The worst villains are those that are unintentionally self-created. While villains who are simply evil because they enjoy it are easily hated, those who became something terrible without realizing that they were walking the path to damnation are tragic figures, albeit no less monstrous for their tragedy. After all, if they didn’t realize the dire consequences of what they were doing, how do any of us know we’re not on the same path?
Such is the case with the Nightmare of Abul Khared, a new villain for the Hot Chicks RPG from Dakkar Unlimited.
Before we look at the Nightmare further, let’s quickly examine the book itself. The technical specifics follow in the usual fare for Dakkar. The three-dozen-page book is broken up into various sections by headers, eschewing any sort of chapter format. These headers are the basis for the bookmarks that are also present. Copy-and-paste is likewise enabled.
The artwork is Dakkar’s signature full-color CGI style. The pictures are as gorgeous, and as ghoulish in the subject matter, as you’d expect. Full frontal nudity for both women and men are to be found here, typically in the grip of Abul himself or his servitors. There is no printer-friendly option, so beware if you want to print this out.
The vast majority of the book, just over 75% of it, are narrative in nature; that is, it’s not so much about game mechanics as it is about story and background. This is something I suspect that some gamers may feel divided over – if you’re a gifted storyteller, you may not appreciate that there’s roughly eight pages of game statistics, with the rest being a story that you could have made yourself. On the other hand, if you prefer villains with a highly fleshed-out background, villains with complex motivations and detailed origin stories, you might find this invaluable. I tend towards the latter stance, but your mileage may vary.
The story of Abul Khared himself is an exploration of the descent into madness. A scientist who lost his family in the Depravity War, his search for the ones responsible came to a bitter end when he realized that he could find them but lacked the power or resources to harm them. Unfortunately, things became far worse for Abul from there.
The results of his impotent quest for revenge motivated Abul to begin forcibly evolving himself, and the results are chronicled in a series of in-character diaries throughout the book. These are broken up by out-of-character (that is, meta-game) text wherein the author analyzes and expounds upon what it is that Abul is going through.
Abul’s slow descent is a surprisingly gripping read, and the expository text does a good job of highlighting just what it is that he’s facing as he continues the process. There are some (as the author calls them) “high concept” in this, as Abul’s story is interlaced with science fiction; admittedly, it plays rather fast and loose with quite a bit of the sci-fi, but I don’t see that as a bad thing – what’s important is the character reactions, not the actual means used to provoke them.
Of course, this means that the book is more story than it is game supplement. While there are game statistics for the Nightmare, as well as its servitors, and even some new powers and the creature’s base of operations, that’s the sum total of it, plus a few adventure seeds. Ideas for using Abul Khared in your game are given, but I was rather surprised how the author had very few specifics regarding the “how” of having PCs fight him – I used to think that this was sloppy game design, but lately I’ve been rethinking that stance. The more free-form kind of role-playing, concerned more with creativity at the table than with carefully charted numerical modifiers, is clearly being referenced here; given that, the author’s very general brand of advice makes perfect sense.
Ultimately, the Nightmare of Abul Khared is one that we get to experience along with the eponymous characters, being walked through little-by-little his descent into something more, and less, than human. It’s only when the Nightmare is fully revealed are we presented with it in terms of an RPG, with a set of stats and some nonspecific advice on how to use it. Take from that what you will, but I personally enjoyed it quite a bit – this is a Nightmare that, used properly, your PCs will never forget confronting.