14 January 2005

Dead Inside/Cold Hard World Review

This has been sitting on the back-burner for a while, so I thought I should finally write it.

Dead Inside and Cold Hard World are a roleplaying game and supplement from Atomic Sock Monkey, also known as Chad Underkoffler.

He says that he wanted to write a game in which people were nice to each other, rather than the theiving lawbreakers common in roleplaying generally. There is definitely a sad tendency for even the most well-intentioned characters in games to do a lot of questionable things along the way.

In any case, he has managed that much. The game's setting is a world much like the real one but with actual magic in the form of spirits and souls. The characters are expected to be 'dead inside'. That means they are people who have somehow lost their soul. This loss cuts them off from the normal people and also allows them to access various magic powers, particularly entering the spirit world.

The spirit world is centered around a city where most of the people (and things) live and this is the expected setting of most adventures. The characters are expected to be working to somehow restore their souls. The setting is good, but I found it a little to, well, nice for my liking. This kind of goes with Underkoffler's objective but I prefer my games to have a little more obvious evil to get into conflict with. Which is not to say that this doesn't exist in Dead Inside, but it is certainly de-emphasized. Also, the characters can learn lots of kewl powerz in the spirit world, which is fun. They can also be used in the real world, but not so easily or effectively.

The best part of the game is the mechanics for soul cultivation. Basically this is the measure of whether the character's soul is growing or shrivelling. This goes up or down based on what they do and why they do it. So people who do bad things eventually lose any trace of their soul and turn into all-devouring qlippoths (the biggest horror-creature in the game) and people who are good eventually grow a new soul. This all works just as intended but does lead to a kind of psychoanalysis occurring in game, as the GM needs to check on character intentions quite often.

Cold Hard World alters things a bit. It's supposed to be a real world sourcebook for the game for those who want to have less of the spirit world. Which includes me. I think the stuff here is mixed. There's a lot about how the kewl powerz work in the real world, and a few new ones. The general rule is they just don't work very well. There's some places, people and organisations to use in your game. These were, I thought, less inspired than those in Dead Inside. The groups, in particular, didn't really seem like groups that would exist to me. But that might just be my taste in things. The best of the supplement is the section on reworking the game, with several suggestions as to how to rebuild the same basic cosmology for different styles of game. I rather wish I had waited to play it until reading this, because they're much more my sort of thing than the default setting. Oh well, when I run or play a second game I can use one of those.

Overall? A really interesting experiment and a good game. Not quite a great game, due to choices about the setting. Then again, the setting was pretty much designed to be that way so my reservations are in line with 'But it's what it says on the label! I don't want that!'. Well, not quite. But at least implied by the label.

I guess I should say a little about the system. It's a simple little mechanic which Underkoffler calls PDQ and uses in some other games. It's also available for free download from the website. It works well and is simple. That appears to be what it was designed to do, so 100% success there.

And checking on that link, I am reminded that there are free demos of Dead Inside and Cold Hard World there too. You might as well try them out, then.

Also, Monkey Ninja Pirate Robot (bottom of that freebies page) is the best fighting to the death for sweet, sweet uranium game in the world. Better than many in wider categories, too.

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