Monday, December 30, 2013

Tommy's Take on Accursed

Earlier in the year, I posted a few articles about Accursed by Melior Via, a Savage Setting in which the heroes are monsters trying(?) to resist the dark lure of the Witch Marks that made them something other than human. Well, the full rulebook is out in PDF, so let's take a look at it.
A Revenant, a Dhampir and a Golem facing off with The Crone.

DISCLAIMER: This review does include an affiliate link to RPGNow. Purchasing the book via said affiliate link may provide me with store credit at RPGNow, which is typically used to purchase more gaming material for review at this blog. A review copy was not provided by the publisher, my copy was acquired by supporting the Kickstarter, though I was provided a preview copy of the playtest draft, which I previously previewed.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: First and foremost, you will need the Savage Worlds rulebook in order to play Accursed. The Savage Worlds Horror Companion isn't 100% needed, but is very useful. Secondly, the print version is not yet available, but it is on its way, per the Kickstarter updates posted recently. Lastly, the PDF is available right now for $20 (and you can get poker decks specific to Accursed as well).

The premise, in a nutshell, is a fantasy setting in which the Accursed - people who were transformed into agents of the Witches and fought in the Bane War - are now free of the direct influence of the Witches, but unable to return to their old lives due to the monstrous taint on their souls. Sound good?

Shane Hensley writes a great foreword that sets the stage for the harrowing setting of the Accursed, and why they fight. This is followed up by some short fiction introducing the setting.

The first chapter discusses the setting, including a two page map of the land, called Morden. The map seems kinda small and empty, but one can always use that as an excuse to say that the map only highlights the biggest features, leaving numerous other towns and locations out there to be developed by you and your group. During the Bane War, Morden was invaded by the forces of the Grand Coven, which broke the backs of the land's leaders before the men of Morden forged an alliance with the Seelie Fey and set up a betrayal that destroyed one of the Witches. Ultimately, the leaders of the Coven scattered, leaving the Accursed behind to find their own way. For some, the Accursed are reminders of the war. Other Accursed can't return home because their families no longer accept them as kin...and some Accursed just can't yet accept the monsters that they have become. Some turned to religion, and The Order of the Penitent was formed: A religious sect that believes that the Accursed are damned, but that they may be able to be redeemed if they do enough good in the world.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to the land at large, detailing the various realms, their current states and their roles in the Bane War. Cairn Kainen was once built around clans, but is now crushed under the bootheel of Morrigan and her undead armies. Hebron went from an idyllic farmland to a battle hardened, suspicious, insular community after fending off The Crone's Golems. Hyphrates, land of the Pharoahs, now rests in the undead grip of a formerly living, and formerly benevolent, ruler. Manreia faced no direct conflict in the Bane War, and so it sustained few scars, but now deals with the refugees of the other realms...completely unaware of the vipers clutched to its breasts. The proud people of Steppengrad have suffered grievous losses in the war...and are preparing to sacrifice even more if they can finally break Baba Yaga's grip. Valkenholm has become the center of The Blood Witch's web of intrigue.

There are now eight types of Witchbreed one can play as (six were present in the original playtest document): Dhampirs, the blood-sucking half-vampires. Golems, who have had their souls placed inside of unliving bodies. Mongrels, now grotesquely merged with animals. Mummies, the long dead, brought back to existence. Ophidians, poisonous snake-men. Revenants, the recently dead, still walking the earth. Shades, the spectral dead. And, finally, the Vargr, who shift between man and beast. Character creation is similar to normal, except you select a Witchbreed to play as, with their own modifiers, and skills have been slightly altered (with some skills condensed into Subterfuge and Athletics). Just as each Witchbreed has its own strengths and weaknesses, they also have access to their own unique Edges, with Mummies seemingly getting the shortest end of the stick regarding Edge selection.

A number of setting rules are used for Accursed, such as Damaged Characters, which allows characters to take an additional Hindrance and, thus, more points with which to buy an Edge, useful for those extra Edges they have available to them. Accursed uses the Blood & Guts rules from Savage Worlds Deluxe, but also combines them with a new rule that allows players to spend a benny in order to turn Wounds into Fatigue levels instead (since they "heal" faster, of course). New Hindrances are also provided, some having appeared in other books, complete with a new master list for Accursed (featuring Hindrances like Jingoistic or Glass Jaw). In addition to the Racial Edges, other new Edges are available to all characters, like Arcane Background (Witchcraft), which allows PCs to tap into the same power that the Witches use, Chosen Fate, which allows the player to decide if they are embracing or rejecting their Witchmark, Grand Coven Veteran (for those that fought many battles in the war), and Witch Hunter, for those that intend to take the battle to the Witches themselves. A new master Edges table is provided as well.

Chapter 3 covers the powers and uses of Arcane Background (Alchemy) and Arcane Power (Witchcraft), with Alchemy powers that let you transform weapons or heal Fatigue, and Witchcraft powers that let you steal Wounds from a target and use them to heal others, or even cancel out another character's abilities (including Edges!).

Accursed doesn't use money, per se, instead adopting the Resource die from Shaintar. Essentially, you roll the Resource die against an item's cost and availability, modified by whatever skills might affect it (like using Streetwise to acquire black market goods). Firearms are sprinkled in among the expected melee weapons, typically of the muzzle-loading variety. It has a very Ravenloft effect, in which some regions are vastly more developed than others, though this has to do with the effects of the War, rather than magical interference by Godlike entities.

Witchmarks get their own chapter, because they are that big of a deal. They are the measure of a Witch's power over the Accursed, and they represent the struggle between the monster and the man. The higher the Witchbreed's rank, the greater the effects of the Witchmark. A Novice can sense others of his Witchline, while Seasoned Accursed can speak to others within a mile. Veterans can automatically sense others of his Witchline and the effects of their abilities, and so on. Plus, each Witchbreed have effects that change depending on their acceptance or rejection of the Witchmark: Dhampirs can grow to become nearly full-blown vampires (complete with not being able to enter homes uninvited), a Golem may throw off his unnatural trappings and become flesh and blood again, Mongrels may grow too fond of their animal implants, Mummies may shake off their Death Shrouds and use the Djinn's remaining power to make a wish, Ophidians may become truly reptilian, Revenants not only recapture life but also gain the ability to cheat death, Shades lose their grip on the physical world and Vargr's can remove their animal aspect and turn it into a loyal companion! Of course, each Witchmark can be spun the other way, accepting or defying as their path chooses.

Each of the Witches get detailed in the sixth chapter, along with their primary Banes. This includes art for each Witch and an overview of their background and magic. Baba Yaga and her Hunger Trolls, The Blood Witch and her Leech Men, The Chimera and her Maggot Hounds, The Crone and her Manikins, The Dark Queen and her Noumenons, The (presumed dead) Djinn and her Scarabs, The Gorgon and her Hydras and The Morrigan and her Cauldron Born.

The last chapter focuses on running Accursed, noting that there are more Witchlines than contained in this book, and more Banes spawning from each Witch. A bunch of plot seeds are provided, as well as a sidebar on playing completely human characters in an Accursed game, even alongside Accursed. A seven part campaign is also included, which has three possible endings, depending on the PCs' actions...one of which maintains the status quo, two of which will leave a noticeable mark on Morden.

WHAT WORKS: The art is gorgeous. The "Heroes as Monsters" bit hasn't been overdone in Savage Worlds, and Accursed sets the standard pretty high in that regard. The level of detail in each Witchbreed is very cool and very evocative, and the Witchmark rules, providing reasons to both embrace and reject power, are great as well.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Some of the Accursed seemed to get the shorter end of the stick than the others, with Mummies having fewer cool bits to play around with. This is essentially a three book purchase, rather than the two book purchase that most Savage Settings are. Savage Tales to go along with the Plot Point Campaign would have been welcome. The editing in my PDF was still pretty rough, but it was updated after I downloaded it and I just caught that as I was finishing this review.

CONCLUSION: I was provided a preview copy of the Playtest rules and almost immediately made a pledge on the Kickstarter. I like Accursed enough that I put my money where my mouth is, I'll be getting a print copy and I may even spring for both poker decks. People who believe that Savage Worlds should always be as minimalist as possible aren't going to like the extra bits of crunch added to Accursed, but I personally think it's one of the coolest settings I've seen, and it will hit my table after the print version arrives, if not before. Melior Via made the game I've always wanted to play.