Hellscapes: A Review
Hellscapes, from Scrivined, is a post-apocalyptic add-on for fifth edition D&D. It's a good product, far from perfect, but worth the money if you like 5e mechanics.
Hellscapes is fun to read. Its style is conversational and peppered with sly asides. The writing needs polishing, but it gets the job done with enough panache to cover the rough patches.
There is no section on how to play. Hellscapes is not a complete game; it is a post-apocalyptic tool kit that uses the D&D 5e rule set. It offers interesting player options, rules for vehicles, scavenging and crafting and a monster section.
The classes in Hellscapes are explicitly based on D&D classes. Each class has access to gambits: non-magical powers that can be used a limited number of times between rests. The gambits are a clever and well-implemented alternative to spells.
Origins replace D&D’s races. These include bestial (uplifted animals), mutant, and tribal. My favorite section is Tribal Ways, traits that define the character's tribe. Players pick three ways (We Ride On, We Hunt Prey, We Worship, etc.) that give their tribe various personal advantages. Tribal ways also provide advantages for visiting the tribe's home settlement.
If all the PC’s come from the same tribe, they can pick a fourth way. This builds an attractive home base into the setting, which can be a story investment for GM and players alike. Having characters come from different tribes, however, adds more settlements to the map and creates opportunities for faction-based play. Either choice is strong; tribal ways is a great mechanic for kicking off a cooperative survival experience.
Vehicle combat in Hellscapes looks simple but satisfying. The core conceit is that vehicles in a combat behave like a hybrid of monsters and terrain, and the rules built around that idea make for exciting and hazardous combats without adding unnecessary complexity. It plays like D&D, not Car Wars.
The monster section balances DIY advice with a broad selection of creatures to inhabit various post-apocalyptic scenarios: aliens, mutants, raiders, and zombies all get a fair portion of the section, which is simultaneously lean and robust.
Apart from the advice given in the early part of the book, there are no mechanisms for creating an actual Hellscape. There are no mapping tools or hex-crawl suggestions, no random ruin tables, no mission generators. There is a certain synergy to Hellscapes that becomes clear after reading the entire product, and your Hellscape will eventually emerge from that. For a product named for a type of space, however, it offers very little in terms of defining the geometry of your wasteland.
The illustrations in this game are beautiful and skillfully done, but the palates are more appropriate for space opera or cyberpunk. That and some truly baffling graphic design choices make the game’s art direction seem tone deaf. I’m not saying Post-Apoc products must have The Road’s Pennsylvania winter palate-WOTC’s Gama World was always colorful, if not garish. However, the graphic choices made in this game leave me feeling confused rather than immersed.
The crafting system is…well, it’s weird. Objects and locations can be broken down into raw materials. These are used to customize gear, create Personalized Items (the game’s version of magic items) and to fuel gambits. There’s a lot of “it’s up to the GM” language, which assumes a reasonable and cooperative GM. “Hard-nosed and oppositional" is a better assumption, in my experience. Nevertheless, the alternative of “a rule for every situation” is untenable. Perhaps a GM’s section on how to cooperate with players and encourage their creativity is in order.
I like Hellscapes. It uses the 5e engine to create deep interesting characters for action-oriented post-apoc gaming. Its 5e foundation allows me to cherry-pick mechanics and use them with Pugmire, which I greatly appreciate. Despite some missteps in art direction, Hellscapes is a welcome addition to my post-apoc toolbox.
Hellscapes at DriveThruRPG
Hellscapes at DriveThruRPG