What Do I Know About Reviews? Night Reign
Who knew when I started doing reviews that I would be able to create a subset of reviews for games inspired by Dishonored. Including Dishonored. What’s interesting is looking at what elements of the game generate what kind of design space.
Modiphius’ Dishonored is more about generally recreating the experience, without narrowing in on one aspect of the game’s themes. The sample adventure focuses on the wrongly accused fomenting political uprisings, but that’s not the default standard. Blades in the Dark, on the other hand, turns the bleakness of the setting to 11, and focuses on criminal gangs striving against one another to expand territory and survive in an ever worsening city, on a doomed world.
The game I’m looking at today seems to seize a bit more on the themes in Dishonored of political reversals through stealth and assassination, and embraces the fact that, while the setting is still bleak, some changes can lead to a better tomorrow, even if the world is slow to change. Today, we’re looking at Night Reign.
I was provided a review copy of this game from which to work.
This review is based on the PDF of the product. This is a relatively short RPG, coming in at 50 pages. The covers are colored in purple, grey, and red. The interiors are black and white, with bordered pages. There are numerous full, half, and quarter page illustrations in the PDF.
The layout of the book is single column, with clear headers, generous bullet points, and several tables. There is a credits page, but no table of contents, or sample character sheet.
The setting of Night Rein is an early alchemical industrial age city known as Laefendport. The title of the game serves multiple purposes. A black, mutating rain began to fall in Laefendport, which could be used for alchemical industrial marvels. The nobles of the city began to dominate trade, had the royal family in the capital assassinated, and moved the capital to Laefendport.
People pray to avoid the notice of the Sisters. There are two groups of sisters, the Sisters of the Lost, and the Sisters of the Hidden. These are some thoroughly dangerous supernatural entities that govern various powers of stealth, transformation, and assassination.
Player characters are assumed to be members of an organization, the Red Right Hand, which is attempting to reclaim Laefendport from the nobles and save the people from their daily lives of fruitless toil. Not only are the PCs assumed to be skilled in stealth and blade, but they may also know some amount of sorcery as well.
The randomizers in the game are cards. A play group needs two decks of standard cards, as well as multi-colored poker chips or other markers. When a character is created, they pick from several talents and sorceries to build their character.
- The Jokers are not used in this game, and all of the face cards are pulled to form the Sister’s Deck
- The rest of the player’s deck is then set aside for resolution and is called the Royal Deck
- The GM’s deck is referred to as the Night Deck
Characters distribute a number of points among their talents, and they gain additional talents from the cover identities they can choose. They can take dots in Prayers, which gives them access to sorceries. Then, they can pick several pieces of equipment.
I really like that the cover identities provide additional points for talents. In many games, if you are adopting a cover identity, you might need to have some talent in the identity you are adopting. In this case, you are working backwards, assuming you have some competency if you have the cover identity to begin with.
Tokens are used to track Shadow, Flame, and Opposition. Shadow builds up as characters complete stealthy actions without drawing attention to themselves. Flame builds up as characters take overt, violent, or chaotic actions. The opposition chips are a visual reminder of how imposing a current challenge is to the players.
The resolution of actions in the game involves drawing cards, usually based on a variation of Blackjack, spending chips to “purchase” a resolution, and marking off boxes on a character sheet.
When characters attempt something stealthy, they draw until they are satisfied with their hand, hit five cards, get 21, or exceed 21. Based on the score that the character has, the GM can frame what happens in the scene. For higher scores that don’t exceed 21, the character may get Stealth tokens and succeed in bypassing an obstacle. If the character gets a lower score, they may face opposition.
The GM doesn’t discard cards from the Night Deck, and the Sister’s Deck never discards cards, but the Royal Deck does discard cards. If the deck runs out of cards, the player’s mission will fail. Because of this, players may not want to tempt fate and aim for the highest draws that they can get.
Players can mark boxes of a skill or equipment to discard a card from their hand and draw another card. If a character runs out of skills they can mark, they might mark off their Soul track, selling their soul to one of the sisters.
Characters can also attempt to resolve a situation through Guile, the GM may draw cards and show either all, one, or no cards face up, depending on the level of risk for this course of action. PCs can draw up to five cards, trying to get the higher score, while staying under 21. If they are successful, they have found some way to use guile to avoid the obstacle. If they fail, things might get violent.
If players choose to resolve a situation through violence, the GM draws cards equal to the threat level of the opponent. The color of the suite determines if the opposition is acting in a defensive or offensive manner. Players can draw a number of cards equal to the dots on a skill that could be useful for combat. Characters then play cards at the same time. If both attack, both take damage, and the GM’s damage comes from discarding cards in their hand. If one defends and is higher than the other, they take no harm.
Characters can use sorceries by marking boxes, and then drawing a card from the Sisters Deck. The sorcery is represented by a face card. If that card is drawn, the Sister notices the PC, and they are cursed in a manner that can only be reversed by performing an action listed under the sister in question.
At the end of a mission, characters can spend their remaining Stealth tokens to buy down Fire Tokens. Uncancelled Fire tokens advance the city’s Chaos track, while successful missions advance the Conspiracy track. If the PCs reach the end of the Conspiracy track, they have made a major change in the city with their actions, but the Chaos track may show the damage done along the way. If the city’s Chaos track fills up first, the city is destroyed by turmoil and strife. Play is split between Freeplay (where characters interact, and may act as one of their cover identities, as well as where they get leads for new missions), and Incursion, where characters play out their missions.
The PDF also includes a sample mission, with four individual “sets,” or subsets of mission goals that must be completed.
The individual sets are structured with the following parts:
- Obstacles and Enemies
Because the game doesn’t use discreet stats, these components serve to explain what needs to be done, where, and what might go wrong, but the actual opposition level is going to vary based on how the rest of the mission has played out.
I love how this game not only takes one aspect of the inspirational material, and frames it as the game (i.e. revolutionaries overthrowing the nobility), but I also really appreciate the card based mechanics. There have been other games that have attempted this, which left me a little cold (I don’t want to play poker when I’m also playing a game, for example). Where I think Blackjack works for this kind of game is that it is a matter of pushing your luck for higher totals. I am also very fond of the concept of gambling with your soul and framing it as one of the sisters seeing your attempts to utilize their powers. The “penance” that characters need to serve are also a great way to reinforce the story of the setting.
Flames of Chaos
A few more procedural summaries or charts would have been welcomed, because some of the nuances of a given process are only found within multiple paragraphs of explanation. I also think that sometimes game rules are easier to digest, especially on the player side, when there is a set character sheet that lays out what to record and where.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
While I would love to see some more summaries for various parts of the game, visually pulling everything together, this does a great job of carving out a particular corner of the “alchemical industrial political assassination” genre (is it a genre yet?, I don’t know) for itself, and using some novel game mechanics that invoke the feeling of characters pushing their luck and tempting fate.
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