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User:Robotech Master/Capsule Review: Changed: The Unveiling

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(Posted to RPG.net's Reviews section on August 16th, 2005)

Changed: The Unveiling Capsule Review

Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
An interesting new take on the urban-fantasy 'furry' genre. Interesting concept, very detailed sourcebook, but the 'conspiracy-theory' style is just a little too twee for my tastes.


Introduction

Changed: The Unveiling is the latest game from Plaid Wolf, a $24.95, 256-page book that is a complete game in and of itself. It is based on FUDGE (Free-form, Universal, Do-It-Yourself Game Engine), a simple-yet-powerful system which is the most popular of the free GURPS knock-off rule sets.

For those who don't know how FUDGE works, your character is assigned "traits" which represent his physical attributes, skills, and/or super-powers. Each trait is assigned a rating, on a sliding scale. When you run across a challenge in the game—such as using a skill—that challenge has a rating, too. To see if you meet it, you roll a set of dice that can jump you up or down the scale by up to four steps, and you see if adding or subtracting the jump beats the challenge rating. (It's really simpler than I'm making it sound; it's just hard to describe simply.)

Premise

The premise of the game is interestingly original. Some kind of sickness, or magic spell, or what-have-you is on a yearly cycle, secretly changing (or "Changing") a set number of ordinary human beings into anthropomorphic "furries" every year on August 17th. (This review is pretty timely, no?) These furries still look perfectly normal after they're Changed (except to other Changed-furries) but their feet leave animal tracks and their claws or horns can still hurt people, so they have to be careful what they do.

To make matters "worse," some of these beknighted souls find they've Changed gender, too—a once-male human might turn into a female anthro-bear, say—but everyone around them still sees them as the male human they used to be. Sometimes the change happens once a year, every year, with the Changed changing again the next August 17th into some other animal (or gender). Talk about awkward!

The Change started in 1987 with just one person, then doubled every year like the famous story about grains of wheat on a chessboard. According to the chart on page 7, this means there would currently be 131,584 secret furries in the world, and tomorrow we'd add 131,584 more—and by 2020, everyone in the world will be furry. (Invest in hairbrush companies, folks.)

Rules

The rules of the game are about what you'd expect from a FUDGE-based game. FUDGE itself is more of a toolkit than a game, so FUDGE-based rules consist of "collapsing the waveform" by picking what traits are to be used in-game and deciding how skills and powers are laid out. There are charts to roll on to decide what kind of animal "you" become (the rules encourage basing your character on yourself, using it as a kind of wish-fulfillment thing, but you don't have to), and so on. There are no "superpowers" beyond animals' natural abilities—cats have claws and can see in the dark, and so on.

There's nothing really remarkable about the rules beyond that, so let's move on to the sourcebook section.

Sourcebook

The game book itself starts out with a rather ominous disclaimer, about how role-playing games are, obviously, pure fantasy, meant to be played by well-adjusted people only, and if anything in the game ever actually seems to be happening to you, you should seek help.

The reason for this redoubtable remonstrance becomes clear in the sourcebook section, which starts:

Don't believe the disclaimer. This is not a game. This is real. Sure, we included rules and tables and stuff—but that was only for camouflage, to get this into print. (Shh! Don't tell our publisher.) The Change is real, and this book is your guide to surviving it. Keep it close by every August, because if you don't end up needing it soon, odds are someone you know will within the next five years or so. You may not believe us now—but hopefully you'll remember this next time someone gets the flu exactly on August 15th…

(It's a little disturbing to note that I've been sick as a dog these last couple of days myself, but these coincidences happen.)

It continues in this vein for several paragraphs, explaining how you shouldn't panic when the Change hits you, how best to adapt to it, and what signs to look for in other people to suggest they might have been Changed (and hence, need the guidance of the gamebook) even if they don't look any different. (Tendency not to want to leave their room/house, or to dress up in concealing clothing, etc.)

Then the rest of the sourcebook section talks about longer-term survival strategies—how to dress for a tail, how to cope with shedding so nobody sees the fur you leave behind, things like that. There's a whole section for gender-change victims, too—with mantras they should repeat to help them stay focused on who they are, and fashion tips on dressing unisex so they can feel comfortable no matter what they look like to everyone else.

Basically, the whole sourcebook is written in that same, coy, "let's pretend this is real, because it really is real so we're only pretending to pretend" style. You see that a lot in conspiracy-theory games these days. It was cute when New Wave games like De Profundis did it, but now that it's making its way into the mainstream (if you can call indie-publisher games "mainstream," anyway) it seems just a little too twee to me.

On the other hand, it does help the players get better into the mindset of the game—especially since you're encouraged to base your character on yourself and pretend it's happening to you—and I have to give it kudos for that. It goes into such incredible detail (there's even a section on where to find tips for drywall repair, for crying out loud!) that you could almost believe that it's being written from experience. Still, I can't help but think maybe it could stand to be cut down a little, in the name of a thinner, cheaper book.

Conclusion

All things considered, it's an interesting premise for a game, and if I don't entirely like the voice in which the sourcebook section is written then that's just a matter of taste. Maybe if I get over this damned flu in a day or so, I'll get some buddies together and see how the game actually plays.

Incidentally, Plaid Wolf is doing something interesting with this game. The book itself is $25—and worth it just for the level of detail in the sourcebook—but on the Plaid Wolf website they're giving the PDF version away free, through the month of August only, as a "Change month special."

This is a gutsy move on PW's part, given how tiny the indie RPG market is—someone who downloads it free might not even bother to buy the print version. On the other hand, Baen has shown that people who download free stuff tend to want to go buy the print version too—either because it's easier to read, or to thank them for the freebie. So we'll see how that goes.


Author's Notes

"Plaid Wolf" is a portmanteau of "White Wolf" and the indie-game company "Plaid Rabbit", representatives of whom I used to hang out with on-line at the Eyrie Mafia chatserver.

Yes, I did write the RPG.net review of De Profundis that I link to from the above.

If anyone actually wants to knock together the FUDGE-based rules for the game (sourcebook optional), I'd be happy to work with them on it. :) —Robotech Master 15:35, 9 June 2009 (UTC)