Review – The Midnight World

The Midnight World is a standalone horror game from Gem and Eye RPG Studios. It was successfully funded on Kickstarter in March 2020 and now it’s out in the wild. Put simply, the Midnight World is a modern day horror game, with many shades of Kult, World of Darkness and Call of Cthulhu. But it manages to knit these together well, becoming very much its own setting, albeit one with aspects you recognise.

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The Midnight World is one of many million universes, one of which may even be our own. These universes are all being created and destroyed as the eons pass, usually unaware of each other. But some universes don’t form properly; they come out twisted, incomplete, and just a little bit wrong. In these places are birthed deadly horrors and strange beings whose morality and even physical existence is wildly and dangerously different from our own. These universes are called ‘corpse universes’ and they are frighteningly common.

For most the existence of corpse universes isn’t a problem, but the universe of the Midnight World is different. While the Midnight World appears to be a normal ordinary universe, its barriers to the other worlds are much weaker and thinner. This means the corpse universes can bleed into it so much more easily and terrorise those who live there. Through no fault of its own, the Midnight World, and those who live there are plagued with horrors from beyond its borders.

Your characters are among the ‘touched’ those who have seen or experienced some sort of otherworldly horror and are now tainted by it. They have already seen too much, they have ‘gazed into the abyss’ and the abyss has stared back and recognised them. These touched must navigate a world that has revealed a frightening new layer, and try to retain their sanity for as long we they can.

The Midnight World is a 224 page rulebook, broken into all the chapters you’d expect. We start with an introduction and then dive into character creation and the basic system. Characters are built by placing points to skills and attributes, much as you are used to with World of Darkness. Attribute and skill points add up to build a dice pool of D6s as per Shadowrun. A 5 or 6 is a success, and the more successes the better. However, a specialisation can turn some of your dice into D8s, giving you a much higher chance of a success (as you still need a 5 or more). Trauma can add ‘distress dice’ which are always D4s. They can’t give you a success, but if they roll a 1 they reduce your total successes.

So far this is very White Wolf, with some interesting tweaks, but that’s not a bad thing. After all, it is the next chapter where we get to the heart and soul of the game with the Midnight Clock.

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The game’s designers are both open about their own PTSD as veterans, and part of their reasons for creating this game it to mirror their experiences more realistically. To do this they manage mental trauma on ‘the Midnight Clock’. This clock (helpfully printed on the character sheet) is made of three concentric circles, one for seconds, one for minutes and the last one for hours. All the circles are divided into 12 sections. Each time one of the circles completes a circuit, it adds one to the one above it. A complete circuit of the seconds resets the second hand and adds a minute. A complete circuit of the minutes resets the minute hand and advances the hour clock. The seconds circuit is used to power abilities and track mental energy. Things that are exhausting rather than traumatic add seconds. The minute circle shows serious strain on your sanity. Unlike the other circles, there are ways to make it go backwards a little. But as it tracks the trauma of seeing horrors or suffering mental distress, it usually goes forward. Every other step on the minute hand also adds distress dice to your pool, as your stress manifests in mistakes and confusion.

The hour track is a whole different ball game. It represents your slide into either insanity or enlightenment, depending on your point of view. The further you travel along this track the more you understand the horrors, and the more like them you become. Each alternate step you take grants you new powers as your mind and essence become corrupted and empowered by your experiences. Eventually you will reach the end of the track and become, well, something…else.

Once past the rules the game moves on to a series of seven ‘dark entities’ the ‘gods’ who have conquered or consumed a corpse universe. There is also detail on the various cults that follow them. These cults are not the mindless supplicants that are common to a Cthulhu game. Instead they are usually serving the dark entity in the hope of saving as much of humanity as they can for as long as they can by making compromises. Both the cults and the dark masters are very well detailed and highly original. It’s worthwhile to get hold of the book just to add any of these into your own horror game as each ‘god’ and cult has an interesting and unique flavour. Their descriptions are also very complete giving you a good all round understanding of the creature or cult’s resources, methods, servants and goals.

The book ends with a Gamemaster chapter and an adventure. The GM chapter is complete and offers good advice, even if nothing especially new. The adventure is quite short but a good starting point to get you going in the Midnight World.

Overall the Midnight World is an intriguing and well thought out setting. There are some elegant twists in the system and the background manages to be familiar and new at the same time. I’d like to see more detail about what happens when a character reaches Hour 12, which unlike many other games seems very possible in a campaign of any length. To be ultimately consumed is appropriate to the setting, but I find myself wanting to see some hope of escape for our plucky heroes. If you enjoy horror gaming, the cults and dark entities are very much worth the price of admission. If you are looking for a new way to manage insanity the Midnight Clock is an interesting take. I’m not qualified to judge how well it matches real mental trauma but as a gamer I can confirm it offers a fresh and interesting rules system. So, all in all, it’s a game very much worth a look, and one worth keeping an eye on to see how the designers supplement and expand what they have here.
 

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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

Jimmy Nijs Art

Horror-Fantasy Illustrator/Concept Artist
Glad to see this getting such a warm reception!
I still feel very honored to have worked with James on coming up with some of the creature and character art of this book! <3
 

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