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Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. RPG Review

Posted on March 30, 2009 by Flames


Available at RPGNow.com

What It Is
Apocalypse Prevention, Inc (or API,) is an action-horror RPG set in a future plagued by monsters, magic, destruction, all the average faire of a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting. The namesake is the corporation who holds back all the above-mentioned things. Characters are agents, working to fight back the destruction of the planet. Pretty simple?

The game advertises itself as “action horror, with a twist of humor.”

What I Think
The first thing that really jumped out at me was the character creation section. This quote stands example to what my biggest problem with API is, “Even while physically male, a character may be gay (sexually attracted to other men) or enjoy wearing women’s clothing, but still be heterosexual. The same is true of women.” If you’re going to talk about something in your book, it’s clearly important to the game. Gender/Sexuality is the first topic discussed under character concepts, leading me to believe that it’s integral to the game setting. Also, to explain to us what gay means is completely unnecessary, it reeks of condescending writing. Either we already know what it means, as 99% of people do, or if we’re that 1% who doesn’t, we probably shouldn’t be getting our definitions of real world terms from gaming books. This isn’t isolated; the next few lines briefly and matter-of-factly explain what it means to be transgendered.

Next is a discussion of the prevalent racism in the setting, in a fashion that suggests incorrect or naïve behavior from a non-racist. Family life comes next, where examples suggest abusive or otherwise dysfunctional backgrounds are the norm. I don’t feel that this is conducive to the “twist of humor” previously suggested. This is not written to suggest light-hearted play. Reading on, it seems as if “twist of humor” actually means, “laughingly dismissive of violence and dark subject matter.”

Passions are an interesting addition to the game, similar to some other systems’ alignment, nature/demeanor style mechanics. Essentially, they’re driving forces in your character’s nature, where if you properly play them, you get more experience. This adds a bit of a dramatic element that balances out some of the bulkier mechanics-emphasis later. A number of archetypes are listed, and are very comprehensive and open for character types. I think this setup has promise, but I’m not sure it takes that promise where it could go.

The Setting
The setting is piecemeal, it requires more than a little assumption on behalf of the players. I feel that some of the organizations, particularly the magic orders, are simplified and stereotyped to a fault. Once you’ve read a basic description of a group, you can essentially guess everything to come in the rest of the material. The writing is very casual, and often leads me to an impression that I’m reading less about a group of agents in a post-apocalyptic future, and more a group of gamers sitting around a table joking about a group of agents in a post-apocalyptic future.

The System
The system, for what it is, is simple. The mechanics use a single die, which makes the system very fluid in execution. Kudos. This actually counterbalances the complicated lists of combat skills, which make up a rather sizeable portion of the skill section. It’s well-written for an action-oriented game. My only issue comes from the information being spread out, sometimes a bit too much to easily access.

Character creation is relatively quick and painless. Far from the simplest I’ve seen, but further from the most complicated. There’s some minor algebra that might turn off some casual players, but I would put it right around the level of complexity of creating a d20/3.5 style character.

Story Telling
The chapter six, “Telling Stories for API,” has the potential to be very good. However, about 2/3rds of the text just reiterates what’s previously been said, and putting it into, “you can run games about this,” terms. The GM advice is all very simple, almost form information from previous games. I don’t really see anything worth reading there. However, the Adventure Hooks section shows promise. I could see cutting almost everything else out of that chapter, to make more room for creative and exciting adventure hooks.

Who Would Like It
The game lends itself to casual gamers, looking to sit around a table with some snacks, blowing imaginary things up. It has the same, unapologetic monster-slaying vibe as an old-school dungeon crawl. The statistics lead to quick referencing, combats should be rather epic and dynamic.

Who Wouldn’t
Non-gamers. The writing is very assumptive, and not particularly friendly to someone who hasn’t digested dozens of rpg supplements in their life. I wouldn’t suggest this book for a first rpg, however I doubt that’s the intended market. A drama intensive group isn’t going to have a lot brought to their table that they aren’t bringing. The book is very short and concise, dramatic elements are often glossed over.

It also wouldn’t work well for the easily offended. While not directly vulgar, it addresses some offensive subject matter with a dismissive attitude.

Final Assessment
Frankly, I’d give this book a 2 out of 5. There are a couple of neat elements hidden inside, but not enough to raise it above mediocrity.

Review by David A Hill Jr

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9 Responses to “Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. RPG Review”

  1. Chris says:

    I think it should be noted that the setting is neither in the future nor post-apocalyptic. In fact, the entire concept of the game is based around preventing said apocalypses.

    To be honest, that you missed something so integral to the game makes me wonder how carefully you read the game.

    Reply

  2. David Hill says:

    Thanks for the response.

    I will defer to the comment about the future. I don’t recall a “this is the present” statement off-hand, but I’ll get to the reason in a moment. The book has a “this story is set right about noon tomorrow” feel to it, if that makes any sense.

    In reference to the term “post-apocalyptic,” I used the wrong term. I actually meant apocalyptic. The sense the setting gives me is less that the apocalypse is something that could happen in the future. The urgency and mood actually seem to me more like API is holding back an apocalypse that’s already starting, putting a finger in a proverbial dike.

    That gets me to my next point. I actually tried to read the game carefully. It was a laborious effort. When I read for a review, usually what I do is skim once, take some notes on things that I want to touch on, then I read through thoroughly. I can honestly say that I had difficulty with it because of the writing. In places, the reading was a chore. It could have benefited from being as punchy, sharp, and witty as the setting was described as. There’s a certain detachment between the game and the writing. The words I was reading were academically telling me “cool, action, horror, fun, labor of love” while artistically telling me, “textbook, matter-of-fact, have to get the words down just to get them down.”

    Added to the fact that often the writing often insults the intelligence of the reader (the example about explaining what the word “gay” means presents that well,) it was altogether a difficult read. When it comes down to it, that’s probably the largest flaw in the book. It might be a far better game than I’m giving credit for. But I’ll never know because of the presentation.

    Reply

  3. Chris says:

    Writing style is largely subjective, particularly when it comes to humor, so if it wasn’t for you, there’s nothing that can really be said about that. Quite a few people really enjoy the writing in the Twilight books, but I think they’re horrible.

    Can the writer improve? Surely. Even the best writers can. Will he ever write on your wavelength? Perhaps not.

    Interestingly, the writer of the book is a non-white living in the American south. Perhaps that contributes to the perspective that seems off to you in the racism section?

    Reply

  4. Steven says:

    I have to say I agree with Chris, and I feel as if the reviewer latched on to a few sentences in the book he didn’t like and let it paint the rest of them in the same color.
    I took what was written for what it is, and enjoy the book quite a bit. I saw the gay and transgendered comments as the writer’s way of pointing out character concepts in everyday life that the average RPgamer may ignore or overlook. To say the book is written in a racist tone is laughable if you research the author, and to say the book is full of condescending attitude is wrong to me and I couldn’t disagree more.

    Reply

  5. David Hill says:

    The book isn’t written in a racist tone, I’m sorry if that was gleaned from my statements. I in no way think the writer is racist, that’s something I take very seriously. The comment indicated that if you’re going to mention racism in the first few pages of the book, that means it’s prevalent in the setting. That’s fine, racism can be a powerful tool in a roleplaying game. However, I don’t believe that such a setting is very conducive to humor. Aside from the racism, the book seems to suggest a setting that’s very contrary to what many would consider a light-hearted or even humor-friendly game. For some popular examples, White Wolf’s World of Darkness does sometimes deal with racism. However, the supplements dealing with such aren’t peppered with “light humor,” as it’s a serious issue that should be dealt with seriously. Dungeons and Dragons doesn’t touch racism, it’s a light-hearted game where humor at the table is far more ingrained in the material (and before it’s mentioned, I do know that some supplements do touch on racism, but I’m speaking of core material.) Does that make more sense? “Action Horror with Light Humor” works as a concept, it works well. But the mix as executed does not, in my opinion and in the opinions of those I played with.

    Writing style is subjective to a degree, I will stand by that sentiment. That having been said, I didn’t mention the writing in the review for that reason. It’s a difficult read, and the previously mentioned detachment was actually echoed in a few opinions in the notes given to me by the group I played the game with.

    A writer’s skill can improve. However, the book cannot. Once the words are published, they are published. It doesn’t matter how much the writer’s ability to convey a message improves. Once that message is in the hands of the buying public, it cannot be improved. It doesn’t mean he’s not a quality writer. It doesn’t mean he didn’t have good ideas. Do I think the message of the book could have been better communicated? Absolutely, and more than in the average rpg. Style should compliment vision, not clash and contrast with it. If you want to write a book about funny things, write humorously. If you want to write horror, write your book full of suspense. If you want to write fantasy, make the writing full of fantastic description. If your style doesn’t match your vision, you’re not going to communicate your message.

    Reply

  6. David Hill says:

    “I took what was written for what it is, and enjoy the book quite a bit. I saw the gay and transgendered comments as the writer’s way of pointing out character concepts in everyday life that the average RPgamer may ignore or overlook.”

    No matter how much gay or transgendered characters might be ignored by your average gamer, we still don’t need to be told what either of those words mean. If we need to get our definitions of sexual/gender lifestyles from a gaming book, we SHOULDN’T be getting our definitions of sexual/gender lifestyles from a gaming book.

    Reply

  7. Chris says:

    I have to ask, and there’s no offense intended, really.

    Are you gay?

    While I agree that gender identity and sexuality is a deep topic, and I don’t think API is necessarily the game to explore the topic, I do disagree that a gaming book is any less capable of exploring the topic than any other media. It’s similar to saying that comic books can only be about spandex-clad heroes and villains, and isn’t the place to discuss gender identity. If you do happen to hold that belief, I’d point you to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Ted Naifeh and Tristan Crane’s How Loathsome.

    As a boy who, admittedly, likes boys, I don’t have a problem with API giving a quick definition in passing. In fact, I think the cursory treatment it gives speaks well for tolerance. It’s treated as no big deal because it is no big deal.

    Reply

  8. David Hill says:

    No offense taken. I’m not gay, I don’t label myself but if I had to, bisexual would probably be a close fit. However, I’m a happily married father.

    I haven’t read How Loathsome, I’ll check it out. However, I adore The Sandman. The difference I find is that The Sandman actually explores gender identity. API doesn’t explore it, it just defines it and moves on.

    To be completely honest, I handed it to three other people I regularly game with, and asked them to start reading it. Each stopped and commented at the exact same spot. Each gave similar commentary.

    I do understand your point, and it’s valid. However, I really don’t think a game book needs to define those sorts of things. It’s unnecessary and condescending. If I’m writing an RPG, I don’t spend time explaining what male means, what female means, or what hair means. Widely accepted real-world terminology, particularly of sensitive nature, doesn’t need to be defined in game books. Even if the game WAS about exploring sexuality, I wouldn’t see it as necessary.

    Also, definition narrows the use of the word or concept. If you simplify things, the opportunity for exploration is artificially limited. “He’s Islamic” becomes a label. There are thousands of nuances you could explore, hundreds of faiths and practices you could be talking about. “He’s gay,” could mean a number of things. It could encompass a number of lifestyle choices, it could encompass a number of stories you could tell. However, it’s been defined within the scope of the game. The definition given is “Sexually attracted to other men.” It becomes a game-world definition at that point, as far as I’m concerned.

    Reply

  9. Scott Z says:

    I am in the process of reading this book. I almost refrained from commenting, but decided to get out this quick observation while it is fresh on my mind.

    The writing style is certainly no prize winning accomplishment, but RPG books (especially core books) are a form of technical writing where readers take what they read very literately, even the flavor text. There isn’t a lot of freedom there for great literature, so I don’t see there being room for the writing to get much better.

    The setting is somewhat derivative, but maybe that was the point. I think that the intent of the entire book could have been to create a broad and easily accessible common world for players coming from different dark fantasy games. That is really just my own hunch.

    Similarly, the rules are familiar enoguh for comfort. The system seems to be a very smooth and nicely done amalgamation of other systems. I recognize elements from Storyteller, Palladium Megaversal, and whatever the system was called for old school Shadowrun. I very much like this system.

    The humor does poke through from time to time. The trenchcoat rule is a good example. No matter how monsterous the character, that person can always pass unnoticed through a crowded street by wearing a trench coat and wide brimmed hat. I would have liked to have seen more, but the game seems to rely heavily upon the creativity of the players. That is not entirely a bad thing. Perhaps the tone is best carried by the artists who present characters that are expressive and a little cartoony — like the water demon in the swim trunks.

    That brings me to the sexuality issue. Yeah, it had me scratching my head as well. Beyond the definitions, this issue keeps reappearing throughout the book. At least half of the example characters are homo- or bisexual or pregnant men or something. It’s worth mention here because it feels forced and artificial every time it occurs. If the game were about sexuality, I wouldn’t have noticed, but the game has nothing to do with that. It’s like the designers were trying to reinforce a point that they forgot to make (or I missed) in the first place.

    Outside of the sexuality issue feeling artificial and distracting and a setting that is a little general and bland for my tastes, I very much like this game. The price from RPGNow is great. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming sourcebook about specters.

    Reply

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