After an introduction in which the author speaks of how a car wreck gave him the time and focus to create this wholly-new game system, channelling all the frustrations of recovery into writing, we find that the book is divided into two distinct parts: An Assassin's Journal, aimed at players, and Direction, aimed at GMs (or Directors as they are termed here). These are also available separately, with the player section available as a free download - a neat idea for those setting up a group as only the GM needs spend any money at the outset.
The player section begins with a mostly in-character essay, You're Hired. This talks about the gritty and unglamourous world of the contemporary hired killer, the 'professional' who takes lives for no other reason than someone wants the target dead bad enough to pay. Leave morality outside: this is business, pure and simple, and to be played to the full, the game needs to be approached in a similar cold manner of doing a task, accomplishing set objectives and getting away with it. A liberating concept, but one where it's very important to remind yourself that you are playing a game and must put it away at the end of the session! Back to the game, it is not just the client who has to be satisfied if the assassin is to be paid, he also has to avoid the long arm of the law. Each kill will open an investigation, after all, so attention must be paid to ensuring that nothing can be traced back to you, the killer.
Stepping out of character the discussion moves on to look at how the game actually works, from the role of the Director to actual game mechanics. Pay attention because this is a novel mechanic and like any such, is more complex on paper than it is once you start to play with it. In short when attempting something for which you need to roll (a Dice Option), you roll a handfull of dice of different numbers of sides selected according to the skills, training, equipment and other circumstances that you bring to the party; and you are aiming to beat either a similar roll made by an opponent or a Director-set target. There are also Automatic Options (no die roll needed) and Defensive Options (declared in advance against something happening, e.g. an opponent attacking you). Each time you succeed, you get a Bonus Option and continue to do so until a roll fails. In a Series (sequence of events) one side has the Edge (takes the initiative and starts doing its thing) to begin with, but there are Triggers (preset events) that can flip the advantage of the Edge to the other side. There's a bit more detail, but that's the bare bones. If you are by now getting confused, there is an example of play complete with illustrations of the Tracker, a visual system using poker chips or similar markers to, well, keep track of everything. Whilst this can be a bit mechanical and detract from the flow of play, it's a good idea at least until the mechanics become intuitive.
Next comes a far more detailed analysis of the Optional System (the name for the game mechanic), which contains everything that you need to know to play to full effect. It's worth getting your head around this even as a player, else play will get bogged down as you attempt to succeed at the task in hand... and due to the nature of the game, you really do want to do not just your best but an exceptionally good job every time! Throughout, each chunk of rules information is illustrated with an example, which makes it relatively easy to absorb... but there is a lot to absorb. It's the very nature of this game that technical mastery of the rules will be key to success, an intriguing mirror of the way in which mastery of his trade is the key to an assassin's success... Interestingly, unlike many rules-heavy systems, this one complements role-play rather than detracting from it.
Character generation of itself is not detailed separately, it is woven seamlessly into the rules exposition. This gives you an intimate understanding of how each choice that goes into designing your character contributes to his ability to succeed... but does make it quite a slow process. To summarise, each character has abilities of Body, Sense and Mind. Then he has a Focus - Bomber, Burglar, Driver, Enforcer, Grifter, Hunter, Sniper, or Tech - the focus of his particular skillset and training. Then there options and reactions. These are not skills, they are broader concepts. Think of them as tradecraft, a term from the world of espionage which describes the range of tactics a trained spy brings to bear on the operation in progress. Options are the active things you do, reactions are the things you do in response to circumstances. Again, reading them through makes far more sense than a bare explanation of what they are. These are followed by the skills themselves. Finally there are traits (best considered once you have a few jobs under your belt and are beginning to understand how you operate) and gear: specialist kit, the right tools whatever the job.
That's the player section done. It's divided from the Director bit by a Tracker card and character sheet to print out.
Direction is all about how to make the game come to life. Not just to work mechanically, but to be enjoyable and challenging and exciting... It begins by attempting to define just what Killshot is - and is not. At core it is a very tactical game, player-characters will succeed best if they plan very carefully and then follow that plan (whilst of course retaining sufficient flexibility and the ability to think on their feet to cope with everything the Director throws at them!). But it can also be story-telling, role-playing... or a pure die-rolling contest where characters maximise their chances of success in a cold mechanical way. Or both. The aim of a player is clear, the aim of the Director is more nebulous, depending on the sort of game you want to run and to play... and, of course, depending on what YOUR players want out of it, but you know what they like better than any book author does. Here are the tools to help you provide a game all of you will enjoy.
These tools are provided in four main sections. First is about understanding the mechanics even better than players need to. Then there is the art and craft of creating the jobs, the assassinations that will be the focus of the game. Next comes everything else story-related that many characters won't even be aware of, but which enhance the game. Finally, there are three full-blown jobs to get you going.
The first part, Understanding Killshot, really lifts the lid on the hows and whys of the game mechanics that have already been introduced in the players' section. This understanding will help you internalise the mechanics, enable you to sit back and let them flow naturally as the game plays out. It's necessary in a game of this complexity, but making the effort will enhance play no end - without it, this ruleset could easily degenerate into a die-rolling festival with little role-playing go along. Whereas there are systems out there for which the same thing could be said, it is rare to see it addressed head-on along with the necessary tools and information to get past the issue and get back to it being a role-playing game with a task resolution system framework underlying everything. Just as the mechanics were introduced to players in an organic manner, so is this discourse presented in terms of what is going on at the gaming table, showing you how it all hangs together. Study it well. It's impressively well-done!
Next comes Building and Running Jobs. This looks at the underpinning structure of a job, to empower you to understand a pre-written one or create your own from scratch. It can be a mechanical process, the Director's job is to make it all come together as a coherent script that moreover doesn't appear to be scripted! Here your storytelling abilities come in to play, yet without a sound underlying structure it would be all too easy for the whole thing to go awry. All the nuts and bolts are here, though.
This is followed by Beyond the Job, which looks at the wider ramifications, the rest of the game. Anything from tracking what law enforcement agencies are doing about this spate of murders to the contacts the characters make, the scars they are left with or the tales that are told about them.
Finally, there are three whole jobs to try this all out on. You ought to be itching to round up some players by now, it is that compelling a concept with a ruleset honed to make it work. It's one of the best balances between mechanic and story concept I have seen for a long time.