Early Impressions of Accursed
The preview Accursed Player’s Guide available to backers of the Accursed Kickstarter presents the history of the setting, abilities and character creation guidelines for the monstrous player character races, a double handful of new Edges, and some of the setting rules that make Accursed an interesting new dark fantasy addition to Savage Worlds. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a good start that I only expect to get better.
Let’s start with the fun and evocative cover. A cadaverous Solomon Kane lookalike, a Frankenstein’s Monster with spectacles and his hair tied in a club, and a raven-haired lady dhampir in sensible clothes face off in front of a spooky castle against a creepy hag with vine-tentacles emerging from under his robes. The illustration tells me a lot: the clothing styles all favor the 18th and 19th century so I know the setting speaks to my interests in more modern periods, the creators respect their female audience, and there’s at least enough humor and humanity in the setting to allow for a nebbish golem – plus, it’s all about monsters fighting monsters. If this cover is a mission statement for Accursed, then I am wholeheartedly with it.
“Chapter 1: The Land of Morden” is, admittedly, the part I haven’t really read yet. I get the basics: the continent of Morden was invaded some decades ago by an army of nearly goddess-like Witches, their monstrous servants, and some samurai* and Viking mercenaries; when the king of the fairies blew up one of the Witches and a big chunk of the resistance, the Witches decided to consolidate their holdings rather than continue the war; now the land is divided into fake-Russia, fake-Germany/Switzerland/Transylvania (?), fake-Prydain, fake-Italy, fake-Israel, and fake-Egypt and all the Witchbreed the Witches created have decided to join the good guys. I’ve skimmed the chapter and read some parts in more detail than others; with that caveat, the actual setting fluff doesn’t appeal to me quite as much as the high concept.
The cover and interior illustrations certainly suggest a pseudo-Victorian setting – something that reflects the influence of Hammer Films both in its specificity to the 19th century and its vagueness as to the actual period – but the text suggests something far more medieval, something more of the “fantasy” in “dark fantasy.” This is especially obvious in the land of Caer Kainen, a pseudo-Britain with distinct overtones of Arthurian legend and Lloyd Alexander, but there’s a lot of talk about knights throughout the book. It would, of course, be possible to play Caer Kainen as an early 18th century Scotland – it has feuding clans – but the Celtic legend suffusing the land creates a certain cognitive dissonance in my brain. I mean, revenants are the primary Witchbreed for Caer Kainen, so presumably the Solomon Kane-looking guy on the cover is Caer Kainen’s “iconic character” Cath Sarder and he just seems an odd fit with the Horned King and a White Hart. Honestly, I’d recommend cutting the White Hart for Cath Sarder’s description from the appendix because his undead Natty Bumppo schtick is much more in keeping with the tone of the rest of the setting.
Also, why did Sanguinara the Blood Witch, settle down in the middle of a forest?! Presumably vampires are as vulnerable to wood as dhampir, so why settle in a land full of undead Kryptonite?**
“Chapter 2: The Accursed” provides character creation guidelines for the PC “races:” dhampir (herein “living vampires” rather than the children of vampires), golems (Frankensteins, Scarecrows, and Tin Men), mongrels (misfits from The Island of Dr. Moreau), mummies (who wear their sarcophagi like Anakaris from Darkstalkers), revenants (more like the Crow than just zombies), and vargr (werewolves). Every race is given a page of setting fluff and a page of crunch – racial abilities and race-specific Edges. They cover the majority of classic movie monster types (I’m waiting for gill-men, invisible people, and King Kongs) and are pretty flavorful, however I’m not sure how well they balance or how much everyone’s going to want to play them all.
The dhampir and vargr are obviously more appealing to someone who likes a little sexy with his scary, and they’re perfectly solid races. I’m not sure how useful the dhampir’s Twilight-style leaping Edge really is, but their extra die in Agility means they’ve got a jump on the other races in raising their combat Skills. The vargr’s pretty cool, even if the fluff suggests they become mindless animals when they change and that actually requires a special Edge that replaces Berserk. The duet I’m going to run to playtest this with Robin will concentrate mainly on dhampir and vargr.
I worry that the golems are crippled as combatants by their restriction to an Agility no higher than d6. It sometimes feels to me like people forget how few chances Savage Worlds characters get to advance; every advance only gives you a single Edge, a single Attribute point, or a pair of Skill points… at best. You get two Skill points with an advance when you’re trying to raise Skills up to the controlling Attribute, but only one when you’re trying to increase it over the Attribute. Agility controls Fighting, Shooting, and Throwing, so it’s going to be really expensive for a golem to become a combat machine. Maybe that’s why Von Coric, the iconic golem, is a spellcaster.
I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to play a mongrel. I stopped dead at the Agonizing Pain racial “hindrance” which reduces several Attributes unless the character is full of drugs. The only sensible way to play a mongrel is to be an Alchemist so you can synthesize your own smack, and that’s kind of limiting.
Mummies seem really underpowered; even the extra Edges in the appendix only make them even with a novice dhampir. Revenants, however, seem insanely powerful. They can essentially take an advance to Strength twice a rank! It suddenly occurs to me that Solomon Grundy might be their inspiration rather than the Crow. (Wait, why does Cath Sarder carry a gun instead of punching things to death? He’s got a sub-optimal build!) I have to admit that I haven’t taken too close a look at these two, since they don’t really suit my kind of duet.
The chapter segues on into setting rules. The ones borrowed from the Horror Companion are essentially set dressing, but some of the dedicated setting rules are both intriguing and infuriating. Guys, on the rare cases where I roll dice, I roll them in the open; is “Deadly Accuracy” only supposed to be for the players, or am I going to have to spend every combat apologizing to Robin for killing her character? That said, I like “Just as Lucky” because I don’t want my recurring villains getting shafted, and “Situational Bonus” is a nice rule that will encourage more imagination in fight scenes.
Skills come next – still as part of the same chapter – and I’ve really got to ask, why did the guys at Melior Via fuse Lockpicking and Stealth together into Subterfuge, but not consolidate Climbing and Swimming? I hate Climbing and Swimming! Yes, knowing how to rock-climb and how do the breaststroke are not related skills, but there’s also a reason why AD&D 2nd Edition rangers had Hide in Shadows but not Pick Locks. Also, the word “subterfuge” suggests lying and deception to me rather than sleight of hand and sneaking.
Yikes! This is running much longer than I anticipated, and I need to spend some time working up some NPCs and plots for the new Accursed duet. I’m going to cut things short for now. My apologies for what mainly seems like a lot of complaining. This is a playtest document after all; I expect there will be significant changes to it before it’s finalized. My criticisms are meant only to help clarify Ross Watson and company’s vision. I really like Accursed, and I want it to be the best it can be.
*Dudes, I’ve got three entire bookcases full of Japanese anime, literature, manga, and non-fiction. You should totally add a stretch goal where I write a mini-supplement for Sakurada. The King is Dead has the personal endorsement of the creator of Planet Motherfucker and Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque, so you know I’ve got the writing chops. Give the world O-Kamen no Koroshi, the Lady of the Murder Masks!
(Yes, I’m just kidding.)
(No, I’m not.)