Darwin's World Capsule Review by John Shaw on 22/10/01
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 3 (Average)
Darwin's World provides a serious view of role-playing in a post-apocalyptic civilization. New classes, mutations, and equipment allow players to use the d20 system to wander a blasted and radiactive wasteland filled with monsters, raiders, and the remnants of a once-proud culture.
Product: Darwin's World
Author: Dominic Covey
Page count: 54
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by John Shaw on 22/10/01
Genre tags: Science Fiction Post-apocalyse
As far as I know, Darwin's World is the first post-apocalyptic setting to be published under the d20 system banner. I love the post-apocalyptic genre. Despite the fact that I swore I would never purchase an electronic download, I went ahead and got Darwin's World anyway. It is a 54 page .pdf document, which means that you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it.
Before I get into the specifics, let me say that I loved this product. In all honesty, though, I expect only those who already fans of the post-apocalyptic genre would enjoy this product.
Content: The first four pages are an Introduction which nicely sets up an alternate history of the United States. The point of divergence is the end of World War II, and of course this alternate history culminates in nuclear war. Nicely sets the tone for the setting, which is decidedly serious... even grim. (None of the cartoonish antics you might have seen in Gamma World, for instance). Racism, slavery, and sterility are all elements addressed in the setting.
Next is a single page explaining how the SRD, OGL, and d20 system work with the game. It also includes a handful of rule variants designed to include modern technology and weapons. These additions are simple, elegant, and easy to include for anyone who has a basic familiarity with the d20 system.
Several pages are devoted to racial types. There are four specific races; a 'human' race and three mutant races, distinguished by how far they have mutated from a standard human. It seemed apparent to me that the races were not balanced (in game mechanic terms). The races seemed tailored to fit the setting, not arbitrarily changed to provide balance. Of course, when I think of the other two leading games in the post-apocalyptic genre (Gamma World and Rifts), neither one of these seems to be well balanced either.
Perhaps the high point of the book is the section on character background. While race seems primarily to determine the number of mutations a starting character receives, his background is much more critical to formulating a character. No less than 11 specific community types are presented for character backgrounds, ranging from 'Ferals' (characters who grew up alone among the ruins) to 'Advanced' (communities that not only evaded nuclear destruction, but have continued to advance technologically). Background provides skill bonuses, ability bonuses, starting weapon proficiencies, language, starting money, and favored classes. The whole concept strikes me as inspired... This was my favorite section.
Five new classes are presented, uniquely tailored to the setting. Guardians are community enforcers, Raiders are evil renegades, Scavs are survivalists and outcasts, Thinkers are the last of the scientists and teachers, and Traders are opportunists and moderators. I would have liked to see a few more classes myself, but the ones presented seem to cover the basics.
The sections on skills and feats deviate little from the d20 system. Mostly, the additions here help tailor the technological aspects of the setting. A few of the new feats (specifically, those relating to firearms) are positively brilliant - providing clean, easy rules for tricky subjects like using guns in close combat and automatic weapons fire.
The largest section in the book (11 pages) is on mutations (and defects). Mutations are broken down into minor, moderate, and major types. An excellent selection of mutations is here, although there is certainly plenty of room for expansion. The mutations seem light on specific rules, likely meaning that the game master will have to interpret exactly how he wants some of these to be used. The section on defects added a disturbingly realistic cast to the subject... many of the defects are recognizable as real diseases and genetic disorders, such as Cystic Fibrosis and Hemophilia. This adds credence to the serious milieu presented.
The last section in the rules is equipment, which is mostly noteworthy for introducing firearms and a few genre specific weapons and items.
I was very happy with just about everything that was included in this electronic download. My only real complaints come from what was NOT included.
Although Darwin's World includes rules on how mutants and humans are affected by advanced drugs and medicines, no examples are included. (There is a nice section on folk medicines, though, which work equally on everyone). Likewise, rules for using advanced technology like energy weapons are included, but no examples. No creatures or robots were included. I guess that Darwin's World is the 'Player's Handbook'... it provides everything you need to create a character, but not to actually run a game. I suspect the missing subjects will appear in future supplements, along with prestige classes.
For those concerned about the artwork of the book, you can download the cover art free at the web site. The cover art is nice, but the interior art varies widely in quality. Some images were evocative or eerie, but others just seemed cartoonish.
I was happy with the product, and consider it well worth the price even if I have to create the missing material myself before I actually run the game. Anyone who appreciates the post-apocalyptic genre will likely also find lots of goodies in Darwin's World.
The link to the web site is www.darwinrpg.com