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Tabletop Tales: RPGObjects ‘Abandon All Hope’

Friday 25th January 2013 by Necroscourge

Just like their video game counterparts, RPG’s fall into different genres as well as different styles of play. Some games glorify combat like a fighting simulator, while 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 everybody’s dispositions, attributes, and which even has a system of quantifying how crazy they are. Taking this knowledge, they proceeded to launch everyone, even those predisposed to violence on a big spaceship (called Gehenna) sent in a random direction. On this spaceship, you as a prisoner must survive both the robotic Custodians and your fellow prisoners.

 

Cross section of a typical Gehenna floor.
Cross section of a typical Gehenna floor.

 

Of course, it always gets better. At some point during the Gehenna’s voyage the ship was caught in a form of rip in 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 game’s writing, as the book assumes that players begin after Perdition, and everything has already gone wrong, 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 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 that every player’s Prisoner will widely vary depending on their dice rolls and Trait choices. AAH also sports a very efficient balance: 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.

 

Death Slither, a demon from the game.
Death Slither, a demon from the game.

 

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: if you lack basic knowledge of how prison life works, you will be playing this game wrong.

 

This 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 an ugly ass spaceship is sort of important. Things such as politics and the behavior of the Robot Custodians are often hinted at and 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.

 

A preview of the Abandon All Hope character sheet.
A preview of the Abandon All Hope character sheet.

 

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, AAH 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 out of items 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 toolkits, or even craft drugs.

 

Cover from the module 'Seeds of Rage'
Cover from the module ‘Seeds of Rage’

 

Despite the numerous weak points, AAH is a fairly well written game for those who just want to use the rules and play their own campaigns. 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 also easily be adapted to any space-borne setting from DOOM, all the way to Pandorum. Abandon All Hope is a Horror game by heart and its unexplained vacuous nature lends to the setting, adding to how lethal the game itself is.

 

Abandon All Hope is available on Amazon and various other websites where RPGs are sold. I do give you one word of warning however 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; the response I received from 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. In this case 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 of 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 or 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 start our weekly AAH game I’m sure it will 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.

 

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 7.25.35 PM

 

In the 27th century, after generations of war, Terra has finally entered a Golden Age. With the rise of a new global regime, and the installment of a Pan-Terran Meritocracy, efforts are made to stamp out crime and violence permanently. The solution: the ruthless rounding up of all murderers, vice offenders, dissidents and anarchists and loading them onto the colossal prison hulk, Gehenna. The concept is simple. Eradication of all lawbreakers from Terran society and indefinite exile to the furthest corners of space.

Five years into its automated voyage, the Gehenna has inexplicably vanished from all tracking and earth-based telescopes. Five years into is voyage, the Gehenna and the nine million souls aboard her has slipped through a spatial anomaly into another dimension entirely.

The event has wrought havoc on the ship and caused the death of many aboard. Thousands more are now free, running riot in the ship’s dark levels. Murderers, rapists, and maniacs are loose, but they are not alone. This new dimension is home to strange alien lifeforms that are drawn to the hate, misery, fear and suffering of those aboard.

Abandon All Hope is a science-fiction/supernatural horror role-playing game in which players take on the role of the condemned aboard an automated spaceship that has plunged over the edge of the known universe. Here, in another dimension, they must contend with escaped lunatics, robotic controllers, and monstrous aliens who feed off of their fear and suffering. Former convicts are now the heroes, and every day is a fight for survival. For those who seek it there will be chances to escape, to gain power, embrace damnation, or seek redemption…