Try to picture Fox Mulder and Dana Scully as Catholic priests instead of FBI agents, or Buffy Summers and her friends as seminary students instead of high school students, and you’re well on your way to getting into the spirit of “Against the Darkness.” The straightforward and effective rules set does a good job of covering many possibilities while remaining light on details. The task resolution system is used across the board for all situations, combat and non-combat. Die-hard “simulationist” gamers won’t be satisfied with the level of specificity; for example, a single “Combat” skill covers all forms of armed and unarmed combat, and almost all combat attacks deal the same amount of damage (which doesn’t require a die roll). However, if you can accept the system’s “coarseness,” you’ll find that the “rules light” approach allows you to keep the action moving along with minimal interruptions.
The rulebook bills the game’s genre as “Vatican horror,” and the PCs are assumed to work for or with a secretive order within a fictionalized version of the Roman Catholic Church. The treatment of religion (both institutional and otherwise) is fictionalized but respectful. Christian GMs and players might agree with the game’s implicit theology in the real world, but should not find it offensive in the fictional world. The game is flexible enough to accommodate anything from orthodox (if old-fashioned) Catholicism to a more Pentacostal flavor to something out of “The Exorcist” or “The Da Vinci Code.” (It might be relevant to mention here that I am personally a committed Protestant whose day job is teaching biblical studies at the undergraduate and master’s degree levels.)
I like the overall tone and mechanics of the game very much, but I do find the product lacking in a couple of respects. As a matter of production quality, the typeface choices are inconsistent and sometimes unattractive; for example, one body paragraph might be set in Garamond, the next in Times New Roman. However, with only a few exceptions, the book seems to have been well-edited; readers won’t be tripping over grammatical errors every paragraph or so, as is often the case with small-press publications. As a matter of content, I felt that Specializations could have been explained a bit more clearly, and the rulebook occasionally features some repetitions that could perhaps have been avoided. But the main thing that hampers the rulebook—and the primary reason for my 4-star rating instead of a 5-star rating—is the lack of a sample adventure with mechanics. Interludes of short fiction illustrate the kinds of stories one might tell with “Against the Darkness,” but these are not illustrated with game mechanics. The introduction claims that “[i]n this rulebook … you will find everything you need to understand the rules, create characters, and begin playing,” but that’s not quite true; the GM still needs to come up with an adventure for the PCs to experience. The rulebook does contain several intriguing campaign ideas, but the lack of an included mini-adventure or sample scenario is a significant omission. (Tabletop Adventures did later release an introductory adventure, but that was six years after the publication of the rulebook.)
All in all, “Against the Darkness” fills an interesting niche in the RPG market, and it does so rather well.
(In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I have contributed material to other Tabletop Adventures products [in the “Bits of” line], but I did not have anything to do with the production of “Against the Darkness.”)