The Darkest House Observations
Monte Cook Games always excites and impresses me with their new products. Numenera was obviously transformational, The Strange has amazing potential for multi-genre play, and Invisible Sun, in addition to its obvious quality has transformed how I play RPGs in General.
Their newest Kickstarter is for a completely new concept...a horror setting which can either be used stand-alone *or* connected to any other game you are playing, using a new translation mechanic they call the "House" setting.
Some basic concepts, based on the literature or interviews with the team:
- Based on playtests, your translated characters, from other games, feel like themselves.
- The game has about 50 hours of content, and is replayable based on choices you make. More important, you don't play it all at once...you might have 1-2 sessions, then escape...until the House pulls you back in.
- When you leave the house, you permanently leave or gain things that you take back to your "normal" game. This changes the House AND changes your normal game.
- It works with several Virtual Tabletop platforms, as well as virtually any conference tool, such as Discord, Zoom, etc.
- It screams to have expansions or extensions, over time.
A critical point that deserves it's own major topic. The demo I used for this article is available online for anyone who wants to pull it down and try it out. Go to the MCG Darkest House site to download and try it.
A couple notes about the Kickstarter (linked both here, and immediately below). Unlike most of their Kickstarters, there are only two tiers...the main product and the main product with an expansion priced at $45 and $85 respectively. All stretch goals for the campaign go to building up the quality and content of these core products, without adding new items. These goals, to date, have included adding rooms, adding sound, adding tools to help the GM or players.
And as usual, the Kickstarter is really about showing MCG how much interest there is in the product line, and how much time and effort to invest in it, based on early support.
Notes from the Demo
My first thought in going through the demo was that it was a bit confusing how to use aspects of it. On one hand, the content is nicely self-contained; on the other, there was a feeling like I was missing something. Looking again, there are PDF's for both players and GM's to understand how best to use the information provided.
After a quick "how to", the demo presents you with your first room: The Boundless Room. In addition to a description of the room (reminiscent of a 1980's text adventure game) there is a map with key elements identified Each element of the room that might be of interest is carefully documented. You can navigate to each element by clicking on the element itself, as well as the menu items on the right, so however you think about the program, you get the information you need.
One qualifier is that the menu items on the right include things which haven't been discovered yet...so in prying the floorboards, you will find a portrait. The portrait is a link from the outset, but is only relevant once the players find it. This is good if you want to pre-prep a bit, and figure out how you want to describe or use elements.
The room descriptions are good, and each room comes with a downloadable visual, which you can screen share, load to a VTT, or otherwise share with your group. It also comes with a "copy link" option, which provides a URL you can share to the same image.
Below is another option, where you find a document, and can share the image, a link to the text or copy the text itself:
The first room handles the "what if they go out of bounds" situations both explicitly and well with how to handle the PC ideas which will inevitably come up. Other items, such as the windows, are similarly managed so they aren't an escape route.
Most text is informational for the GM, or gives you dialog. Some text, called out explicitly, is specifically for the players to see. You can read it out loud, or there is a "copy text" option. From the demo, it seems that "overview" text is to be read to the players as well, though the same copy mechanism doesn't exist.
The opportunities, just from the first few rooms provided in the demo, really show that a lot of opportunity, danger and fun is to be had in the house. One encounter, The Red Figure, is especially impressive in the opportunities of the encounter for benefit, risk and interest.
In short, I think this is a groundbreaking advance in gaming, for multiple reasons:
As a product, The Darkest House introduces a potential major plot element that can be thrown randomly into a game. Further, it can be done once, a few times, or as a consistent plot device for an ongoing campaign. I can see this being something that shows up early...is forgotten, until the House calls them back, to their dismay several levels later.
You could also pull people from completely different systems or games for a really fantastical experience. Apparently, the House system has no issue with a Starfinder character hanging out with a Call of Cthulhu investigator, a D&D Sorcerer and a Yellow-ranked Paranoia character. To me, it almost feels like a Moorcock "Eternal Champion" opportunity, as different people join together complete a unified goal before returning to their own realities.
Based on the demo, MCG has put a LOT of time, into thinking about how the product can and will be used, and ensuring that's going to be the best experience possible. Given how well formatted and cross-linked their PDF rulebooks are, I'm expecting greatness on this front.
Also, based on their Instant Adventure concepts, I think there's a lot of opportunity for players to venture and try whatever they want, and for the room descriptions to provide insights into how to handle it and how to get them to a satisfying end (of one sort or another.)
Whether or not it was directly inspired by the pandemic, and the need to play remotely, it's perfect for that environment. There are descriptions for how to handle it in person, but it's going to be best for people who have their own computers or electronic devices during play.
Key Links and Dates
The Kickstarter goes through April 2nd, and is at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/montecookgames/the-darkest-house
There are demos and conversations. The most recent, and one which really got me even more excited about the product, was a Cypher Unlimited interview with Monte. In it, the CU team, who has demoed it in a game, and Monte himself provide a lot more insight into the potential of the game. This is at https://www.twitch.tv/videos/962088428
There's also one where the Cypher Unlimited Team just talks among themselves about their experience in playtesting. This is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tnft-4EQpNI
Perhaps the most interesting is a live play session with the MCG session, on YouTube which can be found at https://youtu.be/vUtSIJyKyk0
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