Jam-packed into some mere 28 pages are an overview of the setting, several sample characters, an adventures AND some ancillary material: plenty and enough to decide if this is a game that would appeal to you and your players.
First comes the setting information. After talking a bit about science-fiction adventures in the far future, things calm down a bit and it turns out that this is a post-apocalyptic Earth setting some unspecified time in the future. Civilisation has been destroyed in a series of wars, so well destroyed that nobody really remembers what it used to be like. Out of the chaos there arose powerful warlords who over the course of time have established fortified city-states that stand proud over the desolation and wilderness. Against this backdrop, all manner of adventures may be had.
The cities are teeming masses of humanity, crowded into too little space, piled layer upon layer, the higher up you live, the better-off you are. Governance is sparse, law and order just about non-existant. The rich hire security, the rest survive as best they can. Even in those rare places that hold elections, little concern is paid to the well-being of the population, whilst the majority of places are under the sway of a dictatorship of some kind. Real power lies in two places: the corps and the warlords. Neither care about ordinary people.
So, given this premise, 5 pre-generated characters and an adventure for them to play are provided for those who are intrigued enough to want to try this out. Glancing over the character sheets, it's clear how core D&D 4e has been bent, folded, mangled, spindled and macerated to suit. You'll still need the corebooks to make the most of it, or certainly once you branch off to concocting your own materials or characters for this setting, but there's a whole range of new stuff - from chain-swords (shades of Rifts here!) to appropriate powers and skills - that remain true to the underlying system yet give it a distinctive spin.
The adventure comes next. Set in the urban jungle of the lower levels of one of these vast cities, the characters are asked to find a missing girl, whose adventure sampling the darker side of life has gone sadly awry. Encounters aplenty await, as they make their way through situations that are described evocatively, words bringing them to life in the mind's eye. Chases, brawls, negotiations, opportunity to try out role-playing, skills and that chain-sword as you explore this alternate reality and stamp your mark upon it.
Then comes the additional material. Some concept art, mostly warriors and gangers, people you'd not care to meet in a dark alley but probably will if you play the adventure. And more background material, this in the tangible form of how money is handled in this game, and some of the things you can buy with it. Want a protein bar, or space in a 'coffin hotel' to spend the night?
As an appetiser, this gives a fair bit to get your teeth into (although I wouldn't recommend the protein bar, to be honest!), certainly enough to try the game out and consider whether or not it will suit your group and meet your gaming needs. And it's free, a good start. More than that, though, it does give a good flavour, a good feel, for what is in store.
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Reviewed: 27 July 2011