The Saving Throw
Deadlands: Hell on Earth - Reloaded 2013
Why do you whisper, green grass? Why tell the world what ain't so? Whispering grass, the trees don't need to know. (Oh no...)

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Overall Review
published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group reviewed by Scott Wachter
203 pages, 2013, $24.99 PDF, Hardcover $39.99, Hardcover+PDF Bundle $52.49
Game Setting 2.0
Art 2
Character Generation 4
Game Rules 4
Intelligibility 4.5
Review Scoring

Take a western, throw in some dark fantasy, splash in some retro-futuristic tech and kung fu action, and then warm it all in the nuclear fire of the irradiated souls of the damned. There's the recipe Deadlands: Hell on Earth which has gotten the Reloaded treatment bring the setting into the Savage Worlds fold. The tone has been adjusted for greater seriousness compared the gonzo original. The resulting confection is less filling and of smaller scope than the original.

Hell on Earth - Reloaded re-introduces gamers to the post-apocalyptic future of the Deadlands setting. In 2081 after a series of diplomatic incidents and a few nudges from the supernatural community, global geothermal nuclear-enriched ghost rock war occurred, with all the eschatological devastation one could expect from such an event. The book itself picks up in the western United States in the year 2097. That's where the trouble starts: the original run of HOE picked up the timeline 2094 and covered several years of story content in a series of adventures that brought every major faction in the game to one place and launched the setting's primary antagonists into space. At a macro level the setting doesn't have much run with for large scale adventuring. Each faction has retreated to lick its wounds and the lesser bad evil guys don't seem to have enough mojo to menace anything bigger than a single city. But when it comes to a single city, each area covered in the book has something unique to offer, nice little hooks to build upon. Take into account that the manual includes neither a Plot Point campaign nor any One Sheet adventures typical to a Savage Worlds setting and there is a lack direction for campaign building. A roaming episodic game or the story of reconstruction could be spun out of this, perhaps, but nothing so big as the scale The Flood or even the material in the Noir: Companion. There just isn't enough story potential for long-term play, at least in this book.

Beyond the issues brought up in the timeline update, there is the fact that this point on the Deadlands chronology isn't all that interesting or unique compared to the other takes on the setting. The genius of the original is that it took all the real horror of the Civil War, the reconstruction and westward expansion then used the power of nerd-troping to hold a carnival mirror to the times reflecting the darkest possible version of that period, then added kung fu. Hell on Earth, while an intriguing payout to the setup from the weird west just feels like a generic supernatural apocalypse. A lot of what made this game world interesting got blasted to ash by radioactive soul stuff.

The various factions within the settings are, for the most part, great. They each have an agenda that welcomes both pro- and antagonist roles in the setting. Law Dogs are former law enforcement agents and security officers dispense vigilante justice, mysterious techno-magi, and sectarian mutant cults can all be found in the wasted west. There are few that transition from homage to derivative: the Southwest biker gangs are just bunch of Mad Max rejects, and the group of librarians dedicated to preserving pre-cataclysm knowledge is even run by an individual named Liebowitz. It seems like for each new note the book introduces to the formula there's one that matches the cliché.

The other big additions to the Savage Worlds mechanics come in the form of environmental hazards and technologies. Beyond typical inclement weather and high radiation zones, the Wasted West offers up radioactive dust devils (complete with real demons), hailstorms of hellfire, toxic gas, and black rain that brings despair to those it lands upon. The chance of the weather horribly maiming characters before the end of the first session always brings the flavour of the apocalypse to the forefront. Tech not only includes extensive randomized tables for scrounging up pre-war tech but also a wide variety of futuristic gear and firearms. The technology is surprisingly grounded. Gyro-jet ammo, powered armor, Star Trek-style medical equipment and hover tanks are about as wild as can be found. Considering the heights of mad science in the setting circa 1880, it's a touch underwhelming.

For players, there are a range of new character options, some are updates and re-imaginings to Edges and Powers from Deadlands, but also psychic black-ops agents with a unique code of honour are entirely new. There's a nice variety for casters, a few new flavours of faith-based magic that bring a lot of variety; not just in flavour but mechanics that has been missing since the setting converted to Savage Worlds.

The artwork follows the hit and miss trend of the rest of the manual. The late nineties comic book art recycled from first edition HOE has not aged well. Readers have an immediate contrast to this from the new work doesn't help its case. The layout and organization of the book is top notch everything sorts and reads well.

Hell on Earth has always been the lesser sequel to Deadlands, a neat idea that leaned too heavily on the old saws of post-apocalyptia. The rules update serves the game well, but the lack of corresponding meta-plot update does not. This book is far from the best effort from the team.

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