Classic Review by Yair Rezek (GOWer)
Disclaimer: This is not a very thorough review, so I apologize in advance for that. I decided to write it since I didn’t see any other review of this product, which I considered interesting. It is my impressions from it, rather than a complete and thorough analysis.
There are three books that form the core Infernum game. I limit myself only to the Book of the Damned, the first.
I purchased the pdf version rather than the print book, but I don’t think it matters and I don’t refer to that in my review. Except of course that I can’t comment on the binding, page quality, or so on.
Infernum: The Book of the Damned is a big, 256 pages, book describing a unique setting/game where the players play demons, fallen angels, or mortals trapped in Infernum, a fantasy version of Hell.
As a game, it is essentially a d20 System game (strictly speaking OGL – no PH required), except that the standard races and classes are replaced by different choices. The classes are taken in what you would normally consider races. There are nine breeds of demons (each very different from the other), an almost infinitely flexible Mortal class, and a somewhat flexible Fallen Angle class. In addition, the choice of affiliation to one of the demonic Houses or other political entities affects the character both mechanically and within the setting. There are also Mutations available for demons (and others, if corrupted enough), that allow even further customization, and of course feats and skills. Infernum characters can be very diverse.
The game also has some other quirks and changes from the normal D&D fare. A good departure is, for example, an expanded treatment of social skills, including my favorite skill ever: Groveling. I:BotD also boasts other skills, such as Torture, or Warcraft (based on HD, which in my opinion is wrong). Feats are also the usual fare, with some novelties (mostly involving vehicles, firearms, or new mechanics such as iliaster or mutations). By far the largest departure is Sorcery, which replaces the magic system. Sorcery is skill based, and uses rituals (one known per rank). It seems awfully powerful, especially at high levels. For example, much of the Infernal politics is based around the powerful hiding in magical fortresses to escape being summoned.
Equipment includes new gear such as the Chainsaw, Flayer, Hellcannon, Purity armor, torturing tools, extracted Agony, and demonic tanks or motorcycles. In other words it includes standard fantasy fare, but also almost modern warfare equipment and vehicles, often fired by iliaster, as well as iliaster-related stuff. I’m not sure I like this heavily mechanized version of Hell, but the new gear (and the struggle against it) is a recurring theme in the setting.
Iliaster is soul-power, it’s what drives the economy of the Infernum. Iliaster is produced by torturing lost souls in the many torture farms of Infernum. Demons consume it, mortals produce it, angels cannot replenish it (until high level). It fuels hellish war mutations, war machines, and other goodies. Getting and using Iliaster is a big part of an Infernum game.
Corruption is measurable and those with high Corruption scores are bound by their words. The mechanics for this are a little vague, intentionally I suspect, but look like could be fun in practice without… well, being too mechanical to make sense. I’ve found the concept of Sin Rating, similar to Challenge Rating, interesting at the least.
Hell itself is described, although not extensively. Or at least the Infernum is, which is basically Hell – complete with nine circles and Dante references. It is, literally, a pit of decadence, suffering, and despair, a cesspool of mongering demons vying for power. The various Houses struggle against each other, each commanding armies, iliaster farms, sorcerers, and so on. Although the descriptions are spread out over the entire work, and generally not extensive, they (along with some fiction) do paint a good picture of what Infernum is.
I should mention that I found the setting limiting in terms of other products. Although you could mechanically fit in most other d20 sources with little problem, the setting just doesn't have room to fit, for example, the D&D demons. They just don't feel right.
I’m not too pleased with the editing. Even I noticed some things that weren’t right. I can’t for the life of me, for example, locate where it says you gain 1 feat per 3 levels plus one at first level (I know they meant this to remain true). And I believe it could be better organized; I’ve found myself flipping it about wildly when trying to create characters.
Remember that I:BotD is a player’s handbook of the Infernum game. I didn’t read the other two books, but much like the PH this book alone will suffice to run a game (though you’d be missing stuff). I never played Infernum, so I’m not sure how great it is as a game. I suspect it will essentially feel like playing D&D, except that there are no magic items, healing is slower, character diversity higher, some non-fantasy equipment is available, and of course everyone is playing demons in hell.
Is it an outstanding product? Probably not. Looking over the new mechanics I highly doubt if they will be very balanced in-game, I didn’t find the book’s organization very good, and … well, I’m not sure why, but something seems off. Somehow it doesn’t seem to do as good as it could. The demons, corruption, classical hell… it is all there, but it feels as if it’s just barely there, a simple adaptation of the d20 ruleset instead of some brilliant variant it begs for. I can’t put it in words, but despite an intriguing setting and no really bad points I can point to I can’t in good conscious give it a 4. I’ve settled on a 3.
I can see myself playing amidst a band of demons, intent on conquering Infernum. Or a band of mortals and angels, intent on freeing Infernum from the demons and bringing heaven to hell. Or maybe just a bunch of characters trying to survive in this hostile, violent, place. I didn’t give it a high score, but Infernum does pique my interest. I hope to play it, one day.