Seldom do World of Darkness games come along that break with tradition and give us something completely NEW.
CA Suleiman delivers with this newest entry into the World of Darkness setting. Recently, Onyx Path, the current publishers of the World of Darkness and related games, finished a very successful kickstarter for their new role-playing game Mummy the Curse (funded at over 400%). Now this product is available here after all KS backers received their preview editions a couple of months back (but still waiting for the deluxe printed copy, which is speculated to be stunning!).
Mummy the Curse is a game where you play ancient undead creatures from an era of pre-historic Egypt, called in the book the Nameless Empire. Driven by ancient gods of the Underworld, (such as a pre-Egyptian Osiris, or Azar) they seek artifacts, destroy unholy monsters, and perhaps 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 servants of the ancient Sorcerer-Priests who made them.
As with most of Onyx Path’s books, this one begins with some introductory fiction (expertly narrated by CAS in a promo you can download on youtube). The fiction is evocative and hints strongly at the strengths and weaknesses of mummies, or the Deathless as the setting refers to them. One thing I found interesting was that for the most part the viewpoint character is not a mummy but one of his mortal servants, the cultists who worship and serve these Deathless.
One of the major themes of the game is the recovery of memory. In fact, Memory is its own stat or Morality Trait. Mummies, being many thousands of years old, have lost most of their memories of both their human life and previous periods of activity. Mummies spend most of their existence in a state of death from which they recall nothing. They become active only when they are summoned by their cult to perform a task or an intruder disturbs their tomb do they awaken. And when they arise they appear as rotting, shambling remains of incredible power and almost no vestige of humanity remaining. It is only with time that they slowly recall their human selves.
Consequently, a major focus of the game is the mummy reclaiming its lost humanity, or Memory, and knowledge about who they were. Unlike other games of the Storytelling System, mummies do not get a prelude. They also have Memory codified as a morality trait, one that begins horribly low and can get lower still with further “deaths”. Thus there is some encouragement for players of mummies to raise their Memory, 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. This purpose is clear upon a mummy reviving: kill the intruder, recover an artifact, aid the cult leader who awoken you. The only time a mummy becomes active without a purpose is the turn of a Sothic turn. The Sothic Cycle is a 1460 year cycle, (when the star Sirius flares) and exists to give the game a reason to have multiple mummies all active at the same time. Appropriately, the year 2012 was the next turn in the cycle.
When a mummy first awakens it is incredibly powerful, a literal god of the underworld. In game terms its power stat, called Sekhem, begins at 10. This allows them to boost their attributes, particularly Strength and Stamina, to superhuman levels in addition to other potent effects. They begin 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 however their Sekhem decreases reducing them from horrific monsters to merely tough and magically potent beings who seem human.
As in most Storyteller games there is a division of political groups (Guilds) and inherent aspects of the character (Decree), a five by five array that the mummy fits into. The 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. All in all the book does a good job of breaking up the standard groupings of spies, warriors, sages, rebels and leaders we have seen in Mage, Vampire, and Werewolf.
The second set of splats are defined by the Decree, that Pillar of the mummy’s soul which she proclaimed before the Judges of the Underworld. According to 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. Decree defines the mummy’s strongest Pillar and favored Attributes.
Then one chooses the final splat: chosing one of the 42 Judges the mummy made her decree to. There are 42 of these god-like 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 supernatural abilities of a Mummy are fairly powerful. 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, powerful ritual spells. 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; they are nigh indestructible...
Mummy the Curse has a separate Storyteller Book. 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.
The first chapter 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.
The second chapter of this section discusses the antagonists of the setting. Surprisingly there is little on the hinted sixth guild, the one destroyed while the Nameless Empire still stood. There is however a good deal on the Lifeless. This hodgepodge group includes some disturbing monsters made from stitched together animals and who haunt twilight looking for relics to feed on…or mummies.
One type of Lifeless, the Shuanksen, is actually quite similar to mummies. These foes 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. One of the latter, Last Dynasty International, has become an evil corporation. I’m a little saddened that they made no overt tie with this group to the Chieron Group. They would seem to be excellent as division or rival of that Hunter the Vigil conspiracy.
Finally we get new ghost 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.
The third chapter dwells on relics, artifacts Mummies seek either for their own ends or to take back to the Underworld for their Judges. There are many cool cursed items here.
The final Storyteller chapter deals with running the game: how to use the themes and frameworks for the group as a whole. My favorite framework is called the Rotating Pyramid. In this campaign framework, one player plays a mummy and the others play cultists, mortal allies, ghosts bound to the mummy, and the like. The players would rotate who played a mummy each adventure as the mummies cult summon each for different problems.
Finally we get a sample adventure using the SAS system White Wolf has become famous for. It is titled "Eve of Judgement" and introduces alot of the core themes and mechanics of the game to new players. It starts with lots of action as the mummies are awaken by their cults to stop some misinformed drug dealers. Then you jump to investigation to find out who sent these mortals and why. One thing that seems odd to me though is having several mummies hiding in Rio de Janeiro. It seems like there are plenty of other, better places. However the kickstarter did well enough that the city book for Rio will be made so perhaps that book will convince me.
Overall Mummy the Curse is an excellent roleplaying game. It still uses the core World of Darkness Rulebook (bluebook) despite the upcoming rules update in God-Machine Chronicles. It makes more use of the Gothic themes of Hammer Horror than the Mummy the Resurrection (which was always too Geist'y to me). This game returns the Mummy as a vehicle of gothic horror and makes for excellent game play.
[5 of 5 Stars!]