Recently, I took part in a little contest, over at +Erik Tenkar's place. The contest asked for the best character death. I wrote the piece not expecting much to come of it. Somehow, I was one of the winners and got a copy of +Rafael Chandler's Spite: The Second Book of Pandemonium. Spite is something new to me. I didn't even know it was a thing. I'm very sorry about that, because the game looks like a LOT of fun. Also, Rafael also says he's going to re-do the game with all of it parts together in one book, probably later this year. That's probably gonna end up on my bookshelf.
I started reading it last week, and pretty much have read (not skimmed) the whole thing already. I never do that. Seriously. Never. Well, at least don't before I try to play it. This book, though, was very enjoyable to read. It's got great layout and illustrations. Some very, very good artists were used to create some really fucked up stuff. The monsters (angels, in fact) are really scary critters. Apparently there's a really thin line between angelic and demonic in this game. The real takeaway from it, to me, and as expressed by the author is that we should not anthropomorphize angels in this game, and that their character is inhuman, by nature. They have their agenda and donotfuckingcareaboutyou. All of this is expressed in a mix of nice, personal prose and well explained rules and examples (though I'd like to see some better, more extended examples of gameplay for some of the mechanics). There are even a few random tables provided in the appendix.
The quickstart concept for this game is a good one (run a session that's expected to end in death, just to get started learning the rules, and play it for real). I could see doing that with just about any system, pushing it to its nuttiest to see how fun it is. Even better, I could see running that as a default "funnel," a la DCC.
The book's organization is somewhat odd to me, because the quickstart is several chapters in, beyond character generation and most of the rule system. Logically, I guess it makes sense. You need a little background first. Also, Rafael is an author who is very, very good at pacing explanations. He's kind of got a teacher vibe, but a good one. Take it from a teacher (me).
Anyway, more about the game.
The game runs on a d12 system, for those not familiar with it. Each roll conists of some number of d12, based on character (or NPC) skills, attributes, etc. This is where it gets interesting (to me), because instead of totaling the dice you roll for high numbers. Highest number wins. If it's a roll against a target number, then you have to get over that target (like DC for d20 rolls in 3rd ed.). If it's an opposed roll, like a offense/defense combat roll, the difference between the rolls, modified, tells you who won and by how much. This rolling system is pretty consistent across all subsystems, with a fiddly bit or two here and there. The mechanic is sufficiently different that I want to try it out, and simple enough that my dumb ass can figure it out. Win/Win.
Subject matter is strangely... familiar. The first place I go when reading it is Dark Heresy. Grimdarkness. Lots and lots of grimdark. Yay! And this time it's about Heaven's War, and you (your characters) are Zealots in the fight. They are humans made... different, changed and enhanced in weird ways, half-breeds, part divine and part mortal. Chargen breaks down to character classes and types. Those are pretty tightly-defined. However, there are also ways to differentiate your character, based on background. It's also from a limited, but very evocative, array of choices. Again, very like Dark Heresy.
Skills are limited and generic. That's probably a strength, and an advantage over Dark Heresy in my mind. Magic consists of a decent array of spells of different types, some very powerful effects, some buffs, and a nice range of potential uses. There really are a ton of them and they're really, really, fucking metal. Yes, the stuff is plucked whole from horror films and heavy metal, but FUCK, YEAH, IT IS!
Now, Spite is somewhat limited in its approach to the game world. What's there is very good, but you can tell you're missing a lot of the story (e.g., what happened in Dread: The First Book of Pandemonium, which the author now calls "Scorn," instead). Now, I've looked for that one online, but neither book seems to be available right now. I got my copy from the author, of course, and he's got them both up later this year, along with other material included, if I don't misremember what he told me.
I'll be happy to pick up the who shebang because I see a lot of potential in the system to provide me with a good many things I like. There's grimdark, naturally, and the desperate nature of the conflict. There's the rule that says if you describe what you're doing in a bitchin' way you get an extra die (hell, yeah). More importantly, it looks like something I could continue to unpack for a while to come. It has the potential to get into a lot of uncharted territory, becoming about something other than the whole Heaven vs. Hell thing.
I'm not saying that's not a cool thing, mind you. It's simply a fact that part of what made me want to step away from the Dark Heresy stuff for a while was feeling sort of trapped in the 40K universe. It's well written, interesting, and all that, yes... But after a while I'd sort of burnt out on it. Probably how are gaming group kind of imploded didn't help either.
Anyway, this game, Spite (and its associated Pandemonium universe) looks like I could do a lot of other stuff with it instead of just what the wrapper suggests I can. Aliens, serial killers, zombies, whatever. Probably not ponies, though. Probably. Well, maybe that would make a horrible sort of sense. Perhaps carnivorous ponies...
But I digress... If you get a chance to pick it up, it's worth a look, especially if you like horror, combat, tense drama, and an appetite to fuck some shit up. Or die horribly (but awesomely).