I backed XII: Inner Demons on Kickstarter. It’s been out for nearly a year, but that’s what you get when there’s no pressure from a publisher to review a tabletop RPG quickly enough to be relevant to the launch date.
And despite being out for a year, I think Witch & Craft Games’ XI: Inner demons is worth talking about. It’s not all that I hoped for, but it’s good, and with current print-on-demand prices, it was the sensible choice.
There are demons in XII: Inner Demons, but, most importantly, there’s one target human. You need one person to run the game, one person to play the target human, and then the others play other humans or lesser demons.
I’ve played three times; once as the target human, once as a human and once as a lesser demon. The target human does have to sort out their inner demons, so don’t force a player who prefers simple combat rolls into that role. Other than that, I don’t think it matters what you play in XII: Inner Demons.
One of my games was great, one was good, and one was awful.
Let me tell you about the awful game, which was the second I tried and nearly turned me off the RPG completely. Thankfully, the great game came last and rekindled my enthusiasm.
What went wrong? Players tried to be edgelords, and it was as cringy awful as you would expect. Yes, the target human is so messed up that they’ve attracted an archdemon. The seals that we have to face are a manifestation of those traumas. Also, yes, we were playing in Strife mode and therefore, the demons were getting dirty, but there was no reason for the lesser demons to join in.
In truth, it’s best to remember that the lesser demons are trying to avoid the collateral damage that the archdemon will cause when it arrives. My tip for running the game is to clarify to the other players; you only do well if the target human (and team) do well.
And the great game? It was actually far more light-hearted. I was a demon clock that looked like something from a Disney animation and would like to sit on people’s shoulders to avoid walking. The clock was a vampire demon called Tick.
XII: Inner Demons overview
There is one way to play XII: Inner Demons but four modes to explore that one way.
All games of XII take 12 game days because, in 12 days, the archdemon arrives and claims the target human for game over. The players have to defeat/open/destroy seals before that happens.
Those seals relate to traumas. Traumas relate to powers and handicaps in the game. As seals are tackled, the target human changes mechanically as those weaknesses and quirks vanish. However, so do the greater demons related to each sale.
My player tip for XII: Inner Demons is to think carefully about which seal and accompanying demon you save for last.
The default way to do this, mode one, is by investigation. This makes XII: Inner Demons a bit like a less adult version of Kult, wherein you dig into secrets and plan to deal with the guardian. “Deal with” doesn’t mean a fight, and there’s a point counting system to measure progress so players can see how their investigation is helping progress.
Mode two is Escape; this reflects those people who deal with trauma by running from it. In this mode, which I’ve not tried and actually sounds the most hardcore, the greater demons are trying to sabotage your escape.
In this mode, seals are roadblocks in your escape that you must overcome.
The next option is Seige mode. I suspect many people confront traumas like this – with stalwart determination not to let them get to you. Siege mode is intended to be a bit of a mash-up, mixing up elements of the others.
Lastly, there’s the Strife mode in which the target human, allies and demonic rivals simply go head to head. This can be a dungeon crawl chain in which you have 12 days to unlock enough seals.
XII: Inner Demons’ system
Typically, you have 3d10 and roll them each against a target number. Each dice from that poll that rolls higher counts as a success. Only one success is a complication.
Skills and situations can increase this dice pool, but you only ever pick the values of the three best dice. You might roll fewer than three if conditions don’t favour you.
Experience can upgrade a d10 to a d12, which is helpful.
Humans also have a stat called Stress, and Demons have one called Grip. These are resources that can add one to the value of your dice roll.
Stress is a clever system, but I don’t know why Witch & Craft didn’t call it Calm. Mechanically, you want to keep your Stress high, and that doesn’t make sense to me.
You see, dice values on your 3d10 get 1 added to them if they are below your Stress. The more stressed you get, the less likely you will succeed, but “more” means “lower value” here. There was always someone who hadn’t played XII in my three games, and someone was confused by this flip-flop of terminology and value.
However, in my three games of Inner Demons, this was the only thing about the system that confused people. That, I suggest, is a straightforward and successful system.
XII: Inner Demons look and feel
The game’s art was a selling point for me at the Kickstarter. It was bright and bold with thick dark lines. It was like a Hellboy comic. Characters looked punky and sassy and like someone I’d want to have a pint with.
The art is good, but I’m a bit disappointed with the creative direction the book took. The pages aren’t bright and bold. Instead, XII: Inner Demons is muted. Pages are coloured a blue-green, the front looks dated, pages are decorated with shadow puddles.
The paper quality is good, especially the hardback, but the book feels more like a grimoire. It’s like a spellbook. It’s not kept that Hellboy-vibe I was hoping for. It’s not punky-and-new. It’s somewhere towards the gothic instead.
However, I find myself pleased that I don’t have to deal with an A4-sized hardback once again. XII: Inner Demons is a pleasure to pick up and browse.
XII: Inner Demons is one of the RPGs I’ve turned to for a one-shot most often during the lockdown. All XII: Inner Demons aspires to be a memorable one-shot engine of a game and does it well!
I’m genuinely surprised there’s not been more buzz about the game. It might be the Kickstarter effect, right? We’re buzzing about the great game that’s currently funding, which we can’t wait to play, and not about going back to potentially great games that came out in the last year.
I think the indie RPG community should look again at XII: Inner Demons, but we should keep the edgelords away. There are better games for them, and when I’m feeling edgy, there are better games for that on my horror shelf.
It’s not a negative. My absolute favourite thing about XII: Inner Demons is designing custom demons for the humans to encounter or recruit. Name another game where you can play a more-or-less helpful demonic entity riding out the experiences of a 12-day long magic ritual?
- Available in PDF and paper at DriveThruRPG.
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