First, let me say that the Darwinís World 2 Hardcover book is a beautiful publication. Sure, all the artwork inside is black and white, and the only color happens to be the cover and the map as you open the book, but donít let that prevent you from picking it up. Itís beautifully laid out, the font is attractive, and Iíve grown to really appreciate John Longenbaughís work. But, lets give credit where credit is due, all the artists Ė Dominic Covey, Jeremy Simmons and V. Shane all deserve a round of applause.
The book is quite pricey at $39.95 US or $55.95 Canadian, and that was one thing that held me back originally, until I picked it up and felt the weight. At the price that I paid, it really was quite the bargain coming in at 384 pages (including the OGL license, index and character sheet). I honestly wish I had picked it up months ago, instead of just a few weeks back. Using print outs of the PDFís purchased online just doesnít have the same appeal as this book.
Now, for the meat of the review, the book contents.
Chapter 1: Characters
The backgrounds and occupations were quite enjoyable to read through, giving starting characters a perfect feel for playing in a post holocaust environment. I know itís something that was, of course introduced in the D20 modern book, and I think that it was something that should have been integrated into the D&D core books. These simple additions can really flesh out a character.
The character classes are exactly what you would expect to see in this genre, all the, well for lack of better word, clichťís were there, as well as a few new types of classes such as the Juju doctor, the Psionic, the sister of the desert, and the symbiot. Using a combination of these classes, as well as the backgrounds and occupations, you could conceivably play pretty much any type of character from not only post holocaust movies, but the innumerable books and book series that are available.
I found myself thinking back to the various movies that Iíve seen over the years, such as Loganís Run, Mad Max, even a Boy and his dog after reading all the information that is presented. Itís clear where the Dominic and Chris got some of their inspiration. Thatís not a bad thing, either.
Next we had the new and revised skills, as important in any D20 game as HP and BABís. Many of the important skills such as Craft and Knowledge have been expanded upon to cover various aspects of the post holocaust world. Once again, these additions help flesh out a character even more.
The new feats impressed me, with the vast majority of these feats being easily adapted to other games, not just Darwinís world, although a few such as concubine are more suited to the twisted earth.
Chapter 2: Mutations.
Iíll be brief with this. Darwinís world mutations are more Ė how would I put it Ė I guess more like mutations you would see in the real world. In fact, many of the defects do indeed exist in the real world.
This is a refreshing change, to be honest, from the wild and wacky mutations you see in other post holocaust games, such as Gamma world (forgive me, I havenít picked up the latest edition, so I donít know how much has changed, if anything).
A lot of people probably would like to see more mutations available, but personally, I believe that they hit the perfect balance.
The feats that are available for mutations were a nice addition. Taking these feats, you could conceivably remove defects, or lessen the effects they have as the game progresses, or increase the power of a beneficial mutation. Several of the feats even mimic more common spells that are found in the D&D 3.5 core books.
Once again, it rounds a character out, making a PC all that more unique to his or her player.
Chapter 3: Artifacts of the Ancients.
This chapter intrigued me with its combination of modern day technology and weapons mingled in liberally with high tech gadgets and tools of war. Itís quite conceivable to have a party carrying around M16 assault rifles and Laser weapons at the same time, some members could be wearing furs and natural leathers while others could be dressed in powered armor.
Of course Iím ignoring the other items that are presented. Personal equipment, medicine and survival gear. There are enough items presented to keep a game going, but I personally think they should have created more. This section seemed rather small in comparison to the weapons of death and destruction.
But, thatís simply a matter of personal taste, and if I would be so bold Ė nit picking.
Chapter 4: Gamemastering
This is by far the smallest part of the book, being only 18 pages in length, but I really donít believe they needed much more than that. It gives the GM a large variety of methods to bring around the Ďend of the worldí, as well as many of the dark sides that are commonly portrayed in the various movies and books that are available, instead of forcing the would be GM into using the twisted earth setting.
Although personally I like the Twisted Earth setting, itís nice that the authors decided to be flexible.
It also covers some of the hazards that would be found in such a setting, such as radiation, disease, sand storms and several other elements that could very well end a characters life.
If I had a complaint about this section, the authors could have fleshed it out a little more with some exotic weather hazards (not just radiation storms). Again, I guess that could be considered nit picking.
Chapter 5: Adventure Locations
Now this was without a doubt my personal favorite part of the book. Not only did it cover your typical ruined city (necropolis), but everything in between from fallout shelters, primitive villages, trader towns and even locked down domes.
The possibilities of adventure are endless here, and the authors even went as far as to provide a couple of adventure hooks for each type of environment.
The whole chapter had a real genre feel to it. I could see the horror that a character would feel upon looking across the fire-blasted, irradiated ruins of a once great city to the joy that the same character would feel coming home to the small backwater village in which he or she grew up in.
Chapter 6: Denizens of the Twisted Earth
This chapter deals with what I would guess is only a tiny portion of the various factions and groups that are found across not only the blasted remnants of the United States, but the entire world.
Some of the groups were quite interesting, but several, such as the Doom Riders and the Entropists seemed nothing more than clones of each other Ė until you read the full description.
Again, the whole section has been inspired by various groups, which have appeared in books, movies and games. The foundationists for one, well, if the Brotherhood of Steel didnít inspire their creation, I would be very surprised. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you.
It would be nice to see more faction books written up on several of these groups, in particular the Amazons and the Cartel. Thatís just a personal choice, mind you.
Chapter 7: Terrors of the Twisted Earth
Itís nice to see all the various mutants and monsters collected into one spot, instead of scattered through several different books and adventures. The artwork for these creatures range from beautiful to appalling, but thatís the nature of the beast (pardon the pun). Here the authors showed a great deal of imagination in creating monsters that havenít been seen before, such as the abortions and the Terminals.
There were of course creatures inspired by movies (such as the Amoeba), as well as your almost generic creatures like the Two headed mutant bear, Wild men and so forth.
If I had one complaint about this part of the book, is that itís too small! I would love to see a book thatís a couple of hundred pages in length, filled with all manner of mutant creatures and beings to use as foes or allies in a game.
Chapter 8: Gazetteer
This last portion of the book started out as free downloads from the Darwinís world site, something that I found is now lacking, and I would love to see it come back.
It covers the many regions that are shown on the map located at the front of the book, describing the various interesting (and often lethal) locations, the factions, the people, and the mutant creatures that inhabit the zones, if they are inhabitable at all.
This gives the Twisted earth itís life, so to speak, and gives a would-be Gamesmaster many possibilities of adventure and terror; depending on how much work he or she would be willing to put into it. The possibilities are endless!
Overall, itís a great book not only to read, but also to simply look at. Pretty much any sort of post holocaust environment could be run using this book. If I had any real complaints, other than the few that I mentioned in my review above, it would be the lack of a history of the Twisted Earth (I know, the authors explained the lack there of on page 4), as well as a list of monsters from the Monster Manuals one and two that would have fit perfectly into this setting.
Darwinís world is what Gamma World could have been. Itís very dark, itís gritty, and it has a much more realistic feel to it (if you can believe that statement!) White Wolf, take note!
I eagerly await further publications for this setting.
Iíd rate this book a solid 4.5 out of 5.