Posted on June 2, 2011 by Nix
Available at NobleKnight.com
A look back into the past of Horror gaming…
What would happen if the cult classic “The Warriors” was set in the early 90’s with all the gangs being various super-natural creatures? You would have the role-playing game Nightlife. Nightlife was released in 1990 and 1991, with two editions and several supplements. It is hard to tell why one game fails to catch, and another game spreads like wild fire. It is also hard not to compare Nightlife with White Wolf’s World of Darkness, even though the two have very few similarities.
Both have vampires and werewolves and both games are set in a punk setting with horror elements. They use d10’s as their die of choice and super-natural creatures have strange awe inspiring powers. However, the similarities end there between the two games. Nightlife is a mere ninety-six pages and contains the rules for several races, it is a splatter-punk game, and the core book bases the game in New York City. While World of Darkness had separate core books that focused on each of its super-natural races and each book was usually lengthy.
Splatter-punk is slightly different from the Gothic-punk I grew used to over the years. As I read the description offered in the text I find that many of my games tended to veer from Gothic to splatter-punk. Splatter-punk was an evolutionary step from the time honored traditions of horror. Gone were the days when tragic and bloody results and were hidden away from view, instead the gore of death was thrown into stark reality. Creatures of the night grew from grave smelling monsters, to sensual and exciting, to almost sympathetic, and finally into chic icons. I believe the difference between Gothic and splatter is the focus. Splatter-punk focuses more carnage, action, and the turbulence rather than the angst of living forever.
Among the pages of Nightlife seven races are detailed and these super-natural beings are all known as Kin. Among the Kin are Vampyres, Werewolves, Ghosts, Daemons, Wyghts, Inuits, and Animates, with each having specific flaws and perks inherent to that race. Kin are further split into dozens of factions, with the various factions constantly at war with one another. One of the largest factions is the Commune, a group of Kin that wish to live in relative peace with humans. There are also humans that know of, and oppose, the Kin some are funded by the Government while others are privately funded. These humans are either part of Target Alpha or the Van Helsing Society. Further into the book there are quite a few super-natural beings listed that work against the Kin and for the Kin to try and fight.
Vampyres in Nightlife do not sparkle, however, they do have abilities reminiscent of Dracula. They can control animals, change into bats, wolves, rats, and mist, while also mesmerizing and possibly infecting others while feeding. They are repulsed by garlic and holy relics and they are vulnerable to several types of items. Werewolves have a similar set of abilities and attribute modifiers, though they also project fear. Not that being face to face with a nine foot tall snarling monster wouldn’t be frightening. Inuits are American Indian spirits of nature that have, for moved to New York and are the more flamboyant of Kin. Of all the races, they puzzled me the most since I rarely link hardcore punk with Native American spirits. The Wyghts had the most debilitating result of feeding. For every point of life they take, and they must take five every night, the subject they feed from ages a year. All Kin are basically immortal and resistant to disease making them quite powerful beings.
Character creation is randomly generated using four d10’s for each stat, thus the player will roll for Strength, Dexterity, Fitness, Intelligence, Willpower, Perception, Attractiveness, and Luck. The amount of Survivor Points a character has is determined by adding Fitness and Luck. All characters start off at 50 max humanity, putting them right at the danger cusp. Below fifty and Kin begin to look un-human and have a greater chance of spreading what they are. Once the stats are written down the player rolls a d10 twenty times for skills, with the roll being added to the pertinent attribute. With those rolls out of the way the player focuses on the character. What does he or she look like, how old are they, what is the background, what faction do they belong to, what goals do they aspire to, and what possessions do they have. One of the more important factors a player has to think about is his or her characters clothing. Fashion, after all, is a large part of life in New York, especially among club patrons.
One aspect I really enjoyed was the Humanity track. In Nightlife, humanity raises and lowers throughout game play. For every ten points of humanity gained, the max humanity raises by one. To gain certain powers, the player must sacrifice his or her humanity to learn it. In my future World of Darkness games, I am thinking about employing this method rather than the relatively stagnant one that White Wolf employs.
Where is the splatter, you might wonder. The splatter comes into effect with the streets of Nightlife are a constant battleground. Other factions might move onto your factions turf and they have to be repelled. Creatures might hunt you, those you feed from might fight back, or any number of issues might develop. Being armed and ready to fight is a very good idea.
Nightlife is not a bad game. It was a bold game a few years ahead of its time, and it might have broken the ice for later games to come in. Including seven playable races was intriguing and each one was quite different than the others. Personally, I would drop the pun-like names that Kin are supposed to adopt and the focus on music and fashion. Those are minor issues and do not effect the game or book. The artwork is from the early 90’s, and bad or good I have seen worse yet it does help to set a tone. It lives up to it’s creed.. Live Fast.. Live Free.. Live Forever.
Playability: 4 out 5- quite good, maybe no longer up to par with current standards but times change
Writing: 4 out 5 – at no time was I left puzzled or wondering how something worked
Artwork: 2.5 out 5 – it is there, it is decent, but as time as passed the expectations for background art has grown as well. It works for when it came out and I have seen much worse
Review by Sean “Nix” McConkey