Supplement Review: Altered Earth: Heroic Tier Threats (4E) by David Caffee for Chaos Trip Studios and Avalon Game Company

A few months ago I was able to look at a sample from David Caffee @ Chaos Trip Studios of the work he’s been doing for a science-fiction game that uses the D&D 4E rules. Though I wasn’t all that excited with what little I saw in those 17 pages, I definitely wanted to see a bit more of the Altered Earth setting. It seems that the full game was released back in August 2011 and has been followed up with a new release in January called Altered Earth: Heroic Tier Threats that acts like a monster manual
for the world – collecting mutants, androids, and crazy enemies for characters to go up against.

To be clear, I have not seen the full Altered Earth release itself, though it has gathered some solid reviews on the product page at RPGNow and at Flames Rising in a review by Megan. But I was still curious to see what foes the PCs might face if they explored the post-apocalyptic setting described by what I have read.

Altered Earth: Heroic Tier Threats offers a collection of “threats” ranging from Androids to Warbots with Clone Soldiers, Cyborgs, Genetically Engineered Organisms (GEOs), Sewer Mutants, and more between. Though only 36 pages, the book gives quite a few options to GMs seeking to populate a wasteland dotted with city-fortresses. And the artwork by Cerebus and Mike Willis is actually quite good – a combination of line drawings, grayscale, and color images scattered throughout. Each broad category of threats, such as “Cyber Beast” or “Risen” includes a handful of variations from minion-level to variations much harder to take down.

The monsters themselves are very well thought out, with clear reasons for the distinctions between types. Each category begins with an overview offering some high-level descriptions of each of the variants, which is then followed by a stat block for each. For example, with the “Android” category, you have everything from an “Ancient Guardian” which is basically an old-school automaton built long ago and buried in long-forgotten ruins protecting powerful relics and technologies. As “Elite” foes, these ‘droids probably aren’t the ones you’re looking for unless you can take a licking and keep on ticking. And on the other end of the spectrum you have an “Android Servant” as a minion that’s as easy to knock over as a bowling pin.

Also included in the overview for each category is a “Lore” section that details some of the info that a character might know with a successful skill check. A character might learn that “Androids that are not self-aware do only what they are programmed to do” with a DC 15 Science skill check. Or they might learn that “Android ancient guardians rarely become awakened to self-awareness but those who do are not subject to the psychological breakdowns that plague other machine intelligences” with a DC 20 History check.

Page layout is pretty simple, with a two-column approach across the board. Each new section is marked with a white on black heading at the top of the page and each stat block is marked with a black-on-gray box capturing the name of the monster, the strength (i.e. “Level 8 Elite Skirmisher”) and XP value for the beastie, and a description of the size of the critter (i.e. “Medium experimental humanoid”). I found the rounded corners of the gray boxes a bit distracting when reading the text on my iPad’s PDF reader, but it works. I would have liked to have seen a more standard breakdown of the stats with more white space.

Really I only have a couple of problems with the book itself. Without some sort of an introduction, you go from cover to inside cover to the TOC and right into the first category – “Android.” That was a bit jarring to me. I would have liked to have seen some sort of an introduction or overview to the book suggesting how the reader could use these threats in their campaigns or a bit of text tying them back to the Altered Earth setting itself before launching into lists of stat blocks.

My bigger problem is with the stat blocks and the little icons used to denote… Well, that’s the problem. I don’t know what they denote. There’s no key describing what a little circle with a line through it means or what the little circle with what looks like a jet plane in it means. And there were places that included images of six-sided dice with different combinations. What do those mean?

But overall if you’re looking for some 4E threats for your Altered Earth campaign or are looking for some ideas for encounters, Altered Earth: Heroic Tier Threats has plenty to offer.

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