Barbarians of the Ruined Earth
Two thousand years into our future, the world as we know it has drastically changed. A rogue planet collided and shattered the Earth’s moon—showering the planet below with debris. The impacts brought destruction, chaos, and the ripping of holes in time-space. Humankind almost went extinct. In the aftermath, strange new plant life, creatures, and technology began to dot the landscape.
Many of Earth’s inhabitants mutated, ushering a new breed of humans with awesome powers and the ability to cast magical spells–marking The Age of Sorcerers. These sorcerers began using incredible scientific inventions and magical powers to subjugate and rule humankind.
The world we know is long gone. The remnants of once-great cities, military bases, scientific stations, and once important monuments lie in ruin. New swamps, mountains, deserts, and alien landscapes emerge and intermingle with the remnants of the past. Welcome to the Ruined Earth.
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As a kid in the 1980s, Saturday morning cartoons were a staple in my house. Shows like Thundarr the Barbarian, Scooby-do, He-Man, and others graced my television every weekend. Barbarians of the Ruined Earth recreates the Saturday morning cartoons I grew up with. However, not all games using this theme scratch that itch. Let’s see if Barbarians of the Ruined Earth lives up to my expectations.
Character generation is fast and easy—roll Attributes, choose a Race, and a Class—that’s it!
As in other old-school games, a character’s attributes are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma. Attributes or stats, a term used interchangeably, may be determined in two ways—3d6 in order or for a “Saturday Morning Cartoon” feel—2d6+5 in order.
In the post-apocalyptic gonzo setting of the Ruined Earth, there are several unique Races and Classes to choose from. Players choose between Human or several playable non-human Races—treated as race-as-class. The eight Classes: Barbarian, Beastman, Death Priest, Robot, Scavenger, Sorcerer, Urchin, and Vek. Each Class determines a character’s damage, Hit Points, Class Features, and starting equipment.
Barbarian – Fierce human warriors who know no fear, using their battle prowess to oppress sorcerers. Some are local heroes, while others are mercenaries for hire. Barbarians have five Class features supporting their warrior spirit.
Beastman – Hailing from all over the Ruined Earth, Beastmen are as varied in their temperament and appearances as Humans. These non-humans are known for their bestial features, impressive strength, and strong traditions. Beastmen have four Class features supporting their remarkable strength and prowess.
Death Priest – Death Priests serve no higher being! They draw upon the energy from those that died in the Great Calamity. Having an intimate knowledge of the bleak coldness of death and what awaits us all on the other side, Death Priests use this knowledge for benign to destructive purposes. Death Priests have four Class features that support their very nature and understanding of death. They may also cast Miracles (Spells).
Robot – Robots are mindless automatons, constructed before the calamity and through Stupendous Science. Some go awry and gain self-consciousness and free will. There are five different models of robots; each confers specific purposes and advantages, decided during character generation. Robots have three Class features supporting their non-living construction.
Scavenger – Scavengers are Humans living on the fringe of human society, or those that wander the Ruined Earth alone looking for trinkets, baubles, and Ancient Earth tech. Sneaky by nature, they shy away from conflict when possible. When they strike, they make it count. Scavengers have four Class features supporting their sneaky nature and keen ability to find things of value.
Sorcerer – Sorcerers are not human. They are born of man and share similar characteristics, but it ends there. While in the womb, the fetus randomly mutates into a sorcerer. Several random tables are used to determine its visual characteristics. Most Sorcerers are megalomaniacs, but not all. Some are kind, valiant, and even generous, while others are eccentric hermits. Sorcerers have four Class features supporting their unique magic abilities, including a magic system exclusive to Sorcerers, which has ten schools of magic, each containing three spells. They gain access to an increasing array of spells as they level up.
Urchin – These are the forgotten children of the Ruined Earth surviving on their wits. With a healthy distrust of adults, they prefer their own company and select people or creatures. They are quick-witted, fast-acting, plucky, bossy, and masters of their domain. As a product of their environment, there are six types of Urchins based on their origin. Urchins have four Class features supporting their unique place in the world. Those who survive into adulthood become Bandits, replacing their Urchin Class features with the Bandits.
Vek – Veks are highly intelligent anthropomorphic raptors obsessed with Stupendous Science and Ancient Earth technology. Their plumage varies; vibrant red, bile yellow, or forest green. They are stubborn, proud, and view themselves as superior to others. Vek were once subjugated and enslaved by powerful sorcerers. Since then, they have adopted a healthy mistrust of magic and those who wield it. The Vek has three Class features supporting their intelligence and evolved state.
An equipment chapter, while short, includes a list of standard equipment, arms, armor, vehicles, animal companions, and even weaponized animals. Many lists also double as a series of random equipment generators for the Gamemaster to use.
The final chapter in the players’ portion of the book includes information concerning cybernetics, mutations, mutations tables, the “State of the Ruined Earth”—historical overview up to the present—and defines Stupendous Science with an array of examples the player.
Barbarians of the Ruined Earth’s rules are based on the Black Hack by David Black and inspired by animated series such as Thundarr the Barbarian, Mad Max, He-Man, and others. They are written to be quick, intuitive, and rules-lite.
The entire rules section encompasses twenty pages; that’s it. The rules are straightforward, concisely written, and easy to understand while supporting the game’s gonzo theme. I’m not going to provide a deep dive into the nuances of all the rules, but instead, I want to cover just some of the high points I think you need to know.
Barbarians of the Ruined Earth uses a straightforward “roll under” mechanic to resolve Tests. Tests are only required when a character attempts to do something where failure is possible or during combat. Tests are resolved by rolling under the appropriate Attribute’s value when required. During combat, enemies do not make Tests; characters Test to avoid attacks. Enemies only roll for damage if a character fails to evade the attack. At times, characters may find themselves in an advantaged or disadvantaged position. At these times, Tests are made by rolling 2d20 and keeping the lowest when Advantaged and the highest when Disadvantaged.
Combat is fast. Once Initiative is determined, characters have two actions at their disposal. Actions consist of moving, attacking, casting a spell, or otherwise interacting with the world. Attacking is either a Strength (melee) or Dexterity (ranged) Test. Rolling a 1 is Critical Success and doubles the damage. A 20 is a Fumble, allowing the GM to introduce a complication befitting the situation. To avoid attacks by the enemy, a character Tests either Strength (melee) or Dexterity (ranged). A Critical Success here grants the defender a free attack. The amount of damage dealt is determined by the attacker’s Class, not the weapon used. Armor reduces the amount of damage a character receives. Shields function differently than armor. Instead of reducing damage, if used, they can absorb the entirety of the blow but are destroyed in the process.
Dying outright in Barbarians of the Ruined Earth is a rare occurrence. Any instance that reduces a character’s hit points to zero renders them unconscious and Out of the Action. Once they are safely away from the danger, the Out of Action Table is consulted to determine what happens. Results range from merely being knocked out to temporary Attribute reductions, and in a worst-case scenario, death may result.
Several elements of the rules use abstractions. The distance/movement system is the most notable of them. Barbarians of the Ruined Earth does not use measured distance for movement, ranged weapons, or spells. In place of numeric distances are six abstracted ranges that support a theater of the mind playstyle. Characters can move up to Nearby with one action or more with their second action. Weapons and spells list their respective distances using the same ranges. A handy reference chart (see inset) is provided, which provides distances in feet for spatially challenged.
The second half of the book is dedicated to running the game. It provides a massive set of tools and resources so that the Gamemaster can successfully run Barbarians of the Ruined Earth. This portion of the book opens with the “GM Tools,” which contains 28 random generator tables spread over 18 pages. These random generators run the gamut from adventures to NPCs, punishments, and weird weather. The individual tables within the generators can be cherry-picked when only specific information or details are needed.
A Bestiary contains creatures ranging from the mundane to the weird that could only exist on the Ruined Earth. Nearly all entries include full-color illustrations of each creature in motion that harkens back to Saturday morning cartoons, ranging in size from 1/4 to 3/4 page. Each entry provides the necessary information to bring the creature alive, including its unique abilities and how best to use them.
The last chapter of the book, “The Western Lands,” covers the area known as California in the Ancient Earth–specifically the area around Los Angeles and Santa Monica. This region is a blighted desert filled with raiders, cultists, bizarre monstrosities, amazing Stupendous Science, and Sorcerers!
The Western Lands serve as a regional setting where Gamemasters may set their first Ruined Earth game. The Western Lands is depicted on a full color, 2-page map consisting of 13 keyed locations—farms, villages, and other areas of interest. The most prominent and most important location for new Gamemasters will be Nukatomi Plaza. This massive Ancient Earth structure was once the headquarters of the Nukatomi Corporation as well as a source of commerce, residence, and government offices. However, today it is the only known kingdom of humanity. This two hundred-story structure, capable of housing over 150,000 people, dominates the skyline of the ruins of Los Angeles. Every ten floors are independently governed and considered a “block.” Sample blocks are provided as a starting point and foundation for gamemasters to develop further.
Barbarians of the Ruined Earth is a colorful publication dominated by yellow and orange accents. It uses a single column of text with the occasional deviation into two columns of text from time to time. The page layout and color scheme are quite easy on the eyes. The book measures 6.625″ x 10.25″, with a full-color wrap-around cover and orange spine; it will noticeably stand out on your shelf. The PDF version features a hyperlinked table of contents for quick access to specific chapters.
Barbarians of the Ruined Earth has a lot of things going for it—simple, streamlined mechanics, little in the way of a learning curve, a post-apocalyptic genre with all the gonzo you could want, and if you’re like me, it scratches that Saturday morning cartoon itch. Mike Evans’ writing style presentation makes reading Barbarians of the Ruined Earth very enjoyable. To be quite honest, I have nothing negative to say about the rules, the writing, or the game’s stated goals. They hit the mark on all accounts.
If you’re looking for something new to explore or love post-apocalyptic games, Barbarians of the Ruined Earth is a winner by all accounts and one I am honored to have read!
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