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Ravaged Planet

Reviewed by Nicholas HM Caldwell, Copyright 2000

Ravaged Planet is the first major supplement for the Brave New World modern-day superheroes game. Published initially by Pinnacle, it is now produced by Alderac Entertainment Group following the move of its designer (Matt Forbeck) to the latter company. Ravaged Planet is a 160-page hardback volume, illustrated with both full-color and black and white comic artwork, if not quite on the same lavish scale as the rulebook itself.

Most of the book is presented from the perspectives of two unreliable narrators, namely the delta rebel Patriot and the journalist-delta Truth. Each page in the sections intended for player perusal is headed with a web browser banner to help further suspend disbelief. The aim is to foster the impression that the reader is actually browsing www.deltatimes.com - the underground superheroes webzine run by Truth.

The first segment of the book is "Patriot's Journal". This is an "autobiographical" account of the life, times, and lead up to the death of Patriot, sometime loyal superpowered soldier of America, latterly member of the rebel Defiance movement. At some forty pages, this is somewhere between a novelette and a novella, rather than a short story. It's more than a gripping yarn, though, being liberally sprinkled with historical tidbits of the recent past of the Brave New World Earth. These references unobtrusively expand on the history given in the core rulebook, and suggest how PCs might be brought up to speed on current affairs.

This is followed by "Requiem for Patriot", which is a much shorter narrative of the death of Patriot and immediate consequences.

The third part is where the guide to the Brave New World really begins - with Crescent City, the newest metropolis in Kennedy's America. Chicago, its nearest suburbs and a lot of bedrock were vaporized along with the alphas in the Bicentennial Battle of 1976. From the rubble of the Windy City arose Crescent City. This chapter provides a wealth of detail on the layout, geography and changing skyline of the new metropolis. There aren’t any maps though, which is a shame. Instead, the account skims the surface of the corrupt civic government, the crooked police, and reflects on some of the Crescent's impressive landmarks. With important buildings such as the Delta Academy (where registered deltas are trained and indoctrinated), Prime Headquarters (the mid-West base of Kennedy's superpowered enforcers), New Alcatraz (a prison proof against superheroes and supervillains), and Triumph, Inc.'s headquarters in the heart of the city, Crescent City is likely to be a popular base for PC deltas.

The guide's focus now expands to encompass the United States of America. Each of the major cities is discussed, with the emphasis firmly on generalities such as the pro or anti-delta feelings of the governing bodies and the population at large. These quick brushstroke word-pictures give an effortless impression of how the delta-dominated setting has influenced the alternate histories of the various cities. For example in Brave New World, Boston is the gadgeteer capital of America, Dallas is a hotbed of separatist radicalism and the target of ill-will ever since the assassination of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, New York is a battleground between Delta Primers, Defiants, and rogue alphas anxious to prove themselves in front of the world media, and the remains of San Francisco are haunted radioactive ruins. (Pity about San Francisco, I liked that city…)

In "A World of Hurt", the outlook becomes truly global. As ever, personalities from our own world appear on the world stage, but are often subtly tweaked. The international tour makes stops in all the inhabited continents, concentrating on the politics, pro or anti-delta biases and key events shaping the nation states. Some of the changes are expected, such as South Africa suffering a delta-enhanced race war; others are more surprising, such as Britain's refusal to return Hong Kong to the Chinese after the expiry of the lease. There isn't a European Union (or even a European Economic Community) and the Cold War continues to simmer after the limited nuclear exchange of the Eighties.

Ravaged Planet then shifts gear completely with a full chapter introducing ten new power packages. The new additions range from the directed protection of the Defender through the pyromanic Hot Shot to the near invulnerability of the Tough. Each new package is balanced with its peers and predecessors (no superpower arms race here, thank goodness) and is sufficiently different from the others to really enlarge player choice. As with the core rulebook, there is an Archetype character provided for each type of power.

Rather than ignoring the thorny issue of religions, Forbeck bravely allows real-world faiths into the setting. The major faction introduced in Ravaged Planet is the Covenant, a Roman Catholic order fighting against supernatural evil, which has an associated power package for all its members, namely the Covenant. This order was reputedly organized by Saint Peter in the first century and revealed to the world in 1920s when deltas first became commonplace. It is still independent of government control, even in the American dictatorship. A breakaway group of Covenanters, known as the Schism, also exists - the Schismatics are independent of the Vatican. All in all, Ravaged Planet presents an interesting take on the religious response to superpowers. Forbeck makes it clear that Brave New World is not intended to be a cheerleading section for Catholicism or any faith, and that the other world religions will have their equivalent organizations detailed in future supplements.

The final part of Ravaged Planet is the Guide's Handbook. In this chapter, some of the material supplied in the earlier sections is reviewed and the real truth (rather than Truth's version!) is provided. A number of secrets are withheld still, but enough is revealed to give "Guides" a lot of ammunition to construct solid campaigns. I won't spoil any of the pleasant or nasty surprises.

Ravaged Planet concludes with a personal afterword from the author-designer, which I found the most uncomfortable portion of the book, dwelling as it does on the recent spate of atrocities in the United States, and a list of imaginative references.

Being a little old-fashioned in my gaming tastes, I would have preferred less autobiography of Brave New World NPCs and more detail on Crescent City, the United States or the world situation. Indeed, there are six full-color pages of artwork that don't really add anything (other than pretty art) to the book. Nevertheless Ravaged Planet is an excellent addition to the Brave New World product line, bringing the setting into focus. This elegant volume is as essential as the core rulebook for the serious Brave New World player and referee. I was sufficiently impressed with Ravaged Planet to purchase the next supplement (Defiants) the very next day.


Editor's Note:

Ravaged Planet is published by Alderac Entertainment Group. Their contact details are as follows:
Alderac Entertainment Group
4045 Guasti Road, Suite #212,
California 91761
Web: http://www.alderac.com

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