Calling itself the “Neo-Victorian role-playing game of gas-mask chic,” Unhallowed Metropolis takes the new staple genre of “zombie” and flips it on its head. In 1905, plague broke out on earth, animating the dead back to unlife and spreading the plague by killing people. Humanity, near the brink of extinction, managed to survive the plague and slogged on through the horrors. That was 200 years ago. Unhallowed Metropolis picks up as if the Victorian age had continued through the Zombie apocalypse, with the neo-Victorians trying to rebuild the “golden age” of myth that came before—trying to rebuild out of a heaping cesspool of death and decay.
Set in 2105 London, the standard Steampunk England of smog and smoke, only this time the soot doesn’t come from just modernized industrial works but from charnel houses cremating plague victims. Residual psychic energy, released from the millions of deaths, has worn down the borders between life and death, creating a dense relationship between the living, the dead, and everything in between. The masses of humanity eagerly search for an alchemical potion designed to create immortal life, hoping to stave off the reality that surrounds them. Beneath the sewers of London, body-snatchers and organ-leggers pander fresh corpses in underground “meat markets” to degenerate ghouls and outlawed animists, seeking the science of reanimation. Even the undead aren’t safe, being stalked by “Undertakers,” fearsome bounty hunters who follow a “search and destroy” mantra against the abominations. The slums of London are now filled with blood-fed vampires, the streets are patrolled by heavily armed soldiers called “Deathwatch,” and New Scotland Yard desperately fights to hold back the masses of inhumanity. At the same time, the “Quality,” industry barons and nobles, live behind estates of privilege and nobility, sheltered from the horrors who thrive in the streets.
As explained to me, the system is an interesting yet simple design, that reminds me a lot of the Cyberpunk 2020 rules: you roll two d10’s and add your skill rank, hoping to beat the target number. Simple tasks have no target number, moderate requires an 11, complex a 14, hard a 16, and virtually impossible a 20. (As anyone who has played MasterBook can tell you, trying to get 11 on 2d10 is a real bitch to roll, so I hope the characters get plenty of skill points.). The game is more or less classless, though it does present a variety of “archetypes” for your perusal, relying on skill checks instead.
Unhallowed Metropolis’ background of steampunk-gothic and Victorian horror comes from some excellent background: its publisher, Eos Games, has previously partnered with industry leaders like Steve Jackson Games and Chaosium to produce such renown game lines as Creatures and Cultists!, Delta Green, Godlike and Lesser Shades of Evil. According to Eos’ website, Unhallowed Metropolis is “inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Nikola Tesla,” and was “meticulously researched” by the design team. Boy, does that come across: the book is dark and mysterious, a great vision of a futuristic Victorian age amidst the wreckage of horror.
It’s a great looking game, and I hope to get my grubby paws on a copy of my own soon.
You can read about the game’s history and background on its website. The 392-page hardcover retails for $39.99, and is primarily black and white (while that seems cheap, it certainly adds to the mood).