Vox by Michael Fiegel is a somewhat schizophrenic game. No, literally. You play a character with voices in his or her head. Each player controls a character and may also control a voice in another player’s head. The PCs aren’t necessarily crazy, though. These voices are quite real, and under certain circumstances can take over the PCs’ bodies and control their actions. The game describes several types of voices the characters might have in their heads, including that of God, or aliens, or a totem animal. Each variety of voice is detailed thoroughly and example voices are described for each.
The game uses the PDQ2 system, designed by Chad Underkoffler. This game emphasizes story over mechanics, and the PDQ system is quite conducive to this style of play. Vox extends this ruleset with a Karma mechanic, which creates an economy of dice that move around the table between the players and GM. Karma dice are awarded at the beginning of play for things like bringing snacks or producing outside game materials like artwork or short stories, and during play for things like creative roleplaying and certain game mechanic triggers. Karma dice are spent by the players to roll additional dice to improve a character’s roll (entering The Zone) or to invoke the concept of Synchronicity, spending a certain number of dice to dictate facts about the game world or create and detail NPCs at appropriate moments. Players can also gift dice to other players or may use them to get some information from the GM by experiencing a temporary feeling of Deja Vu.
The book is split into two parts. One is intended for the player (Lux), and the second for the GM (Nox). Strangely, the introductory adventure is in the players’ section. It is a tightly crafted intro to the game’s mechanics and also sets the tone for the ensuing adventures, taking the players through an auspicious meeting with a colorful character in a disabled subway car and later leading them into a tangled web of intrigue involving a mysterious group of people. The game’s designers suggest this adventure can be used in several ways. It might be a real series of events that occurred, or it might be a shared hallucination or dream the PCs shared. Either way, it is intended to set the tone of the game going forward: mysterious, dark, and fraught with peril, all accentuated by the mystery of the voices in their heads and what they mean.
The game includes four separate settings in the GM’s section of the book, which can be used independently or, as the game suggests, can be interwoven into a single frenetic storyline. There is a modern day (or near-future) setting called Oversight; Facility, a futuristic insane asylum style setting; Currents, a 1920′s era setting in Buffalo, NY starring Nikola Tesla; and Victorian England with the Queen usurped and on the run in the streets of London, called Reckoning. In each, the timeline is slightly altered due to the presence of the Vox affliction. Political unrest and upheaval are common themes, as are secret societies. The settings are each quite detailed and prominent characters from each setting are treated with lengthy descriptions.
Vox suffers (or benefits, depending on your view) from a lack of concrete direction. “The Truth”, meaning the true origin, meaning, and goal of the voices, is left up to the GM. Several suggestions are made regarding the truth of matters in the GM section, but less experienced GMs running the game will find it difficult to parse all of these into a cohesive vision of the game world. The game also depends on spontaneity, as the players can use Karma dice to throw a wrench into the GM’s carefully laid plans. This is a game that requires some combination of an experienced, skilled or wildly creative GM to manage successfully. Excellent charts crafted to help the GM make some of these decisions on the spot are included, including a random name and personality type generator, and most of the game’s lists are organized such that you can roll 2d6 to select an option at random.
The PDF is well-constructed, including hyperlinks on the menus and a friendly layout for reading on a mobile device. The game is clearly influenced by a number of films, books, and other roleplaying games, many of which are credited as inspirations. Those that jumped out at me right away were Unknown Armies, Lovecraft, Paranoia, Don’t Rest Your Head, and Illuminati. All in all, Vox is a fascinating and elaborate game that delves into the depths of the human psyche. With the right gaming group and a talented GM, it could be intensely entertaining–however, it might not be the right fit if your group or GM is inexperienced, or if you’re looking for a more hack-and-slash-centric RPG.
Vox is available from DriveThruRPG, and is on sale until March 8th.