Note: This is not as much a review as it is an abstract of my first impressions after having read the entire game, and some recollections of the original blog entries. Also, I’m writing directly on English, not in Spanish and then translating. I thought it was important to mention it.
Esoteric Enterprises (EE) is the brand new offering by Emmy Allen (of The Gardens of Ynn, The Stygian Library, and Wolf-Packs & Winter Snow fame), and none of the hottest titles out there right now (seriously, go get it!)
EE is a game about “the underworlds of organised crime and the esoteric”; setting-wise, it’s similar to some World of Darkness universes, to wit, Orpheus and Hunter the Vigil (as Emmy states on the introduction,) but also Unknown Armies. This means it’s a game set in the modern day world, but also that the world, although similar to ours, it’s not exactly the same; in the game world there are monsters, magick, and weird things, like some Lovecraftian creatures, a few Changeling the Dreaming things, but most taken from D&D, everything with a dark twist, of course.
System-wise, being part of the Old-School Renaissance, it’s obviously based, at least to some extent, both on Moldvay’s Basic and Cook’s & Marsh’s Expert sets, and also Lamentations of the Flame Princess, to the extent that EE includes LotFP’s streamlined Skill System, with its own set of skills (Charm, Contacts, Forensics, Technology, Vandalism, and several more).
As for its original systems, EE contains a great deal of wounds management: each type caused by bullets and explosives, knives and claws, hammers and punches, fire and acid, electricity and cold weather, poison and diseases. Each type containing their own effects, all horrible and painful (this game is not for the faint of heart: here, some examples: “You’ve been squashed into a pulpy mess, so there’s really barely anything left to bury or reanimate,” “Your organs are shutting down one by one. You’re a Dead Man Walking. Plus, you spend the next round vomiting everywhere, and lose your chance to act”… yes, this is a game where characters die, and easily, unless they are smart).
The are rules for ageing, attribute loss, breaking equipment, cave-ins, escaping bonds, being left alone in the dark, hacking, shape-shifting, drugs, torture, mental damage and a bunch more things. It’s very complete as well as flexible for the referee to implement ad hoc rules when he need resolving something not covered by the book.
Cash & Downtime covers what the characters do in their free time between adventures, and how they spend their gold… I mean, their dollars. There are also systems to manage medical experiments, monsters as player characters (called spooks), spellcasting, running heists, and a great deal of gamemastering information.
One of its best features are the chapters called Rolling up the undercity and Rolling up the occult underworld, which allows you to create the underworld with just a bunch of dice rolls, including locations, tunnels, cults (like the worshippers of Amanita Muscaria, don’t you love it!?), factions and more. Much more.
There are many things I left out, but in conclusion I can say that Esoteric Enterprises is an excellent game and setting, full of ideas. You can run it as body-horror drama, supernatural noir, dark fantasy or urban grimdark. With it, you can run a campaign based on The X-Files, The Invisibles, Neonomicon, Hellblazer, Hellraiser, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Lost Boys, Tokyo Gore Police, and some Cronenberg nightmares.
“Are you sure there aren’t any flaws?”
Well, there are a few typos, but nothing too annoying.
Well. It’s illustrated with photographs, which are kind of ugly. Remember that cyberpunk game which used photos instead or drawings, and how weird it looked? Well, here happens the same. I would have prefered public domain illustrations, like other of Emmy Allen’s works, but this is not something to hold against the game, let’s be honest and remember that indie games rely heavily on stock art, but you can’t find many modern day stock artwork, so it’s photos.
I have to tell you, though, that despise the pictures, you should try it, it’s a great game and when you are on the table, it’s the emergent story what counts, not the book’s illustrations. Oh! And I made some random tables.