Categorized | RPGs

Dark Places RPG Review

Posted on March 1, 2010 by Steven Dawes

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    Dead Reign Source Book Two: Dark Places
    Written by Kevin Siembieda

    Review’s note: It’s only fair before I start this review to mention that I’ve been a fan Kevin Siembeida’s work for nearly twenty years and been fortunate enough to be called his friend for five of those years. I’ve attended a few Palladium Open House outings as one of their freelance writers, I once attended a con where Kevin was a special guest and got to play in a play testing group for the Dead Reign game itself and I even co-wrote one of the zombie variants detailed in this book. Now, all this being said I believe I’m capable of unbiased criticism when it comes to material written by Kevin.

    The Dead Reign RPG from Palladium Books presents a story that details a lot of familiar territory where zombie survival games are concerned, yet added lots of interesting twists, zombie variants, survival tips & guides, weapons & equipment, great adventure ideas, several quick roll tables, and a partridge in a pear tree! I personally LOVE (not like, LOVE) the bleak tone and style of the setting and the theme of the “survival of humanity” while maintaining your humanity (and sanity) the core book delivered. As an added bonus, fans of Palladium’s “Megaversal role playing system” are in good shape here as it’s just as loudly and proudly displayed as ever!

    Where the core book detailed the setting, themes and tones of the DR world, the first sourcebook “Civilization Gone” went into a lot more detail and information concerning what the average person will face daily in a world that’s suddenly without civilization to protect and nurture them. The game’s setting takes place about five to six months after the apocalypse started, and already plenty of peeps are devolving into unrecognizable and dangerous beings. Also included are new zombie variants, new player character classes, details on creating survivor communities and lots of game tips useful to both gm and player alike to sum up a great first sourcebook to an already great RPG.

    Now, I hold in my filthy mitts the second sourcebook to Palladium’s zombie apocalypse masterpiece. Is it worth the price? Is it worth the time reading and using at your next game outing? Did Kevin & company go three-for-three with Dark Places? Strap on your boots and load your shotguns my fellow survivors, its time to start scroungin’ through this bad boy!

    “Now that the dead reign, the whole world has become a dark place.” –Except from the Road Reaper’s survival guide.

    Indeed, Dark Places is appropriately titled, for the entire sourcebook is all about dark places in several metaphoric ways. For those not familiar with the Dead Reign game, most of the knowledge of zombie survive comes in the form of the “Road Reaper’s Survival Guide”. This guide is written from the point of view of Brad Ashley, whose sage like advice will keep your fat out of the fire if you practice what he preaches. This first reference to the dark places is the most “enlightening” (enlightening… get it?) potion of the sourcebook.

    In the first excerpt, Brad goes into details about how the zombies see us humans. In short, they see us by our life energy (or aura), which glows like a neon sign to them. This light isn’t much of an issue during the day, but at night were all effectively biped glowworms. To make matters worse, the zombies are smart enough to follow any and all light sources as they seem to know that we NEED light to get around and therefore use it. You see, modern society really took all the lighting we had at night for granted. Street lights, TV’s, glowing signs, headlights, flashlights, fire… in our day we cant seem to escape the light. But in this world it’s a precious commodity and a double edged sword.

    Continuing on with the dark places angle, Brad goes into providing tips about night time survival tactics. While some of the tips seem obvious, there are a few interesting methods of survival. For example, as the zombies see both out aura light and normal light, we have to learn to cover any and all holes and cracks when hiding (windows, cracks under the door, covering yourself with a blanket, etc.) Another interesting idea is to go down into the sewers for safety. Now I know that nearly any other game out there tells you to never go in the sewers for any reason, but in this setting its very sound advice for several reasons. Other notes like the advantages of using light in this world and some random encounter tables finish up his section.

    The next section goes into four new zombie variants. Here Kevin decided to get in touch with his inner “gross factor” to churn out some of the most disgusting zombies yet. For example, the “Bug Boys” zombies are basically decaying and rotting to the point where they are infested with a variety of insects. Included with this dead guy are revulsion tables, infestation penalties, and descriptions of the pestilence each type of insect inflicts on the player characters. These descriptions are topped off with some really awesomely gross artwork by zombie artist extraordinaire Nick Bradshaw, who coincidentally is another good friend of mine (were working on a Beyond the Supernatural sourcebook together in fact). There’s also the “Worm Meat”, the “Sewer Crawlers”, and “Impersonator Zombies” to torment your player characters with. The Impersonator Zombie was my contribution to the sourcebook (with Michael Mumah providing a great illustration of one hiding in a child’s room), which specialize in setting up ambushes and traps for unsuspecting characters by impersonating people in need of help.

    Next up is a section on traveling in the DR world, which again provides really useless and interesting information. According to Brad, it seems that zombie-kind has retained some deep down memory on locations people frequented in life. So hospitals, offices, building, churches, military bases and so on are now the worse places to visit as the largest zombie numbers are found there.

    Therefore, the safest methods of traveling are railroad tracks, which Brad states are used extensively by the “Road Reapers” to travel about. Kevin provides TONS of information about railroads, boxcars, depot stations and more along with lots of ideas and random encounter tables. I personally loved this section and for those who currently play other zombies RPG’s, I encourage you to get this book as the information here is fitting for any zombie game and is worth the price of the book alone. I’ve NEVER seen another book that goes into this level of details on the rails like Dark Places has; genius work!

    “The Urban Underground” is living proof that not all dark places are bad places. Some of the most heavily used location nowadays include steam and utility tunnels, sewers, storm drain tunnels, caves, mines and so on. Lots of description, information and more random tables are given for these locations, which are again welcome by me as I don’t think I’ve seen them covered quite this extensively before and again they would be of value to any zombie RPG out there.

    The last “dark place” is certainly not the least as it goes in to the darkness of the human soul in these dangerous times. This section Brad talks about a disturbing trend that’s taking place more and more often in the DR world… using live bait. In other words, trapping live human in locations to attract nearby zombies hoards to them. And while the zombies are distracted, the bait setters can scrounge for food and items in what are usually zombie crowded areas. This section was written with a sharp edge that got under my skin as I read it. It’s yet also another great section for anyone who runs a zombie game as it’s a method that I can easily see desperate and evil people using in any zombie setting.

    Kevin’s goal with this book was to really push the envelope with the DR setting… and I say he pushed and shoved that envelope around like a school yard bully! From the informative and at times chilling writing, to the million adventure ideas and encounter tables, to the amazing and grotesque artwork; this book has it all and then some. I can’t wait to see what future DR Sourcebooks will bring!

    P.S. The Dark Places cover is one of my new favorite covers from the Palladium Books line up (which depicts a live bait trap scene). But I gotta ask you; doesn’t that guy on the cover remind you of Robert Duvall?

    Review by Steven Dawes

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