Posted on January 6, 2009 by Flames
I was excited to receive my review copy of this corebook. There are genres that I enjoy and there are genres that I love. Preventing Apocalypses falls into the latter category. In fact, I hoped it could provide the mechanics for a two-year old campaign I have been running. The idea of agencies combating the supernatural, while not original, remains a wide open field. There are several facets of the genre that can be explored, be it comedy, splatterpunk, or Lovecraftian horror. The game’s subtitle–An Action, Horror RPG . . . with a twist of Humor–relates the focus of API. This is a lighter look at the supernatural, something along the lines of Hellboy.
Before I get into the game’s writing, I’ll first mention its layout and artwork. The PDF cover sheet depicts a panorama of New York City. I like this artwork; however, the use of NYC makes little sense. The game’s agencies don’t hold a chief office in that city, choosing Coloma, California and Miami, Florida instead. The interior artwork has a range relative to the game’s horror with a slice of humor vibe. Most of the artwork has a comic book feel to it, particularly similar to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book and abandoned cartoon. Some pieces are more gruesome, depicting impaled victims and other horrific goodness. Each of the pages contain bloodsplatter to positive effect; likewise, each of the chapter headings provide another urban panorama that turns into a bloodsplatter as one looks down the art. All in all, I think the artwork, while restrained, works really well for this game.
The game itself is broken a brief introduction, six chapters, and then some odds and ends such as a glossary, index, and various sheets that players and game masters will require. Before the reader even gets into the book proper, there is an introduction to contend with. This is three pages and is one of the more efficient introductions I’ve read in awhile. The first page is a settings/systems brief. The heart of the game boils down to this one page and is immensely enjoyable in its end result. Page two delivers the “what is roleplaying” question, defines three much-used terms, and shows an example of game play. Page three is a memo to new members of the agency from API’s founder, Annabella Priscilla Iisley. These three pages were an awesome way to immerse myself into the book, prompting me to fully dive into the thick tome (180+ pages).
Chapter one is called “character creation,” but the essential rules are littered throughout this chapter as well. For example, between discussion on Attributes and Skills lurks the rules for using skills in play. While I understand this layout, I didn’t think it was the most effective way to put out the information (good thing the index works well). Character creation breaks down into five steps, which are (1) concept ideas, (2) attributes, (3) skills, (4) bonus points, and (5) calculating sub-attributes and combat bonuses. While the chapter runs for nearly 60 pages (page 8-63), the author put in a four-page cheat sheet (this writer loves cheat sheets) that rocks. I seriously think Eloy Lasanta had an original draft of this game that ran for less than twenty pages and just fleshed the heck out of it.
Character creation is where the “action” part of the subtitle really starts to show itself. When I got to the skills, I found it heavily influenced by Cinematic Unisystem. The skills were sparse, but far-reaching. For example, vehicle operation to handle everything from mopeds to space shuttles. This is right up my alley as I’m not much into number crunching. The specifics come into play right after these broad areas though as there is a distinction between “skills” and “combat skills.” Combat skills are specific creatures (except for guns). There are separate skills for knives and swords. This distinction between the vague and specific plays directly into combat. Different weapons call for differing speeds, hence the various skills. I’m not sure this tactic is necessary, but it does do its part in preventing mini-maxed monsters (a problem of Cinematic Unisystem).
There are lots of options for players in API. Of course, you have your humans, but there are some interesting demons to fill things out. To be clear, everything boils down to either humans or demons in this game. Demons, however, can be (and usually is) a creature from another dimension or (in lesser cases) a human who is no longer human (werewolves). There are several demon choices for players, ranging from the pyro-themed Burners to the vampiric Taylari. Semi-playable races also include the diseased Carriers and the prophetic Oracles. And if the type of person you’re playing isn’t enough, you can always choose one of the many schools of thought. Each magical branch looks at the world in unique ways and offers their own take on the overall picture.
Just when you think you’ve exhausted your options, cyborgs are thrown into the mix as well. There is a LOT going on with this game.
Chapter two is all about combat and runs just under twenty pages. There is a two-page example of combat, but this is sadly the least effective of the game’s cheat sheets. What is effective are the various sidebars of “GM Screen” materials dotting the chapter. Thanks to it being a PDF, this chapter could be printed twice, sliced/diced, and made into a wonderful little screen . . . at least until Third Eye Games publishes their own.
I felt that this aspect of the game was inspired by Feng Shui, especially with regards to the combat tracker. Because certain moods utilize differing speeds, combat really plays into more strategy that one finds in most RPGs. There is nothing vague about fighting with API. Each move has a speed, stamina rating, modifier, and damage (yep, cheat sheet). Play the game like an arcade fighter and you’ll find certain combos just waiting to happen.
While I’m not a huge fan committing too much time to combat, this game does make the effort worthwhile.
Chapter Three (pages 80-118) looks at magic. It’s been awhile since I’ve enjoyed reading spell lists, but this game delivers. Chapter three begins with an overview of the setting’s magical side. It is here that several key terms are defined. Like the combat chapter, there is no key cheat sheets but there are lots of sidebars. I personally think chapter two would have benefited from the cheat sheet; however, chapter three gets more mileage from its sidebars.
My favorite thing about magic in this game are the sacrifices (wow, that sounded dark). Sacrifices range from biting one’s tongue to permanent drops in Attribute scores. Each spell is laid out with various scores and meaty definitions of what the spell does. Most spells are fair game for any magic-user, but a few are the “secret” spells of certain schools and/or demon races.
Chapter four offers the first detailed look at the setting; however, the reader gets a tremendous amount of this material throughout the first chapters. The setting material is laser-focused on the organization itself, gleaning over its beginning during the Black Plauge all the way to the modern world. Where this chapter really shines is the discussion on the agency’s layout. Readers get an idea of the organization’s chain-of-command, the day-to-day life of an agent, and what happens to those who try to go rogue. This chapter is chock-full of information critical to the agency’s routines, but doesn’t drown the reader in information. Good stuff.
There is also an interesting sidebar in this chapter that relates to another group called the Watchers. Readers are given very little about this group, but, if they are like me, suspect a follow-up supplement could look at these men and women. For now, these mysterious librarian types are kept to the GM’s imagination.
One final thing about chapter four. This is the first chapter that reads like a “for the game master’s eyes only.” None of the chapters in the corebook use that phrase, which I really like. It’s hard to convince a group of players to purchase a game if there is a third of it they shouldn’t read, which is what several corebooks suggest with lines like “you’ll ruin your enjoyment . . . blah . . . blah . . . blah.” API stays away from that, but leaving the information as commonplace while allowing for the details to come form individual Game Masters.
Chapter five (pages 135-155) is entitled Demonology and takes a hard look at the various races in the API universe. There are several great races in the game, most of which feel like original concepts. In fact, only one sidebar seemed to borrow heavily from a decade-old Vampire the Masquerade supplement. I found that a little bothersome. API’s take on Wolf People merits mention. Based on the problems they have to skirt to maintain their status in the group, the flaws of the Wolf People could easily be the most enjoyable to play.
Chapter six deals with telling stories for API. It begins with a look at the theme and mood of the game before leading into how stories for API should be crafted. The middle and end of the chapter deals with some more minor rules such as Experience Points, Antagonist stats, Fodder rules, and looks at the illegal demon races in the game. The initial part of this chapter is old hat for anyone who has read a RPG, but the rules towards the end really would be helpful to a GM running a campaign or one-shot.
API ends with a few odds and ends. First, there is another cheat sheet that defines the game terms (not setting terms, which is in chapter one). Next, the game’s index takes up two pages is nicely exhaustive. Each key term gets attention, down to each sidebar. Very nice.
Finally, there are a few character sheet options. If you’re not playing a witch, a player can easily handle the one page sheet. On the other hand, if you’re treating the game as a campaign setting (where I think it would shine), it would be best to go ahead and use the three page sheets. The first deals with all the most-used information. The second supports the detailed combat system. The third deals solely with the magical side of things. The final page is a combat tracker for players and Game Masters alike and is critical in this game.
All in all, Apocalypse Prevention, Inc is a great setting for those with a Hellboy or Ghostbusters vibe. Because of its focus on action, I think games could get crazy (good crazy) and that much of the action could devolve into humor without much effort. This game feels like an old school RPG in that it’s formulaic and self-contained. It’s completely worth checking out, leading me to give it a solid eight stars.
Review by Todd Cash
Visit the Third Eye Games Website for more information on Apocalypse Prevention, Inc.