Wield both the ideological and literal weapons of WWII--era communism against the forces of Count Dracula in The Hammer and the Stake, an upcoming tabletop RPG about finding common ground with your fellow worker and kicking facism in the fanged teeth.
Designed by Ennie Award-winning creator Chris Gunning - previous works include Vampire: The Masquerade, Call of Cthulhu setting Delta Green and the modern fantasy title City of Mist - The Hammer and the Stake sounds like a Twitter shitpost on first blush, but the Kickstarter campaign page details a fleshed out system and an earnest attempt to do justice by its admittedly silly premise.
Players don the mantle of freedom fighters from one of several popular communist groups attempting to wrest back control of Hungary and Romania from Count Dracula. The events of World War One spurred the old bloodsucker to install himself as the autocratic ruler of what’s now called Greater Hungary, controlled by his fascist vampire loyalists. He’s since outlayed books and advanced technology in a bid to oppress the working class into nothing more than slave labor and blood bags for his minions.
Characters revolve around three main attributes - Physical, Mental and Social - that feed into eleven broader skills and a fair load of more iconic abilities that help players build out their specific character. Of more importance is the faction they swear loyalty to, as it imparts unique talents but also colours that character’s personal stake (sorry) in the war against Dracula. Eight factions comprise the Carpathian Revolutionary Front and span the philosophical gamut from championing the rights of the marginalized to radical Christianity and good ol’ fashioned seizing the means of production.
The mechanical underpinning draws inspiration from classic games of chance, such as blackjack and roulette, and groups are encouraged to use them as resolution for dramatic scene resolutions. Wages wrinkle things by allowing players to bet on the result of any die’s results, earning extra resources or a higher degree of success if luck is on their side. Skill values determine what kind of rolls players can bet on and what results they can choose. For example, if someone has a Physical score of four they will be able to place their wagers on a bigger pool of possible results than their Mental score of one.
The Hammer and the Stake seems willing to take its source material seriously and isn’t using 20th-century politics as mere wallpaper on a vampire hunting romp. One of the core tenets stated by Gunning is groups learning that collective action means understanding and appreciating the various ideological beliefs within what seems like a fractious movement. One could nitpick over who best carries on Marx's torch, but that seems rather petty when an undead warlord is exsanguinating half of Europe. Cooperation will lead to greater success, as long as players don’t get snagged on the details and fall to in-fighting.
At the very least, it's an excuse to stab fascist vampires and free the working class from actual shackles. A bit of power fantasy never hurts.
The Hammer and the Stake’s Kickstarter campaign runs through July 2nd, and backers can pick up a digital or physical copy of the book for $10 (£7) and $35 (£25), respectively. Shipping is expected to begin in April of next year.