As much as I love fantasy TTRPGs, sometimes I want to hunt monsters in a modern setting. Many of the games that let me do that, though, take place in modern settings which are every bit a fantasy as the Forgotten Realms or Golarion. So when I heard Olivia Hill and Filamena Young were working on a game based on Hill’s excellent #iHunt novels, I was excited. No one who has read the novels could deny they are set firmly in our real world; the addition of supernatural creatures is almost a relief from real-world challenges and tragedies. At the risk of spoiling the rest of the review, not only does #iHunt: The RPG not disappoint, it embraces its source material in a way that few games are able to do.
The best one-line synopsis of #iHunt: The RPG I have heard so far is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets the gig economy”. Despite that evocative description, however, there are no Chosen Ones in the setting for this game. Instead, players take on the roles of struggling characters connected in their use of an app called #iHunt. The #iHunt app allows someone to post a monster hunting job, like calling up a murderous Uber; then prospective hunters can swipe through and snag jobs that are convenient, easy, or just pay really well. Once they complete the job they take a selfie with their kill for proof of completion, and their bounty (minus applicable fees and/or penalties, see the ToS for details) is deposited to their account. Sounds easy, right?
But the devil is in the details. Not all jobs are going to be convenient, few if any will be any definition of easy, and the pay sounds great…until you factor in things like medical bills (see note about easy, previous), bribes, tools of the trade, and more. Plus, while monster hunting is technically legal, much of the stuff you have to do while on the hunt is not; a B&E is still a B&E if a werewolf owns the house. Suddenly your “easy night’s work” is reaching Adventures in Babysitting levels of complication.
And did I mention your character is not the Chosen One? While there may be the odd rich kid who snags an #iHunt contract for a thrill, most hunters are going to be desperate victims of late-stage capitalism (sometimes called millennials) who have turned to #iHunt because of student loan debt, a family to support, out-of-control medical bills, or all of the above. Sure, killing vampires might be a public good, but more importantly, the $2000 kill fee will keep a roof over your head for another month and might let you take a bite out of your bills as well.
The #iHunt: The RPG is played using the Fate Core system by Evil Hat Productions. The Fate Core rules compliment the cooperative storytelling emphasis of #iHunt, and things like Aspects are so necessary to play, they’d have to be added if the rules didn’t already account for them. And while familiarity with Fate Core will be useful, don’t worry if you’ve never played that system before. The RPG does a great job of teaching you the basics of Fate Core, while simultaneously instilling the unique feel of the #iHunt world. If you’ve played other Fate games, great, you can deep dive into the setting information and get right at home. If this is all new to you, you’re going to get all the help you need, so relax and enjoy the ride. The same can be said if you’re the player who has taken the Director spot. #iHunt gives you plenty of setting information, and leads you easily through creating challenging hunts and all the complications that come with them.
The design of the #iHunt: The RPG is so good, so evocative of its setting, theme, and tone, it’s scary. Every page of this book immerses you in the setting, from the How to Play section written as an article on a trendy website to the pages designed with the look and feel of bullet journals. Just flipping through the pages gives you character inspiration and important setting information, and that’s before you stop and read anything. The pieces of short fiction scattered throughout give useful and interesting glimpses into the world the characters will inhabit, and are entertaining in their own right. In short, the document is beautiful, and I have rarely seen an RPG whose layout and design have married so well with the mechanics and setting of the game.
So what do I love about this game? Some things I have already mentioned, but there’s so much more. I love that there are safety tools built right into the game. If you accept the challenge of immersing yourself into your character and the setting, you and your friends are going to be treading some difficult territory. Having safety tools in place to make those difficult moments safe for the players is key. Frankly, it’s something many games fail to do, and it’s something that should be a feature not an option.
On that note, I also love the paragraph that explicitly makes it against the rules to play this game if you are a nazi. Obviously there is no way to really enforce that. As with any game rule, there are no RPG Police who are going to kick in your door if you break it. But we are long past the point where being passively against white supremacist asshattery is enough, and my heart grew three sizes when I read this paragraph. I call on all game designers to add a similar section in their work, whether it’s a new book or a reprint.
Most of all, I am a huge fan of a game without Chosen Ones or traditional heroes. Those have been a part of our story-telling and gaming culture for so long, I feel like we need to take a break from those narratives. Instead, I’m excited to explore stories about people for whom survival in the face of society’s indifference is an immensely heroic act. Characters who, despite a world telling them they have no value, still get out of bed, go to work, raise a family, love, laugh, and make it one more day. And within all that, they fight monsters. Not to fulfill a prophecy or right some cosmic wrong. But just to keep a roof over their head and also feed their family or friends in a world which is indifferent to them. That’s where much of our real life heroism lies these days, and those stories deserve to be told and celebrated in TTRPGs.
To bring it all home: if you want a gaming experience that allows you heroism with its feet planted firmly in our harshly real world, you need #iHunt: The RPG. The game is fun and intuitive to play, and allows for different modes of play depending on your desires. Want to just monster hunt with your friends? You can do that. Want to dig deep into characters and relationships? The game has you. Want to play a monster and hunt the iHunters? Wait for it, it’s coming. Even if you never play it (but seriously, play it), the game is a master class in so many aspects of creating and presenting a role-playing game; I feel a bit smarter about TTRPG design every time I read it.
Right now you can pick up the #iHunt: The RPG on DrivethruRPG and Itch, and find more information about the game and other projects from Olivia Hill and Filamena Young on the Machine Age Productions website. If you want to get in on the ground floor of an amazing RPG, I also encourage you to support their Patreon.
Olivia Hill was also gracious enough to share some time with me, to pick her brain about #iHunt and the gaming industry in general. That interview will go up tomorrow right here, so check back or wait for the announcement on social media. It was a great conversation and I’m excited to share it with you.