Tuesday 24 May 2011

Inject some wonder into your modern world with The Cursed by Michael Evans

The Cursed RPG by Michael Evans is a free roleplaying game set in the modern world with elements of the supernatural interlaced with every day life. The Cursed have The Gift: the ability to reach beyond our mundane world into a supernatural realm. Each gift is different and as the name suggest, not always understood or welcomed by humanity. The world the Cursed live in is our world. The aire is an optimistic one: people are generally nice to each other but there are fringes who are bat-shit mental. There is a simple mashing together of supernatural ideas and the real world, a duality tightrope the player characters teeter on each day. The Cursed is definitely homebrew but is it the tasty scrumpy you've distilled in your shed or is it the harrowing vinegar widow maker?

You're a bit Cursed

Player Characters are Cursed. In my case, so are the players. Each have a gift (unlike my players). There are broad character classes: Shamans, Mystics, Sorcerers, Summoners, Blessed and Changelings. Each draw their power from different places. There are 5 primary statistics (attributes): Body (Strength), Health (Resistance to sickness), Mind (Intelligence), Social (Like-ability) and Soul (Willpower). You roll dice to determine your points and then assign. On top of that, you pick skills, class, spells and powers.

At the final gong, you can spend some more points to beef up the areas to bring your character together. I like this step because it admits that character creation is a process that isn't linear. No matter how hard we designers try to make the steps simple and straight forward, the process the player's imagination goes through is anything but that. The process one of my players goes through is a terrifying ordeal of GM baiting maelevolence.

A bit of mechanics

Very functional. It uses a D20. No surprises. I'm not going to dwell. Let's move on.

Your world, and a bit

Many modern RPGs say that the setting is "Where you live - Ta daa!" and this is about as welcome as a drunkard announcing descent for landing. In The Cursed, it's imperative that it is where you live because without the familiar, the extraordinary isn't. You need to base it in a place entrenched in the minds of the player group and where better than your home shire*/town/city/village/hamlet. What makes The Cursed an interesting prospect is that Michael has provided a swollen sack of evocative places, monsters and organisations for you to permeate the place you reside. Most are familiar but are gathered together and described in such a way that storylines tear of the page.

The descriptions are very much set on the personal scale. The secret societies and planes of existence where your players can visit are well described, although I would like some more indication of how they work together.

There are plenty of character driven goals to meet without resorting to battling with the FBI of becoming the chief Mason. You could run this with that scope but I feel The Cursed is brave and novel for not doing that. I like the idea of beginning a game session where the PCs have just met up for pizza after a mundane day at work and one of the group of friends runs in having seen a portal open up in the middle of a grinning mugshot on a billboard. A quick shuffle up a ladder (which is also a good description of the UK's Space Program) and the player characters (some still eating pizza) can see into the Astral Plane. Or Spirit World. Or Goblin Market. Or the World Wide Web. They notice from the bite marks in a nearby truck that something came out. It's broader than Buffy, nuttier than Neverwhere and more varied than... than... a modern fantasy story beginning with V.

I cursed, a bit

Michael has definitely applied my rabid guide to organizing a free RPG but there is still some work to do. The layout is very simple, needing full justification, reducing the paragraph indent and increasing its spacing. There's a load of white space that needs removing. I would cut back on the designer's self questions. Much better placed on the website. There is a lot of repetition and at a casual glance, it suggests that big organisations aren't important and then lists lots. You have to read most of the book to realise it's a personal-level game. Some of the bigger, less obvious spells could do with a short précis. You could end up with a rubbish character because of the point assignment. All of these can be tidied without much of a problem and did not detract from my enjoyment of the game.

My only other minor concern is that the character classes are described as being pitted against each other. As a GM, you will have to come up with a reason why different Cursed are working together or take the chicken's route and force all the players to play the same class. That might work in your group, I'd be lucky to leave the building in pieces identifiable by forensics.

A bit of a conclusion

The Cursed tastes like the homebrew you tell all of your friends about. You know, the one that you drank all night, made you merrily bellow Rollerblades into the dishevelled face of your angry neighbour at 3am before performing a mumbling collapse in a trash can 11 miles from home. The next morning, you wake without a headache and unveil to your friends this incredible elixir: that caused a 6 mile conga line, cured you of your embarrassing kneecap baldness and got you a wallet stuffed full women's phone numbers**. They take one look at the murky sludge in the plastic tub and leave, later un-friending you on Facebook. You know, that homebrew***? The Cursed is a delightful read that cannot fail to cause tickly idea bubbles in your tired grey matter. Go on, take a sip...

Thank you for sharing, Michael! :)

* Don't laugh, quite a lot of us live in a shire. I live in the Shire of Berks.
** Most of which can only have been gained during your romp through a retirement home.
*** It's just me? Oh.


Andy Hauge said...

More varied than Vampire: the Masquerade? ;)

Sounds simple but interesting.

Dai said...

One thing that really stands out about the book - which is a real shame, because I think it's quality material - is that it's absolutely rife with grammatical slips. I'm not talking about things like ending sentences with prepositions or splitting infinitives or things that everyone does and nobody notices; I'm talking things like subject-verb agreement and comma splices and the like that really make it harder to read.

Rob Lang said...

@Carpe - Ah ha! Wonderful, thank you! It was on the tip of my mind when writing the entry. :)

@dai - I'm sorry it grinds. I didn't see too many slips or nightmares but then I read through these games at a cracking rate. And I'm not really very good at grammar. It's great feedback, though, thank you! I'll pass it on.