Review: Chaos Trip Studios – Altered Earth (Dungeons & Dragons)


Altered Earth
Altered Earth is a gothic sci-fi post-apocalyptic setting for Dungeons & Dragons written by David Caffee and published by Chaos Trip Studios, an imprint of Avalon Games.
By Aaron T. Huss

Altered Earth is a set of sci-fi mechanics, set on a post-apocalyptic version of Earth, for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. It utilizes all the standard D&D mechanics while the bulk of the publication is dedicated to adding the sci-fi options to coincide with the setting. The format found in Altered Earth results in more of a sci-fi sourcebook than an actual setting guide with the new options being available for any sci-fi setting using the 4th Edition mechanics.

SETTING

Altered Earth starts by establishing the altered Earth setting – a gritty, sci-fi version of a post-apocalyptic Earth. Most of this description is dedicated to what are the major features of a possible city within Altered Earth, but the actual details of the setting are missing. Basically, instead of detailing a setting, they provide descriptions of how to create a city within the now altered Earth. It allows for flexibility but it also avoids creating an actual setting.

RACES

Altered Earth is a humanistic setting so only humans or altered forms of humans (including robotic versions) are allowed. This is a difficult move as D&D is established on a number of fantasy races. Five new races are detailed in traditional D&D fashion.

CLASSES

Altered Earth includes three new classes that are meant to be sci-fi in nature. They are Athlete, Diplomat, and Specialist with each one containing all the new spell details as standard with D&D 4th Edition. However, it does not include details on how the currently available GSL classes fit into the Altered Earth setting or how they affect character creation. Additionally, when reading the fluff, the Specialist class is the only one that feels like a sci-fi character class.

PARAGON PATHS

Six new paragon paths are included to coincide with the new classes. These are well designed paths but there are no paths that tie the already available character classes with new sci-fi options.

SKILLS AND FEATS

Sci-fi settings and systems are often filled with technology-based skills. Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition completely lacks these mechanics and Altered Earth does not provide them either. There are two new skills, but none of them correspond to technology. A number of new Feats are detailed to coincide with the races, character classes, and paragon paths, and these are also designed quite well. They add good flavor to the game and enhance the settings sci-fi appeal.

EQUIPMENT

Altered Earth details a high amount of new weapons, armor, gear, and vehicles. They are not only sci-fi in nature but are also modern and those that stay clear of the fantasy genre. There is a good combination of weapons and armor with only a small selection of vehicles. Additionally, there are mechanics for converting copper, silver, and gold to a new, sci-fi currency.

OVERALL

Altered Earth is a decent sci-fi setting for Dungeons & Dragons, but really lacks a lot of the standard items you would expect in sci-fi adventures. The races are good but the classes do a poor job of representing sci-fi. In addition, there are no explanations within the publication to link the already available options in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition to the Altered Earth setting. How do the current classes fit into an adventure? What about feats, skills, and equipment? You learn about the new options but the already available options are never discussed.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 7 out of 10
The overall layout and format of Altered Earth is very bland. Much of it is functional, but there are randomly placed illustrations that appear to simply take up space and the overall eye appeal is quite low. However, the formatting of the individual mechanics designs is quite good. It may not use the standard templates of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, but it definitely formats them in a way that is readable and easy-to-use.

Mechanics: 7 out of 10
The new races are good, the character classes are fair, the powers coinciding with the character classes are excellent, the paragon paths are cool, and the feats are great. Altered Earth does a better job of presenting sci-fi oriented mechanics than it does creating the actual setting. The book could be strengthened by either adding more content typical to sci-fi games (especially the character classes), or changing the book to a sci-fi sourcebook (maybe part of a series?) that simply adds options for creating fantasy space opera adventures. The difficulty with creating sci-fi mechanics in Dungeons & Dragons is that inherently, it lacks much of the mechanics required for playing sci-fi (such as extensive rules for ranged weapons).

Desire to Play: 6 out of 10
While the Altered Earth mechanics are good, Dungeons & Dragons is not designed to accommodate this type of sci-fi or space opera. There are many mechanics missing to properly create sci-fi adventures. The biggest pitfall is combat and skills. While it’s easy to create new races, classes, feats, and equipment, it’s very difficult to get over the lack of sci-fi combat and skills mechanics. However, many people play D&D and will be already familiar with the basic mechanics.

Overall: 7 out of 10
Altered Earth is a good attempt at creating a sci-fi setting for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. This is very difficult due to how D&D is designed. The setting lacks much detail and I’d like to see many more classes for a sci-fi setting. It would be a great starting point for those who really want to use D&D for sci-fi, or it could make a great addition to a fantasy space opera. Whatever your purpose, there are lots of mechanics to get you going.

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