Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tommy's Take on Heaven's Shadow


I’ve played the D6 system a fair bit in the past (mostly Star Wars 2nd Edition), but I hadn’t kept up on recent developments in D6 system gaming. I got a review copy of Heaven’s Shadow from the author, John Berry, and did a bit of research on MiniSix, a streamlined (the core rules are under 40 pages) variant. But this isn’t about MiniSix, it’s about Heaven’s Shadow, so let’s jump into that.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Published by Bedroom Wall Press, Heaven’s Shadow is currently free in PDF form, and $10 in print. It runs 84 pages and is powered by MiniSix, as noted above. The premise is that the PCs are Shadows: Assassins who serve God and are powered by their Faith to hunt down demonic beings called Nephilim, who disguise themselves as mortals. Pretty sure I’ve read the author saying it has more than a little influence from the Assassin’s Creed series as well.

The book includes everything you need to play, rules and setting. MiniSix is pretty streamlined, with only four attributes (Might, Agility, Wits and Charm), and around thirty skills governed by those four attributes (not evenly divided), like Martial Arts, Pickpocket, Demonology and Con. You get 12 dice to divide among attributes, with 7 dice to divide among your skills, and you can divide dice into 3 pips (giving +1 or +2 to an attribute or skill; +3 would make it another die larger). Every Shadow also has the Faith attribute (which uses dice from the attributes pool), as well as an Agency attribute that reflects their standing in their organization. Conviction is a pool of points reminiscent of Force Points from the Star Wars RPG, allowing the Shadows to push themselves when needed, shrug off damage, or receive “Divine Inspiration” when they aren’t clear about what to do next. Every Shadow also has to take two Complications, which provide Conviction points when encountered – and overcome – in play. Some Complications include Bounty (as in, there’s one on your head), Touched (by the profane, possibly even having demon’s blood in your veins) or Burned (your previous agency cut you off, full stop). Shadows also have four derived stats (Block, Dodge, Parry and Soak) for combat situations.

The basic rules are simple: Roll the dice pool for the appropriate action and beat a target number. If you double the target number, it’s a Double Success and you succeed spectacularly. In some situations, usually at GM fiat, you get a Stunt Die, which is largely like the Wild Die from previous D6 games, which can explode for extra success or “implode”, taking away dice from the total. Heaven’s Shadow also has a contested system for things like tailing a target, which is a series of rolls back and forth until one side holds the advantage for multiple rolls (or scores a Double Success). Simple, but effective.

The combat rules are a lot like the basic rules, with Agility being used for initiative. If you’ve played RPGs, you’ll recognize a lot of the stuff here, but my favorite part is Opportunity: If you attack and score less than half of what you need, you give the opponent the immediate opportunity for a counterattack (including Disarming them, Disabling them or performing a Takedown). Damage is compared to the opponent’s Soak value, and the remainder compared to the Wound table to determine how wounded the defender is. Successive wounds less than the existing wounds bump up the wound level. This makes “Papercuts of Death” possible, which might annoy some folks. Savage Worlds has potential for the same thing, so I’m clearly not bothered by that.

The chapter on Assassination is the crown jewel of the book. It goes into detail about using stealth for bonuses on taking out the target, as well as using various environmental effects to kill the target without making it look like an assassination (like throwing them from balconies, electrocuting them, poisoning them, drowning them, etc), as well as Planning the Hit, which tries to help justify the idea of a team of assassins, with each member of the group performing a task and every successful completion adding a die to the Plan Pool, which the triggerman can spend when it comes time to take out the target and/or escape.

They say Faith can move mountains, and Shadows can use Faith to do amazing things thanks to the “Supreme Director” (God). They are organized by difficulties: Everyone has Wordless Sight, which allows them to see Nephilim for who they are, and with a little extra effort, reveal that to others. Passing Unseen allows a Shadow to completely vanish into a crowd. Walking on Water functions exactly as it sounds. Covering Darkness plunges a building into complete and absolute darkness. Stone of David allows the assassin to throw a single, unerring stone that strikes almost as a bullet. Resurrection can raise the dead. There are many more Miracles, these are just a sampling.

Several agencies are included, all coming from the same basic source (The Order of Shadows), and all agreeing on the same overall mission (stop the Nephilim), just not agreeing on particulars (tenets of Faith, methods of operation, base of operations, and so on). Sometimes the Agencies do work together for short-term missions, and some (like ICON, which is a former government agency still operating out of Langley, Virginia,) function as unofficial branches of governing bodies in their area.

The Nephilim are demonic souls in human bodies, and each are devoted to a particular sin. Each Nephilim has lived for thousands of years, and has certain abilities ties to their respective sins. Guidelines are included making your own Nephilim, as well as ten sample Nephilim, one for each of the listed sins. They range from destructive and ravenous Big Game Hunters to greedy Corporate Raiders to vile and disgusting Flesh Merchants.

The final chapter guides you, as the GM, through constructing missions for the PCs. Is the Nephilim the Power in the situation, or the Man Behind The Power? The President of the United States might be acting fishy and making destructive decisions, but it could be a Nephilim disguised as an advisor and not the President. There’s also discussion included on the consequences of the assassination. Having to kill a US Senator is likely to have more fallout (at least legally) than killing a Nephilim pornographer will. A few smple NPC statblocks are provided, as well as a series of plot hooks, like a small town falling under the sway of a pair of Nephilim pushing their respective sins on the place, a Nephilim drug dealer using his own blood to lace the drugs and a sadistic Nephilim pornographer operating in an off-shore sea fort.

WHAT WORKS: A fantastic premise, and the streamlined MiniSix seems to fit it like a glove. The Opportunity rules put that extra risk into the combat, and the miracles from the “Supreme Director” are some pretty impressive stuff, as is the Assassination chapter. The PDF is free and the print is only $10.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Perhaps too lean and could have used more examples. A random mission generator would have been a nice touch.

CONCLUSION: Well, the PDF is free, so if this sounds remotely interesting, you have no reason not to check it out on your own. The game allows for the cool factor of being ruthless assassins, while setting up a situation that places the assassins as the undeniable good guys, since they are taking on demons. On one hand, I appreciate just how lean it is…on the other hand, it probably could have used some beefing up in some places. There is actually no art at all inside the book, meaning that it is packed with actual game information. Despite the part in the book about the team working together on a mission, it seems like the perfect RPG to run for a solo campaign, and the system is a time-tested one that Heaven’s Shadow doesn’t push past its comfort zone (like high level Jedi or DC Superheroes tended to do). Fun concept, executed well, in a system that has stood the test of time, with a non existent barrier for entry. Definitely worth checking out.

DISCLAIMER: As noted above, I did receive an electronic review copy of Heaven's Shadow from the author, and I have provided an affiliate link to the PDF and print versions of the book at DriveThruRPG. Making a purchase via an affiliate link could provide me with compensation in the form of store credit.

NOTE: I believe the free PDF was a promotional period thing, and the price has now been adjusted up to (a still very reasonable) $5 after the posting of this review.