(First-time reviewer for rpg.net so be gentle!)
Perfect Unrevised was found by me at the FLGS and piqued my interest. It is a perfect bound softcover volume of about 150 pages. The cover is a marble-esque grey background, broken with a smear of blood upon it. The book retails for $22.00. The interior artwork are average to good; the best pieces are found at the start of each chapter. Appropriately, the book is black-and-white only. The font is clean and readable, and the book's presentation is simple and elegant.
The author is Joe Mcdaldno (the first "D" in his surname is not capitalized either on the cover or on the interior cover page, so I am only replicating the spelling). He cites a variety of dystopian films and movies as inspiration - ranging from A Clockwork Orange to "V" For Vendetta to the Gotham by Gaslight graphic novel featuring alternate-history Batman.
The game is set in Cadence, a Victorian London setting with the serial numbers removed. The game deliberately avoids any sort of map of Cadence, its history (beyond a mention of the deceased Queen), or anything similar, to allow the players to fill in those blanks as they narrate their own stories.
So why is Cadence such a mess? Thanks to the final command of the last monarch (perhaps deliberately misinterpreted), the government exercises complete control of its people. All citizens wear the same drab greyscale clothing, except for a single band of color (a belt or waistcoat) that denotes the character's social standing. Only the deceased Queen was allowed to wear white; only the Inspectors (the bad guys; more on them later) are allowed to wear black.
The higher the character's social class, the more Freedoms they have. "Freedom" is deliberately capitalized because, in classic Orwellian doublespeak, "Freedoms" are actually hinderances to a character. For example, violence of any sort - even if the citizen is being assaulted - is forbidden. A citizen of elevated social standing might possess Freedom of Self-Defense - which comes with the corresponding limitation of not being allowed *any* physical contact with anyone whatsoever.
Unlike many dystopian settings, religion exists, but is is the worship of the deceased Queen and not a more spiritual one. Worship and fasting are mandated on Sundays. Marriages are allowed only if approved by the state.
(Curiously, I could find no mention of whether or not same-sex relationships were tolerated in Cadence. It is a safe bet they are not, but given that the author listed "V For Vendetta" as an inspiration, and such a relationship was the fodder of one of the most poignant scenes of that story, I was surprised to see it missing.)
All citizens are expected to belong to one or more guilds. Each performs some function in Cadence, and each is rumored to engage in activity directly contradictory to their stated goals. These are provided to provide fuel for anti-establishment antics by the player characters.
Each player creates a character who doesn't quite fit into Cadence's society - a criminal, at least in the eyes of the establishment. A criminal can be anything from a subversive writer to a murderer - anyone who breaks the rules, and there are many, many rules available to break.
Unlike most RPGs, there is no gamemaster. Instead, each player works with another to cooperatively craft a narrative scene. The best analogy I can think of to describe this would be how Wraith: The Oblivion would run if there was no gamemaster, only one player and her Shadow Judge. In this case, the other player(s) at the table take the roles of the Law - the ubiquitous Inspectors. The Inspectors wield absolute, tyrranical authority, using laws as a blunt instrument against the citizens to keep them cowed.
Since there is no gamemaster, the conflicts are resolved using a bidding system that functions as a modifier to a die roll. As each player describes point and counter-point within the scene, they bid (represented physically by tokens, beads, or something similar) in an attempt to force the resolution their way. Role-playing aspects of the character - their personality, their contacts, their possessions - can modify the roll if they are brought into the narrative. The pacing is broken down into stages where the crime is perpetrated, the investigation by the Law conducted, and the resolution (and possible "re-education") occurs. When the scene is concluded, the players change roles. Interestingly, this means that there is never a "party" of criminals in the rules as written, as far as I can ascertain.
The characters will eventually be caught and will at some point suffer some irreversible mental trauma as a result of their re-education. In short, the characters have expiration dates. Once they go through the final re-education that breaks them, they become unplayable and are retired. This is not a game for people who are easily depressed!
You may notice that most of this review is spent describing Cadence and the game setting. I am not spending much time on the mechanics of the system because they are simplistic (and I don't say that as a negative). You bid points, they form a modifer, the opposing Law does the same, a die is rolled, and the results narratively interpreted.
I gave the game a "4" for Style because it is a compact, classy presentation, and the price is reasonable. The art could be a bit better, and I'd honestly make it a 4.5 if such a number was available. I give Perfect a solid 5 for Substance. The author clearly loves the genre (although I will say the game feels much more weighted towards dystopia than steampunk in my view), and he spends an entire chapter explaining how to frame scenes, effectively roleplay, and conduct narratives. This is an excellent addition as Perfect does not run like more mainstream games.
If the game has a weakness, it is that I believe it would demand a high degree of roleplaying expertise from the players to make it work, and their having a definite understanding of the inevitability of character loss. This does not strike me as a good "pick-up" role playing game, or a convention game where random players come together of wildly varying skill sets. But much like games such as Toon and Paranoia (a game whose name I was surprised not to see listed as an influence, perhaps because of the game's comedic elements), this is a RPG that would likely hum along with a table of above-average players.
- Christian Alipounarian