In front of the sillhouette of a modern city, we see the Marquis and Cara battlling against a Harbinger. The Marquis readies an attack with her golden arm while Cara reads from an arcane tome that writhes with shadowy tendrils. The Harbinger floats before an open Door, radiating circles of power emanating from them.

Long-time readers of my reviews (and bless all of you) may have picked up that I love modern urban fantasy and monster-hunting stories and games. When I first saw Apocalypse Keys, I knew I would pick it up at some point. Initially, I understood that it was like the Hellboy/BPRD comics, where you see supernatural creatures investigating the supernatural. The twist is that you aren’t just playing monsters investigating monsters, but also that you all have Hellboy’s potential to become a harbinger of the end of the world.


I purchased my copy of this game and did not receive a review copy. I have not had the opportunity to play or run the game, but I am familiar with several of the games listed as inspirational in design.

 Apocalypse Keys

Creator Rae Nedjadi
Evil Hat Productions
System Consultants
Avery Alder, Josh Hittie
Contributing Authors Josh Hittie, Darold Ross
Developmental Editor
Sean Nittner
Art Director
Trivia Fox
Jenn Martin
Gabriella Rincon
Sadie Neat
Cover Artists
Adrien(Ne) Valdes, Jn Butler
Interior Artists
Adrian Stone, Annemarie Rogers, Avery Andruszkiewicz, Beth Varni, Brittany Rolstad, Carly A.F., Chelsea Geter, Eddie Dippe, Eden Parkinson, Elemei, Ema Acosta, Kanesha Bryant, Lorne Colt, Madie Palmieri, Marty Tina G., Nala J. Wu, Naomi D Castro, Noo, Raven Warner, Ryan Kingdom, Sarah Joelle Holstein, Sophie Morse, Trivia Fox, Zakiya Goggins
Sensitivity Reader
Rue Dickey
Layout & Graphic Designer
Fred Hicks
Campaign Graphic Designers
Cris Viana, Leandro Johannes De Fiori
VTT Developer
Sophie Lagacé
Tom Lommel, Libby Young
Project Manager
Sean Nittner
Business Manager
Chris Hanrahan
Alex Roscura Guerrero, Alexi Sargeant, Leah Sargeant, Darold Ross, Stentor Danielson, Darren Brockes, Leandro Pondoc, Joel Notsch, Sherri Stewart, Lowell Francis, And Patrick Knowles

Format and Layout

This review is based on the PDF version of Apocalypse Keys. While referencing the PDF, when purchasing this electronically, the files include a Kindle and an ePub version of the rulebook, and the playbooks and mysteries in the PDF also appear as separate reference PDFs.The PDF itself is 386 pages, including a title page, a credits page, a table of contents, a reference page showing where all of the moves appear in the book, four pages of inspirational media, a thanks page, a four-page artist’s index, and a general index, which includes definitions for some terms.

The color schemes heavily favor purple, maroon, and red colors. While much of the book maintains this color palette, some pages feature characters with more color, often mundane characters. All the pages are bordered in purple tentacles and keys, and the pages are all in a single-page layout. Examples are called out in maroon lettering, and there are clear headers, bullet points, and highlighted text to call out specific topics in the text.

On the Inside

The book is organized into the following sections:

  • Welcome to the Apocalypse
  • What is Apocalypse Keys?
  • Safety First
  • The Core Rules
  • The Basic Moves
  • DIVISION Moves
  • Ruin
  • Making Characters
  • The Playbooks
  • End of Session
  • The Keeper of the Doors
  • The Mystery
  • Pre-assembled Apocalypse
  • Craft Your Own Apocalypse
  • Apocalypse, Abbreviated
  • Inspirational Media
  • Artist Index
  • Index

A fey creature with a face tattooed with flowers leans into the Hungry, a vampiric creature covered in open mouths.The Setting

The setting is a world where the supernatural exists—powerful supernatural forces, that can potentially end or remake the world. DIVISION is an organization that employs both human operatives and monsters to keep the most dangerous aspects of the supernatural at bay. There are less powerful creatures in the world, but the player characters are Omen Level Monsters, monsters that are possessed of immense power that is still barely contained, so that they haven’t fully become Harbingers, monsters that are actively causing the world to break by reaching out for the Doors of Power.

Players can choose moves from their playbook moves, their ruin moves, and DIVISION moves, and I’m mentioning that here because what DIVISION moves the characters choose can modify some of the truths of the setting. For example, taking different moves can establish that DIVISION has orphanages where they raise young monsters as potential agents, DIVISION may have formal Fae contacts, or monsters may be known to the public.

The rules work hard to tie the PCs to the setting, so anything that is introduced as part of the setting also allows one of the players to tie their character to that element and add context to it. The PCs are likely to have been present at major events, to know the important NPCs, and to have almost caused an Apocalypse or two themselves.


The book spends several pages discussing safety, which makes sense given that you are playing heavily conflicted monsters that all have themes that can be especially triggering, depending on how their story unfolds. While the book references existing safety tools, I appreciate that it also outlines a Red/Green/Yellow system that is self-contained in the book. While I think it’s great to look at other safety tools, I also think more RPGs should at least have the basics of using some kind of safety tool included in the book itself.

In addition to the pages that specifically talk about calibration and active safety tools, the individual playbooks and the moves contained in those playbooks are very detailed in explaining the themes of the playbook and where players may need to be careful when exemplifying those themes.

Who Are You?

The game includes the following playbooks:

  • The Summoned (someone summoned to Earth to start the Apocalypse from a Hellscape, think Hellboy)
  • The Surge (someone with vast power that can easily go awry, think Liz Sherman or Franklin Richards)
  • The Found (someone with powerful empathic abilities and no clear memories of their past, like Abe Sapien)
  • The Shade (someone that has died but not passed on, with the ability to gather information due to their connection to Death, think Johann Kraus or Deadman)
  • The Last (someone that survived the traumatic destruction of their species, think Martian Manhunter or maybe a version of Superman told to kill people by the ship that brought him to Earth)
  • The Fallen (a celestial being whose power and prestige have been cut off, think Netflix Lucifer or Kid Loki)
  • The Hungry (a monster defined and driven by their desire to consume, think vampires or ghouls turned up to 11)

Given the degree to which Hellboy/BPRD was an influence on this game, I’m not surprised at most of these archetypes. I am delighted by some of the twists and turns to customize them with the various moves, and as a long-time Martian Manhunter fan, I latched onto The Last almost immediately.

While all of the playbooks can get into some heavy territory, I wanted to specifically talk about two of the playbooks, because I think they will require everyone to understand the themes and story elements involved. The Surge can eventually share their power, and part of the story that may develop is that the character attached to the Surge (an NPC) will eventually become corrupted by this power and become a threat. The Hungry is, more than just about any playbook, driven to corrupt and damage those they interact with. These can both bring up a lot of feelings of betrayal and aspects of toxic relationships. I don’t think there is anything wrong with carefully exploring these elements in play, but if your group doesn’t want to touch on these themes, you are potentially limited to five of the seven playbooks.

a ghostly figure is consulting with a man in a lab coat as they look at a crystal in front of them.Mechanics

Apocalypse Keys feels very much like a hybridization of Brindlewood Bay’s mystery structure, Masks’ approach to conditions and narrative powers, and a whole lot of “BPRD, but everybody has Hellboy’s potential to end the world.”

The spine of Apocalypse Keys is composed of the structures we have seen in Apocalypse World-derived games over the years. In this case, the core resolution mechanic is to roll 2d6, add a number, and compare it to the following resolution results:

  • 7- Fall Short (fail to accomplish a goal, accomplish it with great adversity, or run into a massive complication)
  • 8-10 Success (accomplish what you set out to do)
  • 11+ Disastrous Success (you accomplish your goal, but your powers go wild or you overextend yourself)

This reframing of the standard resolution levels helps to reinforce the idea that sometimes pointing creatures that can end the world to investigate a haunted house is like pointing a bazooka at a mosquito.

Unlike other Apocalypse World-styled games, the player characters don’t have statistics that are applied to different moves. Characters generate Darkness Tokens by acting according to various traits inherent to their playbook and the choices they have made. Then the characters spend those Darkness Tokens when they roll, once they trigger a move.

In addition to Darkness Tokens, characters also gain bonds with other characters, as well as a special bond with their temptation to give in to their darker nation. Bonds can be spent to increase or decrease a roll, meaning that when you recall your bonds to one another, for example, you might find the strength to rein in your power, as you bump an 11 down to a 10, for example.

Characters don’t measure health or hit points, but instead mark conditions or ruin. More important adversaries also have a number of conditions, which means that some characters can be defeated by manipulating their emotional state as much as by rearranging their facial features. Player characters that mark the last of their conditions hit a breaking point which is related to the playbook. Player characters that fill up their Ruin track receive a new Ruin move, but you have a set number of Ruin moves you can take before your Omen class monster becomes a Harbinger and starts to bring about their own personal Apocalypse.

Because Bonds and Darkness Tokens are so important for resolving rolls, it’s very important to let scenes breathe. You have various triggers that give you Darkness Tokens, some of which are general personality traits, and some of which are influenced by your character’s mindset when you do what you are doing. If you have seen Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, let’s just say that you really want to make sure you have room for those scenes like Hellboy and Abe getting drunk and listening to Barry Manilow.

To resolve mysteries, the PCs find Keys (clues, which may or may not be mundane items or arcane oddities), and with enough Keys, the PCs can attempt to roll to Unlock Doom’s Door. The more Keys you have, the more likely you are to succeed. If you fail your roll, your theory on what source of power the Harbinger is looking for was wrong, and you mark Ruin, with the other possibilities being arriving at the Door to power before or just after the Harbinger. Each mystery has its own Doomsday Clock – if you don’t find Doom’s Door before the Harbinger accomplishes most of their goals, some major catastrophic events are going on even if you do manage to stop the Harbinger.

Mysteries, Big and Small

Mysteries have a complexity level, which is equal to the number of ticks the Doomsday Clock has related to that mystery. Complexities usually range from 4 to 12, with the assumption being that lower complexity mysteries will take about 2 or 3 sessions to resolve, and the most complex mysteries will take around 6 to 10 sessions to resolve. The following mysteries are included in the book:

  • The Parasitic Library (Complexity 4)
  • The Manananggal Murders (Complexity 6)
  • Weep Your Hands Clean (Complexity 6)
  • The Missing Link (Complexity 8)
  • The Oldest House (Complexity 8)

In addition, there is a mystery designed for a single session:

  • The First Door (Complexity 2)

A cloaked figure in a broad brimmed hat turns their arm into a golden cannon, as a shadowy pack of wolf spirits gather behind them. In addition to the outlines for the mysteries, there are also a number of example Harbingers, as well as a number of factions that can come into play. Because the mysteries are meant to unfold as the PCs conceive and test theories, Harbingers are not specifically assigned to any mystery, and could be any one of the sample Harbingers, or none of them. Some of the factions introduced are worked into some of the sample mysteries, including my favorites, the Church of the Broken Crucifix (which appears to be an order of Catholic Nuns, but is an order devoted to protecting monsters from humans that would harm and subjugate them) and The Wizards of Time (insectile wizards trying to collapse reality into a single reality that favors them, that totally plays into my love of Spellweavers from D&D).

While the sample mysteries show the Keeper what they are expected to have ready for a session of play, there is also a section that explicitly calls out the elements of a mystery. These include the Complexity, Establishing Questions, a Contact, some People of Interest, Locations of Interest, a list of Keys of the Apocalypse for the PCs to find, Facets of the Mystery (story elements that aren’t directly connected to anything in the plot that exists as an anchor for the Keys when the PCs are creating their theories), the Doomsday Clock, and Content Warnings for the mystery.

The elements are open-ended. A faction could be working for or against the PCs. The PCs may come up with their theory for who the Harbinger is, which might supersede any ideas the Keeper has. Keys and the Facets they connect to are very loose. Each mystery always has a Door and the Harbinger as Facets, with other Facets being elements loosely related to the outline of what has happened so far in the mystery. For example, if one of the Facets of the mystery is a murder spree, and the PCs find a Key that’s an address book, the PCs can connect the Key to the Harbinger as their potential location, to the Door as a potential place of power, or to a list of people that have been targeted for murder.

One of the potentially tricky implementations of the game is that some player characters might transition from becoming an Omen to a Harbinger, or some NPC associated with the PC may become corrupted into a Harbinger, and at that point, the current mystery is on hold, and the suggested course of action is that the player whose character became the Harbinger transitions to being the Keeper until their mini-apocalypse plays out. I can imagine there are going to be some players that are less likely to be comfortable with this shift in responsibilities.

In addition to the outline for creating mysteries, there are also guidelines for creating the Final Mystery, a mystery that either wraps up the campaign, or serves as the “season finale” to a group of mysteries. There are a lot of optional rules that can be used in this style of mystery, including some custom moves. This section specifically mentions that some of these moves should be cleared with the players, as they create a very specific play experience (for example, making some elements of the game much more immediately dire). I love all of these, and the level of customization you can add to a Final Mystery, but I do wish there was a little bit more about what’s best for a “Season” versus a “Series” finale, and maybe some advice on how to roll back some of the big rules modifications in the aftermath, if the group continues playing.

Unlocking Doom’s Door
 In an RPG field that has a lot of monster hunting modern urban fantasy, the unique elements of this game still allow it to have its place and personality among those other properties. 

As someone that loves many of the games that serve as an inspiration to this one, and as someone that loves much of the media that serves as an inspiration to this game, I appreciate the synthesis of these elements that this game represents. In an RPG field that has a lot of monster hunting modern urban fantasy, the unique elements of this game still allow it to have its place and personality among those other properties. You never need to wonder why an element of the game is included, because there is ample discussion of the mechanics and what they are meant to introduce. The design, being currency based, reinforces the gameplay that is introduced, because you need to engage in the currency mechanics to accomplish what you want to do even in action scenes.

Breaking Point

The game does what it is designed to do, but that may not work as well for some players that are looking to engage with the source material on a more superficial level. You must be ready to examine what motivates a character and elaborate on it to make the currency flow. Along those same lines, playbooks like the Surge and the Hungry provide some great rules for exploring those characters, but those character types may be difficult for some players to engage with.

Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.

My recommendation is only qualified because the genre is broad enough that it can allow for an exploration of emotions and alienation, as well as unraveling supernatural disasters, but this game isn’t going to sing unless everyone comes to the table willing to explore who they are, openly, and engage with who the other characters are as well. Unlike some games with similar themes, you won’t have a night where people may just fall into tearing monsters apart with their awesome powers, because that’s not where the heart of the game lies.

If you want to know who your monster is, and you want to explore what it means to fight against perceptions others set on you, or if you want to think about trying to change the trajectory of your life after a major change, this is your game. If you want to see what it looks like to merge randomness with the ebb and flow of a currency mechanism, this is a great example of what that can look like.

What are your favorite monster-hunting properties, and what games have been to emulate those experiences? Were there core themes in addition to the monster hunting that the game supported well? We want to hear from you in the comments below!