Posted on April 1, 2005 by Flames
Dead Inside: The Roleplaying Game of Loss and Redemption
Written by Chad Underkoffler, Atomic Sock Monkey Press
Oft times in horror role-playing, characters endure deadly consequences to the blood, guts and gore that bleeds through so many games. Every once in a while a horror rpg strives to create the mood and theme of horror through fear, manipulation, and growth of character. Dead Inside: The Roleplaying Game of Loss and Redemption, is a game that steps away from combat and mechanics and focuses on “the reasons for and the manner in which tasks are attempted.”
Dead Inside takes place at the moment in a character’s life when they remove their rose-colored glasses to find a vital piece of themselves missing. The seat of a character’s self, their soul, is gone. Whether it was ripped out from them or never existed in the first place, the character’s quest is to replace that energy somehow, some way. What’s commendable about Dead Inside, is that it takes an overused term (soul) and turns it into something tangible without assigning it to any one religion. In fact, while religion can play a part in Dead Inside, Underkoffler leaves it up to the decision of the player to do so, to “Make up your own mind.”
The truth of Dead Inside’s setting lies in the overlapping between the Real World and the Spirit World. Being “Dead Inside” offers different variables that lean more toward psychology than new age or religion. As such, character types like ghosts and zombis have a different twist on their archetypes. Each type has a “soul” definition. For example, the Magi are “living bodies with a double-soul” and their motivation is to “plot and plan against each other.” Unlike other settings where the “spirit world” is left to the imagination of the reader, Underkoffler takes a very tangible look at what comprises, and who lives in, the Spirit World. This definition can force characters to focus less on their surroundings and more on their actions. Indeed, characters in Dead Inside are created with the intent that they come into the game knowing what they are about.
Character creation is one of the most unusual processes I’ve ever seen. There are almost no mechanics to worry about. You write about a character’s Personality, Backstory, Soul Loss, Discovery, and Miscellany or other descriptive tidbits to round out your character’s look and feel. The mechanics that you do have are qualities. The math is removed, you have four packages of quality numbers to choose from—you choose qualities that would fit your character. Next, you choose what character type to play. Underkoffler suggests that players all start out as an average “Dead Inside” character type, and I agree with him. Dead Inside caters to players who want to tell and participate in a story. This is not a game for people who want powerful characters (at least right off the bat) or lots of treasure. This is a game that encourages gradual growth and wise choices. As an average Dead Inside character, you only get so many bad choices (the outcome affects your pool of Soul Points) before you become something monstrous. The goal is to obtain Soul Points, and you can only get those through quality role-playing.
Underkoffler not only tells players up front what the requirements of the game are, but creates one simple rule that reins players in. As a result, I feel that this would be a good game for players who have never role-played before. Character examples run amuck both in “Chapter 3: Creating DI Player Characters” and throughout the pdf. New players will feel very comfortable with the heavy emphasis on imagination, and the light-handed touch on mechanics.
For Dead Inside character types, the rules are simple. The GM makes a decision applicable on Simple Tasks depending upon what skills a character has guided by a Master Chart, i.e. if it seems reasonable, it’s an automatic success. In complicated situations where modifiers are used, the player rolls 2D6 and wins by beating the Difficulty Rank of the Task. By beating the Qualities of another character, the character wins what is called a Conflict Situation. Damage is applied by downshifting a character’s listed Qualities. A temporary loss of character qualities is called a Failure Rank, and a more permanent loss results in a Damage Rank. It is near impossible to kill a character in Dead Inside through combative means unless the character is “unconscious or otherwise helpless.” In fact, killing another character results in a loss of Soul Points. The less Soul Points you have, the worse it is for your character. Remember, the primary goal of this game is to fill the gaping hole within you.
For more advanced players, the other character types offer the chance to enact the Abilities and Special Powers with a price. By spending Soul Points, your character can do some amazing things. As an average Dead Inside, you may choose to utilize that Special Power, but the penalty is severe. Once again, you are forced to think very carefully about the actions you take. Dead Inside takes a very hands-on approach to explaining all of its mechanics and possibilities. Once you read about the mechanics, you might find yourself referring to the chapter in-game to read the play-by-play examples included.
The controlled atmosphere of this game places a lot of pressure on a GM. While I have suggested that new players would be attracted to this game, I feel that only an experienced GM can make the decisions necessary to make this game gel. In order to have a great experience, the GM needs to be informed, in control, and hands-on from the character creation process to choosing players that would fit well together. Dead Inside packs the GM chapter with tons of information that gives the GM additional setting info to cater to their specific idea, lots of NPCs and a section on how to handle a character’s Death. For anyone running this game, this chapter deserves several reads. No piece of information is unusable and there are some great tips.
The book follows with a glossary and bibliography. After reading and rereading the setting, I was pleased to find references to Underkoffler’s inspirations for I found myself looking for material to supplement and enhance story ideas that I, myself, was creating for the Spirit World. It was a pleasant surprise to read about a game designer’s nods to other games within the industry. It thrilled me that he also listed the specific reasons why.
Included with Dead Inside are easy-to-reference mechanics table and an introductory scenario called “Brave New Spirit World” that is extremely well laid out. The adventure is broken down by scene and by cutscene. For those GM’s who like a little variety, different options are provided to make the game their own.
Dead Inside: The Roleplaying Game of Loss and Redemption is available as print-on-demand or pdf. I have not seen the print-on-demand version, so I’m not sure what the difference between the two versions, if any, would be. One difference is price. As a downloadable pdf, $13.00 is more than a fair price for this game. The pdf is easy to read, and well-laid out although the artwork doesn’t fit the setting. While some pieces are definitely stand-alone, I expected something much darker that showed both the desperation of the Real World and whimsy of the Spirit World. For those that need a hard copy, the print-on-demand version is only $25.00. If you’re still not sure on whether or not you’d like to buy the game, be sure to check out the twelve-page demo.
Reviewer: Monica Valentinelli