Review – iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy

It’s not often that I encounter an RPG that commands my attention the way #iHunt has. It is personal, political, and unapologetic. It knows what it is and conveys that to the reader in no uncertain terms on every level.

Check out this business right before the title page:

#iHunt is a game by and for the LGBTQ+ community. This is a game by and for poor people. This is a game for all the people society leaves behind and lets fall through the cracks. We wrote this game to see ourselves kicking ass in a world when the game industry at large is still hostile to diversity despite all the claims to the contrary. This isn’t a game with some milquetoast sidebar about how “you are allowed to play gender non-binary characters.” This is a game about marginalized people. Are you allowed to play it if you are not from a marginalized group? Of course. But understand that this is a game written about our concerns apologetically, first and foremost, front and motherfucking center. This is our wold. You’re a tourist. Welcome to the show.

And what a show it is. This statement echoes clearly throughout the entire book. There are discussions on player safety at the table, a chapter on #thinkingpoor, and an endless array of diverse people living, working, and playing on nearly every page.

What is #iHunt?

  • iHunt is an RPG writtten by Olivia Hill & Filamena Young and is published by Machine Age Productions. It’s built on Fate Core by Evil Hat Productions.
  • #iHunt is a fictional app that brings the monster-hunting into the gig economy.
  • iHunt RPG appears to be just another monster-of-the-week game, except the real monster is always Late-Stage Capitalism.

The Setting

Welcome to San Jenaro CA in the right-fucking-now, former seat of the movie industry. Vampires and Demons live here, so it’s probably a lot like LA. but you can make of it what you want. It’s kind of the archetypal Californian city with beaches and shit, but you aren’t one of the bright young things that get to play in the sun all day. No, you’ve got to work. And when the ends of your life won’t meet, you’ll try to work harder. And as the gap continues to grow between those ends and they begin to resemble that dubious tuft of weeds you grab for as you fall over a cliff, maybe you’ll get desperate enough to try something really stupid. Welcome to #iHunt!

The RPG is based on Olivia Hills urban fantasy novels, which I haven’t read. That’s no impediment to the game because it breathes the story out on every page. There’s short fiction interwoven with the rules, splicing gameplay examples and setting lore in an entertaining way. Examples are clearly drawn from her books (NPCs, monsters, factions), but you don’t feel as though you are missing something by not being familiar already. Everything is right here and there’s an openness to its presentation that invites you to take it and make it your own.

The RPG is by and for Millennials and LBGTQ+ persons. Their experiences and challenges are baked in and fundamental. You can’t ignore it and, if you try to strip it out of the game, you’ll end up with… a lesser experience, though still a competent monster-hunting game.

New Fate tech

Fate Core has been around a while, so I won’t go into much detail about how that works. However, iHunt introduces some new tools that are interesting.

Safety First

iHunt takes great pains to help you create a safe environment to explore the games core themes in. While these rules don’t rest on the Fate Core, they are essential to play. There’s a safety sheet for players to fill out with over 20 possible topics pre-loaded and room for a few write-ins. There’s discussion about using ret-cons to rewrite scenes where lines have been crossed.

Not playing with assholes is a rule. Instead of just saying “don’t be a dick” they talk about dicks and how not to play with them, because someone needs to hear that and be given permission to play a dick-free game.

The Edge Die

iHunters are nearly always at a disadvantage. They don’t have money, resources, claws, a healing factor, or 200 lbs of solid muscle on their opponent. This disparity is represented by the Edge. The Edge is a standard 6-sided die that replaces one of the Fate dice when rolling for a test. This causes the usual range of results (-4 to +4, with +0 being the most common), to skew much higher. With the Edge, the results instead range from -2 to +9 with an average result of +4.

The Edge is so powerful, that a large part of combat is maneuvering to steal it for yourself, but it can also come in to play as your character looks back over their past experiences via Selfies (more on that in a minute).

Imperiling Aspects

One of the core mechanics of Fate is Compelling aspects. That is, the player is offered a chance to embrace the negative side of an aspect in exchange for a Fate point (the game’s currency for influencing narrative) or they can pay a Fate point to ignore the compel.

An ill-timed compel can make a bad situation worse, but it’s generally balanced by giving you the opportunity to be a real bad-ass when you want to. Imperiling an aspect doesn’t do that.

Once per scene, the Director (GM) may give a player a Fate point and present them with a dilemma related to one of their character aspects. A dilemma doesn’t represent the actions of others. It represents a choice between two equally shitty paths forward.

Dilemmas represent the inherent unfairness of the world of iHunt and, like the Edge die, can cut both ways. After their character suffers a moderate or severe consequence, a player may imperil someone (or something) else’s aspect. Someone thinks you got it bad? They should see the other guy.

Imperiling an aspect is a powerful tool that can create character-defining moments. It something that I would approach thoughtfully, as a GM, with good communication with the players. I would definitely encourage it as a player tool first so they can get used to concept.

Selfies

Character advancement is memorialized by Selfies. In character, picture selfies are used to verify kills on the iHunt app. Out of character, take a picture anyway and add it to your Vision Board (A scrapbook, virtual or physical) chronicling you character’s experiences, and hopes for the future. The VB comes up as a tool in character creation). You’ll want to track your selfies because you can call back to them for bonuses later on.

End of session selfies (Big Moods) give you minor bonuses. End of story selfies (Big Fucking Deals) act almost like aspects. End of season selfies (Life Changing events, like at the end of a television season), are even more powerful because they let you use the Edge die, even if you haven’t stolen it.

Selfies don’t replace Fate’s normal character advancement.

Presentation

This is a good-looking book. It takes the idea of being “always online” and present every chapter in a different style of web design. I don’t know how that plays in print, but it scrolling through the PDF enhances the effect. It’s also a fun way of enhancing the voice of the authors in the moment, swinging from slick & business-lie to colorful & fun as the text demands.

Navigating the book isn’t difficult at all. Rules and lore are easy to find and reference.

Wrap-Up

System-wise iHunt is a solid Fate game with better than average help for new players and GMs due to its’ dedication to providing clear examples on how present poor and marginalized identities in the game. The authors are seasoned RPG writers and they seemed to have put all of their craft into something of their own, a self-published RPG discussing topics important to them.

Not everyone who picks up this RPG has experienced life as depicted in this game. While the book was written for a specific audience to enjoy, the authors work hard to help put you in the shoes of that audience and help you experience some part of that through play. Chapter 12 alone is all about how to “think poor” and explain the many ways that it is more expensive to be poor than it is to be even “almost” lower-middle class.

That inclusiveness is handled with great empathy and compassion. I think it is an immensely worthy effort deserving of more recognition that I can bring to it. Not for the novelty of the idea, but for the way it helps outsiders become familiar withe the struggles of others and perhaps to stimulate some thought on how things could and should change.

I can imagine a lot of people being uncomfortable with the notion of putting such bleak themes in the core of a fantasy RPG. I’m not entirely comfortable with it myself having grown up poor and semi-Jewish in a rural, conservative, middle-class Christian community. Some aspects of the game hit uncomfortably close to home.

This is not a game that I care to role-play, but I see the value in it as a tool of instruction. The game is worth picking up and reading just for that!

While this game isn’t for everyone (especially fascists), I would encourage non-fascists who don’t mind risking their comfort to pick it up. It may be challenging and eye-opening. Or maybe you’re the intended audience and it would be a revelation to see an RPG written by someone who gets it. Maybe it’s can be nice to be seen?

~ by Hunter Rose on April 19, 2020.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: