Precious Dark and the Judicious Application of Explosives

A couple weeks ago at ConTessa, I got the chance to playtest Stacy Dellorfano’s new RPG, Precious Dark. We had a lot of fun with it; poking around in dark caves, scaring off giant moths, and defeating a giant snail with salt. Yeah. It’s that kind of game.

Precious Dark doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. The basic set-up is that literally every apocalypse you can imagine has occurred, and humanity has been driven underground thanks to the surface of our world now being an irradiated wasteland populated chiefly by denizens of a dystopian police-state. Of course, humanity digs too greedily and too deep, and we find… “something” within the bowels of Mother Earth. “The Weird”, a strange, alchemical substance that grants otherworldly, magical properties to people and things. “The Weird” seems to be the principal resource and driving factor of Precious Dark, and for our playtest, we were sent by a talking cat to mine out some crystals imbued with the stuff.

The talking cat thing is really vital to the whole experience

The talking cat thing is really vital to the whole experience

As an aside, I’ll mention that the world of Precious Dark works on a barter economy, meaning there is no real currency and the exchange of goods is negotiated on an as-needed basis. For a role-playing game, this makes a lot of sense as a design choice. For a game like this, you don’t need the players getting bogged down in prices or hoarding gold like they’re expecting another apocalypse (been there, done that, right?) If you don’t care about currency and money isn’t going to be a big part of the game, why bother?

Here’s the thing, and it’s really the nit-picky economist in me that has a problem with it, but there is such a thing as a ‘de-facto’ currency. The reason why barter economies exist is that there is no resource that is portable, stable and moderate in value widely available. But in Precious Dark, the Weird meets that criteria. Pretty much everyone seems to use it, and it seems like it’s value is pretty stable, so why wouldn’t it become a de-facto currency? Something like “two ounces of Weird is the going rate for a chicken.” Okay. Tangent over.

I love profession systems, and I really enjoyed Precious Dark‘s take on them. The great thing about a profession system is it really ‘sets’ a character into a world, giving them a sense of place and role. In Precious Dark, players choose two professions for their character, a primary and a secondary career. Through the combination of these two professions, you can make up just about any role you care to imagine. For example, I played a “Technologist / Miner”, or in my mind, a Demolitions Expert. Because any problem can be fixed by the judicious application of high explosives. One thing I will point out is that while I certainly had a lot to do (blowing stuff up is always interesting if not always useful), it seemed like some other players didn’t get as much mileage out of their professions. Part of the purpose of a profession or class system is to focus a game, and to help the players build characters that will usually have something interesting to do while playing. Farming and Painting didn’t come up too much in our game, but who knows?

Precious Dark works on a dice-pool system. Players assign dice to their character’s various traits, then ‘build’ a dice pool depending on which traits apply to the current roll. Now, as a gamist, I tend to raise an eyebrow at dice-pool systems. Their probability is finicky and difficult to parse. But still, sometimes it’s just fun to pick up a big pile of dice and count all the five and sixes. Precious Dark doesn’t seem to be too obsessed with balance to begin with, and it’s certainly fun, so whatever. It plays into the in-vogue meta of characterization and traits driving probability, which I have no problem with and has been proved time and time again to be a good method for resolution.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mutations. Mutations function sort of as freakish ‘bonus’ traits. You have to use “Weird” points to use them, but they can give your dice pool a nice bump when you need that extra ‘oomph’. It’s also a much better lore than most ‘bennie’ systems. The idea of infusing your body with “Weird” in order to use some freakish mutation is a lot more visceral than “fate” or “willpower.” For example: my character had a detachable, mechanical hand that I used to skitter about, adjusting explosives and luring aforementioned giant snail into a trap. Good times.

Overall, Precious Dark is shaping up to be a fun and interesting game. It was a little outside my usual wheelhouse, but I still had a great time with it. If you’re interested, the Google+ Community seems to be an active spot of development, and you check out the various rules and updates that Stacy Dellorfano has uploaded.

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