Author Topic: Retro Review: Deadlands: Hell on Earth, Urban Renewal  (Read 1654 times)

Offline Wrex

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Retro Review: Deadlands: Hell on Earth, Urban Renewal
« on: January 28, 2014, 11:07:33 PM »

Look upon the face of the 90's, and despair

"It starts simple enough. Go into one of the wrecked buildings of Junkyard and clear out any squatters or creatures lurking there. But this is Hell on Earth. And no job is ever simple. And wow, there are sure are a lot of roaches in this deathtrap. . . Join in one of the creepiest adventures we've ever published, by Lucien Soulban. This twisted tale even comes with all the Cardstock Cowboys you need to play!"

   This simple text blurb dosen't prepare you for what is probably one of the worst modules i've ever read for a game. This was published in the year 2000, but the style, and indeed general tone, positively reeks of aping the style of White Wolf. More on that in a minute.

   As the front cover proudly states, this was written by one Lucian Soulban. I checked for a wikipedia page, and got redirected to a list, that he wasn't on. Not promising. The credits page lists 8 other names, most of them multiple times, one of which who had the sole responsibility of making the logos present in the book look pretty. Also not promising. Jeff Rebner has the credit for the cover art, which is disappointingly generic and gives no hint as to the levels of "Edgy" and "Narratively focused" gameplay the module presented. It's worth noting that by and large, the Deadlands line of games were rules heavy, and other than the ever present metaplot, had little in the way of encounters you could not plausibly win. Some very rare monsters had to be killed in a certain way, but they could be stunned, or temporarily defeated by shooting them. The Developers of the Hell on Earth setting, meanwhile, apparently though this was too passe.

Chapter one: The Haunting

   The opening text crawl helpfully informs us that this module is going to be a follow up to a plot hook placed in an earlier book, Iron Oasis. Iron Oasis is a guidebook to Junkyard, practically the only city left after the apocalypse, located in the remains of Salt Lake City. Rather than inform you a bit about the city, they instruct you to reference Iron Oasis. And here we hit one of the big snags of the Deadlands games: They always wanted you to buy more books. Rather than include something with all information required, they'd tell you to go buy the book to understand what was going on. It helpfully informs us that "This is a thinking man's adventure" and that while they'll "Still waste ammunition fighting the good fight", they'll need to begin with "Pondering, Roleplayin', and more Pondering"

The first warning bells should be going off by now. Would you like to know what else described itself as the thinking man's adventure? Good old E. Gary Gygax's Tomb of Horrors.  Hold on to that, because this module has a bodycount easily as high as the classic meatgrinder.

 We're then treated to a bit of backstory. The Mayor of junkyard is an all around upstanding guy. The guy running his Ghost Rock (Basically warpstone from WH40k) mining operations, is not. He's a Junker, a sort of technomage, who in practice did algebra for six hours real time, until he had a gun big enough to level the world. They tend to go a bit crazy through a badly implemented fix to the "Junker makes big guns" problem, which makes them go more and more insane the more guns they make. This is a bad fix, and it really shows the developer's mentality to this kind of thing. You can be horribly broken and drive the game to a stop, then become an NPC and presumably kill the entire party. But I digress. Dylan Jaeger, for that is his name, has gotten a touch of the old mad scientist megalomania, and has been diverting ghost rock for money, when the author of Iron Oasis caught onto his plans. Dylan hires a Psyker Syker named Vrai, who attempts to probe the mind of the young fool. Unfortunately, Vrai rolls doubles goes bust on his focus power test blastin' roll, and triggers Perils of The Warp Brainburn. The apartment complex explodes, everyone present dies, and because of Plot Bullshit, Vrai is now a disembodied uberspirit holding the other poor sods prisoner, and generally being a huge dick. Dylan can't move his stolen ghost rock with an angry spirit watching over it, and he's getting desperate. He hires the PC's to go clean it up. Sounds simple enough, right?

 Here's the rub: The ghost has the other spirits trapped, but they only know they are living their own personal hells over and over again. If discovered, Vrai lends them some power, and they unavoidably kill the party. Game over. An opposed spirit roll against a being with nigh infinite willpower does not end well for you. If the players don't trigger any of the "nightmares", again, obliterated. The only reason he dosen't kill the party instantly is because he wants to bodyjack someone. It goes on to say that the writer is the PC's only hope, as he can leave cryptic hints as to how not to die instantly. Then follows a list of the powers Vrai has at his disposal, most of which are contradicted or used in ways that they don't actually work. The suggestions are mostly "Use telekinesis to screw with the players". It mentions his instant-kill power should only be used on a "nuisance" due to it's high strain (Mana) cost, but the chapter goes on to say he has unlimited strain, and maintain concentration on whatever he wants, and has infinite range. Fun times for all.


Next Update: Where things get EDGY, and I get some real riffing material.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2014, 11:27:01 PM by Wrex »

Offline Wrex

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Re: Retro Review: Deadlands: Hell on Earth, Urban Renewal
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2014, 04:02:09 PM »
Chapter Two: I know what you did last summer

  Rather than get straight into the thick of things, this chapter focuses on building suspense and giving the area a bit of a reputation. This is completely solid advice- it's simply not scary if the players don't know they are walking into a trap- Horror simply fails to deliver without the Terror to back it up.

 What follows next is actually rather clever. Rather than just go the old fashioned route of have people visit a bar, a second messenger shows up after the first one departs, with a message for the party, indicating that they have not been told the "Whole Truth" and to come to a local cyber-cafe. Once they arrive, they find 100 dollars in free drinks waiting for them, a mouse and keyboard, and an FPS open to a lobby screen. The originator of the mystery message is one of the opponents. While the players are extremely unlikely to win, on account of not having played Doom in ten years, The mysterious gentleman informs them that they aren't the first ones to be contracted for this job, and no one else has come back. He leaves the party with a lead before the match ends.

 This lead is a madman, ranting and raving in a cell. He utters nothing of use, any attempt to heal him fails even if you have the ability to do so, you cannot determine if his mind is genuine if you read it. Here, we see the first real screw you of the adventure: Any unorthodox plan automatically fails. What the players are intended to do is pick out the one piece of his demented ravings that's of use. That's your clue to not be TPK'd. Good luck!

 There are several other leads the players can follow, but most of which exist to try to tie the party down to the Junkyard area. The Law Offices, for instance, offer free access to their archives, when the membership fee of 50 dollars per year is paid- Which is a hell of a resource to have in a world without that sort of thing. This does, however, allow the posse to collect on the main rewards of the adventure- All the dudes who dissappeared up in the tower have a bounty on them. Since the odds of your success are so low, this is as good as you're going to get.

The XP section is the second screw you of the chapter- Half of your XP is contingent on "not rolling dice or using violence". That means no social skills. Wanted to play a social character? Lose half your XP! This is not the first time we'll see this.

Next Time: The actual adventure begins! Will it take me another month? (I hope not)