Character GenerationAttributes take the form of Traits (Physical, Mental and Spiritual), whose values cap their respective skills. Secondary Traits add a welcome extra crunch and measure how alien to the world the character is. Marked as optional but I'd force the gnashing, blood-shot eyed players to have them. Skills make up learnt abilities and are purchased before the life path is decided. I won't dwell on these; Sean didn't. In the epic that is character generation, Traits are merely "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.".
Your character coagulates during a trudge along a life path. The life path is a huge (yet quick) system for generating random character backgrounds and a smorgasbord of sharpened hooks for the plot hungry GM. Although the tables run into tens of pages, random rolling avoids endless pouring over the rules (which is included as an option). Lifepaths are generated by a series of random rolls. You begin by rolling for parents, then for childhood. The wealth and standing of your parents will specify which of the childhood tables you roll on. Education rolls then specify what you get to roll for on the Adult tables. You then roll for your Transformation. There is a strengths chart and a weaknesses chart and for each strength (or super power) you must roll a weakness. You can have up to four. For my players, that means they would have four. Why? Because they are just like that.
Every character has a crooked, evil side (based on the deadly sins) called an Alien. This could be infection of an evil spirit or evil lurking in the recesses of your character's psyche (setting dependent). The vile urge is treated like a parasitic alien entity. As the Alien is important to the character's modus operandi, it is chosen - not randomly rolled. The descriptions cause the creative mind to froth.
Enemies and friends are rolled for. The enemies table is particularly delicious - listing a superb array of reasons why you might fall out with someone.
MechanicsRoll d10 + skill + modifiers vs value of 9. opposed is higher roll wins. Rolls for unskilled items are d10-2. Character advancement is based on the number of sessions played. Combat is played out using opposed rolls and description with damage application requiring another roll and the use of a table. With a slick engine in general, damage feels a little like a cog with some teeth bitten off.
SettingCursed Life is set in the modern world where humans have been 'transformed', that is beings with special abilities and a dark evil too. The origin can be either from another world, a scientific explanation, spiritual warfare, planetary alignments or magic. The GM can then choose to either transform only a few of the humans or all of them. The combinations of these bring light to some fascinating settings. What if everyone on earth is from another world but people are slowly waking up to that stark realisation through a planetary alignment. As such the setting can be overlaid onto any game: fantasy, supers, modern day or cyberpunk. Quite a lot needs to be filled in by the GM but the combinatorial nature provides a broad tapestry of what Cursed Life can be.
GamesmastermungousCursed Life loves the Gamesmaster. The GM Section reads like a monologue of lust toward the GM and the tips there are mostlye solid with a few Cursed Life specific ones. The equipment section is brief and drags the RPG back into the real world. There are pre-solidified Corporations and NPCs for the GM, which indicate how the system might be played. Attractive stock Superhero art is good throughout but doesn't always convey the same description in the text.
The nigglesCursed Life needs a thorough application of my Guide to Organising an RPG. In particular, I would have liked a brief introduction at the start of the game that details what the characters actually do and why the game is worth playing at all. It's important and should be at the front, bold as brass! Some explanations are marred by lots of "GM can do modify this" caveats. Noting that the GM is free to change and modify to suit is important but need only be included once. I also think the Lifepath section should be performed first so that Traits can be set to match the character's upbringing.
ConclusionsCursed Life is a toolbox of ideas that can be combined and combed into a unique quiff. To some, a boon. To others (the time strapped GM), a pointless extravagance. Cursed Life does need effort from the Gamesmaster to get running but the settings you would generate can be novel enough to intrigue and familiar enough to be unsettling. Cursed Life is a glinting gem.
Thank you to Sean for sharing some very large ideas.