Thursday, March 23, 2017
The Hateful Place: A Review
Fans of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay like to talk about how "grim" it is. After perusing Dave Mitchell's fine game The Hateful Place (tHp), I will call no other game "grim."
Full disclosure: I have not played tHp "as written." In other words, I have not used the game mechanics - only because our group is in the middle of a more traditional retroclone game. However, we recently experienced a Total Party Kill. At that, we did a Referee swap and I took over (the Referee took my dead cleric), using Dave's excellent generators and tables to create a Living Hell for the now-dead party. I could not have asked for better tools.
Dave's game is for any setting, provided that setting is in darkness - both literal and spiritual. I'm a fan of rules-lite games, and this one is certainly that. Experienced gamers will get it within seconds and I'm sure newbies would quickly pick it up. Essentially, characters have three stats (Body, Mind, Soul), each with an associated modifier. Success at any endeavor basically requires rolling a 15 or more on a d20 (plus or minus your modifiers). Combat is simple, with a focus on the narration. I'd say this system is simpler and cleaner than any D&D retroclone, or perhaps any other game I can think of. Granted, it does require some maturity and deliberation on the part of the Referee. You'd have to work really hard to mess up these simple rules. I will say this - combat looks deadly. Very deadly. And magic is not for the weak. Every single spell (all of them simply and cleanly described with one sentence or so) comes with a terrible cost. Magic is elevated to the truly awesome in this system, without being complicated rules-wise. Rules for monsters and demons ensure that no creature of darkness will be predictable. The tables for Demon abilities are great fun.
At first glance, tHp seems a little vague in terms of setting. This is intentional. Early on, Dave points us to the real meat of the book, which is the second half - the Generators. This is where the intended tone and atmosphere of the game come to life (not much of a life - after all, it's a hateful place). In fact, the Generators make tHp useful for absolutely any system. The Generators spark the game master's imagination and provide inspiration for everything from the state of the world, the time period, a horrific starting place (such as dangling from the end of a rope or being bricked up alive), cursed magic items, and other general weird darkness. Of particular use are the tables for missions and rumors, which give any skilled Referee fodder for an entire evening's play with just a sentence or two. Dave respects the individual Referee's place in making these his or her own; he provides just enough to whet the appetite for grim darkness. It's left to the Referee and players to fill in the blanks. That's just my cup of tea. Dave provides more "modules" that are a bit more fleshed out, but even these could fit on a standard index card.
Looks-wise, these books are striking. Like Dave's previous offering Sirenswail, the covers are enigmatic, with no text whatsoever. The cover for The Hateful Place is totally appropriate - just a vaguely unsettling painting called "Riot", AKA "The Pentagram of St. Nobody" by David Paul Hellings. The cover of Book B appears to be a zoomed-in detail of this. Interiors are clean and easy to navigate. They're not fancy, but they get the message across and the job done.
One aspect of tHp I'm in love with is that it makes provisions for solitaire play, much along the lines of Classic Traveller. With the help of some tables and a little imagination, you can visit the dark parts of your own private soul to do some solo gaming on those nights when your fellow players have other plans. I've not delved into this, but having played a solitaire Traveller campaign before, I think I'd enjoy this as well...and I'd probably freak myself out and sleep with the lights on that night.
I'd recommend this to anyone who is looking for a rules-lite, grim game, or if you're looking for tables of creative bits to populate and inform a campaign for any other system - provided it's in darkness. Once again, Dave proves himself to be a thoughtful and sophisticated writer and gamer, and I eagerly await anything else he does.
Visit Lulu to purchase his books. You can get them in paperback or hardcover, and the price is reasonable for the amount of hideous amusement likely to follow.