Arena Review: Mummy the Curse

 

I finally did it. I Kickstarted something. Seems like the internet has been abuzz with Kickstarter for a while but I wasn’t sure how to get started. However, White Wolf‘s new electronic distribution arm the Onyx Path has been doing a series of Kickstarter campaigns to finance the production of new sourcebooks and I’ve been getting really excited about this business model. The first project I backed has finally come out and it’s pretty amazing: Mummy: the Curse.

A lot of people probably see the title and think it’s either A) a joke game, B) suited for just one story, or C) both. I’m not going to lie, there is less room for breadth-of-play here than with other World of Darkness Games but it’s still pretty amazing. I’ll let the Introduction get you excited instead of explaining myself:

Inhuman immortals—some called the “Arisen,” others “Shuankhsen”—walk these crowded streets, as they have since before Rome ever paved her own. They are the last remnants of a bygone age and empire, refusing to let slip their grip upon a world that has long since moved on. They are at once ancient and terrible, innocent and proud, isolated, tragic, and obscene. And at their very core, they are relentless.”

Genre: Occult horror
System: New World of Darkness
Potential Library: Small (just the core book so far but six sourcebooks planned)
Publisher: White Wolf / Onyx Path

This game is the latest line for the World of Darkness, the first since 2009 when Geist: The Sin-Eaters was released. That alone would make it exciting but the game is also interesting and unique. There are a host of possible pitfalls for Mummy which could make it a laughable waste of time, but it manages to avoid them. Obviously, having a focus which was the opponent of Abbot and Costello as well as Brendan Fraser could go a lot of terrible directions before it goes someplace good. The line between “occult horror” and “campy horror” is a fine one, of course, but the mythology underlying the story manages to negotiate it well.

There’s also the issue that mummies are A) immortal conspirators, B) reanimated corpses, C) gatekeepers to the Underworld, and D) workers of ancient magic. These have been covered already by Vampire, Promethean, Geist, and Mage… In fact the Osiran lineage from Promethean is exactly a mummified corpse brought back from the dead. It’s a unique combination for the mummies, of course, but they need to be more than vampiric Prometheans with geists and spells. There are many unique aspects of the game and, like Promethean, the

The story behind The Curse goes back to the Old Kingdom when a group of sorcerers found the way to immortality. The good news was that they could live forever and their empire would stand for all time. The bad news was that it involved obscene amounts of human sacrifice and a hellish trip through the Underworld to stand before the gods known as the Judges of Duat. World of Darkness characters are always made up of “X and Y splats,” an innate characteristic and a chosen characteristic. In some cases there are further characteristics (Z splats) to be chosen after you gain some experience, but in Mummy the lines are more blurred.

Your chosen characteristic (Y splat) is much like a vampiric covenant: you pick a guild which represents your social stratum in the Old Kingdom. Your innate characteristic (X splat) is your decree, the spiritual path you declare in front of a Judge of Duat, which means whichever one you pick first determines the other. This means that there are (5 guilds x 5 decrees x 9 Judges) 140 different types of characters rather than the usual 30 or so. Creating a really unique character in this game is hard not to do.

The magic system is somewhat different from other supernaturals’ in that mummies don’t learn how to cast or preform it, they just one day know how to do it. This is all part of the theme of memory, as in you spend your career as a PC growing into the crazy-powerful deathless sorcerer that you were millenia ago. The powers of mummies fall into three categories: pillars, affinities, and utterances. Pillars are the five-fold soul of Egyptian legend, each of which is rated from one to five dots which can be spent somewhat like vampires’ vitae or mages’ Gnosis. It can boost abilities, heal wounds, power relics, etc. And it can power a mummy’s utterances.

Affinities are the typical spells in the mummy’s arsenal, some like vampiric Disciplines or werewolf Gifts (magical effects that manifest with spending Willpower), some are new options for characters (like the ability to add one’s Sheut rating to Stealth, or spending Willpower to lower Target Numbers), and some add completely new options (like transforming into an atavistic beast, attracting an animal companion, or seeing ghosts and Vices).

Utterances are more hard-core. First of all each utterance has three tiers of escalating power, each with prerequisites. You get to use the tiers you are rated for, meaning that you may have a neat utterance that you can only use two-thirds of… until your soul grows a little more complete. The abilities themselves are really powerful and impressive: transformation into a godlike form, reshaping and commanding ghosts, unleashing a curse out of legends on you enemies, and so on.

There are plenty of cool new Merits (special advantages and background elements) for mummies, from tombs to soul-bound servants and so on. But the most extensive one is Cults which has a whopping five pages. While they slumber, mummies are served and protected by their cults, although the mortals may interrupt their sleep if a threat looms or they need guidance. This is more than the Allies and Contacts of other games and even the ghoul clubs of Vampire don’t hold a candle to this.

You are literally playing the head of an occult brotherhood and they do your bidding. Some chronicles might have one mummy PC while other people play their mortal cultists, and other games might feature a small group of mummies each with a cult at their disposal. You can sic your cult on the enemy, your fellow PCs, or even other supernaturals. I’m practicing my evil laugh now.

Lastly, but best of all, is the interweaving of Fate into the character creation system. This is such a minor aspect but it really might be my favorite. When you pick some parts of your character, you’re encouraged to leave decisions up to the Storyteller (or “Fate”) to pick for you. If you know what decree you want, for example, but not what Judge you can let the Storyteller pick for a small bonus. Likewise, when purchasing new abilities for your character it’s cheaper if you buy a Fated affinity or utterance, i.e. one that the Storyteller thinks you should have.

The mechanics of affinities also make mention of Fate as well, deciding how certain spells work out once you’ve started them. This is something good Gamemasters often do anyways, but this idea that there are forces out there bigger than you being hard-coded into the game is a lot of fun.

Pros

  • A new World of Darkness game line!
  • Interesting new mechanics, mythology, and options.
  • Playing the eldritch mastermind of a secret cult.

Cons

  • Types of stories are somewhat limited.
  • Strongly tied to Egypt