Book Review: Blood Dawn: The Prophecy by Lawrence R. Sims and SSDC, Inc.

The world will end someday. The only things that change are the how and the when. We’ve heard from folks of many faiths that Armageddon, Ragnarok, or Apocalypse will eventually bring a day of reckoning for us all. We hear from astronomers that tell us in a few billion years (estimates vary), the sun will destroy the planet in fire – or possibly via a comet or asteroid collision. And if that wasn’t enough, every millennium or so, certain folks invent new devastations such as Y2K or the impending end of the Mayan calendar.

Regardless what version of the truth you examine, it’s true that the world will probably come to an end sooner or later. I’m hoping for later, but that’s just me.

I’ve also heard people say recently that the Earth will survive most of the scientifically or human-created apocalypses, but we may not. Through environmental neglect, nuclear disaster, or good old-fashioned wars – I think this may be the more likely way we go out as a species. Maybe this is a slightly nihlistic point of view, but the one truth I hold to be self evident is a simple one – humankind is just as capable of extreme acts of beauty and kindness as it is capable of wanton destruction and hate. And no matter how the odds stack up, it’s usually easier to destroy than it is to create.

Perhaps that explains why I’m sometimes fascinated (morbidly so at times) with post-apocalyptic fiction. Whether it’s the Terminator, Mad Max or Fallout 3 – each takes a slightly different approach to how things might have ended. Obviously the machines take over in the Terminator universe. In Mad Max, they never talk about what’s happened exactly but it’s definitely gone dystopian in Australia with gang violence reaching new heights. And in the Fallout universe, resource shortages lead to an all-out nuclear strike that destroys a good portion of the world leaving a few survivors to fend for themselves.

Though SSDC’s Blood Dawn: The Prophecy RPG starts after a nuclear holocaust, that’s about where the similarity ends to the Fallout universe. In the post-apocalyptic world of Blood Dawn, the Waste is all that’s left. Survivors and those born into this new world are left to quickly find allegiances to groups large enough to protect them and find ways to contribute to those groups. But that’s not all of it. The new world is not just populated by relatively “normal” people like you and I. No, the Waste has changed a few in interesting ways. Like always, life adapts to new conditions and surroundings – and the varieties are quite intriguing.

Ultimately one of the questions explored in this world is “What is humanity?” Is the answer black and white? Is it “Homo Sapiens“? Or is it more than that? Can a mutated group of beings who have an identity and can reproduce still be human? Unfortunately if our own history can be a guide, the answer is no. There will be people who will not want to accept that those people who don’t look like “us” might be human. Fortunately, there will always be those of us who will hopefully be able to accept change and be more open to these other folks who may not look like us but if treated kindly and fairly can be our allies and friends in the continual fight to survive.

Players take on the roles of “Prophets.” Prophets are augmented with genetic and cybernetic enhancements to allow them to hopefully survive long enough to do good work for the Guardians: the keepers of the secrets of the Underground Collective trying to help mankind raise itself out of destruction once again. The prophets are supposed to find ways to not only reach the people in the Waste outside the major populated areas, but teach them how to survive and thrive. As you might imagine, it’s back to basics with learning how to tend to the land, raise crops, build homes, and come together to protect themselves against those who might want to take what they have.

Blood Dawn uses a d20-based system with a few characteristics – Strength, Manual Dexterity, IQ, Agility, Constitution, Guts, Intuition, Charisma, and Body Points (like HP). Each character gets 130 points to divide into these 9 categories, with 30 being the highest value. Since it costs 1 point for values of 20 or less and 2 points for every point above 20, you can see how you have to make a few key choices up front.

Beyond the description of those vital stats is where things got very cool. There are mutant races in the Waste. They’re not greeted with open arms and many are openly hunted down and destroyed. But each of the six main groups (Albino Giants, Druids, Ghouls, Healers, Humans, and Witches) has details as to their appearance, philosophy and culture, tactics, opinions on the other races, special abilities, and more. Each race is also marked with a unique icon that reminds me of Aboriginal art symbols from Australia or even older cave drawings. This icon is prevalent on any page describing the race, making it easy to flip through and see which pages apply. I love this approach for its simplicity and yet practicality – I wish I saw it used by other publishers where it made sense!

Back to the races for a minute – I love the variety. Sure, the Albino Giants are huge and the Druids are trying to protect folks working the land, but the Ghouls are awesome. As they say – “Somehow, I must find a way to convince others that I am not some kind of monster. I simply am not.” Monstrous races are vilified and hunted by those who choose not to accept their simple existence nor comply with their wishes. And sure the Ghouls are like goats and will seemingly eat anything, including corpses – drinking the blood, crunching the bones, and so on. But *I* certainly wouldn’t want to mess with one. These guys mean business! With the first
person, conversational approach to describing each group, it makes it much easier to get into the mindset of the race as a part of the character, even if it’s a ghoul.

Witches are cool as well, using naturally existing pockets of natural energy (woods, lakes, glaciers) and ley lines to cast spells and do magic. Even though they are more human than the Ghouls, many would just as soon burn them at the stake and be done with it, and yet having folks capable of casting spells and utilizing coven resources in times of need can be quite handy.

Maya calendar

Image via Wikipedia

Although each race has its own benefits and drawbacks, you can also apply other mutations to your characters. Some are useful (having an eye on the back of your skull for example), but others may grant you more points to spend on other things (such as having a Cyclopean eye or having an offensive odor). As with any sort of advantages and disadvantages, you’ll need to balance these out so you’re a walking freak show with a purpose and not just a walking freak show.

In addition to the races, there are also complete Archetypes you can use to jump-start character development. Each of these includes a description, a bit of insight, vital stats, skills, any magic available, and equipment carried. The drawings in this section are out of this world and offer a great glimpse into what such a character may in fact look like in the Waste.

After that, you get into skills, rules, magic, and equipment lists as well as a chapter on “Life in the Waste” to finish the character development process out. I won’t go into detail about these sections except to note something I found quite useful.

In the Moebius Adventures RPG, I always used to encourage players to put tick marks beside the skills they used so they could raise them when they had enough experience points (XP) to do so. It was an unwritten guideline I used in my own campaigns that didn’t make it into the rulebook itself. Blood Dawn goes one big step further for skills and spells, allowing players to put down tick marks each time they use a skill or spell and raise them independently of other characteristics. I love this idea as a mechanic simply because it offers players a way to throughout a campaign develop those skills and spells they use most often, making them even more useful as things progress.

Last, the book includes a section for the Game Master on running Blood Dawn campaigns. Included are possible adventure scenarios and ways to keep things moving.

Obviously I’m glossing over a few things here. There’s no way to really summarize a nearly 250 page book in a blog post. But hopefully I hit a few of the high points.

As with Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century, SSDC did an amazing job with this book. Cool concepts, amazing artwork, great layout, and a system that seems pretty straightforward to pick up and run with quickly. There were a few editing issues here and there, with occasional extra space, odd capitalization, and the odd sentence or two – but those minor nits don’t ever get in the way of understanding the material. If I was going to run a post-apocalyptic game, I would seriously have to look at Blood Dawn as a setting and rules system.

If you (like me) like trying to figure out what a possible human-started apocalypse might be like, Blood Dawn: The Prophecy should be at the top of your list to check out. For more details about SSDC, check out their website. And for much more about Blood Dawn, check out the SSDC wiki about the game. There’s more information available there.

Look for Blood Dawn: The Prophecy at RPGNow or DriveThruRPG!

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