Cold City is ?Paranormal Espionage? RPG set in the ?front lines? of the brewing cold war, Berlin after world war two. From the introduction;
"In the ruined city of Berlin, a city slowly rising from the ashes of conflict, another war is being
fought. An underground war to turn back a tide of evil unleashed by the Nazis. An evil unseen
by most of the world, horrors brought about by the ceaseless progress of twisted technology
and lunatic schemings of evil minds."
Against this backdrop, player?s take on the roles of agents of the RPA (Reserve Police Agency), a clandestine agency established to combat the eldritch horrors and monstrous experiments left behind by Nazi experiments, both scientific and sorcerorous. Its members are drawn from the major powers of the post war era, America, Britain, Russia, and France, carrying all the propaganda driven preconceptions and prejudices that typified those nations at the end of World War 2, when nationalism was at a fever pitch in reflection of the tremendous war effort made by each of their peoples. So then it is a game pitting characters, with their own agendas and little reason to trust one another, against horrific enemies against which they must unite, or face utter, brutal defeat and destruction; a destruction against which even the most infamous of Nazi atrocities would pale in comparison.
The 125 page PDF (129 with covers & ad pages) is comprised of six chapters, an introduction, Twisted Technology & The Reserve Police Agency, Character Creation, The System, The Cold City: Berlin 1950, and Running Cold City, also included are several appendices, providing a glossary of terms, a timeline of Major Events of the Cold War, Equipment, a listing of Influences and Inspirations, Designer?s Notes, and a character sheet.
CHAPTER ONE & TWO
These chapters provide an introduction to the major themes of the game, and an overview of the supernatural and political elements which form the crux of the games conflicts. It is notable for rule that no character can have the same Nationality as another, and therefore, the characters will have a tacit interpersonal conflict as part of the play of the game. It provides for a multi-layered game, keeping play from evolving into simple monster bashing, or sinking into straight horror. After the monster has been defeated, who gets to pick up the pieces and cover up the evidence is important. Not only are you Mulder and Scully, you are also Krychek, with a Cigarette Smoking Man to answer too.
This chapter covers character creation. Character?s have only 3 broad ?attributes?, Action, Influence and Reason. Besides the basic attributes, character?s have at least 5 Traits, which are skills, talents, and other advantages, or disadvantages. Two of their traits must be ?negative? traits. In addition to the attributes and traits, characters have Hidden Agendas, Both national and a personal. These are goals the character?s are supposed to be advancing while performing their RPA missions. Finally, character?s have Trust ratings for the other characters. These trust ratings can add to the character?s action when they are attempting a task where they rely on that trust, or they can take advantage of it and gain a bonus when they betray other character?s to advance their own agenda. This is determined by a group process. Trust is initially based on national attitudes, modified by the character?s personal history with that character. Thus the trust mechanic provides a major shift in effectiveness to a character?s in-game actions, and thus can drive play.
The System chapter introduces the resolution system. Cold City uses a ?Conflict-resolution? system. Unlike systems such as D&D which focus on task resolution, your performance a specific act, hitting with a sword, conflict resolution resolve the broader outcome of a situation. Not if you hit, but did you defeat your opponent. The system is a simple comparison of D10s versus D10s, with higher numbers providing successes. You gain dice for you pool first from your applicable attribute, then advantages (merely a die), finally you can engage your character?s hidden agenda, doubling his effective attribute, or call upon Trust, adding dice to your pool that way. It is important to note that as part of this process each participant in the conflict set?s ?Stakes.?, their preferred outcome for the situation. The more successes they have, the greater the extent to which their Stakes are met, giving them more scope to narrate the outcome of the conflict, and more consequences from the outcome (lasting and notable effects upon the participants in the conflict.) It should be noted that these mechanics are very much geared to story/narrative driven play. In which how the character is affected by the conflicts and how it affects the unfolding story is stressed, rather the mechanics and details of the conflict, per se. Using conflict resolution mechanics will give you a summary of the fight, not the pages of detailed blow by blow of a task based resolution, for instance.
This chapter provides an overview of the city of Berlin in the Cold City universe. A couple of maps are provided along with an overview of the city and it?s notable locations, as well as details to evoke the tense, grimy, partially ruined nature of the city. Some of the major organizations and notable NPCs are detailed as well. Little story seeds and details are also provided, such as in the description of Spandau prison (No information is given on any ballet performances there however, nor whether the rumors of an 8th Prisoner is ?true?.) Examples of each of the main types of monsters are also provided, the alternatives, such as the Hellhounds, once normal humans and animals twisted into killing machines, The Incursors, otherworldly beings such as the Music Maker, brought into this world from others by Nazi sorcery and science, and the Spezialeinsatztruppen or ST?s, fallen soldiers, reanimated and sent to fight again by desperate Nazi scientists.
This chapter discusses running Cold City. It discusses how to engage the deeper levels of the game as both the character?s and players become familiar with the deeper truths of the setting, and their relationships with the other characters. It also focuses on having the character?s react to the shifting moral landscape of vying powers, shades of gray in a twisted and blackened landscape, with hideous things hiding in the shadows. The sample adventure, Prisoner #8, provides an excellent introduction to the style and thrust of the play of the game. Also included are a couple of adventure seeds.
The book is rounded out by the appendices, providing a glossary of terms, mostly setting specific, a section of weapons and equipment, with only sketchy details, as befits the system. From the details in he Influences and Inspirations section, and the Designer?s Notes, one can glean the particular slant and style to which Cold City is suited. It mentions several Indie RPGs, Forge-Style is more accurate. Matt Snyder?s Dust Devils, Tim Kleinert?s The Mountain Witch, some of Gregor Hutton?s game documents, are mentioned, and Sorceror mechanics are mentioned as a direct influence. (Cold Cities dice pool system is largely the Sorceror mechanic with D10s.) Some more familiar and useful references to specific movies are provided. Nightwatch and Hellboy are standouts, a listing of interesting sites with information on the cold war are provided, providing plenty of historical detail to mine for story fodder.
LAYOUT & PRESENTATION
Cold City sports some very nice graphical design. Each chapter is headed by a gorgeous grayscale art piece of some of the various monsters the characters can encounter. Each page is bordered by vertical graphics with the page number and chapter title on it. Each page has a light background graphic eliciting the grim, horrific mood. A variety of distressed fonts are used for headings, and it features an easy to read body font with plenty of white space. Overall it is a gorgeous design. However, as a PDF, it sucks. Specifically, it is likely to suck up all your ink, especially the chapter graphics and page information graphics. So you will either want to get it printed at your local print shop, or only print out the character sheet and some important rules bits.
Cold City provides an atmospheric, tense multi-layered experience to its player?s. As they deal with the horrors they must face and the equally sinister job of negotiating their loyalties and morals among the gray area of black ops. It does present a ?non-traditional? play paradigm, with its focus on story and ?sketchy? conflict resolution, at the expense of character building and detailed action and adventure as with D20 games. However, its setting is fresh and engaging and makes it a worthwhile purchase on its own. Thus if either the concept or the setting appeals to you, I recommend it, if only because it makes a good Nightwatch RPG.
LIKED: Emphasis on intraparty conflicts and betrayal. Fresh and engaging setting.
DISLIKED: PDF is direct port of print version, and thus nigh unprintable. System is bit light.?
[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]