Review: Broken Earth – a Savage Worlds adventure setting

I sort of lean away from a lot of official Savage World adventure settings and stick with the companion books instead. While having material for a particular setting is great, usually the official settings are a bit much. I completely dig the idea that they take your typical genre and give it a hearty turn. So a setting like Necessary Evil isn’t just with superheros, but has the PCs playing villains which are trying to fight against an alien invasion of Earth. The official campaign settings are fun twists of your typical genre, but I lean a little more vanilla for my world settings.

A favorite post-apocalypse setting out there for Savage Worlds is, ‘The Day After Ragnarok’, however it’s got some odd bits dealing with an aftermath closer to the end of WWII. It’s almost a bizarre alternate history setting rather than a futuristic post-apocalyptic one. Likewise, I could always mine Gamma World for stuff, but at times it’s a little too gonzo.

Enter Broken Earth from Sneak Attack Press.
This SW campaign setting is a tad more muted with content compared to your typical Gamma World-type game. While it deals with trying to survive in a world altered after a nuclear war, it’s more aligned with the classic, Aftermath! RPG.

Think more along the lines of the Road Warrior and Book of Eli as a setting vibe. That’s not to go without saying mutations aren’t options in the game. They are there, along with more fantastic mutated creatures, but it’s toned down some. The campaign setting is within the northern midwest spilling a little into former Canada. However the major factions and locations could easily be plopped into any other location with little alteration.

Players have a few options for races aside from your typical human. They range from tough irradiated freaks, to non-tech but intelligent ape-beings. Androids and psychic mutants are also an option. Overall the races have small edges balanced with a few hindrances, but nothing is too extensive making me more inclined to include them in a game even if they are a little out there.

As for special backgrounds, mutants, super science, a variety of psychic disciplines, as well as a special alchemist type which make super drugs (akin to the stuff you’d find in a Fallout video game) are all possibilities. It’s a way of giving the game trappings of a stranger theme but not too over-the-top and you’ll find many of the mutation edges conferring small bonuses. A nice turnaround with this are hindrances that can also be related to mutations, so not everything has to give you superpowers.

There are not a lot of additional rules for the setting which is something I like. There’s some details on races and a handful of edges and hindrances. The arcane background types have a few options, but nothing overbearing. Gear and loot have an additional characteristic based on rarity. While lasers and futuristic weapons are given stats, they are exceedingly rare, as are conventional firearms. So by default rules players will likely be pressed to ever get their hands on one (and as such ‘mundane’ items would make for great rewards).

There are some interesting rules regarding communities. They are given basic characteristics along with edges. It’s a concept continually reinforced that players should have strong ties to certain communities, and that these communities can change over time. It’s a simple set of rules that really give life to the world and allow for each location to stand out more than being just a list of characteristics.

On the GM side of things you have a detailed location with several different communities and various NPC wild-cards. The players have an option of aligning themselves with 3 main political groups. One is a nomadic tribe of hunters and gatherers, another is a tech-loving survival group that has been locked away in an underground complex for decades, and the last is a free-wheeling merchant group that maintains its status by being the main trader for various communities.

The factions are interesting. Each one has room for PCs to grow, and include options for forcing them out into the world. Best of all, every faction has faults. The Iron Shelter group are tech-driven survivalists, but they could also be seen a xenophobic community fearing change and perfectly willing to stay hunkered down in their rigid, controlled society. The Wright family head up an immensely successful group of people that thrive on mutual trade, but only those in the extended Wright family really benefit while others in their community live in squalor. It’s these flaws that help inject some gray into what might be considered a black and white world.

There are other factions for the GM to play around with. Most notable is the Green Empire, being formally a small community of ecological protectors, that have slowly morphed into a slavery driven empire powered by biodiesel-fueled vehicles. The initial plot point adventure has the players facing off against representatives from this group. There is an additional plot point campaign more epic in scale, where players initially aid and fight against various sentient AI supercomputers. This plot point campaign involves PCs traveling and exploring lost technical complexes and facing off against robotic sentries. It very much has a Gamma World vibe.

These aren’t the only seeds for adventures, with plenty of smaller adventure plots also included in the book. Along with an extensive list of important NPCs for particular locales, a slim bestiary, and oodles of random encounter charts, there are a lot of tools here for your game. It’s a well put together setting with enough parts for a GM to take a kitchen sink approach, taking everything between the covers, to trimming some options and still having enough to make the setting stand out.

The Good – It’s a great post-apocalypse setting. There are enough rules and detail to give the world some flavor, but not be burdened down by a slog of new material. The setting itself takes an idea of a world about 20-30 years in the future that suddenly ends due to a cataclysmic nuclear war, and then adds another 80 years of recovery to the current day. So it allows some wiggle room for the fantastic with high-tech gadgets, but at the same time have many backdrop trappings of the world now. There are a lot of tables, NPCs, and information on locales and the various factions within them to give the GM plenty of material to easily run a game.

The hardback book is good thick stock with most of the art evocative of the theme. There is an index along with a table of contents which is always a plus. The pages are simple black and white with a comfortable font for reading.

The Bad – One big gripe I have are the maps. The hex scale is nice and the labels are clear, however it still requires a legend. I really wish a more general map with named locations was provided. The book clearly designed to go hand in hand with the SW core rules, yet having some more tables and details on environmental hazards would have been nice. The page stock is a tad thin, and some of the text is rather close to the binding. I wish they were a little more generous with the margin spacing.

The Verdict –Broken Earth is very much a niche campaign book. It isn’t quite a wild-weird setting that something like Gamma World would cover. It doesn’t have room for you to make up tons of bizarre mutants and lots of wild sci-fi tech. It does however provide a little more grounded post-apocalypse world. There is certainly some freedom in the setting to incorporate weird stuff. While the setting has androids, mutants, and psychics, all being a little fantastical, it’s still much closer to a world like a Canticle for Leibowitz, Aftermath!, or Twilight 2000. I think the Fallout video game series captures it the best. It’s a post-apocalyptic setting that is a little off-kilter from a ‘realistic’ world like the Road Warrior.

There are a couple of things I really like about the book. There are some new rules, edges, hindrances, but not so much so that it becomes an entirely different game. It really embraces the adventure setting philosophy of supplementing the Savage Worlds rulebook, not replacing it. The game has a lot of tools to help a GM run the game. There are lots of random encounter charts, random loot, and a ton of typical extras and wildcard NPC personalities.

Finally, does Broken Earth provide enough material to easily run a post-apocalypse game? That is a resounding yes. There are enough NPCs, critters, and detailed locations to seed a lot of adventures. Even better is that there are plenty of campaign plot points to tell a grander adventure (with plenty of opportunities to run a smaller games too). This is very much a pick up and play campaign setting and it’s all enclosed in a single book. If you wanted to take a stab at running a post-apocalyptic game using Savage Worlds, where players carefully explore dangerous ruins with a pitted, rusty metal spear in one hand and a prized, weathered, laser pistol in the other, this book will fit the bill.

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