Shall We Gather For Whiskey & The Dishonored RPG Tonight?

By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico,  22 April 2020

Due to the current pandemic, the answer to the above should be NO, but I digress…

Dishonored has been a bit of a ride when it comes to being in the gaming world. The first-person shooter with heavy stealth elements was an intriguing idea, and the psuedo-Victorian “whalepunk” setting is both intriguing and mysterious.

Once I heard word that Modiphius was releasing an RPG using their 2d20 system, and that Nathan Dowdell was part of the team taking the helm for the rules, I knew I had to get it for my collection. I was impressed by Nathan’s work with Star Trek Adventures, so it was no surprise that I’d jump on board here.

Now that I’ve had time to read and tinker with the game with a new gaming group, it’s time to give a review of my return to the Empire of the Isles…

==The Pitch==

Based on the popular video game franchise, Dishonored brings you to the Empire of the Isles. Will you explore Dunwall and face it’s many gangs, or will you trek out the dangerous and mysterious Pandyssia? Will you embrace the gifts provided by The Outsider, or will you fight against this being with everything you have?

This book is advertised to provide everything you need to run a campaign set during, between, or after the two video games and related media.

Comments state that the game uses a streamlined version of the 2d20 mechanic, with a heavier focus on the narrative than previous editions.

==What You Get==

Dishonored arrives as a 313 page, full-color PDF (with full-cover hardcover scheduled for release later this year, delayed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic). The game utilizes the 2d20 system used in other games published by Modiphius, but with some modifications for powers and simplified skills.

==The Good==

As I mentioned during my Star Trek Adventures review, this version of the 2d20 system takes what I love about Fate (the narrative) and adds some mechanical crunch and a different roll mechanic tossed in, and Dishonored follows that same trend.

Is it a hit?

For a fan of the franchise, the book is a wonderful tool filled with history and setting details, and said details go beyond Dunwall and Karnaca. While these outer areas as not as heavily detailed, we are given enough to create campaigns in each of these continents, or have campaigns tied to the other cities within the same continent.

Also, as per the norm for a book from Modiphius, the layout is solid. The selected font is readable, while the color choices make it pleasant and fitting to look at. We even see a return of the handwritten notes (like those found on the Dishonored 2 postcards), which is a nice added touch (albeit a little harder to read at times).

==The Bad==

I honestly have to start with “I expected better.” It is disappointing to start that way, but that is the nature of this book.

Like nearly every other title I’ve picked up from Modiphius, the book needs another pass (or six) from a good editor, as I found a number of typos, a handful of unfinished sentences, or just non-uniform formatting in my mad dash through it.

Moving on to a usual topic: the art. While the art is well-placed and solid, it’s…nothing new. Anyone who’s seen the ads, artbooks, novels, comics, inserts, or guides for the franchise will recognize almost every piece of art in this book. The only art I think was not used elsewhere was the short gameplay comics used on a couple of the pages. That said, while the art choice is solid, it’s not very satisfying to see a rehash of every game and book cover and insert art within a licensed RPG.

From a rules perspective, though, this is where I have issues.

Enough issues that I plan on cutting into them for a while…

For starters, there are rules that are missing or flat out not clearly explained. We are given information about a Stealth Track to determine when characters are spotted, but there’s no clear rules or guidance on how to scale or utilize it well. The same is true for the Intrigue Track, Reputation Track, and Progress Track. They are vaguely mentioned once and then left behind.

This has a twofold problem. Not only are these almost identical to but poorly emulated versions of similar mechanics in Blades in the Dark (just swap “track” for “clock” and you’re good), but they are referenced as rules to track pacing of the game, altering scenes, and general progression, but anything useful to help explain the rules is simply non-existent. 

Another not-well-explained rule has to do with Factions. Characters regain “Void Points” (a personal currency) by fulfilling the obligations to their faction, and are also to use the Reputation Track to determine their status within the faction. We are given a handful of the more obvious factions (such as the Bottle Street Gang or the City Watch), but the goals are rather vague and details regarding rising through the ranks are non-existent, which creates more problems as there’s a mechanic for “name dropping” to grant you bonuses to rolls. This further becomes convoluted and problematic as some of these factions including the royal family, the Abbey of the Everyman, and even the Brigmore Witches (organizations that should be near impossible to run). 

The missing rules just keep going. We get Flaws as a way to earn XP, but no explanation for how/when that XP should be awarded (just that “each one will give 5 XP later on”). There’s a talent regarding “Spare Parts,” but no rules for building new devices (and the upgrade mechanics are already pretty vague). Equipment is severely lacking with too much emphasis on weapons and not enough on anything else (which, to be fair, equipment is narrative, but there’s not guidelines to price things out).

For someone with an RPG background as varied as mine, the “upgrades” to this version of 2d20 are painfully obvious. What were attributes/stats before have been replaced by Styles, which include Boldly, Carefully, Cleverly, Forcefully, Quietly, and Swiftly. Where have I heard these before? Mix this with the aforementioned “replace Tracks with Clocks” and you have an officially licensed game that almost feels like it’s ripping from the unofficial “inspired by” game. This version screams the “Fate but with other dice” even moreso than before, which isn’t necessarily bad, just…disheartening.

Finally, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the powers just yet. While we have the range of powers granted by The Outsider in this book, they require a Void Point to use, which seems to cap at three at character creation, players being with 1 at the start of the game, each usage (including Blink) requires using one, and regaining Void Points involves the usage of the incomplete Faction Code rules (others being GM gifts and automatically failing). Gaining more powers (or other supernatural upgrades) requires finding runes to consume over the course of the game (which will be problematic for parties that are all Marked), and many of the other powers are just Talent reskins when compared to other games. Considering how often the powers are used in the other media, and how some Talents are just a matter of training and now special powers, it’s not entirely fitting mechanically just yet (but that may change or have an easy hack as my upcoming campaign progresses).

==The Verdict==

After many rounds of whiskey and cigars, I would give the Dishonored RPG a meager 2 buns. For someone without my background, it’d be about a 3, but I feel that is a stretch.

While I am not flooded with buyer’s remorse at the moment, the book is severely lacking in many regards. Yes, it is an RPG that is ready to play with a wonderful setting, but missing rules, clear rips from other games, and just unoriginal work are major detractors for me.

For a new RPG player wanting to take adventures into the Empire of the Isles, or a fan of the Dishonored franchise that wants to run a game in the setting, the book is absolutely worth picking up. If it’s your first foray into 2d20, or if you weren’t a big fan of the heavy narration in Fate, then this game would be a good stepping point for you.

If you dislike Dishonored, have already hacked Dishonored into your Fate Accelerated or Blades in the Dark game, or get frustrated by vague rules, then you’ll want to give the game a pass.

Dishonored is published by Modiphius and is currently available for order. Print copies will be mailed later this year, with dates still to be determined, but PDFs are available now. The book and PDF can be purchased from their site as a bundle for £34.99 GBP (about $43.77 USD), or as a PDF for £15.00 GBP (or about $18.76 USD) or via DriveThruRPG for $19.99.

Anthony, better known as LibrariaNPC, wears many hats: librarian, gamemaster, playtester, NPC, and our Editor-In-Chief. You can support his work on Patreon, his tip jar, or via Ko-Fi.

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