Posted on March 17, 2009 by Flames
Under the Skin is the first adventure using the Storyteller Adventure System that I’ve read, so I found myself looking forward to reading it. Adventures are a tricky bag, especially to a setting as thick as White Wolf’s World of Darkness. I say they are tricky mainly because there always exists the tendency for them to railroad players in an attempt to make sense of the scripted adventure. Some games find a way around this by theorizing alternate endings or sometimes not even offering a true ending (though few do the latter). This adventure makes little effort in offering a free-form style, which we’ll discuss later in the review.
The majority of the artwork in this adventure is typical for a White Wolf game, choppy CGI images. Most of the NPCs receive this treatment and look as alien as usual. The worst of the bunch is either the “photo” of Gabriel Roques or of the lesser Filth Spirit. Some of the art isn’t too bad though. The artists behind the empty warehouse shot, Curtis Anthony, and the single piece in the “Scene of the Crime” section contributed some moody, fitting pieces to the adventure. The layout to this game impressed me. The borders were laced with section heading and a flaming skull (I’m not 100% sure what animal is being attempted). Each scene also introduces the difficulty settings for the characters in terms of their mental, physical, and social ratings. Good stuff. The breakdown of the adventure simply fits well together as an end product.
Also, while the cover art left much to be desired, its layout again was stylish with its widescreen format. I also like the icon detailing the number of scenes, physical, mental, and social difficult settings, and suggested experience levels for the adventure. This makes it absurdly easy for a Storyteller to pick up the right adventure for the right group. The settings to the adventure fully lived up to its iconic promise.
The adventure, rich with promise, is a bit of a letdown. The single strongest aspect to it is the time frame. Once the players are introduced to the adventure’s hook, they have a limited amount of time to make things right. Sadly, the time frame also becomes a bit of an unwanted hassle for this adventure. Answering the question of “what is right” proves to have more than two dozen written possibilities (great!). Once you include the players and their own imagined world, those possibilities are endless (awesome!). No storyteller wants their players to be mired down by indecision, hence the time restraint; however, it seems pointless to include both factions. To me, it felt like this:
Storyteller: (after laying out the opening situation) What do you guys want to do?
(The players begin mumbling among themselves)
Storyteller: (clearing his throat) Sorry. I meant do you want to do [A] or [B]?
It becomes a pointless Catch-22. All the options are simply window dressings for this to feel like a meaty adventure. There is a time limit and there are limited ways for the players to move within said time frame. I believe this should have been accepted and jumped upon. A railroaded game doesn’t have to be a bad thing IF (a) the players don’t feel too railroaded (they know it’s a published adventure) and (b) the thrill is there.
And the thrill is almost there. Were this adventure ran in the hands of a crueler, more realistic heart, it can be a fun beer and chips kind of modern-day dungeon crawl. You have all the key ingredients: a damsel in distress, some uck to sift through (most likely), and various black hats standing in the way. The horror adventure is too nice though. I’m not a killer-GM, but sometimes the threat of character death is a fantastic motivational tool. Let me give an example of why the thrill is lost by the writing of this game:
Dramatic Failure: After a lot of bad conversations, the character finds herself all too
sure of a bad lead . . . If time is tight, another character can overrule the bad information
with a successful Research or Interview roll.
Yep, you bust the roll and everybody sees (and jokes in that you’re-all-best-friends way). The Storyteller looks fussed over it and calls for another player to make a roll as well. After all, time is of the essence. He succeeds. Everybody sees the successful roll When the two begin to argue, in character, who will the players tend to side with? What happens if player two also botches? Does player three get a shot to make things right? It becomes an prime example of why the Gumshoe system was created.
Putting the game aside for the moment, let’s look at the writing itself. Henley’s writes well and invokes the right atmosphere with apparent ease. I’d like to read this adventure as a short story. His writing is consistent throughout the adventure and properly edited. I would revisit the writer again to see what other twisted thoughts might come from him.
The game itself just doesn’t wow me in the least. I tend to try things three times before writing them off, be it a television show, new group, or game. I would chalk this adventure up as a strike, despite the fact there are some seriously devious fragments worth mining from it. If you need a quick pick-up game that requires little preparation, this will probably fit your needs; otherwise, I’d give it a pass. This leads me to scoring it as:
Artwork (overall): 1 Die
Layout: 5 Dice
Writing (overall): 2 Dice
Overall: 2.5 Dice
Review by Todd Cash