||Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/05/04/tabletop-review-enter-t-
Enter the Shadowside is a horror/thriller RPG about encountering the mysterious and frightening thought world known as, you guessed it, “The Shadowside”. This world is where paranormal entities exist, and where the living might go to accomplish whatever ends they are trying to accomplish: some for fun, some for profit, some for things more nefarious than anything else.
Ok, this book is part manifesto, part sourcebook; I am a little loathe to call it a full-fledged role-playing game. It utilizes my least-favorite type of mechanics: light, with math. Essentially, you’re going to be comparing two numbers and rolling a d20 against the number that lies between those two on a table (admittedly, the table itself looks pretty cool). Your number, called your “might”, is going to be based on whatever attribute applies to the action, plus some modifiers dependent on skills, items, and/or bonuses. Like I said: light, with math.
The coolest thing in the mechanics are the “belief points”, which are used to change an unfavorable die roll or to use magic. The way you get the points is pretty neat: basically, if you succeed in a roll more than you needed to, you get belief points (you believe more in yourself). If you fail by a lot, you lost points. It’s a little more nuanced than that but that’s the idea.
Alright then, I’ve covered the mechanics. Basically, figure out your number and roll against it. There are some more things having to do with magic and paranormal powers, but that’s basically it. The author isn’t big on “roll-playing”.
I remember seeing the character sheet for this game some time ago, and thinking it was pretty cool. Basically, one of the coolest-looking and most aesthetically pleasing character sheets I’ve seen. It’s pretty intuitive as well: two inner attributes contribute to the total of the outside attribute that they both overlap. Neat. When you make a character you can do point allocation or roll a bunch of d6s; I generally prefer point allocation but for this game I think die rolling is pretty appropriate theme-wise.
In Enter the Shadowside there are nine factions that lie along a matrix of Orderly, Neutral, and Anarchic and Altruistic, Neutral, and Egoistic. It is through these groups that characters will most likely find themselves engaging in “hierogamy” or, uniting with a ghost (essentially). This ghost is like a familiar that lives in you and has an intimate connection to your thoughts and feelings. In the lore of this game, the ghost is the surviving sentience of someone who has died and managed to keep themselves together in the Shadowside.
That’s basically the gist of it. Large portions of the book are dedicated to role-playing in general and setting information. This book is theme-heavy, game-light. I’m going to be totally honest: I don’t care for the mechanics at all. However, the belief points do make it more interesting, it makes the die roll more than just pass or fail; how well you fail or succeed affects your morale.
What Do I Think?
In short, if you are looking for a suspenseful game with a few neat tricks, I hesitantly suggest picking this up. It’s fairly user-friendly, and it has a good amount of compelling ideas. I think that is the book’s strong point: the ideas. The author has personal ideas (or ideals) about role-playing and the book has ideas about the Shadowside and how things come to exist and ideas about what reality is. You can buy the book for the price of a sandwich, support an indie game.
Do I think it’s a really strong product? Not really. I just don’t think this is a finished product. It’s an idea. It’s a foundation. Does it make me inspired to play? A little. I kind of want to play Shadowrun after reading this book, or some oddball like Palladium’s Beyond the Supernatural. Come to think of it, this would make a pretty badass setting for Shadowrun. If you are into this game, I suggest getting involved with it and writing some material for it. The author advocates writing scenarios or settings and submitting them to the rest of the community. This game even has its own subreddit, if you’re into that (r/shadowside).
A few notes about the art: it’s good! The art in the book is really well done, and there is even a 15-page comic in the front, lending some thematic material and really blending the artwork with the idea of the game.
[3 of 5 Stars!]