Friday, June 22, 2018

Game Review: De Profundis (first edition)

I am a fan of unusual role-playing games.  I recently acquired a copy of the first edition of De Profundis; Letters from the Abyss, A Game of Mind-warping Horror in the Style of H.P. Lovecraft.  The game is credited to Michal Oraz and was translated from Polish to English by Maja Apollonia Pica.  The book is a 32 page saddle stitched book with glossy cover pages and black and white interior pages.   De Profundis is a role playing game that asks, "How would you like to play a Lovecraftian LARP by sending letters through the mail?"

This is a review of the first edition of the game which is currently out of print.  There is a second edition that was published by Cubicle 7 Entertainment.  The second edition is available as a pdf from rpgnow.  As far as I know the second edition contains most of the text from the first edition along with some expanded content.

De Profundis is written in a meta style.  The text reads partly like instructions for a game and partly as the diary of a character plunging into madness.  The narrator of the rules describes his descent into madness as he tries to decipher a text.  I thought that this style fit the game well, as the rules of the game encourage the players to try to live out their character's madness through letters.

To play De Profundis a player creates a character and then writes a series of letters to someone from the viewpoint of that character.  The person that you are corresponding with writes you back from the point of view of their character.  The rules discuss creating characters either in the 1920s or the modern era.  The author points out that there are many famous horror stories that are told using letters, such as Dracula, and shows how letters play important roles in Lovecraft's own tales.  The characters are meant to mimic the types of people who exist in Lovecraft tales, i.e. normal people who begin to notice the horrible lie of reality around them.

The author of De Profundis describes an unusual method for making sure that your character is in the mindset of an unhinged Lovecraft protagonist.  The technique is to observe the word around you, and then slowly use your imagination to allow snippets of illusionary horror to creep in.  Go ahead and space out on the bus, did that passenger who just got off look like an alien?  It is a type of method acting where you let your mind slip into the unhinged reality of a Lovecraft character and see your world through their eyes.  The writing style of the rules helps you get into this mode as the author writes many sections from this viewpoint.

The author gives players some structure and rules for making characters and writing and sending letters.  He gives suggestions for how the framework of the game should function as well as guidelines on how characters should interact via their writing.  One thing that I liked was that the author emphasized the importance of physically writing letters.  I believe that the second edition of De Profundis has rules for using email, which I think would take a lot of the soul out of the game.

The book has two appendices.  One has a character sheet and information on how to join "The Society", which was a database of De Profundis players.  I use the past tense because I believe that this information is out of date.  The second appendix is an article on psychodrama, which is a type of improv larp.  It is obvious that the author is a fan of psychodrama and that it heavily influenced De Profundis, so it is worth a read.

Overall, I really like De Profundis.  The game has more than a hint of mystery.  There is enough missing from the rulebook to let your imagination run rampant, and there is enough of a framework to provide ample inspiration.  The most difficult part of the game would probably be finding players who are willing to actually put pen to paper and send letters through the mail.  I have started a game with one player and it has been enjoyable.  If you are a fan of Lovecraft, writing letters, or bizarre games that are off the beaten path, then I recommend De Profundis.