Accursed

From: Melior Via

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Accursed is a new RPG from Melior Via.

Of all the genres represented on the RPG market, fantasy is probably the most saturated. It can be a tricky matter to introduce a new fantasy setting without it coming across as more of the same. Even being “dark” won’t guarantee that it’ll stand out, as there is no shortage of that particular style of fantasy. Even so, Accursed makes a game attempt to carve out its own spot.

From page 14:
Nothing has transformed Morden more than the wars in its recent history. Over the centuries, the land transformed from a fertile but undeveloped subcontinent to a blustering mix of cultures and civilizations. Then, the Grand Coven invaded and battled the Armies of Light. The war devastated the region, toppled the governments, and resulted in untold deaths.”

Accursed takes place on the continent of Morden, which has a technological development roughly equivalent to 16th-17th century Europe. As indicated in the above quote, the defining event in Morden’s history was the decades-long Bane War. This involved an alliance of thirteen witches known as the Grand Coven coming from across the Darkwall Peaks with their armies of magically altered beasts and humans known respectively as Banes and Accursed (the latter are alternately known as Witchmarked). The nations of Morden responded by forming the Armies of Light to stand against the Grand Coven. In spite of this unity, the superior numbers and magic of the Coven chipped away at their forces in what was proving to be a war of attrition. In desperation, a plan was concocted to directly slay one of the Witches with the aid of the Seelie Fey. While this did result in the apparent demise of the Witch known as the Djinn, it did so at the cost of the Seelie and the leaders of Morden’s nations as well. However, the Djinn’s fate helped cause the Grand Coven to fracture, with many of its members retreating back to the Darkwall Peaks. Those that remain have filled in the power vacuum and control Morden either directly or through human proxies. With active hostilities having ceased, the Witchmarked have largely been abandoned by their creators to their own devices. Among these are Accursed who have retained enough of their humanity to remember their past lives. To give these conflicted beings purpose, the Enochian Church (the monotheistic good guy spiritual organization of Morden) created the Order of the Penitent to help them more effectively stand against the Witches. Although characters don’t have to be members of the Order, it provides a good rationale for them to work together against what remains of the Grand Coven.

The Gazetteer opens up with a potted history of Morden with a particular focus on the Bane War. This is followed up with a description of the various nations. Each nation gets a general overview of its history, its culture and government, what role it played during the Bane War, and its current situation. Some of the more notable personalities associated with the nation in question are also described. Factions with no particular link to any one country such as the Fey and the Enochian Church are also covered. This provides enough material for the GM to work with while leaving some blanks for him to fill in with his own creativity.

The Character Creation chapter features the usual assortment of character races, Edges, Hindrances, and similar relevant material. While an option for human characters is provided, the default assumption is that players will be running Accursed characters. A total of eight Witchmarked types are provided, representing a wide variety of monster types using a mix of folklore and the classic monster movies from Universal and Hammer for inspiration. How well balanced they are between each other is difficult to gauge, as many of the abilities and weaknesses used do not appear in the Race Generator from the Savage Worlds Core Book. However, there is a sense that it’s not entirely even (Mongrels in particular come across as being gimped). Also included are a series of optional setting rules. My favorite among these is the Pain Management rule, which I believe helps capture the tone of the setting. Another interesting modification is how some Core Book skills have been merged, with Climbing and Swimming becoming Athletics while Lockpicking and Stealth become Subterfuge. Such condensation of skills have been suggested by posters on the Pinnacle forums, but this is the first time I can recall it being employed in a published setting.

Arcane Backgrounds in Accursed come in two varieties; Alchemy and Witchcraft. Both of these have their own inherent drawbacks and advantages. Alchemy powers must be prepped in advance and use difficult to acquire components. However, there’s no risk of backlash. Witchcraft has the advantage of being able to use powers on the fly. The negative effects are somewhat more nebulous. On the roleplaying front, witchcraft is regarded with suspicion among the human populace of Morden and held in lower regard than alchemy. On the game mechanics front, getting two or more raises on the arcane skill roll requires that a Spirit roll be made to avoid taking a stage of Acceptance. Not only is this more complicated than the typical backlash of Savage Worlds arcane backgrounds, but also rather counterintuitive, as such usually happens when a one is rolled on the skill die. Also if the player intends to follow the Acceptance path anyway, it’s not much of a drawback. A curious aspect is that neither Arcane Background offers any of the damage recovery powers from the Savage Worlds Core Book. Thus, players may want to consider investing in the Healing skill during character creation.

The Gear chapter features a collection of weapons, armor, and other miscellaneous items that you would expect. However, item purchasing has been abstracted. During character creation, gear is simply assigned as appropriate for the character concept (though with GM approval to keep players from going overboard). Once the game has started, gear is purchased by using the Personal Resource Die. Other than the fact that the Wild Die isn’t applied, rolling it is much like making a Trait roll. Modifiers based on the item’s value and availability (as well as any the GM might deem appropriate) are applied, with a four or better meaning the item in question can be purchased. Unless a relevant Edge or Hindrance is taken, the Personal Resource Die starts at d6. While this an excellent method for cutting down on bookkeeping, I do have a couple of minor issues. The first is how increasing the Personal Resource Die seems a bit too easy, as it automatically occurs when the character’s Rank increases rather than having to spend an Advance or some other cost. Furthermore, it maxes out at d10 regardless of what it started out as. This ultimately makes taking an Edge or Hindrance to modify the Personal Resource Die feel somewhat meaningless.

The primary focus of the Witchmarks chapter is on the concept of an Accursed either accepting or denying his monstrous heritage. Each stage of acceptance or denial causes the Witchmarked to become more monstrous or more human as determined by in-character behavior. This is represented by the addition or removal of certain abilities and weaknesses as the character progresses along the path in question. Both paths are equally legitimate and neither is inherently superior to the other. What’s more, going through all the stages of acceptance does not result in the Witchmarked becoming an NPC.

The Witches chapter provides information on eight of the thirteen members of the Grand Coven. These are the ones who either stayed in Morden or had a particularly prominent role in the Bane War. While it’s possible that the other five may be detailed in a future supplement, GMs are still encouraged to fill in the blanks and come up with their own Witches and associated Witchmarked and Banes. Those that are featured are inspired by various witch-like beings from real world mythology, ranging from the Russian Baba Yaga to the Celtic Morrigan. Keeping in mind the maxim, “If you stat it, they will kill it,” the Witches themselves don’t have any listed traits, skills, etc. This is a fitting stance to take. The Witches are powerful beings whose demise (if it ever comes) should be an epic event rather than be handled like a random encounter. The chapter also serves as a de facto bestiary, with 2-3 sample Banes for each Witch. Something I find dubious is how most of the Banes are Wild Cards by default. This can be particularly troublesome with Banes that operate in packs. If there’s one thing that can cause the normally fast moving combat system of Savage Worlds to come to a grinding halt, it’s throwing a large quantity of Wild Card NPCs into the mix.

From the back cover:
Light has failed, darkness is ascendant. Only those bearing the forms of monsters can stand against the tide of the Witches’ evil.”

The plot point campaign comes in seven acts and involves preventing the return of the Djinn. An issue I frequently have with plot point campaigns from other Savage Worlds settings is one of structure and pacing. All too often it’s effectively required that a plot point adventure be immediately followed by the next one, hampering the GM’s ability to insert sidequests as desired. The one included with Accursed does not suffer from this. There can be as many or as few adventures between acts as the GM sees fit. The only possible concern is that there is great potential for the campaign to be short-ciruited at the end of Act Five in an anti-climatic fashion. Another plus is how it doesn’t effectively nullify the driving force behind the setting at the conclusion the way some Savage Worlds plot point campaigns do. Though completing the plot point successfully will prove a major setback for the Witches, they still remain largely in control of Morden. Also included in the chapter are a selection of adventure hooks to fill things out.

In conclusion, there are a variety of minor issues which do add up. Despite this, the basic setting concepts are well-executed and the moderate level of setting detail make it particularly well-suited for GMs who like to add on their own ideas. Add in the excellent plot point campaign and you have a setting worth checking out.

Rating: 16

Product Summary

Accursed

From: Melior Via

Type of Game: RPG

Written by: Jason Marker

Contributing Author: Andy Chambers

Developed by: Ross Watson

Cover Art by: Alberto Bontempi

Additional Art by: Jacob Atienza, Daniel Becker, Alberto Bontempi, Sacha Diener, Nikolaus Ingeneri, Kamil Jadczak, Rodolpho Langhi, Tanyaporn Sangsnit, Elif Siebenpfieffer, Jeff Preston, Kevin Childress, Pawel Dobosz, Rick Hershey

Cartography: Jeff Preston

Number of Pages: 151

Game Components Not Included: Savage Worlds Core Rules, Savage Worlds Horror Companion (optional)

Retail Price (PDF): $20.00

Retail Price (softcover): $35.00

Retail Price (hardcover): $40.00

Retail Price (premium hardcover): $50.00

Website: http://www.meliorvia.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck