The Shades Of Vengeance team are back at it with Ed Jowett being one of the most prolific writers of games that I have ever met. I have been presented with a slick PDF of the Survival rules as they are and asked to do a review based on it and here is that review. Does it live up to the love that I showered on Consortium? We will see.
Straight up, here is the link to the Kickstarter. It is inside the projects last week and yes, I am one of the backers for full disclosure. I backed it prior to seeing the book though. That came as an offer after I came on board. Survival is a zombie game. It is unsurprising in its premise (virus gets out and shit happens) and reminded me more of a The Last Of Us (PS4 game) situation than a Walking Dead version. What does that mean? Well, I am not sure – that is just the feels that I got off of reading it – there are several things that remind me specifically of many sections of this genre of media.
I am also limited in my knowledge of this genre in RPG’s. I have never been a big fan of the Zombie apocalypse genre (until I read the Walking Dead comics) and feel that it is very limited in the opportunity to be successfully pulled off in an RPG setting. The tension and surprise elements are tough to pull off, and how do you get around the “another zombie encounter” feels that you get from the players? Survival is really quite clever in that respect. The majority of the opponents are mutants, and mutants not only of the human form – animals too have been adversly affected by the viral plague and so variety is key in this game with standard monster encounters.
What I did not like in this game was the preface to the rules. The start of the book, much like Consortium tries to tell us what has gone on and information about the world. I like getting this information up front and rules second BUT I really liked the previous format displayed in Consortium. In this version it is laid out as much more of a source book with bold headings and snippets of paragraphs initially and then to tie it all together they do the stories from a personal perspective. In Consortium the stories are interspersed throughout the headlines and make it much easier to read. The stories in this are a bit longer and some of them found me thinking about if I had left the iron on, so not as engaging as I had hoped.
Also, there is a Karma system that has been added to the game in this setting. I am not exactly sure how I feel about this system. It could be good but I find it so judgmental. I am a big fan of Walking Dead so let me take that focus in the hopes that many of my readers may be. Rick Grimes is a survivor – he does what he needs to when he needs to. The thing is that by today’s morality he is also an evil son of a gun and would be so serving consecutive multiple life sentences. But that morality and criminal system does not apply here does it? In a survival setting Darwinism is at its utmost. You must be strong and merciless to survive. I am not sure that a system of Karma (measuring good vs. evil actions) that gives boons is not something that I entirely agree with in this setting.
But of course the system is the Era system, and now that I have actually had some experience with running the setting what can I say about it? It is fantastic. Running a game of Era is a smooth and simple thing to do. As a GM I find that if I have forgotten a rule and seek to run something off the top of my head for the time being that what I run almost always matches the rule-set. It is that intuitive. I am hoping that this version of the game comes with a trimmed down rules version like the other games have (Consortium, Empowered) as they are invaluable in play. All of the beautiful flow charts are still apparent here boiling down the rules into a quick and easy format and they keep the skill system nice and broad which makes for a nice and easy system for the GM. Having too many modifiers for umpteen hundred specific skills is a nightmare – keeping it down to a threshold and an “umbrella” skill makes for a swift, story driven game.
The artwork (not all of it is complete) and presentation of this book is awesome. I do love the attention to detail that the Shades of Vengeance team give to their books. There is a great amount of useful information held in appendices and also a great deal of prepared gaming information is available to the GM. I think that there may have been some criticism of Era’s thin preparation material as there is a load more of written material that fleshes out the adventures in this book. I prefer just a base skeleton material like was in Consortium as it causes you to rely less on things that have to happen and just run the story as it appears. I can see how it may help less experienced GM’s though.
Overall this is a quality attempt at producing a survival based game. I will definitely want a copy or two on the shop shelves for people but it is not a game that I think I will find myself running at any length. There are people that love this kind of adventure and teamed with the Era system I strongly recommend that they look at this game. Era helps support a story driven approach to role playing by having just the right amount of rules to make the players and the GM understand and control the imagined reality of the game. If you can, go to the Kickstarter and show your support. It is already made its modest goal but more support means more goodness from the Shades of Vengeance team and I think that is something that everyone can agree is a great thing indeed.