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Dead Inside: The Roleplaying Game of Loss and Redemption

by Chad Underkoffler

(Atomic Sock Monkey Press, 2004.)

Review by Elizabeth Barrette

I don't often review roleplaying games, and this is the guidebook for one. Basically I have two criteria here: 1) It has to offer a truly unique setting or other premise. 2) It has to be riveting as fiction as well as a set of rules. Dead Inside clears both of these like a foxhunter sailing over a low hedge.

The first thing that grabbed my attention about this book is its name, which also happens to be its core premise. It speaks to an experience disturbingly common in today's society, albeit -- one hopes! -- less intense than the artistically vivid game portrayal. Some people feel a kind of emptiness and disconnection from the world which goes beyond ordinary depression. The characters who become "dead inside" have no soul, either because they were born without one or lost it somehow. The point of the game is to reclaim their lost soul, or even grow a new one.

Here's where it gets really cool. Repairing the damage requires a whole different strategy than that of most games. As the author explains, he took the usual "Kill things and take their stuff" and reversed to make a game based on "Heal things and give them your stuff." Sound silly? Think of what the world religions recommend for personal growth. Trying to cooperate with others and do good things actually gives a character more power, moving them closer to their goal. Selfish, destructive behavior can cost them "soul points." This is beautifully demonstrated in the vignettes which show examples of how the game works, telling the story of a young man who accidentally sold his soul for great sex.

The game also offers great flexibility. In addition to the Real World, characters also have the option of traveling into the Spirit World, where magic is much easier and more common. Here you'll find other Dead Inside plus helpful Sensitives, wispy Ghosts, powerful Magi, mysterious Imagos, and the ever-hungry Qlippoth. Although the basic structure is aimed at playing Dead Inside characters, there are suggestions for playing a game based on Sensitives (who used to be Dead Inside but recovered) or Magi (even more advanced in personal growth). No need to give up your favorite characters just because they achieve their original goal; you can simply bump the game to a new level. Furthermore, the core rules leave open certain questions about the nature of reality. The game does not subscribe to any one religion, but draws inspiration from several, so it's easy to adapt if you wish to play it according to a specific cosmology.

For gamers with a metaphysical bent, or for those tired of murderous games, Dead Inside is a gem. People who complain that gaming promotes violence would have a hard time making that argument stick here! If you like rule-playing, forget it, this is not the game for you; go find some miniatures and a pad of hex paper. (The rules do make perfect sense; they just aren't elaborate or the heart of the game.) But if you're more interested in the roles than in the rules, you've just hit the jackpot. This is the most character-oriented, intent-over-action game I've ever seen. Run out and spend your lunch money on this one.

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