Review: Desolation

Produced by Gremalkin Games and using Exile Game Studio’s Ubiquity System, Desolation provides an interesting combination of elements which somehow manages to mix the clarity of a detailed setting with the open-ended freedom of a merely outlined setting. I found this approach to be both refreshing and liberating. While I rarely feel constrained by the limits on a game as envisioned by its designers, I am sensitive to how system and setting intertwine to influence story. Tinkering, while a pleasure for many GMs can have unexpected results, or lead to dissatisfaction in one or more players as their expectations war with their experience of the game through the filter of your alterations. In this game, the world is laid out before you and then destroyed to whatever extent you see fit, and with whatever alterations to the map that suit your fancy. How accommodating!

While reviewers never seemed able to make up their minds about whether this aspect of the game was a strength or weakness, I feel that it not only aids in creating the mood necessary to sustain an immersive game, it makes it easier to control the amount of preparation time is required to develop a campaign for a group, encourages creativity and diversity, and minimizes the amount of additional material a GM is compelled to purchase to get into the game. When you consider the choice of Ubiquity as a system for this setting, to my way of thinking, there is no way for those looking to try the game out to lose.

Versions:

Hardcover/Softcover – 256 pages, available from the usual suspects.

PDF download – If you can get the hardcover, I would recommend it as the book is quite attractive. Additionally, on some mobile devices the pdf can be problematic.

Rules:

Note: Elements of the rules section of this review have been printed before in my look at Triple Ace Games’ incredible All for One: Regime Diabolique, which licenses the same system.

The game is run using the Ubiquity System, licensed from Exile Game Studio, the publisher of Hollow Earth Expedition. Ubiquity uses a die pool mechanic based on evens or odds being successes, where difficulty is controlled by modifying the number of successes needed. The system incorporates a number of features to facilitate fast, cinematic, game play, as well as simple, plug & play suggestions for scaling the heroics across the range from over-the-top to gritty.

Character Generation is:

    • fast
    • streamlined
    • able to produce characters of varying skill levels easily
    • focused on producing characters with a core strength, and a clear concept

Skill resolution is

    • fast
    • intuitive
    • able to give players a good sense of their probability of success
    • able to offer significant options to players to enhance their probabilities of success

Conflict resolution is

    • fast
    • adversarial
    • able to contribute to dramatic tension while reducing player frustration
    • able to offer significant rewards to engaged players without hampering newcomers

Additions to the core system for this setting

  •  
    • Non-traditional takes on traditional fantasy humanoids
    • Smoothly integrated, free-form magic system
    • Setting specific gear
Setting:

Desolation is set 18 months or so after a world-wide apocalypse… Quite literally the world was torn apart in a cataclysm of fire and destruction which has left it as a clean slate to be rediscovered by its inhabitants, rebuilt or recreated, and perhaps best of all – explored for all of its new wonders and perils, bare of metaplot, hidden conspiracies, powerful forces lurking in the wings, and all the crap that is just so tedious to learn, and then hope your players will be interested in trying to interact with it. In this setting, if the players do not move and shake, no one will.

The setting itself is well presented and quite poignantly establishes a world where seeds have more value than gold, and the creation of a solid shovel is akin to moving mountains. If you claim to love a good romp in a sandbox, this game has your name all over it.

Several supplements have appeared since the game’s initial release, and all have been made available in pdf format. These supplements explore life both before and after the Night of Fire, add new character creation and development options such as more races and additional magic, and flesh out the aspects of the game which could not quite be stuffed into the 256 page core book. Please check this link to see what I mean.

Style

The presentation and style are evocative of a journal or travel diary, and I found the prose and art conspired to set my imagination roaming as I read quickly through the pages. As I have noted in other places, the Ubiquity system itself is easy to grasp for those seeing it for the first time and the example of play included in the book makes it all the easier. The grey interior, combined with the before and after artworks revealing glimpses of past glories and present horrors, further combined with the grim and gritty setting, all set a dark and desolate tone, which leaves the reader in no doubt of why the game bears the name it does… yet, deep down, like a seed waiting patiently for the return of spring, there are hints of hope. This is no ‘Wraith: The Great Depression.’ No, this is Desolation; the desert of the now, waiting for resurrection, revival, and renewal.

The layout of the book holds no surprises and flows seamlessly from everything an experienced gamer expects at the front of a game book to everything we expect at the back. Even a first time gamer will be able to read the book cover to cover and know what they are expected to do by the time they reach the end.

Negatives:

There was really nothing that I found to be lacking in the core book, but I suspect if trouble is to be had, it will be in the Magic section – despite the clearly formatted system for employing magic, and the attempts made to provide example spells both in table and prose format. Freeform magic is not for everyone.

My only real problem with the book was actually the fault of whatever warehouse in which my copy was stored allowed the covers to flare to quite a disturbing degree. As I ordered what was at that time the last copy on Amazon and as I live on the other side of the world from where I ought, I did not complain, but still to this day am trying to persuade the damn book to lie flat.

Reaction:

My first reaction when I read the promotional advertisement for this game was that an apocalypse is typically something that you try to prevent in an RPG, unless you want the characters to mix leather and football pads and pray that it rains gasoline. My interest was certainly piqued.

After purchasing and reading through the pdf, I was interested enough to immediately turn around and order the hardcover, and those I did not have for HEX as well. The first because I wanted to run Desolation and like to have books this evocative of their settings, and the latter primarily out of gratitude for sparking the release of All or One and Desolation.

For those looking for more information about the game, the system, and future plans for either, please do check out the links provided in this review, or check out Mythic Eras, to which I link in my blogroll. If you would like to see an example of a story seed I might use for Desolation, take a look at this: Saturday Seed 23 (Desolation)

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stephen Herron, RPG Bloggers Network. RPG Bloggers Network said: Review: Desolation from Casting Shadows http://goo.gl/fb/L8BAA #RPG […]

  2. […] Review: Desolation (runeslinger.wordpress.com) […]

  3. […]A further discussion of Ubiquity […]

  4. […] have reviewed Desolation before so I won’t go into its selling points again in this entry, but I have to say it’s hard to […]



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