Game: Metal Gods
Review Dated: 15th, December 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
This review is for the print version of Metal Gods. As with most of the Darwin’s World RPG line Metal Gods was published first in PDF form and then in dead tree format later. The 72-paged book comes in at $14.95. It’s fairer to see the product as having 8 pages extra. The traditional page count for supplements of this size is 64 pages and it is easy to find such books for $14.95. If you want to be mean then you could point out that a few companies manage to produce their 64-paged books for a couple of dollars less and this makes the 8 extra pages in Metal Gods awfully expensive.
Metal Gods has one of the longest introductions in a supplement of its kind that I can think of. You’re at page 18 when the book stops introducing itself. The introduction is so long because the decision that in order to explain why there are robots, androids and cyborgs in the post-apocalyptic world of the Twisted Earth that the development of robots in Earth’s history had to be explained. This history goes as far as describing the wars and missile launches that pushed the world over the brink and onto the spiral of disaster that becomes the Twisted Earth. Those players and GMs who found it frustrating that the critical events that led up to the end of civilisation had been missing in Darwin’s World will be pleased. Those players and GMs who liked the fact that such information was shrouded in mystery will be disappointed. Those players who had been ambivalent previously will no doubt remain ambivalent. I liked the fact that the chain of events that led up to the Twisted Earth hadn’t been described in earlier Darwin’s World books; rather, I liked the fact that the history of the world wasn’t important. Being able to see how the game designers viewed the run up to the end does have some degree of satisfaction but I suspect I’ll be ignoring the opening chapter and pretending it’s not there. This option to ignore or re-write parts of the history is clearly stated as a good way to go by the book itself. The introduction to the introduction explicitly puts this particular development of robots and the run up to the catastrophic end of life as we know it as a “… how it all might have come about.” I’m pretty sure that GMs who prefer to not to deal with the history of the Twisted Earth or save it as a set of mysteries unique to their game will find it as easy to read the introduction in the “might have – but didn’t” way. Weighing this all up together I think the author, Dominic Covey, was probably right to include the development of robots in the introduction. He found himself caught between a rock and a hard place and managed to wriggle through the gap.
If you’re hoping that Metal Gods will be a beastiary for gear-heads, chock fill with technical stats for different sorts of robots, cyborgs and androids and detailed illustrations of each then you’ll be disappointed. Illustrations are particularly lightly scattered in the book and this alone disqualifies it from any claim to be the sort of tech manual that can accompany many Sci-Fi games. Instead Metal Gods shares its space between a monster manual like list of robots, equipment, robotic player characters and even an adventure. The introduction of robotic player character races means that there’s accompanying prestige classes too.
Android as a character race is handled fairly well. There’s a good mix of both roleplaying suggestions and required crunchy bits. The level adjustment of +3 balances everything up appropriately. Androids deteriorate at a steady rate; at certain key levels a new defect must be picked. These are effectively anti-special abilities. I don’t like the way that these defects could just spring into existence unless they’re carefully foreshadowed by the careful and clever combination of GM and player working together. This problem with important character penalties and bonuses appearing out of the blue isn’t unique to Darwin’s World; it is a fundamental weakness of the d20 system’s level based advancement rules. I don’t think less highly of Metal Gods for their implementation of android defects, in fact defects are a nice idea. I do think that an opportunity to suggest a solution for a much bigger problem and make Metal Gods a key point in the evolution of the d20 system has been missed.
There’s no shortage of android feats though. In this chapter Metal Gods benefits from the d20 game system. I can think of more traditional Sci-Fi games that could do with a few of the feats in here.
The prestige classes perform adequately. The assassin android is a 10 level prestige class and actually makes more sense to me than the normal assassin prestige class. There is something special and unique about an android that’s designed to outsmart its creator race and to kill them too. It certainly seems more prestigious than creeping around in the dark and stabbing people in the back than the traditional rogue, oh, sorry, than the traditional assassin class stands for. The mastermind is a 10 level class and again seems to be a fair and wise choice for a prestige class. The Child (of Metal Gods) and Foundationist Android are prestige classes because the game world makes them such.
The list of various individual robot and android types (where you’ll find stats for the likes of Combat Walker Robots and Police Robots, etc) begins with a nice overview of different types of brains. Examples included the simple programmed brain at one end of the scale and the biomechanical brain that actually includes some organic matter at the other end. Different features in programs have a similar study, as are robotic qualities. These features add a bit more realism to the game and will give those players who like to discover, learn and defeat every single quirk and power of possible monster encounters something else to do for a while. The rules for cyborgs are found in here. Cyborg is a template rather than a race and this is as it should be.
The chapter of different robots and androids gives way to a chapter full of specific robot equipment and tools. There’s a good balance of items here. It would have been all to easy to list only stuff that androids and robots use to keep going – power packs, special weapon appendages and that sort of thing. There are enough items that humans use on androids and androids use on humans (obedience and pain collars, for example) to ensure that there’s something for almost every appearance of artificial life. The downside is that you don’t really need many of these things spelled out for you and don’t necessarily represent a good use of page space unless you’re able to work out an arbitrary price for them.
The 10-paged adventure “Metal Gods” finishes the book. 10 pages out of 74 is a significant proportion of the book. I would have thought if anything from the PDF original was going to be cut out in preparation for the print run then it would have been this. It’s a typical pre-written adventure. It’ll suffice for those people who actually use such adventures but doesn’t have the scope or flexibility of the likes of RPGObject’s own Death by Corium Light. If you do start cutting out the 10 pages of adventure and 18 pages of introduction then Metal Gods starts to very much less like as a cheap 74-paged supplement but as an expensive 46-paged supplement.
Metal Gods does what it says on the tin and does it well enough. If you want to add robots, androids and cyborgs to your Darwin’s World game or campaign in a similar setting then the book is something to consider. If you’re not particularly fond of the idea of introducing mech and tech to your game of bloody mutations and the daily challenge to find the next mouthful of food then the book isn’t really a compelling buy.