Lexoccultum is due to be released in the next few weeks by the Swedish studio Riotminds. Lexoccultum is a horror rpg, one using the same game system as Trudvang Chronicles. Alter Ego is the player’s handbook. Here’s our review of it.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Swedish roleplaying games. I think that the games that are coming from Sweden these days are mostly quite good and modern in the sense that the players have not only much freedom when creating their characters but the players have also space to add much to the narrative. This is perhaps most evident in games like Tales from the Loop, but also quite visible in other Swedish games. This is the direction I feel that my games have taken in these last few years, so for me the Swedish games almost come naturally.
Riotminds are one many Swedish publishers and have in the past released games like Trudvang Chronicles and Drakar och Demoner. We’ve explored and reviewed Trudvang in a few articles (see here) and I must admit that, despite the minor problems with the game system, I instantly fell in love with the setting and the game.
I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of their latest game, Lexoccultum, and this is what I saw.
Lexoccultum is a new game due to be released in the next few months by Riotminds. In Lexoccultum you take on the role of an investigator in Europe in the 18th century. This is a game about mysteries, occultism and secret societies where your role is to uncover whatever monstrosities lurk in the shadows. So, if you are interested in investigative horror games, this might just be a one for you.
As with many Swedish roleplaying games Lexoccultum is based on a game originally released in Sweden, Götterdämerung, which was well received in Sweden and awarded Game of the Year when it first came out.
Lexoccultum uses the same system as Trudvang Chronicles, which is a BRP (Basic Roleplaying by Chaosium) clone of sorts. Still, as much as Trudvang Chronicles system setup is in line with fantasy, Lexoccultum is closely tied to the 18th century.
Alter Ego – Character creation
Alter Ego is the character book for Lexoccultum. I must admit, when I got my hands on it I browsed quickly through it and enjoyed the beauty of it. The book is well laid out, even better than Trudvang‘s player’s handbook, and the design and the artwork is marvellous.
Perhaps the thing I’ve seen most gamers complain about with Trudvang Chronicles is that they feel that the character creation is complicated. I can’t say that I agree but I understand their concerns. I grew up creating characters for AD&D, which means that I don’t really mind flipping back and forth through rulebooks to find the information I need. However, if you are familiar with Call of Cthulhu or other BRP games, you probably know that creating a character means that you need to allocate points to skills and figure out how the attributes affect this part or that on the character sheet.
Lexoccultum follows the same general rules as Trudvang when it comes to character creation. Your gamemaster decides how many creation points you can spend on traits, skills, disciplines and specialisations. There’s one thing that I noted immediately, and that is the fact that you get more creation points to begin with in Lexoccultum than in Trudvang. There’s a reason for this, of course, and that is you need to buy a social class for creation points, just as you’d buy attributes. If you decide to play a character of a low class you might gain some creation points, but if you are a high-born noble it costs a great deal of your creation points.
Traits, Skills, Disciplines and Specializations
In Lexoccultum every character has 7 traits, Charisma, Constitution, Dexterity, Health, Intelligence, Perception and Psyche. Each trait has seven ranks, -4, -2, 1, 0, 1, 2, 4. The higher the positive rating is, the more capable the character is in the given area.
The traits have effect on situational rolls. A character makes a situational roll when making a common action that doesn’t require a skill roll. The traits also have an effect on secondary attributes such as health and fear and having positive modifiers can greatly enhance a character.
Just as with Trudvang I strongly suggest that you go big or go home. If you have a clear picture of what kind of character you’d like to play, make sure you invest in the traits that are most closely tied with that Archetype (see below), because these can greatly enhance your character and reduce the cost when buying skills, disciplines and specializations.
There are ten skills and each skill has number of disciplines and specializations. The skills are Agility, Professions, Communications, Theology, Fighting, Entertainment, Stealth, Esotericism, Culture, Science and Well-Travelled.
I can’t recommend enough reading up on the skills, disciplines and specializations. Make sure you know what skills you’d like to invest in and in what way they effect your character. As an example, spending points in Fighting has different effect than spending points in Culture or Esotericism.
When spending points on skills, disciplines and specialization, I recommend that you focus first on skills. Choose 3-4 skills in which your character will excel and make sure you have enough skill levels in each. Invest in disciplines of 1-2 skills but since buying these can be really expensive, perhaps it’s better to be really good in one field, rather than just so-and-so in many.
Every character belongs to a certain social class. You need to spend creation points to be part of the higher classes, just as you need to spend points on positive modifiers in traits. However, if you choose to be a part of the lower classes, you earn creation points. But, of course, being a part of the lower classes also has its problems and you loose some of the rights and perks that the upper classes have. Class also has a major impact on starting funds.
Since this is a new addition, I can’t really tell how class plays out, but I imagine that every group needs to have at least one character that can pull rank, especially when it comes to dealing with authorities. Of course, you don’t need to have a group consisting of lords and barons, but having one surely helps.
There are ten different archetypes in Lexoccultum. Archetypes play similar roles as a class in D&D, except that the archetypes don’t have as huge systematic impact as the D&D classes have. You have much more freedom to create your character the way you want to than in D&D or similar games. The archetypes are Artisan, Businessman, Clergy, Combatant, Entertainer, Malefactor, Occultist, Official, Scientist and Traveller.
Every Archetype as a positive aspect and a negative one, neither of which has a systematic effect. Instead, these are to show the players the pros and cons of belonging to this archetype, and how the society reacts to similar characters. The only systematic effect the archetype have is the core skill, in which you gain extra 50 creation points to spend on.
I fully recommend that you, just as with the traits, go big or go home when spending creation points in the core skill. Spend the 50 free points on buying levels in the skill. It really makes your character more adept and good at what she does.
Every character in Lexoccultum belongs to a social power sphere and there are eight to choose from, Administrative, Entertainment, Holy, Lawless, Military, Occult, Scientific and Trading. The characters can spend adventure points to buy more influence in their chosen power sphere, so in a way this has similar effect in game as Credit Rating has in Call of Cthulhu.
What I like about this, is the fact that you can choose what sphere your character belongs to, e.g. a scientist might have an influence or contacts in the military, after serving for a few years. Just as a traveller might also be known among the Military, after serving as a chaplain for a few years.
Once you’ve spent all the creation points it’s time to work out all the secondary attributes, like health, size, handedness and so forth. Finally you figure out how much funds your character has to spend on equipment.
Alter Ego serves really good as a player’s handbook. It leads you through the character creation step by step and I can’t help but think that Riotminds must’ve taken some of the criticism Trudvang recieved to heart. The book also contains extensive information on equipment, which is really interesting.
The book is well laid out, beautiful and the artwork inspiring. If you took part in the Kickstarter campaign, you have a good thing coming. If you like games with high player agency, freedom to create the character you like, and stories about occultism, mysteries and weird themes, this is something for you.