Categorized | RPGs

Dead of Night RPG Review

Posted on March 1, 2006 by Flames

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A Pocket Roleplaying Game by Steampower Publishing

Dead of Night is a horror RPG packed into a 219 page book that’s only 4 ¼ by 5 ½ inches. While the game professes that more than one style of horror could be played, Dead of Night is geared towards playing out those campy “B” movies we watch with the lights turned low.

What makes this RPG unique, other than its portable size, is the mechanics. Character creation takes two maybe three minutes tops — and no, I’m not kidding. Are you too lazy to spend the three minutes whipping something up? Archetypes with stats are provided at the back of the book, right before a nifty little summary appendix that breaks down the crunchy bits into even easier language to understand.

This system is not dice-dependent; you can use two dice of just about any number (preferably staying away from the d100). How it works is this: Choose a pair of dice. The book uses 2d10, so we’ll stick with that. Okay, so now you have the number 10. Now, assign a “total” of 10 to an attribute pairs, which are standard for everyone — even the monsters. So say you are playing a hero, and your name is Dexter. Your last attribute pair is Assault/Protect. Assign 4 to Assault, 6 to Protect to add up to 10. It’s that simple. There are a total of four attribute pairs. Attribute modifiers, called Specializations, are based on the attribute pairs after you assign their starting numbers and are really easy to figure out. Both victims and monsters share the same character creation process; monsters have more specializations which eventually leads to more opportunities to win a specialized conflict.

In this game, there is conflict. There is no such thing as a free dodge or a roll for initiative. Instead, everything comes down to the “check.” Meet the target number, you succeed. Fail, and you lose the advantage — unless you are in a combat situation. In combat, the attacker and defender both have an equal chance of winning the conflict; lose and you take a hit to your Survival Points. Since you don’t start out with very many of those, you really don’t want to lose these.

If you’re like me and love horror RPGs but hate it when your character dies, then you are going to like Survival Points (SP). While everyone initially starts off with the same number of Survival Points, you can earn, lose or spend them depending upon what you want to do. You earn them through different role-playing scenarios and techniques, you lose them through losing combat, and you may spend them to modify the story or mechanics to best suit your needs. To me, tying a character’s survival into a player’s role-playing is perfect for a horror-based RPG. You either go for broke, knowing that you are going to die anyway, or you greedily earn more points so you are the last one standing. What’s interesting is that when you are the last one standing at the end of a session? You don’t raise your attributes, you earn Survival Points instead.

For the GMs, there is a specialty mechanic called Tension. This scaled rating assesses the horror of the game at the onset and as the gameplay continues. Say you start out and your group is calmly reading at the library, this would equate to no tension rating. Next, a slimy ghost starts attacking one of the players — the GM raises the Tension level based on their Survival Points to indicate the fear and horror of the scene. Now the GM has the option of using Tension points to manipulate the outcome of a situation by spending the points and adding it to the die roll. While this can be used for many different scenarios (i.e. finding an artifact, successfully throwing a knife across the room, kicking a monster in the shin), there are no hard and fast rules to keep the GM from abusing those points. Admittedly yes, the book is very clear that the group should agree on establishing “rules” for spending Tension Points. However, I can see how a bad GM would ruin the gameplay experience by modifying die rolls needlessly and not to advance the plot. Limits (i.e. only spend to modify if the Terror Rating goes above a certain level) are a good idea; I think it would be a bad idea if a GM spent Tension Points on the outcome of Combat Checks. Why? Because what fun would a horror RPG be without that element of chance? What I’d like to experience in game is how Tension Points and Survival Points play off of one another; I could see some interesting teamwork (and player conflict) arising out of that.

Outside of the system, the book gives several examples of types of gameplay experience and potential settings. By far my favorite is Pack o’ wolves, where players play two characters; monster and victim. I can just see the logistic nightmare that might come out of a game like that, but it would be neat to play both sides of the equation and have it work. I felt that the potential settings (Dead of Night offers five adventures) were a bit too generic and the monsters too stereotypical, but this is an RPG that was written for that reason. Everything about this mini game translates cinematic horror into a playable session, from the mechanics to the monsters. You provide the gritty details fueled by your imagination. If you’re looking for more detailed skills/feats/etc., then this is not the RPG for you.

Organization of the book is superb. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, there’s an index at the back. The mini-character sheets made me chuckle. The artwork, by Eric Lofgren and Michael Cunliffe, is superb. Lofgren’s style translates really well to black and white print; I took the liberty of viewing Cunliffe’s original work entitled “Figure in the Woods” online, due to the medium I don’t think they translated well. It’s a shame they didn’t, his work is something I would hang on my wall. I was impressed by the print quality and the binding of this mini RPG, for small press publishing it’s surprisingly good and the print size is large enough for me to read without squinting.

Dead of Night, published by Steampower Publishing makes for an interesting RPG provided you are in the right frame of mind and know what you want to get out of it. The game is priced at around $20. Some might say that the book isn’t worth that because it is so teeny tiny, but it has just as much information as any other full-sized RPG and saves space on your gaming shelf. Additional adventures are available through RPGnow for a measly $1.00.

Reviewer: Monica Valentinelli

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