Kill Puppies for Satan is one crazy game, no joke; it gets hate mail just for its title, which you got to admit is pretty special. The author, Vincent Baker, is the same character who wrote Dogs in the Vineyard which, despite its oddball mechanics, has a pretty cool setting. This particular review deals with a version which includes annotations and the expansion pack 'Cockroach Souffle' which is tacked on the back of the core game instead of being integrated like a new edition should. Consider it the third edition if you like; the author calls it the 'luluduluydoo' version.
KPfS comes in a single column, ragged-right layout with a clear, large serif font that looks something like courier and an even larger version of the same for headings. It is deliberately unprofessional in this regard, giving the feel of being written by some cultist with a typewriter. If it wasn't for the attention to font-size it would be annoying, but as it is, it's kinda cool. There is very little art to speak of (a couple of cartoons), there is no index or table of contents, which is only a little bit of a nuissance given the simplicity of the system and the fact that the game is a mere 88 pages, which is mostly descriptive passages. The writing style is especially deserving of mention. It rants like a heavy drinking, heavy smokin' Satanist, without capitals to start sentences and with a profanity every sentence. After all, this is a game about people killing puppies for Satan, for fuck's sake, what did you expect?
The title of the game explains its purpose. The PCs are followers of Satan; or rather, Satan is their dealer and their the addicts: Let me explain. If the PCs cause grief in the world (like killing someone's pet puppy without reason) they get Evil points. With Evil points, Satan gives them Power. As they use those Power their Evil goes down, thus requiring more Evil acts. As the game progresses, if it is played right, the PCs get more depraved and desparate in the endless addictive cycle of Power for Evil. This is seriously quite cool; it provides an simple game mechanism to develop the theme.
But look out; there are various traps for the evil addict PCs. They don't want to kill anyone because good people go to heaven and bad people are best on earth, so that doesn't gel with Satan's plans. They can't actively convert people to Evil because that's a job for Demons, and they're all in a big union. They can't torture people directly, because that way they end up with some inner resolve and start praying or some shit, and Satan's left out of the loop. Essentially they have to make people say "Why God? Why?" and lose faith, rather than "Oh God help me" and get inner resolve.
Character generation starts with the players writing "My Name is 'X' and I Kill Puppies for Satan'. It's best that players ay this really loud when introducing themselves to the table I reckon. Character stats are based 11 points distributed through narrative titles. Satanists get 'Cold' (a little like Intelligence), 'Fucked Up' (a little like Perception and Stealth), 'Mean' (a little like Strength and combat skills) and 'Relentless' (a little like Stamina). Starting Evil is between -1 and 3, based on a random roll and 'People Who Hate You' is on 0 to 3 also based on a random roll. If you can get away with it you can be a cheating bastard.
Two versions of the game mechanics are provided, a simple one and a more detailed one, but really they're pretty much the same thing. The basic version is roll a d6 and add the appropriate stat; if you get over 7 you win. If someone clocks you, make a Relentless roll or fall over and subtract one from Relentless. In the 'advanced' version it's pretty much the same thing, except you check goals first, including expressing a danger if the action is failed. Everyone then rolls a d6, adds their stat, spends Evil etc. Compare this with the Danger/NPC roll (default is +4); everyone who gets 7+ wins, everyone who gets less than 7 loses. In a win-win situation, either the protagonist gives up their goal, or stops the antagonist in theirs, ditto if both lose.
Essentially, it's the much-used skill+stat (which is one stat) plus die and modifiers roll versus target number. Heck, it may as well be Classic Traveller but with conflict resolution rather than task resolution and minus all the details of the modifiers that could be applied. Personally, I much prefer a bit of substance in such things. OK, so the game mechanics aren't necessarily the stongest point of the game; at least their consistent and besides, that's not supposed to be what the game is about anyway. It's about Killing Puppies for Satan!
And of course Satan doesn't want you to just kill puppies. They're like a metaphor for all creatures cute and loved, because Satan has an aesthetic and moral repulsion to such things. So killing a guard dog isn't worth any evil, because their pretty evil to begin with. Killing a seeing eye dog tho' is worth +2 evil because those labradors are such goodie-goodies and all nice people love 'em. So kill the fuckers and sacrifice them to Satan. Whilst you're at it, rare tropical pet fish are worth +2 evil, along with whales, baby seals and dolphins. Don't kill cockroaches, little yappy dogs, or rats because they go to hell and Satan prefers them on earth [objection; rats are good!]. Steer clear away from killing snakes, obviously. The way you kill it is worth extra points to. Instant death isn't worth any bonus evil, but slow torture will give an addition +2 evil.
So having sacrificed a little girl's pet birthday bunny and leaving the ceremonial bloodied corpse under her bed where she'll find it before nightime prayer (I reckon that's worth +4 evil), Satan will reward their follower with Evil points, and Evil points give Powers. Some of this is pretty normal gamist stuff like re-rolling die, but others are neat spell-like Powers, like hiding in shadows without fail (1 evil), engage in inhuman feats of jumping, running, breath control (2 evil), phoning Satan himself (2 evil), controlling minds (3 evil), walking through walls (3 evil), transforming into a demonic entity (3 evil), causing an 'action movie' style explosion (4 evil), summoning and controling a swarm of vermin (4 evil), desecrating a church (4 evil), adding one to your stats (5 evil), casting a greater satanic ritual from a spell book (5 evil). Spells from Satanic books (and a few are mentioned in the supplement) are somewhat stronger in Power on an Evil-for-Evil basis but they take time to cast, have unpleasant side-effects and of course, can't be decided according to whim. It's all pretty well balanced, substantial and imaginative, and you'll hopefully be surprised by how quickly PCs eat up all their Evil points.
NPCs in KPfS have stats appropriate to their role, like Heroes, Religious Fanatics (who get miracles, curse 'em), Zombies, Space Aliens and so forth. Average schmo's have pretty much the same as glorious Satanists, but others get stats which correlate with Satanists. Let me explain this by the way of a table which the game itself lacks but would have been really useful.
|Cold||Thoughtful||Pious||Learned||Cutting Edge||Sentient||In Touch
|Fucked Up||Astute||Wise||Insightful||Mad||Pain in the Ass||Psychologically Whole
|Mean||Brave||Righteous||Fierce||Curious||Want. Eat. Brains||Tangible
Now some of this is really cool, as it allows the GM to get a clear indication of the relative ability of the character within their stereotyped statistics. I mean all scientists crave to be 'cutting edge' just as as all zombies want to eat brains. It's like part of their nature. The lame part however is that the stats are directly translated even when wildly inappropriate. Scientists, for example, use their 'Curious' to attack at the same value that a regular Satanist uses their 'Mean'. A few modifiers to actions which are inappropriate could have fixed this but, natch, system substance ain't this game's strong point, y'know?
What is a strong point is the GMs advice and their nice li'll narrative integration. Like the rules for guns, which may kill, but there's rarely a sure kill, accuracy is always crap, every bullet will go somewhere and hits something and nota bene, bullets kill by tearing big chunks of flesh out of you, so make your PCs gag when someone gets shot. Likewise the rules (and they are rules) for making things grievous and gory: Rule #1 - there must be more evil; Rule #2 - there must be more grief. A good four pages is dedicated to enacting these two rules and it's a beautiful read.
Finally, and scattered across the two books (like, one's part II of the adventure, 'kay?) is a sample single-session scenario. You turn up at a party and find out that one of your mates, a ghoul dammit, "the needle-sharing, ass-peddling, heroin addicts of our world" was busted eating some corpse and is now in the local mental asylum. Guess it's up to the PCs to bust him out somehow. That sounds pretty simple and it is, so there's a bunch of recommended curve-balls to throw at the PCs, but their elaboration is lacking so much that they'll possible throw the GM as well. In part II the damn ghoul gets into trouble again and joins a choir, for crying out loud. Up to the PCs again to find out what's wrong with his head.
Now contrary to what the author even suggests, KPfS would make an ace long-running story because of the cool theme, but being rules-light it just as well for single-session play with character generation complete in minutes. As mentioned a couple of times, system strength isn't its strong point (in fact, it's crap) altough there is pretty good scope, both in setting details and to a lesser extent the narrativist stats. Indeed, the final pages even make mention of the 'revenge of the killer puppies' which means werewolves, yeah you knew that was coming. Personally I want to run it crossed over with Dogs in the Vineyard for aesthetic reasons, but as it was my playtest combined it with an equally twisted indie game of the early eighties called "Alma Mater". Yeah, I'll be reviewing that baby soon as well. But overall, I have to say, this is good, but more detail please.
Stylistically I quite like the game. The presentation gets a point for being ugly and interesting and the ranting text reads just fine, thanks for asking. The lack of index, table of contents and especially the lack of integration of the supplement with the body of rules bugs me, no pun intended about cockroach souffle, which is a bit what the organisation of the text ends up like. Where KPfS really shines is that it's just so damn cool. One just feels twisted love how the Power-Evil mechanics mesh with the theme of evil Satanic addict losers.