Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: Maschine Zeit a.ka. Event Horizon the Setting.

"The year is 2110. In 2105, over a tenth of the world’s population died when a number of space stations orbiting Earth went dead. The radiation that killed them had an unexpected side effect: The victims now haunt the halls, possessing machinery and threatening anyone that dares travel inside."

There are several things to consider when looking at Maschine Zeit and in contemplating it's purchase. One: do you like horror? Two: do you have a horror or generic RPG system you enjoy using? Three: Do your teeth grind at night like metallic gears painfully shifting into position long after a machine's been turned off? Four: are you turned off by that last comment? Keep Reading to see what these strange things mean and how to discover your wife didn't die and go to heaven - she's just a ghost on a spaceship near Jupiter!

I have a very distinct memory of being in late middle school (8th grade maybe?) and staying up to an ungodly hour - like 2 in the morning - to watch this movie I had never heard of and in all fairness should not have been watching alone in dark late at night. The movie starred Sam Neill (this guy from that movie with the dino's) as some super scientist aboard a ship of unwitting blue collar space frieght operators lead by Laurence Fishbourne. The scientist was after this ship that was lost several years ago (which he designed) under mysterious conditions and had recently reappeared in our solar system.

The movie was Event Horizon, and it still gives me nightmares to this day (which is how it could possibly end up my favorite horror movie of all time - we'll have to see how the contest goes!). The movie drips with atmosphere and terrible gothic imagery from start to finish. The ship itself, the Event Horizon, was designed to look like an old abandoned gothic cathedral on the inside, and man does it weigh heavily on the events portrayed in the film.

Never before (and not really since to be honest) have I seen the loneliness and despair of being deep in space without any hope of rescue or help to come save you. Event Horizon is a bleak film that uses technology to give truly harrowing scares to its audience.

It's also the main inspiration for Maschine Zeit (MZ).

I picked up MZ at Gencon from indie alley on a whim. I had heard of it briefly before going to Indy, and it was sitting in the back of my mind that I should take another look before picking it up. My copy of MZ is a softcover book weighing in at around 130 pages. It's price was $25.00 which seemed a little steep at the time, but I was really itching for a good sci-fi horror game, and flipping through the pages convinced me to give it a shot. There are a lot of writers attached to the project that I respect and have enjoyed the works of previously, so I took the leap. Was it worth it?

Yes and no. The book is made up really of three parts - background material, system rules, and GM advice. The majority of the book (the first 90 pages) is comprised solely of background material. Reading MZ, it quickly became apparent why so many writers worked on the project - it's chock full of amazing mood pieces. The setting of MZ is loose enough to the point where you can take any of these works, whether blog entries, personal notes to loved ones, or even a proposal for a reality show on one of the haunted-house style space stations, and apply them to your own game. As a sourcebook it really is an amazing work on the topic of space horror.

The part that didn't quite convince me is the system used to run the game. It's a percentile based system. I like aspects of it quite a bit. Characters have elements (basically stats) that they can combine together. These elements range from 1 to 25 and in addition a player has a limited number of dramatic element - basically plot points or bennies - they can spend for an addtional 25. They add these up and get a percentage chance that their task will succeed. Then they have to roll under the number to see if it worked. I love the fact that the GM never has to assign a target number or arbitrarily make decisions - it's all within control of the player.  The part that didn't trip my trigger was how damage is dealt and hit points are tracked. It's a short section, but honestly after reading it three times, I still can't tell you how it works. It's too complex, and for a system that is simple and straightforward pretty much everywhere else, this is kind of a killer.

But you know what? I'm still going to recommend you purchase at least the pdf of Maschine Zeit. The first 90 pages are complimented very well by the last section of the book - the GM's advice chapter. It does a good job of summing up what makes horror role-playing - specifically in an sf setting - click just right. I like MZ quite a bit even given that I won't likely use the engine at any point to run a game of it. The world presented, while loose and easy to toolbox your own setting, has got a ton of its own character. The part about the rules I loved was how many different traps, anomolies, and ghosts they describe for use in your own games. It really gets your mind running in high gear to figure out what to do to create your own adventure. I could easily see running MZ with Dread, Call of Cthulhu, or even World of Darkness as its game engine.

It's not a perfect product, but MZ offers a lot of great inspiration and advice on how to run a very specific kind of game. In a way it does what it sets out to do - let you play the best game of spaceship horror possible. I recommend to pop over to one of the rpg download sites to get the pdf of the game. Right now you can get both the rulebook and an adventure kit (not sure what this is, but it looks cool) for $16.00, so that's a pretty good deal, and I would say a perfect price point for the content. Otherwise if you want a hardcopy, you can find it at Amazon by following the link to the left. MZ's a unique kind of cosmic horror that I haven't seen presented and dissected so thoroughly in an RPG before, and that's nothing to scream at.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the tip! EH is one of my favourite movies of all time, and I've been dying to run a sci-fi/horror campaign in its tradition for years... :)


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