Old Gods of Appalachia RPG Review


18 May 2024
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There’s Something Dark in Them There Hills, as we look at why you should play Old Gods of Appalachia

Written by Richard Jansen-Parkes

Just like the podcast that inspired it, Old Gods of Appalachia is a haunting example of horror that doesn’t look to shock or disgust, but creep into your bones. When run properly, the game can make your house feel a little darker, a little more isolated, especially after the session’s over and your friends head home. If that doesn’t sound like an endorsement, then it’s probably not the game for you.

What is Old Gods of Appalachia?

If you haven’t heard it, the original show is a skin-creepingly haunting podcast that explores the myths and monsters of an alternate-world Appalachia - the mountainous stretch of lonely valleys and small towns running down the eastern United States. This deeply regional approach allows the setting to stand out amidst the crowded world of horror roleplaying.

Rather than exploring the Lovecraftian worlds of Call of Cthulhu or the angst-ridden urban horror of the ‘World of Darkness’ games, Old Gods of Appalachia is steeped in the world of eldritch folk horror. It’s a game about weird things living in the hills, cults scrabbling out their rites in abandoned coal plants and the supernatural backlash you get when desperate people do dark things to survive the winter.

Set loosely in the early 1900s, the players step into the boots of folk trying to keep their friends and family safe from these horrors. One might play a backwoods sheriff who’s unconvinced by the occult, but willing to do whatever it takes to protect their town, while another could be a healer who’s only a pointy hat away from being a full-blown witch. As the weeks roll by, the threats can grow more perilous as the story grows and grows.

It’s a slick premise for an RPG, one that uses the sheer scale of the setting to its benefit. Everything in the book feels old and isolated: Even if the players wanted to call for help, the nearest city is hours away and the roads are treacherous. They’re on their own against the darkness - exactly the kind of thing that makes for good horror gaming.

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Old Gods of Appalachia's System

The other key to Old Gods of Appalachia’s identity is the ruleset. The game is based on the Cypher System, which is also used to power Numenera and most of Monte Cooke’s RPGs. The system prides itself on flexibility and range of options, which is reflected in the game’s sheer scale. The core rulebook is a beast, with over 400 pages of content to chew through, which brings both benefits and drawbacks.

The most obvious positive is that there’s a huge amount of room for both rules and worldbuilding. The book is packed with options that virtually guarantees no two characters will play the same, as well as an exhaustive lore-dump that spans six states and countless NPCs.

However, the downside is that there’s a lot of information to take in. This isn’t an issue when combat and special abilities are key (such as in Numenera), but the sheer quantity of crunchy rules sometimes clashes with the horror vibe: it’s easy to be frightened when your character is some poor shopkeeper armed with a torch and a Civil War rifle, but when you look down at your character sheet and see a sixth-tier protector with the ‘Spin Attack’ ability, the darkness suddenly seems a lot less threatening.

Still, even if the system isn’t your cup of tea, it’s hard to dismiss the wealth of information and imagination on display throughout Old Gods of Appalachia. It’s a magnificent book, packed with enough horror and history to keep your group running for years.

Old Gods of Appalachia Verdict

Should you play this game? Yes. It's a haunting game stuffed with bone-chilling lore and a deep – if sometimes unwieldy – ruleset.

Try it if you loved the mysteries of Monster of the Week but wished things were creepier.

About this Game

Designer: Shanna Germain

Publisher: Mote Mooke

Pages: 414

Ages: 15+

Price: £62

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