Review: De Profundis

Quick Version: Mail-based role-playing for those who love the sound of many-tentacled hellbeasts in the darkness.

I grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons, and a variety of other role playing games.  It’s always been fun to exercise my imagination, and to explore a game world in the way that I want, rather than to passively watch such a world unfold, which usually leads to disappointment — like when Jeremy Irons talks to dragons.  There is no shortage of role playing games available, but most involve coordinating a meeting with a group of people and spending several hours committed to the task.  Not everyone will have all the necessary books, there will be all sorts of arguments over rules interpretations, and any number of other issues will conspire to spoil the fun of the game.  You could try something a little lighter, like Risus, The Anything RPG, but that still requires a group of people.  Notably lacking from the role playing genre is the one-player pickup game.  Enter De Profundis, “a game of mind-warping horror in the style of H.P. Lovecraft.”

At $7, this is an easy-to-justify purchase for yourself or the gamer in your life. It strays from the traditional path of role playing games by being, essentially, a one-player game.  There’s no GM, no formal rules, and no specific campaign.  The “player” runs the “game” as he or she sees fit.  To “play” the game, you merely write letters and mail them to someone.  Hopefully the recipient of your correspondence is in on the “game”, though that’s not strictly necessary. You can compose letters whenever you want, making this a relatively easy game to play in your spare time.

The De Profundis rule book serves as an example of play.  It’s written as series of letters, each explaining a little more of the goal of the game system.  The example uses eldritch horror themes like those from H.P. Lovecraft‘s works, and encourages the player to use the same.  You can easily apply the format of the game to just about any theme, though.

I’ve composed and written a few letters in my own De Profundis “campaign”, and I found it fun and easy to do.  I followed the rule book’s suggestion to hand-write my letters, rather than to type them on my computer, in order to really get into the mood of the game.  After the first couple of letters, it was easy to look at the everyday world through the lens of the game to highlight the weird and the bizarre.  It took no effort to find a couple of hooks for my game, and I’ve got the basics of a long-running plot that will slowly unfold through the course of my letters.

This is a terrific opportunity to leverage your creative abilities.  Manipulate photos and include them with your letters.  Send an audio CD of something you heard.  You can spend as much time and energy as you want to bring the game world to life.  This will make it more fun for both you and the recipients of your letters.  If your recipients are in on the game, you might work together — thruogh correspondence and shared research — to uncover some ancient terror.  Or you could eschew the book’s advice and play online, utilizing hyperlinks and multimedia to explore the mysterious world around us.

De Profundis should make a fine addition to any gamer’s collection!