|From Xas Irkalla
I happened upon Xas Irkalla by a happy accident.
I was cruising around Blogger and found mention of a KickStarter campaign that looked interesting. So I went to take a look
I was impressed by what I saw and what I read, so I wrote a blog entry of my own to encourage people to check out the genius that is James Vail. When I first wrote that blog I had not had any contact with James. You can see that entry HERE
Now I've had the opportunity to read Xas Irkalla and below I'm going to give it my review as a book and as a game. But before I do, a bit of disclosure:
1) I have since had the opportunity to communicate with James Vail on a number of occasions. I find him to be an intelligent and likable fellow. Having said that, I've made every effort to disassociate the work from the man to bring an honest review.
2) I'm a fan of horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft and Bram Stoker. We can discuss the virtues and failings of both somewhere else. I bring this up because my taste in horror may be different than yours.
3) I'm a novice game designer. There is a certain amount of observational bias involved in any assessment of a game system as I look at system design and playability. Again, I'm working to be as objective as possible, but in the interest of honesty (and scientific accuracy) I acknowledge that I have a particular vantage point from which to view the design.
Enough with the disclosure, lets talk about the book and the game!
The art within Xas Irkalla is a black and white treat to your darker fantasies and a reminder of nightmares that plague your subconscious. I found art that evoked the dread of ancient horrors, and images which fell outside my comfort zone. When you're talking about horror, these are exactly the traits you want. If this book contained an image with a resemblance of our own normalcy, then it would only have served to further enhance the the alien aspects of the dark vistas within.
If you are a fan of supernatural horror, the art within this book alone makes it worth picking up.
Character creation is remarkable for its simplicity and consistency within the setting. Coupled with the death mechanic during play, I see no reason why someone couldn't be playing a new character within ten minutes of a character death.
I was particularly impressed by the character advancement mechanics. Your characters have a wide array of options to pursue in their advancement, and are ultimately limited (in part) by a cap of ten ascendancies.
The dice rolling mechanic is interesting in its simplicity but adds a new dimension of long term strategy to your efforts. Will you risk added stress to roll more dice in your efforts? Will you brave a higher doom score and thus bring yourself closer to death? I'm looking forward to running this game for my friends, in part to see what strategy they will employ for their dice applications.
Enemy creation is simple, and doesn't require much work for the game master to create usable opponents. If you want to play and haven't had much time to prep, I think this is one facet of the game design that will be very popular with game masters.
You can pick up this game and start playing in ten minutes time. Have your game master read through the book a couple of hours ahead of time and you'll be ready for a fantastic time.
A pleasant surprise was that the majority of page space in the book is dedicated to setting information and other game master data.
The civilizations noted carry a form of logical consistency that provide a setting backdrop for the moments of terror to play out upon. Adventure seeds provided are relevant and intriguing. My one critique here is that I would have liked just a little more page space devoted to each civilization. Maybe someone can convince James Vail to create a series of supplement books, perhaps just short splat books, providing additional material for each civilization. (He hasn't expressed any such interest to me, so this is just an idea. If you think its a good idea, comment below and hopefully he will see it.)
The psychosis mechanic is every bit as much a setting aspect as it is a game mechanic. The psychosis mechanic allows for horrific encounter generation facilitated by your players. Honestly, I think its genius. In many ways it echoes a principle of horror few seem to comprehend, that the darkest horrors come from within.
Page border art, and art integration is nicely done.
Flavor text is thoughtfully integrated and enhances the overall setting experience. You can easily derive inspiration from the inset text to give birth to frightful tales for your players to confront.
I did not proofread the book for typographical or grammatical errors. To be perfectly honest, I became immersed in Xas Irkalla and if there were any such errors I didn't notice them. The book was well written, easy to read, and intriguing.
At 161 pages Xas Irkalla packs a lot of playable game in a small package. I was genuinely impressed by this book. It also left me wanting more material, but in a good way. I finished the read through and found I would like to see James Vail add more material to expand upon his original vision. What they may be, I wouldn't know, but I'm sure if he ever sets his hand to it, we'll see something exceptional.
I want to play Xas Irkalla with old friends and see how they cope with the challenging setting, and no nonsense game mechanics. There are very few horror games that have sparked my interest like Xas Irkalla has. I feel perfectly justified in saying that if you are going to play ANY horror RPG this year, you owe it to yourself to play this one!
Recommended for: Mature role-playing game players who value the opportunity to play, appreciate a challenge, and who appreciate the macabre or horrific. Also recommended for fans of Charles Stross's Laundry files, H.P. Lovecraft, supernatural horror, and metal fans with a flair for the horrific.
Not recommended for: Pregnant people, hyper religious zealots, un-medicated schizophrenics, fascists, Nazis, real life cult leaders (this is another book that could give you ideas I don't want you to explore), Putin, and extra-dimensional psychic entities (I don't want you thinking we are crunchy and good with ketchup).
On a scale of one to ten, I give Xas Irkalla a solid nine for horror fans, and a solid eight for non-horror fans.
If you are fan of well crafted RPG material then I would recommend you follow James Vail on KickStarter.
For other creators, take note: James Vail's book contains sketch material on pages 156 and 157. These are an ingenious way to credit backer support. They also happen to be fantastic examples of the art style of the book. Don't miss this attribution to the contribution of KickStarter backers.
Finally, this game should be nominated for awards at GenCon. Seriously, it is that good. So pick this one up and give the big thumbs up for a remarkable product!
Thank you for reading this latest review.
I hope you'll join me again next time!