Tuesday 19 November 2019

Review: Kuf

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of the game free of charge.

Kuf is an occult investigative game with a system based on Knave. The player characters are aware that something is fundamentally wrong with "reality", and thus they are drawn into a frantic search for knowledge and power. In the postscript it is explained that the author intended to match seemingly opposite styles of gaming: modern day gnostic horror (like Kult) and old-school D&D (even if some would argue that Knave isn't exactly that, I guess it's close enough).

System Summary
  • The game uses the familiar six stats (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha), albeit in the framework introduced in Knave: each stat has a bonus and a defense, the former being added to rolls, the latter providing a target number for the opposition.
  • Stats are determined by rolling 3d6, but instead of adding them together, the lowest number provides the stat bonus (defense being 10+bonus). Two stats may be swapped.
  • Hit points (HP) are determined by adding together the three physical stats' bonuses (Str, Dex, Con), while Mind points (MP) are calculated similarly using the mental stats' bonuses (Int, Wis, Cha).
  • Actions of uncertain outcome and avoiding danger necessitate a saving throw: 1d20 + relevant stat bonus vs. target number of 15. If there's some active opposition involved, the target number is one of the enemy's defenses.
  • Instead of modifiers, advantage and disadvantage are used. Also, natural 20s and 1s are critical successes and critical failures, respectively.
  • Initiative is determined using 1d6: 1-3 opponents go first, 4-6 players go first.
  • Rounds are of malleable length. Everyone gets to move and do something.
  • Melee attacks are 1d20 + Str bonus vs. armour defense, while ranged attacks are 1d20 + Wis bonus vs. armour defense. Alternatively, the defender may roll 1d20 + armour bonus vs. the enemy's Str or Wis defense (as the maths work the same either way).
  • Wounds and mental trauma have different effects based on severity (e.g. 2 points of serious damage from a sword or a gun is worse than 2 points of light damage from an improvised weapon), reminiscent of World of Darkness.
  • Characters start at level 0, and every time they collect 1000 XP they go up a level. When levelling up, they get to increase 3 of their stats by 1 each. When a stat is raised to 7 or higher, they also gain a random supernatural power.
  • XP is earned for reading occult tomes, performing rituals, encountering supernatural creatures, and travelling beyond space and time.
  • Characters may actually start with some XP depending on the maelstrom table that provides some ideas how the character got involved with the "truth" (such as by becoming a cultist or by witnessing something very disturbing).
  • The game loop consists of three phases: Exploration, Confrontation, and Recovery. Exploration is loosely structured role-playing, where the characters hit up contacts, gather information, buy equipment, and in general make preparations. When they inevitably draw the attention of cultists and the like, the Confrontation phase begins (dungeon crawling and large action scenes). Recovery is basically downtime between adventures (and usually between sessions).

Things I Liked
  • Following a brief introduction, key elements of the system are summarized.
  • Characters start with a background/profession rolled randomly (e.g. Writer, Engineer, or Idle rich).
  • Constitution is used for encumbrance instead of Strength (it's something I've been toying with in AS&SH myself).
  • The familiar 2d6 reaction roll is replicated. Also, 2d6 morale rolls and simple rules for handling companions.
  • Exactly the kind of advice regarding combat I want from such a game: "Avoid combat like the plague. If you have to fight, use every dirty trick in the book to get an advantage. Fighting is dangerous, and even if you survive healing will take a long time."
  • The list of equipment and weaponry is fairly short and to the point. It includes prices in Swedish krona.
  • Painkillers and stimulants grant temporary points of HP and MP.
  • The recovery phase lasts for a random number of weeks, and players must make plans in advance without knowing how long it'll actually last, forcing them to establish their priorities.
  • Detailed examples of play (proper transcripts) of all stages of the game, including character generation, all three phases of the game, and even some post-session chat!
  • Clean layout. No illustrations to distract the reader from the text.

Things I Disliked
  • Rolls equal to the target number fail. It bugs me because it isn't the case traditionally, so that's one more thing to keep in mind while playing.
  • The way wounds and mental trauma work is a little confusing; I had to read it twice to fully understand (even though I'm familiar with the general concept through the World of Darkness). When characters die due to injuries is also unclear.
  • Even though the rules are succinctly presented, the examples are often lacking (e.g. only a single ritual and a single occult book are described).
  • Sometimes content appears to be missing (especially when specific situations are described in terms of critical success / success / failure / critical failure, one of the entries is often left blank).
  • The first part of the book (the player-facing rules) are overall well presented, but the rest feature a fair amount of typos (nothing that inhibits understanding, but it is aesthetically damaging).
  • The setting is painted in loose strokes: humanity has the divine spark, but they are imprisoned in our realm of flesh; many previous prisons of ours lie barren and abandoned outside the barrier. I would normally like this approach, but I don't think the genre's far less ubiquitous than traditional fantasy, so a little more "meat" would've been appreciated.

I'm a little conflicted about this one. Kuf is a labour of love, a proof of concept, and as such it's perfect. The game mechanics are clear (even though damage/trauma is more complicated than your standard D&D), and they "make sense" within the systemic framework. At the same time, a few more proofreading passes wouldn't have hurt, and the implied setting feels a little too vague for my taste (I'd be inclined to rip off Kult and repurpose some of the tables in Silent Legions).

Kuf is designed by Wilhelm Person and published by Wilhelm's games in 2019. The PDF is available on DriveThruRPG in both Swedish and English.

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