Imp of the Perverse is a psychological horror game of monster hunting in Jacksonian Gothic America. In this darker version of the 1830s and 1840s, you play a member of society with an Imp of the Perverse on your shoulder, constantly impelling you to do terrible deeds. Only by hunting down those who have given in to their Imps, and turned into monsters themselves, can you rid yourself of yours. As you hunt your Imp grows in power, tempting you with more and more of the rewards that await beyond the Shroud.
You will face horrors that stir your Imp to offer you more and more of their own perverse power. Can you resist that temptation to regain your humanity?
Or will you embrace it, and become a monster yourself?
Hi! I'm Nathan, and I've been working on this game for over a decade. Since the first ideas were committed to paper, I have designed many games, including horror games (Annalise), sharply focused short-form games (carry. a game about war.) and games that bring genre to the table in a compelling and engaging way (The World Wide Wrestling Roleplaying Game). I've been a full-time game designer and independent publisher since 2014, and you can see more of my work at my website.
Using what I've learned from all of my other games, along with insights from many iterations of targeted playtests for this one, I've finally managed to capture my original vision. The game is done, and it's time to usher Imp of the Perverse into this modern world!
Your support will enable me to concentrate on getting the text of the book completed, designed and produced. The game is done, but there's still a lot of work to do turn the playtest packet into something beautiful you can hold in your hands!
I want to produce this book in the manner I've envisioned from the beginning, a beautiful cloth-bound hardcover containing everything you need to play. That is the core goal of the campaign: make a great physical book. In order to achieve that, I'm partnering with cartoonist and illustrator Marnie Galloway to envision the Jacksonian Gothic world of the game. You can see the result of our initial collaboration up top in the campaign image, and I'm excited to work with her more!
I also want to bring reader/consultants on board to help me address the structural inequalities and disenfranchisements of the era in a way that makes them a source of productive tension for players. This is an element that I bring to my games in play that I want to make sure I get right in the text! I look forward to the critique and development on these issues from Kelley Vanda (Tea and Meeples, Minnesota Long Con), Jahmal Brown (Digital Gnomes) and Misha B (BlackGirlGameWorks, @bggameworks).
Finally, I want to make a set of inspirational reference cards to help generate appropriate perversities and greatest strengths (the core of an Imp of the Perverse protagonist) and serve as grab-and-go character aids for one-shot play. These will incorporate art commissioned for the game as well.
Thanks to your incredible support, we have unlocked all of the additional funding goals for the campaign!
What Now? All additional contributions go towards a deeper cushion to make sure any unexpected expenses are covered, as well as enabling the design and production of the game to go as smoothly as possible. The success of the campaign enables me to schedule time dedicated solely towards additional research, writing, visual design, layout, and then polishing everything to get the book out the door to backers.
- The PDF will be a digital file matching the production of the print book, with features like bookmarks, cross-references and layers for easy printing. It will come with all reference sheets and play aids.
- The Book will be a comic-sized (6.625" x 10.25") hardcover book, wrapped in red cloth and foil-stamped with the title. I estimate it to end up ~120 pages (this may change). Thanks to your support, this book will have a color interior, including two-tone color art, and additional production elements to make it both beautiful and functional! This is the only version of the book that will be produced, so the success of this Kickstarter directly dictates what will go out into the world afterwards.
- The Cards will be a small deck of Tarot-sized doublesided cards, incorporating commissioned art and featuring a perversity on one side and a greatest strength on the other, along with suggestions for how to use them to inspire a character or monster. I estimate this deck to be ~12 cards (this may change).
- Add a Monster is your chance to contribute to the game by pitching an idea for a monster you'd like to see in the book! This can be the creature itself, just a core perversity, or anything in-between. I will develop your idea into an appropriate monster, and Marnie will illustrate it in head-and-shoulders portrait.
- Add a Chapter is your chance to contribute to the game by pitching the horror scenario you'd like to see in the book! This can be a whole outline, the story of a monster, an interesting situation, or anything in-between. I will develop your idea into a complete ready-to-play Chapter (like the Master of the Yard playtest Chapter), including a monster (illustrated by Marnie), its Web, and a set of pre-generated protagonists so it's ready to pick up and play.
This is a tabletop roleplaying game for 2-6 players. One player is the Editor, who builds the monster who will be the subject of the hunt to come and the Web that binds it to humanity. The other players play the Dramatis Personae of the story, creating and playing the individual protagonists who go on the hunt in order to resolve the Imps of the Perverse sitting on their shoulders.
This game is satisfying to play in both one-shots and campaigns. One Chapter of play covers the protagonists hunting down, confronting and resolving the presence of a monster. The Chapter can be played in one focused session or over multiple slower-paced sessions; long-term play is a series of Chapters played by the same group. Protagonists develop between Chapters as they use what they learn to build new connections in the human world, add new discoveries about the Shroud between worlds, or both.
When a protagonist does finally give in to their Imp, whether by choice or because they can no longer hold off the inevitable, that character becomes the monster for the next hunt. The player can choose to take over the Editor role in order to complete the story of the character, while the former Editor forms a new protagonist in the Chapter to come.
A core conceit of the game is the Shroud between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Imps come from beyond the Shroud, and they actively want to drag their afflicted back across. Hence, whenever a monster appears, all those with Imps on their shoulders can feel it, like a pressure wave of perversity sweeping over them. Every Chapter starts with the protagonists actively aware that something is wrong and a monster is near; gameplay is about discovering the specific nature of the creature, exploring how the horror it brings to the world resonates with your perversity, and then confronting the creature to end the threat it poses.
Find out more about the game and my relationship with it through these interviews:
- Five or So Questions on Thoughty (good questions!)
- #rpgnet Chat Q&A (long and in-depth on how the mechanics work!)
The rules of the game are tightly integrated to embed characters in the setting, slowly reveal the horror of the situation as they investigate what's changed in their lives, and then tempt them to give in to their Imp as they confront the monster. You can see them now in the playtest packet, or read on for a highlight summary!
Individual protagonist characters are developed using a lifepath-style system that embeds them in their society as each player decides individually on the perversity that they want to focus on in play. First, each protagonist has a career:
- Leisure: You are independently wealthy, taken care of by another or otherwise have control over how you spend your personal time.
- Letters: You are engaged in a world of the mind that involves writing, reading, criticism and correspondence.
- Affairs: You are a professional, run a business or otherwise have responsibility for some affair that keeps you in the manner to which you are accustomed.
- Arms: You are trained in the use of arms and the conduct of conflict and have made a career out of it in battle, politically or otherwise.
- Exploration: You journey outwards, whether out of wanderlust, the search for adventure or the need to generate new discoveries for whoever employs you.
- Service: You provide services to or are employed by another, formally or informally, in a domestic, labor or other role where your lifestyle is largely dictated by someone else.
And then you decide what kind of family you come from, your marital and filial status, and whether you are happy or not about that situation. Each of these choices gives you a selection of traits to use on the hunt as well as fictional context for who you are and what you do in this world when not overcome with the dictates of the Imp.
You also decide how close to the Shroud you are (and whether you have a supernatural Edge because of it) and then workshop your particular perversity and your greatest strength in a freeform manner with the whole group, digging in to your initial ideas to make sure they are what you truly want to engage with in play. Perversities are not super-powers; you make a flawed character who you truly want to see struggle with this unhealthy influence, and who's fate is by no means certain.
Going on the Hunt
Each Chapter starts with something mysterious, dangerous or horrible intruding into your protagonists lives.
- First, you engage in Ratiocination to discover what's going on. To find things out, you spend points drawn from your earlier selections (Standing in a community, Resources on hand, Reason you possess).
- As you close in on the monster, Anxiety rises, draining those points and pushing you towards taking action - where the dice come in.
- You roll dice to engage in Exertion and impose your will upon the world.
- The results of Exertion may tempt you to give in to your Perversity in order to get what you want.
- You may need to use your very human quality of Empathy to discover how to end the threat the monster poses.
- Whether the monster will be defeated or destroyed is not in doubt; this game is about what happens to your protagonist as a result of the hunt, not about whether the hunt succeeds.
Your protagonists have traits either of their humanity (qualities, relationships, greatest strength) or of the Imp (supernatural Edges, perversity itself). In order to engage in the necessary Exertion to change the world, you assemble a pool of standard six-sided dice, both black (drawn from human traits) and red (drawn from those of the Imp). Your target number is Lucidity, a number from 2-5 measuring your distance from the Imp - each die equal to or over this number allows you to claim success or preserve your traits.
But if you fail, or don't have enough hits to do what you want, you may be able to give in to your Imp to immediately lose a Lucidity and count additional successes. As you get closer to the Imp, you have more ability to control the outcome of the hunt; but once you lose your Lucidity, you become a monster.
This is not totally deterministic! You can play against the Imp and consciously attempt to regain your full humanity. You can gain Lucidity as well as lose it, and if you achieve the upper end of the track, your protagonist manages to banish their Imp and rejoin normal human society.
During each Chapter the roll results and points spent will contribute checks to your long-term development of Ontogenesis, tracking your general trend towards or away from your perversity. Use your human traits and resist the Imp during play, and you'll see Lucidity slowly rise; embrace the Imp and act in tune with your perversity, and you'll accelerate your decline.
- Players are able to play as each others Imps in order to tempt them with Weirding Dice.
- Protagonists gain additional supernatural Edges as they get closer to the Shroud.
- Protagonists can help and hinder each other with their social traits, and forge or break personal relationships as the result of play.
- Players add additional details to the nature of the Shroud and what it means when monsters appear in the world as play continues on.
Every Chapter centers on a monster. Monsters are those who used to be like the protagonists, an otherwise normal person with an Imp on their shoulder, who have given in to theirs and became a literal creature of the night. There are no generic monsters in this game; every subject of the hunt is built from the group up to express the perversity they embody.
When the Editor makes a monster, they follow a set of procedures that embeds the monster in the center of a Web of human relationships and concerns. By establishing their portfolio of horror, who they desire, what they want, and who wishes to conceal or protect them, the Editor develops the context for showcasing the danger to those the protagonists are connected to and care about.
There is no question about whether the protagonists will discover the monster and, in some way, resolve its presence in their world. But how will they get there, what will they decide to actually do about the creature, and what toll will it take on them? Those are the questions that you answer by playing the game.
Monsters are creatures of the Shroud between worlds, the thin curtain between the living and the dead. One decision during monster creation is whether they are close to the Shroud (still of flesh and blood), beyond the Shroud (disembodied horrors) or returned from the Shroud (bereft of life but reclothed in the attire of the living).
During play, protagonists approach the Shroud as they lose Lucidity and allow their perversities to come out more and more. They may also have supernatural Edges, which are abilities that bring the two worlds closer together, channeled through their Imps. In long-term play, players detail the nature and behavior of the Shroud and the world beyond as their protagonists get closer to it and learn more of it. Through multiple Chapters of play, each group builds its own particular gothic world.
This is a world, much like our own, but with this key difference: human passion can pierce a hole in the Shroud between the living and the dead, and invite in the terrible things that we (still) remember as monsters. This is the world that contains The House of Usher, that once saw the Masque of the Red Death, that averted its eyes from the Conqueror Worm. This world contains monsters, yes, and today we have many names for them. But then, they were simply the expressions of souls over-full to bursting.
Imp of the Perverse is set during the decades of the Jacksonian Era of American history, which happens to coincide with the majority of the creative life of Edgar Allan Poe: the 1830s and 1840s.
In addition to being thematically resonate to the inspiration for the game, this period was a really interesting and dynamic time! Cities were growing, new technologies that enabled unprecedented communication and trade were invented (from the telegraph to railroads to the daguerreotype to the easy availability of newspapers, magazines and broadsheets) and new lands were being explored (and exploited) to support expansionist ideologies.
On the other hand, new riches were unevenly distributed, the benefits of progress were not at all obvious to many of those subject to these new technologies, and the conflicts over slavery that would result in the Civil War intensified. Social relationships were constantly renegotiated along familial, ethnic, geographic and professional lines, and those relationships created a dense web of networks that all influenced each other.
Painful Historical Realities
This game is set in antebellum America with all that that entails, including (but not limited to) the historical realities of slavery, patriarchal social structures, racism and bigotry against immigrants and ethnic communities, and the brutal oppression and slaughter of Native Americans. While this game is not about directly confronting these issues, protagonists will be embedded in a society that includes them.
Just because the game is not "about" these realities doesn't mean they will not be present in the text. I do not want to ignore them or pretend like they didn't exist just because "it's a game" - in fact, I've found in my play that engaging with these can make for a powerful play experience. One reason I have consultants on board are to provide their expertise in covering how these realities looked at the time, as well as how to bring them into play in a way that respects the horrors they represent without minimizing the very real ways in which we continue to have similar issues permeate our modern society.
The Joy of History
Like all of human history there is good and bad to be found - and the wealth of curious, incredible and just plain weird things I found while reading up on this time have fascinated me. Part of the game development has been the research to determine what everyday life at the time looked like - and I've done all of that work so that you won't have to! The way that protagonists are created embeds the characters into this world, ripe in social connections and with a strong sense of what they do.
Thus, when the monster starts to impact those connections, there's context for the player to explore the questions of play.
- How does my perversity keep me from enjoying this life?
- Who do I care about that's being impacted
- What of mine is threatened?
- What do I preserve? Why does that matter?
One goal I have is to transmit as much of the relevant setting as possible in the way the rules shape character interaction, as well as give the specific details about how things worked that can be inspirational to play. You are playing a game centered on metaphor, after all; you won't need to do a bunch of homework to do it "right." But I do hope to show the richness of the world in such a way that you'll be able to take advantage of what matters to you for your table and your games.
The basic game experience focuses on the major cities of the American South and the Eastern seaboard. I do have plans for additional content that explores playing in the West (including the Republic of Texas), Europe, and perhaps even further afield, but I want to nail the basics before going into the additional material.
If you have any other questions, please use the comments section or send me a Kickstarter message. I will update the campaign with any additional resources or clarifications as we go along.
Thanks for taking a look at the Imp of the Perverse!
Risks and challenges
The game is complete, but the bulk of the text of the book needs to be written, revised and edited, and laid out for production. The goal of the campaign is to enable me to do this, but there is always a risk of a life event or crisis that would take precedence. I have other publishing projects and freelance work on my plate, but this is a consistent state and something I handle as part of my day-to-day scheduling and prioritizing.
This project has minimal collaborators, all of whom I have a good working relationship with. In the event that anyone can't fulfill their role on the project, I have a network of additional artists and contacts to fall back on.
Due to the production requirements of this book as envisioned I may have to go to a new print vendor I haven't worked with before; however, my experience with getting quotes and working with vendors should smooth out that process, and I have other publishers I can tap for advice and referrals if I can't make an appropriate connection myself.
I have fully delivered 5 of my 6 previous Kickstarters on time or early, and the most recent one, while past the estimated date, is on track and moving towards completion. All funds from my Kickstarter campaigns are earmarked for that project only. I have a demonstrated track record of open communication and getting my games out into the world, and will endeavor to do the same for this project!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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