A Review of Dishonored The Role Playing Game

Several years ago I played the original Dishonored for PS3, so I was rather excited to hear about the 2020 release of Dishonored the Role Playing Game.  Created by Modiphius Entertainment, Dishonored is a 314 page book that breaks down the fictional city of Dunwall and lets players assume the roles of one of its many citizens.    

Setting 

The setting of Dishonored takes place mainly in the Steampunk Fantasy setting of Dunwall.  It’s a grim place filled with violence, diseases and heavy industry.  The book goes into a healthy amount of detail about the city itself along a breakdown of its districts.  Additionally, the book moves beyond the shores of Dunwall to the exotic region of Karnaca.  This region was only mentioned in the first game, but is well fleshed out in the book.  

Even though I have not played the second of the Dishonored Series the book does make note of the events of both games.  However, the GM could set the game wherever they like in the timeline.          

Mechanics  

Dishonored utilizes a proprietary 2D20 system for all task resolutions. Essentially, you need to roll under a certain target number on each D20 in order to succeed. There is a great deal more complexity in regard to critical successes & failures, etc.

One of the mechanics to grab my attention centered around Truths .  This mechanic is one of the more interesting aspects of the game because the Truth can be malleable.  In certain situations either the players of the GM can manipulate or change some aspects of specific Objects (Including locations) or Characters.  Players would utilize this for an advantage, while the GM would create/alter Truths in order to provide a greater challenge to the Players.  

There are additional rules for extra bonuses called momentum that are saved when a character rolls well over what is needed to succeed at a task.  This pool of momentum can be kept up to a certain number and spent to buy D20s, Create Truth, or Ask a Question about a scene.

On the reverse is Chaos, which represents a pool of bonuses for the GM to use against the players.  There are a variety of methods in which the GM can accumulate Chaos, however, the GM can only utilize the pool to buy D20s for NPCs, Create Truth, or to prevent players from creating a Truth.

Void points are another mechanic for players to spend for either a re-roll, to create truth or force a critical success.  There are only a few ways to gain Void, and players can only keep up to a certain amount of it. For anyone who has played Savage Worlds, it’s basically Bennies.  

Outside of the various pools of dice, Dishonored utilizes Tracks in order to assign a value to progress.  There are tracks for Stress, Stealth, Intrigue, Reputation and Progress (Personal to the player).  Each track can be moved back and forth depending on player action and general progress.  Some tracks can even be reset during certain scenes, while others may represent long term goals.

Lastly, there are rules for some supernatural powers.  As in the videogame, characters could be granted a mark by the supernatural entity known as the Outsider.  Mechanically speaking, the Outsider’s mark will open access to a variety of supernatural powers that requires mana to utilize. 

Character Creation

Each character is made up of the following:

  • Six primary Skills – Fight, Move, Study, Survive, Talk, and Tinker
  • Six Styles – Boldly, Carefully, Cleverly, Forcefully, Quietly, Swiftly
  • Focuses –  This is what most systems would call “Skills” and include things like Firearms, Locks, Medicine, etc. 
  • Talents – Minor game altering bonuses.  They derive mainly from the character’s archetype
  • Truths – Descriptors that are personal to the character    
  • Belongings – Your stuff
  • Contacts – The people you know around the city
  • Archetypes – There are thirteen to choose from (Assassin, Commander, Courier, Duelist,Entrepreneur, Explorer, Guide, Hunter, Inventor, Sharpshooter, Scholar, Scout, andMiscreant.) and represent the societal and professional role of the player thus far.  Choosing one provides bonuses in nearly all of the categories listed.  

There are additional rules for Heroic Character creation, which is just another method of character creation that adds Outlooks to a character.  Said Outlooks will provide some passive bonuses and Talents.  

Other Stuff

Bone Charms – Unlike other items, Bone charms allow for the players to gain some sort of inherit bonus or power unique to the type of charm in hand.  Some even require a situational modifier for use, like it can only be activated when an Outsider Shrine is located, etc.  regardless, each one acts as a little X factor, providing something useful to the player.  

Artifacts – There are only a handful of these objects mentioned in the book, but each one allows the player to do something awesome with it.  Who doesn’t want to be able to summon a swarm of rats to overtake an opponent?  No?  Anyone?  Just me?  Okay!

NPCs – When it comes to NPCs and Adversaries, Dishonored does not disappoint!  There is a veritable cornucopia of choices, from every walk of life including supernatural foes and steamwork creations.  For fans of the series, all of the heavy hitters have stats and are ready to go!

The Good

Dishonored is a truly interesting setting that combines steampunk with just enough “fantasy” as not to wear out its welcome.  The story and lore are both grim and fascinating at the same time.  It should also be noted that the book is beautifully laid out, easy to access, and provides some really interesting comic strips within that provide narrative and detail some information to the reader.  As a fan of Blades in the Dark (which is unabashedly inspired by Dishonored) this setting grabs my interest.

On a side note, it is interesting to see that Dishonored franchise inspired Blades in the Dark, and Blades in turn inspired certain mechanics of the Dishonored RPG.  Let’s face it, Tracks are just Progress Clocks by another name.  

The Bad 

Let’s be frank, I don’t like the 2D20 mechanics of this game, and I’m reminded of worst aspects of THAC0, which is not a good comparison to make.  The entire mechanical structure seems gimmicky for the sake of being different, and I can easily imagine that new players and GMs alike will continually reference the book for even the most basic of tasks.  I compare 2D20 to a new Ferrari with a go kart engine. Sure it looks flashy as hell, but it’s only going to chug along at best. Personally, I’m always glad to see something new and innovative when it comes to mechanics, but this is not it.  

Overall

Despite my misgivings about the mechanics, I really do love the setting and would recommend that players give this one a try. Alternatively, you could buy the book and port it to a universal system.

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