Review by C.J. Bunce
When the movie The Crow came out on VHS, even the workers at the video store were fighting to be first to rent it. The darkest of superhero films, it starred Brandon Lee, son of martial artist Bruce Lee, and it was going to be the role to propel him into stardom like his father. But an accident on set resulted in his death, adding a chilling spiritual aura to the release of the film itself, a story of violent murder and a spirit led by a crow returning to wreak havoc on the murderers. Now for fans of the movie–and all things dark and Goth–Evil Genius Games has released The Crow: A Cinematic Adventure, an add-on to the RPG company’s Everyday Heroes roleplay game system for adult players. For those willing to confront their own personal demons, it’s a detailed revisit to the movie and its dark, yet hopeful, world, as we approach the film’s 30th anniversary.
The movie was Rated R and that’s probably a good guide for this game. The game spins itself out of the original movie and its first sequels, The Crow: City of Angels, The Crow: Wicked Prayer (which co-starred Edward Furlong, David Boreanaz, Tara Reid, Dennis Hopper, and Danny Trejo), as well as the comics, but skips over The Crow: Stairway to Heaven (which starred Iron Chef’s Mark Dacascos), and The Crow: Salvation, which co-starred Kirsten Dunst and William Atherton). Darker than Tim Burton’s Batman and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, the stakes here are life itself and the souls of anyone with evil in their being. Director Alex Proyas would later make Dark City starring Rufus Sewell and Knowing starring Nicolas Cage–both are close to the dark vibe of The Crow. Put The Crow: A Cinematic Adventure next to the depths of Dungeons & Dragons’ Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft (reviewed here) as far as horror trigger warnings are concerned.
The backgrounds and jobs of players set the bleak scene: You’re either abused, a member of the underground counterculture, a cult escapee, had a near-death experience, are from an occult family, you’ve been saved by spirits, you’re a street rat, or a suicide survivor, and you work as either a bartender, a charity worker, in a chop shop, a fortune teller, a magician, an occultist, a snitch, a pawn shop owner, a starving artist, or just a kid.
If you’re onboard with the ideas and have a sense of humor, game creator Chris Ramsley has actually made some decisions the right group can have a good time with. Ramsley brings two new classes to the Everyday Heroes RPG: first the Reborn/Wise Hero that reflects Brandon Lee’s character, ex-rock star Eric Draven, returned from the dead to right a wrong or seek vengeance. Like the characters of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels, the Reborn is paired with an animal spirit, a nonplayer character ran by the Game Master. Differentiating your character from Draven, you take on a mask of a creature: a butterfly, cat, mastiff, moth, owl, snake, or crow, each carrying its own defining characteristics, skills, traits, and powers. A section on feats provides more detail in how these are used. The other new class is the Soothsayer/Smart Hero, a seer with psychic powers. Actions focus on combat, and players are able to assemble/purchase their own unique equipment packs to aid in their journey.
For this Everyday Heroes tie-in, a set of new rules is provided concerning Ritual Magic, the kind of magic read from ancient tomes or learned from elders, used to form a narrative to drive the RPG forward. Rules are supplied for casting spells. Details are provided for GMs to incorporate rituals, like exorcisms, conjuring the dead, reanimate bodies of the dead, gaze into the spirit realm, invade someone’s mind, or de- stone someone turned to stone. A GM who has run games before should have no problem with the GM section of the book, which provides much opportunity for incorporating your own ideas and imagination. Included are several story prompts to get anyone going. These incorporate the kinds of tropes you’d find on a TV series like Angel or Charmed or Supernatural. If you’ve seen it there, you can play off the trope in this RPG.
The book includes character stats for all the key characters in the first two movies of The Crow, including Ernie Hudson’s character Darryl Albrecht, plus five pre-generated characters: the Soothsayer, and Omens of Disaster, Vengeance, Love, and Pain.
The Crow: A Cinematic Adventure includes one three-act adventure, Rick Heinz’s The Crow: Prayers of the Past, for Level 5 or 6 players, including two small maps. Heinz encourages incorporating music into actual play, and provides suggestions. This adventure, set in a current but somewhat post-apocalypse Detroit, may conjure characters and situations from Matthew Vaughan’s Kick-Ass, Stephen Hopkins’ Judgment Night, or Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer movies. Heinz introduces an intriguing new protagonist for The Crow universe, the kind of character we’ve seen incorporated into the Blade Runner universe via recent comic book series. Wisely, Heinz even incorporates ideas for dealing with a room full of players where everyone wants to play the Crow. The theme of the game is death, and the adventure smartly introduces the concept head-on with the kinds of real-world villains players would want to address. Violence creates the conflict and tension, and the payoff is had via players’ revenge.
For fans of The Crow, dark supernatural tropes, and the right group of players, this RPG can be a win. Check out The Crow: A Cinematic Adventure now here at Amazon or in digital at DriveThruRPG.com.