Degenesis: Rebirth Edition
March 13, 2073 – the beginning of the end. A storm of meteors rained down, cratering the Earth and sending hot ash into the skies. Hail, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions helped usher in a new ice age as darkness covered the globe. Glaciers increased in size as they choked their way slowly towards the equator. Survivors took shelter underground, surfacing only for resources. Eventually, the glaciers receded, and the Earth renewed. The areas straddling the equator blossom into tropical paradises. Survivors began to thrive again—forming communities and forging a new existence.
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Degenesis is a Eurocentric apocalyptic game set in 2595, 500 years after a cataclysmic event reshaped society. For this review, I’ll be examining Degenesis: Rebirth Edition, a two-book set housed in a slipcase. The first book is titled “Primal Punk” and contains the game’s setting, while the second book “Katharsys” holds the game’s mechanics. Due to the amount of material spanning the two books, I will present this review in two parts—each focusing on one book.
Degenesis: Primal Punk is high in quality and design. Its sturdy pages have an excellent feel, and a sewn bookmark slips between them. The layout and artwork are fantastic. It visually takes you on a journey through its pages, beginning with “The Jackal’s Prophecy,” a poetic telling of the end, listing its signs in numbers. It’s told over eight visually expressive pages as a primer for the next section about Eshaton, the destruction of society, and Homo Sapiens’ new competition that sprang from five impact craters. This section uses white type on black with monochromatic imagery to emphasize the dark tone of the content.
From five deep impact craters, wisps of black smoke rise. It is the Primer, the next evolutionary step for humankind. Tiny spores of organic material coated vast swaths of land, birthing the Sepsis; massive spore patches. Ingesting its purple dust from its fields yields euphoric results known as the Burn. Users become hosts even before their effects wear off, breeding spores within until cleansed by fire. Infants who have contact Sepsis transforms into Homo Degensis, known as Soulless Ones, Abborants, or Psychonauts. All are feared and unwanted. The spore continues to multiple, covering more land, infecting more souls, and producing more abominations.
The Crow and Lion
Europe and Africa evolved into seven distinct cultures hosting thirteen cults. Europe is the Crow, scavaging the land, picking up useless artifacts, circling carcasses, and old traditions. Africa is the Lion, noble, robust, not tied to the past, fighting tooth and nail to survive. The Lion is hungry and ready to cross the watery border to feast on crow.
As humanity reemerged into societies, it coalesced into seven unique cultures based on geographical location. Starting West and moving east, there is Africa, Hybrispania, Franka, Borca, Purgare, Pollen, and Balkhan. Each is based on broad stereotypical characteristics of the region they cover.
Africa’s northern half is home to the most prominent culture. In the years preceding the Eshaton, the Africans united as one, gaining the upper hand over the Crow. The Lion has pushed into the Crow’s territory, holding and gaining more each day. Africans and Hybrispanians spanned the pass once known as the Straits of Gibraltar with debris when the receding seas exposed the sea bed, bridging the two cultures. The Hybrispanians first exploited it, robbing the Lion of its precious African Oil, but the Lions fought back and had a foothold on lower Hybrispania.
Africa is the world’s bazaar, with Tripol as its center with towering skyscrapers adorned with cloth awnings. All exotic goods can be found in its marketplace and banks, speaking to its wealth. Africa is strong, but a plant known as Psychovores threatens their way of life. This strange twisted fern infects a host, robbing them of their language and replacing it with a primordial one. A simple prick of its thorns causes the skin to blister and blacken, with necrotic tissue eating away at the flesh until fully decayed. The Neolibyans call it the Spirit Eater and harvest the plant for its seeds for medicinal use. Great lengths are taken to fight its growth as it overtakes all other vegetation in the land.
Once separated by the Straits of Gibraltar, the Crow and Lion come to blows, with no end in sight. The Hybrispanians are a strong, proud people willing to do whatever is necessary to drive the African Scourgers from their land. Guerreros regale audiences with their battle stories and recreate them in ritualistic displays. The Hybrispanians hold an edge over their Lion foes. In the mountains lies the Pregnoctics, aberrations tolerated by the Hybrispanians for their insight into the future. Seeking their help comes with a high price, but Hybrispanians will pay any cost to rid their lands of the Lion.
A global upheaval fired dirt and water into the sky, bridging Ireland, Great Britain, and France to create Franka. The land transformed into a wet, swampy breeding ground for swarms of insects. The Frankens adapt with boats, rafts, elevated huts, and mud to protect themselves from the throngs. They share the land with Pheromancers, abominations of the Sepsis. Pheromancers are strange figures with tubercular lumps and little clothing that drunkenly dance the insects’ language. Feeding ants, wasps, and termites from their festering glands give them control of the swarms and those who inhale their pheromone scent. Their queen resides in the mountains of Souffrance. Pheromancers and humans co-exist, some controlled by the Pheromancers, others immune from their scent but play along for survival. There are a few protected pockets outside the Pheromancers’ influences, such as those in the northwest territory of Briton.
The land of Borca features giant metal buildings, thriving cities, vast plains, and deadly dust. It roughly encompasses what was once Germany and part of its smaller neighbors. Its borders reach the frozen north where glacial ice melts in the warm seasons, feeding the rivers and lakes. The Alps mountain range marks its southern border. The Reaper Blow, a tectonic event from the Eshaton, ripped a massive scar the length of the territory, separating East from West. Crossing it is dangerous if not using one of its congested controlled crossing points in the southern region. The West is flush with metals, while wood is abundant in the East. The West is industrialized and bustling, while the East has returned to a simple existence without technology. The West is host to toxic clouds of red dust from its many craters. Dust storms rarely occur, but those caught in one suffer severe eye irritation and pulmonary failure. Borcans wear many layers of clothing, goggles, and masks to protect themselves.
Justitian, the Righteous Fist, is Borca’s largest city. It offers protection for subjugation. Its inhabitants, the Providers, agree to abide by the city’s rules which divides its occupants into citizens and outlaws. Rulebreakers are subject to forced labor. An organized group called the Protectorate expanded the cities ideals into neighboring settlements, offering the same terms for security.
In the center of the map is Purgare, formerly Italy, and its surrounding islands. The territory is split in two like Borca by the Reapers Bow. The northwestern division is filled with volcanic fissures spewing toxic gases and home to parasites known as Psychokinesis. Through swarms of mosquitoes, leeches, fleas, ticks, and tapeworms, Psychokinesis feeds off the energies of their environment. When satiated, they explosively release it, engulfing itself in force fields that attract orbiting objects, which are then later hurled forth.
In Purgare’s East, the land is fertile with farms, olive groves, and wine vineyards. The eastern territory holds the land’s most productive farm fields, which are fought over with Balkhan, who seek to take those fertile fields from their western neighbors. A strong sense of family holds Purgare together.
Pollen amasses the area once called Poland and part of Ukraine. It is now covered in craters, red dust, ravenous Husk Spiders, and burrowing centipedes. The survivors of Pollen wishing to rebuild quickly welcomed strangers, even the Leechers at first. The Leechers are this region’s Sepsis’ mutations, named for the infected infants required to be forcibly removed from their nursing mother’s chests only to seek another to latch upon. Their skin features bony protrusion, and their skulls are deformed or elongated. They are immune to the cold and heal rapidly. As quickly as they appeared, they disappeared in the Discordance—burring themselves into the ground. New Biokinetics rose in their place from Pandora, the largest crater of Pollen, protecting the spore fields and carrying insect plagues within the folds of their skins.
Fractal Forests bearing forbidden fruit began to spring up in spore fields gone fallow. Once ingested, its uncooked plants and fruits take root in the body, cut the flesh in minutes, and drain the body of its fluids, killing its host. Pollen’s Clans tend to the forests, removing webs left by fruit dining spiders. Polleners have learned how to safely eat from the forest and use that knowledge to test the trust of outsiders.
The Balkhan is a wild region once the home of many Slovic cultures, Greeks, and Turks. The land is filled with stormy grassy plains, snowy mountains peaks, and short-tempered but quick to forgive hospitable people. Balkhanis are a fearsome and loyal group with a love of strength and competition, uniting under threats. Africans raid their lands, enslaving the captured. Out of the Usud Crater, the Carpathian mountains hum and vibrate, adding the bass line of a greater song sung by the Dushani, who manipulate the land to keep the piece in perfect pitch. Its sound waves reverberate, infecting the soul and corrupting the minds of the Balkani. There are many hidden secrets and dangers in Balkhan, like the sheltered tunnels constructed long ago to withstand the impending cataclysm, now exposed and ready for plunder.
Within the seven cultures emerged thirteen cults. Below is just the essence of each cult. Primal Punk provides deep descriptive histories and career paths featuring ranks or positions within hierarchy for player characters to aspire to and stereotypical attitudes towards other cults.
Spitalians are scientists, doctors, and warriors. They study Sepsis, tend to the ill, and enforce hygiene laws. Spitalians dress in white suits accented with black and carry hinged polearms. They explore spore fields, battle Sepsis with fungicides, and develop poisons. Replete with shaved heads and bodies covered in limestone, they live by the motto, purity is life.
Before the Eshaton, information flowed along the Stream. It digitally recorded and cataloged every moment in its evolutionary algorithm. With the Stream gone, Chroniclers fill that void. They are knowledge seekers, continuing the work of the Stream. Masked in black leather face coverings and flowing capes adorned with barcodes, they collect artifacts and data on everyone, using it for their own gain.
Hellvetics are the remnants of the Swiss Army, which fortified their position in the days leading up to the Eshaton. Prepared as they were, it did not prevent the destruction of their alpine stronghold by the Reaper Bow. In the aftermath, they venture out of their mountain home and continue to act as soldiers, restoring order and maintaining a robust military presence in the area.
Birthing the Protectorate of Justitian, Judges apply their Codex of law and hammers onto the wasteland. They lord over outlaws and rulebreakers, handing down strict and righteous judgments. They live by the Codex—the principles of justice.
Rulers of the wasteland, Clanners, learned quickly to survive after the Eshaton. Coming together in groups, early survivors pooled their resources and primitive knowledge to exist. Today Clanners roam the wastes, protecting their gains by force. Seen as savages, they are nomadic tribes that live off the land using simple methods.
Scrappers, are the dirt diggers hunting for artifacts to sell for profit. Picking through ruins or tunneling into the Earth, Scrappers make their living selling what they find. It is a lonely, dirty, and dangerous occupation, but Chroniclers pay high dollars for yesteryears junk.
High upon the seas, Neolibyans are the world’s merchants, bringing commerce and banking to the shores of civilization. They control the trade in the Mediterranean. Ships laden with precious metals, jewels, spices, and exotic oils make their way to the Crow’s shores. Neolibyans are also great hunters traveling into the depths of the Crow to seek their prey.
Scourgers want nothing but revenge—revenge on the Crow for its past oppression. Scourgers are ruthless in their endeavor to punish the white man for their crimes against their fellow Africans. For the Crow, they are the harbingers of death. Those not killed are enslaved and sold by the Neolibyans. Scourgers are the avengers for the Dark Continent.
Anubians are the descendants of Egypt following their spiritual paths, hoping to transform into a perfect vessel of Ka, their souls. They strive for perfection to become immortal in the Thread of Life. They accomplish this through drugging themselves with poisonous Psychovre fruit or cutting down Psychonauts in the land of the Crow. Their path always brings them back to Cairo, wherever their way leads them.
Jehammedans are not made; they are born. Like their fathers and their father’s father before them, Jehammedans follow the path laid out for them at birth. Jehammedans adhere to solid family values, and divine virtues seeped in past religious and cultural traditions. They are fierce protectors of their families and follow the will of their predetermined destinies.
Vice, excess, and free will are the hallmarks of Apocalyptics. Lords of desire, Apocalyptics thrive on excess and depravity. They live for the moment, not caring for the consequences of their actions. Those with the same passions form Flocks. Knife fighters are Battle crows, while whores and thieves are Magpies. They are all ruled by the Ravens, who lead the flocks. Apocalyptics are the bane of Judges.
The world was once pure, filled with green fields, towering trees, and transparent waters. The Eshaton took that away, and it’s the Anabaptists’ ambition to bring it back. With oils, fire, and the truth of the Neognostic teachings, they fight back against the abominations. It is their only purpose in life, purge the unclean.
From their underground shelters, Palers survived the Eshaton. Coming to the surface only to raid others for their supplies, Palers keep to their dimly lit existence. They leave their protective bunkers to seek others Palers in their underground shelters with the hopes of reuniting them all.
The final chapter in Degensis: Primal Punk is an in-depth historical timeline. Begining in 2073, it spans the history up to the setting’s date of 2595. It provides a handy and comprehensive overview of the events within.
The setting is tasteful executed but is steeped in stereotypes and past aggressions. It is content-rich, but some may find some of it unwelcoming. Degenesis contains mature themes not suited for some audiences; profanity, nudity, racism, drug use, stereotypes, subjugation, and more. It is designed for mature audiences only.
Most roleplaying games save their setting for the later part of their games. Degensis: Primal Punk chose to present it first, which I find odd. As colorful and inspirational as it is, at 360 pages, it is a massive investment without knowing its core mechanics. Degensis: Primal Punk reads like short stories instead of a detailed setting. It is hyper-descriptive without directly describing the location itself, leaving the reader to piece it together based on the flavorful atmospheric sentences. I found it challenging to comprehend.
The setting rich in content drops a lot of names throughout. I often recused myself from reading to gaze upon its world map and reread its introductory paragraphs highlighting its cultures, cults, and infections for clarity.
Religion is an area I lack expertise. Through the years of studying art, I’ve picked up enough to recognize the religious undertone within Degensis’s setting. The bastardization of eschaton to numerical use of raptures (sepsis infections) are just a couple of examples of its influence.
In my next article, Part two, I will be finishing this slipcase set with book two, Degenesis: Katharsys. There I will cover the game’s mechanics, character generation, gamemaster section, bestiary, and more. I can only hope my time spend reading through such an extensive setting pays off with amiable gameplay.