The Unexplained is a game I have known about for years and have wanted to pick up, but something else always pushed it's way to the front of the line. So when it appeared on DriveThruRPG a couple of weeks ago I knew I had to get it. I also knew it would make for a great post for the Blogfest.
I had reviewed the Unexplained's sister game, Now Playing, a while back. TU uses pretty much the same rule system, Fudge, though the focus is less on emulating a TV show (though there is that there) and instead emulating a real world full of cryptids, ghosts and UFOs. In many ways The Unexplained is very much like a 70's monster hunter documentary or even a 90s conspiracy show. Given it's ties, systemwise, to Now Playing it is easy to guess that the author, Bradford Younie, is a big fan of shows like Dark Skies, the X-Files and certainly Kolchak the Night Stalker. If Now Playing is the TV version, then The Unexplained is the reality they are based on.
Chapter 1 of the book covers a bit of the background of the game with Paranormal Societies, including the FPI (detailed later).
Character creation begins in Chapter 2.
Like many games you have 6 attributes (Brawn, Agility, Stamina, Reasoning, Perception, Will) and these are give levels in words, not numbers. So "Fair" "Good" and the like. This is a Fudge game so the levels of everything are words. Like all Fudge games character creation is a fast affair where where you start with a concept and work from there. Authors (not game authors or players) might find this exercise interesting for their own characters since there is no/less number crunching than with other games.
The next chapters cover all the other things that can define your character.
TU has a bunch of skills (Chapter 3), Traits and Faults (Chapter 4) and various other means of describing your character (Chapter 6).
If you have ever played Fudge before then you will get this game in a flash. If you have never played Fudge, then it is simple to understand and the mechanics are not at all difficult. Chapter 6 covers all the gear your character might need. Enough to make Stanzt, Spengler and Venkman happy or Thelma to go "Jinkies".
Chapters 7 and 8 cover the rules of the game and Storytelling (Game Mastering) respectively. Chapter 7 is your Fudge basic information as it is applied to this game. Chapter 8 though is a very good chapter on running any sort of paranormal type game. I have read dozens of chapters like this and this one still had some good advice for me.
While most people go to Fudge games because of the ease of character creation and game play, what I like most about this game is how well researched it is. I play plenty of paranormal/horror/conspiracy type games. After a while one begins to look like the other and I tend to compare them favorably to unfavorably to games like WitchCraft, Conspiracy X and DarkMatter.
The Unexplained stands up to these game rather well. Characters are assumed to belong to the Foundation of Paranormal Investigations (FPI), which plot wise and thematically puts it between ConX and DarkMatter. They even have their own website, http://www.paranormal-foundation.com/. The FPI is a game conceit, but that doesn't mean you have to use it. You can go rogue if you like. Make your game more "Supernatural" than "X-Files".
The rest of the book breaks down this research into major game-playing areas.
Chapter 9 covers Ghost Hunting, with Chapter 10 on Ghost Ships in particular. Given some the material on Carnivore Games website, I would say Ghost Ships hold a particular interest to the author. The chapter is nicely done and very in depth. If you need to know something about Ghost Ships for an RPG then this is a good place to start. Chapter 11 cover Cryptozoology, so bigfoots, lake monsters and the like. Chapter 12 Parapsychology and psychic phenomena. Chapter 13 is all about UFOlogy including the various alien races that have come to Earth, the Greys, the Reptoids, the Nordics. Exactly what you would expect. Crop circles are also detailed. Chapter 14 covers magic. Again this is a modern view on real world magical practices, as if they were really magical. So a nice overview here. But I will admit, I have a hard time mixing UFOs and Magic. This is not a fault of the game, but rather one with me I think. This chapter though is a good overview of many magical traditions and ritual magic.
There is also a sample adventure/investigation at the end. Appropriately enough it is about Bigfoot.
The character sheet is similar to the one found in Now Playing, and there is a nice touch of a Character Creation Questionnaire that should really work with every paranormal like game.
I mentioned the research, the game is full of interesting tidbits such as eye-witness accounts, photos and case notes from dozens of "real" reported cases of the supernatural and the paranormal. Everything from cryptids, to ghosts, to UFOs. Thematically this places it closer to ConX than say WitchCraft, though without all the baggage of the government. One gets the feeling that Younie spent many, many hours doing nothing but reading up on conspiracies and everything outside the regular media to give us this information.
A nice treat in the end is the OGL (Fudge is now released under the OGL) AND a plain language declaration what is open and what isn't. Plus, for lack of a better word, an "openness" about publishing your adventures or supplements that can be used with Now Playing or The Unexplained.
I really liked Now Playing, but I like The Unexplained even more.
The Unexplained has a nice charm about it that I find very attractive. Now Playing changed my mind about playing Fudge based games, and this might change my mind about running them.
Who should buy this game?
If you have ever been curious about Fudge then this is a good game to pick up.
If you enjoy supernatural/paranormal games then get this.
If you are a fan of Now Playing, then absolutely get this.