Jake takes a look at Don’t Look Back Kickstarter Edition roleplaying game in this review. Get more after the jump.
This is the third edition of Don’t Look Back. It originally launched in 1994 with a second edition quickly following in 1995. In 2018, Chuck McGrew, the creator, had a Kickstarter campaign to develop a new edition.
Don’t Look Back has a modern-day, horror roleplaying game setting, with conspiracies by the largest religious orders and world’s intelligence agencies. That just means the powers-that-be know monsters exist, and they try to keep them happy so they don’t kill us all. There’s also a big dose of paranoia to keep you on your toes.
Unlike many other horror RPGs, this games has had few supplements made available. The last ones I could find came from the 90s, so I won’t include them in this review. In this game, your characters will fight aliens, mutants, man-made monsters, ghosts and demons. Variety is a good thing!
Don’t Look Back Setting
The setting is a critical factor for any game. If the players don’t feel immersed in the horror setting, the entire game suffers.
And I found the setting to be underdeveloped. It seems like the creator followed the writing in a workman-like style, which hits all the outline points, but not developing each point to make it unique. That’s important when your game has stiff competition from White Wolf, Chaosium and Pinnacle, all powerhouse game studios. This game’s built for action and getting started, as I mention under Game Mechanics, so this may be a trade-off.
The creator has two chapters dedicated to world building, World and Conspiracy. Under World, the creator develops how governments operate, how the conspiracies keep the paranormal elements under control, who really controls our reality, and what they do to people with special abilities. Unfortunately, we’ve read this all before in other games. I didn’t find anything that makes this setting stand out against other RPGs in this genre.
As for Conspiracy, this section has more details about the groups pulling the strings behind the scenes. The Order, a shadow group at the highest levels of power, has the most information. The Cleanup Crew, which executes The Order’s commands, also has some nice development (and an appendix section to boot) and adds depth to the setting. We also get new takes on historic conspiracy groups like Brotherhood (Knights Templar), Inquisitors (Spanish Inquisition), and Cult of the Banished (people with paranormal abilities). Even Homeland Security gets into the mix with Atypical Crimes Task Force and the media with The Unredacted Truth. Still, we’ve read it before somewhere else, but the Homeland Security and Unredacted Truth were new twists on otherwise familiar groups.
The Game Host, who runs the game and campaigns, has a section to help build the world. It really focuses on storytelling through scenes and developing non-player characters. This part really goes into making monsters for encounters. Don’t Look Back has placed its world-building on the Game Host to a large degree. That’s not a bad thing.
In Don’t Look Back, you play a normal human, occasionally with some paranormal abilities, fighting paranormal forces. The creation process is fast and very basic. This section, like most of the book, is streamlined to crank a player character (PC) and get started. Essentially, there are seven steps to developing your PC. Then you pick advantages, disadvantages, occupations and some skills. These will give you a Focus. Your Focus impacts the scores you need to roll to succeed at a task. In addition, you can earn experience points (XP), which can be used to develop skills or supplement die rolls. In something unique to the game, you can let a skill become Unfocused (or rusty) to improve another skill. Anyway, Focus is a big part of the game mechanics, so you should get comfortable using it.
We’ve seen most of character attributes in other games, so you should be familiar with them if you play other RPGs. These are some minimalistic descriptions, though. Some of you will be shocked that there are very few charts for ratings. Really, this section is designed to make a PC fast and start playing.
Your characters can also have paranormal abilities, and there’s a section for it, Paranormal. It wasn’t placed next to the Character section, so you could miss it in the rush to finish a PC. It talks about the different powers, their limits and weaknesses. If your PC wants to use paranormal abilities, don’t skip it.
Don’t Look Back uses the D6xD6 system to determine successes or failures. I wasn’t familiar with it, so the Rules section had a higher learning curve for me. Also, the Rules chapter is only 14 pages long and it doesn’t go into much depth. You may need to find a supplement to understand D6xD6 better.
The game designer made a streamlined version that hits the bare minimum you need to play the game. In a way, it’s refreshing and intimidating. Many gamers, like me, are coming from different systems. While the rules aren’t difficult to master, it’s a big shift from playing the Chronicles of Darkness games and Call of Cthulhu.
In a nutshell, basic tasks don’t need rolls to succeed. Only conflicts or things outside your ordinary day need rolls. As I mentioned earlier, Focus numbers drive what you need to roll to succeed on difficult tasks. Since this is a D6xD6 system, you roll 2 six-sided dice and multiply the numbers in most cases. For Unfocused skills, your score must be below the Focus number. Again, you can use XP and a new concept, Drama points, to alter your rolls.
Most of the mechanics are managed by the Game Host. In some cases, the player rolls one die and the Game Host the other. Difficulty uses a chart that alters rolls by no more than -3, but that’s pretty big for D6xD6 system.
In retrospect, I appreciate the simplicity of the system, how intuitive it is, and how it’s built for action. I think these mechanics will need a supplement to develop different combat and skill scenarios. If you keep your game to simple car chases, armed combat and clue-seeking, then these rules will be fine. The designer included game play scenarios and tips throughout so you can understand it better.
Encounters (aka Monsters)
Encounters has the monsters in it. It’s not a big section, about 15 pages long. In it, you get a taste of alien critters, but most of it focuses on ghostly monsters. I wouldn’t say there’s anything you haven’t read before. Again, most of the descriptions and attributes are minimal. I did find 3 paranormal monsters that you don’t read much about in other games. These include:
- Implings – Wicked, toddler-like demons with sharp teeth and claws
- Liquidites – Shape changing blobs that can mimic anything from a toaster to your grandma
- Mass Possession – Animal-like entity hell-bent on killing someone
There’s only 20 monsters listed. This section definitely needs a supplement. The paranormal world has many critters and this needs more attention.
Aesthetics & Information Design
For the most part, it’s easy to find the information you need. The chapters aren’t always placed together in an intuitive way (like Paranormal doesn’t follow the section on character creation), but the headings and subheadings make sense. However, there isn’t an index in the back. You can’t just look for the page with Ghouls on it during a game. This is a big miss.
As for the art, most if reminds me of the World of Darkness games from the 90s. You’ll get some beautifully painted characters (see Character lead-in image on page 24), but most illustrations are black-and-white ink. Sometimes they work to illustrate the setting or critter; sometimes it just looks a bit muddy. The page layouts are also well-done and it’s an easy read.
Ghostly Activities’ Take
I don’t recommend the game. If I compare it to other RPGs in the genre, it isn’t on the level of Chronicles of Darkness, Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu, Little Fears, Chill or Delta Green. All these games invested heavily in developing their worlds, character creation and monsters. Now, these games also have many supplements that help do this. But, these games also put a lot into their core rule books. I understand that Don’t Look Back puts a lot of emphasis on action and simplicity, but Little Fears and Chill did the same thing. And they created a robust gaming set-up.
If you are a fan of the 90s game, then Don’t Look Back helps satisfy your taste for nostalgia. If you’re newer to horror RPGs, then you won’t find this a satisfying entry to the genre. If you’re experienced with running a similar game, then you probably have everything you need to create your own setting.
You can buy a copy at DriveThruRPG.
Note: Jake backed the Kickstarter campaign with his own money, and there’s no expectation of a positive review from the creator.
Featured image: Photo taken by Ghostly Activities on Feb. 23, 2019. Don’t Look Back ©2018 by Chuck McGrew. Don’t Look Back: Terror Is Never Far Behind™ and DLB3™ of Chuck McGrew.