Edit: Cut after the intro to make my own journal easier to read.
The Game: The Shadow Project
The Publisher: Cutter's Guild Games
Degree of Familiarity: Read once. I'd hoped I could say "never again", but here I am.
Books Required: Just the corebook.
I had no experience with Cutter's Guild Games. I mean, I've seen Deathstalkers II around and it looked like every other rules-heavy fantasy game with a strange urge to claim that more races and classes than D&D somehow makes it better. I mean, you can be a Kelpie, or a Half-Dead! Isn't that just the coolest thing ever?
"Nearly 700 pages in length, Deathstalkers II will provide Players and Game Masters hundreds of hours of entertainment and is perhaps the single largest and most complete RPG ever!"
Yeah, they produce generic D&D ripoffs without even the one quantum of genius that makes a fantasy heartbreaker into a fantasy heartbreaker. But flipping through the shelves of a Glaswegian FLGS—where I'd formerly grabbed such gems as Vanishing Point—I espied the cover to The Shadow Project:
It looks a bit like Doom, I thought. Might be worth a pop even if it's crap. Again, the attitude that drove me to such love-hate relationships as AlphaOmega. Oh dear, oh dear.
Unlike Matt's entry, I don't hate The Shadow Project. It's not bad enough to kindle the real fires. It's not offensive or incoherent enough for that. It's just... bad. The designers have quite plainly not read any games beyond Palladium and AD&D, and have attempted to bolt their idea of a system onto what the call a "modern horror" game, which is basically "We rewrote some bits of Resident Evil. And we have Mecha-Wraiths! This is, like, totally an original horror setting."
The Shadow Project is a crap game not because it's actually evil (if I were wanting that, I'd have dug out a
The Shadow Project is set on a reasonably huge man-made island about half the size and population of the New York City urban area. The island has been built on top of a top-secret US government bioweapon lab. Kinda like the Umbrella base under Raccoon City in Resident Evil, only without the fun of creating a megacorp. The city does have its own prison and sanitarium, simply to avoid ever encountering the real world if you want your sanitarium level and prison level.
Oddly enough, this game did indeed come out after Resident Evil. Were we just supposed to ignore that?
Needless to say, something breaches the lab and the DEVIL virus gets loose, mutating a whole bunch of people in the city into monsters. Like Mecha-Wraiths, Cryo-Mummies (no, seriously), Vampires, Zombies, Banshees, Frankensteins, and every other tired cliche. Some of these monsters didn't come from Resident Evil. Some clearly did, including the zombie/tank hybrid. Said hybrid stars in the only other good piece of art in the entire book (done by the same artist as the cover, rather than the cack-handed sketch artist who ruined the rest of the interior art).
The US Government gets the US Military to set up a new special forces group, the Shadow Project. So you're taking your orders from the same fucking cretins who thought it'd be a good idea to put a biowar lab underneath the downtown area of a populated metropolis. Smooth move.
I'd like to take a break for a mo just to point out that this isn't modern horror. This is a zombie-hunt through a made up city. Because of the DEVIL virus outbreak, characters are quarantined, unable to visit the rest of the real world. The authors give no incentive to use actual modern weaponry (despite giving stats for it), and nothing on actual military tactics. Oh no. This is a dungeon crawl with different wallpaper, reinforced by badly-written fiction that feels far too forced.
In addition to being badass special forces troops, TSP members (TeaSPoon members? Maybe) are given special guns with special bullets that can suck the DEVIL virus out of monsters and then inject it into themselves. This gives them special powers. Not real special powers, not the mad fun shit like we saw in Parasite Eve, but rehashed D&D spells. If you put your points into Charisma, you can heal people and turn undead. Why? Err... no explanation given. And the powers are boring as all fuck—the vast majority of Strength upgrades increase your carrying capacity somewhat. The majority of gamers I know would rather violate a dead sheep than use encumbrance and carrying capacity rules, especially when they're overly-detailed. When your powers chapter is twice as long as any other chapter in the book, don't make suicide look like a favorable option.
The extra funny stuff? You've only got five special bullets to sap the virus to start with. Each power costs five points, but you need five hits with one of your special bullets to get just one point. So you've got to hit with every single one of your special bullets fired from your special guns to get one point. Five clips equals one power. Each power has 20 ranks. That'd be 500 bullets. Thing is, in addition to the "Shoot the baddies and steal their power via badly-explained pseudo-science." this leads to every character having the same kit. The game has a huge amount of equipment detailed, from assault riles to miniguns and flamethrowers. You've no incentive to use that because only your special guns fire your special bullets.
I shouldn't be too surprised. The price to increase one attribute by one point can be anywhere from 3000 to 5000 XP. Monsters give 5-20 XP when killed. Completing a session is 10 XP. Hell, a single point in a skill is 1500 XP. Then, in a move shamelessly ripped off from a better game, they give you the chance to spend 500XP here, 2000XP there for in game benefits like to auto-crit one roll. The writer plainly failed even basic mathematics.
And I've not yet got to the meat of the system.
Needless to say, we don't have any truck with concepts or who you were or how you got into the Shadow Project. All PCs are faceless (literally, thanks to their constant wearing of gas masks) badasses who inject themselves with the same shit that made everything turn evil in order to gain superpowers. Who needs concepts?
Well, I do. And since this isn't random chargen hell, I can at least try to make a character as opposed to a videogame avatar. Jason Barnes. Quiet, reserved type. Used to be on special weapons detail before the outbreak hit. He'd done his tour in Iraq, and when he got out he went to meet his family in New Prometheus. Now he fears they've all been nommed by zombies, but still wants to find them. He's quiet, but smart enough and decent to have around in a scrap.
Determine Ability Scores
Nine scores in three groups. 111 points to spend. Minimum is 5, average is apparently 10. We're told that most rolls ("Say, to climb a rope") don't require a Skill roll, just an Ability Roll. I'll snark at that particular line later.
Oooh, fireworks outside. I'd better hurry up. I put 17 points into Strength, as I figure our Jason is a big, burly lad. A further 17 into Endurance. 14 into Agility, because he's got used to getting the fuck out of the way of bullets. 63 points left
Intelligence 11, Mental Toughness should be high, say, 13. Perception high again, maybe 13. He's done his duty and bears the rewards. 26 points left. Bugger.
Courage is the big one for Soul stats. 12 points there. 14 left. 8 into Will, 6 into Charisma. He's come a long way, but he's got miles left to go before he feels human again. Not that he ever will.
Calculate Sub-Stat Modifiers
Each stat has a modifier. Almost like D&D, but sometimes these modifiers get called different things (the modifier based on Charisma is your Influence Modifier, f'rex). Oh, and on the table for generating modifiers, we're reminded to swap the signs for Toughness and Mental Defense. Because our mathematically incompetent author couldn't work out how to integrate those into a damage calculation in any other way. Knob.
The table's almost the one used in D&D3 and on, just shifted down a point (0 is 9-10, rather than 10-11). Which at least makes this step vaguely painless. I've filled them in below. Note that these modifiers don't apply to the majority of rolls in the game, because you're just rolling under the Ability on 1d20.
That last statement might be a lie. I'm finding it hard to say because I don't have the will to look forwards to the Skills chapter yet.
Calculate Group Total Score & Hit Points
This is easy. Add up the stats for each group. That's your Group Total Score. The hit points for each stat (each with its own stupid name, and twice over for Body) are equal to the Group Total Score.
Body is therefore 48. That gives me 48 Hit Points and 48 Battered Damage Points. Mind is 37, giving me 37 Consciousness Points. Finally, Soul is 26, giving me 26 Life Force Points and gradually eroding my will to live.
Calculate Group Save Scores
Each group has a save score. Of course each fucking group has its own save score. Because if it's not the sort of thing that happens to be covered by any of the other scores already, what the hell do you do? I mean, it's not like we could cover "Reacting to unforseen danger" under Agility. Or Endurance. Or Perception. It was bad enough in D&D which had a developed skill system, this is just bad design. I swear, they do this shit just to annoy me...
Right. A save is the group score divided by 3, rounded up. Body Save 16, Mind Save 13, Soul Save 9.
Calculate Archangel Modifiers
Archangel Modifiers are a means of staving off the evil of the DEVIL code. My brain went on strike when I tried to reread the explanation of how all the DEVIL code stuff works. I think it makes it easier to gain REAL ULTIMATE POWER by shooting things and taking their vital animating force by a means never explained. Then again, they never explain how the virus gets back to a character's body after he shot a carrier with a fucking bullet. Fuckery alone knows.
Archangel modifiers are yet another table. In this case, based off Group Total Scores. After some trying to focus (I'm at home with wine) that's Body +3, Mind +2, Soul 0. I don't think I have to flip the modifiers for any arbitrary reasons, but I wouldn't be surprised.
The actual character sheets lay all this information out in an evil, user-unfriendly way. The utter bastards.
Skills. Oh yeah, the game has skills. They're not detailed in the character creation section, that'd be too much to ask. No, that section goes on about how to get DEVIL code upgrades and what the Archangel modifier does and how you make rolls for everything off attributes unless you have a skill but you never have a skill so who cares the book is lying to me make it stop make it stop.
Err, anyway. Crap game Friday. Of course you came for comedy.
The Shadow Project includes two types of skills. One type is called Skills. These are 1d20 roll under, target of skill ranks + related modifier. So, really low. I couldn't see a maximum starting ranks for any skill, but then I couldn't see the starting skill values until I'd read the section three cocking times. The other type are Non-Skilled Abilities (NSAs). The game then hilariiously refers to them as "NSA Skills". Or "Non-Skilled Ability Skills" (note: the preceeding might not be hilarious until your third brandy). These turn an Ability check into Ability + Ability Modifier + Skill Ranks vs 1d20. So what happens with Toughness (or whatever) or Mental Toughness or "Negative modifier because we can't do basic bloody arithmetic?"
Fortunately, the majority of Skills and Non-Skill Ability Skills run off Perception, Agility, or Knowledge. Even Resist Drugs & Alcohol fires off Will. Thank fuck for that, or we might be adding a negative number but multiplying by -1 unless it's in a square root because then it'd be an imaginary substat and we'd need complex number spaces and i or j flamewars between myself and ignorant engineers and I'm fucking sick of this tangent and this game by now.
Starting characters get *flip flip squint swear squint* IQ + 10 starting ranks to spend. So our Barnsey, the reason I'm doing this, has 21 points.
Oh, fuck. Drive Cars, Drive Motorcycles, and Drive Trucks are different fucking things. Jump is a Non-Skilled Ability Skill Thing, so they lied when describing what happens with Ability Scores. Move Silently is on the list, as are Ambidextrous and Climb and Jump and Listen and Spot and Search and Resist Drugs & Alcohol. But there's no Hide. Needless to say weapons don't have a skill. Combat uses an entirely different mechanic (1d20 + modifier roll high), after all. Gød knows we've never had the common sense revolution in RPGs where all rolls are the same, a revolution so basic it was even part of cunting D&D. Oh no. This game, from 2006, is cutting edge modern horror.
Right. 21 points to spend. Spot, I want that. I also want Listen, and Climb, and Demolitions. Two ranks in Spot and Listen and Climb each. That leaves me with 15 to put it Demolitions. All the others are Non-Skilled Skill-Like Ability Skills, so they don't need the points.
It could have been worse. I could have gone for Martial Arts, a skill based entirely on the Courage modifier (because how physically capable you are really doesn't matter). Or Lock Picking, which runs off Perception. Or either Ambidextrous or Weapon Expertise (hang on, did I want that? No, that'd mean reading the combat system...), both of which ignore the basic skill rules and non-skilled skill-like ability skill rules just to be something else.
Name Jason Barnes
Strength 17 +4
Endurance 17 -4
Agility 14 +2
Body save 16
Body Archangel +3
Intelligence 11 +1
Mental Toughness 13 -2
Perception 13 +2
Mind Save 13
Mind Archangel +2
Courage 12 +1
Will 8 -1
Charisma 6 -2
Soul Save 9
Soul Archangel 0