Review: Hunt the Wicked Roleplaying Game

Remember how cool that scene is in The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader is inspecting a row of bounty hunters and says “No disintegrations” rather pointedly?

Yeah, everyone remembers that, because it’s the coolest scene ever, and sadly doesn’t have a lot of payoff: Boba Fett shows up a little more, but that’s about the long of it. Well, if you’re looking to pick up a fast playing, robust roleplaying engine that allows you to play a bounty hunter in a universe under the rule of a despotic supercomputer, dealing with the deeply personal motivations and consequences of hunting other lifeforms for profit, then you’ve found your game!

Hunt the Wicked is one of a growing string of successfully Kickstarted roleplaying games by Sigil Stone Publishing, and I’ve been singing their praises in past reviews for a while now. Well, it’s time to add another to the list, and it may well be the best one yet!

This review has been updated to reflect the final release version now available on DriveThruRPG! Updated text is denoted in orange.

Hunt the Wicked Roleplaying Game

Hunt the Wicked Roleplaying Game

Content (5/5)

You don’t need any familiarity with it, but for those that read my Vow of Honor review, let me just state that Hunt the Wicked resolves any issues I had with Sigil Stone’s first outing: namely that the setting begged for way more detail. Hunt the Wicked is fully fleshed-out, and has tons of great setting material, as well as the full game system. It’s literally the complete package, and additionally Sigil Stone has found the perfect roster of artists to bring the game to life.

And for those that haven’t read Vow of Honor, here’s the long of it:

Hunt the Wicked features an expansive space opera setting, detailing planets, systems, orbital colonies, and more. There are three main species (humans, a race of amorphous lifeforms, and a race of beings whose sentience has essentially been uploaded into techno-organic bodies…or even across the neural net). While Earth features in the setting, it’s been a long time since humans ventured out into the universe and contacted both these other races, as well as supercomputer-like, godly sentience known as the Archon.

The Archon is essentially a godlike being that has more or less forced the three main species onto equal footing. This supercomputer is basically the size of a sun, and it uses its vast power and intelligence to destroy militaries that grow too powerful, or individuals that threaten the enforced order that the Archon has created. Ultimately, the Archon is a major background element of the setting, but what’s important is that it is a key reason why bounty hunters are a focus of the setting: if there weren’t bounty hunters to keep some semblance of order (even if it’s really motivated by personal gain in a lot of cases, rather than any sense of duty to justice and law), there certainly wouldn’t be any kind of cohesive military or law enforcement organization to do so. The Archon would make sure of that. Thus, poorly organized or even downright lone wolf bounty hunters are the order of the day.

While each settlement is given only a paragraph or two of information, consideration for story ideas and inhabitants is given in spades, and the general “feel” is clearly established for each settlement. All told, there are over two dozen settlements, and since some home in on a specific orbital station, while others tackle entire planets or small systems of a few inhabited worlds, that’s a lot of ground covered. While this may leave folks cold if they are looking for extensive amounts of background history, timelines, and nitpicky details about every single culture or city, it’s clear that Hunt the Wicked‘s text is solely concentrated on giving you immediately gameable information and the necessary inspiration to devise any number of conflicts for the players to face.

This provides an enterprising setting enthusiast with a strong foundation to work from, or provides simple direction and substantial inspiration for more collaborative world-building handled during the initial Game Concept stage, or during play. Each settlement is categorized by either the species or organization that founded it, which can help provide further character background fodder for players of any of the main three species featured in the game. Furthermore, the Archon is given its own chapter to help with understanding and using it as a plot device. It even has its own mechanic: Ire. It turns out that Bounty Hunters’ actions can increase (or decrease) the Archon’s Ire, and that’s very important to the denizens of the universe; we’ll talk more about that shortly.

The system used is the Ethos Engine, introduced in Vow of Honor Rolepalying Game. Basically, players roll a pool of 6-sided dice, built from a single free die, Advantage Dice that come from circumstances and gear, and Motivation Dice that come from a limited pool based on story factors that face a player’s Bounty Hunter. These Motivation Dice refresh every so often; we’ll get into that a bit more in a second, because that’s what truly sets Hunt the Wicked apart from Vow of Honor.

As in previous games from Sigil Stone, the GM doesn’t roll dice. Enemies and tasks are rated by difficulties or by their traits, but this are applied as opposition towards the players’ dice rolls, rather than actively rolled against them by the GM. While successes on the dice pool roll are determined by comparing each individual die to the Bounty Hunter’s Skill ratings, the difficulty level of the task or enemy determines how many successes are necessary to harm or defeat them.

Hunt the Wicked artwork

Artwork from the Kickstarter

As mentioned, Bounty Hunters have Motivations and ratings in eight general Skills, and their Species will also give them access to another special trait, as well as a bump to some skills. Beyond these, they have Talents that form a concept of what the character does well, such as Explosives Expert, and their gear, which includes weapons, survival gear, equipment for capturing their bounties, cybernetic technology, and so on. Lastly, each Bounty Hunter has a Technique, which is an especially potent ability that more or less defines a mechanical bonus representing the “how?” of their bounty-hunting style.

The Motivations are really the core of what makes Hunt the Wicked the game that it is: there are several, but an individual character chooses two, unlocking specific abilities (Motivation Maneuvers) from those that they choose. This gives each character an individual feel and unique abilities. The Motivations include: Community, Esteem, Justice, Liberty, and Power. Based on a Bounty Hunter’s chosen Motivations, they are awarded Motivation Dice when they face a Trigger (an event that causes one of their Motivations to come to the fore), when they resolve a Trigger (such as by capturing a bounty who triggered their Justice Motivation), and simply by pursuing and capturing other bounties along the way. The more you seek out, the more you’re going to be earning Motivation dice…but of course, the more times you may be facing danger, or Motivations that aren’t among your chosen ones.

Which neatly segues to some trouble Bounty Hunters face, namely becoming Haunted or Obsessed. For each, there is an action (called a Narrative Action) that a player can take to basically make something happen automatically, without regard to dice, but at an extreme consequence. One of those is Collateral Damage — the Bounty Hunter shoots down the target of the bounty, without regard to the innocent bystanders nearby — and that can lead to the Bounty Hunter becoming Haunted until absolved of their guilt. The other is Let Them Loose, where the Bounty Hunter lets their prey go for now, only to become Obsessed with getting them later on down the line. There are other means of becoming Haunted or Obsessed (some mechanical, some not), but these have palpable, narrative and mechanical consequences on a character, and show why Motivation is such an important aspect of game play.

While the rest of the game works pretty much exactly like Vow of Honor — which has elements of Fate in its Consequences and perhaps Apocalypse World — there’s discussion of chases, illness, fear, and favors. Chases are discussed at great length, with two alternative systems provided to vary the complexity of them. Favors are given a fair amount of word count as well, as owing favors and being owed favors makes up a huge part of the roleplaying aspect of hunting someone down, whether they are a low-life, a political leader, someone on the fringes, or perhaps a traitor to the local government.

The GMing side of things is clearly explained, and devotes plenty of space to building an actual manhunt, as this might be a little different than a typical “dungeon crawl” scenario, or even a roleplay heavy “political action” game. Understanding the crimes, how to move about a space opera system, and tracking someone down is all crucial, and well developed here. This even goes for how to portray dead ends, bad leads, and keeping the chase interesting over a long period of time.

Something I found to be especially strong among all of designer Ben Dutter’s work is the initial campaign creation stage that can be handled as its own conversation, or as a part of character generation. It starts with the creation of a Game Concept, a discussion between GM and players that will determine the general themes, mood, tone, and more specific information, giving everyone at the table plenty of say in where things will start, where they might go, and how to fit their characters into it. It sort of looks like this:

  • Game Concept: determine the overall theme and tone of the game.
  • Purpose: determine the primary purpose of the player characters, giving them a strong connective tissue for creating a cohesive party.
  • Place: determine the setting.
  • Color: determine aspects of the mood and tone and how they relate to the player characters.

This is hardly a new device — we see it explicitly in Fate and various Powered by the Apocalypse games — but Hunt the Wicked does an excellent job of framing the conversation, and mentions how much can be done ahead of time and what is best as a conversation at the table with the players (one or the other, or both).

Hunt the Wicked

“We want YOU…to Hunt the Wicked!”

Like Vow of Honor, this game is set to include a Quick Start Rules section at the end that provides a shorthand guide to all of the rules. It also includes a brief “Synopsis” text box at the end of each major section, which reinforces the themes and rules of the game in a narrative way, and can provide an excellent method of teaching the game to new players, or to give an overview of what the game is truly about. Considering the author’s commitment to having part of the gaming process to be “discuss what this campaign is about with your group,” these sections allow the GM and players to get into a game fast, have the same assumptions about the campaign’s tone, and allow for some collaboration to fill in the setting’s details that pertinent to the playing group.

An example hunt in the Quickstart, a fully fleshed out scenario titled “Terror on the Superlume,” some random tables — to flesh out the setting or a particular bounty — and lastly, a series of “Vignettes” round out the book. The vignettes are like prepackaged setting material that scream ADVENTURE HERE!, providing locations, NPCs, and mysteries that mesh well with the themes of the game and expand the universe.

Homebrew

The space opera setting is fully fleshed-out and begs to be played in, so it won’t be hard at all to pull out the setting and use your favorite game engine, especially if it’s a narrative one (Fate and the like), or if there’s plenty of discussion of the gear & unique traits of the characters in a semi-gritty space opera (Traveller would work great, of course, as would Stars Without Number). The technology featured in the equipment section isn’t anything you couldn’t find in GURPS High-Tech or the like, so you can pretty much mine the setting material for any sci-fi or space opera game with very little conversion work (the two additional main species would be all the conversion work required, really). There’s limited FTL travel, so building tons of spaceships and things of that nature is largely unnecessary.

The system is robust yet pretty simple at its heart, and since we’ve already seen it in Vow of Honor — and something akin to it in both Cloaks, Courts, & Gonnes and Cornerstone Universal Roleplaying Game — it shouldn’t be hard to apply Hunt the Wicked’s permutations to any game of gritty hunters looking for some prey. A modern day sci-fi/horror game of investigation, a game of secret police, or anything like that is going to benefit from the ample discussion of chases and bounty hunting, even if money is not the goal of the player characters.

Form (4/5)

If there’s one thing to bring up for the form, it’s the informal writing style. The author uses “I will go over ABC” or “I recommend XYZ” in various sections, which can be off-putting to some readers. It’s not extensive, and hardly invasive when it does occur, but as a personal preference, I don’t really care for its few appearances in a rules text.

Beyond that nitpick, Hunt the Wicked is beautiful. It conforms to other Sigil Stone releases in that text is laid in one column (aside from the Quickstart), which means that it’s optimized for digital formats: it’s going to be a pleasant read on computer screens, tablets, e-readers, and hell, probably on your cellphone, too. It’s fully bookmarked and section headers and chapter breaks aren’t just easy to spot, they wonderfully designed.

The artwork is evocative and generally of stellar quality (pun intended). There are a few pieces that are very simplistic — generally those that simply highlight a new race or a single piece of equipment — but they are done well, providing a template that helps you understand the species/gear at a glance. The full page and locale-related artwork is just flat-out gorgeous, depicting a cohesive-yet-varied sci-fi space opera setting that truly feels like a universe of multitudinous peoples and places. All of them ripe for some bounty hunting action!

As is always the case when something is done right, we want a lot more of it, and this is no exception. There’s a few parts of the book where several pages go by without artwork, but when you hit the next piece, let me tell you, it’s great! That they layout is so clean helps avoid the feeling of “walls of text” without images in those sections, so there’s no trouble there.

What’s Next?

Back when this review first came out for the pre-release version of the game, I was a little hungry for supplements from Sigil Stone. Here we are less than 5 months away and Ben Dutter’s Patreon has been kicking out new stuff like crazy. Short and sweet packs of NPCs, setting locales, adventure and campaign ideas — it’s all there! So, if you like Hunt the Wicked, that should be your first stop to check out what’s next from Sigil Stone Publishing.

Conclusion

I appear to be a big cheerleader for Sigil Stone’s games, and Hunt the Wicked certainly isn’t about to change my mind. In fact, it covers my few, small gripes with their previous releases (lack of setting material) and is filled with fun, evocative artwork.

If you want a game of bounty hunters facing consequences that really matter, regardless of how heroic or greedy they are, this game is perhaps your best choice. Check it out!

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neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He’s been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

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