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Author Topic: Those Dark Places  (Read 673 times)

Thornhammer

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Those Dark Places
« on: February 10, 2021, 05:11:00 PM »
Those Dark Places - Industrial Science Fiction Roleplaying by Jonathan Hicks
Published by Osprey Games, 2020

Those Dark Places is a hundred and twenty-eight page digest-sized hardcover, described as "Industrial Science Fiction Roleplaying." This translates into "Alien."  This is territory already covered by Hostile, Mothership, and the actual Alien RPG, but frankly there's still room and this won't set you back too much. It was twenty bucks from Amazon.

Production quality is very nice - the front cover has an image of a spacesuit helmet reflecting a dark, shadowy creature. Interior is glossy paper, with a full-page piece of art every few pages. The artwork fits the theme well - each piece is primarily in black and white with one additional color used.

The book begins with an introduction by the author, telling us what inspired him to write this book (SURPRISE! It was Alien and a few other films and video games), a little bit about what "industrial sci-fi roleplaying" means, and then small sections to tell both players and GMs what to expect. Mercifully, there is no "what IS a role-playing game?" section.

After the introduction, we get to the player section, where the basic game mechanics are explained. The writing here is as though the material is being explained by a corporate trainer - conversational, with occasional snippets of setting information tossed in. I thought this was executed well, with the setting bits getting a little thicker in the GM section.

Game mechanics are fairly light. Each character has four ability scores (Charisma, Agility, Strength, Education), with the player assigning a value of four to the most important ability, three to the next most important, and so on. Each character chooses one of seven shipboard positions as Primary, and another as Secondary. When a test is required, the player rolls a d6, adds the appropriate ability score, and additional plus two or plus one if the character has a Primary or Secondary position that would be useful, and plus one if they have a piece of equipment suitable to the task at hand. If the total is seven, it is a partial success, eight or better is a full success. The target number can be increased or decreased if the task is particularly easy or difficult.

Combat initiative is d6 plus Agility, highest score gets to go first and then in descending order. Combat uses the main roll mechanic - melee combat is an opposed roll that adds Strength. Ranged combat adds Agility, beat a six or seven or eight depending on range. Damage is capped per weapon - a rifle can do up to four damage, roll a d6 and it does that much damage up to a max of four. Damage is deducted from Strength, hit zero and you are knocked out, negative two and you'll die in a few minutes, past negative two you are dead.

The other major mechanic is a "Pressure" check, when something stressful and unpleasant happens (like you run into a dead body or an alien monstrosity). This is a d6 plus Strength and Education, looking for a ten or better. If the roll fails, you gain a Pressure point. After accumulating two Pressure points, the player rolls a d6, and if the result is less than the character's current Pressure level he suffers a bout of terror and rolls on an "Episode" chart to determine the effect. Like damage rolls, this is a capped roll, and a character can only suffer an Episode effect up to the current Pressure level. These effects generally result in attribute loss, can have additional effects that linger. One important note is that Pressure cannot be reduced during gameplay - the book explains that while there are indeed methods of reducing Pressure, none of those methods are practical during the timeframe of a typical game session.

Following this, the player section covers equipment, a brief overview of what a typical job involves, and a rundown of the characters' ultimate goals.

The GM section starts with a slightly more in-depth explanation of attributes and what crew positions are for, then a section on artful interpretation of die results, including some suggestions for partial successes. This is followed by a short Appendix N section and some additional inspiration ideas, a brief note on equipment, then some information on the judicious and sparing use of Pressure rolls and how to handle ongoing effects of Episodes. This adds a little more complication to Pressure (you'll need to track what caused the Episode in the first place, and if a similar situation happens it will have a negative impact on task rolls).

From here, there is a section of sample gameplay, then some suggestions for different things the characters could be doing - they might be Space Marshals checking out some distant colony, or corporate troubleshooter teams sent to fix problems (clandestine or not), or maybe they're just ore haulers coming back from a mining trip when their ship drops out of hyperspace to check out a distress beacon. There is some discussion about different vessel types, different facilities, and a few suggestions regarding types of scenarios to run. There are eight of these, ranging from "accident investigation" to "hostile takeover by another corporation" to "survey a planet." Not a lot of specifics, but each has a few paragraphs that should be enough to spark some ideas if you want something beyond "there's an alien on the ship, it's gonna kill everybody." There is then about two pages of setting material, some pregenerated NPCs and notes on how to create them, and brief discussions on synthetics (both "looks human" Bishop-style and Working Joes from Alien: Isolation).

Finally, we get a ten page starter scenario, which is fairly well done and gets applause for not being Alien with the serial numbers lightly scratched off.

Overall, we have a game that is exceptionally light on crunch - the equipment list is "assume you have what you need to do your job" and there are no detailed rules for starships, ships are simply a way to transport your PCs to where the adventure is taking place. There are no advancement rules, and there are no true end goals other than a nebulous mention of "retirement" after twenty-five years of service. So for extended campaign play, you'll need to come up with some ideas. For one shots, this would be a very easy system to pick up and throw something together, or pull something in from another system.

My only minor complaint is that some of the information in the GM system could have been clustered together instead of separated. None of it is separated by much distance, but I would put the Appendix N stuff right next to the setting material, interpreting the die roll along with the "how to handle conflict" stuff, and the notes on Pressure right next to the Episode information.

Buy it? Like I said, this is ground already covered by several other games that do the job admirably, but Those Dark Places has "pick up and play" down pretty well. If you want additional setting details, Alien or Hostile will do the trick and Mothership has some excellent modules ready to go. Worth the twenty bucks as something quick and easy to run if I have the hankering for Alien.


Spinachcat

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Re: Those Dark Places
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2021, 07:56:42 PM »
What does TDP do that Alien, Hostile and Mothership do not?

How does it do "pick up & play" better?

Here's the link for anybody interested
https://smile.amazon.com/Those-Dark-Places-Industrial-Roleplaying/dp/147284095X/

Thornhammer

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Re: Those Dark Places
« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2021, 10:51:37 PM »
I think what it does differently is trims down a lot of "excess stuff" but not (to me) too far. 

Hostile is based on a generic form of Traveller, with all the detail that entails - build a ship, come up with planetary systems, a half-dozen supplements ranging from a technical manual explaining how shit like hypersleep works to a Colonial Marines supplement.  The core book is 300 pages, with another couple hundred in supplements.  Alien has its own weird-ass system with two different modes of play, lots of subsystems to mess with, 400 pages with its own Colonial Marines book on the way.  Mothership is short as hell (a third the page count of Those Dark Places), but cuts down your character class choices to four very specific things.  Bunch of different save types, ship building and ship combat, stress and panic mechanics - it  all makes sense, but they have a lot packed in it. Mothership also seems hyperfocused on doing Alien (the character classes are Ripley, Ash before you know he's an android, Hicks, and Bishop) , to the point where I read through the handbook and thought "okay, what do I do with this BESIDES Alien?" Those modules they released (especially A Pound of Flesh, I'm meh on Dead Planet except for that amazing ship design system) do a lot to fix that particular issue, though - I have the new one on order, it's supposed to be a megadungeon-style thing for Mothership and I'm hoping it is good. No reason to think it won't be.

Those Dark Places cuts the system down to "roll a d6, add this, meet or beat this number." Very quick to get a new player up and running, lends itself (again, to me) to whipping out off-the-cuff adventures fairly quickly.  Not everybody is going to like that level of system abstraction - you might WANT starship design, you might want specific equipment lists. You might want character advancement. And in those cases, Those Dark Places isn't going to cut the mustard.

If you aren't familiar with the suggested source material, you'll have a rougher time with it too. I'm a 100% mark for Alien, so I have all of the Hostile books, all of the Mothership stuff, all of the Alien RPG material - I'm intimately familiar with how to make "industrial sci-fi" work and feel, and have as much background material as I could possibly need. I'm sure this goes a hell of a long way towards my opinion that I could just off-the-cuff an adventure, too. But it is what it is - I hate doing huge amounts of session prep, and I hate doing "ten minutes until they're here, guess I better figure out what we're doing today" emergency brainstorming. I'm going to throw down some ideas and use Those Dark Places the next time I'm short some players for D&D, and I think the light system here will be really helpful in making that work for me.

robh

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Re: Those Dark Places
« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2021, 06:02:58 AM »
Good review.
For a complete beginner in rpg's with this type of setting would you recommend Dark Places or Mothership as the go to system?

Thornhammer

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Re: Those Dark Places
« Reply #4 on: February 11, 2021, 11:17:50 AM »
Good review.
For a complete beginner in rpg's with this type of setting would you recommend Dark Places or Mothership as the go to system?

Probably Mothership to get started - the core book is pay what you want at DTRPG, so that won't cost you anything to look through it. Mothership doesn't come with a starter adventure, but there are a bunch of inexpensive modules available at the same site - maybe pick up Dead Planet and A Pound of Flesh to spark some ideas. I would recommend those two modules regardless of which system you go with, but since Mothership is free you might as well check that out first and then check out Those Dark Places if you dislike the system.

Mothership is a percentage-based system, and the character sheet looks kind of intimidating at first but it explains exactly what you need to do every step of the way.


 

Bedrockbrendan

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Re: Those Dark Places
« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2021, 08:07:43 PM »
Full disclosure, I wrote a game for Osprey as well (though I had nothing to do with this one). I picked up Those Dark Places over the holidays and it really struck a chord with me. Loved how simple it was. Loved the premise (just enjoyed that a movie like Outland had a huge influence on the game). The rules are easy to grasp, and I feel like I could run it right after reading it in an afternoon. Pretty cool how it overlays your role on the ship to modify rolls. These days this is about the level of complexity I'd like to get in a game like this. Also it looks gorgeous. The game doesn't include stats for aliens, and I've seen some folks criticize that. I feel it works, because it keeps that stuff a complete mystery for players (I have no problem making stats and abilities on my own as a GM: for a concept like Alien I feel being able to totally surprise the players would work well). Not sure if that was the designers rationale or not

Bedrockbrendan

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Re: Those Dark Places
« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2021, 08:09:58 PM »
What does TDP do that Alien, Hostile and Mothership do not?

How does it do "pick up & play" better?

Here's the link for anybody interested
https://smile.amazon.com/Those-Dark-Places-Industrial-Roleplaying/dp/147284095X/


--See my post above for disclosure

I haven't played those games so can't comment on how it compares. But I think just how quick of a read it is and how light the rules are. Usually when I read a game book, I can't immediately tell other people all the rules from memory (it takes me some review and fiddling with the mechanics and character creation to get it). But in this case, I found I was instantly telling everyone I talked to the basics of play and of character creation (there really isn't much to remember there). And the book is a very fast read too, so I think that helps with the pick up and play. It has a pretty cool blue collar tone too, which works.