Game: Campaign Guide
Series: Darwin’s World 2: d20 modern
Review Dated: 3rd, September 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
Oh! Darwin’s World just seems to keep on growing. It isn’t just we’re now looking at a d20 modern edition of the rules in the form of Darwin’s World 2 but that I had thought the Survivor’s Handbook was the first of two parts and now I think it’s the first of three. This is a review of the Campaign Guide. If the Survivor’s Handbook is the Player’s Handbook equivalent then the Campaign Guide is the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The “new” third PDF will be the updated Terrors of the Twisted Earth book and that would be the Monster Manual equivalent. The plan is to merge all three PDFs into one tempting hardback edition.
Given that the PDFs are three sequential parts of what will be one hardback book it is rather nice to see the page numbering and contents pages in this individual product following on from the last. The first numbered page here is 153 and the Campaign Guide finishes at page 272. The PDF has 124 pages to call its own. As with the Survivor’s Guide there’s a lower resolution copy of the document that gives your printer a fighting chance.
On a first glance the Campaign Guide doesn’t have the same powerful first impression as the Survivor’s Handbook does. The thing to remember is that the Campaign Guide is very much focused on the GM, offering more than just short-term titbits but advice on a serious post-apocalyptic campaign. To give a campaign legs you’ll need to know about the sort of location you might find in the Twisted Earth and the powerful groups of people who might build or fight over them.
In summary, the Campaign Guide presents the interesting locations by suggestion and then by specific example and the groups as factions among the denizens of the Twisted Earth.
Let’s not cut out chapter four though. It’s my favourite. And yeah: the first chapter in the PDF is chapter four. Here we discuss different flavours of scenario its possible to play in Twisted Earth. The campaign models are straight forward and attractive; play the gritty game of survival, go for the lighter building a brave new world approach or, less angsty of them all, just visit the setting for one off games. The “Setting Idea” section started to worry me, it gets going by talking how nuclear war is the typical forerunner to a post-apocalyptic game and what the GM might take from this. I was worried just because the nuke option is typical. Nuclear war is something of a 1980s fear too. No. I much prefer the idea of a super plague. It’s nice to see that you can end the world in this way too. In fact, chapter four is such a success for me because it discusses numerous ways to ruin to mankind and how the means of the downfall can be extrapolated into the Darwin’s World game.
The Twisted Earth is a dark and dangerous place. The last half of the first chapter addresses these two issues, dark first and then dangerous. There’s slavery (concubine is a feat) and drug use. Slavery isn’t, we’re reminded, a cut and dry issue, especially in a world where only the toughest survive. It’s an area with many shades of grey. Are people working without pay but for protection for someone who runs a shelter slaves?
Environmental hazards are, I think, fundamental to the setting. I think they keep the player characters on their toes and its a graphic reminder of how truly messed up Mother Nature is in the setting. The Campaign Guide looks at both gamma and ultraviolet radiation, at chemical contamination, disease, parasitic infestation, storms, storms of sand, storms of radiation and food and moisture needs. If your gaming group is used to explore dungeon systems without worrying about where the light is coming from then a full on encounter with the Twisted Earth should leave them reeling. Good. There are charts and tables to support all this. It’s clear how much damage low-grade chemical pollutants will do in comparison to deadly toxin. There are suitable DC values to weigh up against the risk of disease and starvation too.
The Campaign Guide looks at six types of Twisted Earth locations: wasteland settlements, trade towns, cities of survivors, domed cities, vaults and necropoli. Wasteland settlements are the smallest, most ragtag but most probably fortified community mentioned in the Guide. Trade towns are larger, less ragtag and more heavily fortified. Cities of Survivors don’t tend to be cities that have survived all the way from the ancients, through the fall and to the present day Twisted Earth. More often, cities of survivors are those rare towns, built over the ashes of old cities, which have grown large and stable enough to be called a “city”. On the other hand, Domed Cities do tend to have been lucky enough to have lasted this long. Most domes aren’t invulnerable shields but simply lucky. Vaults might well be considered the underground equivalent to the domed city, protected underground enclaves that have survived the apocalypse. The necropoli are the remains of those huge cities that didn’t survive but which weren’t complete destroyed either. Cities of the dead, the necropoli are a haven for mutants, monsters and areas that are still highly radioactive.
If you want to design your own towns and necropoli, as I know I would, then the observations and suggestions here are helpful. If you’d like an example, or even a ready to use location, then you’re in luck. The Campaign Guide offers detailed examples of every type of location down to a coloured and indexed map. The level of detail in each section example is near equivalent to a short pre-written scenario. In fact, each one has a trilogy of adventure seeds as a complement. A good comparison, I’d say, is a special feature in a glossy d20 magazine where a game’s author details a favourite location in his campaign world. Except, of course, we have six of them and the larger scale locations will save a lot of work.
It’s worth noting that just because the necropoli are full of mutants and radiation it doesn’t mean that no one goes, or lives, there. Some people like mutants. Some people like radiation. Who? The Ghouls have nothing against mutants – either as dinner or as dinner guests. The Brotherhood of Radiation welcomes radiation with open arms.
There are 23 “organisations” detailed in the Campaign Guide. I think that’s both a strength and a weakness. It’s good to have a hefty list to choose from, GMs will be able to find antagonists and protagonists to suit the scenario. On the other hand, as a weakness, it does seem as if the Twisted Earth is chock-a-block full of organisations and groups. I rather see the Twisted Earth as a fairly desolate place. Fans familiar with Darwin’s World 1 supplements will recognise many of these groups, Children of the Metal Gods, Corium Miners of Little Vegas, etc, has having first appeared there.
The ticket to success in this section is the way each faction’s description is structured. There’s an overview of the group, the publicly known stuff and then the inside view, what the faction is really up to, and this is an immediate way to inject a healthy dose of politics and intrigue into the campaign setting. Just what are the Brotherhood of Radiation up to?
Many of the organisations have associated prestige classes. There’s nothing wrong with this, the prestige classes (ranger, for example) tend to be detailed through 10 levels and are balanced within the context of the game. I just have to wonder whether the term ‘prestige class’ is a typo. The survivor’s guide, the initial Darwin’s World 2 product, has the basic class, advanced classes and then epic classes. So where do prestige classes fit in? Between advanced and epic or after epic? I find it’s much simpler to ignore the word “prestige” and read it as “epic”. To balance this concern, to a degree at least, are the stat blocks for an average member of the faction. This is an effective way to produce NPCs and suggest the appropriate level of menace from these groups.
The Campaign Guide is the talky, scenario structuring bit, taken from the middle of a large hardback RPG. The fact that this needs to be remembered is telling on how successful the Guide is as an individual product. It’s worth remembering though; I don’t think it’s possible to gauge the supplement fairly if you forget. It’s a good guide.