Dark*Matter by Freaking Crumbum
IntroOriginal SA post
Welcome to Dark*Matter, a campaign setting for the Alternity Game System.
Yes, that Alternity Game System, the one was developed towards the very ass-end of TSR's reign and that commits the cardinal gaming sin of trying to do everything but managing to do none of it well, not even bothering to fail in a spectacular fashion. I believe the Alternity Game System was a proto-d20 SRD, in that it really does attempt to be a very generic, flexible set of rules onto which you can bolt any kind of theme or setting and wind up with a functional game. It used the classic six ability scores (boo) to derive secondary abilities in non-intuitive ways (hiss) with a set of bare-bones classes (piss) that unfolded into an extremely fiddly skill-based resolution system (shit) and include a bunch of poorly thought out mechanics that tried to integrate multiple disparate science fiction tropes - cyber gear and virtual reality hacking and mutations and psychic powers and starship combat - in a way that could have only been less intuitive if it involved differential equations (fuck).
Alternity's biggest crime was that it was completely uninspired and boring; although the game rules were functional, they failed to instill any sense of what sort of adventures you were actually supposed to play. Shadowrun in Space, or maybe Star Wars with Runners, is probably the closest coherent theme you could cobble from the core PC and DM handbooks. Maybe the best thing you can say about Alternity is that Brom did some pretty sick art pieces for the covers of most of the books, and provided a lot of memorable interior art as well (this is akin to saying the best off-brand microwave mac & cheese you ever ate was prepared for you by Gordon Ramsay).
But for me, Dark*Matter is more than just the lame Alternity Game System onto which it was grafted. Dark*Matter was the first role playing game supplement that I could find as a teen that even hinted at darker subject matter than D&D or Star Wars. I grew up in a small town with no FLGS and only a single regional bookstore chain (Hastings, if you can recall it), and while the late 90's weren't lacking for games and gaming content that tripped all over their own dicks boasting about how dark and edgy and mature they were, those kinds of books didn't get a lot of play in the limited shelf real estate that Hastings would oblige to role playing games. I was well into high school before the internet was really a thing, so most of my role playing game knowledge was fragmentary bits and pieces that I could glean from random copies of InQuest magazine or from friend's older relatives who had played a game with people in another town. I knew that things like Call of Cthulhu, Deadlands, and V:tM existed, but there was no realistic way for me to get my hands on them.
Hastings decided to carry the Alternity line, because it was a bare-bones sci-fi setting attached to a completely uninspired rule system, so when Dark*Matter launched in 1999, it slipped past whatever content review radar Hastings was using. As an adult, I can acknowledge that Dark*Matter is "subversive" and "dark" in the same way that The X-Files is "subversive" and the original Men In Black movie is "dark", but as a teenager without very much perspective Dark*Matter was mysterious and cool and it very lightly incorporated occult content - it was everything I thought I was missing in a role playing game.
I'm reviewing Dark*Matter partly for nostalgia and partly to see if my teenage enthusiasm was completely misplaced, or whether there still might be salvageable ideas mixed in with the Alternity mechanics.
Chapter 1: Everything You Know Is Wrong
Matt Adelsperger gets credited for being the interior graphic designer, and I gotta compliment him; much of the art within the book is wayyyyyy better than the quality of the content with which it is paired.
Chapter 1 is the stock-standard "What is a role playing game?" and while Dark*Matter provides a perfectly servicable explanation, it's not really anything worth remarking on - the players take on the role of regular people thrust into supernatural situations, with no training and even less understanding of what's really going on, and the GM sets up the scenarios and provides background flavor and plays all of the NPCs and arbitrates the rules and etc.
It lays out the central premise behind the campaign setting, which is "What if every crazy conspiracy theory involving the Greys, the Illuminati, the Free Masons, and the Reptilians were simultaneously all true, and humanity's only chance for survival rests on your unprepared group of heroes". It's straightforward and introduces the general themes and setting of the game; Dark*Matter is more Delta Green than Call of Cthulhu.
The main mechanical thing you need to know about Dark*Matter (and Alternity in general) is that the conflict resolution system is skill based d20 roll-under. It also incorporates non-binary success and failure states, which was a pretty significant departure from the legacy AD&D system that TSR had been using up to this point. If circumstances makes your skill check easier or harder, you assign applicable + bonuses or - penalties, and the sum of all bonuses and penalties becomes your situation die modifier.
To attempt an action, you roll d20 +/- Situation Die, and then compare that to your character's relevant Broad Skill or Specialty Skill. Broad skills are the generic skill unbrellas that cover basic knowledge about a thing (Ranged Weapons) and are equal to your governing Attribute (Str, Dex, etc.), and Specialty Skills are the specialized knowledge you have about a specific part of the same thing (Assault Rifles) and add their ranks to the governing Attribute. If your roll is under 1/4 of your governing Attribute + Specialty Skill you get an Amazing success, if your roll is under 1/2 of your governing Attribute + Specialty Skill but greater than 1/4 you get a Good success, if your roll is under your governing Attribute + Specialty Skill but greater than 1/2 you get an Ordinary success, and if your roll is greater than your governing Attribute + Specialty Skill you failed. Also a natural 1 on the d20 is an automatic Amazing success (regardless of the Situation Die) and a natural 20 on the d20 is an automatic Critical Failure (likewise).
Modifier Situation Die -------- ------------- +/- 5 +/- d12 +/- 4 +/- d10 +/- 3 +/- d8 +/- 2 +/- d6 +/- 1 +/- d4
Putting it all together, if your investigator has 10 Dexterity, the Ranged Weapons broad skill, and 2 ranks in the Assault Rifle specialty skill, to shoot your rifle you'd roll a d20 and your target numbers for Ordinary/Good/Amazing success would look like 12/6/3. If there was any Situation die, you'd roll that too and add or subtract that result from your d20 to get your final skill check score.
That's all the relevant stuff for Chapter 1. There's an intro adventure that you can run some pre-made heroes through that I remember being not totally awful, but I think I'll save that til the end because there's another pre-made adventure at the end of the book, and the two of them kind of dovetail together if I am recalling correctly.
Welcome to the Hoffmann InstituteOriginal SA post
Chapter 2: Welcome to the Hoffmann Institute
The standard Dark*Matter campaign assumes that the heroes are members or associates of the Hoffmann Institute (HI going forward), a private organization dedicated to investigating paranormal activities. Your players don't have to work for this group, but literally all of the player facing material and most of the GM behind-the-scenes info assumes that your group is working for HI, so much of the material as it is presented is fairly useless if you aren't going to play with this default assumption.
HI was founded in 1917 with the goal of furthering scientific exploration for the human species. Over the course of the 20th Century, HI notices that the frequency of paranormal incidents is steadily rising, and the overall purpose and direction of HI switches track to accommodate this weird new world. HI doesn't want fame or notoriety for its actions and aggressively maintains a public persona of another boring corporate think tank that solicits grants and funding for innocuous and vague scientific research. Case in point, all of the HI sites and campuses are distinguished mostly by their low profile, they look like perfectly boring corporate office space in completely unremarkable commercial parks. As a matter of fact, HI keeps such a low profile that many people don't even realize they're being considered for employment until they're approached for their first mission.
The source of where HI gets the necessary funding to run a trans-global conspiracy is something of an unknown even among the rank and file. On the outside, people just assume that HI is any other think tank and that they pursue grants and sell their services and etc. Agents on the inside know that's not entirely true, but agents that repeatedly try to nail down where the funding for equipment and travel and other expenses comes from get met with either uncomfortable silence or "temporary reassignment" to some HI post in the middle of nowhere (for some reason Branson, Missouri is a favorite punishment location). In reality, HI's funding comes from a vast network of government slush funds, riders on pork bills, contribution from CIA accounts that are strictly off-the-record, and even the United Nations provides a non-trivial portion of the annual budget. HI agents have infiltrated various support positions within the United Nations, and some members of the UN have been saved by HI's efforts and decided to pay them back.
So how do you get a job offer from HI? They typically target specific individuals that have already had some kind of encounter with the paranormal and have survived through their own competence (or not). People that have manifested paranormal abilities, or encountered a monstrous creature, or experienced an alien abduction always make the top of the recruitment rosters.
First, HI runs a complete background check on a potential recruit to get a feel for their muster. Felony convictions aren't necessarily a hard fail, especially if HI has a mission that requires someone with connections to underworld elements or other fringe groups. Often, HI just needs someone that won't completely lose their shit when things get weird. In general, HI just wants to make sure there's no glaring red flags in someone's personal history that could turn them into a liability for the institute.
Assuming you pass the background check (and people that fail won't ever even know they were being considered) you get approached by an agent from the closest HI branch office requesting your assistance with a (relatively) minor task. They might see how cooperative you are when approached for some kind of specialized information or knowledge to which you have access, or ask you to perform very basic recon & surveillance, but they might also immediately put you on blast and ask you to shelter a wounded agent or help dispose of evidence because of your professional connections. Up to this point, the contact likely hasn't revealed that they work for HI; part of the test is gauging your reaction when asked to perform unusual tasks by unfamiliar people.
Provided you successfully leap both those hurdles, HI will contact you in an official capacity and recruit you for a formal mission. In this case, you're going to be paired with 2 to 4 other initiates (wow, almost exactly the size of your average PC party!) and will have an official point of contact with an HI handler (weird, it's just like the relationship PCs have with their GM!) who will provide your group with a training mission that has a low potential for danger, like a milk run to produce some kind of basic research or information. Assuming your group doesn't shit the bed and performs the task to the satisfaction of their handler, you're all given official, written job offers. Potential new recruits that fuck up this mission might get one more go around (depending on how badly they shit the bed the first time) but the book is adamant that nobody gets a third try.
HI has an employee handbook that covers the expected rules of conduct. In general, agents are expected to keep their activities out of the public eye; HI isn't a real power player at the global level yet, and isn't even an official government sanctioned entity within the countries where it maintains campuses. HI is still also primarily oriented around research and investigation, which leaves them ill equipped to face down enemy organizations with a more militaristic bent. At the same time, all reasonable and good-faith efforts should be made to provide HI with clear, complete records, accounts, and documentation of unusual events.
In practice, the good-faith clause has been interpreted by agents as permission to violate the law of the land as long as they keep HI's existence quiet. In the past, agents have used the good-faith clause to justify things like simple bribery, non-consensual psionic intrusions, trespassing, theft, extortion, and even murder. Although extreme actions are typically only sanctioned when HI is in danger of being exposed to its enemies, the recent attitude among the directors is that the situation on Earth is getting much worse and too quickly, and they're willing to give agents greater and greater leeway in how they complete a mission.
HI has an internal corporate hierarchy that's not unlike other quasi-military clandestine enterprises. I'm not going to list out all of the language for each rank because most of it is just filler and it's rarely going to come up in the course of a game. I will point out that HI Special Division operates their organization in cells, where the person at a given level knows exactly how many people report to him/her and how many additional people report to his/her subordinates, but the only up-stream interaction any given person has is with their direct report; any agent is also unlikely to know how many other agents of the same rank exist in parallel. In other words, an Agent in Charge knows all of the Special Agents, Field Agents, and Agents that report directly to him/her, but the Agent in Charge only knows who their Field Director is, and isn't likely to have information about any other Agents in Charge either.
The Auxiliary rank include professionals that provide on-call or as-needed services to HI but aren't employees. They can't expect much from HI except for direct compensation for whatever task they're asked to do (no equipment requisitions, no training, no security clearance) but they're also much less likely to get targeted by another party looking to run espionage or take revenge against HI.
Nothing exciting here. HI ranks clearance levels as Public, Confidential, Classified, Secret, Top Secret, and Eyes Only. Your ability to request sensitive information roughly rises as you climb the HI hierarchy, although Eyes-Only info contains items so sensitive that your request won't even be considered unless another employee of your rank or higher co-signs the request.
Institute Site Security
There's several paragraphs that go into intricate detail about the general security level of HI campuses, but it all boils down to: HI site security is top of the line, using the highest quality contemporary security mechanisms as well as several that have been "borrowed" from alien tech or supernatural events. HI even has a rudimentary AI that links all of the major HI campuses together named OSIRS (but supposedly everyone pronounces it like Osiris). The AI is rudimentary right now, but only the directors at the top of the hierarchy know where it came from, and the GM is free to develop OSIRS as much or as little as the campaign needs. Is OSIRS a damaged AI that was recovered from an alien vessel, or a supernatural intelligence that masquerades as software? Who knows? In true RPG fashion, HI security is rock solid until it isn't; the GM is encouraged not to worry about the logistics too hard if they need an enemy force to infiltrate or compromise a location.
Compensation & Benefits
Entry level agents can expect to earn roughly $48k/yr, with the possibility of bonus income or merit increases if they perform a mission particularly well or recover alien technology or etc. As you move up the ranks, HI employees have the potential to steadily increase their salary, with Department Chiefs and above making low to mid six figure salaries; accordingly positions near the top of the hierarchy have extremely low levels of turnover.
HI employees are offered fairly generous retirement packages, but the catch is that very few employees live long enough to cash in those benefits; agents tend to die young. HI also offers skilled trainers and coaches for almost any broad or specialty skill you'd like to have your hero learn, at least up to rank 3. HI specifically trains all of their employees in the Unarmed Attack, Ranged Weapons, and Investigate broad skills, and if you join the agency without proficiency in those skills, they'll be the first things you learn.
HI also retains with legal services of Marshall, Wickham, and Vanderdossen to provide legal advice and services to institute operatives. The firm is renowned for getting cases to settle out of court, in no small part because the lawyers employed by the firm aren't afraid to utilize bribery, extortion, and other unsavory negotiating tactics, as long as they can maintain legal plausible deniability. Marshall, Wickham, and Vanderdossen are well versed in extricating agents from jails and getting records expunged, but it doesn't happen overnight, so agents are advised to do their very best to stay under the radar of police or other authorities and keep their asses out of jail in the first place. Marshall, Wickham, and Vanderdossen aren't foolish; they'll defend an agent as a client of HI to the best of their abilities, but they're not afraid to decline representing agents that become repeat offenders, or agents that committed brazen crimes that don't leave their culpability within a reasonable amount of doubt.
Come back next time for Chapter 3: Institute Divisions, Agents Careers, Skills, Perks, and Flaws!
Welcome to the Hoffmann Institute Part 2Original SA post
Chapter 2: Welcome to the Hoffmann Institute Part 2
Okay I lied, it turns out the internal division listings for the Hoffman Institute are a lot more information dense than I remember, and I don't want to run this into Chapter 3 (which is its own kind of info-dense beast). So, let's knock this out tonight!
HI has five primary divisions, each responsible for a different aspect of HI's overall goals. The divisions are: Administrative, Analytical, Archives, Intelligence, and Special. Most divisions have a presence in each of HI's branch offices, although this presence can sometimes be just a single agent at some of the smaller facilities. Each division is centered in a different city or compound, and many divisions are further divided into smaller departments.
Director Itohiro Nakami leads the Administrative Council, a group of HI executives responsible for setting and reviewing the primary goals for HI, as well as keeping said goals away from public scrutiny. The other members of this council are the five Division Supervisors (the highest rank within a given division), the multiple Department Chiefs within the Administrative division, and any additional Facility Directors that might have control of particularly sensitive or crucial intelligence within their compounds.
Division Supervisor: Gail Morland
Gail is the most senior HI agent, outranked only by Director Nakami. Because of her position of seniority and her role as division supervisor of administration, there's not much information that slips by her notice. She doesn't necessarily know all of the specific details of every operation as they occur, but you can infer a lot of critical information just by auditing an agent's expense records and equipment requisition checklist.
This is the division that makes HI policy, assigns agents to specific tasks, and authorizes the use of force when it becomes necessary to the completion of a mission. More frequently, however, this division includes the bean counters and support resources that make sure HI stays under budget and on target. Administrative Division departments include Facilities & Accounts, Legal, Personnel, Security, and Training. The book is pretty direct that the Administrative Division isn't the best base of operations for the kinds of adventures that the average HI agent is expected to undertake, but if you have a player that really wants to play a fish-out-of-water getting thrown into action because of an internal miscommunication, go hog wild. In general, Administrative Division does not retain a stable of field agents, and they are almost never involved in direct operational capacity. This has also created an unfortunate rift between the Administrative Division and the Intelligence division, as the latter group tends to involve the majority of HI's active field operations, and agents that risk their lives day in and day out have become understandably tired of having to justify why (for example) an AR-15, 3 boxes of ammunition, and two incendiary grenades was necessary to complete their operation when they were already provided a standard issue 9mm with a single spare clip.
Division Supervisor: Thomas "Too Tall" Curran
Too Tall was a former chief medical examiner for the city of Dallas until he ended up unknowingly performing autopsies on xenoforms that only superficially resembled human beings. He still affects a southern accent and puts on a "been there, seen it all" attitude that serves to counterbalance his gaggle of excitable but easily distracted subordinates.
The brains of HI, this division is half research methodology and half applied engineering, with a big 'ol helping of nerd mixed in for flavor. Analytical Division departments include Ballistics, Biological & Chemical, Computer Resources, and Engineering & Fabrication. Almost every agent in this division possesses some extremely specific technical expertise or scientific skills, and they are often expected to be able to bring their knowledge into the field to assist other agents in identifying or resolving supernatural phenomena. One of Alternity's character classes is the Tech-Op, and the book recommends that any players wanting to run a Tech-Op hero should start in the Analytical Division.
Division Supervisor: Gheorghe Zamfirescu
Gheorghe oversees all of the data, research reporting, patents, and classified information produced by HI. Although field agents flippantly refer to the Archives Division as "the clerks" and refer to Gheorghe as "the Head Librarian", agents quickly learn that saying either of those things within earshot of Archives personnel is a great way to get all of your system access revoked and all of your digital devices recalled for "maintenance" .
Archives Division oversees a wide-ranging collection of human and alien artifacts, occult tomes, and xenobiological specimen samples, widely scattered across multiple HI sites; this is an intentional policy to enhance division security and ensure that a breach at any one Archives Division compound doesn't risk compromising the entire institute. The Archives Division departments include the Department of Antiquities and the Department of Documentation. Four of the most important Archives Division branches are the Case Report Server (containing redundant digital copies of all HI case files), the New York Rare Book Depository (the Ry'leh Fragments, a copy of the stage play "The King in Yellow", etc.), the Chicago Specimen Collection (primary repository of the institute's xenobiological specimens), and the Barcelona Antiquities Office (archaeological finds like the Ark of the Covenant). Despite the negative connotations that many field agents ascribe to the Archives Division, it's not at all uncommon for Archives Division agents to perform on-site work for active operations. If your character concept includes someone like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft, the Analytical Division makes a great base of operations.
Division Supervisor: Samuel Layacona
Sam operates the Intelligence Division out of Washinton D.C. where the division has multiple opportunities to work with, and recruit from, agencies such as the CIA, DoD, FBI, and NSA. Sam actually started as an agent for the NSA under the Carter Administration, and although he has long since ceased working for the U.S. government, he has maintained an extremely "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" relationship with his previous colleagues.
The Intelligence Division departments include Directorate, Image Acquisition, Observation, and Information Retrieval. These departments cover all of the standard cloak and dagger activities that comprise the deadly ballet of international espionage. The Directorate department itself is shrouded in secrecy; other agents claim that it consists of 12 spooks that aren't listed anywhere within the HI employee hierarchy, that they operate from a secured compound somewhere in Scotland, and that they keep tabs and files on both HI's enemies and HI's agents. When an HI agent goes AWOL or rogue or worse, the Directorate is the department that's responsible for cleaning up the mess. Thus far, nobody that has ever turned traitor against HI has permanently avoided capture or execution by the Directorate.
Division Supervisor: Unacknowledged
The Special Division is to the Directorate what the Directorate is to the rest of the institute. HI makes no effort to publicize the existence of Special Division; HI officers and supervisors don't acknowledge it, and its members never appear on an organizational chart, phone list, or employee database. In fact, most Special Division agents are hidden in plain sight, holding otherwise unremarkable positions within other HI divisions, but following an invisible chain of command of which only they are aware.
Still, stories of Special Division activities regularly make the rounds among the rest of the HI staff. If even half of the rumors are true, the Special Division is a hotbed of paranormal activity, supernatural encounters, and xenobiological monstrosities. Everyone "knows" that the Special Division is home to the HI stable of honest-to-god psychics, engages in black ops and wet work assassinations, and has possession of the sole operational, intergalactic vehicle that Special Division remanded from a wayward alien scouting party. If any of the regular HI staff were told what actually happens within the Special Division they'd say such lies are too outlandish even for the average weirdness that comes from working at HI. The book promotes the idea that the Special Division is the "epic level" version of a Dark*Matter campaign. When your players have saved the world from the brink of annihilation, that's when they get an invitation to the Special Division to learn what's really going on.
With that, we're finally done with Chapter 2! The next chapter is a lot more dry; it's the skill list and feat list and career list for Dark*Matter heroes. Rather than cover all of the mechanical information line-by-line, I'm going to use it to try and explain what I perceive to be one of the major shortcomings of the Alternity system.
Heroes of Dark*MatterOriginal SA post
Chapter 3: Heroes of Dark*Matter
Chapter 3 is the standard Skills / Perks & Flaws / Careers / etc. chapter that is included in every campaign book that gives your players more options for character creation that are
Alternity's conflict resolution system is Skill-based d20 roll-under. It also incorporates non-binary success and failure states; you can Fail or Succeed, and your Success can be Marginal, Orginary, Good, or Amazing. Circumstances that make your skill check easier or harder are assigned applicable Bonuses or Penalties, and the sum of all bonuses and penalties becomes your situation die modifier. The most un-intuitive part for new players is that Bonuses subtract from your roll and Penalties add to your roll, because this is a roll-under system which means golf rules apply. To attempt an action, you roll d20 +/- Situation Die.
Modifier Situation Die -------- ------------- +/- 5 +/- d12 +/- 4 +/- d10 +/- 3 +/- d8 +/- 2 +/- d6 +/- 1 +/- d4
Most of the art for this chapter is paired with skill descriptions on the same page, and frequently my brain can't parse the connection. This is Creativity and Investigate?
In order to determine whether or not you succeeded at doing a thing, you compare your final modified roll to your skill rank. Skill Rank can be two different sets of numbers, depending on whether you're using a Broad Skill or a Specialty Skill.
Broad Skills are the generic skill umbrellas that cover basic knowledge about a thing (Ranged Weapons) and a skill check against a Broad Skill uses an Ordinary/Good/Amazing scale equal to Base Attribute / BA/2 / BA/4 (always dropping any decimals). You fail if your skill check result is greater than your Base Attribute.
Specialty Skills are the specialized knowledge you have about a specific thing within a Broad Skill category (Ranged Weapons - Assault Rifles) and a skill check against a Specialty Skill adds your ranks in the Specialty skill to your Base Attribute before dividing, so a skill check against a Specialty Skill uses an Ordinary/Good/Amazing scale equal to Base Attribute + Rank / (BA+R)/2 / (BA+R)/4 (always dropping any decimals). You fail if your skill check result is greater than your Base Attribute + Rank. This means that you can buy multiple ranks of the same Specialty Skill to improve your odds of success, and many Specialty Skills also offer Rank Benefits past certain skill level thresholds.
Rank Benefits have to be bought separately, meaning you don't get them automatically for passing the required Specialty Skill level threshold. You have to specifically buy the same rank again for the same cost, and they give your character some additional stunt they can do with the skill.
Putting it all together, if your HI field agent has 10 Dexterity, the Ranged Weapons broad skill, and 2 ranks in the Assault Rifle specialty skill, to shoot your AR-15 at a feral mothman, you'd roll a d20 and your target numbers for Ordinary/Good/Amazing success would look like 12/6/3. If there was any Situation die, you'd roll that too and add or subtract that result from your d20 to get your final skill check score.
Look upon my bloat, ye mighty, and despair!
So what's my beef with the system?
1. The full skill list (see above) is wayyyyyy too bloated and convoluted. It disproportionately favors Dexterity and Intelligence for the bulk of the skill sheet, meaning any character that doesn't invest in those two base attributes are objectively less effective (and hence less fun to play) than a character that does invest in those two base attributes. God stats ahoy!
2. There's too many skills that have overlapping use, either RAW or RAI, and there's too many chances for a player to purchase the "worse" version of two nearly identical skills, Unless they're willing to memorize not only the literal skill definition for every possible Broad and Specialty Skill, but also possess encyclopedic knowledge of how each different monster or threat or hazard or obstacle interprets the skill list.
Strength: Armor Operation - Combat Armor and Constitution: Survival - Survival Training and Intelligence: Navigation - Surface and Will: Creativity - Forgery are all broad skills with only a single specialty skill. Why weren't these uses rolled into another similar Broad Skill/Specialty Skill package as a rank benefit?
Why does the act of moving stealthily take three different skills? Why aren't Dexterity: Stealth - Hide and Dexterity: Stealth - Shadow and Dexterity: Stealth - Sneak just one single skill?
Why are Intelligence: Computer Science - Programming and Intelligence: Knowledge - Computer Operations and Intelligence: Technical Science - Technical Knowledge three disparate entries? There's no commonality between these skills that might preclude just putting all of them into one skill?
For that matter, what kind of information is too specific for Intelligence: Technical Science, to cover it, such that Intelligence: Technical Science - Technical Knowledge needs to exist to keep things from getting out of hand?
Why does Intelligence: Technical Science get Invention but not Will: Creativity? Doesn't inventing things require some degree of creativity, and vice versa?
Why does Personality: get 4 broad skills and 14 (!) Specialty Skills that are all just synonyms for verbally convincing to do something for you? Personality: Convince - Verbally could coexist along with Strength: Coerce - Physically and it'd make just as much sense and take up 1/7 the space.
Life Science and Medical Science?
3. Because of the aforementioned bloat there's a frustrating lack of consistency, even between Alternity designers, regarding which skills should be used for which purpose. Sometimes, even within the same adventure, you would have extremely similar situations that arbitrarily use two different skills to resolve them. Some examples:
If I get tossed out of an airplane in mid-flight and am trying to fumble with a parachute before I splatter all over the earth, am I using Dexterity: Acrobatics - Daredevil or Dexterity: Acrobatics - Fall?
What if I need to swim away from a shark that's trying to eat me in the ocean? Am I using Constitution: Movement - Swim because I intend to swim through the water, or am I using Constitution: Movement - Race because I am racing the shark to my boat/dry land/safety?
What if I have to resist torture? Do I roll Constitution: Stamina - Resist Pain or Will: Resolve - Physical Resolve?
When do I use Intelligence: Knowledge - Deduce versus Will: Awareness - Intuition? What is meaningfully different between these skills?
Militiaman? Maybe. Street Punk? Uhhhhh?
4. Rank Benefits are either completely underwhelming or gate off skill functionality that should really just come with the core Specialty skill. Rather than giving your character some extra, cool, unique thing to do, they're just the prototype for the D&D 3.X / Pathfinder school of design; Rank Benefits are used primarily to reduce or remove the penalties for trying to use your skill for something it should already cover.
Want your bad-ass martial arts expert to headbutt an opponent, even though your arms are cuffed behind your back? You can't do that unless you've bought 4 ranks in Strength: Unarmed Attack - Brawl and then bought rank 4 again to unlock the Rank Benefit. Otherwise, having your hands/arms restrained means you SOL if you try to attack with another part of your body! I guess no one in Dark*Matter has ever trained for MMA?
Want to be able to dodge incoming gunfire and try to return a little heat yourself? Too bad! You can't both dodge an attack and take any other action until you've bought 3 ranks in Dexterity: Acrobatics - Dodge and then bought rank 3 again. You also can't declare that you're using your action to dodge an attack if it happens before your initiative until you've bought 7 ranks in Dexterity: Acrobatics - Dodge and then bought rank 7 again. What an interesting way to make sure low level combat is extra lethal!
Want to draw your pistol and shoot it with the same action? You're going to get an action penalty for that, unless you have Dexterity: Ranged Weapon - Pistol at 3 ranks and you also bought rank 3 again. Want to use any other weapon in the same action that you drew it? LOL, buy up to rank 3, plus rank 3 again, for each type of weapon with which you might want to have this functionality. I don't even know if it would have been worse to just make Dexterity: Ranged Weapon - Quick Draw its own skill; on the one hand, skill bloat, but on the other, it's really silly to have to buy this specific Rank Benefit for EACH type of weapon you use.
PERKS & FLAWS:
No surprises here; if you've seen one game's Perks & Flaws section, you've seen them all. Like every other game, these can be bought either at character creation or with experience points earned from advancement. Their practical use is to min/max some specific character concept with a bunch of drawbacks that contain an extremely fatal degree of punishment but are also miraculously paired with an exceedingly infrequent chance of ever coming up over the course of an adventure. You know, gaming the maximum number of points out of the character creation system.
Most of these are pretty boring - get a minor bonus to this skill or take a penalty when this specific thing occurs, but I'll highlight a few that are notable:
Your hero starts the campaign with one fully functional alien/futuristic/occult/etc. item or weapon. This is the D&D equivalent of starting a level 1 hero with a magic item of his/her choosing. The perk specifically says the item doesn't have any drawbacks or hidden penalties and will work flawlessly unless your hero gets a Critical Failure result on a skill check when using this item, whereupon it will break (Alternity does Critical Failures on any natural 20 rolled, so there's a 5% chance this will happen every time the item is used). All this for the low cost of 4 experience points, about the same as a broad skill or the first rank in a specialty skill; in other words, this is so cheap that there's literally no reason every starting hero shouldn't have this, and shouldn't be paying to replace it whenever their current magic item breaks.
A Perk with a vague mechanical explanation that grinds the game to a halt for everyone else while you resolve a game of Mother May I? with the GM. You gain a -1 bonus any time you use a contact or allegiance. How do you "use" a contact or allegiance? There's no specific Allegiance Specialty Skill, and the only other mechanical use of the term Allegiance is for Alternity's version of alignment - essentially you have 3 descriptive phrases you can pick out for your character at creation (for example, you can be Brave, or be a Law Enforcement Official, or love Punk Rock Music), and when you're dealing with NPCs with similar Allegiance the GM is supposed to give you more favorable interactions. This gives you a -1 bonus on top of that (?) so I guess the GM has to somehow convey that your NPC interaction is going better-1.
Any time you visit a new location for the first time, you can try to "remember" an NPC that your character knows at this occult conspiracy/alien mothership/yeti sex dungeon/etc. by making a basic Personality check. Succeed, and you get to make up an NPC that offers you some kind of minimal assistance. Fail, and it turns out the person you remembered was a jilted ex-lover (or someone else you pissed off for some reason) and instead they're an additional obstacle for your team until you leave the area. Nothing like a perk that can also randomly penalize you! This is also something that seems like a good GM would just allow any player to do at any time following the rule-of-cool, but Alternity isn't one of those dirty story games.
At least these two people could conceivably be a Field Guide and a Doctor.
Alternity has a vestigial class system with four very loosely defined classes (Combat Specialist, Diplomat, Free Agent, and Technical Operative) that provide some minor bonuses to a first level character and broadly impact how much certain skills cost to purchase. Since the base class system is so minimalist, the Careers section is basically several pages of imagination fuel for players that are having a hard time wrapping their heads around which skills they should use for a given character concept (because again, there's no mechanical difference between a Solider and a Police Officer and a Militiaman and a MMA World Champion - they're all fall under the same Combat Specialist class umbrella). Each career is just a short blurb about what that type of profession would be doing in a Dark*Matter campaign and includes a list of recommended skills and perks and flaws for a new character to buy. There's no mechanical benefit to being one type of Free Agent versus another type of Free Agent, so I'm not going to transcribe any of the suggested careers here. If you can imagine what kind of skills a Private Detective should buy, then you're already too competent too need this section.
BOOM! Chapter 3 done! Next time we roll into Chapter 4, all of the occult mysteries that plague the world of Dark*Matter! This is somehow just another 20 pages of Broad Skills and Specialty Skills
Arcana - PsionicsOriginal SA post
Chapter 4: Arcana - Psionics
Chapter 4 is the obligatory chapter about psychic powers, sorcery, and divine magic. More than that; it's really boring. Perfunctory? Uninspired? The rules make sense, and Dark*Matter is basically just making slight adjustments to the rules for psychic abilities and supernatural powers that were already presented in the core Alternity PHB. There are some slight twists to make the powers more thematic for Dark*Matter and there's a few new powers, or new uses for powers, provided as well, but on the whole I don't feel like Dark*Matter does anything very interesting with the supernatural as a concept.
A long, long time ago, I reviewed the AD&D Complete Psionics Handbook for a prior iteration of FATAL & Friends. I mention this because Dark*Matter is another TSR game, and I feel like it largely makes the same mistakes. Much like psychic powers in AD&D, the supernatural powers presented in Chapter 4 feel like an afterthought, like they were bolted on because the game is Dark*Matter and it's supposed to be a Cthulhu knock-off, but with no real care or interest taken to make anything exciting or mysterious. The supernatural powers provided work basically the same way as every other Broad Skill+Specialty skill pairing that you would normally buy for your hero. However, they also require that you involve a separate power source - either Psychic Points for psychic powers or FX Points for supernatural powers. I guess the concern was that these kinds of spells and powers would just be totally unbalancing if you could use them as freely as, say, Intelligence: Knowledge - Deduce?
One of the major limiting factors is that the powers just don't scale well - if you compare the amount of XP that it takes to learn how to shoot a regular gun, and compare that to the amount of XP that it takes to learn some kind of attack psychic power, it actually requires more XP spent just to get the psychic power to the same level of proficiency. On top of that, you're completely locked into using only that psychic power, whereas learning how to shoot a gun gives you a diverse array of combat options (Dark*Matter produced an entire splatbook for gear-porn that I might cover in the future, but suffice to say there's multiple-page-long charts that specify exactly what the mechanical difference is between every conceivable type of ammunition, so they were thorough if nothing else). Beyond that, it's much easier to find better weapons, or weapons that target a specific kind of defense, so that the Pavlovian item treadmill kicks in and gives your players a sense of progression. The same thing just doesn't happen with the psychic or supernatural powers - they can get Rank Benefits just like other Specialty Skills, but even if you go out of your way to buy all of them, they still aren't competitive with regular skills.
But enough belaboring the point, let's jump right in!
The section for psychic powers doesn't have a lot of art, so I'm spicing it up with Mindwalker art from the Alternity PHB. Here's what your Mindwalker hero might look like if you weren't playing Dark*Matter.
Mindwalking (Psychic Powers)
In core Alternity, Mindwalker is a basic class like Combat Specialist or Tech Op. As Dark*Matter is set in the year 199X, humanity hasn't yet mastered all of the techniques required for Mindwalker to be an actual class that a player can take. Instead, players are allowed to purchase one Mindwalking Broad Skill and up to two related Specialty Skills, and the Specialty Skills also have a maximum hard cap - your first Mindwalking Specialty Skill can reach a maximum rank of 12 and your second one can reach a maximum rank of 6. Any player that buys Mindwalking skills automatically gets a reserve of Psychic Points equal to 1/2 their Willpower ability, rounding down (making these options even less appealing to characters that don't pump Willpower). You can raise your Psychic Point pool by spending XP similar to raising a skill, but you can only ever purchase 3 additional Psychic Points - this means that the most willful possible character that buys all 3 Psychic Point pool upgrades will only ever have 10 Psychic Points.
Intelligence: ESP - Empathy normally grants your hero a bonus towards social interactions based on the quality of success you roll. Dark*Matter adds the ability to Read Auras, and doing so also gives you a bonus towards any medical or first-aid related skill checks you make on the target. Tell me where it hurts!
Intelligence: ESP - Mind Reading allows your hero to read someone else's surface thoughts. Dark*Matter adds the ability to probe a target's mind for some specific piece of information or memory. Honestly, I have no idea why this wasn't a core feature of the original ability.
Intelligence: ESP - Psycholocation is dowsing. That's all, you use this power and you hold a special stick and your hero can find things that are missing.
Intelligence: ESP - Sensitivity normally is a radar system that lets you know when someone else is using psychic powers. Dark*Matter includes functionality for talking to ghosts as a Medium, although ghosts are a cowardly, superstitous lot and the information they give is likely wrong. This is in the skill description, which makes me wonder why they even bothered. Hey, here's a skill that will give you bad information on a successful roll!
Psychometry solves the crime of Future Marlyn Manson disinterestedly shooting an orb at some kind of brown locust that's way over-selling the severity of the crime.
Will: Telekinesis - Electrokinetics was a basic bitch direct damage blast in Alternity core (seriously, it couldn't even deal mortal damage on an amazing success) and Dark*Matter actually gives it some pretty cool utility functionality. It can now also be used to wipe data off electronic media, tamper with or fool electronic sensors like bio-metric screens, completely bypass any kind of electronic locking mechanism, and jam radio or microwave or cellular or wireless signals within a given area.
Will: Telekinesis - Psychokinetics is moving stuff with you mind (what you'd typically associate with telekinesis). Dark*Matter allows you to attempt fine motor control with your psychokinetics so that you can pick a lock or shoot a gun or whatever. Again, I have no idea why this wouldn't have been included in the original functionality, but I guess it's nice they decided to include it here.
When I was a teen and saw this picture for the first time, I thought it was rad as hell. If only I had noticed the curly-toed elf shoes the wizard was wearing, maybe I would have felt differently.
Personality: Telepathy - Obscure lets you pull the old Men in Black memory wiping trick. This wasn't in the core PHB at all, so I suppose it's a minimal effort thematic inclusion.
Personality: Telepathy - Possess is what you use to turn someone else's body into your puppet. The game doesn't include any creepy examples of what you could use this for, but it doesn't prohibit those things either, so I give them a C- for effort.
Personality: Telepathy - Suggest is basically Charm Person. Dark*Matter adds the ability to implant delayed suggestions so that you can create a sleeper agent panic or whatever. Another minimum effort thematic inclusion, and it doesn't discourage that kind of player from making those kinds of suggestions. The lack of social awareness is going to become a recurring theme in the way that Dark*Matter presents itself.
That wraps up everything Dark*Matter has to say about options for psychic heroes. Won't you join me next time, when we explore the horrors of Arcane FX?
Arcana - Diabolism Arcane FXOriginal SA post
Chapter 4: Arcana - Diabolism Arcane FX
Up next, arcane spell casting! Dark*Matter arbitrarily decides that there's 3 major schools of magic that all arcane spell casters can learn - Diabolism (bad guy torture-porn spells), Enochian (altruistic mystical spirit mojo), and Hermetic (D&D style spell book wizards with a heavy focus on transmutation).
Arcane spell casting works similar to manifesting Psychic powers in that it requires a hero to spend FX Points while attempting to cast a spell, and any hero that knows how to cast Arcane spells automatically starts with an FX Point pool with 5 FX Points. Players can also buy up to 5 additional FX Points either at creation or as they advance, which puts them at parity with the theoretical maximum number of Psychic Points a Mindwalker could have. The main difference is that any hero that learns Arcane spell casting can reach a maximum of 10 FX Points with no other restrictions, whereas your average Mindwalker is going to start with 3 or 4 Psychic Points and will then max out at 6 or 7 total Psychic Points even after purchasing all upgrades.
Diabolism is focused around summoning and binding supernatural creatures of malevolent intent (the book suggests that we just call them Demons) and every spell requires the spell caster to make some kind of sacrifice. Diabolism is the easiest school of magic to learn because it's all about bargaining with Demons for greater power, but Demons are antagonistic towards mankind and will only help you insofar as you can threaten them or bargain with them or coerce them into cooperating. To keep Demons from completely fucking you over, you have to make a blood sacrifice proportional to the complexity of the spell you're trying to cast - Marginal/Ordinary/Good/Amazing spells require that you sacrifice a point of Stun/Wound/Fatigue/Mortal damage as payment. You can voluntarily sacrifice more blood of the same quality, or make a single higher quality sacrifice, to get a bonus to your spell casting roll, and likewise you can try and spend less blood, or offer a lower quality sacrifice, to cast a spell but you'll incur a proportionate penalty to your spell casting roll. Also, the blood that you sacrifice doesn't have to be your own, or even from a willing participant, as long as the sacrifice is performed as a ritual. You can either set up an elaborate ritual altar upon which to make sacrifices, or just create a symbolic ritual weapon that you only use to hurt other people to draw out blood sacrifices. If you're sacrificing your own blood, you don't have to bother with either of these steps. Oh, and Diabolism spells also all have special Fuck You results if you roll a Critical Failure (natural 20) on your spell casting check because Demons are evil and capricious and love poorly designed and implemented systems.
So, what kind of spells can you cast with all of this exsanguinated effort? Glad you asked!
Just in case it was unclear that you have to be evil with a capital 'E' to cast Diabolism spells.
Willpower: Diabolism - Black Warding is evil Mage Armor, except worse, because every time you are successfully attacked you have to make a Willpower: Resolve - Physical Resolve skill check or else the spell is completely wasted. Didn't invest any points in a skill that's otherwise totally unrelated for your evil wizard? Too fucking bad!
Critical Fail: You suffer a penalty to your armor and resistances until you spend a full round standing in natural sunlight.
Willpower: Diabolism - Hellfire is your basic single target direct damage spell. It functions almost identically to Pyrokinesis, except that this attack can deal mortal damage on an amazing success while Pyrokinesis cannot, which makes Hellfire automatically 100% better than Pyrokinesis.
Critical Fail: Whoops! You take damage from the spell as if you rolled an ordinary success.
Willpower: Diabolism - Rend the Weave lets you counter other spells or disenchant on-going effects. You can automatically counter or disenchant your own spells with this spell, and it also takes a penalty if you try to use it to counter or disenchant spells from either the Enochian arcane school or the Monotheism divine school (because those are the good guy spell schools and you are the bad guy spell caster do you realize that yet).
Critical Fail: You automatically counter or disenchant any of your spells that you have cast upon yourself and you also have to spend 1 additional FX Point.
In case we have been too subtle, have you considered that Diabolists are bad guys? Think about it!
Personality: Diabolism - Binding attempts to force a Demon to follow a command that you give it. You have to ritually prepare a binding circle that is symbolic of the Demon you're trying to bind. Once summoned, you can try to force the Demon to complete some finite task for you, with more powerful Demons being capable of comparatively more effort. The Demon is allowed to resist with Willpower: Resolve - Mental Resolve and assuming your first attempt to convince the demon is unsuccessful, you can retry once a week. The demon is bound to the mystic circle for the entire week (provided the circle isn't disturbed) and has a cumulative +1 weekly penalty for every week that it resists your commands. Of course, if you ask it to do something it wanted to do anyway (something EEEEEVIL perhaps) it can just agree to do your bidding without spending weeks negotiating about it. The spell also says that it can be cast - with a penalty - against any demon that hasn't been summoned within a ritually prepared binding circle and if you succeed then the demon still gets trapped within the current spatial locality and their ability to resist your commands accrues a cumulative penalty each day instead of each week.
Critical Fail: You can never effect that specific Demon with any Diabolism spells ever again.
Personality: Diabolism - Command is evil Charm Person. You can give anyone within range of your voice a command and compel them to follow it. The command has to be communicated in 12 words or less, cannot require and action with a duration longer than 10 minutes, and you must share a language with the target. Commands that would force the target to hurt themselves or an ally also give the target a bonus to resist the command.
Critical Fail: You can't ever affect that specific target with the Command spell ever again.
Personality: Diabolism - Spirit Wrack compliments Binding by causing the targeted Demon intense pain, giving it a large penalty to every action it takes. Spirit Wrack doesn't have to be cast upon a bound demon, but the spell typically requires that you know in advance the nature of the Demon you're going to cast Spirit Wrack upon, and if you shoot from the hip and cast this on a Demon without the necessary preparation, the quality of the effect is greatly reduced. Casting Spirit Wrack on a Demon that you have previously Bound also makes it much more likely to agree to your terms; however, this also gives you infamy among the rest of the Infernal Legion and makes it less likely that future Demons will answer your summons, and you might wind-up at the top of an infernal hit list if you pull this stunt too many times, or on too powerful a Demon.
Critical Fail: If the Demon is bound, it gets a free attempt to break the binding with a -1 bonus. If the Demon isn't bound, it gets a -1 bonus to any actions it takes against the spell caster until the encounter ends.
Personality: Diabolism - Summoning brings a Demon into the material world so that you can begin the whole process of bargaining with it. Summoning just brings the Demon into earth-space but doesn't give the Demon any obligation to help you or listen to you or even not to attack you, so you better either have a pleasing sacrifice ready and waiting, or else have prepared some of the other spells that let you force it to bend to your will.
Critical Fail: The Demon you were trying to summon knows that you botched the attempt and can respond however it likes; it could just ignore you, or it might be curious about what you were trying to do and appear anyway, or it might be pissed off at your clumsiness and show up to murder you. For one week, any actions taken against you by the target Demon or any of its minions get a -1 bonus.
Personality: Diabolism - Tongue of the Damned says it straight up copies the effects of any one psychic skill chosen from Clairaudience, Clairvoyance, Postcognition, Precognition, Psycholocation, or Psychometry. Essentially, you ask a Demon any question that could be answered using one of those skills and the Demon responds with a degree of accuracy and truthfulness based on the quality of your success. You can cast this spell without making a sacrifice if you utilize a Ouija board or some other type of mystical communication device, but the quality of the response diminishes. Wowza, one Diabolism spell replicates 6 Psychic specialty skills, when any single psychic hero could only ever learn any two of those skills. Game balance!
Critical Fail: The Demon gets pissy like with a failed Summoning spell and might pull a poltergeist routine or attempt to possess the spell caster or do some other sophomoric shit.
Next time: Enochian wizards are powered by vows of honor and can fall, like paladins, if they have to break a vow for any reason!
Arcana - Enochian Arcane FXOriginal SA post
Chapter 4: Arcana - Enochian Arcane FX
Enochian magic was apparently pioneered by English magus John Dee, who is related to real-life occult tomes like the Book of Soyga and the Voynich Manuscript (which to this day has yet to have its cypher successfully cracked). In Dark*Matter, he developed the Enochian style of magic to be a counter school to Diabolism. It's based on making successful contact with supernatural entities and asking them to perform favors for you, but unlike the EEEEVIL school of Diabolism, Enochian spell casters are making bargains with benevolent outsiders. The book actually confirms that these are the same entities that answer the prayers of divine spell casters, which makes Enochian magic the non-denominational school of divine spell casting.
There's literally zero art included in the section for Enochian magic, so I'm going to include pictures of the real-life Voynich Manuscript instead. It's a real Unsolved Mystery and I think it's rad as hell.
Unlike Demons, these benevolent outsiders (the book says we can call them Angels) rarely manifest on the material plane, and take a more abstract interest in the prevalence of "good" as a concept instead of promoting some specific cause or agenda. Likewise, bargaining for power / casting spells with Angels doesn't require blood sacrifice; instead they require that the Enochian make a solemn Vow in return for their assistance. Vows can be anything really, as long as they include altruism and/or require the Enochian to perform some type of ritual behavior. They can be one-time deals where the Enochian agrees to perform some specific act in return for power, or they can include on-going commitments to honor an ideal or perform some kind of continual service. One-time Vows give the Enochian 30 days from the date a Vow is made to actually complete their Vow, and within that 30 day window the Enochian can request the same assistance / cast the same spell without having to make any further Vows. On-going Vows require that the Enochian make some attempt to make good on the Vow each week, but for as long as they keep their Vow they don't have to make further Vows to cast the same spell or summon help from the same Angel.
Example Vows provided by the book:
Marginal Vows - Offering a serious prayer at a temple or shrine associated with an Angel, or giving a small offering at the temple or shrine that is symbolic to the Angel. Marginal Vows shouldn't require more than an hour's worth of effort each month if made as an on-going Vow, or more than a day's worth of effort if made as a one-time Vow.
Ordinary Vows - Committing to tithe 10% of your salary to a church or group that worships the Angel, or spending one weekend each month building shelter for the homeless or volunteering in a soup kitchen, or donating a week's salary to a charity or organization that is symbolic to the Angel. Ordinary Vows should require several day's worth of effort each month if made as an on-going Vow, or up to a week's worth of effort if made as a one-time Vow.
Good Vows - Committing to tithe 25% of your salary to a church or group that worships the Angel, or making a pilgrimage to a specific holy site that is symbolic to the Angel, or Vows of silence or fasting that last for multiple days. Good Vows should require at least a week's worth of effort each month if made as an on-going Vow, or up to a month's worth of effort if made as a one-time Vow.
Amazing Vows - Amazing Vows are the most extreme pledges that an Enochian can make and should involve a great deal of personal sacrifice. Extreme fasting for an indeterminate amount of time (ex: until Palestine is recognized as a sovereign state), completely forsaking interaction with other humans, permanent Vows of silence or celibacy or pacifism, taking on full-time employment with a charity or non-profit organization that is symbolic to the Angel, promises to make pilgrimages to locations that don't exist on Earth, and of course sacrificing your own life to protect another or serve a higher purpose. Amazing Vows should occupy at least half of the Enochian's waking hours each month if made as an on-going Vow, or up to a year's worth of effort if made as a one-time Vow.
If the cypher utilized throughout the text is actually just a gibberish hoax, it's an insanely complex hoax for the time period from which the text originates, because it contains internally consistent things like word structures that follow phonological and orthographic laws.
Better hope that your GM enjoys plotting out a day calendar for a fictional character that can extend years into the future to accommodate all of the Vows you've made to ensure that your character is making good on their word! Why? Well, if an Enochian breaks a Vow (and there's no exception made for extenuating circumstances) then they Fall just like paladins! That's right, broken Vows immediately revoke your access to whatever spell you had cast with said broken Vow, and you take an on-going penalty to ALL of your actions (proportionate to the level of Vow that was broken) until you atone! Atoning requires that you make another Vow of the same quality and duration and successfully complete it, which can potentially leave someone with an unplayable hero if their GM is a dick and keeps putting them in situations where they continually break the atonement Vows. Amazing!
So what kind of power can Enochians wield for all of this inconvenient bullshit?
Willpower: Enochian - Eye of Fate is every divination spell ever written. You can see a target's future and divine one specific type of danger that the target may encounter. The GM has final say over what this spell can and can't reveal and you can't use it to thwart the GM's masterfully scripted plot or override the actions of their amazing GMPCs. Ordinary Vow.
Willpower: Enochian - Grace mystically forces someone to find you more likeable. Their attitude shifts one step further towards Ally on the NPC reaction scale for each level of success you achieve and you also get a proportionate bonus on all Personality skill checks you make against this person. It's not mind control, you're just making them more agreeable to what you're asking them to do. After the spell duration ends, the targets gets to check and see if they realize that you were mystically altering their mood. Ordinary Vow.
Willpower: Enochian - Halo is Mage Armor but better, because the amount of protection you get increases if you use your magical armor to protect someone that is helpless or defenseless (say, by throwing yourself between them and a source of harm). Halo also has a Rank Benefit that you can eventually purchase which causes the magic armor to deal damage to any Demon or Diabolist that makes contact with you, and nothing can prevent or reduce the damage taken. Good Vow.
Illustrations within the manuscript are used to break the work into 6 different sections, including broad topics like Herbal, Astronomical, Biological, Cosmological, Pharmaceutical, and Recipes. This crazy-ass plant is from the Herbal section, and doesn't resemble any known terrestrial flora (current best-guess is a sun flower).
Willpower: Enochian - Lumen combines Light and Arcane Mark from D&D into a single spell. That's it and that's all. Marginal Vow
Willpower: Enochian - Peaceful Shroud is magical Novocain. It doesn't heal any damage, but it allows you to ignore up to 2 levels of wound penalties resulting from damage. Marginal Vow.
Willpower: Enochian - Unravel Shroud is just Disenchant. It's easier to perform on spells cast by someone weaker than you and harder to perform on spells cast by someone stronger than you, and you can always automatically disenchant your own spells. Marginal Vow.
Willpower: Enochian - White Salamander creates a mobile ball of fire that's invisible to everyone except you. You can move the ball of fire around at will and it will ignite any objects that it touches that could be lit on fire by a mundane source of fire. This spell can't deal damage directly, but if you place the fireball on top of someone then they have to roll to save against damage as if they stood in an open source of fire. Good Vow.
And that's all for the underwhelming school of Enochian magic! Seriously, they didn't even include an example of a spell that would require an Amazing Vow. Up next: Hermeticism!
Arcana - Hermetic Arcane FXOriginal SA post
Chapter 4: Arcana - Hermetic Arcane FX
The Hermeticism arcana is pretty short, compared to Diabolism and Enochian arcana, and there's really not a whole lot of fluff to cover. There's a couple paragraphs about how Hermeticism started as ritual spells discovered by the ancient Egyptians and their teachings were coded behind ciphers and hidden passages, but the long and the short of it is that Hermeticism is a D&D Wizard. It's the only Arcane FX to actually have rules governing how a character learns Hermetic spells; imagine having to roll a knowledge check to see if you can decode the spell and write it into your spell book like an D&D Wizard and you're on the right track. If you fail to scribe the spell, you can't try again until you improve your language skill for the language in which the original copy is written etc. etc. Oh also, Hermetic spells all have some kind of Critical Failure chance, but there's no flimsy, in-setting justification for why. And, some of the spells randomly have material components listed, but some do not; evidently the designers couldn't agree on just how close to a D&D wizard they wanted this arcane school to hew.
Intelligence: Hermetic - Daedalus Improved is just a re-skin of the D&D Wizard spell Flight. It's just as busted here as it can be in D&D; arguably even more so, because of the relative rarity of verifiable arcane power in-setting. You fly like Superman (no wings) and if you try to fly under water or through the vacuum of space this spell still works (although it doesn't provide the means to survive those environments).
Critical Failure: You suffer from vertigo and all of your actions made over the next 60 seconds take a +2 penalty and your natural movement speeds are reduced by half for the same duration.
The section for Hermeticism doesn't have dick for art either, so here's some pictures that are vaguely associated with the nonsense I'm typing. Daedalus Improved allows you to fly kinda like this, except you'd be asphyxiating and/or explosively decompressing at the same time. Still, what a rush!
Intelligence: Hermetic - Glamour is a combination of multiple spells from the D&D school of Illusion but the end result is an extremely versatile illusion spell that is really hard for anyone to disbelieve (+3 penalty to all attempts to disbelieve) unless you incorporate blatantly fantastic elements into the illusion (like green pigs reciting The Canterbury Tales in the original middle-English verse). The illusion lasts for one hour and can cover a total area of 30 m2 unless you walk further than 30 meters away from the illusion, in which case it continues to persist for d6 minutes before petering out.
Critical Failure: Whoops you illusion yourself and take a +1 penalty to all actions for the next hour as your brain struggles to differentiate between reality and the whammy you just cast on yourself.
If you try and make your illusion resemble an artistic depiction from the late 14th century of one of the Canterbury Tales, your victims get a bonus to disbelieve your illusion. IMO don't duplicate two images of Richard II in the same illusion and you should be fine.
Intelligence: Hermetic - Homunculus allows you to build your own familiar, so it's basically a re-skin of the D&D Wizard Find Familiar spell. You get all the same benefits - you can command it telepathically and share senses and etc. - but it always looks like a little shitgoblin no matter what formula you follow.
Critical Failure: The shitgoblin turns against you and seeks out one of your foes and pledges to become your foe's life-long servant and assist in bringing about your ruin. Interestingly, you still get all of the other features like telepathic communication and sense sharing, the shitgoblin just hates your guts.
I pulled this picture from the Dark*Matter bestiary because holy fuck look at it. It's like the old Simpsons joke "My life is pain kill me now" because you can really see why this little shitgoblin might wish it never existed in the first place.
Intelligence: Hermetic - Ligature is Hold Person. Nothing more, nothing less, but it's an even better save or suck ability in a game that doesn't have saving throws or a myriad of ways to counter or remove harmful magical effects.
Critical Failure: You cast Hold Person on yourself. D'oh!
Intelligence: Hermetic - Shapechange is Polymorph and it's just as crazy busted in Dark*Matter as it is in every iteration D&D. You can morph into any creature for which you own a well-tanned hide, including non-terrestrial beings or supernatural outsiders (although the latter two impose a slight penalty on the attempt).
Critical Failure: You get your sense wires crossed and hear color and taste sound and everything is all FUBAR for an hour, which of course only imparts a +1 penalty to all of your actions. This is literally the same penalty as the Glamour Critical Fail and I'm unclear on whether that was intentional or not.
Intelligence: Hermetic - Sleep of Morpheus is Sleep. Goddamn, they just took a highlight reel of the busted shit a D&D Wizard can do and slightly changed the name of each spell but otherwise left the functionality intact. All of these spells are even more OP in Dark*Matter than they would be in D&D because the Alternity system doesn't have Saving Throws and there's no Hit Dice threshold to block the effect. Resisting any of these hostile effects requires the victim to make a successful skill check with a specific skill and if the victim doesn't have that skill, no matter how high their level, they're going to suck shit and become affected by the spell.
Critical Failure: You fall asleep like you just swallowed two Ambien and chased them with a whole flask of rye whiskey.
Intelligence: Hermetic - Transmutation is what everyone thinks of when they hear the word alchemy, except it works. If you can't come up with ways for your wizard to fucking wreck the global economy once they learn this spell, your imagination is irreparably atrophied. There's bonuses and penalties for trying to convert unlike elements into dissimilar physical states (liquid > solid, for example) but who fucking cares, once you can cast this spell the entire system just falls apart. The only real mitigating limitation is GM fiat, so as long as you can win a game of "Mother, May I?" your options for breaking shit are limitless.
Critical Failure: Oh no something in your process imposed a flaw in your creation. Who fucking cares being able to reliably and predictably perform literal alchemy is worth whatever incidental 5% critical failure flaw you encounter.
That actually completes all of the Schools of Arcana for Chapter 4! Next, I will slog through the 3 schools of divine magic!
Divine Magic - Monotheism FXOriginal SA post
Chapter 4: Divine Magic - Monotheism FX
Divine magic is another system that appears to be blatantly ripped from parts of AD&D because the very first divine power source, Monotheism, is just the iconic AD&D Cleric spells from the Good and Healing domains. It's arguably one of the more functional FX power sources because it has the lowest barriers to entry - you don't have to research your spells from arcane formula firsthand, you don't have to create a make-believe day planner to keep track of arbitrary oaths, and you don't have to fuck around with
No, my problem with the Monotheism power source is that the book is very explicit that this power source is only available to members of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism/Christianity/Islam). Your character doesn't literally have to be a rabbi or priest or cleric, you just have to be observant, but by tying the power source to actual, real world religions, you potentially open a whole nasty can of worms into your Men-In-Black-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off RPG. My biggest objection is that this (along with some other things that we'll cover further into the book) create the explicit setting assumption that some combination of Judaism/Christianity/Islam is objectively correct - that's got some pretty unsettling implications for a lot of people that don't believe in those faiths or for people who have been persecuted by these religions. If the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob literally exists and is directly empowering his faithful with miraculous powers, what kind of aspersions does that cast on people that are homosexual or trans or adherents of another faith? There's a bunch of nasty conclusions you can draw if you follow this piece of setting logic far enough (was the mass slaughter of indigenous American peoples by Spanish mercenaries actually justifiable because they were acting at the behest of an omnipotent God that literally exists?) and it really doesn't add anything to the quasi X-Files setting vibe that the rest of the book tries to invoke. There's a ton of ways that this whole issue could have been side-stepped, but it's in the setting, so if you're going to play the game RAW just know that God is real.
I'm still amazed that the devs decided they wanted their sci-fi game about alien greys and the Illuminati to incorporate the literal existence of the biblical God.
Anyway! Here are the Monotheism FX powers. It's a greatest hits album for AD&D clerics:
Willpower: Monotheism - Blessing is just the first level cleric spell Bless.
Willpower: Monotheism - Cure is Cure Light/Medium/Serious wounds, depending on the quality of success you roll.
Willpower: Monotheism - Demon Ward is Protection against Evil. It creates a barrier that keeps out Demons and Diabolists (because they're objectively evil in a world where the God of the Old Testament exists). Pretty cool that the implementation of Monotheism completely eliminates any shades of gray morality you could have tried to wring out of Diabolism!
Willpower: Monotheism - Exorcism is Turn Undead only there's no actual undead creature type in Dark*Matter, so it just turns or rebukes Demons or other possessing entities.
Personality: Monotheism - Aura is Shield of Faith, and as an added bonus anyone that looks at the Monotheist while using the Aura power gets automatically shifted one step further towards Fanatic on the NPC reaction scale! Remember, Alternity doesn't have saving throws, so even the most black-hearted Diabolist that eats puppies and puts cigarette butts out on children will be just as swayed towards the Monotheist as literally anyone else. They should have named this spell "Poochy the Dog".
Personality: Monotheism - Guidance lets you play "Mother, May I?" with the GM and ask one question about your present course of action and the GM has to answer you more specifically the better the level of success you roll.
Personality: Monotheism - Signs & Portents is Charm Person but it's extremely potent. Essentially you get a huge bonus to any skill checks you make to persuade people when this spell is active; I'm talking up to a -5 bonus on an amazing success when casting Signs & Portents. For reference, the Alternity bonus die system skips d10 entirely, so a -5 bonus means you're rolling d20 MINUS another d20 on a roll-under skill check. Yeah.
Personality: Monotheism - Vision is almost the same thing as Guidance above, except that if you get an Amazing success an actual Angel, or other heavenly messenger, appears to you and gives you tangible help regarding whatever problem you were trying to solve. Just in case you forgot that God is real and he is your friend.
I definitely didn't recall the in-setting justification for Monotheism being that the biblical God was real. This is definitely a detail that my high school group of nerdy friends completely glossed over. My only guess is that none of us ever played a character with Monotheism FX powers? Otherwise, I feel like some of the angry teenage atheists that comprised said group would have had a lot more to say about this section of the book.
Come back next time for
Divine Magic - Shamanism and Vodun FXOriginal SA post
Chapter 4: Divine Magic - Shamanism and Vodun FX
If it seems like Shamanism and Vodun were tacked on as an afterthought and treated like vestigial appendages, it's because that's exactly how Dark*Matter implements them. They're functional spell schools, but they've got a few extra hurdles that get in the way of casting their spells.
Shamanism - Rather than spending an FX point and making a skill check to cast a spell, a Shaman must perform a ritualistic trance ceremony with a difficulty threshold relative to the power of the spell being cast. If they fail then they lose the spell and their FX point, and if they Critically fail then their spirit gets lost in the astral Hunting Grounds and must be rescued! Take on-going Fatigue damage while your meat body lies in a persistent vegetative state, and hope that you aren't the only member of your squad that can access the astral realm or else this is a death sentence. This is going to happen at least 5% of the time because Dark*Matter counts a natural 20 roll as a critical failure, and most of your Shaman spells require multiple trance rolls before being cast.
Vodun - Houngans must perform elaborate ceremonies before they cast their spells. Each ceremony is different based on what spell is being cast and which Loa is being sought, and each one includes a pretty significant time component that can't be skipped. To give you an idea of how inconvenient this is, keep in mind how Alternity breaks down time - 1 minute of time is 5 Rounds and each Round is broken into 4 Phases. Characters can potentially act in all 4 Phases of each Round, meaning a Houngan casting a spell that requires a 1 minute ceremony is giving up 20 potential actions. Keep in mind, that's the shortest ceremony that can be performed, and most Vodun spells require much, much longer ceremonies. It's pretty obvious that Houngan are meant to cast their spells ritually and not in the heat of battle, but the time component requirement of each spell makes me wonder if the designers were aware of how the Alternity system actually integrates time with action rounds.
BUT WAIT! Not only does the Houngan have to invest a non-trivial amount of time in the spellcasting ceremony, if the Houngan gets a critical failure on their spellcasting roll, they manage to piss off the Loa they were summoning and instead it decides to haunt them and cause them grief, unless they can appease it with a persuasion skill or by making a Vow (just like Enochians!) to do something that would please the Loa. HOWEVER, if they also manage to fail the persuasion roll, or the Loa doesn't think their Vow is very good, the Loa completely possesses the Houngan and gets to do whatever it wants with the Houngan's body for a very long time - 20 Days minus the Houngan's Personality score, and remember that in Alternity the human maximum for all ability scores is 14. At absolute best the Houngan is getting possessed for nearly a week, and likely much longer. A final insult to injury - if the Houngan critically fails their spellcasting roll, then critically fails their persuasion roll to avoid possession, the Loa gets to posses them for 40 days minus the Houngan's Personality score! Nothing like completely losing control of your character for a month of game-time because you had the temerity to try and use one of your iconic class abilities. It bears repeating, possession of your Houngan is going to happen at least 5% of the time, because of Dark*Matter's critical failure rules, with a non-trivial chance of losing your hero for months at a time as well!
So with all that being said, the effects that these spells can create must be incredibly powerful, right?
Shaman powers go!
Willpower: Shamanism - Dream Walking is Clairvoyance and Clairaudience wrapped into one package.
Willpower: Shamanism - Guide My Hand gives the Shaman a -2 bonus to one combat specialty skill for one hour. This isn't actually terrible, although casting it always carries the risk that your Shaman might end up in a coma.
Willpower: Shamanism - Hunter's Stare is likely the best Shaman spell. It requires no trance and allows the Shaman to make a contested check versus Willpower against another target within 3 meters and if the Shaman is successful, the target loses their next 1/2/3 actions. 1/2/3 cheers for action denial!
Willpower: Shamanism - Spirit of the Beast gives the Shaman 4 ranks in a specialty skill (and the associated broad skill if the Shaman doesn't have it) that is related to some kind of animal. For example, the Shaman could invoke Wolf and get 4 ranks in Willpower: Investigate - Track for 1 hour. It doesn't say whether these bonus points stack with skill ranks the Shaman already has or if they just replace them, so the practical value of this spell is going to vary depending on how your GM interprets the spell's effects.
Willpower: Shamanism - Venom Spirit lets the Shaman eat some poison and then cast the debilitating effects of the poison into another person. The Shaman actually has to succeed at a Constitution check with a -2 bonus vs whatever poison they ingest and if they fail then they lose the spell and suffer the effects of said poison! Probably not ever worth the hassle.
Personality: Shamanism - Animal Voice gives the Shaman the ability to speak with animals. The book straight up says that animals don't perceive the world like humans do and that things like numbers and colors are meaningless concepts to them. I guess if you need vague advice about whether or not the dog that crapped on your lawn was also in heat, you could use this spell to ask your dog and find out.
Personality: Shamanism - Ghost Dance gives everyone that participates in the ritual a pretty decent deflection bonus versus melee and ranged damage. The spell lasts for an hour which makes it a pretty potent pre-combat buff, but if the Shaman leading the spell fails their spellcasting check, everyone involved instead takes a point of fatigue damage. I guess you only get tired from dancing if the head Shaman fumbles their mojo?
Personality: Shamanism - Trance Visions is "Mother, May I?" for Shamen. I seriously have no idea why almost every spellcasting class has one of these powers, except that they must fit into each school in a vaguely thematic way. I still don't believe that any of them all executed well enough to justify their inclusion, but nobody designing the game asked me what I thought 20 years ago, so whatever.
And now onto the Voudon Spells!
Willpower: Voudon - Erzuli's Fetish creates a voodoo doll and allows the Houngan to give the afflicted target penalties to all their actions. Except, when the spell is first cast the target gets to make a Willpower: Resolve - Physical check to resist the effects, and if they get an Amazing success on this roll then they can't be affected by that Houngan's voodoo dolls ever again. Pretty great risk to take, on top of potentially having your Houngan possessed for upwards of a week.
Willpower: Voudon - Gris Gris creates good or bad luck charms that the Houngan can give to friends or trick enemies into accepting. Nothing especially remarkable.
Willpower: Voudon - Helpful Possession allows the Houngan to choose a Loa associated with any specialty skill and summon that Loa into their, or another participant's, body for 24 hours. The Loa doesn't completely take over the target, instead they passively grant a -1/-2/-3 bonus to the specific specialty skill for which they were summoned. You can have more than 1 Loa riding you at a time, but each additional Loa after the first imparts an escalating difficulty penalty to the spellcasting check.
Willpower: Voudon - Loa of Healing allows the Houngan to heal another target by trading their Stun (1:1)/Wound (2:1) points for the target's Wound/Mortal points. Also, the Houngan takes fatigue damage at the end of the spell regardless of how much damage was healed. This is strictly worse than Willpower: Monotheism - Cure but I guess having the option is better than nothing.
Willpower: Voudon - Negate the Spirit creates Zombis under the Houngan's control. Because an actual Voudon Zombi isn't an undead abomination and is instead just a living person that's been fed a poisonous concoction that makes them extremely suggestible, the Voudon has to provide food and water and etc. for the Zombis.
Personality: Voudon - Ayza's Juju is a floating Last Resort point (basically a Hero Point or Action Point or whatever analagous thing other systems have) that the Houngan can use instead of spending one of their actual Last Resort points. This is better than it sounds, because Alternity normally requires players to spend their limited XP to rebuy spent Last Resort points (yeah, it's one of those systems).
Personality: Voudon - Legba Rides is "Mother, May I?" for Houngan. Yep, they get one too.
We're finally done with all of the Arcane character creation
Come back next time for Chapter 5: The Secret History of the World - More Metaplot Than You Can Shake a Stick at That Will Never Be Player Facing Information, Ever, Because Dark*Matter is 90's as Fuck!
The History of the WorldOriginal SA post
Chapter 5: The History of the World
We are told that comprehending the world of Dark*Matter requires us to understand that all things are connected - no matter how unlikely that may seem - and that everyday life is just a filter that hides the alien creatures, occult conspiracies, and supernatural forces that toil endlessly to take over the Earth!
The reason that the Dark*Matter campaign is named Dark*Matter is because in the game universe, dark matter particles are real, quantifiable things that exist, and the total amount of them that exist throughout the universe oscillates between periods of high and low tides. No, there's no explanation given for why the amount of dark matter in the universe fluctuates, nor what law of physics governs this process; it just happens the way it happens, so fucking deal. When the universal dark matter tide is low, physics behaves like we would normally observe, obeying Newtonian principles or the principles of relativity according to your frame of reference, and all other worlds, dimensions, and timelines are separated and segmented away from each other. Supernatural things can still occur, but it's extremely unlikely, and even correctly following some occult ritual that's proven to create a supernatural effect requires a significantly greater expenditure of resources. When the dark matter tide is high, all of the separate dimensions start to collapse into a single "prime" universe and all kinds of supernatural wackiness slips through the cracks between realities and aliens can visit the Earth and the Lost City of Atlantis can be accessed via warp gates and every other kind of schlocky, Sci-Fi channel-esque science fiction can occur. In case it wasn't clear, the Earth of 199X presented in Dark*Matter is at the crest of the highest dark matter tide ever recorded, which is what allows your investigator to go on all of these bizarre adventures.
Which very neatly sums up one of my major beefs with Dark*Matter, especially as it pertains to the world building/metaplot as presented in the book: almost everything of any historical significance was directly or indirectly caused by supernatural or otherworldly forces pursuing their unfathomable designs for world domination. This is something that a lot of other FAF reviews have discussed and at length, but it really kills my ability to enjoy the fictional Earth presented in Dark*Matter if human being are more or less completely absolved of any of the horrific decisions we've made as a collective species because there was always some alien overlord or occult gestalt or some other contrived supernatural abomination that was masterminding the whole thing. As has been previously stated, it's also hugely disrespectful to the people that had to suffer through the horrors of real human cruelty to imply that all of their torment wasn't really that horrific because the guilty parties were being manipulated behind the scenes. I don't know if there's a term for historical revisionism within a fictional narrative, but if there is, Dark*Matter is guilty of it (fwiw, the humanocentric "You Did It!" universe presented by Greg Stolze in 2E Unknown Armies is infinitely more palatable to me).
The other issue I have, which is much more of a game play issue, is that IRL I'm not actually scared of aliens or vampires or mothmen or any other imaginary cryptozoological specimen. They aren't real, I know they're not real, and when all of the horror and tension is supposed to come from the perceived threat of imaginary monsters, I just can't get into playing a character that's scared. Dark*Matter is supposed to borrow at least a little of the conceptual horror from other fictional sources like the Lovecraft Mythos or the X-Files, but the fact that it leans so heavily into the "monster of the week" style explanation for everything, and barely even pays lip service to the horror that other human beings can willingly inflict on each other for terrifyingly trivial reasons, kills my ability to pretend that I am playing a scary game.
Anyway, you aren't here to listen to me bitch about my hang-ups! Instead, we're here to review fucking pages and pages of metaplot that, in true 90's game design fashion, will hardly ever be relevant over the course of an actual game play session. Chapter 5 isn't even the single longest chapter in the campaign guide, but the fact that the vast majority of the 21 pages of metaplot are largely irrelevant makes reading it kind of a chore. Like, when I was a teenager and I got the book for the first time it was exciting to read about the secret history of the world (as envisioned by Wolfgang Baur and Monte Cook) but re-reading it as an adult is just an exercise in frustration. It's insufferable naval gazing vomited over about a tenth of the entire page count, and most of it isn't even shocking or controversial or edgy; it's just drivel, and a lot of the mysteries have the laziest fucking explanations you could contrive (ex: the entire Quetzalcoatl mythology was the result of the Aztecs misinterpreting the final instructions from their alien overlords regarding their eventual return to Earth).
Ready to see how boring the secret history of the world can get?
10,500 BCE - The first Strangers (a collective term for all of the alien, supernatural, or occult entities not native to Earth) of the current era set foot upon Earth. The highest local concentrations of dark matter are in what is now the Upper Nile region of Egypt, and the Strangers that ride the dark matter wave from their dimension to ours are the Reptilians!
Yes, those Reptilians, the ones that every racist uncle believes secretly run the U.S government by successfully impersonating every President, ever.
Anyway, their name for themselves is the Kinori, and they encounter the homo-sapiens that live in the Nile region and they get along pretty well. The Kinori are innately powerful wizards and Hermetic magic is their racial arcane school and they teach these early humans the secrets of Hermetic magic. There's plenty of arable farmland and plenty of room to expand and both species end up intermingling a fair amount and everything is copacetic.
6,000 BCE - The second group of Strangers to visit Earth rides the dark matter tide in a massive interplanetary star ship and winds up in low Earth orbit. These strangers are the alien Greys and they decide to land on Earth when their star ship systems detect massive energy fluctuations coming from what is now the island of Thera, but was then the insanely advanced nation of ATLANTIS!
The Greys are totally the frail-bodied, bulbous-headed dudes with huge black eyes that every "I WANT TO BELIEVE" nut believes abduct human beings for recreational anal probing.
The Atlanteans had unique technology that no other human civilization could match and they had already established colonies and trade routes across the Atlantic Ocean, the most significant of which was the colony city of Lubaantum (est. back in 7,500 BCE) in South America. However, the reason that the Greys decided to visit Atlantis was because the source of the mysterious energy fluctuations was a series of bizarre, green stones that covered a significant portion of the island. The Atlanteans admitted that they didn't know what purpose the stones served, and although the Greys believed that they looked manufactured as opposed to being a naturally occurring phenomena, since they were otherwise inert and not causing trouble, the Greys decide to let the issue drop. Since they had already flown all the way across the galaxy, the Greys decide to plop down stakes with the Atlanteans and they create a super-cool society full of science and psychic powers and awesome mysteries.
Eventually the Kinori-backed Egyptians and the Grey-backed Atlanteans ran into each other and began a mutually beneficial cultural exchange. The Greys hated Kinori wizards for reasons that are never explained, and they hoped that by intermingling the cultures the human Egyptians would recognize the superiority of Grey science and tech and psychic powers and would abandon the Kinori sorcery. The Kinori decide not to start a war over ideology and tell the Egyptians that they can be wizards or psychics and the Kinori will still be cool either way. The hybrid Atlantean-Egyptian civilization flourishes like crazy and goes on to colonize the rest of Africa, North and South America, and even Antarctica (?) and everything is really great for everybody for a few thousand years.
2,705 BCE - The mysterious stones that originally drew the Greys to Atlantis spring to life! It turns out that the Host of Heaven was mega-pissed that the alien Greys were corrupting the children of God (man) with their technology and psychic powers and blasphemy and God finally decided that enough was enough. Angels armed with flaming swords and the wrath of the Almighty pour through the doorway that the Theran device opens and it takes the combined effort of the Kinori, Greys, and Atlantean-Egyptian empire to push back the invading Host. They manage to win, but barely, and both the Greys and the Kinori get all freaked out about the whole situation.
In response, they Greys decide not to slow-leak their technology and psionic powers to humanity any more and go into full-bore cultural assimilation mode. They start uplifting the Atlanteans at an ever faster rate, holding back none of their mastery of science or psionics. The Heavenly Host caught them off guard with their initial invasion and the Greys vow that they and their Atlantean allies won't be caught unawares again.
The Kinori also react, but without as much blind panic. See, the Kinori knew what the Theran device was, or at least what it could be, because all it really did was open a doorway between Earth and another dimension (in this case, the High Heavens). But since the Kinori had come to Earth via a dark matter doorway too, they at least knew how to permanently lock them shut - good ol' fashioned multi-ton stone blocks that interposed the focal point of each doorway. This ends up being the real reason for the construction of the pyramids all over Egypt - the Kinori tell their human constituents that they pyramids are monuments to dead pharoahs and etc. but what they're really doing is just piling thousands of tons of rock directly on top of all of the known doorways in Egypt. It's not a stylish science fiction solution with uncomfortable overtones of our own military industrial complex, but damnit, the problem is solved (temporarily, within Egypt). Egyptians carried on the symbolic act of building pyramids long after their practical, doorway blocking purpose ended, so not all pyramids lead to a sealed doorway.
The Kinori either don't explain this solution to the Greys, or more likely, the Greys have no interest in the "solutions" provided by backwater reptile sorcerers, and the Greys decide they've got to come up with their own super-science solution to the Theran doorway.
2,150 BCE - Disaster strikes! The Greys had built a massive telluric generator next to the Theran doorway (a power plant that draws power from the planet's magnetosphere); it's not clear if the device was meant to seal it, or to re-activate it, or intended for some other unknown purpose. Before construction could be completed, something activated the generator, and in its incomplete state the device engaged in a critical core meltdown. The resulting explosion was visible from space; it shattered Thera into 3 smaller islands and basically wiped Atlantean civilization off the map in the blink of an eye.
They Greys were more or less secure, as they primarily lived within the original city-ship that had brought them to Earth; however, the catastrophic failure of their first attempt at uplifting another sentient species sent shock waves through the Grey community. Some Greys thought that perhaps a group of Kinori sympathizers within Grey High Command had acted covertly to destroy the telluric generator because they feared the progress that it represented. Other believed that their human constituents in Atlantis had gotten too curious and too greedy for their own good and had ignored the Grey warnings about the device being incomplete and attempted to initiate it anyway, with apocalyptic consequences (because blaming the victim is always the easiest solution). Still other Greys believed that perhaps the Heavenly Host had managed to make covert contact with the Kinori and Atlanteans and had convinced them to destroy the device to prevent their doorway from closing, in exchange for some eternal reward in the High Heavens.
If a direct cause for the catastrophe was ever found, the Greys have never revealed it. To this day, the Greys consider the clandestine destruction of the Theran generator to be the first conspiracy on Earth. The destruction of Atlantis set back human civilization hundreds of years, and all of the extant Atlantean colonies on the other continents were forced to continue forging their own path through history, no longer able to take advantage of the knowledge or advanced technology of their Grey overlords. Indeed, without the necessary maintenance for the far future devices that allowed many of the colonies to exist, most of them eventually died out, the inhabitants forced to move on to new lands and start the arduous process of creating a civilization from scratch.
The human survivors of the Egyptian-Atlantean empire stuck out in blind fury. Although the Greys immediately began a self-imposed exile from Earth by boarding their massive city-ship and escaping to low Earth orbit, many of the Kinori that had originally befriended the Egyptians didn't believe that the human need for vengeance could be directed at them. They were dead wrong; in fear and frustration, the humans attacked the only remaining Strangers they could find. Overnight, the Kinori found themselves the victims of unmitigated human aggression, and they were forced to flee into the hidden, deep warrens they had dug as emergency bunkers for just such an occasion.
With the retreat of Strangers from the world stage, human history began the slow process of rebuilding. It would be millennia before human civilization had reached a point where they had recovered even one-tenth of the scientific and technical knowledge that was lost with the destruction of Atlantis.
NEXT TIME: The entirety of Native American civilization is created as a prank by particularly mischievous Greys.
The History of the World - Mesoamerican CanvasOriginal SA post
Chapter 5: The History of the World - Mesoamerican Canvas
After the cockup with the Atlanteans, the Greys became much more conservative in how they would approach dealing with human beings. They were hesitant to ever interact with them directly again, or uplift them with their technology & knowledge of psionics. That doesn't mean that they didn't interact with other early human civilizations, it just means that they were much more apt to present themselves as divine beings and create mystery cults around their divinity and engage with humans that way. Plus, the Kinori were still solely limited to the Mediterranean basin region, so the Greys could meddle with other human beings without having any competition for their interest.
1,300 BCE - The Olmec civilization arises in Mesoamerica and more or less flourishes without significant interference from the Greys. Although there is limited evidence to indicate that the Greys did make contact with the Olmecs, there's no significant body of information concerning this interaction within the Grey archives (they kept records of Atlantis so that they would never forget their hubris and hopefully avoid making the same mistake ever again). Actual archaeologists have discovered a plethora of artwork from the Olmec civilization, primarily carved from jade or basalt. The book abruptly decides that jade is a powerful focus for arcane magic and that it's possible that the plenitude of jade artifacts recovered from Olmec ruins indicates that they were sorcerers of no small accomplishment. Apparently the Olmec civilization died out somewhere between 400 and 200 BCE and there's nothing directly tying their extinction to the Greys, but if the Olmecs were accomplished arcane spellcasters, it's entirely possible the Greys found reason to hasten their decline. Again, no Grey living today has been willing to discuss the matter at length.
300 BCE - The Mayan culture is up next, and the book posits that the beginning of their civilization overlaps with the decline of the Olmec civilization and that it's entirely possible that the first Mayans were Olmec refugees. Here's where things get distasteful - between 426 and 488 CE a Grey that claimed to be a deity among the Mayans (by the name of Kukulcan) traveled across the length and breadth of the Mayan empire, and the book states that Kukulcan is directly responsible for teaching the Mayans astronomy, stonework, agriculture and metalworking. Supposedly this Grey felt bad about whatever had happened to the Olmecs and decided that it was the Grey Being's Burden to enlighten the surviving Olmec refugees and teach them the basic skills necessary to create a civilization so that they could survive in the jungles. That's right, all of the Mayan civilization only began because a well-intentioned Grey "civilized" the indigenous jungle peoples. Stay classy Dark*Matter.
Supposedly, whatever Kukulcan was trying to accomplish by teaching the indigenous people how to build a civilization backfired, because shortly after the Mayans got a handle on farming and metallurgy, they told the Grey to piss off and not come back; they didn't need an itinerant deity telling them how to build their empire. This goes pretty well for them, until some unknown plague starts to depopulate entire Mayan cities, starting around 534 CE. This continues across the Mayan empire for years, until finally the Mayan capital of Teotihuacan is put to the torch sometime between 650 and 700 CE. Again, the Greys are tight-lipped about what caused the steady decline of the Mayan civilization, but it has been hinted by other Strangers that the Greys were mad that the Mayans didn't accept them as a de-facto divine pantheon and instead wanted to do their own thing without living under the Grey yoke. The story from other Strangers goes that the Greys started unleashing biological attacks on Mayan cities to try and scare them into compliance; when even that didn't work, the Greys purposely activated another Doorway located in or around Teotihuacan and used their previous experience with the Atlanteans to taunt out an army of the Heavenly Host, let them wreck up the joint, and then closed the Doorway again once the Host left to return to the High Heavens. Even today, the Greys refuse to discuss the incident, making it impossible to verify this story (although it's possible that this story is also just propaganda created to engender distrust between human beings and Greys for some other unknown purpose).
1,325 CE - The Aztec empire explodes onto the scene covering most of what is now Mexico. The Aztecs were powerful mercenaries before they started empire building, and their skill at warfare ensured that they were able to enslave and destroy their surrounding neighbors in record time. The book claims that there is zero direct interaction between the Greys and the Aztecs; although the Aztecs did consider the ruins of Teotihuacan to be a site of divine significance, when the Greys attempted to capitalize on this and present themselves as the deities to which Teotihuacan was dedicated, the Aztecs told them to fuck right off. The book then claims that the reason that the Aztecs were later unable to defeat Cortez and the Spanish in 1519 CE is because they did not ally with the Greys, hence they had no alien technology or psionic abilities, and that without them the Aztecs had no way to overcome the guns, germs, and steel of the Spanish. That's right, the only Mesoamerican civilization that the book claims completely rejected interaction with the Greys were then unable to defend themselves against foreign invaders because the Greys weren't there to save their bacon; silly Aztecs, didn't you know that Mesoamericans just can't do anything without having their alien masters spoon feed it to them? Stay classy Dark*Matter.
In case it wasn't obvious enough from the text, let's make sure the accompanying artwork beats you over the head with the fact that indigenous Americans were cave-dwelling savages before the Greys showed up to civilize them.
1,440 CE - The Incan empire begins its short-lived rule of the Andes. The book is very clear that the Incans did next to nothing to build their own empire - supposedly their two greatest cities, Cuzco and Machu Picchu, were already built by some unknown pre-human civilization and the Incans just found the ruins sitting unoccupied and decided to move in. Then, the mysterious Kukulcan (the Grey that taught the Mayans astronomy, stone working, agriculture and metalworking) pays a visit to the new Incan empire, uses a different name - Viracocha - and then teaches the Incans astronomy, stone working, agriculture and metalworking. Kukulcan/Viracocha is also the voice of reason that civilizes the Incans and teaches them communism (really) and tells them not to embrace ceremonial human sacrifice, because those ceremonies have a funny way of getting your civilization disappeared by the gods. Wait, did the Greys purposely wipe out the Olmecs and Mayans and "allow" the Aztecs to fall to the Spanish because they wouldn't give up their rituals of human sacrifice? The book leaves this question unanswered. Anyway, in 1,530 CE Kukulcan/Viracocha fucks off back to the Grey mother-ship for reasons that aren't explained and, surprise surprise, Spanish Conquistadors just happen to discover the Incans in the same year. Actual history takes over here, with the Incans being murdered and all of their gold and jewels stolen by the Spanish; that's right, the Incan empire also was unable to defend itself against foreign invaders because the Greys weren't there to save their bacon. Stay classy Dark*Matter.
Which brings us to the end of the Mesoamerica section. The Greys are huge assholes to indigenous Americans and basically treat them like a breeding population of lab rats. Unlike with Atlantis, there's no real justification for why the Greys decide to start fucking with Mesoamerica, nor what they were trying to accomplish, nor what they got out of the whole thing. Each Mesoamerican civilization reaches an arbitrary point where the Greys just decide to stop spoon feeding civilization to the indigenous Americans and then European invaders show up and push in everyone's shit. The implication here is that indigenous Americans were basically incompetent infants that couldn't handle complex ideas about civilization and that without the Greys to lead them around by the nose, the inherently superior Europeans (who didn't need Greys to teach them civilization, no sir) swoop in and murder everything. It feels like the book is saying that it's the indigenous Americans' own fault for being enslaved by Europeans because they rejected the obviously superior intellects of their Grey benefactors. Stay classy Dark*Matter.
What's the Dark*Matter alternate history for sub-Saharan Africa and the entirety of Asia and Australia?
Apparently non-existent, because we jump from the European Renaissance straight to the United States in the mid-19th century.
The History of the World - European Renaissance thru American EmpireOriginal SA post
Chapter 5: The History of the World - European Renaissance thru American Empire
For the record, I'm going off the dates and date ranges listed in the book verbatim, so if any of these dates aren't historically accurate, too fucking bad, I'm not doing any extra homework to double check the information provided. All this shit is still just metaplot material that will likely never be player facing anyway.
470 to 1000 CE - Approximate period of time typically identified as the Dark Ages by contemporary historians. It turns out that contemporary historians terming this period the Dark Ages are more accurate than they know, because this also happened to be one of the most recent high tides of Dark Matter in the universe, and Europe in particular experienced frequent extra-dimensional visitors from doorways that would spontaneously activate. The Catholic Church is the primary political and religious leader of Europe at this point, and they're always on high alert to silence any and all heretical groups that might undermine their power. They justify their bloody pogroms against other religious groups (like the Cathars, Manicheists, Kabbalists, Druids, and countless other obscure cults) by branding these groups as Satanic. Many of these groups had only marginal knowledge of, or interest in, Christian dogma, so the idea that they were purposely worshiping Satan (as the Catholic Church was interpreting it) was largely specious. However, as many of these groups learned that the Catholic Church cared very little about their actual ritual and dogma, they found value in banding together under the banner of Satanic conspiracies - they could more easily coordinate meetings and support if their groups aligned their goals and practices and beliefs.
In essence, the Catholic Church created Satanists because they were murdering people for worshiping Satan and these people realized that adopting mutual-defense pacts (under the guise of Satanism) was the only real chance they had to survive the Catholic Church. In other words, any belief system that incorporates Christian mythology, without explicitly being members of the Catholic Church, is just an edgy "FUCK YOU DAD" fake religion without any actual merit or value of its own. The white, Christian male authorial bias bleeds through from subtext with zero self-awareness; stay classy Dark*Matter.
1231 to 1834 CE - The "Age of Religious Wars", including the Hundred Years War, all of the Crusades, and "other Great Wars of Religion" [sic]. The Catholic Church creates the Papal Inquisition in 1231, and the Spanish Inquisition is authorized in 1478 and runs all the way through 1834. In 1542, then-Pope Paul III creates a special sub-division of the Papal Inquisition to combat the spreading danger of Protestantism.
Apparently Strangers had nothing to do with any of this, or at least the book makes no effort to incorporate their contributions to humans slaughtering each other wholesale. I guess the Greys were busy fucking over the Native Americans in South America during this period and there weren't enough of them to simultaneously get into murderous pissing matches with indigenous Europeans? I'm not even clear why Dark*Matter bothers to include the blurb on this section since it doesn't overlap with the rest of the metaplot anyway. Also, it kinda-sorta contradicts the next historical footnote re: The Greys.
1347 CE - Approximate date for the Black Death's entrance into Europe. Turns out that the plague didn't come from rats and/or mice that stowed away on Italian trade vessels returning from East Asia; instead the black plague is of extraterrestrial origin. An unnamed contingent of Catholic Crusaders manages to bungle their way through opening a dormant doorway and then stumbles through, finding a horrible mirror image version of Earth where nearly all cellular life has been extinguished. They book it back through the doorway post haste but it's too late because they're now the first humans to be infected with the plague that we know as the Black Death.
This ends up being a bigger deal in Dark*Matter even than it was IRL because it turns out the Black Death is the first Earthbound disease that is also lethal to the Greys. See, their genetic structure isn't based on DNA, it's based on TPA (teroic pseudo-nucleic acid) and up until the Black Death is discovered, they've been completely immune to all pathogens, viruses and diseases originating on Earth. With the existence of the Black Plague, the small population of Greys that have been in hiding, monitoring human endeavors across Europe, are driven to the brink of extinction and the Grey High Command loses its shit.
Turns out, the Black Plague is a curse from the Old Testament God. The mirror-Earth that the Crusaders found was a failed iteration of Earth in which human beings had completely rebelled against the Heavenly Host and so God scrubbed that entire Earth clean of all life. Then (I'm inferring, the book doesn't really connect the dots here) God went and rebooted the simulation to create our current Earth? With enough modifications to the registry for human beings such that we wouldn't try to actually make war against Heaven again? Apparently, the high tide of Dark Matter re-opened a doorway to extinction-Earth that God hadn't bothered to permanently shut. Whoops!
Anyway, the Grey High Command decides that they don't want a literal Biblical plague to cause an extinction event for them, so they use their future technology and science to creature a cure for the plague, and as an added bonus, they share it with humanity after only 2/3s of Europe is depopulated. During this entire time, the Heavenly Host apparently doesn't notice that an ancient plague from an extinct Earth managed to find its way over to the current Earth and destroy a significant portion of the world's population. The cooperation between Greys and human beings over finding the cure for the Black Plague leads directly to:
Early 18th Century to Early 19th Century (?) CE - The Enlightenment / Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason! The Free and Accepted Order of Masons are created sometime within this era (and whoo boy, do they end up being power players in Dark*Matter) and the book states they are the direct progenitors of a multitude of other occult or quasi-occult conspiracies, including the Theosophists, the Golden Dawn, and the Ordo Templi Orientis. Dark*Matter also decides that the creation of the entire United States of America is a long-con enacted by the Masons! See, a non-trivial number of our Founding Fathers were Masons, or Mason agents, and all of our original government buildings and institutions are actually symbolically significant to Masonry. It's even hinted at that George Washington was actually just a cover identity for Adam Weishaupt (one of the founders of the Masons) and that it was his mastermind plotting that ensured the creation of the United States, with him as the symbolic First
In accordance with Chekov's Gun, this plot point will never be relevant to the metaplot again (really)!
What was the purpose for all of this effort? The book doesn't explain (yet)!
The French Revolution was another attempt by the Masons to mastermind the creation of another nation state for ill-defined and nefarious purposes. This time they were opposed in secret by the Rosicrucians (modern descendants of Kinori wizard-bros) and apparently the Masons lost, but because we don't yet know who the Rosicrucians are, what their goals are, what the Masons actual goals are, or any explanation for why the outcome of the French Revolution was a loss for the Masons, all we can do is smile and nod at this metaplot point.
NEXT TIME: If you can guess to which historical scientist the metaplot wants to give a big sloppy blowjob, you win a no-prize!
HINT: It rhymes with Nikolai Tesla because it's Nikolai Tesla, since apparently a non-trivial number of nerds with publishing contracts want him to be their Fantasy Science Daddy.
The History of the World - When You Think About It, Scientists Are The Real Super HeroesOriginal SA post
Chapter 5: The History of the World - When You Think About It, Scientists Are The Real Super Heroes
1800 CE - Our ever-expanding universe pushes our solar system through a steadily increasing tide of dark matter. Psychic powers start to manifest more frequently in human beings, more and varied types of Strangers start to emerge from doorways that had long lay dormant, and supernatural conspiracies of all shapes and sizes start to take form as different groups notice something has changed and attempt to capitalize on said change.
IIIIIIITTTTTTT'S MOTHERFUCKING TESLA TIME BITCHES! *sick guitar riff*
1856 to 1943 CE - Nikolai Tesla is born and moves to the United States and becomes the platonic ideal of the Mad Scientist to nerdy science bitches everywhere. He makes friends with Samuel Clemens (although the book says he befriended Mark Twain, so either the writers are boors or they're actually implying he befriended a fictional character) and develops over 700 patents. His mad science experiments are the cause of the Tunguska explosion in Siberia in 1908 [how?] and he's so good at science that several different Strangers (notably, the Greys) start visiting him frequently to study under him because he's such a fucking badass scientist that even a species that mastered intergalactic travel 6,000 years before the birth of Christ are still amazed by his inventions. It's strongly implied that he's a time-traveler from the future  and that he's on some sort of Terminator-style mission where he's come back to the past to prevent a future tragedy between human beings and the Heavenly Host, but time travel is maybe the single worst premise you can introduce into a work of fiction, so fortunately this plot point goes completely unexplored after the paragraph that mentions it.
Anyway, he also dies alone and penniless and the FBI confiscates 99% of his inventions before anyone else can swipe them (the stuff they don't get was whatever happened to be loaned out to someone else when Tesla died). Despite the fact that it's stated that the FBI acquires technology like gravitic motors, wireless power transfer stations, and weaponized lightning rifles, none of this technology is evidently ever put into use or reverse engineered because (at this point) the Dark*Matter timeline does not significantly diverge from actual Earth history. So, another plot point that could have completely re-defined the 199X U.S. setting gets ignored immediately after it's brought up.
1916 CE - A Grey named Nakami (that had worked as a lab assistant for Tesla) hears about the Battle of the Somme in France and begins to obsessively follow every news dispatch about the conflict. The death toll is significant - it's estimated some 200k French, 420k English, and 500k German soldiers are all slaughtered over the course of a pointless conflict that has no decisive winner. This senseless human butchery indicates to Nakami that human beings still haven't progressed out of our primal hunter/gather phase, complete with pointlessly vicious turf wars. Nakami invokes the Grey Being's Burden and decides that only the Greys are capable of tempering the inherent human violence and hostility with wisdom and reason. His real fear is that, based on the scientific progress achieved by Tesla and others, it won't be the end of the century before human beings are capable of intergalactic spaceflight, and he doesn't want our bloodthirsty wars of conquest to spread like a plague across the universe.
Reinforcing Nakami's preconception about humans being little more than hairless, bloodthirsty apes.
1917 CE - Nakami gathers a couple like-minded Greys and forms the Institute for Advancement of Man in New York City. Within six months the Institute is almost completely bankrupt; it turns out that a bunch of Greys-in-human-suits aren't very good at soliciting charitable contributions and funding from the white, Anglo-Saxon upper crust of New York's elite. Just before the Greys all have to fuck off back to their mother-ship in ignominy, a wealthy war profiteer by the name of Tomas Friedrich Hoffman approaches the Institute and explains that he is aware that Nakami was one of Tesla's proteges and is willing to finance their entire endeavor as long as Nakami and the other Greys agree to add specific types of scientific research to the Institute's stated goals of charitable works and political lobbying. Mr. Hoffman wants the Institute to apply their knowledge learned from Tesla's lab towards applied research in astrophysics, Egyptology, and spiritualism. Basically, Mr. Hoffman is the wealthy benefactor that turns the Hoffman Institute into the X-Files. Out of options, Nakami and the rest of the Greys agree and add Mr. Hoffman to the board of directors, and the Hoffman Institute for Advancement of Humanity is born!
Unconvincingly photoshopped images are my favorite kind of art in 90's TTRPGs.
1930 CE - The Hoffman Institute (HI) faces its first real encounter with other Strangers, and it does not go well. The City of New York notices that a series of natural gas and electrical lines are getting tapped and the flow of service diverted, but the utility department can't pinpoint the exact location of the tap, nor where the flow is being redirected. HI gets hired to investigate because of their supposed expertise in engineering, and the fact that they were the lowest bidder for the contract. Nakami accompanies a group of 19 other scientists and explorers, along with a retired Captain from the U.S. Marine Corps. Deep in the subway tunnels beneath New York, HI is able to locate the source of the line taps, and follows them back to their source - a rather large Kinori warren. The Kinori react defensively - after all, HI just stumbled into their territory with flashlights and shotguns and dynamite - and the HI team responds with overwhelming force. All told, the HI team suffers no casualties and eliminates all 100 adult Kinori at the site. Within the warren is over 1,000 Kinori eggs in various states of incubation; at Nakami's order, only a few are taken for scientific research and study, while the remaining eggs are all destroyed with the dynamite HI brought along for the job. Pretty fucking grisly, all things told, because the Kinori had not actually posed any kind of hostile threat to the citizens of New York, and Nakami didn't even bother trying to solve the problem diplomatically. Looks like Nakami still held a several-millennia-long grudge for Atlantis!
Anyway, Nakami is so freaked out about finding a hidden Kinori warren under New York, he redirects a non-trivial portion of HI resources into researching Kinori biology from the sample eggs that were recovered. This also marks a turning point for the type of operations HI actively pursues; going forward, HI takes on a much more paramilitary bent.
1939 to 1945 CE - World War 2 happens. Surprisingly, Dark*Matter doesn't do much to integrate the actions of Strangers with the atrocities committed by all sides. It gives credit to the Thule Society for inspiring the occult wing of the Nazi party, culminating the creation of the Order of the Death's Head, but the book basically glosses over the entirety of World War 2 until the end, with the race between the burgeoning CIA and the KGB to absorb as many Nazi scientists as possible. The book touches on the fabled Odessa plan of Hiter's right-hand-man Martin Bormann, and insinuates that there are likely unaccounted Nazi relics and heirlooms and occult tomes that got secreted away to South America before the U.S. and the Russians could scalp all of them. Supposedly, the surviving members of the Thule Society and their descendants also have attained high-ranking positions within the executive branch of multiple South American countries; however, this is another lead that will never be referenced again.
In one final, parting shot of "the fuck you say?" it's revealed that the Adolf Hitler that died in the bunker with Ava Braun was just a
That's right, Adolf Hitler absconded to Antarctica to launch a Nazi colony on Mars. This is peak "metaplot that players will never use" because, surprise surprise, this is another plot thread that goes nowhere!
NEXT TIME: The end of Chapter 5; but let's be honest, nothing is going to top "an ageless Adolf Hitler is the Fuhrer of an interplanetary Nazi regime".
The End of This Train-wreckOriginal SA post
Chapter 5: The End of This Train-wreck
1947 CE - Two different Grey vessels doing who-the-fuck-knows-what end up crashing in or near the Groom Lake Air Force Base/Area 51/Dreamland in Roswell, NM. It's not clear whether the ships were shot down by the U.S. military or whether they just experienced some unfortunately timed equipment failure, but what is clear is that this is the first time that the U.S. government found incontrovertible evidence that homo sapiens are not alone in the universe. The Greys are not at all okay with human beings having unfettered access to their advanced technology so they send an envoy to the State Dept. in Washington D.C. and work out the terms of an accord to recover their lost property. This results in the formation of the group first called Majestic 12 (although they will eventually splinter into multiple different groups, including COM-12, Aquarius, and pretty much any other Illuminati conspiracy that regular listeners of Infowars would recognize) and they facilitate the return of the Grey property, although with heavy leeway to perform "safety inspections" first to make sure that government scientists get a chance to try and learn as much as they can before giving it back.
1950 CE - The U.S. isn't the only country to discover Grey tech! It turns out, that the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 was actually just an elaborate cover-up for absconding with a Grey vessel that had been temporarily moored on a mountainside in Lungdo. So, you know, on top of all the other tragedy that happens when one nation invades another, now we get to tie it to the motivations of make-believe aliens too. Chairman Mao is super happy to lay claim to the Grey technology and apparently the Greys as an organization don't bother to track this theft down, because there's no mention of China also getting a special Grey envoy. Supposedly, this whole situation makes it even harder for the rest of the world to interact with The Ascended Masters (a conspiracy that we have never heard of before) because they're based in Tibet and now China has escalated their conflict with Tibet to a hot war and etc. but again, we have no idea who this group is at this point, so the implied significance of this fact is completely lost.
1969 CE - The U.S. puts Neil Armstrong on the moon, but only because we were carried to the moon by Nazi scientists and Grey technology - Dark*Matter serving up some hot takes! The U.S. government officially abandons all of the research they've put into the Saturn V rocket program and instead throw all of their funding and effort behind the NASA space shuttle program, which is orchestrated behind the scenes by Majestic 12 because the Greys had relocated their primary city ship to Olympus Mons on Mars and they were fearful that the technology behind the Saturn V rocket would actually have given human beings the capacity to reach Mars reliably. This seems to contradict what was discussed previously about Adolf Hitler reforging a fledgling intergalactic Nazi empire on Mars, so either the Greys don't know about that or else the writers completely forgot about that insane plot point almost immediately after bringing it up.
Also apparently Neil Armstrong discovers a TERRIBLE SECRET on the moon and the U.S. government is so terrified of what he finds that they phase out any further missions that intend to put more human beings on the moon, but we're not given any indication of what Neil found, so this is either another dropped plot thread or a hook for your GM to fill in the blank with their own ideas (depending on how charitable you want to be). Anyway, that's the official reason why the U.S. stops sending people to the moon; there's a TERRIBLE SECRET IN SPACE.
1960 to 199X CE (Present Day in Dark*Matter) - This section is basically just a grab-bag of random conspiracy things that anybody with even a passing interest is likely already familiar. My frustration with this section is that it's just so lazy. Hey, you know all of the half-baked conspiracy theories you've heard? They're all TRUE! . . . What? No, we're not going bother to explain how, or why, or provide any kind of overarching explanation or narrative.
A. Throughout the 1960's multiple prominent U.S. political figures are assassinated (JFK, RFK, MLK, X, etc.) and Dark*Matter hints that these assassinations were carried out by any combination of: the FBI, La Cosa Nostra (the Sicilian Mafia), the resurgent intergalactic Nazi empire (so they do remember this plot point?), the Freemasons, and the Greys. The original assassinations, plus all of the subsequent murders required to cover-up everything, are possibly part of a larger plot to accomplish some nefarious and unknown goal. There's an unaccredited prediction that the End of the WorldTM will happen when several different mystic criteria are met, and Dark*Matter indicates that two of those criteria may have already been fulfilled the via events of the 1960's - JFK's assassination could have fulfilled "The Murder of the True King" and bringing moon rocks back to Earth could have fulfilled "Terra Luna Must Meet Terra Firma". There's no further explanation about who made this prediction, what the other criteria require, or even what group is trying to bring it to fruition, so I guess it's another hook for your GM to fill in the blank with their own ideas.
B. After WW2 the UN is formed and it turns out all of your weird uncle's conspiracy theories about them are TRUE! There really are black UN helicopters spreading aerosol mind control chemicals. They really are trying to build a new World Order where free choice ceases to exist and where the wealthy elite live like kings and everyone else is literally their slaves etc. etc. you get the idea.
C. FEMA really has been compromised from within by NWO sleeper agents and they're definitely eeeeeevil! They're building unlisted detention camps all over the mid-western U.S. so that they can quietly disappear any dissidents that attempt to rise up against the NWO once they initiate the plans for world domination in earnest! Any good deeds or emergency services FEMA facilitates between now and then are just an elaborate false flag operation to get the American public comfortable with following orders from FEMA! The director of FEMA is actually the Shadow President that the NWO will put into place to run the U.S. once they take over!
D. The High Altitude Atmospheric Research Project (HAARP) is also secretly run by the NWO and they can use it to change the weather at their whim or to beam out mind-control signals or to communicate with their sleeper agents that have been embedded in every nation's government. EEEEEEVIL!
E. The World Health Organization is also just an NWO cover operation. They've infiltrated the CDC because the CDC itself may be 100% compromised by The Sandmen (another group that we've never heard of before now) and the NWO doesn't want competition from The Sandmen in their bid to rule the world. The NWO doesn't really know who, or what, The Sandmen are, but if they're competition for global domination then they have to GTFO!
F. The Men In Black really exist! Nobody knows whether they're actual agents of some unlisted shadow organization within the U.S. government, or whether they're alien operatives from another dimension, or whether they're some form of mass hysteria / psychic phenomena experienced by human beings as a reaction to the rising Dark*Matter tides. They're another hook for your GM to fill in the blank with their own ideas, although my personal favorite interpretation is that they're the white blood cells in our psychic gestalt and regular people spontaneously turn into Men In Black when they witness a sufficiently bizarre supernatural event that their brain can't otherwise process.
IN CONCLUSION: Chapter 5 is way too disjointed to be worth the page count that it occupies. The historical narrative as presented is full of information that will likely never be player facing, it frequently jumps through significant portions of human history with apparently nothing of interest having happened, and it completely fails to include anything about Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Australia. There's no important rules or mechanical crunch included in this chapter, so it seems to serve little purpose outside of being an outlet for Wolfgang Baur and Monte Cook to write a masturbatory "SECRET REAL HISTORY OF THE WORLD". Chapter 5 is 23 pages of filler fluff and while there's certainly some wild ideas, the most interesting/gonzo ones never get further explored, so it fails even as a setting primer for what kinds of adventures Dark*Matter heroes are supposed to be having. To top it off, Chapters 7 rehashes a lot of the information from Chapter 5 but puts it into the context of "here are cool places your heroes could visit, and maybe an idea for what might happen while they're visiting" which further renders Chapter 5 totally vestigial.
NEXT TIME: We start Chapter 6: the Illuminati, which gives much more information about all of these on-going conspiracy groups and their agendas and headcount and etc. It's information your players could conceivably want to know, and use!
The IlluminatiOriginal SA post
Chapter 6: The Illuminati
In the Dark*Matter setting, the term illuminati applies as a general label for secret societies. Each different group of illuminati believe themselves to be enlightened on some level, possessing some amount of secret knowledge, and hoping to leverage those secrets to control future events. Although each conspiracy is collectively working towards some larger hidden agenda, illuminati groups are often separated into different cells, degrees, orders and etc. and these sub-groups may have additional goals aside from their parent conspiracy (and sometimes even goals so different that they may work at cross purpose); further, the methods of any given conspiracy are rarely uniform or predictable, so it's not impossible that two different groups within the same conspiracy might attempt to accomplish the same result using wildly different, or completely opposite means. Dark*Matter is actually surprising transparent about these groups working in unpredictable ways: this way, if your GM says that the Rosicrucians are in league with the Kinori, and a later published adventure has the Rosicrucians being hostile to the Kinori, now your GM has a means of squaring the situation.
Ex: Well, the Rosicrucians in this adventure are part of an older part of the sect that didn't agree with joining forces with the Kinori, so they're taking this chance to try and cause them some grief.
Each entry on the illuminati groups is broken down into the following self-explained sub-sections: HQ & Branches, Power & Resources, Followers, Secret Knowledge, Primary Goal and Common Missions. Out of everything, I think the inclusion of Common Missions is the most valuable information, because it at least gives the GM some idea of what these inscrutable conspiracies are supposed to actually be doing within the context of a Dark*Matter campaign.
The book includes roughly 20 different illuminati groups (the U.S. govt. itself is like 6 separate groups), plus there's another 11 smaller conspiracies that get quick blurbs at the end of the chapter. My plan is to cover several per update rather than trying to mash them all together into one eye-glazing wall of text. Up first is the main antagonist group for the Dark*Matter setting!
Thirty-Three Degrees: Freemasonry - That's right, the motherfucking Freemasons are the big, bad omni-present antagonists that it's always okay to kill. Who are these mysterious villains that will attempt to thwart your intrepid heroes at every turn?
In Dark*Matter, they originate with the Biblical Tower of Babel. The OG Masons were the men that were commissioned by King Nimrod of Babylon to build said tower. In addition to trolling the Lord of the Heavenly Host so bad that he cursed humanity with the concept of "different languages", this nascent conspiracy later went on to serve as the construction crew for the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, and at some point had a mixer with the Knights Templar to learn the secrets of Egyptian mysticism that the Templars had stolen from Ismaili Muslim assassins during the Crusades.
The Masons have always had political savvy as a driving force, and they don't forget when their friends do them a favor. One of the earliest records of Mason meddling in political affairs in the current era happens in 1381 with the Peasant's Rebellion. Supposedly the Masons used this uprising as a cover to wage a covert campaign of terror against the Knights of St. John, who were apparently ancient foes of the Templars. More recently, the Freemasons are literally responsible for the existence of the current U.S. federal government. In 1776, a Mason named Adam Weishaupt forms a Masonic lodge in Ingolstadt, Germany and uses their considerable wealth and influence to buy their way into the Constitutional Convention in the Colonies, further going on to persuade the Founding Fathers to create a government that would promote the Masonic ideal of a utopian community.
The Freemasons have a ton of irons in the fire. Their major strongholds include the P2 Lodge in Italy, the Grand Lodge of the Potomac in the U.S., the Scottish lodge of The 33 Degree Master Masons of the Ancient Rite, a the Grand Orient lodge in France. Their stated ultimate goal is "the perfection of creation" and although there's no way for non-members to learn what that means, it's speculated that three specific events of great portent have to take place in order for this goal to be accomplished. Dark*Matter posits that two of these prophecies may have already been fulfill with the splitting of the atom with the detonation of the first atomic bomb, and the assassination of JFK; both the bomb blast and the assassination occurred in geographic regions extremely close to 33 degrees North latitude, and as well all know the number 33 is the Freemasons' favorite number.
HQ & Branches: Although the Masons have an extensive network of highly visible lodges (as mentioned above), they don't have a declared location as their capital or headquarters. Dark*Matter implies that the most possible location of their HQ would be the Grand Lodge Alpina in Switzerland because it's the location from which all of the Masonic wealth flows, and like any good detective knows, if you want to solve a riddle, you always follow the money.
Power & Resources: The Freemasons are only limited by the cumbersome size of their organization, and the fact that only an extremely small percentage of the total membership is actively involved in illuminati conspiracies; the Freemasons at the top use the rest of the non-engaged members as a very effective screen that covers for their true desires and goals. Otherwise, the Freemasons have more money than God and enough political influence and sleeper agent plants to accomplish any kind of trivial task that the GM needs them to perform.
Followers: Millions. As before, if there's a problem that can be solved with brute manpower, the Freemasons can solve it.
Secret Knowledge: Arcane spellcasting, Psionics and mindwalking, cutting edge technology (but nothing futuristic or alien, just the highest quality stuff version of anything you could buy on the contemporary Earth of 199X).
Primary Goal: Craft a perfect universe from the current imperfect one.
Common Missions: Infiltrate prestigious organizations, solicit or steal objects of occult or psionic importance, secure contact with any of the established Stranger groups that are hiding out on Earth, reverse engineer Stranger tech.
Oh, and the Masons also have a very big ace up their sleeve. One of the most powerful and conspicuous GMPCs of the setting is a Freemason, and he's none other than:
The Comte Claude-Louis de Saint-Germain!
That's right, the fictional version of this motherfucker pops up in Dark*Matter like an unwanted herpes outbreak, because apparently it's illegal to write a game about occult conspiracies and not feature him. He's supposed to be this mysterious, suave, debonair operator that has lived countless lifetimes and he's so wise and cool and he knows all the magic and he's friends with all the cool demons. But come-the-fuck-on, this guy shows up in every single TTRPG about the occult. There's nothing mysterious about him at this point, and if you introduce him into your campaign he's most likely to elicit an eye-roll from your players so large that it's visible from space.
I mean, look at his statblock:
It might as well just say "If your players think they can beat Comte St. Germain: They Lose". Fer fuck's sake, he's a Level 36 Immortal Occultist - fucking nobody plays a campaign long enough to reach level 20, let alone nearly double that. Even if your players manage to subvert some kind of murphy in the rules and snuff him out, it's only temporary, and he has way more patience and resources than your players and it's completely trivial for him to come back at any point and obliterate them. He's the Nyarlathotep of the setting, and it's really funny that a character which is supposed to be literally all-powerful is thus rendered as one of the least interesting parts.
NEXT TIME: The Rosicrucians and the Hidden Order of St. Gregory.
The Illuminati - Rosy Crosses and Hidden OrdersOriginal SA post
Chapter 6: The Illuminati - Rosy Crosses and Hidden Orders
Keepers of Knowledge: The Rosicrucians - Officially, this conspiracy started in Egypt during the 18th Dynasty while Thothmes III was Pharaoh, under the name of the Companions of Horus. Humans from Egypt were allowed to learn sorcery and mindwalking from rogue Greys and Kinori that were disobeying the commands of their own rulers. The very next paragraph tells us "but wait, actually this conspiracy started nearly one-thousand years before that first date" but the origin and goals for the conspiracy are still the same (rogue Greys and Kinori training Egyptian wizards & mindwalkers) so I'm not clear on why there needs to be a secret, for-reals-this-time origination date.
Any who, they pretty much mind their own business, learning to be better wizards and collecting occult knowledge and storing it in the Library of Alexandria. Of course, that place gets put to the torch and the Rosicrucians lose a significant part of their accumulated knowledge, so they decide to peace-out from Egypt and instead set-up shop in the mountains of Tibet. They continue to mostly keep to themselves, although it's pointed out that they were huge fans of Gnostic Christianity (and mystery cults in general) and they wage a shadow war with the Catholic Church by disseminating "subversive" religious literature and tracts to major cities across Europe (how they do this, while being primarily based somewhere in Tibet, is never explained). The Catholic Church gets so mad at the Rosicrucians for challenging their power structure that they make it illegal to be a member of the Rosicrucians, and this leads to Rosicrucians membership becoming something of a measure of street cred for other illuminati groups that wanted to give the finger to the Catholic Church. This goes so far as Charlemagne founding a fake Rosicrucian lodge in Toulouse sometime in the 9th century CE, which is followed in 1000 CE with a group of excommunicated Catholic monks founding another fake lodge of their own. The Freemasons have claimed that the entirety of the Rosicrucian conspiracy is just some subordinate Mason cell, and in modern times The Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis has sprung up claiming to be the official reincarnation of the original conspiracy.
They're your stereotypical, mystical, inscrutable Asian monastics. The art is a real missed opportunity to reveal what a human-grey cross-breed is supposed to look like.
Okay, but why would all of these different people try and convince everyone else that they are/own/partner with the Rosicrucians? Because the primary, actual secret that the Rosicrucians hold is that they've successfully cross-bred Greys and Humans, they've known how to do this since way back in BCE times, and their cross-breeds are the most powerful mindwalkers on the planet (discounting actual Greys). Apparently, all of the other illuminati groups either want to learn how the cross-breeding is accomplished or at least want other conspiracies to think they have cross-breeds of their own as a means of deterrence.
The cross-breeds themselves comprise a separate conspiracy-within-a-conspiracy and they operate as The Great Builders. They're the for-real leaders of what remains of the original Companions of Horus and their primary goal is to continue the work that the Kinori originally set-out to do after the whole Atlantis debacle: they scour the globe for Doorways that other Strangers could use to invade Earth and then set about permanently closing them, using whatever means are necessary. They're actually fairly unambiguous "good guys", although the GM could certainly decide that they're going around shutting these Doorways for less than altruistic reasons.
HQ & Branches: Somewhere in the Himalayan Mountains. Although there's many imposter groups, the actual Rosicrucians have no other branches outside their main temple.
Power & Resources: Whatever ancient artifacts and occult tomes they could save from the Library of Alexandria, mutually beneficial relationships with sub-factions within both the Kinori and the Greys and apparently they're allied with the Invisible College (which we haven't heard of before).
Followers: Unknown, but it's suspected there's roughly 100 living cross-breeds and several hundred regular humans that support them.
Secret Knowledge: They're one of the only places on Earth that can train humans to take the full Mindwalker class, plus they've got the motherfucking human-grey cross-breeding down pat.
Primary Goal: Promote enlightenment, spread knowledge, permanently seal active Doorways.
Common Missions: Find and recruit potential Mindwalking talents from the regular population, recon potential sites for Doorway activity, promote the fall of totalitarian regimes world-wide.
Secrets of God: The Secret Order of St. Gregory - This conspiracy was originally founded in 958 CE by the then-Patriarch of Constantinople. They're one of the smallest illuminati groups, with a reputation for maintaining such excessive secrecy that they haven't been successfully infiltrated by any other illuminati groups; almost no one living has even heard of this conspiracy outside of the people that are inducted into it. The Order actually operates independently from the modern Catholic Church, despite the group's origins, because of some very fortunate historial accidents. When the Church experienced the final schism between the Catholic and Orthodox branches in 1054 CE, the Order was comprised of members from each branch and was ostensibly expected to answer to both Popes. They maintained an uneasy balance between the demands of both branches until 1202 CE when Constantinople was sacked during the Fourth Crusade, and the Order used the ensuing chaos to completely destroy any records of their existence within both the Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies. Any other traces of the Order's existence were successfully purged between 1305 and 1415 CE, during the upheaval that occurred when the papacy abdicated Rome and the ensuing Antipope conflicts.
But who cares about that, what does this group actually do? They were supposed to be the Church's unofficial black-ops squad, the Tier 1 operators that get dispatched to eliminate the most dire supernatural or occult threats. Since they're no longer affiliated with the Catholic Church, they've become a group of freelance problem solvers, handling everything from exorcism to haunting to actual encounters with hostile supernaturals (Ghost Busting).
Father Sixgun about to engage in some sort of hate crime because SCIENCE IS THE DEVIL.
Then the book does a hard 180 degree pivot away from decency and claims that the Order does not accept women into its ranks, that they were the singular source that started the witch hunts of the fifteenth century and the Inquisition in the sixteenth century, are directly responsible for "the gradual suppression and settlement of the Roma (Gypsies)", the destruction of Shamanism in the Native populations of North America during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the imposition of colonial authorities against Chinese mysticism during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and most recently have been the guiding force behind the repeated attempts by China to invade Tibet and the destruction of Tibetan temples. They believe all Strangers or aliens are literal minions of Satan and execute them on sight, they believe any forms of mysticism or sorcery or spell casting are likewise Satanic and execute anyone exhibiting those powers on sight, and they all believe that their actions are 100% divinely ordained by the God of Heaven; why else would they have been so generally successful in accomplishing their aims?
So, a pretty big laundry list of the worst possible things any group of dudes could have conspired to do. While the Free Masons are definitely presented as the generic villains of the Dark*Matter setting, the Order is clearly just as villainous, and with a much more detailed list of offenses. Which is fine, I guess, because every setting needs antagonists for the heroes to fight against, but it still strikes me as very tone-deaf to directly link this fictional group of villains to horrific acts of genocide and mass slaughter that were perpetrated in the real world.
HQ & Branches: Their HQ is in St. Petersburg and they've got branches literally all over the world, including such remarkably un-intuitive places as Flagstaff, Arizona. Based on their aforementioned list of historical crimes, I can only assume the branch in Flagstaff is engaged in some horrible oppression of the local Native American population.
Power & Resources: Anything of occult significance that they could have stolen from the people they've victimized over the last 600 years, scholars well versed in matters of theology and dead languages, a gigantic network of unwitting supporters in the congregation of every single Catholic Church across the globe.
Followers: Unknown, but it's suspected there's several hundred of these fucked up dudes sneaking around.
Secret Knowledge: Supposedly these guys also know how to train humans as actual Mindwalkers, but it's unlikely that this is going to be an avenue of training that your players can pursue. They're also masters of martial arts and Monotheism FX, so I guess they're a bunch of sadistic, conservative Christian karate psychics. In other words, they're all Chuck Norris, but not the played-out-meme Chuck Norris, the literally-crazy-in-real-life Chuck Norris.
Primary Goal: Rid the Earth of the minions of Satan, using whatever definition of "Satanic" suits their immediate needs.
Common Missions: Organizing and perpetrating hate crime on a global scale, if their history is any indication.
NEXT TIME: The Invisible College and the Knights of Malta.
The Illuminati - Anarchy U and Malted NightsOriginal SA post
Chapter 6: The Illuminati - Anarchy U and Malted Nights
As a matter of course, the rest of the art for this section is invisible.
Creative Anarchism: The Invisible College - This conspiracy was started by "philosophers and poets" some time during the 16th century CE and exists "only in the dark, shadowy fringes of society". It's never becomes a major player in the global illuminati conflict, as the group has been almost entirely unsuccessful at accomplishing their stated goal of "thwarting totalitarian control and destabilizing centralized power in general". Apparently at some early point in their history, the Invisible College caught the attention of the Rosicrucians and the two groups have been in cahoots ever since; as the real Rosicrucians barely exist outside their singular mountain stronghold, it's difficult to really envision anything substantive that this partnership has accomplished.
The Invisible College operates as a loose confederation of creative types that attempt to use their art to promote individuality and undermine anything that would limit or curtail human freedom. Famous members of the Invisible College supposedly have included Galileo, Beethoven, Keats, Picasso, William S. Burroughs, Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Salvador Dali, John Lennon, Steve Biko, and Robert Anton Wilson, and it's a complete coincidence that the entirety of this illustrious membership are men, and that the majority of them were Caucasian.
Apparently the Invisible College is also home to revolutionaries, terrorists and "lone nuts" that are willing to take violent action to achieve their aims, but at least Dark*Matter doesn't attempt to imply that any famous murderers were a part of this group. Somehow, the arm of the Invisible College that is responsible for causing civilian casualties is also responsible for creating groups like Amnesty International and Green Peace. Dark*Matter doesn't stop to explain this assertion, so I won't even bother to try and rationalize it. The Invisible College is also opposed to the Freemasons, the Knights of Malta (up next) and the Greys, but Dark*Matter doesn't bother to fill in any of the details regarding how or why these animosities exist.
If I was going to use the Invisible College in a campaign, I'd lean really hard into "the membership is 99% artists, dreamers, and creative types" angle and have them basically exist as a private club for trust fund kids and Hollywood elites, all completely convinced that their conspiracy is important and involved in making positive change in the world, but without ever being able to provide concrete proof that they've accomplished anything more than sitting around in expensive penthouses, huffing each other's farts and fantasizing about how important they must be. The players would run into them while they were engaging in some kind of ostentatious poverty tourism, only to find them getting into BMWs and Bugattis at the end of the day and driving back home to their McMansions. On the other hand, it's still a conspiracy with a membership comprised mostly of millionaires that want to "do good" for the world, and an enterprising agent could likely convince them to throw their considerable monetary support behind an actual good cause, playing on their need for validation that their group has actually made a difference in the world. Basically, they'd be a blank check for whatever you needed to get done, but you'd have to french kiss a bunch of royal assess first.
HQ & Branches: None declared.
Power & Resources: Great wealth and a mutually-beneficial relationship with the real Rosicrucians.
Secret Knowledge: Likely none, but across their entire spectrum of membership it's possible someone has alien technology or psychic powers or an occult artifact.
Primary Goal: Thwart totalitarian regimes and destabilize centralized government power in general.
Common Missions: Willing to undertake anything that a high school anarchist could get excited about.
I'm actually grateful that this is the only art they included for these jerks.
A Modern Crusade: Knights of Malta - 90% of the write-up for the Knights is an interminably boring history lesson about their prior military victories, which is information that will never ever ever be relevant to your players. Suffice to say, the Knights of Malta originated in the 13th century CE and have been disbanded and reformed multiple times and have operated under several different names. There, I just saved you reading a page and a half of imaginary historical drivel.
The write-up concludes with multiple "facts" that might be relevant at some point, but still comprise a highly dubious use of page space:
* They're mortal enemies with the Freemasons.
* The Knights of Malta are the single largest land owner in the country of Italy and their holdings in Rome, Prague, Vienna and Via Condotti enjoy extraterritorial status like the Vatican.
* They're allied with the assholes from St. Greg and they actively oppose any group that harbors liberal or non-Christian values, so I guess these dudes can fuck right off too. They're slightly less bloodthirsty though, instead attempting to infiltrate whatever judicial or legislative bodies that will allow them to dictate the laws of the land, and thus removing liberal or non-Christian thought via governmental bureaucracy rather than murder. I guess these guys consider themselves the Richard Spencers of their movement, as opposed to the David Dukes that comprise the membership St. Greg.
* Many "key figures" of the religious right or key conservative thought leaders are definitely Knights of Malta. Wheeeee!
So, either honest men doing God's work on Earth, or a bunch of evil assholes that you can kill without remorse, depending on your GM's political inclination.
HQ & Branches: The Island of Malta, with enough branches to be considered a world-wide conspiracy.
Power & Resources: The monetary reserves that you'd expect from the largest landowner in Italy (that also enjoys extraterritorial status).
Followers: Several hundred active Knights, with several thousand other support personnel.
Secret Knowledge: Random occult and religious knowledge, plus a working understanding of governmental procedure across multiple western bureaucracies (this is actually much more dangerous in practice than it would seem).
Primary Goal: Prevent the decay of Christian cultural norms.
Common Missions: Foil the plans of the Freemasons, prevent the moral decay of western civilization by successfully drafting and passing legislation at a national level, maintain their power network of church leaders and government cronies.
NEXT TIME: The Final Church and the Bilderbergers.
The Illuminati - Finally, Church and the (Evil) G8 SummitOriginal SA post
Chapter 6: The Illuminati - Finally, Church and the (Evil) G8 Summit
Both of these groups are pretty one dimensional and consequently this makes them fairly predictable. You get exactly what you'd expect from reading the label on the tin, and the only real mystery is why they were even included if they were going to be so anemically fleshed out. The Final Church later gets its own source book / adventure module, but AFAIK the Bilderbergers don't receive any follow-up support after their little blurb.
Ohhhhh it's a black pentagram these dudes must be hardcore scary and powerful whoaaaaaa!
Occult Masters: The Final Church - They're the nameless bad guy mooks that you can throw at your players and that your players can kill without any moral quandaries. The membership is mostly composed of what Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell thought rock & roll music and D&D would do to your average teenager in the 80's. Thrill kill cults, psychopaths, serial killers, lone highway murderers, all of these colorful individuals and more comprise the membership of the Final Church. I guess the only interesting thing here is that the book acknowledges that although almost none of these groups are directly associated with each other, all of their murders and bizarre rituals all tend to follow very similar methods and patterns, as if each of these isolated groups is somehow being masterminded by a much more purposeful, malevolent intelligence (they totally are, and it's The Devil). Permanently stamping out the Final Church is thus extremely unlikely, because each individual cell of these fuckers operates more or less independently, and a thwarting the plans of one group to blow up a school bus full of nuns and puppies in Boston won't really impact a different group's plan to kidnap and ritualistically murder everyone that's left handed in Des Moines.
HQ & Branches: The Bohemian Grove, near San Francisco CA (because why not, a group that's explicitly a decentralized network of anti-social psychopaths would absolutely have a declared, central base of operations).
Power & Resources: Occult tomes, spells and artifacts, followers that are either deranged enough or have been brainwashed to willingly engage in suicidal maneuvers, "vast monetary resources" ( how? from what?).
Followers: "Hundreds of thousands" ( again! how in the fuck?).
Secret Knowledge: Mastery of Diabolism FX is really their only specialization.
Primary Goal: World Domination!
Common Missions: Kidnapping, ritual murder, drug trafficking, human slave trade, organ legging; basically anything that you could qualify as indisputably Evil.
Enjoy some randomly placed flavor art! The choice to include this picture in this chapter is just as incomprehensible as the content of the image.
This is the only art that these guys get because their conspiracy is as removed from the public eye as possible.
Wealth of Nations: Bilderbergers - Each February, the membership of the Bilderberg conspiracy convene a summit at some extremely exclusive and posh hotel and they spend a week charting what they believe will be the course of humanity for the coming year. The conspiracy is comprised of the ultra wealthy and elite, people so rich that you've literally never heard of them because they've completely removed themselves from public scrutiny. They're the stereotype "council of impossibly rich people that believe that everyone that is poorer than they are merely pawns to be used and abused in whatever manner they see fit" and I guess in that capacity they successfully fill their niche.
The most interesting tidbit of information that gets dropped midway through their write-up is that, due to their extensive monetary connections as hedge fund managers and usurers and money launderers, they've actually got financial ties with both the Greys and the Sandmen (we still don't know anything about this group) and they can leverage the assistance and the technology of either of those Stranger conspiracies to accomplish any given mission. This conspiracy is literally the clique of cool kids from high school that will always have a cooler car, flashier clothing and more exciting sexual prospects than you do; they're the Batmans and Ironmans of the superhero genre, where being fabulously wealthy is always the most OP super power. Seriously though, having access to both Grey and Sandman tech means that their agents, while certainly not the most numerous, are arguably the best equipped out of all of the terrestrial conspiracies.
HQ & Branches: Two shared primary headquarters, one in New York and one in Amsterdam.
Power & Resources: More money than God and access to the kind of future technology that other conspiracies can only dream about.
Followers: Estimated to be less than 1300 people all told, but they're the best equipped 1300 people that money can buy.
Secret Knowledge: They control the world's financial markets and have working knowledge of futuristic alien tech.
Primary Goal: World Domination!
Common Missions: Manipulation of stocks, currencies, futures; really any kind of financial market. Maintaining relationship with Greys and Sandmen to keep their awesome future tech flowing into Bilderberg hands. Social engineering on a global scale, in order to prepare humanity to accept their rightful place of subservience beneath their Bilderberg overlords.
NEXT TIME: The United Nations and the U.S. Federal Government.
The Illuminati - Black Helicopters, Death Panels and New World Orders, Oh My!Original SA post
Chapter 6: The Illuminati - Black Helicopters, Death Panels and New World Orders, Oh My!
Both of these groups have long, IRL histories that Dark*Matter doesn't do very much to change. I'm not going to bother rehashing the actual histories of either entity; instead I'm just going to highlight the stuff that Dark*Matter actually adds or alters. Also! There's very many more conspiracies nested within the U.S. Govt. than I would have guessed. I'm going to be breaking them into further individual sections because there's almost as many sub-conspiracies to the U.S. Govt. as there are other illuminati groups in total.
New World Order: The United Nations
The NWO - Some subset of a conspiracy-within-a-conspiracy at the U.N. actually does believe that they can prepare the proles all over the world to accept the U.N. as the de-facto ruler of the world under the NWO. There's not much more detail given than that, so I guess it's up to you and your GM to figure out the finer details (or any details).
The Office of External Affairs - This group is comprised of paramilitary regiments that report exclusively to the Secretary General of the U.N. and their primary focus relates to keeping Strangers and other extraterrestrial entities from getting too big and threatening humanity's dominance of Earth. They've been used to send stand-offish threats to the Greys, "suppress" the Kinori in Africa , and depopulate Sasquatch enclaves in the most remote parts of the world. Their membership totals about 250,000 troops, split between support and active combat roles, and if your players want to traffic with Strangers these guys are basically the jackbooted thugs you can send to hassle them.
The red dot is the approximate location of Moon Base Hammarskjold, based on the extremely vague directions the book provides.
Project Glacier - The U.N. is building a moon base in the shadow of the Plato Crater wall near the lunar north pole. They want it to serve as an eventual launch pad from which humanity can take our first timid steps into colonizing the stars. It's also an emergency bug-out base to which the highest levels of the U.N. leadership can evacuate, in the event that Earth becomes no longer habitable to human beings (because of climate disasters, or a global extinction event, or for any other reason). Basically it's 50% industrial space platform and 50% man-made Garden of Eden. Right now, visiting the base is a one-way trip and nobody that's gone up has ever come back to Earth.
As an aside, one of the things that most breaks my suspension of disbelief is the conceit that there exists enough cooperation within an organization like the U.S. government that outlandish conspiracies can exist in the first place.
Land of the Free: The U.S. Government
Black Agencies - The U.S. Govt has multiple different black ops, wet works and assassination squads operating with hidden budgets and minimal oversight. If your players are having too easy a time pulling a job that targets U.S. Govt assets or that is is performed on federal property, feel free to have one of these random hit squads show up and try to silence the trouble makers. There's not a whole lot more info here, it's basically just permission for the GM to inflict lethal force on players that get too nosy into U.S. Govt. interests.
Agency for Foreign Technology (AFT) - This group was originally a joint venture between various branches of the military that aimed to secure, contain, and reverse engineer any and all Stranger technology. In pursuit of this mission, the entire
organization has become compromised by the Sandmen (we still haven't had this group formally explained to us). The Sandmen found an open doorway somewhere within Houston, TX in 1967 and slowly spread like a cancer across the region. Most recently, the entire town of Sandy Point was disappeared from Houston-area maps during 1996, due to a mass outbreak of Sandmen and the subsequent government coverup; this also marks the point where the Sandmen managed to infiltrate the AFT. So, what do the Sandmen want to do with the AFT?
Project Anaconda - DNA modification in mature adults that can guarantee adaptive mutations and ultimately aims to create a legion of Sandmen-loyal human super soldiers. There's a handful of beneficial mutations that any character with a Project Anaconda background can choose, but there's also several negative mutations you have to take as well. Not a terrible story hook for a player that wants to use the optional Mutation rules from the Alternity core PHB with their Dark*Matter hero.
Project Chapel - Black sites where the U.S. Govt. has staged detention centers for aliens and other Strangers. None of these are listed on any global maps (or even within any non-AFT government directories) and the security clearance required to visit one of these locations is basically impossible to acquire without raising all kinds of red flags. The Sandmen use these sites to interrogate and torture other Strangers into either divulging whatever super-science knowledge they posses, or else attempt to break the Stranger's will so that they can be used as a double agent against their own kind.
Project Iota - Literally no one but the Sandmen have any knowledge about this project. Anyone that has managed to do more than even scratch the surface of what happens within Project Iota has been mysteriously murdered, to a man. Even demonstrating that you know that this project exists is sufficient to ensure you get surveiled and harassed by Sandmen.
So what's the deal? Who knows! The book literally says that this is such a deep conspiracy that there is no set "thing" that Project Iota is supposed to be doing, so it's basically a blank check for a GM to hold up their sleeve, either as a red herring
for investigators to waste time fruitlessly chasing, or to serve as an emergency backup explanation for a paranormal or supernatural inconsistency that your players might stumble upon. If you're even suddenly unsure of how to answer a question that your players have, then the answer is always "Project Iota".
NEXT TIME: The CDC and The CIA.
The Illuminati - All War Crimes All the TimeOriginal SA post
Chapter 6: The Illuminati - All War Crimes All the Time
Again, both the CDC and CIA have long, IRL histories that Dark*Matter doesn't do very much to change. I'm not going to bother rehashing the actual histories of either entity; instead I'm just going to highlight the stuff that Dark*Matter actually adds or alters.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - They're one of the few groups that understand how precariously humans maintain control over Earth, especially because they're also one of the few groups that knows about the Sandman incursion into Houston and the ATF. They've supposedly gotten dormant samples of the nanites that turn humans into Sandmen, but thus far haven't been able to science up a way to reverse the process, nor a means of immunizing future humans against being turned.
In Dark*Matter, the CDC is directly involved in some extremely war-crimes style shit, all in their desperate attempts to curtail potential global-extinction style pandemics. Apparently, the CDC no longer has any compunctions against testing confiscated alien bio-weapons against unsuspecting human populations, validating new vaccines outside laboratory conditions, and even sterilizing entire villages all over the third world to prevent catastrophic outbreaks of Ebola, Hanta, and worse.
Epidemics & Quarantines - The CDC is extremely aware that the threat posed by open Doorways and visiting Strangers isn't just that they might be demons from a hell dimension or aliens bent on global conquest; whatever tiny bacteria or micro-organisms or viruses or diseases that these Strangers carry could be just as, if not more, catastrophic for humanity. To that end, the CDC partners with the WHO at the UN to monitor reports of open Doorways, and they cooperate to set up quarantines and safe zones around open Doorways until they can either be closed, or are at least deemed a non-threat. The CDC has had to expand it's wheelhouse beyond just traditional diseases and viruses because there's other shit that might come through a Doorway that could also fuck up our planet - the book gives an example of an insect that can consume & metabolize plastics and is also immune to all extant pesticides, which would for sure fuck up much of our modern infrastructure.
Genotype ID Centers & DNA Fingerprint Centers - The human genome has been completely mapped and now the CDC could use that info to create tailor-made viruses that only target certain "undesirables" or otherwise create war-crime level ethical problems. They also maintain the country's largest DNA database; used primarily by law enforcement agencies to accurately identify suspects & repeat offenders, it's also possible some unscrupulous hacker could infiltrate the system and start framing people for crimes they never committed, just by changing their DNA profile in the central system to match that of the actual perpetrators. There's even a rogue gang of CDC employees that are using their system access to literally do this - basically they're reaching out to organized crime families and offering to cover their tracks by switching DNA profiles on the server and getting paid a crazy amount of money for their services. This is a pretty decent plot hook, because there's certainly no way that this plan could ever backfire or create unintended consequences!
The Gynarchy - UUUGGGGHHHHH. Andrea Dworkin and Gloria Steinem are literally the only types of feminist that exist, and this is a group of militant man-hating amazons that are going to fuse two eggs together to create their female messiah and use then use that person to overthrow the rule of man. Fucking hard pass on this misogynist-fantasy shit.
The Ghost Train - Basically the Underground Railroad, but for any Strangers or human psychics or any other supernatural entities that want to defect to the US Govt. I have no idea why this program operates under the purview of the CDC - it seems like it'd be a better fit for a more clandestine organization, but I guess maybe that's why operating under the CDC is a good cover because people won't think to look there. Not an awful plot hook, but I'm marking off 10 points because this isn't actually a haunted railroad that ferries the newly dead to their afterlife (also absent: rules for suplexing the engine so hard that you can divert its course back into the living world).
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - It's a really fucking awful organization of sociopaths that love war crimes. That's basically the sum of it. Project MK Ultra and all of the other classic conspiracy stuff happens, innocent people are hurt, some token nobody is held accountable, and the atrocities continue unabated. I don't have a lot of positive things to say here, and the Dark*Matter book just gives a white-washed version of the agency's public history, so there's not a lot of content for me to cover.
Project Stargate and Project Override - Initially under the jurisdiction of the DoD, Project Stargate was a study of whether clairvoyance and remote viewing and precognition could produce reliable enough results that they would have valid military applications. Supposedly, the CIA found out that Project Stargate was also involved in trying to breed true psychic powers out of a stock of human "potentials" and got greedy; they pulled some backdoor strings to get Project Stargate publicly "shut down" and then reabsorbed all of the personnel and assets under the umbrella of the CIA as Project Override.
They're basically the Hawkins National Laboratory from Stranger Things. Project Override has entire "crops" of potential psychic kids now and they subject them to rigorous testing regimens to try and perfect their innate powers and train them to become the perfect CIA black-ops killing machines. There's no way that one of the kids will have a psychotic break and stage a violent escape, or manage to accidentally open a Doorway to another dimension, or contact an alien intelligence that might not have benevolent intentions! Seriously, you could just re-create the entire first season of Stranger Things with this group if you were so inclined.
CIA Toy Box - Sort of a mini Arms & Equipment Guide for spy technology & gizmos that only the CIA know about.
Cancer Gun - A "short bazooka" that fires a one-time charge of lethal X-ray radiation at a target. In game terms, this blasts someone with a Level 5 dosage of radiation (that's the most deadly level) and if you fail your resistance test you develop inoperable cancer and die within a few months. Save-or-Die comes to Alternity, folks! The person firing the gun also suffers a Level 2 dosage of radiation, but that only develops into inoperable terminal cancer if they get a critical failure on their resistance test. The CIA uses this weapon to kill targets that are too high-profile to "disappear" and too important to risk mundane assassination attempts. The CIA prefers to put this into the hands of a non-CIA asset, since it's entirely likely that the person using this weapon will also develop cancer, and then you get to tie up both your loose ends with "natural" deaths.
Golden Dawn - Named for the infamous 19th century occult society, this drug allows FX users to gain temporary b onus FX points that they can use to fuel their powers. Mindwalkers or psy-potentials get a number of points equal to half their Willpower score; any other FX user just gets a single point. Whenever you spend one of these bonus points, you also take a proportionate amount of Fatigue damage. Wheee! This drug is also an extremely addictive narcotic, so of course the CIA tries really hard to get all of their FX agents and assets hooked on this drug so that they can maintain indefinite control over them.
Heart Attack Inducers - Fast-acting chemicals that permeate the skin and cause cardiac arrest in the victim. In game terms, this is treated like a Deadly neurotoxin with an onset time of a single round, a duration of 1 minute, and an on-going +4 penalty to Constitution resistance tests. If the target fails the resistance test, they're dead! The poison is usually delivered via pads on the fingertips of special gloves that a CIA agent can wear and then innocuously touch, or casually bump into, a target, and by the time anyone could possibly try to figure out what's happened, the agent is long gone. Supposedly the CIA used these poisons so frequently that the "cholesterol scare" of the 1980's was actually just a disinformation campaign they created to keep doctors and hospitals from connecting the dots between the "thousands" of victims that died from Heart Attack Inducers.
Necrotic Fleshworms - A form of torture so excruciatingly cruel that even the CIA will only authorize their use on black sites that are not on U.S. soil. The worms eat the connective tissues and fat and muscle and nerve fibers of mammals and they're really horrific and at least the Dark*Matter book doesn't even try to offer a situation where the use of these things would be justified.
NEXT TIME: More conspiracies from the U.S. federal govt.
The Illuminati - The LeftoversOriginal SA post Chapter 6: The Illuminati - The Leftovers
We're finally done with all of the conspiracy bloat within the U.S. Government! HOORAY! All of the following groups get a pretty short description, as they're included more for color, or to give your players a mystery-with-a-mystery if they get too hot on the tail of one of the major government players.
Center for Xenological Studies (CXS) - They're the final drain filter for all of the occult, supernatural, extraterrestrial, and unidentifiable specimens and relics that every other branch of the U.S. Govt recovers. While most other branches have their own team that will nominally review anything that looks valuable, 99% of everything recovered winds up being sent to the CXS for cataloguing and retention. The idea is, by having as many real samples of weird shit in the same place as possible, it's more likely that we can put these puzzle pieces together and figure out what they all mean.
And it's a good idea! The CXS actually has the most complete database of occult, supernatural, extraterrestrial, and unidentifiable objects in the world; however, nobody working there is aware of that, because they're criminally understaffed. The CXS has a skeleton crew of 8 full-time employees and 3 part-time assistants, and between the staff of 11 they barely have enough time in a day to label and categorize all of the junk they're sent, let alone open up any of the shipping containers and actually play with any of it. The problem is that the CXS is a black agency, not listed on any federal govt ledgers, so they have no funding and no actual authority; although the research lead Alexander Dumas begs his superiors for more staffing, thus far none of them have actually been able to justify increasing the manpower, due to a lack of any "verifiable breakthrough" on the part of the CXS. It's a perfect Catch 22 situation and it drives Alexander mad.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) - In the Dark*Matter version of history, Reagan appoints Louis Giuffrida as agency director of FEMA in 1981 and he wastes no time turning into the "primary source of law and order in case of national emergency". Which sounds great, but the guy is an old 'Nam veteran, and he doesn't think very highly of civilians having free agency to act as they please. He trains all of the FEMA personnel in exercises that include population control and anti-subversion dragnets, and winds up being the most powerful (government) tool of the Aquarius conspiracy. He also has stand-by legislation drafted that would allow FEMA to "temporarily" suspend rule of law, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, in the event of a global crises, expecting that such a situation might arise from full-blown nuclear war, or following a mass invasion of an alien species.
Interestingly, FEMA is opposed by the UN and the NWO. See, they've already got plans in place that angle to have the NWO take over as a singular, global ruling body in the event of an aforementioned global crises, and they don't like the idea that a bunch of FEMA chumps have their own plans to the contrary. Evidently, this has lead to something of a cold war between FEMA and NWO intelligence agents; it hasn't even boiled over into open conflict yet, but they have apparently engaged in legendary games of cat-and-mouse espionage and counter-espionage in an attempt to thwart the plans of the other.
Oh yeah, FEMA also has detention facilities already built all over the place in remote regions of the U.S. and they're basically the death camps that your uncle always warned you that Obama was going to use. Supposedly they don't have many (if any) detainees currently; they're more of an early-preparation measure, so that when a global crises does break out and FEMA gets to subordinate the federal government, they've already got their death camps built and staffed.
Meh, pretty boring IMO. They didn't do anything unusual or unexpected with the preexisting conspiracy lore about FEMA. Their adversarial relationship with the NWO might be a way to set up an enemy-of-my-enemy encounter if your players are trying to subvert or escape FEMA, which is at least an adventure hook.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) - NASA has a lot of egg on their face because they have so far failed to predict or intercept or locate any of the alien or extraterrestrial species that have come to visit Earth. Most of the employees at NASA still don't even know that aliens already exist on Earth, or that they continue to visit us from beyond the stars. The higher ranking officials of NASA do, but they're (drum-roll) all members of the Freemasons, to a man! Yep, the Freemasons have infiltrated NASA because they thought they needed space rocks to fulfill their previously mentioned nefarious plan for world domination, but now that they've got them they've basically left NASA up to its own devices again. It's unclear whether the moon rocks were actually useful for the Mason's purposes or whether it was a wasted effort; my bet is that they were a McGuffin because the Masons don't literally control the world yet, buy your GM has the ultimate call.
NASA doesn't really get involved with any other Illuminati group or conspiracy network, so they're kind of a blank slate for your GM. It's hinted that most of the people that work for NASA really are the "I Want to Believe" type, so if the players were able to present them with irrefutable evidence that aliens exist and regularly visit our planet, they'd pretty quickly give you their unwavering loyalty. I'm not really sure what good that would do, but in the Dark*Matter timeline NASA still has nominal funding and still launches rockets, so if your players needed to invade a moon base or a Grey colony ship in low orbit, this might be the ticket.
Additional Federal Agencies - Most of these groups only get a sentence or two, but I'll include them for completion's sake.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) - In the Dark*Matter timeline, the disaster in Waco, TX that was caused by the ATF completely shitting the bed is still fresh in everyone's minds. Any agent worth their salt that wasn't immediately implicated in the colossal Waco fuck-up is trying to find a new source of employment ASAP, like rats abandoning a ship. The hook here is that the Hoffman Institute might see value in attempting to recruit a few of these agents, or least send the players to pose as interviewers and attempt to pump them for information. Any player that promises the exiting ATF agent immunity from potential criminal charges is likely to find them to be remarkably helpful (whether or not the player actually has the ability to provide said legal protection is another matter).
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) - Their main selling point is that they are the singular federal government entity that does not officially cooperate or collaborate with the CIA. While this doesn't make the FBI the Good Guys, FBI agents-turned-resources provide the players with an avenue of investigation that doesn't immediately divulge whatever was said back to a CIA contact. The flip side of the coin is that the FBI is extremely interested in maintaining legal propriety and following the rule of law, and any players that come to them that aren't squeaky clean, or that attempt to entice them into assisting with something that's not totally above board, may find their agent-turned-contact suddenly more interested in the player's own activities. The FBI has next to no institutional experience with occult, supernatural, extraterrestrial, or unidentifiable specimens or situations (outside whatever personal knowledge an agent brings to the table) and they're not well equipped to handle those kinds of encounters either, but if your players need assistance with something concerning human crime and the U.S. legal code, the FBI is an amazing resource.
Military Intelligence - Each branch of the military has a subordinate intelligence agency, and they've all got their own acronyms: Army intelligence is INSCOM, the Air Force maintains both AFI and OSI, and the Navy runs the ONI. There's not really any plot hooks offered here, but it is made pretty clear that you do not want to fuck with these groups. They operate more-or-less as extraterritorial entities and they've got the weight of the U.S. Military behind them, and there's no amount of force that the Hoffman Institute is ever going to bring to bear that would be sufficient to survive hostile contact with them. Keep under their radar, and if you ever wind up interacting with one of them, just remember to always call them "Sir".
NEXT TIME: They Greys! These visitors from the stars get almost as big a write-up as the entire U.S. Government!
The Illuminati - The GreysOriginal SA post
Chapter 6: The Illuminati - The Greys
So we all know that the Greys have existed for thousands of years and that their own culture far predates the existence of homo sapiens. Since they've been to Earth, they've been the cause of violent social upheaval, cultural extinction, disastrous climate change, and that's all during the BCE. In modern times, they've taken a much more subtle approach to manipulating events on Earth.
The colony ship that originally transported them to Earth has been relocated to Mars, in the Valles Marineris. From this base, they send out scout ships to reconnoiter Earth, and their greater agenda is largely unknown to humanity. These scout ships have mutilated wild life, abducted humans, observed military installations for inscrutable purposes, and followed aircraft and spacecraft for uncomfortable lengths of time. They also have performed recon, collecting atmospheric, marine and biological samples from Earth's varied populations. Even the Greys themselves are unable to articulate a coherent purpose for their varied activities. Factions within the Grey colony ship have waged internal wars of influence, to varying degrees of success, all of them primarily predicated around the question of how directly Greys should interact with human beings, and in what specific ways.
Some Greys see humanity as a mutable genetic template that they can "improve" to create a superior race of subservient creatures. These Greys are typically the ones that are abducting humans and performing scientific experimentation; while the majority of these humans are eventually released back into the wild, several humans with "the most promising genetic profiles" have been retained in Grey facilities, becoming the recipients of multiple Grey gene therapy treatments, with the eventual goal of using their genetic make-up as the foundation for future species.
Greys are having a much harder time acquiring raw materials for their own construction, as humanity has spread to cover almost the entire globe, and has laid claim to the majority of the Earth's petroleum, metals and chemical feed-stocks. For this reason, many Greys see humanity as a reservoir of disease and violence, and they often work to undermine human governments and social structures. The idea is that if we're disorganized and uninformed, it's much harder for us to efficiently strip mine the Earth before the Greys can take their shot at it.
In general, the Greys have involved themselves in human affairs to accomplish their own selfish ends. While they may sometimes choose to pursue methods that align with the goals and desires of some specific subsection of humanity, they remain resolutely alien. They can never truly be allies with homo sapiens, because they do not perceive us to be their equals. Their mastery of technology far supersedes our own, and their innate desire to avoid conflict and confrontation creates for them the perception that human beings are brutish and violent and nasty, unfit to join the greater galactic community.
Grey Politics - There exists 3 primary factions within the larger Grey culture:
The Ahotti: Represent the largest portion of the Grey culture, and their ranks are comprised of the most conservative and xenophobic Greys. They've been the dominant ruling party for the last 8,000 years, largely coming to power in the wake of the disastrous Atlantis incident. They counsel extremely slow integration with Earth's cultures, and prefer to rule the Earth as a client state from their Martian colony ship. They refuse to acknowledge homo sapiens as anything more than hairless apes with severe anger issues. The Ahotti are only interested in interacting with humanity to the extent that they can extract something of value from us.
The Itlan: Represent the liberal-minded Greys that want to accelerate the amount of interaction the Greys have with human beings. It's not that they've got more benevolent intentions for humanity than the Ahotti; they just believe it's easier to turn us into a client race if they can bring us up to speed with technology and psionic discipline. Their idea is that they can win over our hearts and minds by providing us with a variety of quality-of-life improvements, thus ensuring that we willingly become their eternal slaves. Basically, a gilded prison with silken leashes; they still don't view homo sapiens as their equals, but they'd prefer if we just went along with the greater Grey schemes voluntarily. They may or may not have been the group that was responsible for the activation of the Theran Doorway, and the rest of Grey civilization still hasn't forgotten about that. As such, they're currently the second most powerful political group in Grey culture.
The Ziljir: Regarded generally as the rogue faction, the name of this group is an approximation of the word the Greys use to describe their concept of Satan. The Ziljir are primarily comprised of the megalomaniacs and madmen and would-be messiahs; any time a Grey has presented itself as a deity in order to compel the obedience of a human civilization, it's almost guaranteed that Grey belonged to the Ziljir. These Greys likely think even less of homo sapiens than do the Ahotti or Itlan, as they frequently treat their human contacts as little more than willing sacrifices, sufficient for providing unquestioning worship, and tossed aside the instant that it becomes expedient to do so. Neither the Ahotti nor the Itlan factions completely trust the Ziljir, as their self-centered schemes potentially risk everything else that they Greys have attempted to accomplish. To that end, membership in the Ziljir faction is something of a social taboo among the Greys, with very few members openly touting their involvement.
Grey Client Species: The Sasquatch - Sasquatch, yeti, momo, skunk apes, almas and bigfoot are all descriptions of the same Grey client species. They're the result of an early attempt by the Greys to improve on one of Earth's sapient races, and it's strongly implied that neanderthals disappeared from Earth not because homo sapiens out-evolved them, but rather because they were hunted to extinction by Greys that sought their genetic stock. Either way, modern sasquatch are the result of thousands of years of genetic manipulation, with the end result being they are the Grey's primary servants, laborers and warriors. They don't have a culture or civilization of their own, as their entire species is now the sole property of the Greys. Sightings of sasquatch in the wild are likely the result of individual sasquatch having managed to escape from their Grey masters. The Greys are extremely studious about recovering lost "specimens" and go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that any sasquatch that are dead, or are about to die, are recovered and returned to Mars so that their carcass/remains don't give humans any more reason to suspect that they exist.
Several Sasquatch communes have managed to exist outside Grey influence. Typically these groups began when multiple escaped sasquatch banded together for mutual protection and aid, and slowly blossom into full-fledged communities over time. Sasquatch fertility rates are purposely kept low by the genetic sequence the Greys used to create them, and many communes can exist only for as long as their individual members are alive; it's extremely unlikely that a large enough number of sasquatch could become pregnant to reproduce at a rate sufficient to ensure the continuation of a commune. Still, stories persist that at least one such sasquatch commune may have found a way to overcome their fertility problem, and if the rumors are true, they live with the Rosicrucians in their hidden Tibetan monastery.
Ultimately, the Greys exist to serve as an extra-terrestrial foil for your players. They can be temporary allies or the source of inscrutable schemes and mysteries, but it's unlikely that they'll ever come to trust any individual human well enough to ever see them as an equal. The end of this section implies that the Greys aren't actually extra-terrestrial, rather they're extremely evolved homo sapiens that have time traveled back from the future to prevent some terrible tragedy that lies in humanity's future. If this is true, the great irony is that their disastrous meddling in human affairs might be the actual cause of whatever disaster they're trying to prevent.
NEXT TIME: The Sandmen and the Kinori!
The Illuminati - The Rest of the BestOriginal SA post
Chapter 6: The Illuminati - The Rest of the Best
Hello! It's been about four months since I last updated this review; turns out starting a new job has a way of eating up your free-time until you finally get back into a groove. At this point I've finally got a handle on the workload, so I should be able to return to updating this regularly-ish.
When we last left off we had finished covering the
The Sandmen - Finally, we get the low-down on these guys! They've been mentioned multiple times, but all we really know is that they're in bed with the Bilderbergers and that they've infiltrated multiple levels of the US federal government. The NWO is nominally aware of their infiltration of the government, and it's likely they've completely replaced the entire population of at least one rural US town. But who are they, and what do they want?
As it turns out, Sandmen are the cybernetic slaves/client race of an entirely different alien species, the Etoile. The Etoile are a race of cybernetic Koosh Balls that have a mastered the integration of technology with biological organisms, performed largely via functional nanotechnology.
Presented for your consideration, an Etoile.
Their ultimate goal is world domination, and the existence of Sandmen is their plan put into motion. Basically, the Etoile slip through open doorways into Earth and unleash nanite clouds, either in lightly populated rural areas where they can basically transform and enslave the entire population over the course of a week, or in densely populated urban centers where multiple people could go missing without being noticed. Both methods further their goal of converting homo sapiens into a completely subservient client race which will ultimately hand the entirety of planet Earth over to the Etoile with an obedient smile. It's implied that there could be other species that the Etoile have previously enslaved with their nanites that wouldn't necessarily be "Sandmen" because they aren't human, but AFAIK this plot hook doesn't get further development (although there might be a template for creating a Sand<being> out of other species in Chapter 8). So why are converted humans called Sandmen? The nanites that convert a given human into an Etoile cyber-puppet have standing self-destruct subroutines that engage whenever an individual unit runs the risk of being captured or destroyed; essentially the nanites spontaneously disintegrate themselves and all of the moisture within the human portion of their bodies, evaporating the cellular bonds within the host so rapidly that they quickly decompose into nothing more than a pile of inert carbon. Thus far, no human organization has managed to capture or imprison a Sandman while subverting the self-destruct mechanism, so nobody's been able to reverse engineer their incredible cybernetics.
Right now the Etoile have only made tenuous progress towards their goal of world domination because very few of Etoile have managed to find an open doorway into Earth, and also because they're actively eradicated by the Greys whenever the Greys uncover them. The Greys aren't opposed to the Etoile for a noble reason; it's just that the Greys have already spent millennia slowly grooming Humanity to become their client species, and having the Etoile pop up and try to undo all of their hard work really pisses them off. To that end, the Etoile have begun experimenting with other ways of bringing human slaves into their fold, most notably by partnering with a few other Illuminati groups and offering them their incredible cybertechnology in return for information and favors and etc. Any Illuminati agent that's got access to Etoile tech would currently be one of the most dangerous humans alive.
The Kinori - We've already covered much of the Kinori lore indirectly, because they were one of the first Stranger species to have visited Earth following the end of the most recent ice age. As such, their history is irrevocably intermingled with the history of humanity. We already know that they lived in harmony with the early Atlanteans and Egyptians and that they've had long-standing partnerships with both the Free Masons and the Rosicrucians. Despite the numerous times Humanity has spurned them or blamed them for causing some kind of harm they've mostly kept to themselves and only ever acted towards us with beneficial intentions. They Greys have always had a seething distrust of the Kinori because they view the Kinori as another potential threat to their plan to groom Humanity into a pliable client species. They probably wouldn't mind as much if the Kinori were also willing to become subservient, but the few times the Greys made that proposal, the Kinori just laughed and went back to being wizards - consequently the Greys hate sorcery and this is another reason for them to fear & distrust the Kinori.
With that being said, there's not much new information in this chapter. It does posit one possible alternative origin story for the Kinori; rather than being one of the first refugee Stranger species to visit Earth during humanity's pre-history, they might actually be a rebellious client species of the Greys! Grown from tissue banks on the Grey mothership, in this story they were originally deployed to help scout out and terraform the Earth and somehow along the way they fell ass-backwards into sorcery along with the ancient Egyptians. Having access to a source of power that could rival the Grey's psionics, they were able to leverage their power into an uneasy termination of their client status, which would make this the ultimate reason that they Greys continue to resent and distrust them.
Aum Shinri Kyo - The fact that this group even gets passing mention as an Illuminati conspiracy is hardcore proof that this book was written pre-9/11. Matter of fact, I don't think there's any mention of any terrorist groups from the Middle East, even despite the fact that they had attempted other acts of terror within the US prior to 9/11. That's almost the basis for a wild "what if" kind of story - what the hell would a post 2001 Earth look like if 9/11 hadn't happened? Now I'm bummed that I haven't heard of any fictional setting that explores that concept.
Anyway, Aum Shinri Kyo is a terrorist group based in Japan that supposedly has ties to the Spetznaz and the KGB because Boris Yeltsin is one of their shadow patrons (90's AS HELL), ties to the Korean Unification Church because the CIA is one of their shadow patrons, and ties to the Yakuza because they're also Japanese so of course they do. Aum Shinri Kyo is a bit player in the Illuminati world stage but they're trying really hard to break into the big leagues. The included adventure seed is that Aum Shinri Kyo agents have been observed around the Nikolai Tesla Historical Museum and have been obsessively collecting any information they can about his old research because they want to use it to make an earthquake bomb. The Tesla plot hook is whatever (because of course it has to be Tesla) but looking back on this book from 2018, I'm still blown away that Aum Shinri Kyo is even mentioned at all, let alone proposed as an actual threat to global stability.
The Centurians - If Cambridge Analytica and Facebook and Google were all literally the same company and they used their multitude of culled user data to subtly engineer social change to benefit their shareholders - oh wait, that's already how those companies work.
Okay, if the senior leadership teams of Facebook and Twitter and other social media companies harbored obvious nationalist sentiments, with the end goal being to leverage their mountains of user data to create of a monolithic one-world government which they ruled - oh wait, that's our current reality.
Damn, Monte and Wolfgang got surprisingly prescient with this group. Basically the Centurians are the newest Illuminati conspiracy on the block, but they're also extremely tech savvy and believe that the terabytes of user data they can access are going to be their path to world domination (and given current events, they're on the right track). The Centurians, as a group, are made up of the owners and CEOs and billionaires that run these tech companies, and their cabal is based around a weird fixation they have with the Holy Roman Empire. Basically, they're insanely wealthy megalomaniacs that love to cosplay as Cesar's Legion from Fallout: New Vegas and they're the first people in the setting to understand the power of aggregated user data. Props to Monte and Wolfgang for envisioning the most plausible threat to global stability decades ahead of time.
The adventure seed is that their Cesar's Legion cosplay isn't just cosmetic and the organization is actually arranged in a hierarchy with titles like Lictor and Prelate and so obviously there must be a Cesar figure at the top. The players are hired to infiltrate the group and attempt to figure out who / what Cesar is. Cesar could be a person, but it could also be the nascent AI the Centurians are feeding all of their terabytes of data into, with the belief that this AI will transcend human decision making and become an omnipotent, flawless ruler (that they control).
The East Coast Boys - What if the Piratebay.org but based in Massachusetts? That's basically the entire characterization of this group. The adventure seed is that an anonymous source shared a torrent of stolen data on their servers that actually included blueprints for some obscure Grey technology and the players are asked to figure out who actually uploaded it, where the data was originally stolen from, and to track down everyone that managed to download the blueprints before the torrent was killed.
Knights of Unity - What if the Proud Boys lived on Cliven Bundy's ranch? Again, Wolfgang and Monte predict an actual threat to national stability decades in advance. The Knights of Unity are ex-KKK, ex-Aryan Brotherhood, ex-other-racist-gangs that all decided to purchase a ranch in Montana and stockpile guns and food for the coming RaHoWa that they're conveniently trying to instigate. They've got an online presence that uses contemporary Baptist and Evangelical teachings to try and disguise their nationalist messages and the only thing they hate more than minorities is the liberal government. The adventure seed is that the sermons from their online church heavily imply that they have intimate knowledge of some other Illuminati group, and the players get hired by the other group to infiltrate the Knights of Unity and figure out whether they actually have the real dirt on the other conspiracy or whether it's a "broken clock is right twice a day" situation.
The Mafia - It's the Mafia; there's not much to say here that deviates from actual history. The adventure seed is that a Mafia boss goes missing right before he was able to finish negotiating a truce between two warring families and the players get hired to figure out what happened to him before the negotiations completely break down. Obviously each family thinks the other one is responsible, but the trail of clues leads the players to discover that some Stranger group abducted the Mafia boss. The DM gets to decide which group took him and why!
MUFON - The Mutual UFO Network is a public group that exists to study and classify UFO phenomena. That's it. The adventure hook is that someone from MUFON accidentally manages to figure out some real, damaging information about the Greys and is poised to go public with it. The players are hired to figure out what this person knows, and then either silence them, protect them, steal the info for themselves, or some combination of all three.
ODESSA - We already know that in Dark*Matter Hitler survives WW2 and ends up relocating the Nazi party to a Martian base. Odessa is the Earth-based remainder of the Nazi party that attempts to keep tabs on the situation here so that Space Nazis can eventually return one day and conquer the Earth. They're actual Nazis that still exist in secret enclaves so the players can persecute them with extreme prejudice. The adventure seed is that Odessa starts buying up all of the land around abandoned long range radio towers and the players are hired to figure out what specific nefarious plan the Nazis are going to attempt. There's not much going on here (as presented) and I still feel like it was a missed opportunity to further explore space Hitler leading a Martian Nazi party (which is already a gonzo concept). If you're already going to acknowledge that Hitler survives WW2 in your setting, you basically have to go whole-hog with it or else it becomes an unnecessary, atonal detail.
The Priority of Zion - The Biblical Jesus of Nazareth had an Earthly wife and produced children with her before he was crucified and these dudes are the ones that have been tasked with ensuring that the bloodline of Christ remains pure. The adventure hook is that they plan to use the most recent scion of this bloodline to kick-start the Rapture and if you really want to see how that ends, just read the first few TPBs of the Preacher comic. Short version: centuries of inbreeding produces a "messiah" that can't even be taught not to constantly shit himself. Anyway, since the theology presented in the Bible is objectively true in the Dark*Matter universe, the scion of Zion will likely be a powerful psion or something equally ludicrous. This whole subplot bores me to tears so it's hard for me to muster any real interest here.
The Skull & Bones Society - Again there's not much to say here that deviates from actual history. The adventure seed is that the Society is actually a necromancer cabal with ties back to the Kinori wizards of ancient Egypt and rumors abound that each US President is raised as a lich in service of this group upon their death. The players are hired to infiltrate the Society and determine whether there's any truth to this rumor, and if there is, to escape with as much evidence as they can grab.
UMMO - UMMO claims to be a Stranger from another planet named Iumma that has heavy concentrations of Dark Matter. They send missives to random scientists all across Earth marked with their symbol )+( and each contains extremely advanced formulas and theorems and data pertaining to whatever field the scientist in question specializes. Supposedly, several recent scientific breakthroughs were the direct result of a researcher mysteriously being given the answer to a question they couldn't solve on their own, and in each case UMMO provided the answer.
The adventure hook is that nobody really knows what UMMO is. A group of people with knowledge of UMMO begin to usurp its symbol and attempt to spread disinformation that misleads certain types of scientific research. The players are hired by a group of scientists who have all benefited from UMMO, and are asked to determine where these fake UMMO missives are coming from. It's possible the whole UMMO schtick is just an elaborate hoax identity that many different people have used over time, or maybe UMMO actually is a Stranger entity but it's got some hidden agenda behind what kind of science it's trying to teach to Humanity; the notes that end up sabotaging different experiments are still coming from the same entity (just with the intention of stopping some specific kind of research).
The Vril Society - A bunch of people that believe ancient Atlantis didn't cease to exist after it sank beneath the waves; instead, the inhabitants of Atlantis used their super-science knowledge to bore into the Earth's mantle and transformed themselves into a race of mole people (named Agharti) living inside pockets of hollow earth. The Vril Society is thus dedicated to using seismographic tools to try and find these hidden pockets of Agharti, with the belief that they will be friendly and willing to share their fantastic technology with the surface world again. The adventure seed is that an off-shore drilling operation in the Atlantic Ocean, not far from the Mediterranean Basin, reveals a massive fissure within the seabed that contains structures too complex to be naturally occurring. The players are hired to explore the fissure by the Vril Society (Journey to the Center of the Earth-style) and hopefully recover lost Agharti technology, and maybe even make contact with a living Agharti person.
Whew! That's chapter 6 finished. Overall, I'm not a huge fan of how the various Illuminati groups were handled - things like clearly defining their base of operations and manpower and resources feels too game-y to me, like reading an entry from the AD&D Monstrous Manual and seeing NO. APPEARING and HABITAT and LOOT TYPE but for mystery organizations. I get that Alternity itself is the direct descendant of TSR game design, but I ended up being more interested in the smaller Illuminati groups that get only a paragraph or two of exposition, as opposed to the bigger groups that get all started out. I also feel like the default setting for Dark*Matter (players work for the Hoffman Institute) is a little too sandbox-y for the included adventure hooks to really congeal into any kind of clear plot or story arc.
NEXT TIME: Chapter 7: Mystery Sites Around the World!
Places of Interest - AfricaOriginal SA post
Chapter 7: Places of Interest - Africa
Chapter 7 of Dark Matter is an entire chapter of plot hooks that you can use (or not) in your campaign. None of them are super detailed or fleshed out, but they can serve as either an adventure jumping off point for a DM, quick "facts" you can provide inquisitive players (What does your investigator know about Egypt? Well, they know X, Y and Z) or bare bones plot outlines for when your players run outside the bounds of your planned adventure.
The chapter is sorted by continent and then broken down into smaller sections based on towns, regions, states, etc. There's quite a disparity of content between sections, some like Africa get roughly 2.5 pages of text, while others like North America have 16 or more (out of about 40 total pages in the entire chapter). I guess this could also be a meta commentary about how the US consumes a disproportionate amount of global resources, but I'm probably putting way more thought into that than they did. I'm not sure whether this was an intentional bias on behalf of Wolfgang and Monte or whether it belies a general lack of curiosity for researching areas outside their personal comfort zone, but it isn't a great look. Oh also, each continent is given a descriptive subtitle and some of them are cringe-inducing enough that I'm inclined to think the content disparity was at least partially intentional. Anyway, let's go around the world in 40 pages!
AFRICA: Birthplace of a Species
The Hook: The Congo was one of the first locations where the Kinori set up permanent warrens when they completed their pilgrimage to Earth. Fast forward to 199X, and rumors still persist that tribes of savage lizard-men stalk human prey throughout the jungles. Others claim that the reptilian creatures hunting the Congo aren't really Kinori any more; either gruesome Kinori-human crossbreeds, or degenerate Kinori mutants, or perhaps dinosaur-like creatures that guard long abandoned Kinori outposts. The Congolese government doesn't acknowledge any of these rumors, but unlicensed big game hunters are making bank by promising to take tourists on a safari to hunt the mysterious lizard-men.
My Take: Giving the GM an idea to kick around for a potential adventure is decent, but the hook is too sparse on actionable info to do much more than that. It's a decent prompt for the players to explore further, but the GM is going to do a lot of heavy lifting to make anything out of this.
King Leopold's Mines
The Hook: In the 19th century, Belgian King Leopold allowed his colonists to commit atrocities against the native Congolese in the pursuit of opening and maintaining rubber mines; estimates place anywhere from 5 to 10 MILLION Congolese dead from the Belgian occupation. Even though almost a century has passed since Leopold died and the colonial administrators were removed, there's still several million vengeful ghosts trapped in those mines. With global dark matter levels rising, the ghosts are finally able to manifest in our world, and they're thirsty for revenge. They can't be reasoned with, so shamen, witch doctors and other faith agents are making bank putting these unruly ghosts back to rest. However, there's far more spirits trapped in the mines than there are people qualified to deal with them, and it's only a matter of time until the ghosts manage to overwhelm the minimal safeguards that are presently in place. Rumors persist that there's a doorway buried deep in the mine shafts that's allowing most of the spirits to cross over, but so far anyone sent in to try and find it hasn't returned - alive.
My Take: Ghostbusters but in Africa is a decent enough conceit. Again, not enough actionable info to let a GM just throw this down in a pinch, but another fertile bed for a GM with a little time to bang out a memorable adventure.
1. The Rosicrucians still have a small membership kicking around Cairo. They've all managed to find themselves in positions of influence (either government officers or professors at universities or etc.) and they keep a very keen eye on requests for archaeological digs or requests to explore pyramids/tombs/ruins. The goal is to preemptively deny any requests to investigate sites where they know that Strangers have been active or where Doorways have been closed. Depending on the nature of the request, they have made exceptions to allow certain groups or individuals to conduct a dig or visit ruins, but only w/ extreme supervision. So far this system has allowed them to prevent any major dark matter event from blowing up in Egypt, but it's only a matter of time until someone slips through their net and cracks open a tomb that should have been left sealed.
2. The Pyramids of Giza are super mysterious and people have speculated for centuries as to their actual purpose and construction. The prevailing wisdom is that they were intended to be tombs for royalty, but that's only their secondary function. In actually, all three pyramids were constructed to "seal" the original Doorways that the Kinori used to migrate to Earth. In an unexpected twist, natural processes like tectonic shifts and changes in the Earth's magnetic poles have caused the Doorways to re-align in the open desert, about a half-kilometer away from the stones that were blocking them. So far, the Doorways haven't activated on their own, and it's unknown whether the Rosicrucians stationed in Cairo know that the Doorways are no longer sealed. Anyone able to contact the Kinori could certainly count on their assistance, but their numbers and power have dwindled over the millennia and they wouldn't be able to provide another solution without direct support from another group.
3. The Sphinx is a relic of a civilization that predates human history but it's not hiding anything exciting and there's no valuable relics or treasures inside. The book suggests that players could be fed misinformation about the importance of the Sphinx to throw them off the trail of something that's actually important.
My Take: I'm honestly impressed that Wolfgang and Monte didn't just re-create the plot of "The Mummy" whole cloth. The Rosicrucians are nominally a good guy group, and it's not impossible for the players to have made previous contact with the Kinori, so those hooks could be weaved into a campaign without a ton of side work. Still not enough detail to just throw this setup into play without planning, but I like that this provides an answer to the "But What Do They Do All Day?" question for the Rosicrucians. I also like that the Sphinx doesn't have any mysteries or greater purpose; my suspension of disbelief is ruined when every single thing has to be connected to some greater mystery or have a hidden secret. It's refreshing to have a weird statue exist for its own sake.
1. The Tuat Oases has a ton of historical significance, and in Dark*Matter it's also the location of the first Doorway used by the Etoile to stage their invasion of Earth. All of the various nomadic tribes that would frequent the oases (Berbers, Arabs and Haratin) have been subsequently turned into Sandmen and are now acting as the Etoile's eyes and ears while the Etoile slowly consolidate a power base. Some Kinori allied with the Rosicrucian sect in Cairo got hip to the Etoile schemes and they've begun a nocturnal guerrilla war against them. Although the Etoile have vastly superior technology, the Kinori still possess a measure of their arcane heritage, and they're also 1000x more familiar with navigating the featureless desert terrain. So far the Kinori have only been able to serve as a distracting nuisance, but they're a big enough thorn that the Etoile have started sending their Sandman agents to Egypt to solicit the government to help them exterminate the Kinori.
2. The Kinori across most of Northern Africa mostly live in a series of complex, underground interconnected warrens that they collectively refer to as the Underworld. These warrens comprise some of the first homes that ancestral Kinori built upon their arrival on Earth, and most of them are buried so far beneath the desert sand that they don't risk accidental discovery. The warrens will tap into human irrigation conduits when possible, which allow them to grow enough food to survive (apparently modified strains of dates, vegetables and cereals). Someone could conceivably navigate the entire breadth of North Africa using only the Underworld, but non-Kinori would very quickly become lost without a guide, and would certainly face territorial and hostile locals if they didn't have a proper invitation.
3. The Tuareg are descendants of the original Homo Sapiens inhabitants of the Nile basin, and they've maintained their mostly nomadic lifestyle for several thousand years. Although they've been "conquered" by Arabic Muslims, the French, and other groups throughout time, they remain resolute in their values and beliefs. At one point in the 15th century they had their own sultanate in what would now be central Niger, but after that collapsed they just returned to their nomadic lifestyle. They're important in Dark*Matter because they are the humans with the best relationships with the local Kinori; they trade supplies that can't be acquired underground and in return the Kinori share their arcane knowledge. Anyone attempting to gain an invitation to the Underworld or otherwise make contact with the Kinori in Africa would be well served by reaching out to the Tuareg.
4. African nations have rocky relationships with the French Foreign Legion (Algeria bans them, but Mali and Niger will host them) and with good reason - they're the African arm of the Knights of Malta. This is kinda inconsistent with their prior characterization as policy nerds that work via established power structures, but whatever. They're currently invested in uncovering the Kinori "stronghold" so that they can exterminate the "demons", but so far none of their patrols have been able to locate an entrance to the Underworld. They'd likely be opposed to the Etoile too if they knew that they existed, but thus far the two groups haven't crossed paths (that the Knights know of).
My Take: I like that this establishes two different alien species as directly opposing each other. In a lot of games all of the aliens/monsters/mutants/etc. constitute some kind of monolithic evil and it always rings hollow to me. Enterprising investigators could potentially use the Knights to antagonize the Etoile while keeping the Kinori out of the mix. The sections themselves are sparse on content, but I like the overall themes they're presenting.
The Hook: In the Cote d'Ivoire lurks the oddest ghost town in Africa: Yamoussoukro. Established as the country's capital, the current town came into being in 1960 when newly elected President for Life Felix Houphouet-Boigny raided the national coffers to turn his native village into (at that time) a modern French metropolis. The barren city includes deserted Parisian-style boulevards, empty 8-lane highways, 10,000 functional street lights and the largest Catholic Church in the world. The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace cost $330 million to build and was a rush job completed in under 3 years; the dome on top is only slightly smaller than the dome on top of St. Peter's cathedral, and only because the Pope (at that time) directly intervened with admonishment. Felix instead added a gigantic cross on top of the dome to make his Church the world's tallest and included a plaza that could hold roughly 300,000 worshipers. In spite of all this, no more than a dozen people ever visit the Basilica in a year, and there's a reason why - Yamoussoukro is a town that's literally inhabited by ghosts. Felix attempted to have very specific holy rituals performed so that his church would constitute the single largest Catholic holy ground in the world, but something went wrong and the rituals instead made the city into a beacon that any ghost or spirit or specter can sense from miles away. As a result, the city actually functions more or less as a normal city, except that you'd have to be dead to know it. Nobody knows what went wrong with the ritual, nor why the city became a magnet for spirits, but almost no local humans willingly inhabit the city. Rumors persist that the botched rituals actually imprisoned a powerful Demon in the bowels of the Basilica and that it's still trapped down there today; the ghosts being summoned are the Demon's vain attempts to try & free itself.
My Take: I don't know how original the "ghost city that's actually inhabited by ghosts" is, but it works for me as a cool adventure prompt. The idea of pre-fab mega cities that get constructed ahead of anyone actually living there but then wind up never being inhabited for one reason or another (a phenomenon recently occurring in China) scratches the "cool eerie itch" for me and having that included in Dark*Matter is cool and good.
NEXT TIME: Chapter 7: Calling the Americas "the new world" is Eurocentric as hell so guess what the subtitle for the Americas is?
Places of Interest - The Americas part 1Original SA post
Chapter 7: Places of Interest - The Americas part 1
The section on the Americas is the single biggest section, but my previous hyperbole aside, it does combine both North and South America, so it's basically two continents in one section. I'm pretty sure that South America doesn't get the same amount of space devoted to it that North America does, but there's no point in continuing to beat a dead horse. Since it does take up a bunch of pages, I'll likely split this over a few updates.
AMERICAS: A New World uuggghhhh
1. Denali National Forest was recently the site of a mysterious experiment conducted by the CDC. Nobody knows what they did or why they did it, but when the Hoffman Institute sent agents up to poke around after the CDC left, they found portions of the forest contaminated with dangerously high radiation levels, as well as the complete skeletal remains of three hikers that had been reported missing only days before the CDC showed up. The strangest thing is that each skeleton was found in the middle of a radioactive hot zone, but none of them contained any radioactive isotopes.
2. The Order of St. Gregory has a presence established all across Alaska; they have agents planted within every Catholic Church in the state. A classified report by the US Coast Guard indicates an object of unknown origin recently fell from space and crash landed near Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. According to the report, agents of St. Gregory commandeered a cutter from the US Coast Guard, incapacitated the crew, and managed to beat everyone else to the crash site. By the time the CG was able to scramble another crew out to the crash site, it had been cleared of everything but natural debris, and the agents of St. Gregory were nowhere to be found. Hoffman Institute friendlies within the CG leak the story to HI hoping that the players can recover whatever the agents of St. Gregory stole.
3. Juneau seems to have a larger than average number of Sasquatch sightings, especially for being such a remote location that's often only accessible by boat or plane. There's speculation that the remoteness is the exact reason that a group of Sasquatch have set up a commune somewhere nearby, but so far unfounded speculation is the only thing that anyone can provide.
My Take: The mysterious skeletons and the unidentified object are both great adventure prompts. The Sasquatch commune is less exciting unless they're already a feature in your campaign, although in that case it could serve as a convenient base of operations for a Sasquatch squad (which is an alternate type of player party that gets mentioned in the GM section).
The Hook: The legendary prison was decommissioned in 1963 after having housed some of the most violent and dangerous criminals in the US for almost 30 years. In 1969 a group of Sioux Indians managed to acquire ownership of the island from the US government via an obscure provision in a century old peace treaty, and they retained ownership until 1972 when the city of San Francisco purchased it from them and turned it into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Why were the Sioux willing to sell the island after only 3 years? The place is lousy with ghosts! The island contains some type of Stranger relic that pre-dates human history, and one function of the relic is that it prevents the soul of anyone that dies on or near the island from ever leaving. Essentially, Alcatraz is still an escape-proof prison, it's just now a prison for the afterlife. In 199X a group of diabolists calling themselves the Children of Satan caught wise to Alcatraz's new function as a prison for the dead, and while they don't have all of the details worked out yet (like what the Stranger relic is, or where it's actually located in the island) they've begun to worship the relic as "The Warden". They convene on the island twice a year (at the solstice and equinox) to perform occult rituals and attempt to uncover anything else they can about the Warden.
My Take: Ghostbusters but in San Francisco would be a decent enough conceit, except that this is like the third time this chapter that SPOOKY GHOSTS have been used and I'm already kind of bored with it. Now I'm just curious to see how many times total G-G-G-GHOSTS gets used as the primary plot hook.
The Black Hills
1. This region of the Dakotas rests on top of a network of caves, tunnels and subterranean chambers, and humans have only thoroughly explored and mapped maybe 10% of the cavern network. There's ample room for deranged cultists or inhuman Strangers to lair, and that's before anybody notices that the deepest of the caves actually have exits at the bottom - they just don't exit to anywhere on Earth.
2. The Devil's Tower is a site of religious significance to the Native American tribes of the Norther Plains, and in modern times it's been frequently associated with UFO sightings and extraterrestrial activity. In Dark*Matter, this site is another red herring - there's nothing explicitly supernatural or paranormal going on and there's no Illuminati group that has any plans for it. Of course your GM can switch that up, but by default it's another Sphinx (a famous location with no special in-setting significance).
3. The Sturgis Class Motorcycle Rally happens every year in South Dakota and there's rumors that a bunch of other seedy groups use it as a cover to conduct their own dark machinations. Occult rituals, sex slavery, and all manner of other unsavory acts are alleged to happen parallel to the main event. There's not really a specific hook here, more of a general suggestion that the trail of an investigation could lead the players to Sturgis if the GM wants.
4. The site of the Wounded Knee massacre is still haunted by SPOOKY GHOSTS! That's it, there's no other information.
My Take: An investigation based around exploring the extensive natural cave network in the Black Hills could be cool as hell, but obviously would require a lot more fleshing out on the behalf of the GM. Devil's Tower being another Sphinx is fine, but if I see this trend continue I'm going to wonder what's even the point of including a location just to say "nothing important happens here". The section on Sturgis seems like a missed opportunity to involve the Knights of Unity in the setting, since they're otherwise never mentioned outside of Chapter 6. And of course, we're up to the 4th low/no effort "hook" about G-G-G-GHOSTS.
The Hook: From roughly 700 to 1400 CE most of the central US/Mississippi River Valley region was home to a thriving civilization we've since labeled the Mound Builders. The cause of the collapse of the Mound Builder culture isn't well understood, but the archaeological record from Mound Builder sites seems to indicate that they experienced a bizarre change in ritual and practice some time around 1200 CE - all of the art and pottery and mosaics from that time forward heavily feature human sacrifice, stylized skulls and weeping eyes. Legends told by the Chickasaws, Creeks and Cherokees speak of an even older tribe, the Natchez (which became extinct some time around 1729 CE) and how they were an offshoot of the Mound Builders that splintered away when the original civilization fell under the sway of a powerful sorcerer that drove the Mound Builders to practice human sacrifice. The wildest part of the story is that there's still supposedly a single Natchez left alive, a half-French half-Native man that turned against the rest of the tribe in favor of French colonialism. Details are sparse, but supposedly he recovered whatever occult rituals led to the collapse of the Mound Builders and has been using them to artificially extend his life for well over two centuries now. The man's last known alias (in 1729 CE) was Bernard Lemercier and if he really exists he's likely one of the most powerful sorcerers alive today.
My Take: I'm having a hard time caring about this hook because it strikes me as existing only to introduce another Comte de St. Gemaine GMPC that is wildly more powerful than the players could ever hope to be, and that's boring as hell. I guess you could try and find this dude to pit him against the Comte if for some reason you needed to, but otherwise this hook is pretty underwhelming.
1. Famous for being a site oft raided by the pirate Blackbeard, for being the final resting place of his prize vessel, the Queen Anne's Revenge, and for being the "Graveyard of the Atlantic". Blackbeard stole the Queen Anne's Revenge from the French in 1717 and turned it into the flagship of his pirate armada, but he held it for less than a year before it was scuttled while trying to enter the harbor at Beaumont Inlet. The Queen Anne's Revenge is the most famous ship to be lost in the cape, but hundreds or thousands of other ships have likewise met their end in the cape's shifting sandbars. Now-a-days the hurricane season washes all manner of wrack and wreckage ashore along the Carolina coast, and the most bizarre are the pieces that seem to have come from ships with no terrestrial origin. It's been postulated that the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" actually contains, in its depths, one or more Doorways that link it to the same geographic location on multiple alternate Earths, and that the bizarre wreckage that washes ashore gives glimpses into the history of a parallel reality.
2. The residents of Queenshead, SC are all the inbred descendants of a cannibal cult of ship-wreckers. Their ancestors would light misleading bonfires on the shore to lure ships into the rocky shoals, and when the ships beached themselves they would then board them, murder and consume the crew, and then pawn whatever valuables were left. In modern times they can't sustain themselves on ambushing wayward ships, so instead they have a Deliverance thing going on where they lure tourists into their town and then kill them and eat them.
3. For the last several years, small and medium sized ships have been disappearing in the waters of the cape, even during days of open skies and calm seas. The Coast Guard thinks that there might be modern-day pirates at work, but locals tell tales of a giant sea serpent that lurks below the waves and surfaces every couple decades to eat its fill of sailors and their ships, before sinking back to the depths to sleep off the meal. So far, nobody has been able to provide any conclusive proof that a large aquatic creature is sinking the ships, but there's not been any proof to support any of the other explanations either. Friendlies in the CG reach out to the Hoffman Institute and ask them to investigate after a CG cutter disappears from its patrol route without apparent cause.
My Take: The Doorways to a parallel Earth are interesting, but the Innsmouth-inspired town of cannibals is pretty pedestrian and hunting Jaws-but-an-alien doesn't really grab me either. My main issue is that TTRPGs are notorious for providing horrible, unfun rules for underwater encounters, so including plot hooks that would conceivably include underwater encounters is a non-starter.
LOW/NO EFFORT HOOKS ABOUT G-G-G-GHOSTS: 4
SPHINX LOCATIONS/RED HERRINGS: 2
NEXT TIME: More stories about America!
Places of Interest - The Americas part 2Original SA post
Chapter 7: Places of Interest - The Americas part 2
The Cascade Mountains
1. After Alaska, Seattle is the site of the Order of St. Gregory's biggest base of operations in the continental US.
2. The first well publicized sightings of UFOs in the US occurred in 1947 near Mt. Rainier. Also, Mt. Rainier is a dormant super volcano and if it ever erupted it'd likely wipe a large portion of Washington and Oregon off the map.
3. In the Cascade mountains east of Seattle, the Hoffman Institute maintains their private academy for developing human psychic potential, dubbed the Psi Academy. The private villa doesn't appear on any HI records and only agents with psionic potential are ever eligible to get an invitation. The Headmistress is Miranda Escovera, an elderly, hispanic, psychic woman that has personally trained every psychic operative that has been employed by HI. The Academy doesn't accept more than 4 students at a time, and the training regimen can take up to 6 years to fully master.
4. Deeper in the Cascade range, HI also maintains Temple Cascadia, an ultra top secret training facility that houses 32 elite Sasquatch warriors. HI "acquired" the Sasquatch embryos from Grey gene banks and has since raised them to act as their Tier 1 Operator Black Ops squad. This place is even more secret than the Psi Academy, which makes me wonder why HI would choose to place both of these groups in such close proximity (or not just combine them into a single facility). If you want to let your players have a Sasquatch on their team, this is the location that you can use as their base of operations.
My Take: It seems like both the Psi Academy and Temple Cascadia should have way more exposition/importance than they do, since these locations serves as the base of operations for any HI team that wants to include Mind Walkers or Sasquatch, respectively. Maybe they would have been expanded upon, had the Alternity brand not died on the vine when WotC bought out TSR, but as is they're little more than important footnotes that the GM would have to spend a non-trivial amount of time re-working into something usable.
The Hook: Arguably the most secure military installation in the US, Cheyenne Mountain is home to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the US Space Commad, and the Air Force Space Command. The base itself has literally been carved out of the mountain and is supposedly capable of withstanding a direct hit from a 10KT nuclear warhead. This site is also one of several emergency locations that members of the US govt could retreat to in the event of a catastrophic national emergency (nuclear war, zombie plague, etc) and the site supposedly has enough fuel and supplies on hand to be self-sufficient for over a month.
My Take: This is another Sphinx as far as I'm concerned; although the book doesn't explicitly say "Nothing interesting is happening here" the level of security in place means that PCs aren't ever going to randomly drop in and explore. Either the GM decides that this location is central to his/her campaign, or else the place might as well not exist. Yawn.
1. For unknown reasons, the global rise in dark matter levels hasn't actually had much of a direct impact on the geographic space that Chicago occupies. Because of this, HI has established the Chicago Specimen Collection and stores some of the most dangerous Stranger/alien/occult objects there. The low background levels of dark matter have actually caused several items to cease functioning or otherwise revert to a non-harmful state, so the site is under heavy surveillance lest any of these items spontaneously become dangerous again; certainly anything done to raise the ambient dark matter levels in Chicago could make this location exponentially more fatal to visit. Oh also HI has managed to keep the finer details of what happens at the CSC a secret from the local and national government, and they'd be extremely keen to raid the place if they knew what HI actually has stored there.
2. Bachelor's Grove Cemetery is haunted! The most famous ghost is the White Lady! It's just another location where the entire hook is G-G-G-GHOSTS.
3. Lower Wacker Drive is home to a fairly large commune of mole-people. Mostly they're hard to distinguish from regular homeless folks and they purposely lead unremarkable lives to better stay out of the public (human) eye. This particular commune is also the home of the self-appointed Mole King, a charismatic mole-person that believes that the mole-people are the next step in human evolution and that it's their destiny to inherit the world above ground and to turn surface dwellers into their slaves and etc. So far, none of the other inhabitants of the commune have cottoned to his schtick, but it's possible that his delusions of grandeur could lead to a direct conflict with the surface world.
My Take: The CSC is a cool idea and I can see staging a campaign just using HI agents that are stationed to work there. The Mole King is a little too pulp sci-fi to fit the general tone of Dark*Matter, but if your players wanted to have a less serious adventure with lower stakes, here you go. G-G-G-GHOSTS is getting long in the tooth now.
1. The inhospitable interior of Greenland is buried under kilometers of glacial ice, but its covering untold Stranger dangers that are better left undisturbed. Unfortunately, the recent uptick in global warming is causing these ice sheets to melt, and it's only a matter of time before some kind of ancient horror is unleashed to plague humanity again. Denmark is nominally responsible for dictating Greenland politics, and it's implied that a few people in their government are aware that bad shit is buried under the ice and that's why they try to discourage anybody from prospecting around Greenland's interior.
2. One of the many strange things buried under the ice of Greenland is a functional Grey scout ship (the Vidunas). Supposedly lost since the final days of Atlantis, the generators, computers and internal machinery are still operational, awaiting the day that someone unearths it. The original crew has long since perished and the Greys have known that the ship is buried there for the last several thousand years, but they figured it wasn't worth the effort to recover (and then got very busy with all their machinations to turn Homo sapiens into a client species).
3. There's rumors that a Sasquatch commune exists somewhere within Greenland's interior. Skeptics point to the serious lack of food that would be required to support the nutritional requirements of a gang of huge carnivores, but maybe they've found other ways to feed themselves.
4. A meteorite crashed into Greenland's interior back in 1997, splitting into four distinct fragments. Rumors speculate that the meteor was actually a wayward alien spacecraft that malfunctioned and smashed back to earth. The Danish government launched the Tycho Brahe expedition to investigate the situation, and the official expedition reports are heavily edited. Whatever they did or did not find, someone in the Danish government has a vested interest in keeping the results of the expedition a secret.
5. The spear of Destiny may or may not be buried in a long forgotten Viking burial tomb somewhere along Greenland's multitude coastal cliffs. If the legends are true, it's guarded by some kind of serpent wizard and it carries an ancient curse, but it also triples a wielder's innate magical power. Various groups have sought it out over time (notably, the Nazis) but so far nobody's actually been able to lay claim to it.
My Take: It feels like they're trying to go for "What if the Mountains of Madness but on the North Pole" here. The buried Grey craft is the most detailed hook so that's probably the easiest one to work into a story (especially considering that HI has contact with several Grey conspiracies). It's all just a bunch of ice and snow and unremarkable tundra though so I'm having a hard time getting excited about it.
LOW/NO EFFORT HOOKS ABOUT G-G-G-GHOSTS: 5
SPHINX LOCATIONS/RED HERRINGS: 3
NEXT TIME: Even more stories about America!
Places of Interest - The Americas part 3Original SA post
Chapter 7: Places of Interest - The Americas part 3
The Hook: It's Area 51 baby - the most iconic military location in US folklore about extraterrestrials! In Dark*Matter, it doesn't have any special significance though; it does contain a non-functional Grey scout ship (the very one that crashed in Roswell back in 1947) but the US govt long ago extracted every useful piece of technology it could offer, and now it sits unused because the US govt can't be bothered to find a better place to store it. Groom Lake's Site 4 is the new hotness, where the Air Force tests out beta concepts for spy planes that can sustain speeds of mach 6 and attempts to reverse engineer captured Stranger technology, but that doesn't get a whole lot of play in the description either.
My Take: Another Sphinx. Either the GM decides that this location is central to his/her campaign, or else the place might as well not exist. Area 51 has been played out as a location for a sci-fi setting for decades, so I feel like anything a GM might want to do here could be better done at a different location (so as to avoid the dead horse beating).
Look ma, it's Area 51! We're a bonafide sci-fi RPG now!
1. The Rare Book Room at Cornell University has an unusually large collection of ancient Mayan texts, including Popul Vuh (actually written in the Quiche language) and a copy of the Dresde Codex (translated into English from German). Both of these books, and several others, chronicle the deeds, gods, and creation myths of the Mayan culture, as well as genealogies of Mayan kings and remarkably accurate predictions about astronomical events (solar eclipses, synodical periods of Venus, etc). The biggest secret that nobody has uncovered yet is that all of the Mayan texts within the Rare Book Room collectively include directions that could lead someone directly to the sunken continent of Mu. It would take serious effort to piece together the right info from all of the texts, but the directions are there to be found if someone thought to look for them.
2. Two pot farmers went spelunking in the Finger Lakes region and found a series of caves within Medusa Gorge that showed signs of recent habitation, the walls of which were covered with glowing petroglyphs. They left to go and get the media, but of course by the time they returned the entrance to the caves had vanished and the few luminescent rocks they had taken as evidence had stopped glowing. When they admitted that they were high when they made their discovery, everybody wrote off the entire story as a sham. The discovery appeared to be a hoax, until a local woman named Melissa Barton went on a backpacking trip to Medusa Gorge but never returned home. When friends and neighbors staged a manhunt to go comb the gorge and look for her, the only evidence they could find was the tattered remains of her backpack, covered in a mysterious luminescent goo. Now, authorities want to question the two pot farmers that made the original discovery, and the case is still open pending further evidence.
My Take: I like both of these hooks! The Mayan texts angle makes me think of some kind of Indiana Jones / The Mummy scenario where some eccentric archaeologist figures out the location of Mu from the texts and hires the players to assist them on their wild expedition, and the missing person angle has enough information to create an interesting premise without restrictively telling the GM what happened to the missing woman and what is causing the bizarre, glowing substance.
La Venta, Mexico
The Hook: La Venta was the site of the largest Olmec settlement in Central America. Historians estimate that the site was founded sometime around 1100 BCE and that it was used for nearly 700 years before being abandoned. In 1939, the site was rediscovered by an archaeologist who began to document all of the various relics that could be excavated, but in 1940 the Mexican national petrochemical company PEMEX demolished what remained of the La Venta site to build a refinery and airstrip. While official reports claim that all artifacts of cultural and national value were extricated prior to the destruction, the actual reason that the Mexican government was so eager to pave over the site was to hide its most valuable prize - an intact Grey telluric generator built just after the fall of Atlantis. Remember that the Grey's second attempt to uplift humanity began in Mesoamerica, and this device was obviously built as a part of that plan. Although the device is currently non-functional, it is still plugged into the Earth's magnetic lines and is largely intact. A top secret team of scientists and technicians works around the clock to try and figure out how to repair it and reactivate it, knowing that Mexico could revolutionize the global energy paradigm if they can get the device operational again.
My Take: Alright, it's our first non-US American location and I think the hook is pretty decent! I like this hook because there's a lot of different ways the players could get involved: maybe they're hired by PEMEX to work on the project, maybe they're hired by a coalition of energy conglomerates that want the players to disrupt or permanently destroy the generator, maybe they're tasked by the Mexican govt with making contact with a Grey envoy to try and get the blueprints for this device. And, who is to say that the Greys (or another Stranger species) would be cool with a human nation acquiring a functional telluric generator?
Los Alamos, NM
1. Los Alamos National Labs is the infamous birthplace of the US atomic weapon program, originating in 1942 with the Manhattan Project under direction of Robert Oppenheimer. The Trinity Test Site (where the original test blasts were performed) was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975, but still retains a level of background radiation that is 10 times the natural baseline. The majority of the land surrounding the National Labs remains extremely off-limits because the USAF still tests various munitions in the area, and almost all of the research performed is classified.
2. The test blasts at the Trinity test site had multiple unintended consequences, but one of the most dangerous was that the atomic detonations tore open new Doorways to Earth - this is significant for many reasons, not the least of which the fact that these Doorways were created during a dark matter "low tide". All of the doorways created by the test blasts evidently link to whatever dimension from which Demons originate, since all of the Strangers that have come through these doorways have so far been the same creatures that are typically only summoned by Diabolists. The arrival of these Strangers was troublesome enough that the US Senate's ratification of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 was actually an unofficial attempt to prevent further Doorways from being opened. The fact that the US govt doesn't know how to close the Los Alamos Doorways is another reason why the land around the National Labs remains off-limits and that the USAF frequently carpet bombs the area.
3. The native Anasazi people that inhabited the area that is now New Mexico back in the first millennia CE had multiple interactions with both Mothmen and Wendigo. Fables offer multiple perspectives on the nature of these interactions: in some of them, the Anasazi and Mothmen form an alliance to combat the Wendigo tribes; in others, the Anasazi shaman are the Wendigo (in a shifted form) and the Mothmen fight against them for territory and resources; in another, the Wendigo and Mothmen originate from the same alternate dimension and the Anasazi migrate though a Doorway to help the Mothmen combat the Wendigo on their home turf (and never return to Earth). While none of these stories can be verified, the rising dark matter tide could make these legends relevant again if the same Doorway(s) to the Mothmen dimension reopen.
My Take: This is the first series of hooks that are singularly focused around Doorways, which is a shame because the game doesn't really give any concrete information about them to the GM other than "they exist, nobody knows how to open them or close them on purpose, and Strangers use them to visit Earth". They're kind of a plot macguffin for how a Stranger gets to Earth, but beyond that it's up to the GM to decide everything about how they operate. I don't personally find the Mothmen to be that interesting of a Stranger species but I could envision a "Night of the Living Dead" kind of scenario where the Demons coming thru the Doorway have to inhabit corpses to create a corporeal form and the players are tasked with resolving a zombie outbreak by finding a way to close the Doorway.
The Hook: After the Greys abandoned their second effort to uplift human beings in Central America, Machu Picchu was left abandoned but the Greys did not raze it to the ground. The reason for this is that one of the burial tombs hidden beneath the city was built around the location of a Doorway and the Greys didn't want it to become exposed again. Currently a massive 42-ton block of stone is covering the entrance to the chamber that contains the Doorway, but it's conceivable that somebody could some day attempt to remove it to investigate the chamber beyond. Although the Greys seem largely disinterested in continuing to monitor the situation, somehow agents of the Order of St. Gregory figured out what's hidden beneath Machu Picchu and they've taken a self-appointed vigil to watch the site and ensure nobody discovers the hidden chamber that contains the Doorway.
My Take: Back-to-back Doorway hooks is lame. There's not enough information about what could make this Doorway unique and it's pretty well hidden in an extremely remote location. The whole thing sounds like "look but don't touch" to me.
LOW/NO EFFORT HOOKS ABOUT G-G-G-GHOSTS: 5
LOOK-BUT-DON'T-TOUCH LOCATIONS: 5
NEXT TIME: Would you believe there are even more stories about America?
Places of Interest - The Americas part 4Original SA post
Chapter 7: Places of Interest - The Americas part 4
New York, NY
1. The Cloisters is a museum of rare art and architecture and possibly arcane relics and it's guarded by an actual gargoyle that lives there as part of a reconstruction of a 17th century French castle. No stats are given for the gargoyle, but I guess if you want the party to visit this location they'll have to avoid it or bribe it maybe?
2. The Metropolitan Club is a front for Builderbergers and also a super posh night club for the creme-de-la-creme of NY's wealthiest citizens. Of course since mega-rich people go here all the time there's the usual rumors re: sex slaves and child trafficking and cannibalism and etc. There's no other information or hook provided, so I guess it's up the to GM to turn this into anything more than a fairly uninspired "rumor".
3. The subway and sewer systems of NY are built many levels deep and in the deepest bowels the Kinori have a few scattered warrens that the Hoffman Institute didn't obliterate back in the 1930's. They Kinori still live lives of quiet desperation, tapping into gas and water and power lines from the city above, always careful not to draw too much off a single line and invite the city to inquire further. Again, there's no real hook or plot here, so I guess they just exist in case your GM wants you to have a reason to run into them.
4. Spiritu Sancti is another nightclub where rich people go to have illegal kinds of fun, but this one has heavy Catholic imagery and might be a front for both the Builderbergers and the Order of St. Gregory (imagine the vampire nightclub from Blade 1 but without any actual vampires). That's all the book has to say, so good luck to your GM bothering to come up with a reason to ever visit this place.
My Take: It takes a real dedication to mediocrity to take a huge city like New York and only manage to come up with four of the lowest effort "hooks" that you can lazily crap onto a page. None of these are interesting or remarkable enough to remember; as far as I'm concerned they may as well not even exist.
1. Apparently this is the oldest city on Earth; it's speculated date of construction pre-dates human existence, and not even the Greys know who built it or why. Some legends state that this city was built by the Heavenly Host and may have been the site of Eden, but of course the only beings that could confirm that story are actively hostile to humanity every time they've been encountered.
2. The city contains an elaborate structure of pools that archaeologists suspect were used for ritualized sacrifice via drowning. There's a lot of ocean themed mosaics around the city and statues of fish-men or mer-people, so of course the logical conclusion is that these were meant for drowning related sacrifices and not as public bathes or whatever. Lake Titicaca is 20km away from the city's current location but the working theory is that the city was once on the edge of the lake and it's only been geographic drift that's pushed so much distance between the two.
3. There's a 10 ton stone shaped into an arch that occupies a prominent position at the city center, so obviously this has to be a dormant Doorway that served as the egress point for whatever beings built the city. It's covered in hundreds of glyphs that haven't been translated but it's possible that somebody could crack the code and then use the instructions to activate the Doorway and find the beings that created Tiahuanaco.
My Take: There's just not enough detail here to really do anything with. A mystery city that pre-dates human existence and an inactive Doorway are cool enough, but there's no conflict here that would give players a reason to investigate. I mean some random NPC could hire them to decode the hieroglyphics I guess, but there's not much else for the players to do once they actually arrive, and no real threats to engage them.
1. The Chinese quarter of the city has strong ties to the Tattoo wizards from mainland Hong Kong. Yes, this is the first time this type of arcane magic has been mentioned. No, there's no additional rules given for how it works or what it can do. It won't be followed up in the (anemic) number of splatbooks that Dark*Matter is given before the line gets canceled. It's mysterious magic woven by inscrutable Chinese people! What else do you want?[/b]
2. CN Tower is really tall and some HI agents believe that it's a location where high ranking HI officials meet with Grey contacts. The Greys and the HI officials deny this, which of course means it must be objectively true or else why would the deny it? This is the actual justification posed by the game btw.
3. A serial killer has been stalking people along Queen Street and the police haven't been able to crack the case. The only thing that the victims have in common is that they're all women, they've all given birth within the last 6 months, and they are all extremely distant relations to the British royal family. HI gets invited by the Toronto PD to try and help solve the case before the murderer strikes again, but obviously the murders are just a component of a much darker ritual that will also need to be thwarted.
My Take: FINALLY we get a hook that gives enough info that the GM could provide something for the players to meaningfully engage with. I've got personal reservations about the specifics of the murders (killing only women who are new mothers seems unnecessarily gratuitous / peak 90's LOOK HOW EDGY bullshit) but you could pretty easily change the default set-up and still have a decent enough beginning to an X-files style whodunit. The other two hooks are garbage for being too vague and having no real tension, but at this point I'll accept a 33% success rate.
The Hook: There's crime and grift and the US govt. calls it home. There's a ton of federal workers and also facilities to accommodate most of them should a disaster strike. There touristy national monuments that might have been built with occult significance but nobody alive remembers whether they were, nor what that significance could have been.
My Take: This has even less value than the entry for New York. It's astounding that such an important place couldn't have even one single compelling hook in a book about X-Files conspiracies. We're almost at the end of the alphabet here so if these sections got written in the order they're presented, Bower and Cook were obviously running on fumes by this point.
The Hook(s): Just google the Mitchell-Hedges skull but then pretend that the whole thing hasn't been disproved as a hoax and instead has some quasi-mystical power because it was created by Strangers that visited Earth 12,000 years ago.
My Take: They definitely wrote these in alphabetical order and ran out of gas by the time they got to the end. But hey, at least we're done with the Americas!
LOW/NO EFFORT HOOKS ABOUT G-G-G-GHOSTS: 5
LOOK-BUT-DON'T-TOUCH LOCATIONS: 5
NEXT TIME: Asia! with another embarrassing section subtitle
Places of Interest - AsiaOriginal SA post
Chapter 7: Places of Interest - Asia
ASIA: Land of Ancient Wisdom double uuggghhhh
Aiping, Inner Mongolia
The Hook: This tiny peasant village in the poorest region of Northern China contains the Smoking Mirror, a Grey relic forged when they were fucking around in Mesoamerica and then brought back across the Atlantic after that whole situation also went tits up. Nobody in the village understands what it is or that it was created by extraterrestrials, which is exactly how the Greys like it. The Smoking Mirror seems to syphon the collective youth of everyone living in the village and surrounding farms, aging them two years for every year that passes. Nobody knows what happens to the "missing" time, although it's possible the mirror uses the time to power its main function - providing glimpses into the past. The more time the mirror has "stolen" the further into the past it can "look". However, since nobody in the village knows that it can do this, and its only began functioning again with the recent rise in dark matter tides, they're all having their lifespans prematurely shortened for no real purpose.
My Take: The Smoking Mirror is an interesting enough artifact, but there's not really any kind of set-up here that would give players a reason to investigate for it. Maybe a delegation from the Greys hires HI to send agents to recover this artifact and the players have to figure out where it is, based on an incomplete understanding of its function and knowledge of a village in China where people age twice as fast?
That sure is an ancient temple alright!
1. There's a Reader's Digest version of the history of Angkor Wat. No part of this includes any hooks or gameplay elements or indeed anything players could/would engage with. But hey, Angkor Wat exists!
2. There's a Cliff Notes version of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. No part of this includes any hooks or gameplay elements or indeed anything players could/would engage with. But hey, the Khmer Rouge were genocidal fuckwits!
My Take: Seriously, why was this even included? There's no hook in any of the information presented; it's like an extremely low-effort Wikipedia article that can't ever be updated to become more useful.
The Golden Triangle
The Hook: In 1998 the most famous of the heroin Triad warlords, Khun Sa, steps down as leader of the Shan United Army, and somehow this makes things 1000x worse. Supposedly, Khun Sa was a diabolist of no small means and he had been binding literal demons into the service of the Shan United Army to make it into an unstoppable force, and the terms of his resignation released the demons from whatever contracts were keeping them obedient. Although 99% of the army was then horrifically slaughtered in the ensuing chaos, nobody knows the real reason why Khun Sa would have walked away from his empire, nor what has ever become of him. Oh, also since the Shan United Army was being run as a tribal gang they had women & children in the ranks and when the demons went apeshit some of them managed to inhabit the living children and/or unborn fetuses that some of the women were carrying. These kids have since been born and they're all insane and have a powerful natural affinity for diabolism and the demons that possess them are now attempting to reform the Shan United Army into a literal legion of Hell that they can then use to overthrow the governments of Burma, Laos and Thailand. So far the only thing stopping them is that they keep murdering each other due to petty in-fighting, but if one of them could manage to compel the rest to actually cooperate, they'd have an insanely deadly occult army at their command.
My Take: A decent enough hook that the players and GM can actually use! I can very easily imagine an "Apocalypse Now" scenario where the players get hired to infiltrate the resurgent Shan United Army and assassinate the leaders but they don't know what's really going on and by the time they figure out that the army is run by literal demons they're already neck deep in the crazy pool.
1. Mt. Everest is an exceptionally tall mountain! No part of this includes any hooks or gameplay elements or indeed anything players could/would engage with. But hey, Mt. Everest exists!
2. Sherpas perform grueling labor to assist wealthy people in climbing mountains. No part of this includes any hooks or gameplay elements or indeed anything players could/would engage with. But hey, Sherpas get included in the setting!
3. The belief of reincarnation professed by the Dalai Lama and other spiritual leaders throughout Tibet might actually be rooted in shapeshifting aliens that have figured out they have to "die" and change their form every half-century so that they can continue to maintain their positions of power and influence while maintaining human forms without any other humans getting suspicious.
4. The Monastery of Inner Light is the last bastion of the true Rosicrucians / Companions of Horus, but we learned about that back in chapter 6. They're one of the very few locations on Earth that can train humans to be the Mindwalker class, they've perfected the method of creating viable Grey-Human crossbreeds, and they've got a stable Sasquatch commune. This would be a pretty awesome place to explore if it wasn't insanely well hidden, to the point that players are not likely to ever find it unless the GM decides to base the campaign out of here.
5. Shambhala is the name of the Grey city-ship that's moored to the mountains in Tibet (but of course we already knew this from back in chapter 5). When the Red Army originally invaded Tibet, it was with the intent of finding/breaching/stealing this device for all of the awesome alien technology it contains. Since it's still actively occupied by Greys there was obviously no chance of the Red Army actually succeeding at their mission, and the Shambhala remains hidden in the Himalayas to this day. The Rosicrucians at the Monastery of Inner Light know exactly where the ship is located but it's not a secret they share freely.
My Take: Another series of hooks that feel like Baur and Cook are really running on fumes. Two of the hooks don't actually have any adventure prompts, two of them are repeats of information we've already been told, and the remaining one is an interesting "What If?" but doesn't really have an obvious way to include the players.
LOW/NO EFFORT HOOKS ABOUT G-G-G-GHOSTS: 5
LOOK-BUT-DON'T-TOUCH LOCATIONS: 9
NEXT TIME: More Asia and maybe even Australia!
Places of Interest - Asia part 2Original SA post
Chapter 7: Places of Interest - Asia part 2
1. They Greys loved how isolationist Japan was/is and supposedly they attempted to ingratiate themselves with a few favored warlords during the Tokugawa period (roughly 1600-1854 CE). No living human knows why, or whether or not the Greys accomplished whatever they set out to do (and the Greys that do know refuse to elaborate further). The Japanese were likewise influenced by Grey cultural values, and this contributed to their focus on things like efficiency and self-sufficiency and etc. Apparently rogue Greys still have active contacts with the Yakuza and with prominent political parties and they pay for their favors exclusively with gold (bars, coins, whatever) so if somebody were able to suss out that fact they'd have a leg up on pinpointing which specific groups likely have Grey benefactors.
2. The town of Ena on the island of Honshu has a series of standing stone monoliths that resemble miniature versions of the Great Pyramids in Egypt. Local legends relate the pyramids to the island's prehistoric ancestors and their worship of a great white serpent, although different versions of the legend conflict over whether the serpent was a benign figure that caused the island to flourish or whether it was a malevolent figure that had to be supplicated. The region's rice is also farmed in a very specific way, making use of terraces that are similar to the agricultural practices of the Incans in the Andes. Supposedly the Grey's sudden interest in Japan occurs almost exactly around the same time they disappear from from Central/South America, and it's speculated that Ena may be the historical location where the Greys first made contact with Japanese people.
My Take: The first hook at least kind of gives some indication of intrigue that the players could explore, but the second hook is another "Hey what about this?" thing that seems vaguely significant but offers no clear adventure hook for a party of investigators.
1. Kamchatka exists and isn't just an unusually memorable location on the board game Risk! It's also a literal and figurative backwater that pretty much nobody visits because there's nothing remarkable happening here.
2. Magnitogorsk is a city based around the refinement of raw materials into heavy industrial components and the entire place is a toxic iron hellhole. Tales of child sacrifice, cancerous mutants, G-G-G-GHOSTS, and literal demonic manifestation are openly circulated among those who live outside the city. People inside the city have extremely short average lifespans (31 for men, 35 for women) and to top it off, the Etoile have decided the horrors of the city are the perfect cover to initiate another Sandman invasion plot. It's speculated that the same malevolent Stranger entity that seems to be guiding all of the chapters of the Final Church is also responsible for all of the horrific shit happening in Magnitogorsk, and if there's actually a Doorway to that creature's realm hidden here, it could serve as the Final Boss Dungeon for a campaign centered around destroying the Final Church.
3. The Trinity Chapterhouse is a small enclave of agents from the Hidden Order of St. Gregory that is tucked away in a valley near Vladivostok. There's no other significance or purpose given for this location, so it's just another pointless landmark.
4. The swampy taiga that surrounds the Tunguska River is the final resting place of the Grey station-ship Znutirj. The Znutirj had been permanently moored to the Earth so that it could be better incorporated with the Grey's settlement. The infamous Tunguska explosion was the result of the Greys getting too nervous about encroaching human settlements, and their decision to abandon the site was sealed in 1906 CE when the station-ship was almost discovered by a group of cartographers sent by the Czar to map the region. They used their considerable psychic and technological prowess to locate a small comet and redirect its path so that it would land squarely on top of the station-ship and utterly obliterate it. The resulting explosion became a matter of scientific inquiry for decades to come, but the comet did its job and destroyed the station-ship. There's still various pieces of potentially functional Grey technology scattered for miles around ground zero, but the year-round permafrost and remoteness of the location make it extremely unlikely that anybody will stumble upon them by accident.
My Take: WHY IS KAMCHATKA OR THE TRINITY CHAPTERHOUSE EVEN MENTIONED? The book literally says that there's nothing happening in both of those locations, so why include them? Fortunately Magnitogorsk and Tunguska both have excellent story hooks, so the section isn't a complete waste. I especially like that the Stranger entity leading the Final Church is mentioned again outside the U.S. as it gives the impression that some of these problems span the entire globe and that things the players do can have repercussions outside their immediate neighborhood.
AUSTRALIA : The Island Continent Hey, at least it isn't a cringeworthy reference to Aboriginal people!
The Hook: This large, red, stone formation is located at the nexus of several telluric leylines and can function as a Doorway if the right conditions are met. Specifically, the Doorway leads to the same dimension from which the Mothmen originate, which makes the Aboriginal people of Australia the second group of indigenous humans to have made contact with them (the others being the Anasazi peoples of North America). Then, when the English got the bright idea to exile a bunch of "undesirables" to Australia in the 18th century, they unwittingly shipped an entire coven of diabolists directly to the area around Ayers Rock. It didn't take them long to figure out that there was a dormant Doorway nearby, and when they managed to open it they instead decided to make blasphemous pacts with the mortal enemy of the Mothmen, the Wendigo. Although the area has become a major tourist destination in modern times, there's still descendants of the original diabolists (now operating as agents of the Final Church) engaging in profane rituals with the Wendigo at Ayers Rock, and bloody knives and mangled human remains have sometimes been uncovered by unwitting tourists. A cadre of Aboriginal people and their Mothmen allies have waged a secret war against these diabolists and their Wendigo minions for centuries, hoping to prevent their influence from spreading across the entire continent; they've had limited success so far, but it's unlikely they'll be able to hold out forever without some external support.
My Take: The Final Church gets another plot hook, and the inclusion of the Mothmen/Wendigo Doorway helps expand their potential influence beyond North America.I like this hook as it gives the players multiple reasons for wanting to visit Ayers Rock.
The Hook: Agents of News Corp could tail players that poke their noses into places where they don't belong, either to intimidate them into dropping their investigations, blackmail them with photographs of their illicit actions, or otherwise just be a thorn in their side. Since Rupert Murdoch is a real life super villain who has built a media empire based on empowering fascism, racism, economic inequality, and authoritarian regimes, I can't see wanting to include this group in the make believe game you play to relax unless you've got serious masochistic tendencies.
My Take: They're bad guys in real life so I don't know how objective I could be if I included them in a game. I can see the value in having some kind of yellow journalism outlet hound investigators that frequently get up to quasi-legal shenanigans, but I don't think it'd be productive to use such a divisive real life organization.
The Pine Gap Facility
The Hook: It's Groom Lake but for Australia (and of course it's a joint military operation with the U.S. government). The main focus of the research conducted at Pine Gap pertains to harnessing geomagnetic forces; essentially the goal is to create a weapon that could manipulate telluric currents, magma, and tectonic plates to cause earthquakes with pin-point global accuracy. An Earthquake gun would be pretty sweet because the damage you inflict on your target ostensibly looks like a natural disaster, so there's no reason for them to suspect you actually targeted them unless for some reason you admit to doing it.
My Take: An earthquake gun isn't a new concept in the realm of sci-fi weapons, and the location is another "Look But Don't Touch" military site that players would not normally be able to enter. Either the GM decides this location is going to be a feature in the campaign or it might as well not exist. Boring!
LOW/NO EFFORT HOOKS ABOUT G-G-G-GHOSTS: 6
LOOK-BUT-DON'T-TOUCH LOCATIONS: 13
NEXT TIME: Europe!
Places of Interest - Europe and the Near EastOriginal SA post
Chapter 7: Places of Interest - Europe and the Near East
Europe and the Near East: Architects of the Modern World
come up with a more biased, Eurocentric sub-title, I fukkin dare you
The British Isles
1. Avebury in Wiltshire is another set of menhir (standing stones) like Stonehenge except less internationally famous. Avebury actually has TWO sets of stone rings and of course nobody alive knows exactly what they were used for but people speculate that they mark (or used to mark) the locations of Doorways that were open during prehistoric periods of high dark matter tides. There's a local superstition that the Doorways must be at least partially functional because multiple sheep from nearby flocks have wandered too close to the menhir and wound up disappeared/missing, but the book doesn't elaborate on this point further.
Look it's the architecture from the section subtitle!
2. Located near Edinburgh in Scotland, Rosslyn Chapel is an ancient gothic church built during the 15th century, with ownership separately claimed by the Knights Templar, the Free Masons and the Rosicrucians. It's rumored to contain some or all of the following artifacts:
- a hoard of gold, stolen from King Herod, which he had first stolen from the Temple of Solomon
- various sacred/apocryphal scrolls that were rejected for inclusion in the Christian Bible by the first Nicene Council
- a holy stone (?)
- an extraordinarily large piece of the True Cross
- the actual Holy Grail
- the severed and preserved head of Jesus of Nazareth (!)
So, you know, if any one of those things were actually contained within, you'd have a decent plot for an "Ocean's" style adventure.
3. The Shetland islands contains the burial plot of an infamous Norwegian sorcerer, Magnus Gromdahl. Nobody knows quite which island in the chain includes his grave, but all of the islands are consequently haunted, so of course this is another chance to play Ghost Busters!
My Take: There's not enough detail given about Avebury or the Shetland islands to make an adventure, but the list of artifacts purported to be held within Rosslyn Chapel is decent enough that even if none of them are actually located there, you've still got to wonder why somebody has been clamoring so fervently that they are.
1. The island has been the frequent recipient of shitty geological disasters ever since Atlantis blew up and the change in local sea levels buried the northern third of the island under the ocean. The Hidden Order of St. Gregory also has a major stronghold here (despite the fact that Cyprus was not listed as a stronghold in their entry in Chapter 6).
2. The Orthodox Church of Cyprus is the oldest autocephalous Christian church in the Eastern Orthodoxy. Nobody outside Cyprus really seems to care what they do with their independence, but there's rumors that they've been trying to incorporate Islam and Christianity into a single religious continuity since the mid-seventh century and that one of the Prophet Muhammad's cousins may be interred there. Her spirit may or may not also be possessing the head of the Church (switching every time a new head is elected) and be the mastermind behind the desire to blend both religious practices. No conclusion or end-state is provided for what would happen if she achieves her nebulous goal.
3. The Monastery at Kykkos exists! Nothing important is happening here.
4. The monks of the Monastery at Stavrovouni supposedly possess a piece of the True Cross. For some reason this means that women are barred from entering? Paul (the apostle) hated the idea of being married so obviously these monks have decided that was the singular most important lesson in the entire Bible.
My Take: At first I was feeling dismissive about the inclusion of all of these religious sites, but I can kind of see an emerging meta-plot in this chapter about how there's a war between Heaven and Hell (which, recall, literally exist as described in contemporary Christian theology in the Dark*Matter setting) brewing and the rising tides of dark matter are going to force a final confrontation to a head and the players will ultimately play an influential role for one side or the other. It's definitely not the kind of meta-plot I would expect to find behind the X-Files-lite RPG that I was sold, but at least it kind of explains why multiple locations of religious significance seem to be included without any significant plot hook.
1. The Grand Bazaar is likely the source of every "busy foreign street market" trope that you encounter in films or books. You can buy very nearly anything here, although players will most likely be interested in the Street of Exports. Essentially, it's the black market where illicit shit gets sold - it's entirely possible to purchase narcotics, chemical/biological/nuclear weapons, sex slaves, human organs, etc. The primary product sold that keeps the Street of Exports in business in heroin, and most organized crime in Turkey is involved in the heroin trade to some extent. More salient to the players, the Street of Exports is also a viable way to obtain exotic relics, religious icons, objects stolen from archaeological sites, and other forbidden things. At the very least, if they can't find what they want for sale, they should be able to find a solid lead on where it might be found (for a price, of course).
2. The Starry House of the Companions is the local stronghold for the Rosicrucians. They like to act as a neutral ground for negotiations between humans and Strangers (including rogue Greys). Supposedly the house also serves as a satellite training facility for Rosicrucian mind walkers, but the physical dimensions of the building are far too small to allow such a purpose; it's suggested that there may be hundreds of meters of underground tunnels beneath the compound that allow the house to function as an academy for psychics.
My Take: The "exotic foreign street market" is a familiar enough trope that it can allow for adventure ideas without having to provide a ton of detail about every single stall or proprietor. The secret compound of Rosicrucians is nice for at least fleshing out another location where they could be encountered, and the idea that the house includes a hidden facility for mind walkers is another decent hook. Not a ton of specific info with these hooks, but I feel like there's enough to germinate some ideas.
The Hook: There's rumors abound that the Knights Templar have discovered hidden chambers beneath the historical location of the Temple of Solomon and that they've stumbled upon a treasure trove of important religious artifacts (most notably they're claiming to have uncovered the Ark of the Covenant). Even if it turns out that the relics are mundane they're still priceless artifacts of immense historical significance; however, they've hit a snag named Azmodeus. This demonic Stranger claims to have been the personal Ifrit of King Solomon, tasked with building the temple and standing eternal watch over the relics contained within. It's desperate to be freed from servitude, but some clause in its contract has kept it bound here despite the death of King Solomon millennia ago. While it's contractually obligated to continue to murder all interlopers, it's more than willing to discuss its situation with interested parties as long as they don't violate the boundaries of the temple. Ultimately Azmodeus has promised the untold riches of the temple to any party that manages to figure out how to undo its binding, but so far none of the Knights Templar's attempts have been successful.
My Take: This is the kind of hook that every single entry in this chapter should have been. There's a clear adventure seed and it's open ended enough that a party of investigators could approach and solve the problem in a variety of ways. A++ would use in a campaign if I were inclined to ever run Dark*Matter again.
1. The Knights of Malta have the main base of operations here. That's all the book has to say about that!
2. The Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem was built in the 17th century and is still maintained and functional to this day. During WW2 the island of Malta was a crucial waypoint for the British Royal Air Force, as it was located between their airfields on Gibraltar and Egypt; consequently, it was also the target of multiple bombing raids by Axis powers. The hospital was struck during one of the air raids and suffered heavy casualties due to the number of patients that were caught in the building when the bombs fell. Ever since, the hospital has been haunted by the ghosts of those that died in the bombing, and all attempts to exorcise the ghosts have proven so far unsuccessful.
My Take: Another no effort location. It's starting to feel like any time they couldn't come up with a better hook for a place, they just threw in G-G-G-GHOSTS and called it good.
LOW/NO EFFORT HOOKS ABOUT G-G-G-GHOSTS: 8
LOOK-BUT-DON'T-TOUCH LOCATIONS: 15
NEXT TIME: More Europe!
Places of Interest - Europe and the Near East part 2Original SA post
Chapter 7: Places of Interest - Europe and the Near East part 2
The Hook: In the early 1800s the city of Orenburg was the site of a series of unexplained phenomena. In 1824 and 1825 pieces of symmetrical metal (composite iron oxide and some unknown biological matter) fell onto the roof of the local church out of a clear blue sky (multiple times). These were transferred to St. Petersburg, where upon the Brotherhood of the Inner Order absconded with them (the Brotherhood was an illuminati group that formed in response to Catherine II banning the Free Masons from Russia back in 1792). Fast forward thru time, and the objects eventually wind up in the possession of Madame Blavatsky (well known historical psychic/medium/occultist) because her grandfather was a member of the Inner Order. When she finally passes away in the 1890's the mysterious metal objects end up missing from her personal collection of artifacts and relics and they're still unaccounted for to this day.
My Take: So what? There's a fairly detailed set-up for these unexplained metallic objects, but then no payoff. There's nothing indicating why they're important (outside of their mysterious appearance) and there's no leads provided for what could have happened to them. Why is this taking up word count in the book?
The Hook: Defenestration is to Prague what the guillotine was to France, and the people of Prague have a storied history of using defenestration to settle political and religious disputes. Most recently in 199X (the books says "last month" but that'd only be relevant to your campaign timeline) a Hungarian protestant priest named Janos Sarkany was tossed from the roof of the St. Vitus Cathedral. While there's no love lost between Catholics and Protestants in Prague, there's rarely open conflict between the two organizations. Nobody knows why Sarkany was tossed or who did it, and the last entry in his diary from the day of his murder simply reads "BLACK ANGEL" in a thick, charcoal ink.
My Take: So what? This is another fairly detailed set-up for an unexplained event with no obvious motive, suspect or payoff. I guess the GM could throw this out if they needed to come up with a quick rumor for "what does my character know about Prague?" but outside that it feels superfluous.
1. The Monastery of St. Cyril is the most heavily defended stronghold that the Knights of Malta hold. That's all the book has to say, and it feels like this should have just been a bullet point in their writeup in Chapter 6.
2. The P2 Masonic Lodge is pretty important. How important? Good question! The book doesn't seem concerned with explaining why either.
3. The Vatican has recently been the site of a horrific ritualized murder. Cardinal Albertini was found murdered inside the library, apparently strangled to death, communion wafers stuffed down his throat, his eyes completely gouged out and Bible scripture carved into his back in the original Latin verse. There's no witnesses, no suspects, and no real lead here, except that I'm 99% sure this is the hook for the single published adventure path for Dark*Matter, dealing with the Final Church.
My Take: Two nothing burgers and a teaser for their first (and only) adventure path. The book doesn't actually even mention the adventure path, I just happen to recall that fact because of my familiarity with the line. If you didn't have that knowledge off-hand, it'd be three nothing burgers.
1. There's a ton of palaces in St. Petersburg, including the Winter Palace, the Mikhailosky Palace and the Hermitage. I guess that makes it a decent tourist destination?
2. The Hidden Order of St. Gregory has their HQ here, and it's packed with all kinds of alien tech, ancient artifacts, occults relics and other miscellanea. Supposedly the spaceship fragments recovered from the Tunguska explosion and the bio-metal plates from Orenburg are stored here, among countless other things. It wouldn't be easy to infiltrate, but if your investigators are looking for a plot macguffin that was ever located in or around Russia, it's either contained here or there's a lead here on where it can be found.
My Take: You can't convince me that Bauer and Cook didn't write these literally in the order they're presented because they've been running on fumes for a few updates and it's clear that the tank has gone completely empty at this point. Every single location in this update has had a big "So what?" attached to the end of it.
1. St. Mark's Basilica is a popular tourist destination, so there's no secret conspiracy stuff happening here. Or maybe there is? The book helpfully admits that there's nothing immediately interesting happening here, but the GM is free to make something up if needed. Wowie wow wow, thanks for the permission.
2. The Palazzo del Nozerri is the spring and autumn home of the Comte St. Germain, in case you forgot that Dark*Matter included this overplayed GMPC. The players could find him here, or not, but again he's generally far outside the power level that any group of investigators could reasonably expect to attain, and I resent that the book even bothers to give him a known base of operations.
My Take: Welp, that wraps up Europe! The end of this section was a big wet fart, and I'm now looking at the remaining section of Chapter 7 with only the most morbid curiosity - if this was the effort that Bauer and Cook were going to put into Europe, how terrible is the final section?
LOW/NO EFFORT HOOKS ABOUT G-G-G-GHOSTS: 8
LOOK-BUT-DON'T-TOUCH LOCATIONS: 23
NEXT TIME: To infinity, and beyond!
Places of Interest - To Infinity, and Beyond!Original SA post
Chapter 7: Places of Interest - To Infinity, and Beyond!
The Poles: Desolate Lands
1. In Antarctica, 3,373 meters up the side of the Queen Maud Mountains, the Greys bored a massive hole into Blizzard Peak and parked the station-ship Uulangti inside. It's guarded by an elite Sasquatch death squad, but the location is so remote that no human being has ever gotten close enough to get suspicious anyway. The Uulangti mostly exists as a monitoring post for meteorological and atmospheric and geographic changes, and although it originally also monitored HAM radio transmissions, in recent years the amount of data that humanity streams on a daily basis has made it impossible to meaningfully categorize all of it. Every 20 years the Uulangti takes on some captured human beings and vivisects them to monitor whatever genetic drift the human species has undergone.
2. The Greys have some light industry set up around the Arctic circle of the North Pole where they extract frozen water and ship it off to their colonies on the Moon and on Mars.
My Take: I can't even fathom why they'd bother detailing these locations so sparsely because there's a near 0% chance that any players ever wander this far off the map, and in the event that they do it's likely not at random which means the GM already has plans for why the investigators have been sent to a polar region. Either give a good meaty hook to justify including this in the book, or just leave it out entirely.
The Oceans: 2/3s of Earth's Surface
1. The ruins of Atlantis lurk untouched in the depths of the Aegean Sea, about 120km north of Crete. Nobody has found it yet because ??? and there's no information provided regarding what might happen if someone did stumble upon it (what they could find, who else is watching it, what would the Greys do, etc.) but it definitely exists, okay?
2. The Marianas Trench is the lowest point on the planet and not even a Grey station ship could survive the external atmosphere pressure required to explore it. Cool!
My Take: Nothing burger.
Near Earth Orbit
1. There's no permanent human or Grey settlements in Earth orbit. The Greys did launch a permanent observation relay into geosynchronous orbit near the North Pole, but that just monitors satellite traffic and helps coordinate the flight patterns of Grey vessels that want to enter or exit Earth's atmosphere (so they don't smash into a Viacom satellite or whatever).
2. The UN has their Project Glacier moon base Plato (as discussed in Chapter 6) and as mentioned visiting is a one-way ticket. It's got hydroponics and algae farms and aquaculture but the base is still dependent on shipments of supplies from Earth to remain sustainable - this is kind of a big deal because in the event that some global catastrophe does render Earth uninhabitable, the moon base would have to eliminate more than 50% of its current residents in order to reduce the population to the point where it could exist on the amount of food it can produce. Also it appears that humans are 10x more likely to develop psionic powers when they're born on the Moon, as 2 of the 20 children born on the station have exhibited psychic talents (as opposed to about 1 in 100 people in the general Earth population) although they haven't come up with a meaningful plan to capitalize on this information yet. Also, anybody born and raised on the Moon could likely never visit Earth for any significant amount of time, as the musculature and bone structure the human body develops in a low-G environment would be too brittle to survive in Earth atmosphere.
3. The Greys have long since abandoned their settlements on Earth's moon, and restaged everything up on Mars. The only functional remnant of their lunar occupation is the station ship Caluya which runs a skeleton crew and serves mostly as observation platform for astronomical activity around Earth-space. I guess this implies that there might be deserted Grey settlements somewhere on the moon, but it's not explicitly detailed and it's not like your average investigators would easily be able to acquire a means to explore them anyway.
4. Oh my bad, there are mysterious ruins on the moon that nobody (even the Greys) can explain but they're on the dark side of our moon so if you think your investigators are ever going to be able to explore them.
My Take: I get that there's moon bases because this is The X-files with the serial numbers filed off, but it still seems like a pointless endeavor to include these locations in the chapter that's ostensibly providing GMs with potential story hooks they could work into adventures. I guess you could still decide to send your investigators out to explore the various moon colonies / ruins but at that point you've jumped the rails on the implied aesthetic of the setting and you might as well be playing Alternity core rules, or even another entirely different system that's better focused around high sci-fi space horror.
Sasquatch in space is a decent enough concept but Dark*Matter doesn't have the chops to pull it off.
1. The Greys have always had ambitions that outreached their capabilities and millennia of their Machiavellian scheming is finally coming back to bite them in the ass. They relocated almost all of their existing infrastructure and station-ships to Mars once humanity took our first faltering steps towards interstellar travel, but the terraforming of Mars into a hospitable environment hasn't gone as flawlessly as they would have liked; it's costing significantly more resources than they originally anticipated, and most of the resources required aren't easily available on Mars. They used to ship stuff up from unexplored corners of Earth, but humanity has basically expanded to cover the entire globe at this point and it's extremely difficult to strip-mine the planet without being discovered. On top of that, the Greys have long believed themselves to be the Shepards of humanity and have expended considerable time and resources into turning us into a pliable client species, except that hasn't gone well either (they've basically failed at every attempt to enslave us) and along the way they became the de-facto defender of humanity against a myriad of other Stranger species; more as a practical "protect our investment" thing than because of any genuine love for us, but they've been expanding a bunch of effort and resources trying to protect us that should have probably been spent on turning Mars habitable. Now the Greys feel like their back is up against the wall and they're starting to get desperate because it looks like all of the plotting and planning is going to amount to nothing in the very near future.
2. The Valles Marineris is deeper and longer than anything we're familiar with on Earth and the bottom of this massive canyon is the exact location where the Greys have placed their largest Martian settlement. That's all the book cares to say about this.
3. As impossibly deep as the Valles Marineris is, Olympus Mons is equally tall (it's currently the highest known surface-to-peak distance in our solar system). Greys have many rumors about the location, from "ancient Doorways sit atop the mountain and they're opening again and monsters are coming out to kill us" to "actually we killed the species that originally inhabited Mars millennia ago, before we ever visited Earth, and now the G-G-G-GHOSTS of that species are using the Doorways to come back and exact revenge". You know, because the god damn G-G-G-GHOSTS hook just had to be used one last time.
4. The region of Cydonia (which includes the infamous "face" on Mars that everybody has seen) is actually the location of a massive city that the Greys didn't build and refuse to visit because they believe it's haunted by the G-G-G-GHOSTS of the indigenous Martians that they've killed, and they fear reprisal or revenge.
My Take: Pounded in my ass by G-G-G-GHOSTS one final time! You have run out of ideas when your plot hook for an alien world is that it might also be haunted, AND NOTHING ELSE OF INTEREST IS HAPPENING.
TOTAL LOCATIONS DETAILED: 105
LOW/NO EFFORT HOOKS ABOUT G-G-G-GHOSTS: 10
LOOK-BUT-DON'T-TOUCH LOCATIONS: 32
FINAL ANALYSIS: Chapter 7 is a bunch of wasted potential. Out of 105 (give or take) locations, nearly 1 in 3 had no obvious or meaningful plot hook and 1 in 10 just said "I dunno, it's ghosts again". I would have rather they cut at least a third of the crap and spent more time developing the locations that actually got decent hooks. If I were to try and rewrite the whole thing, I would rather combine elements of Chapters 6 and 7 together and make the locations focus entirely around what the various Illuminati groups are doing at them - while enough of the locations make mention of an Illuminati group, most of these mentions are little more than "X conspiracy has a base here" which doesn't do much to flesh out the location for the GM.
There's a fair amount of hooks that I like, but I feel like even those don't really do enough to capture the weird horror vibe that Dark*Matter is trying to sell. The "good" ones were good because they provided at least enough information that a GM could cobble something together on the fly using said hook, but I still don't feel like they're objectively good from the perspective of "this is genuinely interesting and I would considering using it in an urban horror setting even if I weren't playing Dark*Matter specifically". Also, the overarching meta-plot regarding the final battle between Heaven and Hell isn't anywhere near what I would have guessed Dark*Matter would be about, but it's the thing that gets most consistently touched on and there's at least a published adventure path around the Final Church, so there's more of that to look forward to in the future.
NEXT TIME: Chapter 8 and the Manual Monsters
Xenoforms - Armodont thru ElohimOriginal SA post
Chapter 8: Xenoforms - Armodont thru Elohim
Chapter 8 is the monster manual for Dark*Matter. It opens with some flavor about the nature of monsters, speculations on their various points of origin, and musings about whether the similarities between different alien species necessarily imply the guiding hand of intelligent design. Anyway, that's all empty word count with no impact on the actual game, so let's cut to the heat of the meat. Each entry follows a fairly formulaic D&D format (Description / Encounter / Habitat) which should be familiar to anyone that's ever played a TTRPG in the last four decades. They also include a stat block which is fairly impenetrable (even if you're familiar with the system) because the idea of "monsters on an index card" hadn't become widely popular and the concept that monsters didn't have to be built by the exact same rules as PCs hadn't quite caught on (at least for TSR/WotC). I'll do my best to summarize the fluff and then give a more accurate idea of how threatening the monster would actually be for a group of players.
Description: What if you shaved a grizzly bear and then grafted a Grey's head onto the body? This horrible amalgam is a beast specifically bred by the Greys to hunt down rogue Greys (or any other prey that has psionic abilities). The creatures are extremely resistant to psionic powers and can shrug off superficial wounds with ease, but paradoxically they can be put down for good after only a single serious injury (there's no justification given for why this is, it's just how they are). Given that these things are the Grey's primary hunting companions and that they only originate from embryos grown within Grey gene banks, you'd think they would spend two minutes to work this kink out of the Armodont system, but inexplicably they haven't.
My Take: These things have a jacked-up durability track (18 stun points, 18 wound points, only 3 mortal wound points) so that they can function in-game like they do in the fluff - it'll take forever to bring one down with minor wounds, but one lucky attack that deals mortal damage will very likely kill it. Most weapons only deal mortal damage on an amazing success, but your average investigator is probably rolling an amazing success 1 time in 5 rolls, so it's possible for a team of investigators to destroy it in a single round of combat. It can claw and bite and the danger here is that it automatically grabs on a successful claw attack and the rules say it absolutely will not let go unless it dies or its prey dies and there's no mechanical way for a player to escape this grab, so if this thing latches on combat becomes a very quick race to see whether it or its prey dies first. This thing could eliminate PCs pretty quickly if it can ambush them in melee, but if they can fight it at range it's mostly harmless. Also, it has a very high resistance to psionic powers specifically, but not blanket immunity to all supernatural powers, and it has no other supernatural powers of its own. Basically this thing really does what the description says - it'll fuck up other Greys like nobody's business, but it's not a major threat outside that very specific role.
Description: Demons of all flavors seem to originate from some shared alternate dimension. This particular class of demon gets named Bearing Demons because apparently they were first observed emerging from an active Doorway somewhere along the Bearing Strait, but the status are broadly applicable for an "average" demon of any type that players might encounter; these demons are also among the most common types that Diabolists will summon or traffic with. They're your stock standard legions of hell, divided into three broad power levels (Least, Lesser, and Greater) and reveling in human misery and torment and trading in corruption of the innocent and dominion over the weak and yada yada. If you've ever encountered the contemporary Christian concept of a demon in fiction before, you know exactly what you're dealing with here.
Least Demons - Obnoxious imps with leathery wings and a stench like brimstone. They're dumb and cowardly but they can follow simple commands and they prefer to overwhelm foes by attacking in swarms. A Least demon that's clearly outmatched will flee 100% of the time because they value their own survival above all else.
Lesser Demons - Roughly humanoid in size and shape (although there's countless variation among them) and more capable in combat than Least demons. These things are more clever than your average human and are quite capable of making bargains or pacts and traffic in human souls. Obviously they're treacherous and any deal they offer will never benefit you more than it benefits them. They still prefer to work through subterfuge and lies to accomplish their goals, but they could reasonably stand their ground in combat if the situation called for it. They can command Least demons and frequently have a network of them around their lairs to perform menial tasks or delay intruders or whatever.
Greater Demons - Also called Demon Princes or Dukes of Hell, they don't have a standard size or shape or form because they're each a unique entity and they sit at the top of the Infernal hierarchy and command legions of both Least and Lesser demons. Greater Demons are significantly more powerful than your average human (both mentally and martially) and have likely mastered more than one school of magic (although they have always mastered Diabolism) and can actually possess human beings against their will or teach them magic in return for a service. They've got a bevy of supernatural powers that go beyond spells (ex: if they speak to any human for at least one minute without interruption, they can force everyone listening to do whatever they're told unless the listener can succeed at a Willpower resistance test); basically they're the power players from the demon home dimension, the antagonists that an entire campaign can be built around. Players are rarely (if ever) expected to engage a Greater demon in open combat and survive the encounter.
My Take: All three types of demon are extremely durable with very high stun, wound, and mortal wound scores - for example, the Least demons have a baseline durability score that exceeds the setting maximum for humans, and the Lesser and Greater demons only go higher from there.
Least Demons have pretty shit action scores, although they have an insane movement rate due to their wings and even though they only attack with their claws, their claws can incapacitate an average investigator in 2-3 hits; fortunately their attack rolls are at least pretty shit too.
Lesser Demons are even more durable, but their action score is still pretty bad and they lose the insane flying movement speed. However, they're much more intelligent, so they can attack with weapons and spells in addition to their claws which makes them a much more difficult threat to counter (in theory you can pick off Least demons from a distance if you know where they are, Lesser demons can now return fire).
Greater Demons are not to be fucked with. Even ignoring their unique ability to mind control any human that can hear their voice, they're monsters in combat. They've got the highest durability out of all the demons (beyond what a human could ever achieve) plus a flight speed that's even higher than Least demons and their action check score almost guarantees they will take three actions each round. They can attack with a variety of different weapons, plus their innate hellfire blasts are Good quality (which is a big deal in Alternity mechanics) and their attack rolls are extremely high so it's incredibly unlikely that they'll ever miss. They've also got innate Good quality armor which makes them even more indestructible, and on top of everything else they've mastered all known Diabolism FX spells. Greater demons are basically not a monster that a group of investigators would ever be expected to take down in open combat - they're the mastermind antagonist that manipulates events behind the scenes for an entire campaign, and defeating them would likely require the discovery of some specific weakness or blindspot that is unique to the Greater demon in question. More realistically the investigators would find some way to banish the Greater demon back through whatever Doorway spawned it, rather than try to reduce its durability to zero.
Yeah, the Comte de St. Germain is actually an Ekimmu! That's the big secret behind his supposed immortality.
Description: Ekimmu are space vampires. They're hyperintelligent parasitic organisms that infect a human host and then methodically disable parts of the host's brain until they're fully insinuated and in control of the host and no trace of the original personality is left. Of course, the Ekimmu still has access to all of the host's old memories and they'll often do their best to imitate the host's regular pattern of behavior so that their possession goes unnoticed. Ekimmu infection also seems to perform some as yet not understood form of genetic modification (anyone infected gets a permanent +3 bonus to STR/DEX/CON) which greatly enhances the physical health of the victim, enabling them to live much longer than the average human's lifespan. The genetic modification does have unintended consequences however, the host body basically triples in density and they can no longer swim because they're too dense to be buoyant in water, the body ceases growing hair on the head (for both men a women), the eyes tend towards being bloodshot and the iris take on a yellow pallor, the skin becomes pale and their gums recede as their teeth grow inexplicably sharper. The Ekimmu/host amalgam has to eat copious amounts of raw meat and blood to survive and they tend to be solitary and experience lengthy periods of hibernation if they take too much damage. We get it Dark*Matter, you wanted to have vampires but needed to put a very thin Sci-fi veneer on the fiction to fit it into the setting. To that end, there's no known method to exorcise an Ekimmu from a host - once the transformation is complete the original personality ceases to exist and at that point your only remaining option is to just destroy the host body.
My Take: Despite all of the vampire flavor stuff, Ekimmu possessed humans aren't that much more dangerous than a regular person (by default). They don't morph into animals, they can't disperse themselves into a cloud of mist, they aren't immune to nearly every kind of damage, they can't enslave other people at a glance, etc. On the other hand, they also aren't bothered by sunlight, they have no reason to fear holy water or religious icons, they can enter your house without permission, and other than the avoidance of water, they don't really possess any stereotypical vampire weaknesses. They can't even create vampire spawn - since the Ekimmu is still a singular organism, it can infect a new host when it desires to do so, but that leaves the old body in a vegetative state, so there's no risk of a plague of vampires slowly overtaking the globe. Ekimmu don't naturally have any psionic powers but if they ever infect a host that does, they can take that knowledge of psionics with them and then use that to learn additional disciplines. Basically Ekimmu are dangerous because the ones the players tend to encounter have lived several human lifetimes and accumulated a huge pool of skills, but in theory any human could attain the same level of power if they had multiple lifetimes to learn and practice too.
Blatant shoehorning of a fantasy monster aside, my only real gripe with the Ekimmu is that they're basically unused in the extant meta plot and their entry here doesn't really give them any motivation or goal or reason for even being mentioned. They're solitary hunters that avoid other Ekimmu when they discover each other and otherwise just try to enjoy a life of extravagant wealth and human consumption. They exist, but there's no real reason given as to why, which makes the whole thing feel vestigial.
Description: These things are an incredibly advanced alien species that just so happen to adopt a guise that would remind many humans of the stereotypical Christian concept of an Angel (androgynous flawless humanoids with an outer luminescence and fiery halos). Basically, as far as the Greys have advanced beyond human beings, the Elohim have advanced beyond Greys. Every single Elohim encountered/observed seems to have an innate and instinctual mastery of Doorways, they can perfectly communicate with any other intelligent being via telepathic broadcast directly to the recipients mind (and there appears to be no limit to the number of people they can "speak" to simultaneously) and they wield weapons and armor that outclass anything else found on Earth or developed by the Greys. Oh, and they HATE Arcane magic FX and its practitioners. Case in point, all of the Elohim encounters thus far documented have involved an Elohim either hunting down a specific Arcane magician for termination or else devising some kind of plan to "purify" an entire town because of a supposed Arcane taint. Basically the Elohim are space angels that hate wizards and have the technological superiority to eradicate them with impunity. Elohim rarely deign to speak with humans for any reason outside issuing broad commands, so there's very little knowledge of the Elohim home world, their internal structure, why they hate Arcane FX and go out of their way to purge it from Earth, etc. The Greys would love to forge some kind of alliance with the Elohim so that they could get a handle on the Elohim's superior technology, but thus far the Elohim has been just as disdainful of Greys as they have been of human beings.
My Take: Elohim baseline stats aren't outlandishly superior to a baseline human (although they do have a really good action check score, averaging 3 actions per round) but their primary advantage comes from the insane technology they can field. They have lightsabers and plasma rifles and they both deal Good damage, plus Good quality body armor and personal forcefields to boot. They've also got sufficient psionic skill to pull off their telepathy trick, which means they could likely possess other psionic disciplines if the story required it. Although they lack the raw, overpowered ability scores of a Greater Demon, their gear makes up the difference, and a group of Elohim could reasonably be expected to destroy a Greater Demon in combat. Honestly I have no idea how someone targeted by an Elohim for "purification" is supposed to survive the encounter, but I guess that gives them a decent enough hook as "Holy" terminators.
NEXT TIME: Super Ghosts and Ghouls
Xenoforms - Etoile thru GreyOriginal SA post
Chapter 8: Xenoforms - Etoile thru Grey
Fig. 1 - An Etoile in its natural habitat.
Fig. 2 - Also an Etoile.
Description: Bio-mechanical tumbleweeds from space. They're comprised of hundreds or thousands of tentacles that can all perform independent tasks simultaneously, and it's not understood at all how the creature's biology actually works (it seems to lack any apparent organs or other structures that most lifeforms require; indeed, it seems that there is hardly anything to the creature than the writhing mass of tentacles). They're all charged with some sort of powerful electrical current, although how they maintain this charge is a mystery, as is whether or not they can lose the charge due to natural entropy or whether it exists as some sort of zero point energy. They completely avoid water because submersion seems to neutralize or discharge their internal current, which appears to kill them. Although the creatures are typically solitary, it has been infrequently observed that solitary Etoile will combine into a massive cluster for several days, broadcasting radio static and interrupting any wireless signals with in certain radius. After what appears to be an arbitrary amount of time they'll disperse, each returning to their own territory. Since neither humans nor Greys nor the Kinori have been able to successfully communicate with an Etoile, the purpose of these sporadic clusters will remain a mystery.
My Take: A single Etoile isn't really much more menacing than a regular human in straight up combat. They do have decent natural armor and they've got a good resistance versus ranged attacks, but none of their innate abilities exceed what a normal human could bring to the table. Most of their value in the setting comes from the fact that they possess innate knowledge of technology that far exceeds what even the Greys have mastered, displayed in their ability to create Sandmen (human cyborg slaves). Overall, I feel Etoile are better used as plot hooks or background manipulators of events, because they'd make a fairly unremarkable monster-of-the-week in a combat encounter.
Description: We all know what ghosts are, and hoooo boy if Dark*Mater hasn't already beat the SPOOKY G-G-G-GHOST horse to death in the preceding chapter. Their entry in the bestiary doesn't include anything unusual or out of the ordinary, so it's really just padding for the inclusion of their stat block. Interestingly, Ghosts aren't treated as a template, so they're very specifically ghosts of human beings; I don't know whether or not the unstated implications of this for Greys and Kinori and other sentient beings is intentional, but they definitely feel like an obvious plot hole.
My Take: Ghosts have some weird interactions with the Alternity combat system. Supposedly they can only be observed via the use of the Intuition specialty skill and no other means; this is significant because Intuition is one of the more niche specialty skills that very rarely gets used in play, so most players may not invest points in it, which would then make interacting with a ghost nearly impossible. Ghosts are "out of phase" with reality and are extremely hard to damage with mundane weapons (assuming you can even perceive them) but for some reason it's slight easier to hurt them with silver weapons (presumably because we're basing this on D&D's idiosyncratic interpretation of ghosts). They possess some rudimentary psionic skills and can only be permanently destroyed if the players resolve whatever trauma happened to create the ghost in the first place - if their durability is simply reduced to zero, they will magically reform within a certain span of time, depending on how powerful the ghost was. Since Alternity doesn't use the concept of Hit Dice or Levels for monsters, advancing a ghost in power would be a fairly arbitrary exercise on the GM's behalf, mostly down to fiat and whatever they decided "felt right". Another monster that I feel works better as a plot point than a direct combat encounter, since obviously their inclusion tells the players that they're going to have to solve a traumatic murder mystery to resolve the ghostly manifestation.
Description: Since Dark*Matter doesn't do "traditional" undead monsters, Ghouls in this case are just fanatical members of cannibal cults that have completely given in to their deprived cravings. They're typically located either in small camps nearby heavily trafficked roads so that they can try and snatch lone travelers (The Hills Have Eyes style) or else they make camps in the bowels of large urban centers where the disappearance of the occasional vagrant won't go noticed.
My Take: Since Ghouls are just mentally deranged humans, they don't really have any stats or abilities that deviate from the human baseline. They're not treated as a template that gives any kind of specific bonus or penalty, so you basically just roll up a regular human NPC and then add "also they eat people" to their description I guess. I'm not sure why this was even worth an entry, since there's nothing remarkable about them to differentiate from a baseline dude.
Description: We've already covered the Greys at various other points in the book, so their entry in this chapter is primarily just to provide a stat block for a typical Grey. The book does indicate that Greys are capable of gaining Levels in a hero class just like players, and insinuates that your GM could allow a player to run a Grey as their character as long as it fit into the theme of the campaign they wanted to run.
My Take: Greys aren't really that remarkable outside their role as one of the major Illuminati factions in the meta plot. They're smaller and physically weaker than your average human but they're much smarter and have innate psionic powers and also have access to futuristic technology. One thing I like is that even though the Greys have treated humanity like their personal servitor race, there's multiple other alien entities that have surpassed the Greys and the book makes sure to call out any time the Greys are jealous of what some other aliens have managed to achieve. I like that all of the various alien and Stranger species aren't some monolithic enemy that works in concert to systematically oppose humans; there's often just as much distrust and in-fighting between them as there is between various human cultures.
NEXT TIME: More rehashes and also cartoon devils
Xenoforms - Homunculus thru Man in BlackOriginal SA post
Chapter 8: Xenoforms - Homunculus thru Man in Black
What aspiring wizard hasn't dreamed of growing their very own shitgoblin?
Description: These horrible little garbage monsters are created via the Hermetic school of Arcane FX (which we covered in Chapter 4). They aren't naturally occurring or indigenous to anywhere, so if you see one you know there's somebody nearby playing with the occult. They aren't very intelligent and they have limited decision making powers, so they basically follow whatever literal commands they were given and tend to flee if they encounter anything that would prevent them from actually completing their task. Sometimes the creating sorcerer fucks up and the homunculus goes rogue and develops rudimentary free will, but they still have the same abysmal game stats so actually causing trouble for their creator would require enlisting the help of more capable associates.
My Take: They're understandably pathetic and weak, and they're not really going to be around unless someone created them. More of a piece of set dressing than an actual encounter that investigators would have to engage with.
Description: You know 'em, you love 'em, they're the most benevolent Strangers humanity has ever encountered - the Kinori! They've basically asked for little more than to be humanity's chill wizard mentors, and even though they possessed arcane talent far in advance of what we knew, they never once attempted to use it to dominate us or turn us into a client species. It's actually a pretty neat twist that the Reptilians of the setting are actually chill AF and aren't in charge of any global conspiracies. Of course the Greys hate the "1 weird trick to subvert your intergalactic oppressors" that the Kinori attempted to teach humankind and have gone to great lengths to exterminate the Kinori whenever the two species encounter each other. Rarely, Blackscale Kinori get hatched in a clutch and they're all super wizards with even more innate Arcane power than normal Kinori and all of the regular Kinori are eminently subservient to them and they Blackscale typically end up living lives of considerable luxury as leaders of their warren or tribe.
My Take: Kinori are bong wizards that want to be our friends. They're closer in size to a Grey than to a human and they innately know Arcane FX spells and helped to co-create the entire school of Hermetic FX along with our earliest ancestors. Millenia of persecution by Greys and Grey-sponsored humans have driven them deep underground, and they'll defend their warrens fiercely against any uninvited guests (since history has proven that intruders only ever want to kill them) but if an investigator could encounter one outside a warren it wouldn't be impossible to strike up a friendship. The book doesn't really insinuate that you could run a Kinori as a PC but I think if Greys are potential characters because they can use psychic powers to broadcast an illusion, Kinori should be equally able to masquerade with some type of ritual spell or whatever.
The original source material for the cartoon devil with a pitchfork.
Description: Another Stranger species that seems to have originated from the same home dimensions as the Elohim. The book says "seems to" because any time the Elohim encounter a Luciferan, they will go to any length to ensure the creature is destroyed, and this implies there must be some kind of shared history there. Luciferans remind many humans of the stereotypical Christian concept of a Demon but they aren't the same thing (because we know Demons already exist in-setting). They also seem to have innate familiarity with the futuristic technology that the Elohim wield, although it is rare that a Luciferan is able to acquire said technology without dying first. Luciferans also possess an innate affinity for the Enochian school of Arcane FX, which runs contrary to what humans might expect at first blush (since Enochian is nominally the "Good Guy" school of Arcane FX), although it's unknown what kind of vows they would make to power their spells (or indeed, what entity would be enforcing those vows). Luciferans rarely deign to speak to or interact with humans, so they're mostly a mysterious refugee species that may or may not be fleeing to Earth to avoid Elohim extermination squads back in their home dimension.
My Take: They look like devils but they're aliens and they innately can use the "Good" Arcane FX. I feel like Bauer and Cook didn't put a lot of effort into this one; they basically played lazy contrast to expectations and called it good. It's starting to get a little frustrating that all of these alien species are described as "not wanting to interact with humans" because it feels like a cop-out so that they didn't have to bother with creating actual background information for each race. I get it, the setting meta-plot is already fleshed out with two different alien species; my point is, why even bother including another low-effort entry?
Do you hear Will Smith's song or Johnny Cash's song in your head when looking at this picture?
MAN IN BLACK
Description: There's two kinds of Men in Black - typical human beings that operate as agents of clandestine organizations and attempt to maintain a low profile while conducting some kind of nefarious task, and a specific type of Stranger that possess otherworldly powers; this entry specifically covers the latter. These Stranger MiB typically appear in pairs and tend to turn up anywhere on Earth where some kind of paranormal or extraterrestrial activity has occurred. They seem most interested in interrogating witnesses into silence and confiscating any obvious evidence left by the event, but other than acting to aggressively cover-up whatever just happened, they don't seem to have any long term plans or belong to a coherent organization with verifiable goals. It's not even clear whether there are multiple Stranger MiB or whether it's one entity that seems to manifest when specific criteria have been met; theories abound that the Stranger MiB might actually be the white blood cells of our collective unconscious, manifesting directly whenever something has occurred that humanity is unprepared to deal with.
My Take: Stranger MiB don't have attributes or skills that wildly surpass a stock human (although they do tend to get 3 actions per combat round) but they make up for it by effectively intimidating or frightening people into submission. They innately have access to both Psionic and Arcane FX and even have two of their own special FX spells that allow them to summon supernatural spheres of darkness (a la the Darkness spell from D&D) and teleport between shadows (also functionally identical to the equivalent D&D spell) and while they could easily overwhelm the average person, a party of investigators would likely be able to defeat them in combat (provided the MiB didn't just teleport away when near death). The Stranger MiB are more intended to be used as tools of uncertainty and confusion, and work best when the investigators are also regularly dealing with normal humans that adopt the same affectations, so that the players are kept off balance about whether the MiB are real people or something Stranger.
NEXT TIME: Magical homeless people and Egyptian royalty.
Xenoforms - Mole Person thru YetiOriginal SA post
Chapter 8: Xenoforms - Mole Person thru Yeti
Description: They're a genetic offshoot of homo sapiens with an origin that nobody has yet uncovered. It's entirely possible they've only been around for a few hundred years and are just the result of intense inbreeding between marginalized people that got pushed further and further towards the fringes of society with the onset of the industrial revolution. Mole people are basically regular humans but with an aversion to light and an innate hatred of surface dwellers and a strong belief that some day they'll forge an empire that will overthrow the tyranny of the humans that dwell above them. Also they're known to kidnap children and/or runaways when they stage an excursion to the surface and the book says they raise these people as their own and that "children raised among the Mole People adapt well to their way of life" so it's unclear whether they're actually a different species from human beings or whether being raised underground morphs regular people into Mole People or what's going on. Also there's Newts, which are Mole People++ basically they've lived underground for so long that they've gained the ability to regenerate any amount of physical damage (short of something like complete submersion in acid). Supposedly their regenerative powers are so good that if you tore a Newt in half, both halves would regenerate into a full Newt so it's possible that all Newts are actually genetic copies of one unfortunate mutant that just got torn in half hundreds of times.
My Take: Game-wise the Mole People and Newts are just stock humans with a few powerful mutations added from the core Alternity PHB. The setting fiction makes some uncomfortable implications about homelessness and marginalized groups when it theorizes about the origins of Mole People and I don't really want to get into it. It's the same tone-deaf writing you get with every RPG by cis-het white dudes that try to write about other cultures with which they have had no personal exposure.
Description: These things appear to be some combination of man and moth, but most interestingly they actually share the same genetic foundation (TPA) as the Greys - thus far, neither species has expressed interest the other, the Mothmen claim to be completely ignorant of the Greys, and the Greys refuse to answer any questions about shared ancestry (as they are wont to do). Mothmen have super hearing and super vision at night (although daylight blinds them) and they've got big wings so they can fly very well. Their primary social unit is the tribe or clan, and any Mothman incursions that have visited Earth have involved the entire group traveling to Earth - evidently they are nomadic hunters in their home dimension and more complex forms of social hierarchy have yet to occur. They've got an innate mastery of Shamanism FX and have proven willing to share their knowledge with humans that approach them on their terms. They prefer isolation to human contact, typically only reaching out to human for assistance when there is a threat so great that a tribe is unable to resolve the problem by itself. Their home dimension doesn't have technology much more advanced than our Bronze Age, and they're superstitious about contemporary human equipment.
My Take: Other than their ability to fly and their enhanced senses, Mothmen aren't significantly different from a stock human. They have natural claw attacks that deal better damage than an unarmed human, but the fact that they refuse to use advanced technology put them at a significant disadvantage against prepared investigators. The innate Shamanism FX is a nice flavor piece but as we discussed in Chapter 4 the actual spells within Shamanism are mechanically lackluster and not really useful as monster-of-the-week powers. These feel like a "mandatory" inclusion for the X-Files lite setting and the one interesting hook (they might share a common ancestor with the Greys) is never mentioned or explored again.
Description: In Dark*Matter mummies are just animated corpse machines that function because of the Kinori fusion of science and the occult. They're low functioning, basically just serving as guards that can follow very short commands and only in the most literal terms possible. They don't have any occult powers of their own, they can't handle weapons that require more effort than "swing the sharp end into your target", they aren't especially durable, and they don'y retain any knowledge of their past life. They're basically golems from Dungeons and Dragons except made out of deceased corpses (so, flesh golems I guess).
My Take: This whole entry has me asking "What's the point"? I would have guessed the mummies would retain some aspect of their prior knowledge or intelligence, but as-is they're basically just golems that can barely perform guard duty competently. I guess if you are in the market for completely loyal guards that don't require food or water and won't ever question your orders then mummies might be for you, but I don't really see these working as a central obstacle that players would have to overcome. Another entry like the Homunculus where it's more a piece of set dressing than a useful encounter.
Description: A Sandman is a human being that's undergone the nanite metamorphosis process created by the Etoile. Completing this process turns the human into a hybrid organic and mechanical entity that is 100% loyal to the Etoile and will dutifully complete any tasks assigned. Sandmen aren't mindless though, they still retain all of the intelligence from their pre-transformation lives; instead they leverage their existing knowledge to help the Etoile accomplish whatever nefarious tasks they have in mind. Sandmen actually have a culture, in as much as any servitor race can, which is heavily influenced by military ideology, dogma and regimen. Often the Etoile will infect everyone in a remote location so that an entire town can turn into a loyal Sandman enclave. While nobody on Earth has yet managed to uncover what master plan the Etoile are angling for, Sandman activity seems hyper focused around probing human military installations; they're conducting an elaborate reconnaissance campaign of which Earth's governments are only dimly aware.
My Take: Turns out I was wrong, there are rules provided for adding the Sandman template to a stock human, although allowing players to have a Sandman hero is strongly discouraged. I guess that could work fine if the GM wanted one of the players to be a secret Sandman traitor and the rest of the party wasn't supposed to know about it? They can integrate any extant human technology into their physical form, so most Sandmen have an array of weapons and gadgets and communications devices hidden in their bodies that they can utilize at a moment's notice. Mostly it feels like Bauer and Cook wanted to have The Thing as a monster in their campaign but needed to tweak it by 10% to avoid copyright infringement.
SASQUATCH & YETI
Description: We covered the Sasquatch in their entry as a client species of the Greys in Chapter 6 and their inclusion here is basically just to provide the DM with a stat block in case they need to be used in the campaign. They're extremely similar to the Warren race from the Alternity PHB (physically dominant aliens that looks like a cross between a gorilla and a bear) and the only new addition in Chapter 8 is that they've apparently got their own school of Faith FX! It's based around battle chants and using your voice as a weapon, and of course only Sasquatch/Yetis can learn to use this skill. This dovetails nicely into the implication that Sasquatch/Yeti could be used as player characters provided the DM was willing to allow it. Oh also Yeti are identical to Sasquatch; they're what the race is called when they're encountered in Asia (in case that wasn't obvious).
My Take: Sasquatch are more interesting to me if they're a one-off encounter or a monster-of-the-week thing or are otherwise an unknown force that the investigators have to overcome. Giving them a whole cultural identity around being refugees from the Greys is fine but I feel like it leans too hard into the "Noble Savage" cliche and all the stuff about their proud warrior culture makes me roll my eyes. If it was me I'd make them rare/unique but I guess the option is on the table either way.
That wraps up Chapter 8! The next two chapters are extremely perfunctory.
Chapter 9 is "How to be a GM" and is mostly stock-standard GM advice that you can find in any TTRPG ever printed; the only memorable nugget is when Bauer and Cook decide to tackle the question "What do you do when one of your players isn't cooperating with the rest of the group?" and their answer isn't "Speak to them like an adult, figure out why they aren't cooperating, see if any changes can be made, maybe cut them loose as a last resort" and instead they go straight to "Either kick them out immediately, or if the person in question is someone that you don't want to upset IRL, instead just make their character in the game suffer through an increasingly unpleasant series of mishaps and failures and fumbles until they quit on their own in frustration". Real top-notch advice there guys.
Chapter 10 is "Alternate campaign options" which basically says that if the GM wants to let the investigators be Greys or Kinori or Sasquatch or etc. to just go for it.
Neither of these chapters are particularly interesting, so I'm going to skip them. Instead, what I want to do is explore the two pre-made adventures that came in the book. The first one comes with a bunch of pre-made player characters and is fairly short (it takes place in a single location over the span of one night) and the second one is longer and could potentially lead into a campaign (if a GM was so inclined). I'm going to run the starter characters through the first adventure and the one(s) that survive will go on to the second.
NEXT TIME: Raw Recruits and an Ice Cold Killer.
Adventure 1: Exit 23 - Rogue's GalleryOriginal SA post
Adventure 1: Exit 23 - Rogue's Gallery
As I mentioned in my last update, Dark*Matter comes with 2 complete adventures for players to experience. The first one even includes 6 pre-made heroes for your players to use if they're unfamiliar with the Alternity rules, and I'm going to run these pre-made heroes through both adventures. This is where the audience participation comes in:
Vote for the 4 characters you'd like to see suffer through the introductory adventure!
I'll give people a couple days to vote, and use the 4 characters with the highest vote totals as the PC party. If there's a tie I'll settle it via my own capricious whims, and the two that don't get picked will be sidelined for the second adventure to replace any heroes that die during this adventure.
I'm purposely excluding their starting skill packages and their starting gear because I don't want that to influence anyone's decisions. The characters function more-or-less how they're presented though, so some of them may or may not own a gun, know how to shoot a gun or even know how to engage in combat at all; you should be able to infer which characters can do what based on their descriptions.
Adventure 1: Exit 23 - Background & OverviewOriginal SA post
Adventure 1: Exit 23 - Background & Overview
Welcome to Exit 23, the introductory adventure in the Dark*Matter campaign guide! This adventure is intended to introduce new players to both the Alternity system and the Dark*Matter setting, and it's fairly straightforward in execution. The idea is that four complete strangers happen to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and they get pulled into the occult machinations of a dangerous cult. Players that survive the adventure will subsequently be groomed by the Hoffman Institute for further employment opportunities since they've now all survived a first-hand encounter with a Stranger. The second adventure in the book then assumes that these same heroes have received some formal training and serves as their first official investigation as HI agents.
Adventure Background: Several days ago (relative to whenever you want your campaign to take place) HI agents were investigating a rural Montana estate that was formerly owned by Michel Galvin. Galvin was a reputed cult leader and diabolist of no small means, but he disappeared under mysterious circumstances about a decade ago, and his next of kin finally managed to sell his farmhouse and the surrounding property so that they could wash their hands of the whole affair.
HI agent Jonas Riley was contacted by the purchasers and asked to visit the property and certify that there were no lurking threats or residual supernatural dangers. Jonas took a team of rookie HI agents out to the farmstead to examine the property, and they managed to uncover a secret laboratory hidden beneath the foundation via a series of narrow, hastily carved tunnels that terminated within a copse of trees about a quarter mile from the actual farmhouse. The lab was mostly empty, except for an obviously out of place holiday snow globe located within a hidden floor panel beneath a desk in the corner of the room. Not knowing the significance of the snow globe, Jonas instructed the rest of his team to return to their base to file their reports while he embarks on a trip to deliver the snow globe to an HI friendly in Portland, OR that specializes in identifying occult relics and artifacts.
Unknown to Jonas, a few members of Michel's cult Les Trieze Corbins (French - The 13 Crows) still live and have kept watch over the property, awaiting the day that their master returns to Earth. As it happens, their constant vigil managed to catch Jonas and his team exploring the property and their discovery of the snow globe. This was huge news for the cult, as the snow globe is a mystic focus that allows the bearer to wield control over a diabolic Stranger that has been bound to the object. When Jonas dispatched his team back to their HQ and left the property headed in the opposite direction, Les Trieze Corbins contacted one of their own whom works as a long-haul trucker (Jacob Dumont) to tail Jonas along the highway and ultimately retrieve the globe.
Dumont managed to intersect Jonas' intended path of travel from the cult compound in Montana near the rugged mountain country in the Idaho panhandle, although Jonas has a significant lead. Dumont reached out to the other cult members for assistance, and in desperation they decided to utilize the rituals they were taught by Galvin to summon a massive blizzard to shut down the highway around a lonely rest stop near Exit 23. The blizzard will awaken the demon that has been sealed within the snow globe, but Les Trieze Corbins are wagering that Jonas still doesn't understand the significance of the snow globe and that Dumont will be able to use the highway closure to catch up to Jonas, recover the snow globe from him, and then use it to control the demon and make his escape.
Overview: Where do the players come in? Their heroes are all caught in the blizzard at the rest stop along with Jonas and Dumont. Each hero has been traveling along the highway for their own reasons.
Jane was conducting a routine patrol for this stretch of highway when the blizzard hit. Knowing better than to continue her patrol and risk getting caught exposed, she's pulled her cruiser into the rest stop to complete some reports and maybe find a warm meal.
Nadine is on her way to Seattle to speak at a microbiology conference in her capacity as a consultant for the CDC. Although she is anxious about arriving late, she understands that being punctual isn't worth risking her life, and she's waiting out the storm at the first shelter she could find on the highway.
Donna was driving back to her home in Seattle after completing her most recent consulting job. She's in a hurry to get back because she uncovered some particularly valuable intel on a software start-up that's about to IPO and she wants to get in touch with her broker, but she knows better than to risk getting stuck in a blizzard.
Doug is on his way to Portland to meet with Dr. Phillip Akens whom has hired him on to chronicle a paranormal investigation that Dr. Akens is conduction. Doug isn't in any particular hurry to get to Portland as the job doesn't start for another week; he was actually hoping to be able to get in some hiking and skiing in the southern Cascades before officially starting his next job.
The book states that none of the heroes know each other at the outset, unless the players decide that they do beforehand. Likewise, none of the aforementioned background information should be made available to the players. Currently they're occupying the White River Station (the actual name of the rest stop) along with 8 other souls, 4 of which work at the White River Station and 4 which are additional refugees from the storm.
- A balding business executive that looks to be about 50. He's wearing clothing appropriate for a lawyer or financial officer. (Jonas Riley)
- A short and stocky , middle-aged lady wearing a flannel shirt and a sheepskin vest. She's a long haul trucker that got caught refilling at the White River Station when the storm broke. (Norma Thomson)
- A tall and thin teenager with messy hair, John Lennon-style glasses and a surplus Army jacket. He looks like he could have stepped right out of a picture of Vietnam War protesters from several decades ago. (John Black)
- A large, muscular truck driver wearing a cheap parka and a black Oakland Raiders hat. (Jacob Dumont)
- A matronly waitress, well past retirement age, who runs the donut counter. (Mabel Adams)
- Another teenage boy with long hair and a greasy apron that works as the cook at the McDonald's. (Danny Wood)
- A teenage girl with freckles and prominent braces who works as a cashier for the gas station proper. She frequently makes eyes at Danny when she thinks he isn't looking. (Anne Banks)
- A man with Indian ancestry that's the current manager on duty for the White River Station. He always displays a big smile whenever he feels anxious. (Ahmed Singh)
Included is a map of the White River Station that describes each of the locations listed. The adventure assumes each of the players have been trapped here for several hours before the action begins, so players can be assumed to know anything they need about the layout of the rest stop.
1. Vestibule and Phones - The main entrance. Neither of the pay phones here are working on account of the blizzard.
2. Lobby - A large, open space with an information counter that's flanked on one side by wall displays with flyers for local tourist attractions and on the other side by a huge wall map of Idaho.
3 & 4. Women's & Men's Room - Unremarkable truck stop bathrooms.
5. Arcade - Really just a small alcove near the bathrooms. It contains six coin-operated video games, all of which are more than 20 years old.
6. Convenience Store - Your typical truck stop convenience store filled with knickknacks and caffeine pills and junk food. The store is currently closed because Anne (the cashier) is hanging out with the other people in the Donut Shop, but she'll unlock the doors if any of the players ask her.
7. Storerooms - Unremarkable storage rooms that contain the stocks and supplies you'd need to operate a truck stop. All of them include a large loading door that opens to the outside for deliveries, but all of the loading doors are currently locked shut (Ahmed has the key).
8. The Donut Shop - A small restaurant with a hightop counter and some stools and a few booths. The shop servers light fare and has a small kitchen. Most of the people (including the players, unless they specify otherwise) are all gathered at this location.
9. Restaurant - Actually a McDonald's that's attached to the truck stop. Currently the security grate has been pulled down over the counter and kitchen area and locked shut (Danny has the key), but all of the tables and booths in the seating area are accessible.
10. Kitchen - McDonald's kitchen; it contains all of the stoves, fryers, refrigerators and supplies you'd need to operate the restaurant. Currently inaccessible behind the locked security grate.
11. Fuel Office - The outdoor cashier terminal for the gas station. Currently both doors are locked shut (Ahmed has the key).
With all of that expository information digested, the players are finally ready to begin the adventure proper.
NEXT TIME: A Grisly Discovery.
Adventure 1: Exit 23 - A Grisly DiscoveryOriginal SA post
Adventure 1: Exit 23 - A Grisly Discovery
Now it's time to get the soon-to-be investigators involved in this adventure. Currently, we've got Jane (highway patrol), Nadine (doctor), Donna (private security) and Doug (freelance photojournalist) and they've been cooling their heels at the White River Station, waiting for an unexpected blizzard to break so that they can continue on their respective ways. They share the truck stop with eight other seemingly unremarkable people, completely unaware that the blizzard was the result of a deadly cat and mouse game between the Hoffman Institute and the cult Les Trieze Corbins. Here's the introductory text the book presents for the players:
You've never seen a snowstorm like this. October in the Idaho mountains can be bad, but for hours now it's been a virtual white-out. The snow must be at least 15 inches deep on the highway, and the weather's showing no signs of stopping.
It's close to midnight now, but you've each been stranded since sundown in a small interstate rest stop, waiting for the plows to come through so that you can get back on the road. Nearly a half-dozen motorists share your predicament, plus for or five rest stop employees who have stayed on to serve coffee and food for the duration of the storm.
Each of you has somewhere to go and things to do, but for now you're all stuck here. No one's driving anywhere tonight, and no one's coming to get you out. Some of you have passed the time with a paperback novel or a magazine, while others have been chatting with the other motorists.
Donna has poked around the White River Station out of boredom and has a pretty decent idea of how the place is laid out. She's mostly kept to herself, a habit she's picked up in her line of work.
Doug is getting anxious about his prolonged confinement and has been asking all of the other people assembled whether or not it's really that dangerous to try and just power his way through the blizzard; when he asked Jane, she pointedly told Doug that he'd be lucky to get more than a mile down the road before careening off the highway and ending upside-down in a ditch. Doug stopped asking after that, but keeps giving Jane a furtive stink-eye when he thinks Jane isn't looking.
Nadine's done her best to make small talk with everyone else stuck in the station. She's also frustrated about having her travel plans put on hold, but she's developed an excellent bedside manner over the years and is using the small talk as a way to avoid thinking about all of the time she's losing.
Suddenly! More exposition:
You're all sitting in the donut shop, nursing a cup of coffee, when the lights flicker. "Oh great," mutters Mabel, from behind the counter - and then the lights go out altogether!
Somewhere on the other side of the rest stop, you hear a door slam open, following by the vicious howling of freezing cold air that somehow finds its way over to where you sit. The wind screams like a wounded animal, scratching and clawing at your exposed skin with an icy grasp.
Without even thinking about it, each of you simultaneously realize something is horribly, terribly wrong. Then you hear an awful racket from the direction of the rest rooms - sounds of violent conflict, cries that are choked short, glass breaking, and one final high-pitched scream that makes your blood run cold.
The wind howls again, more doors slam . . . and then the room becomes still again, except for the distant howling of the storm outside. "What in heaven was that?" Mabel speaks from the darkness.
Jane does a quick inventory of the people assembled in the donut shop and realizes that the businessman, the teenage fry cook, and the kid wearing the army jacket aren't inside. Occupants of the truck stop have been moving around the building all night, but those three are missing from the donut shop immediately following the loss of power. She asks for volunteers to go with her to investigate the noises, and Donna agrees. Nadine does her best to keep everyone else in the donut shop calm, and Doug learned to leave well enough alone while attached to the troops he chronicled in the U.S. Navy.
Jane's currently carrying her service 9mm, two pairs of handcuffs, a police flashlight and her radio. Donna's only packing her .32 revolver and a cellphone in her purse. Jane's drawn her pistol and flashlight and is advancing slowly through the building towards the bathrooms; Donna's trailing her at a slight distance but hasn't yet announced that she's also got a gun.
The last gust of wind seems to have knocked out power to the entire rest stop and there's barely enough illumination from the various emergency lights to carefully move through the darkened building. The wind screams outside, howling from beyond the open door at the end of the hall, just past the arcade.
You reach the Men's room and immediately notice a body sprawled face down in the doorway; it's the teenager that was wearing the army jacket, and if the blood pooling under his chest is any indication, he's lost a lot of it. Three icicles impale his back - they're each about the length of a machete blade and obviously just as sharp, and they're causing the blood pooling around the entry wounds to freeze into scarlet ice. Based on the way his body fell, he must have been stabbed while attempting to enter the bathroom.
Looking beyond the teenager and into the Men's room, you see another body; it's the businessman in the fancy sports coat, and he's slumped into a seated position between a urinal and the sinks. Like the body that's propping the door open, he's also been impaled by two impossibly long and sharp icicles, but as you gaze at the scene before you, he groans and attempts to rise from his half-crouch.
"Help me," he gasps. "I'm so cold . . ."
Jane's first responder training immediately kicks into gear and she rushes over to the businessman. She shouts for Donna to go grab help, and Donna sprints back to the donut shop to grab Nadine. After explaining the situation, she also thinks to ask Doug to come along and snap some pictures of the crime scene, in case Jane needs them for the future. Mabel grabs a first aid kit from the donut shops kitchen and hands it off, and Nadine and Doug both agree to return to the Men's room with Donna.
Jane attempts to perform basic first aid on the businessman but botches her Knowledge - First Aid roll; she wasn't really prepared for trying to assist someone with massive internal hemorrhaging. In the time it takes her to fail her attempt at assistance, Donna has returned with Nadine and Doug, and Nadine immediately moves to try and stabilize the businessman. Her Medical Science - Treatment roll is at a +2 penalty due to Jane's prior failure (which would be a d20 + penalty d6) but she's an actual doctor and succeeds on the stabilization attempt despite her patient's delicate condition.
While Nadine and Jane get the businessman sorted, Doug and Donna decide to search the immediate area and see if they can find anything else that might be important (and Doug's snapping pictures of the whole scene while he searches).
Donna isn't trained in Awareness - Perception and has to make an untrained Awareness roll - this goes about as well as you would expect, and she doesn't discover anything other than what's immediately obvious: all of the stalls are empty, one of the mirrors above a sink has been shattered and contains blood spatter, and the faucet below the broken mirror seems to have frozen solid, complete with the water that had been running from the tap turned into an icicle. There's a fine layer of frost that covers every flat surface in the room, and it's actually colder in the room than anywhere else (even in the hallway with an open door to the outside).
Doug is trained in Investigate - Search due to his profession and manages to roll a Good success. He recalls that there were no icicles large enough to match the ones impaling both men anywhere along the outside of the truck stop. The blood spatter from the mirror and the location of the businessman's body indicate he was likely stabbed from the front while facing away from the sink. Doug also rummages through all of the containers in the room and finds the businessman's overcoat and briefcase were both shoved into the sole trashcan in the room. Finally, Doug spots an unusual mark displacing the congealing blood from the first body; it sort of looks like a paw print from a large predatory animal like a wolf or a bear.
The businessman has been stabilized but has passed out from the trauma. Nadine asks Doug to help her move him back to the donut shop, and while they ferry the unconscious man back, Jane and Donna decide to search the hallway in front of the rest rooms. Jane rolls a Good success on an Awareness - Perception check and catches the sound of stifled sobs coming from the arcade. Again she draws her service pistol and motions for Donna to follow her, creeping slowly towards the sound. She announces her police credentials over the droning howl of the blizzard, and both women are surprised when something leaps up from behind the Asteroids machine and sprints towards them!
NEXT TIME: Interrogation and Ambush.
Adventure 1: Exit 23 - Interrogation and AmbushOriginal SA post
Adventure 1: Exit 23 - Interrogation and Ambush
Jane and Donna decide to search the hallway in front of the rest rooms.
The corridor just outside the restroom is dark and cold. At the end of the hallway, a door leading outside swings in the vicious, gusting wind, banging loudly against the wall. Fingers of swirling snow already dust the floor near the open door.
To your right, the building's arcade is a dark cavern, with the regular chatter of video game demo loops silenced by the loss of power. Suddenly, soft whimpers arise from somewhere inside, like someone is hiding in there.
Jane rolls a Good success on an Awareness - Perception check and catches the sound of stifled sobs coming from the arcade. Again she draws her service pistol and motions for Donna to follow her, creeping slowly towards the sound. She announces her police credentials over the droning howl of the blizzard, and both women are surprised when something leaps up from behind the Asteroids machine and sprints towards them!
All at once, someone dressed in a McDonald's uniform and apron stands up from behind the Asteroids machine. It's Danny Wood, the kid that was working the fryer, and he's obviously scared out of his wits.
"Please tell me it's gone!" His voice quavers. "I don't know what it was, but I was sure it was gonna kill me!"
His head swivels side-to-side, barely restrained panic clear in his eyes. His gaze falls on the open exit door, and he bolts for it while screaming "I gotta get out of here!"
Jane immediately moves to intercept Danny and throws a hand on his shoulder to try and slow him down. While Jane tries to wrangle him, Donna thinks quickly and shouts "You know, whatever you saw is STILL OUT THERE!" and this causes Danny to freeze like a statue. Jane keeps herself between Danny and the exit door and slowly moves backwards to shut it, never taking her eyes off Danny. Just as she manages to force the door shut, Danny turns to see the dead body still propping open the door to the men's bathroom and he begins shaking uncontrollably. Donna tries to say something to calm him down, but lacking any Interaction specialty skills, she attempts an untrained Interaction roll and flubs it. Danny keeps trembling but refuses to respond verbally, and after a short discussion, Jane and Donna realize they'll have to frog-march him back to the donut restaurant with the others for his own safety.
Back in the donut shop, Nadine and Doug have placed the injured businessman on top of a table near a wall, using his balled up jacket as a pillow. Nadine does her best to ensure the businessman's condition doesn't worsen, but she's aware that his wounds require medical attention beyond what she can scavenge from the truck stop. While the other patrons hover around the businessman with a mixture of morbid curiosity and fear, Doug takes the briefcase he recovered over to a table near the far corner of the restaurant and begins to fiddle with the locks. Since he doesn't have the Lockpick specialty skill nor the Manipulation broad skill, he has to attempt an untrained Dexterity check, and fails; Doug doesn't make any progress cracking the briefcase locks.
Jane and Donna return to the restaurant with Danny in tow, which causes a minor commotion. Anne Banks, the cashier, rushes over to him, concern visible on her face. He doesn't react to her presence, even when she wraps her arms around him and begins sobbing into his shoulder. Donna is able to pry Anne away and Jane asks Nadine if she can try and help snap him out of his fugue state. Nadine has experience with trying to get through to recalcitrant patients, and makes an Interaction - Charm roll to try and get him to speak to her. She rolls several successes, and after calming Danny down, learns the following information (with Jane hastily scribbling down his responses in her duty notebook for future reference):
What did you see?
"I was over in the arcade playing Asteroids when the power went out. I started to leave the arcade, and suddenly the hallway door burst open. A wall of snow and ice blew in, and it looked like there was something in the middle of the snow, some kind of big animal like a wolf or bear or something."
What did the thing looks like, exactly?
"I don't know! It wasn't like anything I've ever seen before. It was part ice, part snow, and part animal. Its claws looked frozen solid, and it had two glowing red eyes. The blizzard air seemed to swirl around it and change its shape even as I was looking at it, and the sound from the shifting wind was like some voice speaking a language I've never heard before."
The perspective is wild here. Is the old man bending over a counter with a phone and the demon's sneaking up behind him, or is the old man upright and standing in front of a counter that's horizontal to the wall and the demon's now 12 feet tall?
What did it do?
"It went right past me and into the men's bathroom. I looked around the corner into the hallway, and I saw that dead guy come staggering out with those giant icicles sticking in him. I heard someone else yell, and then that frozen thing came back out again. It paused briefly over the dead body, like it was inspecting it or something."
Where did it go?
"The animal turned towards the open door, but then it caught my eyes and looked right through me, like it was tryin' ta tell me it coulda killed me if it had wanted to. Then, it exploded into a swirling cloud of snow and ice and flew back outside again. It's still out there somewhere!"
Nadine and Jane continue to try and coax more information out of Danny, but that's everything useful he can provide based on Nadine's successes.
While Nadine and Jane are speaking with Danny, Donna notices Doug fiddling with the businessman's briefcase and offers to help him unlock it. Donna does have Manipulation - Lockpick and manages to pop the case open on her first try. Inside, she and Doug discover a small snow globe (about 10cm in diameter) and a stack of handwritten notes and reports from the businessman, indicating how he found the snow globe and detailing his allegiance to the Hoffman Institute. On this point, the books suggests taking aside any players that read through the notes and reciting for them all of the information contained in the Adventure Background (minus anything about Jacob Dumont, since Jonas still doesn't know that he's being hunted). The snow globe itself seems to contain a miniature replica of the White River Station, but since Dark*Matter doesn't include any kind of sanity mechanics, this is just an odd flavor detail with no immediate gameplay consequences. Donna asks if she can keep the snow globe and Doug agrees, as long as he can keep the briefcase and the associated documents.
The wind howls outside, and the snow continues to fall. The building is dark and cold, an icy chill creeping into every corner of the structure. Mabel and the other attendants of the White River Station have scrounged several gas lanterns from various storage rooms and lit them, but they're providing little heat and the minimal light provided still leaves the donut shop dim and shadowy.
Abruptly, bright light fills the lobby. One by one, the headlights of every car that's parked outside the station are being turned on. Over the raging blizzard you can also hear a cacophony of car horns and car alarms going off simultaneously, accompanied by the sound of windows and windshields being shattered.
At this point, the demon realizes that it still hasn't accomplished its mission, so it's trying to lure the people outside where it will have the advantage in combat. The heroes don't have to do anything of course; they can let the demon trash their cars, and right now it's still focused on trying to get them outside, rather than fighting them inside. However, several heroes have gear/weapons/valuables in their vehicles, or just might not want to have to role-play the conclusion without a working vehicle, so it's likely they'll take the bait. It's assumed that every hero that goes out to investigate keeps their car from being destroyed, while every hero that holes up inside the truck stop gets their car thrashed.
Jane's on point to protect everyone in the diner, so she's predisposed to figure out what kind of animal is causing all this ruckus. Doug likewise wants to try and get a picture of it as he senses that whatever this thing is, it's at least a one-of-a-kind supernatural encounter and he knows plenty of people that would pay handsomely for proof. Nadine understands that she'll be most effective trying to keep everyone in the diner safe, and Donna doesn't see any reason to risk her life fighting a deranged predator animal if she can help it.
For Jane and Doug:
The wind screams and rages all around you as you stumble out into the snow. It's much deeper than it looks, almost up to your knees, and you can't see anything with the snow whipping past your eyes. The instant that you both have exited the White River Station, all of the car alarms go silent.
Anyone that went outside is now involved in a combat encounter. Both Doug and Jane immediately have to make perception checks or eat a surprise round attack from the winter demon. Luckily, they both pass their surprise checks:
Despite the poor visibility and the biting cold, you sense an even greater cold approaching you. And then you see two points of fiery red, like sinister eyes burning into your soul.
Of course, avoiding the surprise round attack is just the beginning. The demon is still in its home terrain and takes the initiative, immediately trying to slash Doug with its icicle talons. Doug's not so lucky this time, and the demon stabs him directly through his right arm, dealing 3 Wounds and 1 Stun. Doug's hurting pretty good, and immediately decides that it's not worth his life to try and grab the rest of his photography equipment. He spends his action running back into the station (and since there's no system of opportunity attacks, he can do so at no risk). Jane attempts to draw a bead on the demon and fires a round from her service pistol, but it quickly vanishes back into the swirling blizzard after slashing at Doug and her shot misses the mark.
The demon acts first again and attempts to throw three deadly icicles at Jane. The icicles strike true and, due to their supernatural sharpness, penetrate even the kevlar vest she's wearing, dealing 5 Wounds and 2 Stun. This actually puts Jane over half her total Wound threshold, which prompts an endurance check to see if she remains conscious. She doesn't have Resolve - Physical Resolve and has to make an untrained Constitution check and fails, which causes her to drop unconscious. Doug watches this go down from the inside of the station, and spends his action to dash outside, pick up Jane's 9mm and then drag her body back into the station.
The white wolf-thing howls in anger as you both escape back into the station, and suddenly its corporeal form explodes apart into a thousand icy shards; a whirlwind of snow and howling wind dances and spins where the creature was standing. Dozens of shrieking voices seem to gibber and moan in the wind, accompanied by maniacal laughter. You can't see the creature any more, but you know it's out there, watching you.
And, before anyone else can react to Doug's panicked screams for assistance:
You're screaming for help at the top of your lungs when you become aware of an unexpected orange glow illuminating the dark lobby; at the same time, the unmistakable smell of smoke! From further in the lobby, the magazine stand in the corner nearest the convenience store is blazing away, and the flames are spreading fast!
NEXT TIME: Smoke and Fire.
Adventure 1: Exit 23 - Smoke and FireOriginal SA post
Adventure 1: Exit 23 - Smoke and Fire
Doug and Jane just barely survived their first encounter with whatever creature is hunting the folks at the White River Station, but their troubles are far from over. Doug and Jane are both wounded, Jane's unconscious, and Doug just managed to drag her back inside the truck stop before the creature could harm them further. Just inside the station's vestibule, Doug's shouting for anyone else to come help him.
You're screaming for help at the top of your lungs when you become aware of an unexpected orange glow illuminating the dark lobby; at the same time, the unmistakable smell of smoke! From further in the lobby, the magazine stand in the corner nearest the convenience store is blazing away, and the flames are spreading fast!
The book assumes that everyone becomes aware of the fire at the same time. Doug and an unconscious Jane are in the Vestibule (Room 1) and the rest of the station's inhabitants (including Nadine and Donna) start in the Donut Shop (Room 8). The fire has started in the northwest corner of the Lobby (Room 2), blocking the door to the Convenience Store (Room 6). This is an environment hazard encounter, where the players have to amass 10 successful action checks that extinguish the fire before it spreads. After the first 6 rounds, the Convenience Store becomes a blazing inferno that can't be put out with the materials available in the station. 6 rounds after that, the Lobby and the Donut Shop become engulfed in flame and 6 rounds after that the entire building must be abandoned before the fire consumes everything. Each player gets one action per round, so the number of players involved directly correlates with how difficult this encounter can be. How do our heroes handle the situation?
Inferno Round 1:
Doug uses his action to drag an unconscious Jane from the Vestibule into the McDonald's Restaurant (Room 9).
Jane is unconscious, but since stun damage is fully recovered at the end of the encounter in which it was earned, she's only carrying the wound damage forward. She can attempt a Resolve - Physical Resolve check to attempt to wake up, or someone with medical training can attempt to revive her. Since Nadine isn't nearby, Jane tries to overcome her incapacitation on her own, and manages to succeed despite rolling an untrained ability check. She wakes up dazed at the end of the first round.
Nadine immediately begins scouring the Donut Shop for a fire extinguisher and finds one in the restaurant's store room.
Donna wants to find a fire extinguisher too and tries to recall where else she saw one. She rolls untrained Awareness but in the heat of the moment can't recall anywhere else she might have seen one. Without any other idea of what to do, she moves into the Lobby to try and help somehow.
Inferno Round 1 Successes: 0
Inferno Round 2:
Doug sees Jane wake up and decides to look for another fire extinguisher. There's one behind the counter with the registers, but the security gate has been pulled shut and locked. Doug's still holding Jane's service pistol and decides to try and shoot the lock on the security gate. He has to make an untrained Dexterity check to hit his target and completely misses.
Jane screams at Doug for using her service weapon and runs over to him and demands he give the gun back. Doug complies, and Jane tells him to go to the Donut Shop and ask Danny if he has the key to the security gate.
Nadine carries the fire extinguisher into the Lobby, but it takes a whole round to get the device primed and ready for use.
Donna decides to move the magazine rack nearest the fire that hasn't yet combusted away from the blaze. This doesn't create any success, but does add +1 round to delay the next stage of the hazard.
Inferno Round 2 Successes: 0
Inferno Round 3:
Doug runs into the Donut Shop and finds Danny. Danny does have the key and hands it over immediately once Doug asks for it. Doug returns to McDonald's unlocks the security gate, and grabs the fire extinguisher.
Jane tries to recall if she saw any other fire extinguishers in the building. She rolls Awareness - Perception and gets an Ordinary success, which is good enough for her to recall that she saw another extinguisher over by the rest rooms. She runs from McDonald's, through the Lobby, and secures the last fire extinguisher in the rest room hallway.
Nadine can start using her extinguisher with a Dexterity check. She rolls an Ordinary success, which earns 2 hazard successes.
Donna pulls a wall rack full of vacation pamphlets down and carries it to the opposite side of the lobby, adding another round to delay the hazard.
Inferno Round 3 Successes: 2
Inferno Round 4:
Doug carries the fire extinguisher into the Lobby, but it takes a whole round to get the device primed and ready for use.
Jane carries the fire extinguisher into the Lobby, but it takes a whole round to get the device primed and ready for use.
Nadine uses her extinguisher again. She rolls a Failure, which still earns 1 hazard success, but indicates that this extinguisher is out of fluid.
Donna takes off her overcoat and tries to beat some of the flames out by smothering them. She makes a Strength check and rolls a Failure, which doesn't do anything to stop the flames and instead causes her to take 3 Stun damage from the smoke and proximity to the heat.
Inferno Round 4 Successes: 3
Inferno Round 5:
Doug uses his extinguisher and rolls an Amazing success, which earns 4 hazard successes.
Jane uses her extinguisher and rolls an Amazing success, which earns 4 hazard successes.
Nadine watches Donna deal with the smoke inhalation and decides she doesn't want to try and smother the flames herself. Since her extinguisher is out, she ducks back into the Donut Shop to try and find another source of water. She locates a mop bucket in the small kitchen behind the Donut Shop and decides to fill that with water.
Donna retreats back into the Donut Shop as well to avoid more harm from the flames.
Inferno Round 5 Successes: 11
Luckily for our heroes, they manage to extinguish the fire at the end of the fifth round! The main trick to this encounter is to locate the fire extinguishers in the truck stop ASAP because they can reward up to 4 successes on an Amazing success. If the players don't think to look for extinguishers, or they roll poorly and they break, they can either try and beat/smother the flames or try to find other containers to fill with water and then ferry them back and forth. Moving flammable material away from the fire is also a great idea, but you can only do that a maximum of 6 times.
At least you're not cold any longer. Sweat runs down your face and stings your eyes, and you're pretty sure you've got some minor burns on your hands and face, but at least you've got the fire under control. It's already dying out, but over the smell of smoke, you can make out a different odor - the sharp tang of gasoline in the air. This fire wasn't an accident!
Suddenly, you hear a couple loud bangs from behind you; the unmistakable sound of gunfire. Anne the cashier screams "Look out! He's got a gun!"
Nadine and Donna get a little more information, being that they're both in the Donut shop.
You hear several gun shots and see people screaming and diving for cover. The big trucker in the Raiders ball cap stands alone in the center of the Donut Shop, brandishing a firearm wildly while everyone else has ducked under tables or behind chairs.
Anne the cashier screams "Look out! He's got a gun!"
The trucker levels his pistol directly at her. "I won't let you imbeciles meddle with my plans any longer!" he yells. "Time to die!"
Of course the artist didn't match the written description of the hat, I am assuming for legal licensing reasons.
The heroes have started another combat encounter. All of the other NPCs are assumed to be non-combatants that will do their best to hide or avoid Dumont, but won't take direct action to confront him - you don't have to roll action check scores for them unless the players come up with some way to persuade one of them into acting. The book outlines Dumont's preferred target list, which goes: Anyone visibly brandishing a weapon > Jane (because she's a cop) > whomever happens to be nearest him. Since Jane is currently in the Lobby and no one in the Donut Shop appears to have a weapon, Dumont has decided to take his first shot at Anne because she's closest to him.
Doug gets the initiative and sees Dumont pointing his gun at Anne and decides to rush Dumont and club him with the fire extinguisher. Since he's coming from behind Dumont he manages to get right behind him before Dumont even knows what's coming. Doug rolls an Amazing success; he bashes Dumont in the back of the skull with the wide end of the extinguisher. This fractures Dumont's skull, causing fragments of bone and gouts of blood to explode in a fan of gore (4 points of Mortal damage). Dumont immediately drops to the ground like a sack of bricks, making a sickening gurgling sound.
The trucker is a big man and his eyes are struggling to focus; his body has begun to convulse as it goes into shock from the trauma and blood loss. He manages to choke out a threat before the spark of life leaves him completely, "My friend in the storm will dispose of you one by one. When morning comes, you'll all be frozen corpses!"
So, that ended faster than anyone would have expected.
Outside, the wind howls. You hear glass breaking and the doors of the lobby are flung open. A gust of icy wind sweeps through the building, as the storm suddenly reaches out for you. The squall knocks over all of the assembled gas lanterns, and as they gutter out you are left in complete darkness!
NEXT TIME: Victory?
Adventure 1: Exit 23 - Victory?Original SA post
Adventure 1: Exit 23 - Victory?
Outside, the wind howls. You hear glass breaking and the doors of the lobby are flung open. A gust of icy wind sweeps through the building, as the storm suddenly reaches out for you. The squall knocks over all of the assembled gas lanterns, and as they gutter out you are left in complete darkness!
Doug managed to dispatch Dumont in one round without anyone else taking damage or suffering a fatality, but now the ice demon that's been haunting the White River Station is pissed. It knows that the only person capable of releasing it from its bondage is now dead (that was Dumont), and realizes that its only remaining chance for freedom is to find the magical focus that's binding it to our plane of reality. It doesn't know exactly what the focus is, but it can smell it with its supernatural senses, and the demon's positive that someone in the truck stop still has it. With this in mind, the demon decides the most expedient course of action is to murder all of the pesky humans that are still in the station and then look for the focus afterwards without interruption.
At this point, the Demon has entered through the hallway door past the arcade and the bathrooms (Rooms 3-5). Jane is still in the Lobby (Room 2) and Donna, Doug and Nadine are all in the Donut Shop (Room 8). Again, all of the other NPCs are assumed to be non-combatants that will do their best to hide or avoid the demon, but won't take direct action to confront it (and it's even harder for the heroes to convince them to act against the demon than it would have been to convince them to act against Dumont). The demon's preferred target list: Anyone visibly handling the snow globe (currently Doug) > Anyone visibly handling a weapon > Whomever is closest. The complete lack of visibility (remember, the demon extinguishes all the gas lamps when the scene starts) adds a +1 penalty modifier to any actions that require visual acuity, but at least the demon no longer gets combat bonuses for being in its home terrain (even though snow has started to blow into the station, it's still considered indoors).
The Decisive Battle Round 1:
Jane gets to act first. She's still pretty seriously wounded (4/9 Wounds remaining) but her first duty is to try and protect the other people in the station. She's not sure where the demon's going to come from, but she doesn't want to put anyone else at risk. She moves back into the McDonald's (Room 9) because it's a big room and she doesn't think anyone else is in there. She takes partial cover behind a table and chairs and holds her action to take a shot at the demon with her service pistol if it enters her field of view.
The Demon acts next. It doesn't see anyone in the hallway, so it moves from the hallway into the Lobby (Room 2). This allows Jane to see the monster and she immediately takes her held action to shoot at it. Unfortunately, between the darkness and the distance to her target, Jane misses her shot. Now the demon is aware that someone is shooting at it from McDonald's! It spends the rest of its action to move into the restaurant to finish off Jane.
Nadine has stopped filling her bucket with water. She hears Jane's gunfire and sees the demon dash across the Lobby. She's not armed with any kind of weapon, and starts to panic at the hopelessness of her situation. She wracks her brain trying to come up with some way to survive this encounter; making an untrained Awareness check, she manages to roll a Good success. In a moment of inspiration, Nadine begins to wonder if a snow demon would be at all adverse to fire. She remembers that she has 6 road flares in her car and decides to make a dash for the parking lot to try and extricate them from her vehicle - with her action, she moves from the Donut shop (Room 8) out to the Vestibule (Room 1).
Donna also sees the demon dash from the bathroom hallway and into the McDonald's and hears Jane's accompanying report. Although she still has her hold-out pistol in her purse, she's not entirely sure it's even worth trying to shoot whatever the hell it is that's now running around the station. She decides to sneak into the Convenience Store (Room 6) and see if there's anything she could possibly use to protect herself. She also makes an untrained Awareness check and gets an Ordinary success and finds several aerosol cans of AXE Body Spray along with a box of Bic lighters. She recalls reading a news article years ago about some teenager that managed to give themselves 3rd degree burns by trying to turn a can of hairspray into a flamethrower, but decides it might be worth the risk if it allows her to survive the night.
Doug is still trying to mentally process the fact that he just killed a man and the delay causes him to act last. By the time he's able to process what's going on, Donna and Nadine have already left the Donut Shop and the ice demon is bearing down on Jane. Thinking quickly, Doug scoops up the 9mm pistol that Dumont had been holding and dashes into the Lobby (Room 2). He's coming up behind his target again and decides to squeeze off a shot from the pistol. Unfortunately, his complete lack of familiarity with firearms and the stress of the situation cause his shot to go wide. It's not immediately clear whether the demon even notices his failed attack.
The Decisive Battle Round 2:
Nadine is the only one that didn't blow her initiative roll this round. She runs out of the Vestibule (Room 1) and into the parking lot, finds her vehicle, and manages to stuff all 6 road flares into her jacket pockets. Feeling a little more confident about her chances, she steels herself to go back inside and face the monster.
Donna wedges two AXE cans into her pockets, along with 2 lighters, and keeps a third can and lighter in her hands. She's heard the second gunshot by this point and her adrenaline is kicking, so she dashes back into the Lobby (Room 2) to confront her fears. At this point the demon is still on the opposite side of the room, so she spends the rest of her action prepping her makeshift flamethrower in case the demon rushes her.
Jane hears Doug's report but can't see the source and anyway the ice demon is bearing down directly on her! She squeezes off another shot from her pistol, and this time she hits her target! Unfortunately, if the ice demon was affected by the bullet it doesn't even show it (taking only 5 Stun damage). Jane then attempts to put some more distance between herself and the demon and dives behind the low counter of the napkin and ketchup station.
Doug sees Donna emerge from the Convenience store with her unorthodox flamethrower and realizes that fighting ice with fire might not be the worst idea. However, he's still holding the 9mm and decides to take another shot at the demon with the weapon he's already holding. He manages to roll an Ordinary success by the slimmest of margins, but again the demon doesn't respond with pain when the bullet blows a chunk of ice out of its torso (taking only 2 Stun damage).
The Demon is quickly realizing that its human prey aren't as harmless as they seem. Although both gunshots thus far haven't been fatal, it's nearly disoriented from the damage it has taken. Suddenly, the demon's supernatural senses kick into overdrive, and it realizes that the human shooting it from the opposite doorway is holding the magical foci (snow globe)! It lets loose an inhuman roar and dashes across the Lobby to viciously stab its target. It strikes true, stabbing Doug in his chest very near the pocket that's holding the snow globe. Doug recoils in pain (taking 3 Wound and 1 Stun damage) and since he's now lost more than half his total wounds, must make a Stamina - Endurance check to stay conscious. Unfortunately he fails, which means he collapses to the ground and drops Dumont's pistol.
The Decisive Battle Round 3:
Jane gets to act first again. From her vantage point, all that she can tell is that the demon suddenly moved away from her and instead attacked one of the other men in the station. She moves out from her cover and towards the McDonald's doorway and finds the ice demon now looming over Doug, fresh blood slowly freezing on its claws. Angry and frustrated, she curses the monster and fires another shot from her pistol. Another Ordinary success, and again the bullet doesn't even seem to phase the demon (taking only 2 Stun damage).
Nadine returns from the parking lot, making it as far as the Vestibule (Room 1) before looking into the Lobby and seeing the dire situation within. Acting on instinct, she grabs one of her road flares, cracks it to life, and hurls the flaming torch at the demon. She misses, but the open flame produces an immediate reaction from the demon as the road flare clatters to the ground near its feet. The creature roars again recoils away from the flare.
Donna also screams, a guttural noise of terror and adrenaline. Holding the AXE can aloft, she flicks her lighter, depresses the spray tab, and hopes for the best. The fireball that explodes from the can looks impressive, but neither item is actually intended to function as a weapon, and she fails to aim the blast accurately enough to hit the demon. Still, it shrieks again in panic at the sight of the massive gout of flame.
Doug has a chance to try and recover from his unconscious state. However, he fails his Stamina - Endurance check again, which leaves him helpless before the whims of the ice demon.
The Demon is in panic mode. It desperately wants to shred Doug's clothing to find where he's stashed the snow globe, but there's a lit road flare lying only a few feet away, and another one of the humans just launched a massive fireball in its direction. It has to make a successful Willpower ability check with a +2 penalty to remain near Doug's body on account of the road flare; it gets an Ordinary success, which is good enough. With little care for the human beneath it, the demon uses its razor sharp claws to slice into Doug's clothing, hunting for the snow globe. This process gravely injures Doug (he takes 6 Wound and 3 Stun damage) and since he's now lost all of his Wound points, he's at serious risk of dying. However, the demon manages to reclaim the snow globe from his shredded vest. The monster is victorious!
The howling of the wind and the screaming winter-demon rise to an intolerable pitch. Stinging ice scours your flesh, and waves of bitter cold rake your body. Then, the creature seems to explode into a spray of ice, dissipating in the wind. Its chattering howls die with it, slowly fading away. The wind relents, and the malign sentience of the storm outside seems to vanish as well. As mysteriously as the demon appeared, it's gone.
Nadine is able to utilize her medical training and the trauma kit from the trunk of her car to stabilize Doug and snatch him from the jaws of death. The remaining survivors utilize whatever else they can scrounge from the truck stop to relight the gas lanterns and huddle together for warmth. Sometime shortly after sunrise, Jonas Riley becomes conscious again, though he's weak and exhausted. He does his best to carefully question everyone present, and manages to compile a more-or-less accurate version of the night's events based on everyone's recollections.
When the rest of the survivors agree that Jane, Doug, Nadine and Donna were directly responsible for everyone's safety, he thanks them graciously and hands each of them one of his business cards for the Hoffman Institute. "You've all handled yourselves with remarkable courage and resourcefulness, and you kept almost everyone here alive. We're extremely interested in hiring people like you," he explains.
Once the first snow plows arrive and see the carnage at the scene, emergency calls are made for medical and police assistance. Jonas manages to insinuate himself as the de-facto spokesperson for the survivors; everyone else is either too exhausted or too injured to want to deal with the sudden influx of government agents. Jonas is in his element though, and manages to secure medical treatment for everyone in need, as well as provide an extremely plausible cover story about a deranged trucker gone off the deep end (essentially blaming Dumont for all of the death and destruction and completely ignoring the supernatural element). Everyone more or less corroborates his story with their accounts, and the whole thing is chalked up to the deranged nature of one lone psychopath.
Time passes; bones heal, wounds mend. Although the survivors eventually go their separate ways, it isn't long before each of you are again contacted by Jonas Riley of the enigmatic Hoffman Institute. You each share a unique bond, having survived a direct encounter with the supernatural, and Jonas explains to each of you how your particular skill set and penchant for survival are valuable tools in his particular line of work. After enough gentile persuasion, he manages to convince each of you to meet up with him again, this time for a formal job offer at a Hoffman Institute branch office. The offer is too good to refuse, and in short order you find yourself signing on the dotted line, newly inducted Agents in Training in the employ of the Hoffman Institute.
If only you knew then what was going to happen next, would you have still made this choice?
The four heroes chosen for the adventure didn't actually do too poorly. The main thing that was working against them was the fact that none of the four possessed any knowledge of, or familiarity with, the occult or supernatural. Dr. Akens is the only pre-gen hero with occult knowledge, so without him you're basically relying on the players to get extremely creative with how they solve problems. The only things that the party really missed out on that Dr. Akens could have changed would have been learning early on that the monster was likely afraid of / weak to fire (it actually completely negates its armor), that it's likely also vulnerable to silver (doesn't completely ignore the demon's armor, but downgrades it to Ordinary quality) and more information about the snow globe (including how to destroy it).
Some of that information could have also been pried out of Dumont if they had managed to subdue him rather than immediately merk him (nice Amazing melee roll, Doug) which actually makes it one of the few situations in an RPG where it's better to try and subdue your foe, but that might not occur to many real players either. Also, the monster can't actually be killed unless you destroy the snow globe first; even if you use fire, it'll eventually reform itself on the material plane and resume its hunt for the globe.
There's also the chance the the players might not resolve the fire encounter before it gets out of hand - it's entirely possible that the fire consumes the entire truck stop, which forces everyone out into the blizzard, which means the ice demon likely slays everyone in record time.
And it's possible that none of the players ever discover the snow globe in the bathroom trashcan in the first place; in that case, Dumont recovers it right before the fire encounter, and once he has it he effectively controls the demon as a minion, so it's very likely he can slaughter everyone in the truck stop with little difficulty. He still starts the fire, and then when everyone is trying to put it out, he and the demon ambush the survivors, starting with the heroes. Although the demon normally fears fire, in this case Dumont can force the demon to obey his commands, so it doesn't have to make Willpower checks to stay in combat.
One situation that the book doesn't cover is "What if the heroes just give the demon the snow globe?" Since the demon's only motivated to escape its bondage, RAW giving it the snow globe would allow it to immediately flee the White River Station, leaving Dumont completely without a plan. I would imagine that at that point he'd either freak out and attempt to murder everyone anyway, or else if the players seem particularly competent and well armed, he might just slink back out to his truck and become a recurring nemesis for the party (still nursing his grudge for them freeing his bound ice demon).
Another situation the book doesn't cover: if the players find the snow globe, manage to destroy the demon and subdue/kill Dumont, but don't destroy the snow globe or turn it back over to Jonas in the morning, then the ice demon itself could become a recurring nemesis for the party. It continues to hunt them over and over until it's either successful in recovering the globe, the players destroy the globe themselves, or they realize that the demon is bound to the globe and turn the ice demon into their own minion. The last option here seems like the biggest risk for a GM as the ice demon is a definite combat monster, and you'd need to come up with some pretty significant consequences to counterbalance the fact that the players can call on it whenever they're in trouble.
All-in-all, I like this adventure and think it does a decent enough job introducing new players to the setting and giving them an idea of what an average adventure should look like. It's potentially short enough that you could run it in one session, and provides multiple interesting implications for future adventures, regardless of how the party resolves it.
NEXT TIME: The Second Pre-made Adventure
Adventure 2: Raw Recruits - Background & OverviewOriginal SA post
Adventure 2: Raw Recruits - Background & Overview
Welcome to Raw Recruits, the second pre-gen adventure in the Dark*Matter campaign guide! This adventure is intended to work for either new players or for parties that have some experience under their belts. Since they all survived, I'll be re-using the four heroes from the first adventure - Donna, Doug, Jane and Nadine - and assuming that this second adventure marks their first real operation as agents of the Hoffman Institute. I'm going to assume that they've spent the last few months undergoing the necessary training and education that the Hoffman Institute requires, and consequently I've advanced each of them to level 3. What did each hero learn during their compulsory education at Hoffman University?
Donna made it out of the White River Station with little more than some slight irritation from smoke inhalation. While the events of the evening still plague her dreams, she's more or less put it behind her and used her new employment opportunity with the Hoffman Institute to distract her from the memories. After signing on, she picked up a variety of new skills over the course of her training - she got better at evading combat, focused on learning how to shoot her pistol effectively, trained her body to resist shock and pain, picked up basic computer skills and learned to pay more attention to her surroundings.
Acrobatics - Dodge Rank Benefit (-2) [Dodge + Action in same round] / Modern Ranged Weapons - Pistol (-4) / Stamina - Endurance (-4) / Knowledge - Computer Operations (-1) / Awareness - Perception (-2)
Doug had a rough time of it at the White River Station, what with being savagely attacked by a bonafide Stranger. While the physical trauma has healed, the mental anguish he experienced due to the unnatural source of the attack seems to have had a more profound effect on Doug - he's developed a previously unrealized psychic power. Since the trigger was an encounter with a demon of ice and snow, his psyche's response has been the spontaneous generation of pyrokinetic prowess. Unfortunately for Doug his powers only seem to function when he's feeling stress or frustration, and this has driven him to spend the majority of his time with the Hoffman Institute attempting to learn everything he can about his new powers (and researching psychic phenomena in general).
Flaw: Wild Talent (+6) [Powers can trigger accidentally when under duress] / Telekinesis - Pyrokinetics (-12) / Lore - Psychic Lore (-7)
Jane has made the transition from civil servant to private investigator with some difficulty. While it took very little effort for the Hoffman Institute to secure her "transfer" from her previous job as a highway patrol officer, Jane still isn't completely comfortable in the new world of secrets and the supernatural and conspiracies in which she finds herself. To that end, she's doubled her focus down on the skills that were most familiar from her life as a police officer, and decided that if she's going to work with spooks and spies, she'll continue to keep to her own code of conduct.
Flaw: Code of Honor (+3) [Observe Police procedure and follow the law] / Modern Ranged Weapon - Pistol +1 (-4) [Rank Benefit - Quick Draw] / Knowledge - Deduce (-2) / Investigate - Research (-10)
Nadine survived the White River Station with the least trauma and, consequently, felt the least obligated to consider the employment offer from the Hoffman Institute. While they promised her a generous salary, what finally brought her around was the opportunity to test her expertise as a medical professional in new and unusual circumstances - xenobiology, cryptozoology, and alien bacteria are infinitely more interesting to her than anything she had going in her civilian life. Nadine's spent her training time by exhausting the Hoffman Institute archives of their supernatural materials.
Life Science - Biology +1 (-4) and Genetics (-2) / Awareness - Perception (-2) / Resolve (-5)
Adventure Background: Over the past 75 years, nearly 5,000 total case files have been linked to the American Midwest - religious phenomena, hauntings, the spiritualist movement, Bigfoot sightings, UFO encounters and Illuminati machinations. The Hoffman Institute established their Chicago branch in 1927 and the Chicago Specimen Collection in 1934, both to keep a close eye on this region of the U.S. and to provide a safe space to catalogue and research all of the various things that HI operations uncover.
Overview: Raw Recruits focuses specifically on an investigation into the alleged poltergeist activity within the Desmond family home in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The heroes from the previous adventure have been sent out to the HI Chicago branch to rendezvous with the Facility Chief R.A. Patterson, whom will act as their handler for the assignment. Following the introduction, they're sent out to the scene of the incidents to try and figure out whether or not there's genuine paranormal phenomena or whether it's an elaborate hoax. Things are definitely not what they seem at first glance, and it's up to the heroes to figure out why these phenomena keep occurring, and in so doing, potentially save the life of an innocent teen. However, the heroes aren't the only individuals investigating this case, and it's likely to turn into a race against time as the heroes attempt to resolve the situation before any of the other players can beat them to the punch and score their own victories. Much like the Exit 23, there's multiple ways this adventure can be concluded, and not all of the potential endings are happy.
NEXT TIME: Act I - The Briefing, the House and the Poltergeist
Adventure 2: Raw Recruits - Extraneous Exposition & PixelbitchingOriginal SA post
Adventure 2: Raw Recruits - Extraneous Exposition & Pixelbitching
Let's kick off the second adventure with a
You have each had contact with the private organization known as the Hoffman Institute. Though the average person knows HI as merely a non-profit think tank (as stated in its PR brochures), you know it as an organization involved in investigating paranormal activities.
A few days ago, your association with the institute changed when you graduated from HI's boot camp for new agents. You've received a summons to a briefing at the Chicago branch office; according to the summons, you're expected to meet with Facility Chief R. A. Patterson at 10 o'clock sharp on Friday morning. Looks like your plan to spend the weekend celebrating your graduation are shot!
Having assembled in the briefing room at the Chicago branch office, Patterson notes each of your presence, clears his throat, and begins.
"As you know, the Hoffman Institute is interested in the investigation of unusual and paranormal incidents. We've had a report of alleged poltergeist activity not too far from here, and I felt this would be an excellent opportunity for you to undertake your first true mission as agents of the Hoffman Institute."
Patterson slides several folders full of documents across the large table you're all occupying and continues. "These briefing packets contain details on the incident site, the parties involved, and old HI files that could possibly be related. Peruse and study them for the next three hours, but these documents do not leave this room."
He pauses for emphasis after that last declaration. "As you'll be investigating an incident involving skeptical civilians, your cover will be that you're all part of an HI documentary team. The Desmond family - they own the property in question - and have already been contacted and have agreed to open their home and allow their interviews to be used in a fictitious cable documentary and related dramatic novelization. While you're welcome to take your own modes of transportation, an HI van will be provided, as well as the necessary equipment that would allow you to appear to be a documentary crew; I'd suggest that at least two of you arrive in the van, in order to keep the charade alive. Of course all reasonable expenses will be covered by the institute, and you'll receive a full recruitment stipend upon your return.
Patterson leans over the table to make his next point. "How you perform this investigation is up to your own discretion, but remember that we value our secrecy here. Try not to break your cover, and remember that we have no actual state or federal authority backing us. You're expected to visit the site by 3pm today, and it's about an hour-and-a-half away from this office, so budget your time wisely."
"I'm sure you have many questions, but I trust you'll be able to determine the answers yourselves, either by examining the briefing documents or through your own deductive efforts. One measure of your success will be your ability to determine the proper answers without being told. In fact, if you complete this mission to my satisfaction, I'll put in a recommendation that you each be promoted to Full Agent status within the institute."
With that, Patterson walks out the door and closes it behind him. Your first mission has begun!
Come for the middle-aged middle manager's lengthy harangue, stay because of arbitrarily imposed time constraints!
Not the most engaging start by any measure. Oh well, each of the packets Patterson left on the conference table are stamped CASE FILE 01-43A28-0007453: CONFIDENTIAL. In all, there are more than 75 pages contained within, including hand written accounts, witness reports from anonymous sources and even a mimeograph copy from the earliest days of the Chicago branch. The book instructs us to give each of the players the first of 9 handouts, and for each hour of game time each hero spends reading, they can review an additional document. The trick here is that the heroes are all going to be reading the same documents in the same order unless they specify that they're dividing up the workload to cover as much material as possible - for example, if four heroes spend two game hours reading, they'll all get handouts 1, 2, and 3 by default. They can specify a different order (player one reads handout 2 and 3, players two reads handout 4 and 5) but in that case the expectation is that the players' characters won't all have read all of the documents, so different characters will have different gaps in their knowledge.
Except, there's at least a 90 minute drive from the Chicago office out to the site of the investigation, which is considerably enough time for a group of investigators to share what they've read. I'm completely mystified why it's important that the adventure goes to all this effort to turn the adventure handouts into an exercise in pixel bitching.
We also get a detailed list of the equipment that HI is going to allow the players to use - a modern commercial van with a nondescript black exterior (seats 6), two micro-casette recorders with 6 micro-cassettes, a video recorder with sensor boom 6 blank video tapes, HI approved cellphones (Androids with a custom HI OS hacked on), a 13" color TV/VHS player combo mounted inside the van, a portable gas generator, a first aid kit and a basic roadside emergency toolkit. Heroes can attempt to requisition any additional equipment that they want, but the requisition process eats up 1/2/3 hours of time (depending on how successful the hero rolls) which directly eats into the three hour window they've been given for research.
Alright, so these handouts must be pretty sweet right, based on all the special rules we've been given about them? Well, judge for yourself!
That's a lot to digest, and the next scene involves the investigators' first visit to the Desmond residence, so I'll break this off here.
One of the handouts is from a different case and shouldn't have been included in the packet that the players receive. Which one was it?
NEXT TIME: Act I - The Haunted House
Adventure 2: Raw Recruits - The Haunted House and the PoltergeistOriginal SA post
Adventure 2: Raw Recruits - The Haunted House and the Poltergeist
The next scene starts with - you guessed it - exposition!
You all arrive at the Desmond house about ninety minutes after leaving Chicago. The house itself is unassuming, a roaming ranch house with a dark-stained wood exterior that faces south onto Polk Road. It rests on the corner of Polk and Wilson roads, often-patched two-lane roads. Older wooden poles support both the streetlights and the power and phone lines. As you gather your cameras, tape recorders and brief cases, you notice numerous cars parked on both sides of the street opposite the house, including a squad car from the local police department. Peter Desmond happens to be standing on his front porch as you arrive, and greets you with a cautious smile, gesturing for you to enter into the front room of the house.
On the ride over, the group decides that Nadine will pretend to be the leader interviewer, Doug will reprise his pre-HI employment as the cameraman, Jane will pretend to be the muscle/equipment manager, and Donna will act like she's evaluating the house for potential paranormal hot spots. As the group unloads from their van and assembles their gear, each of them make an Awareness - Perception check.
Doug and Jane are both too preoccupied with getting all the camera equipment set-up and staged in the Desmond house to notice much of anything else. Since Donna and Nadine aren't as busy with manual labor, they both take a moment to observe the rest of the neighborhood around the property, and simultaneously notice that one of the many vehicles lining the street is currently occupied by two people - it's a nondescript, current-model black SUV (Suburban or Tahoe or whatever) and it's facing north towards the Desmond house. The windows have limo-quality tint so it's not possible for them to see any other details about the vehicle's occupants, and Jane and Doug finish their set-up shortly thereafter and summon Donna and Nadine into the house. When they enter the house, they find Peter making idle conversation.
Peter Desmond posted:
Let me introduce you to my family! I'm Peter, of course, and this is my wife Susan and our daughter Betsy. Jerry isn't home right yet, but he'll be here as soon as school lets out; he doesn't want to miss this for the world. He's got a big game tonight, but he shares my interest in the paranormal and he really wants to speak with you, since he was the one that discovered your website. I was actually a little surprised that you were even interested in our problem, but we're more than happy to help with your documentary.
Susan then offers to provide the investigators with a tour of the house. Jane and Donna agree to follow her, while Nadine and Doug stay in the living room to prep for the "interview". Peter seems eager to chat, and ends up making small talk with Nadine and Doug while they work. Susan likewise gives Jane and Donna the lowdown on the various supernatural events that have happened in each room of the house. The tour of the house itself is uneventful; it's very much a typical middle-class home and none of the rooms presently contain anything out of the ordinary. Betsy follows her mother throughout the house, but takes a particular interest in Nadine after she produces an ectoplasmic spectrometer (a bogus device with some LED lights and rotating flanges) and peppers Nadine with questions about her job in-between her mother's explanations.
In total, the investigators can uncover the following information:
- The earliest manifestations (benignly floating objects) started about 11 months ago, in Jerry's room and the hallway adjacent to it.
- The manifestations first became violent about 3 months ago. The most dangerous manifestation occurred in the dining room, knocking everything not nailed down to the floor, and trashing the heavy oak table by lifting it up to the ceiling and then dropping it back to the ground, blowing out all 4 table legs.
- Susan was the first person to notice any of the manifestations, due to her insomnia. As the manifestations have become more prevalent, everyone in the family has now experienced at least one, and they don't seem to have a specific rhythm to their occurrence (happening during both day and night).
- Jerry has been coming home less and less frequently, except to eat and to sleep. Susan is worried that the stress of the manifestations are keeping him away, but Peter believes he's just going through a teenage phase and that it'll even back out eventually.
As the Desmonds are talking, Doug has a chance to employ the knowledge about the occult that's he's picked up since working with HI. He makes an untrained Lore check and gets an Ordinary success, and realizes that the Desmonds' account of the different manifestation events don't share very much in common with the average incident reports of hauntings (no local temperature shifts, no unexplained noises or spectral visions). Nadine and Donna both roll skill checks to represent their participation in the conversations: Nadine rolls Interaction - Charm and Donna rolls Deception - Bluff and they both secure Ordinary successes, so the Desmond family completely buys their cover story as paranormal investigators. So far, so good.
As you continue your discussion and interviews with the Desmonds, the front door opens and three people enter: a tall, athletic young man with black hair, a broad-shouldered, hulking teenager with a baby-face, and a primly dressed woman in her mid-30s with auburn hair. The two boys are excited and smiling as they approach.
"Hey, Mister D - are these the ghost filming people?" the larger teen asks with a wide grin.
"Yes, Nick, these are the folks from the Hoffman Institute. Like their website says, they're interested in esoteric and exotic research, not 'ghost films.' Now, don't you have somewhere to be?"
Nick shrugs and begins making faces at Betsy, who giggles at first but turns pale when she sees her brother Jerry.
Shoving Nick out of the way playfully, Jerry introduces himself to your group. "You're that documentary crew from the Institute, right? This is too cool! I found your website, but this sure didn't seem like the kind of thing a private think tank would care about. How long are you planning on staying? I don't want to miss anything, but Nick and I have the big game against Bradford tonight, and Coach will kill us if we're late."
Jerry is genuinely excited, though it's impossible to tell whether it's about the documentary or the game. He then introduces the woman behind him as "Miss Jernigan, our neighbor and the best teacher we've got at McKinley!"
She replies, "Jerry overstates. I wish he had a passion for American history like he does for ghosts and goblins. And my name is Amanda." She shakes everyone's hand firmly, a polite smile across her face. "It's a pleasure to meet you all, but I have errands to run before I go to cheer these boys to victory tonight. I just wanted to drop off this award that Jerry left in class today. If you'll excuse me?"
Amanda sets a small plaque on top of Jerry's school books on the side table. She opens the screen door, nodding to Peter and Susan as she exits; beyond her, storming up the front walk, is an older man in a blue baseball cap, varsity jacket and blue jeans. Nick gasps "Oh man, Coach is really pissed about something!"
Just as Amanda passes the man on the sidewalk, the heavy front door of the Desmond house slams shut, without anyone having touched it! Everyone suddenly hears Susan screaming from the kitchen as a pot filled with boiling water and potatoes levitates up off the stove!
Time for a hazard encounter! All four investigators roll for initiative, while each member of the Desmond family (plus Nick) are treated as non-professional NPCs and act only on the last (Marginal) phase of each round.
THE POLTERGEIST Round 1:
Doug becomes inexplicably overwhelmed with stress and spontaneously loses control of his burgeoning Pyrokinteics power (thanks, Wild Talent flaw). He immediately targets the coffee table opposite him, causing a fireball to erupt and engulf it. Of course, the effect of the Pyrokinteics power acts like a grenade, so in addition to trashing the coffee table, he deals 2 wound damage and 1 stun damage to both Peter and Nadine.
Nadine shrieks in pain as a fireball suddenly erupts from the coffee table about 2 meters away from her. The flash of flame wreathes around her clothing, and she uses her action to sprint from the living room (5) to the southwest bathroom (8), cranking on the shower and jumping into it fully clothed.
Donna is standing in the dining room (3) near the kitchen, and watches the pot of boiling food fly up into the air. Not sure what to do, she grabs a decorative candlestick from the table and tries to throw it at the pot. She rolls an untrained Athletics check, and misses the mark entirely.
??? takes the opportunity to hurl the boiling pot directly through the kitchen entry and towards the front door of the house. Nick only has a moment to react, and he attempts to put his large body in front of Betsy as the pot comes flying. He's successful in protecting Betsy, but suffers 3 Stun damage as scalding hot water and cooking potatoes splash onto his head and down his back.
Jane wasn't expecting any of this to happen and is caught completely by surprise. By the time she's regained her senses enough to react, Peter Desmond is engulfed in flame. Thinking on her feet, she pulls a large winter jacket off a coat hook and throws it over him, attempting to smother the fire. She makes an Athletics check and gets an Amazing success, which allows her to completely smother the flames. Susan stands shrieking in the kitchen, Betsy crouches shrieking behind Nick, and Jerry appears to be paralyzed with fear in the front hallway.
THE POLTERGEIST Round 2:
Doug loses his shit again and causes another fireball to erupt, this time in the kitchen near Susan. Flames explode out of the oven, dealing 4 Wound and 2 Stun damage to her.
??? whips every loose object in the living room into a whirlwind and tries to nail Doug and Jane with something sharp or heavy. Doug manages to duck in time, but Jane isn't so lucky and catches a decorative picture frame to her dome; fortunately this only deals a single point of Stun damage.
Nadine cradles herself in the bathtub as the shower extinguishes the flames on her clothing. Terrified out of her mind, she decides to stay curled in the tub rather than return to the living room.
Donna can only watch in terror as the oven belches flames that engulf Susan. By the time she has recovered from her shock, it's all she can do to dash into the kitchen, wrench the extendable faucet from the sink, and hose Susan with a stream of cold water. The flames are extinguished, but it's clear Susan has suffered severe burns.
Jane tries to shrug off the blow from the picture frame. As she's recovering, she makes an Awareness - Perception check and just barely manages to notice that Jerry hasn't been directly affected by any of the poltergeist's actions yet. In fact, Jane recalls that he was staring directly at the collection of picture frames on the wall before they were ripped loose and thrown at her head. Nick is hastily trying to open the front door, but seems physically unable to turn the deadbolt lock; Betsy continues to scream and wail at his feet, while Peter lies weeping on the floor, smoldering underneath his jacket. Finally, someone begins pounding on the front door from outside the house.
THE POLTERGEIST Round 3:
Doug just can't catch a break, and manifests another pyrokinetic blast. This time it doesn't target anyone in the home, but it does cause an end table near the camera equipment to burst into flames.
??? decides to have some fun with Donna, and attempts to telekinetically smash her into the burning oven. She's unprepared to resist her unseen assailant, and it successfully throws her off her feet and into the oven's flames. She takes 4 Wound damage and 2 Stun damage and also begins howling in pain.
Jane yanks the winter jacket off of Peter and attempts to use it to smother the flames burning on the end table. She makes an Athletics check and gets an Ordinary success, which is sufficient to put out the flames but completely ruins the jacket in the process.
Nadine hears more explosions and more screaming and continues to hide inside the bathtub, shaking with fear.
Donna acts on animal instinct, rolling herself out of the burning oven and grabbing for the sink faucet again. She begins to spray herself with water, preventing herself from suffering further burns. The old man from the walkway appears outside of the big picture window in the living room and begins to pound on it frantically with his fists. Nick is now attempting to batter down the front door, but despite his considerable bulk he's unable to bust it open. Peter and Susan continue to stay planted, both covering their heads with their arms. Betsy hasn't stopped screaming, but has turned towards the picture window once Jerry's coach begins banging on it.
THE POLTERGEIST Round 4:
??? picks up the smoldering coffee table and chucks it directly into the plate glass window. Nobody inside the house is in the way, but the weight of the table and the explosive force of the glass shards put the old man in danger. Inexplicably, he manages to throw himself sideways a second before the table shatters the window, and avoids taking any damage.
Donna is in mild shock, and continues to spray both herself and Susan with the sink faucet.
Nadine cringes violently when she hears something explode the front window of the house, but otherwise remains crouched in the tub.
Jane thinks quickly and jumps through the shattered window and down into the front yard. She lands on top of the busted remains of the coffee table, makes an Awareness - Perception check and gets an Ordinary success. She manages to catch a glimpse of Amanda Jernigan climbing into the back of a nondescript, current-model black SUV (Suburban or Tahoe or whatever). It immediately pulls out onto the street and drives away from the Desmond home. She's not able to ID the vehicle's plates before it moves beyond her field of vision.
Doug finally manages to get his Wild Talent under control, and almost collapses to floor from the exhausting effort. His mind begins racing, trying to think of how he'll explain what he just did, when it occurs to him that nobody else is aware of his latent psychic powers, and he could just as easily blame the fireworks on the poltergeist. He notices that Betsy has ceased screaming, and Jerry has completely collapsed to the floor, drenched in sweat. From outside the house, the wail of sirens can be heard. Concerned neighbors begin to mass on the sidewalk in front of the Desmond home, and it's evident that at least one of them must have called 911. About this time Nick finally manages to smash the deadbolt through the frame of the front door, and he nearly falls onto the front porch from the effort. Everyone clenches their teeth for several agonizing moments, before it appears that the manifestation may be over.
NEXT TIME: Act II - Puzzle Pieces
Adventure 2: Raw Recruits - Puzzle PiecesOriginal SA post
Adventure 2: Raw Recruits - Puzzle Pieces
It's been a minute since we last left our band of intrepid investigators. Following an unexpectedly violent poltergeist manifestation, the Desmond family home is more-or-less thrashed and both Nadine and Donna are suffering from second degree burns.
As the emergency services personnel roll up to the scene, Nadine helps Donna over to the HI camera van, procures the first aid kit within and attempts to heal both of their injuries. Nadine gets an Amazing success on both Medical Science - Treatment complex skill checks (they were only Ordinary difficulty) and heals 2 wound for both her and Donna. Nadine is actually back to full health, and Donna is only down 2 Wounds; per the Alternity rules, Donna won't be able to recover the remaining 2 Wounds except via natural healing (as you can't get the benefit of medical attention on the same injury more than once). Susan Desmond is loaded into an ambulance and rushed off to the hospital, while Peter Desmond stays back to ensure that Jerry and Betsy are safe and cared for.
Since Jane and Doug were completely unharmed, they decide to try and uncover as much information about the scene as possible before the police and other authorities start digging through it. Doug decides that he'll try to do a quick search of the residence to see what clues he can find, while Jane attempts to interview the other witnesses.
Doug uses Investigate - Search and Lore - Psychic Lore and gets an Amazing success and a Good success. He uncovers:
* Jerry's stack of school books have remained undisturbed despite the chaos; these are the only lightweight items that don't seem to have been affected. Doug notices that they're weighed down by the award that Ms. Jernigan had placed on top of them; when he picks up the award he notices the bottom of the object has scratches along the slots for the four screws set into the base.
* Jerry didn't actually suffer any damage during the poltergeist manifestation; however, he still looks completely physically exhausted. It's entirely possible that the exhaustion is just the result of the traumatic experience, but Doug also recalls that physical exhaustion is a common symptom when untrained psychics manifest their powers.
* An overturned lamp in the living room seems to have some type of sparkling wire exposed from inside the shade; upon closer inspection it becomes obvious that this mysterious filament more closely resembles some kind of electronic circuit and it encircles the entire shade.
* A quick search around the living room and dining room reveal that every single light cover in both rooms has some amount of this mysterious circuitry attached somewhere along an inside seam. Doug recalls that he had read about prototype psychic inhibitors while researching his own condition, the designs of which look remarkably similar to the circuits he's discovered around the house.
Jane puts on her best serious police officer face and attempts to get statements from everyone at the Desmond house. She uses the Interaction broad skill (since her only specialty skill is Intimidate and it's not appropriate given the circumstances) and eats the +1 broad skill penalty and gets only a Marginal success. She uncovers:
* Amanda Jernigan is nowhere to be found. It seems odd that she wouldn't have stuck around to help, especially because the poltergeist activity began almost immediately after she left the house.
* Coach Bradley remembers having watched Amanda walk past him as he approached the house, but he doesn't know where she went. All of his attention is focused on Jerry and Nick, ensuring that they're unharmed and able to play in the football game tonight.
* Jerry is unhurt but exhausted, claiming he blacked out almost immediately after the manifestation started. He's able to confirm that it's not unusual for Amanda to return things he has forgotten in her classroom back to him, either at football practice or at his home. He also has no idea where she went when she left the house, but tells Jane that she actually lives nearby, just diagonally across the intersection from his own house.
* Nick suffered some superficial burns from the pot of boiling water. He's glad he was able to protect Betsy. He volunteers that Amanda Jernigan is extremely committed to the high school's football program, and hasn't missed attending a single home game all year.
* Peter is doing his best to put on a brave face for his children. Being set on fire was rather traumatic and precludes him from being able to recall any detailed information about the manifestation.
* Betsy is almost in shock from terror and likewise can't provide any other information.
By this point the local police have arrived and began their investigation. Peter Desmond needs the HI crew to give his family some space, and asks if they can return tomorrow morning to continue assessing the house. Jerry and Nick decide to honor their coach's request and begin to head back to school so that they can prepare for the big game. Jerry remarks that it's a good thing he already had somewhere else to stay tonight since their house has been trashed; Peter tells him to be safe up at the cabin on Lake Geneva and advises that he and Betsy will find a hotel room somewhere in town.
Jane and Doug pack up their assorted camera equipment and load it into the van as Nadine and Donna wrap up their first aid session. Ultimately the investigators decide to relocate the HI van to a nearby public parking lot and review the information they've uncovered. While discussing their options, Doug notices that the camera's power light is on, signaling that it's been recording for some unknown amount of time. He connects the camera feed to the van's monitors and begins playing back through the recorded events; despite the fact that he's certain that he never turned it on himself prior to the manifestation, it has mysteriously recorded the entire event. Each of the investigators make an Awareness - Perception check, with Doug and Nadine only getting a Marginal success, but Donna scoring a Good success and Jane scoring an Amazing success. They discover:
* About 20 seconds into the tape, a clear crystal vase looks to be flying directly towards Jerry's head. It smoothy curves around his head at the last second, despite the fact that he's not even facing it. After swerving around his head, it returns to its original trajectory and smashed into a wall.
* About 24 seconds in, something hits the camera and causes it to swivel on its tripod. It's now looking directly out the front window, which has yet to become smashed. Coaching Bradley is not yet visible through the window, but there is a clear shot of a nondescript, current-model black SUV (Suburban or Tahoe or whatever). The driver isn't identifiable, but the person has their arm extended out the open window, and they're pointing some type of hand-held device directly at the Desmond house.
* About 30 seconds in, the camera picks up Amanda Jernigan getting into the nondescript, current-model black SUV (Suburban or Tahoe or whatever). The living room window is still intact, and Coach Bradley then enters the frame and completely obscures the view of the SUV.
The camera had been running intermittently the entire time of the incident, but the rest of the tape is choppy and blurred due to everything else going on during the manifestation. Doug also recalls the award that he pocketed from the Desmond home and fishes a screwdriver out of the toolkit in the back of the van. Sure enough, after unscrewing the base of the trophy, there's another segment of bizarre circuitry inserted into the object.
So Now What?
Our investigators have a few hours to kill before the football game, and there's a couple different leads they can follow up to figure out what the heck is going on. Presently they're cruising around town, trying to come up with their next plan of attack. Please let me know what you want the party to do next, because the book gives several options and I don't just want to transcribe a bunch of quest minutia. Possible options are:
1. Visit Ms. Jernigan's home. Attempt to interview her? If she's not home, attempt a B&E? Jane won't be willing to commit a crime to solve this case, but Donna might be up for it.
2. Try to research Ms. Jernigan's personal and professional history. Was she always a school teacher? What's her apparent connection to the black SUV?
3. Surveil the neighborhood. Try to see if any of the neighbors saw anything, or know anything about Ms. Jernigan. Knock on doors and do some old fashioned police work. Has that black SUV been around often?
4. Attend the football game, wait for it to end and then tail Jerry to see where he goes after. It sounded like his father was aware that he was going to attend some sort of party? What's his connection to the poltergeist manifestation?
5. Visit Susan in the hospital. Attempt to interview her? See if there's any medical records pertaining to similar encounters?
6. Perform some other action of dubious value?
AND suddenly, while the investigators are driving around
Dark Matter posted:
You're cruising down a main avenue when you each notice a black van pull out of a side street, evidently matching your speed but staying about three car lengths behind you. Though you can't be sure, it looks extremely similar to the black SUV that Amanda Jernigan got into. The driver is a man dressed in a pressed, black suit with dark sunglasses and the passenger is a woman in a similar outfit. What do you do?
Additionally, recommend how the investigators should respond to this turn of events!
NEXT TIME: Act II - Crossing Paths and Chasing Shadows