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HDL: Demongate High

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HDL: Demongate High
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HDL: Demongate High
Publisher: Tremorworks
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/17/2011 16:58:18

I've recently started a design for a school-based game, so I've been reviewing some of the older school roleplaying materials on rpgnow, and I found this little game sitting in my review queue, with some notes that were intriguing but which I never got back to.

Demongate High is a school setting crossed with a supernatural setting. The characters are young people learning their supernatural powers because if they don't, demons will destroy the world. Character types include psychics, half-demons, those chosen by heaven, kids who have inherited a family blessing or artifact, oracles, summoners or mystic martial artists. Character creation is by point buy, and you can quickly make characters that are best described as "having potential". They may not be extremely potent, but you get the feeling from the abilities they can use that there's something serious going on under the surface. Since this is pretty much the point of all supernatural-school games, the metaphor for the potential of someone growing up versus what they might someday be, this is an ideal place for the game to aim.

The school itself is meticulously documented, including a hilariously pentagrammatical map and a collection of international professors - props to the game for including women and non-whites as significant players at the school. The history of the school is documented, including the discussion of how it evolved from an attempt to protect the world from a demon threat to training the next generation to do so. Suffice to say that this evolution and change causes problems for current-day students. For example, there's an active gate to the dimension of demons on the island where the school is, which would be a terrible idea if you were building the school independently, but because the founders were more concerned directly with the gate, it makes sense as an unfortunate decision in the game world. This makes things interesting - it makes me feel like the adults don't completely have things figured out either, a key to fitting in teenaged PCs.

One thing I really like about the book is that each section is highly focused - the first introduces players to the characters they'll be playing, the second tells the GM how to run the game and provides a basic scenario, the third describes how the world works in more general terms, and so on. This provides a very natural flow from the extremely specific things you need to play out to more general information about the world and game.

The game also gets a gold star from me for including clickable URLs in the text that take you to webpages about real-world occult sites and mysterious legends. This is using the electronic format to its greatest extent and more games should have this.

A downside is that you are not told that you need the HDL Basic Rules and a set of HDL cards until literally the last page of the file. (Yes, I know that if this were printed out it would be the back cover, but if it were printed out, those URLs would be useless, right?) I can't say I'm an expert in those rules or cards, so I can't really address the stats of the system. The point costs for things do seem to match pretty well with what you would expect from a school RPG.

Most "school" settings I've seen are either Harry Potter-esque wizarding schools or Xavier's Academy-esque superhero-ing schools. It's great to see a horror/action approach that builds a unique world, where demons are right on the edge of killing everyone and only a bunch of 15 year olds stand between them and annihilation. In the end, Demongate High is a very detailed and highly original approach to "school roleplay" and definitely worth a look. It's not just the same old thing with the numbers filed off!

[4 of 5 Stars!]
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