Okay, I have to lead off this review by stating that I know the authors and the majority of the people involved with EOS press very well. I’ve known Jason Soles for over 15 years, Nicole Vega for about four, and the rest of the guys at EOS for any number of years between those two numbers. That said, I’m really excited about this game and not just because I’ve gotten drunk with everyone involved with it.
The premise of the book is that, in 1905, a plague wiped out roughly 70 percent of the human population of the planet, and they rose as ravening zombies. The English, looking back on their last great period in history, decide to embrace Victorian values and aesthetics again and begin their reclamation of London. Two hundred years later, they are still in the grips of Victorianism and all of its attendant hypocrisies and economic disparities. First, it’s pretty, and I don’t mean in a “bunnies and unicorns” way. It’s well laid out and the artwork and, for the most part, the photographs are well-done and enhance the text. There are a couple of photographs that are, I feel, kind of gratuitous (i.e. the “whore” photos), but then again I’m all for looking at pretty girls in Victorian clothing. The “aged parchment” effect on the pages is neat without distorting the text or making it difficult to read. It’s a lovely, lovely book in a morbid, goth-y sort of way.
Second, the backstory is amazing! There is a solid base of real Victorian history, which is then built upon to create the false history of the game world. And the authors really did their homework while writing it. The history is engaging and the fictional history flows seamlessly from the actual history. A few times I had to go back and re-read carefully to tell if certain things were real history or part of the world-building. I had to force myself to quit reading the backstory in order to get to the rules or character creation sections before it was time for my Sunday GURPS game. And I intend to go back and finish reading it sometime this week. The Tech and Character “Callings” are described in loving detail, and there are allowances for creating your own character types as well.
Third, the rules. Okay, now this is the place where most really pretty gamebooks with engaging backstories lose me. I am not into systems with a lot of rules. Too many rules and you complicate things unnecessarily, I feel. This game is NOT one of those. I will totally, gladly run this game! In fact, I’ve just polled the Girl Game to see how they feel about running it during our next session.* The rules are, for the most part, simple, clear and direct. The one exception to this is the Redemption rules for trying to get rid of Corruption. (This section, by the way, is PURE Jason Soles.) I had to read it a few times to figure out how the mechanics worked, but with careful reading it does make sense. The combat system also makes sense, and I like that they leave difficulty modifiers up to the GM, by and large.
Unhallowed Metropolis seems like it could lend itself equally well to gribbly, combat-monkey dungeon crawling, or a more refined role (not roll) playing esthetic.
Character Creation seems like it should not be complicated. I actually have not tried to create a character just yet, that’s my next exercise, but reading the character creation rules, I am optimistic that it will be a smooth process, complicated only by my own wibbling over what it will take to create a really kick ass zombie hunter. The authors provide Character “Callings” as base templates for the different sort of characters you might want to play. Sample Callings are Aristocrat, Mourner (think undead-hunting ninja in a corset), Undertaker (Independent zombie hunters), the DeathWatch (think Special Forces with zombie killing as their focus), Criminal, and Doctor (this could be your kindly old sawbones, or a mad scientist with a fetish for re-animated flesh).
One mechanic I really like in this game is the Corruption mechanic. Basically everyone starts out with one dot of corruption in one of three paths: Desire, Physical or Drive. The way this mechanic works is during each game session, each player gets a number of re-rolls equal to the highest corruption level they have. So if they have 1 dot in Desire, 2 dots in Physical and three dots in Drive, they get three re-rolls. Now the great thing about these re-rolls is you can use them to re-roll your own dice OR to force someone to re-roll if their action directly effects you. Say, another player tries to chop your head off and the roll indicates they succeeded, and you failed to dodge. You can either re-roll your dodge, OR you can make them re-roll the head chopping. (This is how I understand it to work. I’m sure someone will let me know if I misread it.)
But what, you ask, if you have already used your re-roll? Ah HAH! Here’s where it’s fun. Once a game session, you may get one extra re-roll by taking on another dot of corruption. See the slippery slope here? And yes, Corruption is deleterious. You can have one through five dots of Corruption. As your dots in any given path increase, you will begin to feel the effects of your corruption, making it harder to hide your corruption from your team-mates. Five or more dots will result in death, usually at the hands of your team-mates when you can no longer hide your darker nature from them. Now there are other ways to use Corruption and also ways to get rid of Corruption. But if I went into them here I’d be here all day.
Unhallowed Metropolis is written with a very “cinematic” feel to it. Throughout, it encourages players and GMs to vividly describe actions, scenery and effects. This is something I LOVE. I adore games that encourage strong narrative. The authors provide you with graphic descriptions of various wounds and damage, as well as encouraging you to come up with your own over-the-top descriptions.
In summation, I just want to say that I think this game is going to rock the moon and stars. I am looking forward to running it so I can give you an overview of how smoothly character creation goes and how it plays in general. And I’ll be sure to include quotes from my girls so you can see what they think from a player’s point of view. October 19th is the next Girl Game, so look for Part II of this review that weekend.
*Just a note. I emailed them about it less than twenty minutes ago, and the answer is already a resounding “HELL YES!”