Jeff Dobberpuhl, Darell Hardy & Will Hindmarch (Fantasy Flight Games)
Summary: Mad Max + Fallout
I figured since I put Reviews in the fucking tagline of my blog I might as well get on with it. Today I shall be reviewing a magnificent little supplement called Redline, from the well-known Fantasy Flight Games (yaaay!), for the d20 system (booh!). I played d20 about as much as a I played/GMed 2e before I got interested in old-school gaming after a long hiatus and overall my experience with d20 has been positive. Sure DnD 3.5 turned into a cumbersome optimization wankathon after oh so many ill-conceived splatbooks, its streamlined one-size-fits-all approach often generated bizarre results and you did well to cancel all plans and indeed take a sick-day if you wanted to stat up some NpC’s above 10th level but at its core it remains a decent system (I might do a review later on what I like and dislike about it).
On to the review: Redline is a wonderful little 64 page (62 if you discount cover and credits) supplement for playing post-apocalyptic road-warrior games ah la Mad Max (and Mad Max:Fury Road came out recently in cinema’s so I hereby dismiss all allegations of being a navel-gazing lint-counting old fogey that lives in the past!) compatible with Dnd 3.5 (and probably Pathfinder with some minor alterations). I picked it because I think that as a supplement it is almost perfect, achieving all its goals and delivering on its promises. It is tight, elegant and slim, and who doesn’t love a hot, tight, slim RPG-supplement? You need a Player handbook, a DM Guide and a Monstrous manual (you don’t need technically need the last one but it helps) to play it.
Redline takes place in the post-apocalyptic future. The world is largely wasteland, populated by roving gangs, warlords, tiny communities, bombed out ruins and mutants. The players are a band of hard-bitten survivors roaming the wastes and living by their wits, guns and vehicles, for ah la Mad Max, fuel is one of the most precious resources.
You will be pleased to note races have been replaced with Backgrounds, which are like races only with some extra class abilities (neat!). You can choose from Bornagains (religious dudes that hate muties), Bygones (dudes that try to preserve the past and draw on its knowledge), Drifters (Lone ranger kind of guys), Ferals (dudes that grew up in the few remaining Green Zones and are primitive even by post-apocalyptic standards), Rejects (filthy mutants with immunity to the mutating effects of the Creep) and Savants (Idiot Savants that excel in a few skills but suck in whole categories of other skills [insert stereotypical gamer joke here chortle-snortjoy]). All have great race differentiation and should produce a variety of play experiences, thus all is well.
What classes you ask? If you have ever seen Mad Max you will be able to guess at least half. We have the Marauder (like a fighter/barbarian only with more mohawk and dirt-bike driving), the titular Redliner (essentially, the stunt-driver), the Rigger (the Mechanic who can achieve wonders with ductape and paperclips), the Trader (like a post-apocalyptic bard) and the Walker (A ranger/thief complete with animal companion, like a wolf, donkey or an eagle and at later levels, a hyena or a mutated dire wolf). Of interest to stat-monkeys might be the hard-core ability present with every class, which adds a die to a particular roll (usually damage) that gains in strength as the class levels up (e.g d4 at 2nd level, d6 at 6th, d8 at 10th etc.). What is also interesting is that unlike the d20 modern system, classes do not have an inherent bonus to AC, which means that, given the fact Redline has no such thing as magical armor, high level combat is going to involve lots of hitting things and not much missing things which is more in keeping with old DnD(good!).
On to skills. As part of ruling hard and streamlining shit, Redline collapses Appraise and Diplomacy into one skill (Barter), Balance, Climb and Jump into another skill (Clamber, essential for post-apocalyptic high-speed vehicle boarding) and strips out the magic related skills. You also get some simple and complex repair skills, a Drive skill (you will need it), a Scrounge skill (for digging through rubbish for food or bullets or gasoline, great!), and some Knowledge skills(Olden Days, Creep, Tech etc.).
The feat section (did you really expect a d20 supplement without feats?), keeps most of the core rulebook feats and adds some new ones, mostly related to bare knuckle brawling, gun combat, vehicle combat and the odd Surgery feat. You have a feat that allows you to refine fuel from raw materials. Everything you need is here, nothing feels tacked on or superfluous, it is 5 pages with a table for easy cross-referencing/figuring out which phb feats are okay.
Equipment is neat. With the apocalypse the standard monetary system has been done away with and replaced with RU’s (resource units). Resource units represent either a tank of gas, a day’s worth of food or a day’s worth of water. But wait! In different zones they have different values based on scarcity. In the Wasteland a day’s worth of water is worth 3 tanks of gas is worth 9 days of food. In a Green Zone, a tank of gas is worth 3 days of water is worth 9 days of food. Sweet and intuitive.
Equipment is described only in generic categories (e.g a pistol instead of a Glock, a club which might represent a golf club or a tire iron etc.). There are generic types of firearm, with the addendum that ammo is very hard to come by, another great setting detail (a clip is as expensive/hard to find as the weapon itself). Armor is similarly handled, with the material of the armor deciding the cost and type (so one guy’s leather armour might be a one-sleeved leather jacket, the other guy might be wearing hockey pads or some crazy shit etc.). The list of miscellaneous equipment is just a list with names and cost, which makes perfect fucking sense, since we don’t need a paragraph to describe what a battery, rope or a first aid kit does. Excellent.
We were promised vehicle combat and vehicle combat we receive, with harpoon guns, flamethrowers and a plethora of heavy weaponry (a Fucking Tank Gun, thank you Fantasy Flight!) ready to be mounted on our post-apocalyptic muscle cars or skull-covered big rigs. Prospective road warriors may select, and indeed, begin play with, a variety of vehicles ranging from dirt-bikes to the immense and sluggish Semi-Trailers, with different statistics for top speed, base AC, hardness, amount of protection, top speed, chance of the passenger getting hit, acceleration and handling. Every vehicle can be customized/upgraded to one’s hearts content, and given the astronomical cost of these upgrades, I think one’s rig will be the main RU sink of any Redline campaign. Bonus points for extra fuel types that might only work for extra shiny and chrome engines, giving you shit like a nitro-boost, radioactive fuel to improve car handling, non-explosive fuel! and the mysterious “Primo.”
Vehicle combat section. This is the only truly ‘new’ section of the game and it describes the mechanics of vehicle combat in…7 pages! To be fair, these 7 pages are dense and loaded with concepts like relative velocity (which determines AC, ramming damage, boarding difficulty etc.), the combat map being an abstract (since it is meant to simulate a high speed chase across constantly shifting terrain), ramming, vehicle critical hits (which can disable vehicles or even cause their gas tanks to fucking explode), maneuvering, losing control so you can flip and spin and shit and various road mishaps. Incidentally, cars are by far the most lethal fucking weapon in the game, and while your 5th level asshole might tank a few handgun bullets getting Touch ACed by a sports car at 100mph is going to do 10d6/15d6 damage(depending on speed/size of both targets, two rigs driving at full speeds and colliding will obliterate each other and kill every fucking passenger aboard). Bonus points: collisions always inflict damage on both objects, with modifiers for relative size, excellent. Its mindboggeling how they got the rules so fucking tight yet so complete. They make sense. Shooting the tires? No problem! Want to board a rig whilst your buddy speeds by it on his motorbike? Relative speed modifiers and Clamber check DC! It might take a few minutes to wrap your head around it but this is a beautiful system. The only legitimate criticism is a noticeable lack of vehicle harpooning/grappling rules, which makes the harpoon gun kind of a cocktease.
Next up, the Creep! The Creep is like a catch all term for biological, chemical and radioactive shit that has been left over from the old wars and can take many forms, from great green glowing creep clouds to invisible rays or canisters of weaponized bacteriological goo. As you accumulate Creep points equal to your Constitution score you begin to mutate (one stage per multiplier of your Con, x1, x2, x4 etc.). This shit is permanent (but it takes a lot of creep before your Character becomes a radioactive zombie or his brain explodes or some shit). The tables for mutation can be handled in a linked fashion (for homo’s or filthy narrativists that fear the random hand of fate) or with random tables yielding both beneficial and baneful mutations (for god-like supermen and random-table spammers alike). The more creep you have, the more dramatic, weal or woe, the effects. Regardless, both types of mutations are sort of quasi-plausible, not too gonzo (X-men or Gamma World level). Bones breaking through skin, eyes growing sensitive, Creep Psychosis, Brain growing huge, Brain damage, huge open sores, blindness and finally turning into a creep zombie or a puddle of goo. Points for a linked mutation path where you, in stages, get fat, get redundant organs, extra eyes, a new head, extra mouths and your body splits into two small individuals with each having half the physical stats of the original (decent chance of character death here). Fucking. Great.
The Setting information has all the nuts and bolts it really needs, general types of people (warlords, gangers, zealots, nomads, rebuilders, savages) with a few neat plothooks or types each. You have your nuclear bomb worshipping zealots, your jousting medieval-esque car-warlords, your utopian green zoners that murder anyone and their family exhibiting ever the slightest hint of mutation etc. Decent, but not great. What follows is a list of resources(food, water, fuel, salavage etc.) as well as some pre-apocalypse artifacts to be dug out of ruins or shelters (digital watches, creep counters, VCRs, complete tool sets, endless flashlights etc.).
We get an overview of the zones (Wasteland, Ruins, Green Zones), their most common resources, their most common features (adventure hooks galore) and their most common hazards. Obligatory bonus points for Aeries, that is, communities that live inside/atop skyscrapers in ruined cities linked together by ropes and ladders and elevators that can go their whole lives without touching the ground.
Last is the monster section, with a list of monsters that you already own, in your PHB, that are perfectly suitable for deploying in the postapocalyptic roadwarrior setting of Redline. As a bonus you get your muties, your Rad Zombies, your Rad Vamp (a vampire esque radiation mutant that controls creep zombies and has power over things with a creep score and if you murder it it will turn into a puddle of grey ooze that also murders you) and finally a Sand Shark for those needing an extra mutant beastie to populate your wasteland with.
When all is said and done Redline is great, it achieves almost perfectly what it sets out to do in a neat 62 pages, I have no trouble recommending it to anyone who does not reflexively hurl at the sight of the d20 system with an interest in post-apocalyptic road-warrioring, or a post-apocalyptic game that is not quite as gonzo as Gamma World but not as serious as the Morrow Project.
Pros: Has everything you need to run a post-apocalyptic d20 Game in style! Streamlining works to great effect. Does not waste your time. Vehicle combat section rules are properly done.
Cons: Vehicle combat section takes some time to wrap your head around and might have some minor implementation issues.
Final Verdict: Shiny and Chrome. (8 out of 10 dynamite topped spears)