Posted on June 25, 2005 by Flames
Available at RPGNow.com
Quick: An excellent game that captures the feel and fun of the movie and expands on the established mythos. Great as a stand alone game, as a “Campaign sourcebook” or as an addition to any other Eden Unisystem game.
Army of Darkness Review
Disclaimer: I am a freelancer for Eden studios and have worked on a lot of their books. I have been an author or co-author on some and a playtester on many. But in this case I had nothing to with “Army of Darkness” other than buy the PDF like everyone else.
Disclaimer 2: This review is based on the PDF version of the book, so I can’t comment on its size or how it smells or anything like that. The immediate pro of this is I printed out as many great looking character sheets as I need to get going.
Time to kick some Ash.
If nothing else the new Army of Darkness RPG from Eden Studios (AoD RPG) will give your game group hours of puns like these or spontaneously shooting off quotes from the movie, if they don’t already do that now.
The new AoD RPG is the latest offering from Eden using the Cinematic Unisystem rules. Cinematic Unisystem is a stripped down to basics rule set to foster fast play in a cinematic style game. That is not to say the rules are non-existent, just non-obtrusive. Cinematic Unisystem plays similar to it’s big brother Classic Unisystem, which powers such games as All Flesh Must Be Eaten, WitchCraft and Armageddon. If you want to use this game with those, no problem, not only is it very easy, but there is a great Appendix in the back to handle the details. AoD shares Cinematic Unisystem with Eden’s Origin’s winning Angel RPG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG and Ghosts of Albion RPG. Here taking characters from one game to next is easy and no conversions are needed. In fact one could conceivably play one game consisting of all four game books in one big, really bad world.
Rough parallels can be drawn between Cinematic games and Classic one. Buffy is built like a cinematic version of WitchCraft, Angel invokes the same feel as Armageddon, and likewise AoD takes on a lot of it’s feel from it’s older brother All Flesh Must Be Eaten.
If you like the movie Army of Darkness (or any of the Evil Dead movies) or any of Eden’s other games then you should pick this up. If you are not sure if the AoD RPG is for you then let’s get into the details.
Chapter 1 is the introduction with some Army of Darkness style fiction added in. It’s nice, but you will only read it once in your life. The rest of the chapter is pretty straight forward and reads exactly like every other Chapter 1 in any Eden book. This is both good and bad. Bad in the fact I have now bought this chapter at least 10 times now. It’s good because it also means that I can pick up any of those books and know immediately what to expect. There is a new part here though, one on the cosmology of the game. It’s not bad, but I am not sure if I will use it or not. Like most roleplayers I have a varied and complex mythos surrounding my games where the machinations of powerful beings 5,000 years ago shape my world today. Then again this is supposed to fast and loose and for crying out loud the movie depicted England with a desert, so heck with all that, what I really want to do is stomp on some deadites. I don’t care if they were sent by “The Old Ones”, Satan or Santa.
Chapter 2 is the meat for the normal gamer; how to create characters and give them some cool stuff. Again, some of this is ported right over from “Angel”, but that is not really that bad since it is really the best stuff with more added. Plus I want my games to be compatible, so I do want my “white hats” and my “mundanes” to be able to hang with the “primitive screw heads” and not bicker over which version of “Hard to Kill” to buy. There are some new qualities and a lot of new drawbacks to choose from. Plus the focus shifts from the magically empowered supernaturals of Buffy/Angel to the regular guys and gals doing what’s right of Army of Darkness. If you enjoy playing “normal” characters then this is the book for you.
The skills are unchanged from Angel/Buffy in keeping with the Cinematic scope, but they are a little more defined. Let’s face it, Ash did more with his car in two hours than Buffy/Angel did in 12 collective seasons, so a little more attention is paid to what you can do.
The archetypes are great and if you are familiar with the archetypes from Buffy or Angel you will recognize the style and art here. In general the archetypes reflect the focus of the game, normal guy or gal, way weird circumstances. I found them a tad hard to read with the colored background, but that could be my PDF. Loved the archaeologist (though her portrait has Appearance of at least +2 even if she doesn’t in the sheet) loved the Zorro guy, gunslinger, night stalker dude, and the roller baller. Adding the game designer might have been a little too cheesy, but hey I don’t blame them one bit and for this game it works. It also includes the original cast, but Ash is the main guy. For anyone that has ever wanted to know “who would win in a fight, Ash or ____?” well here is where you can find the answers.
Chapter 3 is also the same as many of Eden’s chapter 3s. It has the rules. Since the rules are not significantly modified from other games, some can skip this all together. But if you do you will be missing some good bits. First off Eden has learned from Buffy and Angel and this chapter is laid out a lot clearer. There is also the whole new set of rules covering land vehicles; a really nice addition to the Cinematic game universe.
Chapter 4 is really nice. Every Eden book has it’s true gem, the one thing that makes that book worthwhile. WitchCraft has it’s magic system, Angel has it’s demon creation rules, and Army of Darkness has it’s Battle System. This is mass combat system for Cinematic Unisystem but on reading it, it would certainly work for any Unisystem game. It keeping with the cinematic tone the rules are fast and free flowing, but like all of Cinematic Unisystem they are designed to maximize the fun and playability.
Chapter 5 is the information for the Directors out there. Not too different, and in this case that is not the best thing. I was reading it over and the whole time I keep feeling I was reading a chapter out of Buffy or Angel, with the talk of “episodes” and “Seasons”. Yes, episode is still a fine name and great workable game mechanic. But “Army of Darkness” is not a TV show, it is a movie. I would have liked to see how to set up a big epic battle or mimic the feel of a movie with some plot elements compressed. Like Ash said to Shelia “first you want to kill me now you want to kiss me”, things like love have to happen pretty fast, faster than TV. So what I would have liked then is to see the sidebar on “Other Ways to Do It” expanded into a full chapter with “The TV Show” set up as just one option. Granted, for those Directors planning huge AoD/Buffy/AFMBE/WitchCraft epic crossover campaigns, this chapter works to your advantage.
Chapter 6 sets up the who, what and where elements. All needed for this game where being sucked into a portal and waking up in England in the Middle Ages is normal. It is nice the see that one other movie is Eden’s most watched list outside of Army of Darkness and that is The Holy Grail. Or at least that is how I felt after reading this chapter because I sure as hell can run that Holy Grail RPG now with this book. It is a bit odd that some characters, Arthur in particular, got a full character sheet in Chapter 2 and a quick sheet here as well. Reason? Don’t know, see the disclaimer above. But I do know that it was spaced used that could have been dedicated to something else. No big. Moving on.
I have to admit the title “Graveyard…of the Dead” made me laugh.
The creatures are neat and there are a lot of ideas here for an AoD game or even adding them to your Buffy/Angel game. OR better yet expand these little nasties with the Angel demon creation rules.
Chapter 7, coughWorlds of Darknesscough is actually really cool. It is your typical “heres how you set up adventures”, but the examples given are more fleshed out that some other entire game worlds. There is an ancient Sumerian style adventure where you need to prevent the writing of the Necronomicon (you have to love any game that refers to Ereshkigal as a Goth Chick); a pulp-era stop the Nazi’s from getting occult artifacts adventure and future setting hinted at in the Director’s Cut of Army of Darkness. All are complete with more really cool monsters and vehicle rules.
Chapter 8 is a full blown adventure, I won’t talk about it too much here so as not to ruin it for potential players.
There is an Appendix of Unisystem conversion notes if you want to switch between this and Classic Unisystem. I nice detailed list on Character Creation, all the tables from the text including a comprehensive list of qualities and drawbacks from the book. Tables and charts for combat and weapons. The book ends with a solid index (the weakest part of ‘Angel’, not repeated here) and a nice character sheet. Sure you can use your “Buffy” sheet or even the Buffy or Angel character Journals, but this is a nice clean sheet. Since I have the PDF I printed one out on a B&W laser printer and it looked great.
What’s Good: Overall the book is fantastic, a completely playable game based on Eden’s Origins award winning Cinematic Unisystem rules (Angel, Best New RPG 2003). Plus it captures the feel and the fun of the original movie quite well.
What’s Bad: I have to admit I got tired of the informal tone of the book, but that could be just me. And let’s be honest, it is a perfect choice to go with the movie.
What’s Missing: No magic rules. But they do acknowledge this and there wasn’t really any magic in movie that wasn’t used “off stage” or by the minions of evil. Want magic in your AoD game? Buy a copy “The Magic Box Sourcebook” for the Buffy RPG or get a copy of Ghosts of Albion when it comes out.
Product: Army of Darkness RPG
Author: Shane Lacy Hensley
Publisher: Eden Studios
Price: $40.00 US
Page count: 240
Comp Copy: No
Reviewer: Timothy S. Brannan