Sunday, July 8, 2012

Review: Hell on Earth Reloaded

Product: Hell On Earth Reloaded
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment Group
People: Shane Lacey Hensley (Author)
Price: $24.99 for full version, $14.99 for player's guide

My second experience with Savage Worlds was in a Post Apocalyptic setting of my own creation. I documented some of the action on the forum. Thus I have a special fondness for PA settings combined with Savage Worlds.

I was pleased to see Pinnacle released another setting book in their award winning line of Deadlands products: Hell on Earth Reloaded. Like most Savage Settings, this one takes the a genre and applies a Savage twist. Aside from the normal PA problems with mutants, psykers, and road gangs - the players must also contend with horrors from another dimension and their minions.

The original Deadlands is a genre mash up of the 1890s Wild West, Horror, and Steampunk settings called the Weird West. It features card shark spell casters, mad scientist inventing infernal devices, quick draw gunmen, fire and brimstone preachers that can call down actual fire and brimstone, native American shamans on first name basis with their nature spirits, and lots of Kung-fu action as well. See our reviews of the Deadlands Player’s Handbook and Marshal’s Guide for more details.

The Hell on Earth setting continues the Deadland's story line. Humanity fought the same wars in our history except with the North and South as bitter rivals. They created the Mason-Dixon wall to divide the countries. Even during times of peace, a cold war continued along with a nuclear arms race.

The Reckoner’s evil schemes came to fruition on September 23rd, 6:17 p.m. Eastern Standard Time in the year 2081: Judgement Day. Skull-shaped mushroom clouds formed over every major city as irradiated Ghost Rock bombs killed over 6 billion people. Of the billion that remained, most fell dead of disease or starvation over the next few months.

Then things got really bad when the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse appeared. The Deadland's Reckoners walked the planet spreading war, famine, pestilence, and death. They raised zombies wherever they trod imbued with special abilities to finish off what was left of humanity.

And still the Reckoners had allies.

The Combine, more machines than men, set forth with an evil group of mutants called the Cult of Doom. Their goal was to defeat the remaining strongholds of humanity and rule the world by the Reckoner's side. They called their plan The Harvest.

A huge battle ensued at The Junkyard near the ruins of Salt Lake city. Ike Taylor and his Iron Alliance were ready and kicked The Combine's butt all the way back to Denver. Just as victory seemed assured, the Reckoners arrived with their hellish, undead brigades. But not everyone that served the Reckoners over the centuries were happy with the way things turned out. Two of the original Servitors arrived and saved the day at the Battle of the Worms. The Reckoners were defeated and carried off world never to trouble Earth again (yeah, right).

Hell on Earth Reloaded begins six months after The Battle of Worms.

The Wasted West

The area in and around most major cities is an irradiated wasteland crawling with mutants and worse. There's still a lot of treasure in the city ruins and so many make a living scavenging these areas for barter-able items. The ghost busters, as the bombs were named, leave a maelstrom of wind surrounding the cities howling with the the radiated, tormented souls from hell. All such cities are Deadlands (Fear Level 6). The radiation from the ghost busters has a mutative effect on living creatures and plants potentially mutating anyone venturing too near a city.

After the Big Bang, civilization collapsed and what was left of humanity struggled just to survive. Most live in walled settlements and are pretty picky about who they let in. Others form trade convoys, biker gangs, or travel the Wasted West trying to restore some semblance of order. Regardless, life is tough for almost everyone and the weak seldom survive long.

liquefied Ghost Rock derivative, called Spook Juice, took the place of gasoline and still powers most vehicles. You can drink it, if you're desperate for a buzz, but it has a chance of killing you. Toxic Shamans, discussed later, can derive power points from it. Spook Juice is a rare commodity and communities have been known to go to war to take it from other settlements.

Power Players in the Wasted West

Law Dogs are self appointed lawmen intent on bringing justice back to the Wasted West. They serve as Judge, Jury, and Arbiter for the communities they serve. They swear an oath to protect the innocent and don't discriminate based on race, faction, or mutantdom. If you've been robbed, swindled, or assaulted the Law Dogs will do their best to bring the perp to justice.

The Combine is an evil, mechanized army based out of Denver Colorado. They were on the side of Evil during the Harvest and were soundly defeated during the Battle of Worms. The Combine is lead by former Confederate General Throckmorton who used his cyborg nature to take over the Hellstromme Industuries' complex and begin producing death machines in short order. The Combine's soldiers are well equipped and trouble to anyone that meets them.

Mutantkind is broken down into three categories. Free Range Mutants are just like anyone else trying to eek out a living in the Wasted West. The Cult of Doom is centered in Las Vegas and follows Silas Rasmussen who is intent on wiping out non-mutants so The Chosen can assume the reigns of power. Joan and the Heretics (not a rock band) are a splinter group of the Cult of Doom that seek peace between mutant and humankind. 

Librarians are gatherers of knowledge who attempt to preserve the past in order to build the future. They have a fortified monastery in Sacramento, California and send Jr. Librarians into the wastes to collect data and items for cataloging back at the Grand Library. 

The Chamber is a group of techno-wizard Junkers that attempt to document, experiment, and invent things related to the techno-spirits now running around the Hunting Grounds in large numbers. They live in a secret mountain fortress and run an Academy with students recruited from the wasteland. They will, at times, sponsor quests to find some arcane or technical artifact and often used hired heroes to help.

The Templars are knights pledged to help those in need - as long as they deserve it. The order makes an attempt to protect the Good and leave the Bad to their own devices. This means they might let a Road Gang overrun an entire community if the inhabitants lack goodwill. On the other side of the judgement coin, a knight might risk his life and the lives of his companions to save one innocent child. The Templar's base is in the former Masonic Lodge in Boise Idaho at ground zero. Yes, they're just that tough.

Road Gangs roam the fractured highways of the Wasted West on motorcycles and in armed cars stealing what they need from those less well armed. The can terrorize a region or be a militia-for-hire as long as the pay includes Spook Juice. If you've ever seen the Road Warrior, you know exactly the what a Road Gang is. There is one mutant gang in particular, called the Road Orcs, that are a greatly feared and menace to anyone they meet. 

The Iron Alliance stands against The Combine and The Cult of Doom. It's made up of the forces from The Junkyard (industrial remnants of Helstromme Industries Salt Lake City complex), The Chamber, The Templars, Joan and the Heretics, as well as other like-minded groups interested in rebuilding civilization.

Setting Rules of the Wasted West

Counting Coup
Defeating powerful creatures may give characters some extra powers if they’re close enough when the evil creature expires. Before the apocalypse, only the Harrowed could do this. Now everyone has the chance of absorbing some of the supernatural essence of a creature when it passes.

Just like the original Deadlands, people that die don’t always stay that way. Your character might come back with an evil hitchhiker with schemes of their own.

Ghost Storms
Each of the cities struck by a nuclear ghost bomb has a 10’ thick wall of violent winds surrounding it. The wind is made up of the tortured, irradiated souls released during Judgement Day. Characters wishing to traverse the storm must make a vigor roll, at significant penalty, or become fatigued. The character picks up a mutation on a roll of 1.

Searching through ruins for bits of tech to make life easier is a fact of life for most folks. It becomes more important to Junkers but almost everyone treasure hunts the old ruins looking for things to barter or use in everyday life. Expect to do a lot of digging.

Hell on Earth differs from the normal Deadlands rules following more closely with the Savage Worlds Deluxe rules set.
  • The Guts skill is gone.
  • Fate Chips are no more.
  • Grit is still used which represents your resistance to the effects of fear.
  • You still need to document your character’s worst nightmare.
  • Everyone is human, more or less.
  • Everyone speaks English.


Your character normally falls into one of the following archetypes
  • Adventurer - wanders the west looking for something better.
  • Doomsayer - a mutant that believes norms (non-mutants) are doomed. You either wear Green and belong to the Cult of Doom or purple belonging to Joan and her group of Heretics.
  • Gunslinger - sell your shooting talents to the highest bidder
  • Indian Brave - you hold to the old ways and forgo the use of technology
  • Junker - you wander the wastelands collecting junk to make incredible devices.
  • Law Dog - you and your brothers-in-arms have taken it upon yourselves to tame the Wasted West bringing law to the lawless.
  • Librarian - You seek and document knowledge for the day when humanity is ready to rise from the nuclear ashes.
  • Postman - you deliver package for a price.
  • Ravenite - you helped bring about the end of the world. You seek retribution against those that led you astray.
  • Road Warrior - if you’ve ever seen Mad Max you know the archtype.
  • Savage - you have no memory of life before Judgement Day. You just try to survive for another day.
  • Scavenger - You’re brave (or stupid) enough to enter the blasted ruins of the cities to find the treasures left behind from an bygone era.
  • Soldier - You were a soldier before the Big Bang. These days you wander the wastes offering your talents to fight the fights others will not.
  • Syker - Psychic soldier
  • Tale Teller - You bring hope with tales of valor to the survivors helping reduce the fear level of those who hear.
  • Templar - You are an arcane Knight helping those you deem deserve it.
  • Toxic Shaman - You travel the land fighting evil and healing the land by removing the toxins that exist everywhere.

Hell on Earth adds a few new hindrances not found in the Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition or the Deadlands Player’s Guide. 
  • Mutant - you draw either one or two cards from the Mutant deck to determine what the mutation is and suffer a penalty to Charisma when dealing with narrow minded norms.
  • Rad Intolerant - you are more susceptible to radiation.

All of the edges from the Savage Worlds Deluxe edition are available as well as most from the Deadlands Player's Handbook. In addition to those, players have access to the edges below for their characters.
  • Operation Damocles Soldier - you were cryogenically frozen before the war and wake up to a strange new world. On the upside, you're specially trained and equipped to handle most eventualities.
  • Grit/Guts - you ignore some or all of an area's Fear Level when making Spirit checks
  • Kung-Fu - trained martial artist in one or more styles
  • Law Dog - you bring justice to the Wasted West helping wherever you can.
  • Librarian - you seek to find lost knowledge and return it to the great library.
  • Rad Resistant - You get a bonus to your roll to resist radiation
  • Scavenger - you're better than the average scavenger at turning up valuable stuff.
  • Wheels - you have a vehicle of some sort
Arcane Backgrounds


Doomsayers are mutant priests of the new future. They see normal humans as evolutionary throwbacks that are just waiting to become extinct. The evil members of this sect help speed that along. The Heretics try to find ways for mutants and humans to coexist but generally favor the mutant side of any argument.

Doomsayers normally have more control over the mutation effect encountered in HoE, taking the best of two cards when drawing from the mutation deck. However, they also mutate on a critical failure of their powers without the best-of-two rule so expect a Doomsayer to change significantly throughout the game. On the upside, the Doomsayers get power points just for entering a Ghost Storm.

Priest of the Glow have the following unique powers

  • Oppenheimer’s Glow - Damaging powers are more potent but there is a distinct possibility of of the Doomsayer exploding.
  • EMP - Ability to emit radiation that shorts out electronics.
  • Mutate - Ability to turn people into mutants just by touching them.

Junkers are Weird Scientist that scavenge old technology to create infernal devices. They utilize a new sort of entity called a tech spirit who are bitter enemies/rivals of the nature spirits worshipped by the native Americans. Their devices run off G-rays (Ghost Rays) which is the spirit energy/radiation given off when Ghost Rock burns.

Junker’s are the bastard stepchildren of the original Deadlands Mad Scientist. Before the bomb, Mad Scientist created amazing infernal devices that defied logic. In truth, the Reckoners had manitous plant invention ideas into the Mad Scientist as they slept. When the first atomic ghost-bomb was created, the Reckoners saw no need to continue providing Mad Scientist with new ideas. New Science, as it was called, ceased.

The manitous refused to help from that point forward. When the world blew up, the creative force poured into all the world’s inventions was released in atomic explosions. This flooded the Hunting Ground with a new, creative entity called a tech spirit. While the manitous clammed up, the tech spirits gladly came forth to help build new devices but they did more than whisper ideas to the arcanist. They actually inhabited the new inventions covering for parts and pieces that weren't there.

Junkers get a gadgeteer-like ability to create devices on the fly by taking a bunch of components and binding a tech spirit to them. This happens very quickly but burns through a large number of components and power points

Junkers are normally outcasts in society. People don’t trust the same science that ended the world. Also, the Junkers tend to dress oddly with technical tidbits and talismans hanging from their clothes. Still, most settlements have one or two around to keep the machinery running and because of the Junker’s ability to create Spook Juice to keep the vehicles going.

Special Edges - Junkers have access to a few extra edges
  • Scavenger Supreme - Junkers are natural scavengers but with this edge you’re even better.
  • Tapping the Net - Tech Spirits ply the information byways of the hunting grounds assisting your knowledge rolls.

Syker are psychic warriors trained by the military. Most traveled to the Faraway system for the war on Banshee. Others stayed and fought during the final war. All have direct access to arcane power without going through the spirits of the Hunting Ground.

All Sykers are bald. The use of psychic energy kills the hair follicles. The hair will grow back if the Syker doesn’t use his power but quickly falls out again if the Syker expends any psychic energy. Many have tattoos on their hairless pate to denote faction, rank, and cause.

Most of the offworld Sykers have a unique brotherhood forged by an oath taken on the Starship Unity while returning home. Sykers of all nationalities were summoned home as the last war began. They swore to never harm each other regardless what what their governments ordered. There are some, however, that refused to take the other and others still that broke it. Since Judgement Day, these rival groups attack each other on sight.

The Sykers that stayed on Earth fought toe-to-toe with advanced military hardware, cyborgs, and hover tanks. They became living weapons able to inflict massive damage with a thought.

Special Hindrances and Edges
  • Oath of Unity - you swore never to harm another Oath taker except in self defence.
  • Apostate/Oathbreaker - you either refused the Oath or broke it making the Oathers your mortal enemy.
  • Fortitude - Faraway Sykers have the ability to gain extra power points by incurring levels of Fatique
  • Overkill - Earth Sykers have the ability to cause massive damage from psychic attacks by incurring levels of Fatique

Additional Setting Syker Powers
  • Backwash - Say your friend is under the thrall of the puppet power. You get the give the puppeteer a psychic wedgie.
  • Mindlink - Link all your allies together for mental communication.
  • Mindwipe - Cause your target to forget things that happened inside a timeframe defined by the Syker.
  • Slow Burn - burn through even the most heavily armored vehicle.
  • Telekinetic Squeeze - I find your lack of faith disturbing

Templars are strong and noble souls endowed with powers of protection, healing, and kick-buttness. Templars are priestly knights that fight to restore humanity from the ravages of the Reckoning. They have an awesome array of powers but, outside of healing, those abilities can only be used on themselves.

Templars are a combination of holy might and weapons finess. They start with the Improved Trademark Weapon edge for their sword of choice. This weapon even damages creatures immune to non-magical weapons.

Special Templar Edges
  • Blessing of the Saints - better wild die on bennie rerolls
  • Chosen of the Saints - more than one wild die when spending a bennie to reroll
  • Shield of the Saints - supernatural creatures have a harding time gaining a gangup bonus
  • Simon’s Blessing - cast some spells as a free action
  • Sword of the Saints - addtional damage to supernatural creatures

Toxic Shamans

Toxic Shamans are spiritualist who have learned to use the power of mutated spirits that have arisen from the ruined world. Tech spirits aren’t the only new kids on the Hunting Grounds block. Toxic spirits were formed from nature spirits around heavily polluted sites. Judgement Day greatly accelerated this as radiation permeated the globe and entire cities turned into slag. The Toxic Shamans use these new toxic spirits much the same way the Indian Shamans used the nature spirits.

Upon character creation, Toxic Shamans must decide whether they are a Caretaker or a Corrupter. Caretakes try to rid the world of pollutants while Corrupters try to spread the poison. The two sects don’t generally get along.

Toxic Shamans thrive in areas others find unlivable. While in such areas, Toxic Shamas recharge power points at a much faster rate. On top of that, areas that cause damage actually reduce the power points required for their spells.

Toxic Shamans have the ability to summon a Toxic Spirit as a familiar. These creatures come from one of five types of pollutants or pests. Each type has a different set of abilities and is loyal to the Shaman. While others might shun a small, sentient radioactive cloud, the Toxic Shaman welcomes it as a friend.

Monsters and Misfits

Hell on Earth Reloaded has the usual assortment of creepy crawlers and scoundrels you'd expect from a Deadlands spin-off. I particularly enjoyed the new cyborgs and robots available to throw at your characters. Of course, you're always free to use any of the existing Deadlands monsters in your campaign. It's not like they went away.

This section also has a full list of notables you might have the (mis)fortune of meeting. Leaders of The Junkyard, The Combine, The Librarians, The Cult of Doom, The Heretics, and The Law Dogs are all present.

One thing to know, Hell on Earth has been around for a very long time. There's nothing to keep you from going back to find those old supplements and converting people and monsters into Savage Worlds. They're worth having just for the background alone.


This setting has an interesting creative history. Shane Hensley, creator of Deadlands, was sure that the genre mashup of the Wild West and Horror was doomed to failure. He liked the setting but figured it had a limited audience. So he published it with the intent of making it a backstory to the PA setting of Hell on Earth. Things didn’t turn out quite as planned. Deadlands took off like a rocket and remains Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s flagship product.

This lead to another problem, however. Who wants to play a game where the characters are doomed to failure? So Shane and company waved their hands and created a loop-back. The official story line is the hero’s do save the Weird West from the Reckoning but the Reckoners pull a Terminator and send the assassin Stone back in time to keep the heroes from doing too much good. Thus Hell on Earth occurs.

This setting will be enjoyed by the Gamma World* fans since it has many of the elements that make that game fun, including random mutations. Mad Max fans will also enjoy the setting since it encompasses the lone-settlement-against-the-biker-gangs concept. While not much hope remains in this setting, there is still hope depending on what the heroes achieve.

*Note: The original Gamma World. Not the recent crap in a box. [Duck]

One of the disappointments of this book is the lack of a plot point campaign. I know Pinnacle has decided that the plot points for Deadlands are so big they deserve their own books but it still would have been nice to have a few adventures to get the party going.

Hell on Earth is an old setting. It’s been around for a long time and has a great deal of legacy material available in both d20 and classic rules system. A good GM could easily go back and mine this material for adventures and plot point ideas.

Overall this is a solid offering and The Savage Troll highly recommends it to Deadland and Post-Apocalyptic fans alike. You don’t have to have played Deadland to enjoy this setting but it probably helps.

Related Links

Deadlands on The Savage Troll
Deadlands at DriveThruRPG
Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Bonus Review

Product: The Apocalipstix
Publisher: Oni Press
People: Ray Fawkes - Writer, Cameron Stewart - Artist
Price: $11.74

It's interesting the things you find when researching an article. In this case I was cruising the 'net looking for PA art and ran across a graphic novel from 2008 called The Apocalipstix. It's about a girl band that survives the end of the world and keeps on rocking. What was interesting were the character bios. It reads like Josey and the Pussycats meet Mad Max. 

Mandy's the leader of the group. She's a killer shot and tough as nails. Mandy's not going to let a little thing like the end of the world keep the group from rising to the top of what's left. So she takes the band on tour playing to anything that has ears and can clap.

Megumi is from a country that was called Japan. Now it's just slag. While the band members understand her fine, she speaks only Japanese which is a problem when navigating the wastelands. She enjoys beating heads, both drum and mutant. She drives the band around in a heavily armored VW van. 

Dot is the band's rhythm guitarist. She really doesn't like violence, always has a joke to tell, and will befriend almost anything. The problem is that most of the 'things' in a PA world aren't very nice. She's nuts but in a good way.

These girls would make great Hell on Earth Tale Tellers, helping reduce the Fear Level in an area. Since they're kick-butt fighters and shootists, they stand a good chance of making through the Wasted West.  The Apocalipstix have a web site complete with character bios and character portraits. You can also check out the 27 page preview for some great images and writing. Props to Cameron Stewart for a great depiction of a skull-shaped mushroom cloud.


  1. Just one question that I always want to know the answer to when people start talking about Hell on Earth; would you rather play HoE or original Deadlands?

    I'm a huge fan of the original, and I'm lucky enough to still have a first ed, first printing of the original book, but I can't bring myself to buy HoE when the original looks so much better.

    1. One of the reasons I love Savage Worlds is that there are so many varies settings. I will say that Deadlands has a greater number of books and is generally better supported than any other setting, HoE included. So if I'm running a long game with folks that love the Old West I would stick with Deadlands.
      Hell on Earth is another genre that uses Deadlands for background material. So if your group is more into mutants, magic, mayhem then HoE would be your choice. I personally think that it would be hard for me to play Deadlands for an extended period of time and then jump to HoE. I would be upset that my adventures in the Weird West didn't prevent the Wasted West.

      Now, that said, I think doing an "It's A Wonderful Life" on the character might be really fun. Move them into Hell on Earth to show them what will happen if they fail. In the official story line the Reckoners sent Stone to the past to put wrong what the heroes put right, what's to keep the opposite from happening. Maybe the Reckoners propel the heroes into the future to prevent them from doing good in the first place.

  2. I'm not into post-apocalyptic settings, but some of those Edges and Setting Rules seem interesting.

    1. They did a good job with it.

      I liked how they handled Guts and Grit. It seems a goodly method for handling Fear checks. If you added in the standard Yellow hindrance I think you cover most of what the old Guts skill was supposed to do.

      Of the character types I liked the Toxic Shaman, Doomsayer, and Templar most. Of course, I tend to play Arcanist so this isn't surprising to those I game with on a regular basis.

      I just wish I had time to get a campaign together before Star City Con. I know the wife is excited about the Galleria. :-)