Sunday, June 7, 2009

Review: The Day After Ragnarok

Kenneth Hite a Chicago-based, Origins Award-winning author, co-author, and game designer, has a rare talent. He has the ability to take fragments of obscure factoids, mythology, urban legend, pseudoscience and pseudohistory, and other esoteric sources and piece them together into fabulous role-playing game settings. For years, I've poured over his Suppressed Transmission column in Steve Jackson Games' online 'zine Pyramid for campaign ideas: Aliens crashing at Roswell, New Mexico... in 1849. Superheroes in the Roman Empire and the Renaissance. Mongolian Goblins, Saracen Snakemen, and Viking werewolves invading Europe in the Revelations-fueled year 1000 CE. Alternative histories built on the Tunguska event occurring a few hours sooner when the asteroid or comet could have struck Moscow rather than the Siberian wilderness. Let's not forget his illuminations on the much-overlooked dark side of fairy lore and the machinations of the Antarctic Space Nazis.

After writing material for such systems as GURPS, Deadlands, Delta Green, Trail Of Cthulhu, and other games, Atomic Overmind Press publishes Hite's first offering for Savage Worlds: The Day After Ragnarok, a "Submachine Guns and Sorcery" setting that blends myth, post-apocalyptic horror, and 1940s pulp adventure into one of the most imaginative role-playing settings I've ever read.

The setting's premise: In 1945, the desperate Germans turn to their SS occultists to turn the tide of war to their favor by starting the end of the world! They magically summon Jörmungandr, the world-spanning Midgard Serpent of the Norse sagas, to attack the shocked Allies. In response, Truman sends a lone atom-bomb-armed B-29 on a suicide mission against the titanic, 300 mile wide, snake. The blast kills the creature, but its immense carcass falls across Europe and Africa crushing millions and sending a mega-tsunami to drown the Eastern United States while the Serpent's poisonous (and now radioactive) venom enters the environment, creating all manner of bizarre and malevolent life.

Now it's 1948 and the human race is trying to put back the pieces and face the realities of the world after the Serpentfall. The Narts, the legendary giants of Osseian folklore, awaken and serve Comrade Stalin as he expands the Soviet Union into what's left of Europe and the Middle East. The British Empire, who has relocated the throne to sunny Australia, has been exploring and experimenting with the remains of the Serpent, creating everything from super-fuels to organic pressure suits. The Western United States tries to hold itself together while the Eastern half of North America is broken into numerous city-states that war with each other and the supernatural horrors that surround them. The remnants of Nazi Germany plot and scheme in South America (yes, Antartica too) and strange cults worship the dead Serpent, preforming obscene rites in hopes of reviving it.

Players have the opportunity to play many different roles in this wild setting: Conan-esque barbarians who wander the Poisands Lands armed with a sword in one hand and a Colt 1911 in the other. British "Speleo-Herpetologists" who explore the vast interior of Jörmungandr's body to find new and terrifying discoveries. Psychics, faith healers, magicians, and weird scientists who use strange new powers to help or hinder humanity. Monster hunters fighting giant gila monsters, electrical worms, and were-serpents. Pirates plundering the coastal towns of the China Sea or Lake Michigan.

Like most Savage Settings books, The Day After Ragnarok is divided into a Players' and GM's Section. Along with a brief introduction of the world, the Players' section features new Edges and Hindrances, as well as gear and weapons appropriate to the 1940s. There is also a description of "Ophi-Tech" devices, a version of the Weird Science Arcane Background that uses devices derived from the tissues or the Serpent itself! Be careful using them, the consequences could be dire!

The GM section contains a country-by-country gazetteer of the post-Serpentfall world including information on some of the settings major NPCs; some fictional, others historical (e.g. Aviation industrialist Howard Hughes and SS Commando Otto Skorzeny). While the book doesn't include a Plot Point campaign--indeed, the world seems too big for just one. However, it does include a detailed scenario generator and descriptions of several campaigns styles to inspire ambitious GMs. Also included is a bestiary containing examples of many of the most common thugs and monsters the PCs will have to face as they fight to survive in this broken word.

Weighing in a a 128 pages with a excellent quality layout and good artwork, The Day After Ragnarok is being offered as a PDF with a print version available in July. The PDF, available from Atomic Overmind Press and Drivethru RPG sells for $12.95 The perfect bound print version will retail for $19.95.


Anonymous said...

That's a great review. I've picked up a copy myself and it really rocks. But than again, I'll do that with just about anything by Ken Hite.

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