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A Dead Age Teaser by Alea Publishing Group

dead age preview coverOne facet of the old d20 System was its ability to be morphed and “re-skinned” into genres other than a heroic fantasy role-playing game involving dungeons and dragons.  There are any number of settings that picked up on this trait under the OGL, and used d20 for horror (Call of Cthulhu), scifi (Traveller d20), and other fantasy role-playing games (Pathfinder).

But there are writers out there that are finding the 4E system to be just as morph-able into other genres as the old d20 System was.  For instance, Chris Dias of Dias Ex Machina has created a world, under 4E rules, in which fantasy monsters and magic conflict against science-fiction technology in a fight for supremacy.  The D&D 4E character “chassis” of powers and feats have been re-skinned to allow for techan characters to get into gun-fights against dragons, demons, and spell-casters in this new vision of planet Earth.

And DEM Games is not alone in pushing at the boundaries of what the 4E system is capable of morphing into.  Recently, I received a preview of a new campaign setting from Josh Raynack of Alea Publishing Group, which takes D&D 4E out of its fantasy genre, and into a new realm of post-apocalyptic survival – where mankind has vanished, becoming Those Who No Longer Remain, and players portray a new breed of characters known as Those They Left Behind – in Dead Age!

Dead Age (Teaser)

  • Designer: Joshua Raynack
  • Illustrations: David Kegg (cover), Joshua Raynack and Bertrand B. (interior)
  • Publisher: Alea Publishing Group
  • Year: 2011

Overview

Dead Age is a post-apocalyptic science-fiction RPG campaign setting designed to use the D&D 4E rules set.  Players of Dead Age design characters which are the non-human remnants of an advanced technological civilization – human beings have long since died out, and are considered Those Who No Longer Remain.

A Darker Setting

On first glance, Dead Age admittedly bears a certain resemblance to the recently released D&D Gamma World RPG, where players portray, tongue-in-cheek, some rather bizarre characters spawned from a pair of random mutations in a “kitchen-sink” post-apocalyptic setting.

But really, that comparison pretty much stops at first glance.

From reading the material that Josh supplied me, it is pretty clear that Dead Age is a fairly dark and grim, survival-based, science fiction role-playing setting.  Technology and civilization are decaying all around, and characters must fight not only to survive in this bleak world, but try to carve out some sort of future for themselves amid all the wreckage.  For those interested in checking out some of the introductory material, Alea Publishing released a Dead Age Sneak Peak back in 2009 which can be downloaded for free from RPGNow.com.

In many respects, the setting reminds me of the gloomy and terrifying world as portrayed in the movie 9, in which little life-force-animated mannequins did battle against a machine-entity to free the world from the grip of death.  Similarly, in Dead Age, there are entities which look upon the characters as “spare parts”, such as one such mysterious being known only as The Collector, who sends its spyderbots scavenging among the ruins for pieces of ancient technology.  And much like the world portrayed in 9, player-characters are not humans, but are Those They Left Behind – advanced technological constructs of The Time Before.
Image from the movie "9"
Interestingly, like most D&D campaign settings, the world of Dead Age actually has more than one “realm” of existence.  But rather than the Feywild and Shadowfell (or Gray, if you’re adventuring in Dark Sun), Dead Age has two other realms to explore beyond the crumbling ruins of a lost humanity: The Dreaming Web and the Neuronet.  Including these other realms in Dead Age opens the campaign setting up to meta-physical and cyberpunk style adventures, which should provide even more variety than mere survival amidst the ruins.

Strange New Characters

When dealing with character creation for a game like Dead Age, the Author has taken a really interesting perspective on design – don’t envision yourself as the character, but as the human engineer or programmer that made the construct that would survive beyond Those Who No Longer Remain:

Creating a Dead Age character, like in any other charac-ter in the 4E D&D PLAYER’S HANDBOOK, is a simple task. However, this campaign guide offers an unique approach to help create a truly interesting array of characters.

Alter your perception: Try not to think of your-self as a Player creating a Player Character, instead envision yourself as human programmer; a member of Those That No Longer Remain. You are on the verge of designing an artificial life-form, whether mechanical or bio-logical in nature, to suit a specific purpose. You have no idea that your creation will outlive humanity, just that it must meet a particular task.

Choose a schematic: As a programmer, scour your manuals for statistics to match your vision. The 4E D&D PLAYER’S HANDBOOK, as well as other guidebooks, offer a multitude of racial statistic blocks to select what you need to begin. For example, as a programmer, if I need my design to be a small robot to repair air conditioning ducts or a child needed for espionage, I might choose the Halfling or Gnome racial traits.

I found this approach to character design to be really fascinating, and even a little creepy, and brought to mind not only the strange little doll-constructs from the movie 9 I previously mentioned, but also the child android in A.I., and the little garbage-collecting robot in WALL-E.  There are all manner of possibilities for non-human characters what would survive whatever folly eliminated mankind from the Earth, and Dead Age could support any or all of them as the cast of player-characters.  Upon reading Dead Age, I was actually trying to figure out how I would represent a moravec – sentient cyborgs sent to colonize and mine the moons of Jupiter in Dan Simmons  novel Ilium.  I think that the various moravecs’ obsessions of trying to understand ancient human culture, by becoming experts on Shakespearean sonnets or the writings of Proust, would make for a really interesting play experience.
DeadAge characters
Of course, the Author does have options for races beyond re-skinning those found in the Player’s Handbook – there are five racial archetypes that generally adhere to monster roles (artillery, brute, controller, etc.), but have been adopted for use in creating player-characters.  In addition, these archetypes also have a set of racial theme powers which can be used to augment a character class.

Character classes would require a certain amount of re-skinning as well, but I think generally that would be in the nature of the flavor text.  For Arcane and Divine powers in Erewhon (Earth as it is known by Those They Left Behind), the Author recommends re-skinning the powers as using of powerful ancient technologies – even if the character decides to claim that their powers come from some strange deity or by using magic!  But there would certainly be some idiosyncrasies among even mutants, clones, and androids, particularly if there programming began to fail, and they wandered into the fantasy section at a ruined library looking for an operators’ manual…

What about a Campaign?

But as I read through the sampling of Dead Age player material that the Author sent me, I could not help but to analyze it from a DM’s perspective.  What sort of adventures and long term quests might a DM run in a world of technological ruin like Erewhon, and what might be the long-term goals of these player-character, non-human constructs?

Of course, during the Heroic Tier, there would be a lot of fighting for survival types of adventures, and struggling against other constructs and mutants for parts and food, lost tech and weapons, and other basic needs.  But in the Paragon and Epic Tiers, players would be looking for something a bit more world spanning than defending themselves against a gang of cyborg-scavengers.

Obviously, I was intrigued by this mysterious character called The Collector.  Certainly, a whole campaign could involve seeking out The Collector and finding out his secrets – and possibly destroying him and his unknown plans for ancient tech – rather than wandering the ruins, eloi-like, waiting for his spyderbots to carry you away.  But really, that plot is obvious, and there is plenty of science-fiction themes one could use in a setting like this.

What if aliens wiped out humanity, and they still had bases on the world, mining away at the resources of the planet until it was on the verge of collapse – certainly, the constructs of Those That No Longer Remain would want to stop them, or at least seek revenge!  Or perhaps The Collector is not a villain after all, but a technological wizard of sorts, trying to save Erewhon from destruction from a run-away black hole at its core… or the sun about to expand to a red giant… or any number of world-shattering catastrophes which might eliminate the last vestiges of humanity – even if those vestiges are just humanities’ robots, clone-farms, cyborgs, and alterant replicants!

Without a doubt, there’s some serious campaign potential here!

Conclusions

I find myself really intrigued by the Dead Age setting, and I think there is a lot of potential for a 4E setting like this, particularly among gamers who crave an intense and dark role-playing experience.  Certainly, there are those hard-core Gamma World enthusiasts who did not like the “slap-stick” direction the new edition went under D&D 4E rules, and would appreciate the grim and gritty setting that Dead Age provides.  And for DMs, there are decades of dystopia and post-apocalyptic science-fiction out there to draw campaign arcs from, as there appears to be no limits on technology or science that often restrain some space opera campaign settings.

I definitely look forward to seeing more about Dead Age in the coming months, and wish the Author and Alea Publishing Group the best of luck with their new project!

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!


About The Author

Editor-in-Chief
Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.

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