I’m going to start describing a game. It’s a game set in the modern-day about hunting monsters. It’s based on Fate and adds some widgets to the Fate toolbox. I was not going to be able to stay away from this game for too long.
In this review, I’m going to look at #iHunt: The RPG, from Machine Age Productions, a game about monster hunting that not only adds new mechanical twists to the monster hunting formula, but also adds in social commentary and the struggle to survive by dangerous jobs to make ends meet.
#iHunt is based on a series of books that share the same setting, a fictional California city named San Jenaro. While some of the stories involve other aspects of urban fantasy, such as the city’s vampire society, many of the novels feature a protagonist who gets her monster-hunting jobs from an app called #iHunt.
The text is about characters that must engage with the gig economy to survive, and characters that fight monsters for a living. That means the game discusses the hardships of prejudice, social inequality, financial insecurity, and physical violence. It also does this with a lot of what some might call adult language.
Additionally, several of the details given about various example monsters touch on themes like sexual abuse, harm to children, human trafficking, police violence, and other very serious issues. There are also several references to drug use.
This review is based on the #iHunt: The RPG PDF, which is 328 pages. There are five pages of reference sheets, a full-page ad for the books, a character sheet, a title page, a legal page with content warnings, and a table of contents. The layout is two-column, and in a few places, the column structure is set up to address a topic on one side, and expand on it in the other, although the formatting is conditional and is utilized differently in various chapters.
The book utilizes lots of color, and rather than stick to an established pallet, the colors will change based on the topics being covered. The section of the book that represents an excerpt from a magazine is formatted to look like a magazine, for example. In the chapter on monsters, each monster type gets its own color scheme and font.
This is not an Evil Hat product, but given that it uses the Fate Core rules, I can’t help but think, compared to the very uniform, clean appearance of the Evil Hat Fate line, #iHunt: The RPG is like the mirror universe version of that formatting. It is still clear and effective, but also riotous, energetic, and chaotic.
The opening chapter of the product addresses both the setting assumed by the game, as well as stating the thesis of the game. On its face, the game is about monster hunters that get their jobs by looking them up on an app called #iHunt, where people post bounties on supernatural creatures. More specifically, the game is about the lives of Millennials that can’t make ends meet working normal jobs, and the difficulty of day to day survival drives them to the desperate work of hunting monsters.
This opening chapter does a lot more than most introductory chapters, as it gives an overview of the Fate rules, and introduces the Edge die (a unique mechanic to this implementation of Fate). In addition to the mechanical introductions, there is also an example magazine article that serves as an in-universe artifact of investigative reporting into the lives of hunters, and included in that article is a spread that shows what the fictional #iHunt app looks like.
This section also discusses safety, and introduces two tools to that end. The first is the Commercial Break, something that can be framed like a commercial break in a television show, that anyone can call. Players can address how scenes have unfolded during the break, and if anything needs to be removed or edited, the “show” rewinds to the point needed to implement the change.
There is also a Levels Worksheet, that includes several topics that are commonly associated with the game, and the level that the player is comfortable engaging with that topic. These allow the game to be calibrated to either exclude, keep off-screen, or limit certain events to supporting characters, depending on the preferences of the individual players. This expressly takes precedence over anything else in the text, so if players aren’t comfortable with something that is a default power of a monster, that power does not come up in play.
There is a section about only playing with people you trust, which also seems to downplay the efficacy of active safety tools at the table (in other words, safety tools used in the moment, rather than used to calibrate content beforehand, outside of the Commercial Break). I like the discussion of safety, and I like the tools introduced. I think the Levels Worksheet is even better than similar, broader items that aren’t tailored for a specific genre. I’m just not going to warm up to the idea that active safety tools may be superfluous, beyond what the game introduces (full disclosure, the text questions them, it doesn’t tell you not to use them).
#ThePeople, #MyScenario, #PeopleSkills, #Selfies
I’m looking at the next four chapters together, as they look at assigning aspects, skills, and advancement of characters. This section opens up reiterating the economic situation of the default hunters, and it also gives a history of hunting in the setting, narrowing towards San Jenaro as history advances towards the modern-day.
The game organizes hunters into Kinks, which is shorthand for what skills that particular type of hunter primarily utilizes. The kinks include the following:
- Evileenas (Hunters that specialize in occult knowledge)
- Knights (Hunters that specialize in physical combat)
- Phooeys (Hunters that specialize in technology and tools)
- The 66 (Hunters that have contacts and community ties)
The individual entries give examples of what each type of hunter is best at, what their background likely looked like, what their flaws are likely to be, and what their attitudes are towards monsters and other hunters. There are also four kink specific stunts given for each type of hunter, and when a hunter picks one of these as their focus, they get one of these stunts for free.
I appreciate character creation in this game. While it appears to be similar to other Fate games, players are encouraged not to fill in all of their details before having their “pilot episode.” In the pilot episode, the group describes their first meeting with one another, and whenever something in the narrative might indicate a ranking for a skill or other detail, the character fills in that part of the character sheet. There is no dice rolling in the pilot episode, just collaborative storytelling.
For anyone familiar with Fate Core, the High Concept aspect will likely be familiar. This is the aspect that summarizes your character in the broadest sense. In addition to the High Concept, characters have two aspects that are left open, to be filled in during play, and the following other aspects:
- Drama (Essentially similar to trouble aspects from other games)
- Vision Board (Something that the character wants to achieve, eventually)
- Day Job (An aspect based on what the character does for money when they aren’t hunting)
The next chapter goes heavily into aspects, the traits that you assign to describe your character, which is the heart of Fate gameplay. Aspects are succinct descriptions of different facets of your character, which you can spend Fate points to invoke to gain bonuses on rolls, or to reroll dice. They also can be compelled to create trouble for a character, which allows the character to gain more Fate points.
#iHunt: The RPG also introduces the concept of Imperiling Aspects, a way to invoke an aspect that only allows for a choice between two bad options. There are a limited number of times that the Director and the players can use this rule.
The core skill list has 18 skills, and there is a nice chart that shows if that skill can be used to Overcome, Create Advantage, Attack, or Defend. Like other Fate games, there are also stunts associated with individual skills, which allow for situational bonuses, skill substitutions, or limited special abilities. The descriptions of the skills are canted towards describing how the skill would be gained by a hunter, and flavored by modern terminology. For example, Influencer is a social interaction skill, and Maker is a crafting skill.
Selfies are the term used for milestones in #iHunt: The RPG. These are called Big Moods (Episode), Big F’ing Deals (Story Arc), and Life-Changing Events (Season Arc). There is a whole section advising on how to create physical artifacts to track your advancement in a tangible form, and in addition to the normal advancements at different levels (changing skills and aspects, adding refresh, or adding points to skills), there are rules for using specific selfies as “reminders” in the session to provide a bonus when they are invoked.
#TheHustle, #TheEdge, #TheFlow
The next three chapters describe the Fate rules, the modifications that #iHunt: The RPG makes to the Fate rules, and how to pace scenes and stories in a Fate game. This section describes Challenges (multi-step applications of skills to achieve a goal), Contests (two sides trying to complete a task before one another), and Exchanges (directly acting against other parties). This also talks about the unique Edge die, a d6 that replaces one of the Fate dice in certain circumstances in the game.
If you haven’t experience Fate before, the actions a character can take are Overcome, Create an Advantage, Attack, and Defend. Overcome, Attack, and Defend are somewhat self-evident, but Create an Advantage is what a character does to give themselves aspects that reflect their planning and effort, and can be used to give the character a bonus when they use the aspect they created.
The Edge is a special rule where one of the Fate dice is replaced with a d6. Fate dice normally have a +, -, or blank face, and generate results from -4 to +4, skewed towards “0.” Adding a d6 changes this probability greatly, and by default, monsters start with the Edge on hunters, but actions that characters take to show their efforts to set the monster up for a fall may swing the Edge back to them. The Edge can be used once for free when it is first gained in an exchange, but after that, it costs a Fate point to utilize.
I’ve read a lot of implementations of Fate at this point, and I like the clarity in presentation here. I’m also really curious to see how the Edge dice plays out at the table. It feels like a wilder way to account for concepts like scale in other games, more dynamically.
The next section gives examples of how to structure a job, and provides random job generators for the game. In addition to these generators, there are example monsters, rules for building monsters, and tracking their ability to use special powers, as well as what kind of weakness they might have.
The random generators include the following parts of the job, along with a paragraph summarizing each of the entries:
- The Client
- The Mark
- The Trouble
- The Place
- The Charge
- The Scope
- The Hangup
- The Other Hangup
- The Aftermath
The Aftermath involves lasting consequences of the job, including not getting paid or drawing unexpected ire.
Monsters are ranked by stars, which in-universe indicates how hard the job is, and in-game tell you what resources you have to build the monster with the tools in the book. Four and five-star monsters are expected to be major story elements, and only hunters with a high rating have access to five-star jobs.
The most common types of monsters are organized into clades, and the clades in the default setting of San Jenaro are vampires, sorcerers, werewolves, reptoids, demons, and hungry dead. After introducing each of these in broad terms, including any separate factions that exist within the groups, several individuals are included as examples.
There aren’t any “generic” vampires or demons, etc. in this section, because one of the precepts of the game is to make each of the monsters unique. While some monster types tend to have certain bundles of abilities and weaknesses, individuals may have their own quirks, and some monsters are more monstrous than others.
I wanted to specifically address the reptoids as monsters, because I respect what was done with them, and am still leery to use them. Reptoids play off the idea of reptilian aliens coming to Earth and masquerading as humans. The book specifically addresses the anti-Semitic connotations of calling someone a lizard person while insinuating that they are secret manipulators.
The game mitigates this by reframing reptoids as middle-management nuisances that have just enough power to harm others, but are never the big power players in the world. I appreciate this take, and I really like a lot of the jabs at the expense of framing them as middle-managers that have delusions of grandeur, but it still feels like it could come across as touching on the anti-Semitic tropes the book expressly tells players to avoid.
When talking about the hungry dead, the text avoids using common terminology due to the appropriated nature of that terminology, and instead ranks these undead as either Romeros, Science Experiments, or High Functioning Dead. Like all of the other monsters, there is a list of Facts and Myths at the end of their entry, but unlike the other monsters, there aren’t unique hungry dead, but unique occurrences that might be found at different jobs.
Creature abilities are grouped as Creature Features (passive abilities), Monster Gifts (active abilities), Magical Gifts (abilities that can also be taken by hunters that learn magic), and Monster Banes (weaknesses that can allow the monster to pick up more features while remaining at their current “star” rating). The Features and Gifts have an essence rating for their use, while the Banes have a Ubiquity, Potency, and Special entry, which lays out how hard it is to leverage the weakness, what it does to the monster, and any special circumstances of that weakness.
Essence measures how much supernatural potential something has, and it has five levels, usually defaulting to the third degree, giving the monster the ability to trigger an ability multiple times before they need to replenish their essence. Some monster abilities give them faster means of replenishing essence in a scene. Several monster abilities are noted for being able to remove agency from a character, and if the player does not grant consent, the ability won’t work on a player character. Some abilities work automatically against supporting characters.
While I don’t always want to fine-tune the opposition that I create in Fate (I have used a lot of statistical shortcuts in my fate games for opponents), I enjoy how robust this toolkit is for building supernatural creatures.
The next two chapters deal with creating individual locations in the setting, and getting into the mindset of the expected characters in the setting. There are example images of area notes as well as a broader setting map example. The #ThinkPoor chapter is a deep dive into some sobering realities of life and how this frames the expectations of the game and what it is trying to express.
Location notes include defining the location, creating aspects, and writing notes about the location, including what may have developed in play. The setting zone map is composed of the relative position of all of these individual locations, although new locations that are visited can always slide in between existing locations.
While the text is always explicit about the protagonists and their fight to survive, not against monsters, but against an economy that doesn’t care about them, #ThinkPoor hits really hard, and even though I’m just on the Generation X border, a lot of these struggling realities remind me of some bad times I’ve lived through.
The chapter explores the kind of life hacks that people sometimes need to use just to exist from day to day, to pick up a meal, have decent clothes to wear, or get some extra cash. It addresses the issues of trying to break the cycle of poverty when you constantly need to pay upkeep on a poor lifestyle, and the difficulties of health care when scheduling tricks keep you on the “part-time” side of the employment line.
There is a deep dive into the trouble with accessing social safety nets, the burden of taxes on the lowest incomes, banking fees, debt, and navigating the legal system when you can’t afford a lawyer. There is an example of how devastating a run-in with the police can be, and a discussion on how that same run in could easily be fatal for people of color in a similar situation. In the end, all of this serves to show how easy it is to attempt to live for today, and not plan for tomorrow. This illustrates how a dangerous job like hunting monsters might be tempting to characters living under late-stage capitalism.
The next two chapters address the “canon” of the setting. This includes how the public sees the supernatural, the origin of the #iHunt app, factions in the setting, and canonical locations in San Jenaro that have appeared in the books, as well as some that are new to the RPG.
There is a mock website article on the founder of the #iHunt app, as well as a discussion about how it came to be. There isn’t one canonical answer, but this section explores the history as expressed to the public, and the possibility of old-world hunters or even monsters providing support for the business.
The public knows about the app, but in general, monsters are ignored in day to day life. People generally explain them away rather than deal with the knowledge of the supernatural, at least until they have personal trouble, at which point they may put an ad on the app for help.
The sample organizations range from monster hunting nuns, to ancient monster-hunting families, to government cleanup agencies, to private security firms that work in the monster-hunting field. There is also an organization that touches on some child abuse themes that makes me think twice about using it due to this history (the child abuser is no longer a threat, but it’s part of the story of the organization).
I love the other setting specific apps, which include a cash and credit only medical service, a vampire “dating” app, cleaning services, and an app for sharing workshop space (just what you might need for making custom weapons for monster hunting). All of these are framed both as a story element on their own, and in the context of monster hunting.
San Jenaro is meant to incorporate themes from various California cities, from amalgamated examples of different amusement parks, to faded movie studios, to standard beach neighborhoods, borderlands between the rich and poor section of town, and a high-class area that is slowly fading to irrelevance. The theme is modern-day gothic, where the glory of the past is increasingly eroding. Some of the neighborhoods also feature strongholds for various monster clades, like the vampires.
This section addresses why the Fate rules were used, how to use them to best effect for the setting, scene framing, and on the fly rules adjudication. There are also deeper dives into the Fate rules elaborated upon elsewhere.
The bits I appreciated most in this section involved the frank discussion of what Fate does well, and what the game is really about. The book calls out Fate as not good for horror, and while I won’t argue an absolute, it is suited to competent people that get things done. The point that this chapter makes is that monster hunting isn’t the threat, it’s surviving day to day and trying to make enough money to get by. This is followed by a discussion on how to use the Fate fractal to frame things like expenses as characters that require time and effort to address.
The other part of this discussion that stood out is the mindset of assigning difficulty. Fate isn’t really about saying that “in the real world, something would be a Great challenge,” it’s basing difficulty on if you want players to, on average, have to push on their aspects to do something, or if you want it to be something they have a reasonable chance to accomplish without burning resources. That’s the kind of narrative structuring advice it took me a while to wrap my head around when running Fate games.
The advice also makes it clear that these aren’t stories about a chosen one learning how to save the world, but about a cycle of dangerous behavior that keeps escalating while the hunters fail to improve their situation. It’s not an epic story so much as an empathetic character study about modern life, punctuated with the ability to kill monsters to blow off steam.
It’s not an epic story so much as an empathetic character study about modern life, punctuated with the ability to kill monsters to blow off steam. Full Payment Full Payment
This product is worth the price just for the Fate toolbox for building monsters, but the Edge die concept is another Fate widget I would love to see in action, and possibly used elsewhere. The discussion of the Fate rules are clear and engaging, and the rules do what I think a Fate implementation needs to do to really sing, which is to provide character types to add structure to the tools that Fate provides.
However, if the Fate tools make this worth the price of admission, the discussions about modern hardships, the failings of capitalism to address the needs of a generation, and the quirky details of the setting like the apps and organizations make this a compelling and important read.
One of the biggest challenges of this game may not so much be a flaw, but a consequence of a well-realized focus. As a Gen X person, I can see and empathize with the realities of Millennial life presented in the context of the setting, but the centering of the Millennial perspective may make this less open to the youngest gamers entering the hobby.
The same intensity that makes this a compelling read can also make it an intense and overwhelming experience. Depending on life experiences and how someone wants to apply their energy, this may be a lot to take in without some breaks.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
I feel like I’ve been on a ride reviewing this one. It hits a lot of important topics, caused me to challenge some of my thoughts on various subjects, and presents a new spin on a formula I already appreciate. It’s a great toolset for people using any kind of Fate horror or urban fantasy game, like Dresden Files Accelerated or Fate of Cthulhu, but stands on its own as a game with its personality and message.
The only thing that keeps me from recommending it more widely is the intensity with which it presents itself. It’s a strength, but it can also be overwhelming.
What are some of your favorite games that challenged you to look at modern realities while remaining engaging? Have the social commentaries held up over time? We want to hear from you in the comments below.