The Publisher: RPG Objects
Degree of Familiarity: None
Books Required: Just the core
Abandon All Hope is one of those games that keeps getting recommended to me. One day, I thought "fuck it", and dropped some RPGNow credit for the PDF. It's not particularly deep but is fun. After an eternity of war and horrors, Earth has worked its way to a utopian society. The last step, after re-educating the army, was running a psychological test against the whole population and stuffing anyone with the potential to be violent into a big prison ship called the Gehenna. With a name like that, what could possibly go wrong?
Naturally, the ship crosses into another dimension, which is Hell. The ship's massively damaged, and the characters—all prisoners—are caged on a robot-controlled ship while rogue psycopaths run loose, fires rage, and nobody knows just how long it's going to be before the ship decides that explosive decompression is the better part of valor.
To be honest, I'd be a lot happier with the game if that was that—as it is in the far superior sketch of history in 3:16 Carnage Among the Stars, for example. The description of the changes on Earth paint the "liberal utopia" using stereotypes from the dribblings of the far right, scare-quotes and all. The obviously brain-damaged policies are forced through because of forced social conformity and teh ebils of political correctness gorn mad! Utopia is built on top of mind control!!1! Mass media manipulation makes you believe but the truth is OUT THERE!!!eleventy!
Fuck's sakes, man. None of this is necessary for the game at all; especially if you want the players to have the option of innocent characters then use the already prevalent phenomenon of wrongful imprisonment. I'd be a lot happier with all that shit excised; to quote Stewart Lee, "if political correctness has achieved one thing, it’s to make the Conservative party cloak its inherent racism behind more creative language." And that can't be a bad thing.
Fuckit, I'm skipping the rest of the chapter. Inspirations for the setting include Alien, Event Horizon, and Escape From New York, and I'm not going to sully my brain by wading through the rest of that shit.
Ah, crap. Random character creation. In a game released after even Dungeons and Dragons had stopped using random chargen. Worse, it's got the idiocy to state "The character generation rules of Abandon All Hope allow players to make the ultimate decision about who their characters are, and how they came to be aboard the Gehenna." while actually not letting the players make those decisions because that's precisely what the dice take away from you!
At least it's alone in its field; with the only other games relying on random generation being in the ORE mold, where every result is worth the same number of points. Oh, wait, it's not. BRP still uses random character generation. Naturally, that was the wallbanger moment when reading the excellent-if-you-ignore-the-system Laundry RPG. But I'll come to that soon, with some more swearing.
Onwards. The steps in the book are full of quotes—why is step 10 listed as 'Devise a "Back-Story".'? To save my keyboard and sanity, I'm doing my best to ignore them, but I may need the assistance of Doctor Whisky. Nurse, the screens!
I will note that once you get into the GM's section, the description of the ship, it's inhabitants, and the demons, it gets away from the bullshit and picks up significantly. But all of that comes long after the character creation section.
1. Roll CIN
7d10 in order, with 10 counting as zero. This gets me an ID number. Away to random.org, where we get 3 10 4 7 3 5 5, for a CIN of 3047355
2. Determine Prison Status
Prison Status is theoretically based on CIN. Actually, it's based on the first number rolled, not that the table bothers to point this out. As the first die was a 3, that makes the character a Lifer, someone who has lived 10 or more years in jail before being kicked off the planet.
3. Roll Starting Attributes, Gagues
Each of the six Attributes has a different dice roll based on prison status. These make no sense. Why is a Lifer less charismatic than someone who has spent most of their lives in prison? (D8+2 vs D6+4) Then again, how is a lifer no more cunning than a Fresh Meat? I tried having an open mind, but this is just pissing me off.
Prowess, Wits, and Sociability are all D8+2. 6, 7, 7. Okay... Reflexes and Intimidation are D6+4. 1 and 2 respectively. Willpower is a straight D10... 2. Nuts. While the additions don't turn the character into a total wash, attribute checks are all D12 roll-under.
Gagues are accumulating pools of points measuring Despair (which here is used in lieu of Fear, for some reason), Guilt, and Insanity. The only one with a starting value is Guilt, at D4+2, and the roll is a 1. Despite giving some indication of what a character can do to gain points in each pool, they're not described objectively at any point. Which is annoying.
Also, it's not noted in the step name, but starting Health is 10. Dunno why that's in this section, but there you go.
4. Determine Build Points
To mitigate the fact that random chargen is an outdated crock of shit that should have been consigned to the scrapheap of history twenty fucking years ago, characters get build points based on the sum of their attributes, to make up for it. The thought that players might just want the bloody points to start with is apparently anathema.
With 39 points of attributes, I have 450 build points to spend.
5. Pick Conviction
This is pretty much a class, being the crime for which you were convicted. All of them again draw on the far-right dribble that so put me off the first chapter. After all, any utopian liberal society will bang up someone who happens to talk about the old days or a proud, patriotic soldier because he's no different to a child molester or serial killer. Gød, this game makes me want to drink bleach.
I know it's not done deliberately, or with malice aforethought, but that doesn't excuse that it's a lazy, ignorant attempt at world-building from the kind of profoundly stupid individual who believes the "TEH UN ARE CONSPIRACY 4 NEW WURLD ORDER!!!" bullshit. And again, it's not presented as anything that can be engaged with, in order to build or enhance an interesting plot—all of that's supposed to come from the "Prison ship goes to Hell" aspect. Fundamentally, Abandon All Hope approaches this drivel in exactly the way that Over the Edge didn't. And while I'm fine with such totalitarian dictatorships in most fiction, the way that this one's drawn makes it a direct attack on what the American right consider "liberal" or "progressive" political points.
I've half a mind to say "Fuck this" and write the anti-game, about the trials of running an anarcho-socialist utopia dealing with people infected with insanities ranging from conspiranoia to capitalism. Unfortunately, I could never afford the licence to write the Culture RPG, so swearing up a storm on my blog is the only way to go.
Anyway. The four
Okay. I know the character's been inside for a long time. With high Prowess, Wits, and Sociability, any of them are an option. Fuckit, let's say he's a murderer. An ex-soldier who has done many things that even other soliders balk at. This gives me one more point of Prowess or Intimidation, and a choice of Trait. I go for Prowess, and pick the Military Training Trait, which gives me an additional point of Prowess, which is now at 10. Raar.
6. Purchase Additional Traits
Now we spend Build Points on Traits, the usual selection of bennies that exist to reflect the parts of a character that aren't encompassed in his stats and skills. Though this game doesn't have skillls. Never mind. Many of the traits are straightforwards, but most have a prison slant—time spent in solitary, or a large cavity to help smuggle things.
Yes, you can spend build points on having a particularly capacious arsehole in which to hide contraband. Due to a particularly amusing typo, you can hide anything with a Concealability of -2—a value reserved for things like shotguns and flamethrowers, which really brings a whole new meaning to the post-Vindaloo Ring of Fire. This is yet another example of the game not knowing what its own numbers represent: on static rolls bonuses are negative numbers applied to the die, but since opposed rolls are D12-add-stat, highest wins, bonuses are instead positive. Why bonuses aren't always positive and applied to the stat, rather than inconsistently modifying the roll itself is never explained. Uniform modifiers are a tool of the LIBRUL CONSPIRACY, or something.
If you instead read the Concealability as the +2 it should be (meaning small items), you can still hide a large shard of glass inside your rectum, which I can only imagine would be very painful. Adding the Smuggler trait (add 1 to the Conceal value of anything you're hiding) allows you to carry a tear gas grenade or a length of heavy chain up your bum without it being detected. Precisely how one is supposed to have a tear gas cannister up the jacksie without walking like John Wayne is never explained.
Why yes, I am being childish.
The traits cost 100-400 build points each, and the price often varies depending on conviction, murderers getting a price break on combat bonuses, and a penalty on buying talking stuff. Before the protracted rant above I noted the 450 points I can spend, and this is when I spend them.
I figure that the character has done time in Isolation (100pts). This apparently increases Psy Potential by 5%, and Psy Strength by +1. Not knowing what the base for these are, I'll just move on. Insanity also increases by 1, and I lose a point of Sociability. Refuse to Die (200pts) is available as I've a high Prowess, and reduces all incoming damage by 1. Finally, Brawler (100pts) is the prrequisite for fighting styles, and gives a second attack. I can't buy anything for 50pts, so I move on.
7. Purchase Gear and Equipment
Everyone gets the Convict Basic Issue Gear: overalls, hygeine kit, boots, and a magnetic bracer in case of sudden decompression or loss of gravity. Remaining build points become smokes—which in addition to being a unit of currency not unlike the classic Gold Piece of dungeoneering fame are actual cigarettes, and can be consumed by anyone with the Chain Smoker trait. Which is great, but given some of the prices (and the fact that the instaled monetary base is being consumed as a product) the characters will soon be toting more fags than a corner shop.
With my 50 smokes, I can get... almost nothing. I'll go for some brass knuckles and a ration pack.
8. Roll Identifying Feature
Technically an optional rule (only noted as such once you get to that section, however), this is a 2d8 table of individualizing factors with no mechanical effects. I roll a 7: Tattoos
9. Pick Personal Goal
Personal goals mean two things: bonus XP for playing them right, and occasionally access to extra Traits. I'll go for Escape: Prisoner 3047355 still believes they can find a way out.
10. Devise Back-Story
A few prompts here, and a note that character backgrounds give the GM something to base plots on, given that so often the demons feed on personal feelings of despair and guilt. At this point, I'm going to note that Prisoner 3047355's name is Boris, no last name given.
Boris is the youngest son of a military family. Brought up in a house that worshipped the idea of Signing Up and Serving Your Country, he watched his brothers be perfect little soldiers while Mom and Dad were watching, then turn into monsters who beat the crap out of him given any excuse. He didn't buckle, he instead hit back—hard. His dad kicked him out after he broke his brother's arm in seven places, two days before his brother was due to sign up. Boris was eleven.
Two years later, Boris was arrested for theft and thrown into juvie. He kept out of the way of the bigger gangs, and worked out religiously. He went in and out on a yearly basis, each time returning to the streets. On his sixteenth birthday, a primal instinct kicked in and he joined the military. He passed basic training and got involved in a number of brushfire wars. His last mission on active service was to pacify the insurgents hiding out in a remote village. Turned out that the insurgents were in fact a number of women whom his CO had left with kids that he didn't want his wife finding out about. Ever the good soldier, Boris killed everyone in the village. He then returned to base, took off his dog tags, removed his insignias, and proceeded to beat his CO into a bloody smear. Two guards tried to stop him, he killed them as well. The arresting officers had been on the same mission, and chose to remand him into the prison system rather than to shoot him outright. He still hates himself for not having the balls to walk away from the mission once he found out what it was.
Prisoner 3047355 spent a lot of time in the prison gym. After three years inside, he beat an abusive guard to death, and earned himself a year in isolation—all food delivered by robots, no day/night cycle, and not enough room to lie down to sleep. He went a little crazy in that chamber, fixating on small cracks and chips in the wall that indicate possible escape routes. He's still jumpy, and has cemented his desire to escape. Sure, he'll be leaving a prison ship and entering Hell itself, but at least it'll be a change of scenery. He's terrified of being trapped in tight places, as they remind him of isolation. He'll do anything to avoid going back, because he fears that a computer glitch will leave him there forever.
Identifying Feature Tattoos
Personal Goal Escape
|Military Training||Ration Pack|
|Refuse to Die|
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