"Hunter the Reckoning," White Wolf Games

Pros: Fantastic concepts
Cons: Schizophrenic execution; poor editing
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

First published 4/24/2001
Previously published on RPGNet

Hunter: the Reckoning is about normal people confronted with a hellish world.” The world is full of monsters, most of which have learned very well to hide themselves from human eyes. Now something is helping the humans to fight back. It’s “imbuing” them with special gifts and abilities, and pushing them to protect humanity from the monsters in the night. These people are called “hunters,” and they term the unknown creatures or powers that created them “Messengers.” It’s a paranoid game of the underdog desperately fighting the big bad monsters with any weapon at hand. It’s a fantastic concept, and one that I was looking forward to.

Aesthetics

The book is big and hard-covered, with a bright fiery cover. I haven’t had any problems with my copy falling apart – it holds together well. The internal artwork and layout beautifully convey the grays and blacks of a dirty, dangerous world. The artwork ranges from absolutely gorgeous to ugly and pointless. Some of the artwork is blotchy and nasty; some is cartoonish and silly. Overall the book looks pretty good, however.

The writing, on the other hand, has more problems than I’m used to seeing in recent White Wolf products. There are a number of typos of the can’t-be-caught-by-a-spellchecker variety. There are some noticeable grammar problems here and there. And the wording is just plain unclear and confusing in a lot of places. I’ve certainly seen much worse – but usually from smaller-press companies. I’m used to seeing better than this from White Wolf.

This is a very detailed book, with a great deal of information. In some ways this is great – it’s wonderful to have lots of detail to play with when you want it. In others it isn’t so great – it seems to go on and on in places, such that I ended up skimming a bit here and there. Unfortunately the book isn’t really organized such that you can be sure you aren’t skimming over something important. My personal preference would be to have the basic mechanical information presented, and then the details added so that you could, if you wished, get a quick start right away and learn the details as you progressed.

Mechanics and System

The system is a modified Storyteller system. Which is to say that it’s the same system used for all of the other White Wolf World of Darkness games, but with tweaks and fixes to make it better, and a few mechanics tailored specifically for hunters. You’ll find most of the usual suspects on the character sheet: Nature, Demeanor and Concept to help you get a handle on your character’s personality; basic Attributes (such as Strength, Charisma and Intelligence); Abilities; Backgrounds; Willpower; Health.

Then there’s “Creed,” which dictates the hunter’s general approach to hunting. Does he prefer to kill all monsters? Does he see something worth redeeming in them? Will he give his life to save others? Let me say here that I see two trends in the write-up for this game. First, there are some things that are great concepts, but aren’t particularly well-executed. Second, there are things that are poor concepts, but are executed well enough that it doesn’t matter. Creeds fall into the latter category. I don’t like the concept of a Creed – it turns emotions and ideals into character classes, without even bringing the nifty background and setting to the game that clans bring to Vampire or traditions bring to Mage. However, the concept was well-executed, and the write-up pretty much turns Creeds into something reasonable, governed by loose guidelines and suggestions.

The concept of “Virtues” (similar to that in Vampire) is tailored to the hunters. The Virtues here are Mercy, Vision and Zeal, and they’re on a 10-point scale. They’re linked to which Creed you take, and you use your Virtues to buy “edges.”

Edges are the spiffy powers that hunters get. The powers themselves are interesting and inspiring. There are neat ideas here, which suggest great plots and scenes. There is one odd mechanical detail, however, which bugs me. The scale of costs for edges makes it literally impossible for characters to actually buy level 5 edges, yet those edges are detailed here, and they’re interesting. Why do this? What’s the point? It’s like holding out a shiny thing and then pulling it back suddenly, saying delightedly, “oops! You can’t have that!” If it’s supposed to be particularly difficult to get level 5 edges, there are better ways to make it so. If they’re supposed to be too powerful for player characters, and only non-player characters should wield them, then why not just detail them in the Storyteller material and not fit them into the mechanic presented to players at all?

There’s a spot for derangements on the character sheet – hunters who get particularly powerful also go a bit nuts. This is a fairly standard (and fun, from a roleplaying perspective) power-balancer in White Wolf games.

Last but not least, there’s “Conviction.” Conviction pretty much powers all of a hunter’s unusual abilities. This is one of those good concepts not so wonderfully executed – I worry about any single mechanic which requires an eight-and-a-half page write-up in a book with pages this large. I cannot help but believe that this should have been simpler than it is.

There are a few other oddnesses as well. For instance a section on “Health,” complete with the chart of health levels, dice pool penalties, and movement penalties can be found on p. 140. A more detailed “Health” section (with a nigh-identical chart) can also be found on p. 199. And on p. 200, the dice pool penalties are repeated – for a third time – for no discernible reason. The book gives a distinct impression of being disorganized and scattered.

“Normal People”

Let’s go back to that quote for a moment: “Hunter: the Reckoning is about normal people confronted with a hellish world…”

It’s a fantastic concept: how do the humans react when they realize what’s all around them? What do they do? How do they cope? Do they fall apart? Do they rise to the challenge? How does it change them?

Problem #1: What’s the difference between hunters and any of the other White Wolf supernaturals out there? Hunters are humans who are “imbued” and do amazing things with powers they call “edges.” Vampires are humans who are “Embraced” and do amazing things with powers they call “Disciplines.” Mages are humans who are “Awakened” and do amazing things with powers they call “Spheres.” Shape-shifters are humans (okay, or animals) who go through their “first change” and then do amazing things with powers they call “Gifts.” Where’s the difference? A lack of capitalization of game terms is not a big enough difference. When it comes down to it, hunters are just as supernatural as the rest of ’em, and it could be argued that the rest of them are just as human as hunters.

Answer to Problem #1: Well, okay, players like to play with spiffy powers. I can hardly argue with that! And I can see the wisdom in the argument that hunters need spiffy powers to be able to deal with the monsters out there, or they’d all be dead. And at least most of the spiffy powers are pretty much about dealing with the supernatural in one way or another, and aren’t as powerful as what the other supernaturals get. On top of that, some of the writers of this book were smart enough to turn this “problem” into a source of potential plots and themes for you to play with. So, I’m willing to discount problem #1 as not really being a problem. However…

Problem #2: Take a brief look through the game glossary, in which various terms and bits of in-game slang are defined. The definitions of such terms as “bystander,” “the defenseless,” “gawker,” and “pylon” imply that the hunters view normal humans in fairly uncomplimentary terms, and that un-imbued humans lack any ability or will to fight against the supernatural whatsoever. This impression is borne up in certain other parts of the book as well. Talk about giving humanity the shaft! Hunter honestly does more to turn “normal humans” into unthinking, defenseless sheep than any other White Wolf game does. This isn’t a game about normal people confronted with a hellish world. It’s a game about yet another group of supernaturals that looks down on, bitches about and otherwise dislikes humanity!

Answer to Problem #2: Ignore these parts of the game or turn them into a plot. Sure, let a few hunters gripe about how humans are sheep. Let a couple of them believe that hunters are the only ones willing to stand up for themselves. And then show them that they’re wrong. Let the occasional normal human (and I definitely don’t mean imbued hunter here) do something heroic. Show the hunters that they aren’t that different from humans after all.

Honestly, most of Hunter is written as though this particular problem doesn’t exist – most of the writers seemed to have a clue that perhaps calling hunters normal humans and then having them sitting up above humanity undercuts the whole professed theme of the game. Once again, in a different part of the book this “problem” gets turned into a potential plot and theme. When it comes down to it this is a game about normal humans trying to fight back, because that’s the way most of the book is written. You just have to be willing to ignore the slight case of schizophrenia the book has developed. (After listening to many of my comments on the game while I read it, my husband said that it sounded like there were two different games in the book – and it really does seem that way sometimes.)

What a Game Would Be Like

It’s always helpful to know what a game would be like before you buy it, so that you’ll know whether it suits your style. So I’ll provide a few thoughts on what a Hunter game will probably be like for you.

First, characters aren’t likely to live a long time (this is stated outright in the book). Hunters have gained a supernatural edge, but in general they’re still outclassed by the monsters they fight. And they don’t have as many ways to hide themselves from the law as the monsters do. They live in a mad, paranoid world of extreme danger. So if you like to play the same character for three or four years of gaming in a row, this isn’t the game for you.

We’re told that hunters live very lonely lives. They’ve been deserted by their friends; they hide secrets from everyone and they trust no one. They probably won’t have a whole lot of contacts and allies. This could make certain types of plots and adventures difficult. It might also make it difficult to create a coherent party of characters – you’ll need to put a bit of thought into that issue.

The book does need a thorough read-through before you start – this is no quick-start game. You can’t read through the obviously necessary rules and then pick up the added details bit by bit; it just isn’t organized that way. You need to be willing to read through most of the book before you start. Luckily the majority of it is pretty interesting, so this isn’t a bad thing.

This is a game of paranoia, danger and fighting against impossible odds. This is not a happy game. This is not a fluffy game. This is definitely not an uplifting game of superheroes battling evil.

For GMs

There is one thing that I was very impressed with in this book: the information presented for Storytellers is very detailed, very helpful and very complete. I would recommend this for any beginning Storyteller (or even a GM of a different game) who needs a better handle on how to run a game. There’s plenty of material on what roleplaying is like, what Storytelling is like, how to handle various aspects of the game, how to make the World of Darkness “new” again to experienced players, varying your stories, engineering tone and atmosphere, and so on. One of the best bits is “The Ten Commandments” on p. 255, which goes over some important basic tenets of roleplaying that could make your life as GM much easier.

When it comes down to it this is a good game, and one that I like. Unfortunately it’s a good game that could have been amazing, and that’s a little disappointing and frustrating. Some of the concepts don’t seem to have been thought through well enough. The book is a bit disorganized and schizophrenic; it seems to lack an overarching guiding hand. Sometimes it seems that the book is good in spite of itself – things that started out as poor concepts were adapted into worthwhile execution. This could be because the book had three developers and ten designers. While many of the names on these lists are ones that I respect and admire for their good work, I think that a book could not help but become a little schizophrenic under these circumstances.

The book also has some problems that I don’t usually expect to see from White Wolf books these days: such as the typos, the confusing wordings and the grammar problems. There’s also some fairly pointless science-bashing that hearkens back to early Mage.

On the other hand most of the writing is pretty spot-on, and there are parts I’m very impressed with. It shouldn’t be too difficult, with a little work, to run this as the amazing game it could have been. The information for Storytellers alone makes this book worth purchasing, and the in-character material paints an intriguing world. Occasionally the sections get a little long or slow and drag a bit, but they’re offset by a truly chilling basic concept.

Posted in Gaming, Reviews

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