Just like their videogame counterparts, RPG’s fall into different genres as well as different styles of play. Some games glorify combat like a fighting simulator, some focus on deep roleplaying experiences. Abandon All Hope is a Sci-Fi Psychological Survival Horror RPG effectively set in Hell, fully capable of immersing you in one of the worst possible situations a person can ever imagine. AAH presents an interesting concept. In the future after a long string of wars the tired planet turned to a paranoid utopian Meritocracy. One that grades everybodies dispositions, attributes, and even has a system of quantifying how crazy they are. Taking this knowledge they proceeded to launch everybody even predisposed to violence on a big spaceship sent in a random direction called Gehenna. On this spaceship, you as a prisoner must survive the robotic Custodians and your fellow prisoners.
Of course, it always gets better. At some point during the Gehenna’s voyage the ship was caught in a form of rip of the Space-Time continuum referred to by the prisoners as “Perdition” that is for lack of a better word, Hell incarnate. This is both a weak and strong point of the games writing as the book assumes players begin after Perdition and everything has gone wrong already leaving a sense of confusion for those that don’t understand prison life as it is, much less how a prison behaves in hell. In addition, AAH has no source books, only additional adventures taking place in a canon plot string. The result is that the setting book provides only the core basics of how the ship operates with very little on any explanation of how things actually *work* on the ship. This can make Abandon All Hope a hard game to DM, despite how comparatively easy (and fun!) it is to actually play.
Character Generation is very simple and demonstrated in an easy step by step and to the point process beginning with rolling up your Prisoner ID number. From there you make choices for your inmate regarding his criminal background, attributes, mental health, and even your secret agenda which in turn opens up several Traits that can be taken to make your character even more unique. The result is every players Prisoner will widely vary depending on their dice rolls and Trait choices. AAH also sports a very efficient balance between those who lack high statistics as weaker characters are given extra Build Points to buy more equipment and traits than a stronger character who has less dependence on good starting equipment.
In its inspirations, the game pays a lot of homage to Survival Horror games such as System Shock 2 and several high-casualty RPGs such as Call of Cthulhu and Paranoia. All of which is very evident by reading through the games rulings. However, amidst all of its detailed rules and systems there is always one thing that seems to be missing from every section. Fluff. As stated before, the game makes little to no mention besides casual references to “common” rules and laws amongst the prisoners and the vague warning that you will be searched for contraband often. There is very little mention of the inner workings of the prison itself besides the presence of robot Custodians and a Warden AI that rule the ship with an iron fist. The end result is that the book only contains rules and should be treated as a rulebook only (All of the story seems to be in the adventure modules) which as stated before makes this game hard to DM as if you lack basic knowledge of how prison life works you will be playing this game wrong.
Which is an important thing to mention, actually. This is a game based in a prison spaceship that tells you absolutely nothing besides basic descriptions of facilities and expects you to run the game as a Survival Horror Prison game. Honestly I think detailing how a prisoner lives their daily life in this gigantic deathtrap of a ugly ass spaceship is sort of important. Things such as politics and the behavior of the Robot Custodians are often hinted at an mentioned at different parts of the book but there are no concise rulings actually made concerning the ships politics besides the enigmatic Wardens control of the ship and the SUGGESTION that there are demons running around.
Yes, Suggestion. You see while the game does detail several demons and how they generally appear the rules for actually using demons are incomplete. A demon can spawn when a mental statistic meets or exceeds 10, however no mention is made of how often this occurs or when another demon is allowed to spawn (I emailed the writer, all he could do is copy paste the rules on manifestations in the hope it answered my question. It didn’t). Demons are also mentioned to be prowling the decks often yet the Wardens Guide (DM Section) swears up and down that such beings should be rare due to their strength and shock value which leaves me the impression that they never considered that Abandon All Hope could be ran without the adventure modules.
While the game is criminally lacking in fluff, explanation, or plot the game does have a brisk explanation of the combat system within two pages and that is a plus. There is also a loosely imagined crafting and salvage system in place for those that want to research and build new items from stuff collected from the various broken terminals and devices around the ship. As crafting systems go, AAH’s is easily my favorite. Every source of salvage can be checked once for materials, of which it has 0-2 different components you can grab that can be in turn used to make items and equipment using experience points. Certain characters may even to learn how to craft various items with toolkit or even craft drugs.
Despite the weak points, AAH is a fairly well written game for those who just want to use the rules and play their own campaigns using them so while the game is lacking in a setting there is very little effort required to make your campaign unique and interesting as the setting itself while unexplained is original enough to be interesting on its own but could easily be adapted to any space-borne setting from Doom to Pandorum. Abandon All Hope is a Horror game by heart and its unexplained vacuous nature lends to the setting, added with how lethal the game itself is
Abandon All Hope is available on Amazon and various other websites RPGs are sold. However I do give you one word of warning when purchasing books from the RPGObjects website: Only buy in bulk from them. My copy of Abandon All Hope came in a flat rate envelop with no protection whatsoever and thus arrived at my doorstep damaged and dogeared, and the response I received by RPGObjects was an amatuer “Wow, How did that happen!? Pay for the shipping and I will replace it” response. I was also not happy that the PDF(Less than $3) is in full color while the print version of the book($25) is in black and white. This normally is not too much of an issue, however the most painful section to look at is the Demons part of the book. All of the art is bright and colorful causing the pictures to come out as muddy dark and grey abominations. This alone is enough reason to skip on getting a hard-copy in favor for the cheaper (And prettier) PDF if you have the means to.
Despite how much I hate their business practices and owner I do have to report that RPGObjects games (Of the Four-five books of hardcopy that I own) are brilliant. For instance, I have been running a weekly Darwins World game for a little under a month now and it’s an extreme hit with my group, and when we started our weekly AAH game that’s probably going to be a hit too. In short, their books are good but for the love of the maker don’t get anything non-bulk shipped by them if you like your books being in mint condition. Abandon All Hope is a an easy to learn system akin to Traveler and is perfect for Horror gamers.