So, a while back, Steven D. Russell atÂ Rite Publishing asked if I’d be willing to review their firstÂ Fate product,Â The Demolished Ones, by Brian Engard. I sent him an e-mail talking about my review policy ((Spelled out on my About… page.)), and he said he could live with those conditions, and sent me a free .pdf copy of the game. This was back at the end of July, and I’ve finally got around to reading it.
Here’s the blurb for the game, from the back cover:
You wake in a room.You donâ€™t where you are, where you came from, whatâ€™s happening. You donâ€™t know who you are. Your identity has been taken from you. It will come back with time, but can you trust it? This world is not what it seems. Are you?
And then thereâ€™s the murder.ÂWho killed the dead man? Was it you? Was it one of the people who woke in the room with you? Are you all being blamed for a crime you didnâ€™t commit? If you want to keep your freedom, youâ€™ll need to solve the mystery of Jack Smithâ€™s murder while you solve the riddle of your own identity. But is freedom even possible, or is it just another lie?
This is a game.The Demolished OnesÂ is a game about identity, amnesia, and the power â€“ and danger â€“ that comes with knowledge. This game usesÂ Fate, a rules system that helps you build characters with personalities, histories, and baggage. If youâ€™re not familiar with Fate, donâ€™t worry: this game teaches you everything you need to know.
This is a story.This book also includes a full story for you to play through. It contains all of the characters, locations, and events that youâ€™ll need to tell a story of mystery, intrigue, identity, and horror.
The Demolished OnesÂ is written as a limited-duration campaign. Looking at it, I estimate it could be wrapped up in as little as four to five sessions, or stretched out to double that, depending on how you ran and paced things. There’s also a section near the end that gives you a bunch of options for continuing play after the main storyline is completed.
I’m not going to talk too much about the plot, because a lot of the great bits about the game depend on revelation and discovery. The whole idea of starting as blank slates of characters, slowly adding abilities and memories throughout the game, is interesting, and Fate is a great system for doing something like this, as it already has a default build-as-you-play character generation option. The strangeness and mystery of the setting unfolds as the story proceeds, and the characters learn about the setting at the same time they learn about the world.
And it’s a world worth learning about. The background story is deep and interesting, with wonderful secrets to uncover and explore. The weirdness is compelling and engaging, and the options it offers for characters are just cool.
But the game has one potential flaw. It seems ((I say, “seems,” because the movie is never directly mentioned in the book.)) to be based on a particular movie ((The back of the book hints at what that movie might be, but for those who wish to know, I’ve hidden the movie name here: [spoilers]Dark City[/spoiler] )). And based very firmly on the movie, in both setting, structure, and terminology, so much so that, if I were playing, I’d be hard-pressed to keep from anticipating things from the movie in the game.
It’s not like the game slavishly follows the movie, though. There are plenty of tweaks to the plot and the setting. But if the connection is made early in the game, it will give away some of the cool secrets of the world, and may undermine the enjoyment of the players. In other words, knowing the movie constitutes spoilers for the game.
That said, I think this would be a very cool game to run for a group that were unfamiliar with the movie. And, if I were not familiar with the movie, I would love to play it. Brian Engard has done a great job of creating a claustrophobic, twisted, paranoid world where identity and reality are fluid and unreliable. It’s a great mini-campaign for the right group – one that enjoys mystery, horror, adventure, and isn’t afraid of something off the beaten track.
Beyond that, it really shows off a lot of the strengths of theÂ Fate system. The implementation of theÂ FateÂ rules fit into about 20 pages, including all the special character stuff the game requires. The in-game weirdness works very well with the structure of aspects and skills. And the cinematic, free-form mechanics make for some potentially fantastic sequences.
Yeah, so if any of that sounds interesting, I’d recommend you check outÂ The Demolished Ones.