“Hitting close to home” is not necessarily a goal of most game design. When meditating on the dominance of D&D, one could logically conclude that being as far away from home as possible is what people are into these days, even when that particular brand of fantasy is getting a bit creaky. It’s striking, then, that a game about disenfranchised gig economy workers would make such a big splash on DriveThruRPG, already in the top 10% of all products on the site after only a month. I should mention, though, that this is a game about disenfranchised gig economy workers hunting monsters. The game of course is #iHunt, and its writing and agenda are backed up with a thoughtful and rather complex adaptation of the Fate system. Written by Olivia Hill and Filamena Young, #iHunt takes place in the dark future that is modern society…and very few serial numbers are filed off.
Originally a series of novels and novellas, #iHunt is a game about using a gig economy app to get contracts to kill monsters. Similar to Red Markets, the game is intended to be a critique of modern capitalism…but Red Markets is an allegory, whereas #iHunt is very much grounded in reality (believe it or not). There is an element of satire here, but the argument that an app built around killing people who may or may not be monsters would become legitimized in the same wave of Silicon Valley hype that legitimized Uber is too real to be ridiculous.
“Too Real” is the intent of #iHunt, and it creates a rather brilliant two-tiered approach to game progression. In Fate, the characters are assumed to be proactive and competent and the game is built around the idea that the players are, ultimately, supposed to come out on top. This is true in #iHunt…for the monster hunting. The core character motivations for doing what is supposed to be dangerous and unreliable work is money, and it’s made clear on multiple occasions that if the characters could afford to stop taking gigs on #iHunt, they would do so immediately. What’s keeping characters in the loop of taking monster hunting gigs isn’t some Cyberpunk notion of “getting out”, it’s simple grinding poverty, the type which exists for many, many people in the United States (poverty of course exists elsewhere but as the author points out this particular way of being poor is very much American). When you’re trying to pay medical bills, or feed a child, or even just keep the power on, and you’re doing it on a typical hourly wage, sudden infusions of a few thousand or even a few hundred dollars could make a significant difference in your life, albeit temporarily. Ergo, monster hunting.
One interesting piece of guidance for running #iHunt is that usually playing characters with limited options and hard decisions to make is tough enough, so GMs should avoid or at least minimize the number of ethical quandaries in their monster hunting. I find this is good advice, but it clashes, sometimes dramatically, with both the job generation section and many of the sample monsters. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to make the sample NPCs as interesting as possible…but the advice from closer to the front of the book should be re-emphasized to most GMs: Sometimes it’s OK to just fight monsters.
This advice also illustrates the main issue with the core conceit which the author acknowledges from the beginning: even if it’s possible to play #iHunt as a breezy “kick ass and take names” monster hunting game, that is very much not the default mode. The implied setting is a conversation around poverty, and players will either relate to the depiction of poverty in the game or be made deeply uncomfortable by it (and if you’re either not uncomfortable with it or think that it’s overblown, this may neither be the game nor the blog for you). This is a game about the gig economy, warts and all…I’m not saying the game won’t be fun, or funny (it’s clear from the writing humor has a big role here), but it is about what it is about.
#iHunt is based on the Fate Core rules, with few changes to the way these rules work. The most grounded mechanical change is the use of an Edge die. I’ll go ahead and say it, I’m going to steal this the next time I hack Fate. The idea of the Edge die is that in any conflict, one side has “the edge”, and similar to creating aspects, the side who gains or starts with “the edge” has one free use and then from there has to spend a Fate Point to use it. The edge die is a standard d6 which replaces one of your typical Fudge Dice in a four-dice roll. That means instead of a die that ranges from -1 to +1, you have a die that ranges from 1 to 6…it potentially makes a gigantic difference in the results of a roll. Very cool mechanic for situational advantage, and numerically big enough that players can build strategic decisions around it.
The other core change is one that hews very closely to the theme of the game. Imperiling Aspects means that the GM can give a character an ugly choice, one with no good outcomes. Whereas compelling an aspect gives the player a choice to either accept the consequences of the aspect and get a fate point or avoid the consequences and pay a fate point, imperiling an aspect does not provide a way out (and as such the player always gets a fate point). Players can also imperil the aspects of their enemies, but only after they’ve suffered a moderate or severe Consequence…in an interesting bit of turnabout, doing so does not cost a player a Fate Point, though the Consequence prerequisite does frame a player-driven imperiling as a desperate action.
The way stunts work in #iHunt hasn’t changed, per se, but there is a loose framework of character archetypes which give you access to specific, potent stunts. Now, while these look like they could be “character classes” and are given higher billing in terms of how you as a player figure out your character, the four archetypes (called Kinks in the book) really only change the character mechanically by which stunts they grant access to. The names of the archetypes are heavily in-universe: Evileenas are research/investigative characters, Knights are combat-oriented characters, Phooeys are technology-oriented characters, and The 66 are community and people-oriented characters. The game provides a lot of flavor for describing how and why your character may fit into one of these archetypes, but the stunts are where it’s at: Evileenas can make potions and study magic, Knights can access straight-up damage reduction, Phooeys gain some fun abilities around hacking and driving, and The 66 get prolonged aspects and additional free invokes on aspects having to do with social situations. These stunts are potent enough that there is additional benefit in archetypal diversity.
There are other less significant changes. The skill list is completely different, but that’s not a significant change for Fate (there’s even a sidebar in the book about how to hack in Approaches should you prefer). The new skill list is flavorful, totally appropriate to the theme of the game, and still follows through on the identified balance issue in Fate skills, namely the number of them compared to the number any one character has ranks in. Instead of using the typical Fate mechanic of giving the GM Fate points per player at the table, monster stat blocks have Refresh, sometimes quite a lot of it. This does balance out in the end, mostly because the game has a very detailed Extras system (or several Extras systems depending on how you read Fate Core) to build out interesting monsters. While building the monsters and the jobs are technically mechanics, they deserve their own section as they represent the core of how the game works and where it shines.
The core gameplay loop of #iHunt involves getting a monster hunting job on the #iHunt app, investigating the situation, encountering and killing (apprehending, neutralizing, etc.) the monster, and then dealing with the aftermath and getting paid. The game provides a setting, the Southern California city of San Jenaro, and with it comes a number of monster types, or Clades. The setting can be easily reskinned as it’s mostly built from Aspects, but it turns out that the game also gives you all you need to build your own monsters as well. In addition to Aspects, monsters are defined by three Extras: Features, Gifts, and Banes. Features are structural “truths” about a given monster, Gifts are special abilities that the monster may have, and Banes are supernatural limitations, like a vampire’s hunger for blood or vulnerability to a stake through the heart. All of these can be used, point-buy style, to build monsters out of pools of refresh which are sized according to ‘star rating’. Being that this is a game about a gig economy app, star rating is the difficulty of the job given on the app and correlates to the reward you can expect to make.
The monster building mechanics are robust, detailed, and way more than most Fate games ever get into. Fortunately, there are some really solid Clades of monsters already built for the San Jenaro setting and easily portable. You have some of your standards, like vampires, werewolves, the hungry dead, and demons. You have Sorcerers, which are less monsters and more people messing with supernatural powers. And you have reptoids, which are literal lizardmen. It’s worth staying for the example characters too, which include a demonic CFO, a literal Nazi vampire, and a sorcerer named Chad. Yes, Chad.
Built around the Clades in the book is a job generation mechanic which makes for some wonderful inspiration. While it’s likely (and as you’ll see after looking at the NPCs, fairly easy) to work in an overarching story with the monsters your players encounter, the nature of basing the game on an app means that random missions are going to be a primary flavoring in any campaign you run. With nine elements and eight possibilities per element, this isn’t necessarily intended to create a huge variety of different iterations, but each of the eight possibilities are distinct and they each affect how the mission goes down dramatically. Using the mission generator is fun and it’s going to inspire you; it’s clear that this is a primary GMing aid as opposed to something like the “adventure builder” stuck unceremoniously in the back of Shadow of the Beanstalk.
It’s also worth noting the approach that this game takes to sensitivity. I appreciate that these rules are placed right up front, when running any game a GM should take a read of their group and figure out what everyone’s preferences are. In this game, that’s done primarily through the Levels sheet, a worksheet the group can use to help solidify the presence or absence of upsetting elements in the game. There is text also acknowledging that it’s ultimately the people you’re playing with, not the use of safety tools, that are going to help ensure that everyone is able to be comfortable and have fun.
While grounded in grim reality, #iHunt is still escapist at heart. Monster hunting could be an escape for some in any context, but making it into the mythical app that makes you more money than Uber is almost more escapist, albeit with a hefty dose of gallows humor. Adding to that, the writing and the layout are top-notch, though some of the references may not necessarily stand the test of time. I appreciate the tone of the game, even though I didn’t really get into some of the areas where the underlying rules weren’t changed (the milestone mechanics are similar to Fate Core but here milestones are called selfies and there’s a lot more flavor added through some suggestions about scrapbooking). I also appreciate that there is a real effort to both ground the game to the struggles of its characters while admitting that a lot of what will take place blow-by-blow will be pulpy and ridiculous. #iHunt makes Fate work for horror the same way that The Yellow King makes Gumshoe work for horror: the core mechanics that enable character competencies allow characters to get to where the horror is taking place, instead of letting them bypass it. I’d recommend this game to anyone interested in horror RPGs, not just because it’s good (it is), but because it’s modern. In a medium where Call of Cthulhu gets rehashed every Tuesday, we need a game based on dread from the 2020s instead of dread from the 1920s.
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