Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Demolished Ones Review

Perfectly controlled explosion or scattered rubble?  

  • A deep mystery game, which keeps you on your toes throughout the campaign, with dangers from within and without.
  • This product has a unique take on FATE's quick character generation, which provides a blank slate approach to that encourages immersion in its rich thematic element.
  • The rules within are a great entry product to the FATE system, the uncluttered approach and slow building up of mechanics suits newcomers well.
  • For those who enjoy mysteries, twists, and cinematic play, the ending of this product is both fulfilling and unexpected.

A mystery in FATE? I would typically be uninspired by this sort of thing. It is not that you could not run an investigation using this lighter rules system, rather that the system does not explicitly support it like systems such as Gumshoe. However, I'm pleased to be disproved by The Demolished Ones by Brian England and Rite Publishing. This setting creates a compelling cinematic Victorian-themed Noir mystery by playing to FATE's strength, character backgrounds, by making who your characters are the true mystery.

This product has a clean two-column layout with unobtrusive background art inlaid. The evocative art sprinkled throughout the book meshes well with the gaslamp aesthetic as well as the black-and-white format. The handouts in particular are well-executed. The whole thing comes to 88 pages which is packed with to-the-point content and an accessible brevity.

The base mechanics follow the same sort of lighter bent, much like the recently released FATE Core. Resolution, for those unfamiliar, is based on rolling 4 fudge dice, which have blanks, plusses, and minuses, yielding a result of -4 to +4 biased toward +0. This is added to a skill value, which is then compared against a difficulty. Beyond this mechanic, the true engine of the game is FATE points and aspects. FATE points are an economy which rewards accepting poor choices based on aspects which describe character background or unfortunate circumstances. These are then spent to allow PCs to influence the plot at times of their choosing based on character background or fortuitous circumstances. This product provides a clean, uncluttered, and nicely brief explanation of the rules, and the light mechanics seem to fit well with the setting.

The flavor of this product is reflected in mechanics through the Stress tracks (here Health and Composure), Skills (Engineering, Science, Slight of Hand), the use of aspects to reflect temporary and permanent Gear, and some especially powerful aspects that can have special features at extra cost. However, the real innovation is how characters are made. This game is about discovering the mystery of yourself, and using a re-imagining of the on-the-fly character generation to build, rebuild, and perhaps destroy who you thought you were, all based on progression in the plot. This is where the mystery lies, and is reflected eloquently in how you build your character as you move along.

As a mystery is the key to this neat campaign, I feel the need to avoid spoiling the fun. In broad strokes, the story is broken into a three act structure. The players have leeway, but there is definite structure and a sequence to the game. Character development is key, but there is a narrative and a progression to the game which makes it compelling. This product's plot does require a bit of trust from the players, things could go awry if they are not expecting some twists or the GM to alter aspects of their character. That said, it is worth these concessions to keep the mystique of the game. Speaking of twists, they are numerous and like any good thriller or investigation novel, the biggest come at the dramatic conclusion.

Overall, the tightness of the narrative is reminiscent of other great games and novels of self-discovery, notably Aletheia, another great mystery game. This is a well-thought out product which targets a particular play style and is incredibly accessible, the kind of game which could bring in new players that are huge mystery fans. I'm left with the lingering impression that with the right type of group, this could be the kind of campaign which can help shape a very memorable experience.

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