. However, you could equally play a game where the players are pure bred humans venturing forth from the ancient bomb shelters, equipped with fantastic armour and weapons to battle against the mutant hoards that threaten the civilians still living peacefully below. Or, you could play in a Mad Max style. Or, you could twine in a more super hero bent to the game and have your players as “neo-humans”, those with the most extreme but the most successful mutations, do battle against raiders who have found a supply of Ancient mecha. “Ancient” is the term given to any pre-apocalypse technology. It’s that range of possibilities that make the game so appealing to me. I think it manages to provide such a wide scope with only minimal loss of focus. The theme is pretty darn clear no mater the angle you approach it.
Technology, yeah I mentioned that just then didn’t I? What? Your copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide doesn’t have the rules for laser rifles let alone machine guns? Neither does mine. I’m thankful of the approach taken to the “new rules”; everything is snuggled nicely and without fuss into the d20 system. There is some space given over to pointing out how long it might take to load or fire a modern day weapon but you are not forced into learning any strange variations or conversions to the main rules. The presence of advanced weapons in the game world becomes clear in the Feat section. If you want to play a character who knows the dangerous end of the laser rife from the optic sight on the top then, in a world were many people have resorted to sticks and stones, you are looking at paying for that advantage in way of a Feat. It makes sense.
You might ask yourself why you want to pay for something that presents very little in the way of new rules. I suppose you would be right, however, Darwin’s World earns its wings by providing details of appropriate classes and races in this deadly new world. We don’t have elves or dwarfs any more; instead your race is a reflection on your genetic and cultural origins. You might, for example; be a “feral”, someone who has grown up among the dangerous ruins of a wasted city, you would be strong and tough but your social skills would be pitiful, you could be from the secret underground shelters that still survive in isolated pockets and in which case you would be a weakling compared to the tough survivors over head but your social skills and knowledge of “Ancient” technologies would be nearly second to none. Classes are handled in a similar manner, a detailed list of ways in which people try and survive in the Twisted Earth.
Overall I was pleased with Darwin’s World. The world book (download, rather) doesn’t present anything staggering in the way of innovations or new concepts. Instead, the text offers you well-written and believable portraits of landscapes and characters. Darwin’s World is just an easy way to strike up a post-apocalyptic roleplaying game, using terms you are familiar with, rules you know and with just enough extra spice (like the tables of radiation effects or commonly used slang) to make the package worthwhile. In addition, it is worth noting the layout of the pages. When I purchase a real book I try and get one with decent size font, good quality paper and a good spine. There is no reason you should be less picky with a pdf document. Darwin’s World is well presented, the text is properly spaced and the grey text boxes are not so dark that you can’t read the print. On a final note, it would be remiss of me not to point out that that there’s a free adventure supplement “The Cave of Life” that you can download too.