In December, Onyx Path, the publishers of the World of Darkness and related table-top games, launched a highly successfuly funded kickstarter for their new role-playing game Mummy the Curse. Icontributed and supported the kickstarter so I got an early PDF version of that book. This is a summary review of the game based only on the core rules (further expansion supplements are planned as tier rewards for the Kickstarter).
Mummy the Curse is a game where you play Immortal and ancient undead creatures from an era prior to the rise of Egypt, roughly 6,000 or so years before recorded history, also referred to as the Nameless Empire. Driven by ancient gods of the Underworld, these immortal beings seek artifacts, destroy unholy monsters, and strive to remember who they once were. Powered by an ancient ritual, the Rite of Return, which reanimates them from death and makes them impossible to permanently destroy, they are the undying servants of the ancient Sorcerer-Priests who made them.
Typicall of Onyx Path’s books, this one begins with some introductory fiction. The material is flavorful and hints strongly at the strengths and weaknesses of mummies. One thing I found interesting was that for the most part the viewpoint character is not a mummy but one of his mortal servants. I think this serves to better highlight the peculiar personality of a mummy who has just woken from its slumber.
As I’ve hinted one of the major themes of the game is the recovery of Memory, which is the template's Morality trait. Mummies, who are many thousands of years old, have lost most of their memories of both their human life and previous periods of activity, which harkens to Vampire the Requiem's Fog of Ages, but more dramatic. Mummies spend most of their existence in a state of death from which they recall nothing. Only when they are summoned by their cult's (or a Sothic Cycle) to perform a task or an intruder disturbs their tomb do these beings Awaken. When they arise, they rise as cadaverous, sometimes mummified remains, of incredible power and almost no vestige of humanity remaining. It is only with time that they recall their human past, and in so doing regain a semblance of their human self's.
So a major focus of the game is the reclaim of its lost humanity and knowledge about who they were. In contrast to other games of the Storyteller system, mummies do not get a prelude, but instead begin as near god-like automatons. They also have Memory codified as a morality trait, one that begins horribly low and can get lower still with further “deaths”. Therefore, players are encouraged to raise their Memory, not only to regain a semblance of their breathing days and make social interaction with mortals easier, but if only to avoid devolving into merciless tools of the Judges of the Underworld.
These 42 Judges have charged mummies with a purpose. All mummies are driven by a purpose and without it they quickly weaken and return to a state of death. Usually this purpose is clear upon a mummy reviving: kill the intruder disturbing the tomb, recover an artifact, or aid the cult who has awakened you. The only time a mummy becomes active without a purpose is the turn of a Sothic cycle. This 1460 year cycle exist to give the game a reason to have multiple mummies all active at the same time. It also cleverly explains why no mummies have been visibly active prior to the release of this game, which is the year 2012.
When a mummy first awakens it is incredibly and god like powerful. In game terms, a mummy's power stat, called Sekhem, begins at 10 unlike other World of Darkness supernaturals who begin at 1. This allows them to boost their Attributes, particularly Strength and Stamina, to superhuman levels in addition to other potent effects. A mummy typically begins in their tomb with their artifacts and easy access to their cult who are charged with protecting them and aiding their work.
As the game progresses their Sekhem decreases reducing them from automatons serving the will of their Judge of cult to supernatural beings with individual agenda's and pursuits, such as fulfilling the functions of their Guild (all Mummies begin with Guild Status 1, which is required to access Guild Affinities).
As with other Storyteller games there is a division of political-social groups (Guilds) and inherent aspects of the character (Decree), a five by five Axis that the mummy fits into. Guilds are the ancient groups of craftsmen that the mummies served in mortal life. Briefly they include the Engravers of Amulets, assistants and secret police of the Nameless Empire; the First Alchemists, workers of potions and the source of the Empire’s wealth; the Inscribers of Texts, scholars and judges; the Shepherds of the Shell, funerary priests who mastered the dead; and the Builders of Effigies, masons and engineers who used monumental architectural to build the Nameless Empire. The guilds give an Affinity, an innate power of the mummy, as well as the ability to handle certain magical artifacts, called Relics, more easily. These represent the typical Archetypes found in many other Storyteller games: priests, soldiers, craftsmen, etc.
Further slots are defined by the Decree, that Defining Pillar of the mummy’s soul which he or she proclaimed before the Judges of the Underworld. In Mummy there are five parts to the soul: Ab, the heart which controls feeling; Ba, the spirit which drives them to do great deeds; Ka, the constant essence of a soul; Ren, the true name of the soul; and Sheut, the shadow that dwells on magic and secrets. This relates to basic Egyptian mythology about the nature of the soul, check Wikipedia :-)
Finally each Mummy picks a Judge who defines their Decree and provides access to Affinity powers and Utterance rituals. There are 42 judges which might seem a bit overwhelming except that most Judges only hear a single type of Decree. The mummy gains another Affinity based on their Judge.
The powers of a Mummy are fairly potent. Affinities cover a range of powers with each Affinity tending to give three or more lesser abilities. These range from being able to interact with ghosts to animal companions to lowering the target number for successes on a die for a certain class of actions.
More potent abilities are Utterances. These potent “words of power” start off weak but their upper levels (powered by mummies with 4 or 5 dots in a Pillar) can cause Biblical destruction. As an example one power allows you to know where you are by looking at the night sky. But with further Pillar expenditures, you can use it call down a meteorite from the sky. At its highest levels, you can use it to learn hidden secrets or call down a swarm of meteors over an large area.
A mummy’s innate abilities are potent as well. As mentioned above they can raise their attributes with Sekhem. As undead, they are resistant to bullets. They also have a potent healing ability that exceeds that of Werewolves. By spending a pot of Pillar they can heal three bashing damage per turn as well as a lethal damage per turn. But more importantly, while healing they can not die. It is impossible to kill them. Only after the healing stops do they finally die.
And dead mummies always come back.
Mummy the Curse has a separate Storyteller section. Since Memory is a strong theme of the game there needs to both be secrets about the setting that the players don’t know and a definite past for them to learn. I’ll be keeping my spoilers to a minimum for this section.
Chapter 1 begins with several pages of exposition by way of a series of letters. I’ve mentioned before how I dislike this. Thankfully this section is fairly brief and does not say much new about the setting. The rest of this chapter then delves into the truth behind what happens when a mummy dies or seeks to break the cycle by reaching Apotheosis.
Chapter 2 of this section discusses the antagonists of the setting. There is little on the hinted sixth guild, the one destroyed while the Nameless Empire still stood. A selection of groups includes some disturbing monsters made from stitched together animals, or Amhkhata, and who haunt twilight looking for relics to feed on.
One type of Lifeless, the Shuanksen, is actually quite similar to mummies (Bane mummies?). These enemies have a serious tie to the darker bits of the mummy back story, things most of them no longer know. They also possess Bane Affinities, cursed affinities with disturbing powers. Other foes include other mummies, mortals, and wayward cults. A sample cult is described: Last Dynasty International, which has become an evil mega-corporation. This details what cults look like at various modes of play (Tier one, two and three, which is introduced in Hunter the Vigil). Finally we get new ghost numina powers, plus the option for playing a ghost as a full character. The new abilities greatly expand a ghost’s capabilities and the character rules would be a great addition for a mixed group of mummies and other “immortals”. As a Wraith the Oblivion fan, this makes me pretty happy.
Chapter 3 details relics, which are artifacts Mummies seek either for their own ends or to take back to the Underworld for their Judges. Many are detailed in this section and can be used as templates for players and storytellers to create their own.
The final section of the book is the Storytellers Handbook, which deals with running the game: building a campaign world, creating a cult for the players, developing antagonists, additional antagonists powers and sample enemies. At the final section of the Storyteller Handbook is a Storyteller Adventure System (SAS) module titled Eve of Judgement. This module also provides details of what a typical Mummy Nome looks like and it details briefly the signature city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
In conclusion, Mummy the Curse is an excellent game. This game harkens to old Hammer horror style of play and there are clear inspirational links to HP Lovecreaft and the pulp era of the Cthulhu mythos. IN fact, one could easily see the Judges as near cosmic Old Ones, who have little interest in human affairs and use their agents to thwart each other. A solid, solid addition to the World of Darkness and one that will become a clear winner come award season.