Imagine Bourne meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer.. a high octane, cut scene adrenalin rush as ex Spec Ops / Intel operatives meet something far more sinister and deadly.
This is what Alun has created as a tabletop (or socially distanced via zoom) RPG with ‘Against the Dark Conspiracy’. I’ve been playing RPG’s for many decades, starting with Red Box edition & AD&D at 6th Form & College with a little Call of Cthullu and Traveller thrown in to season the mix. Since meeting Alun by gaming horizon has widened to embrace a wide range of ‘light touch’, rules light but concept rich range of games such as Fate and Monster of the Week / Powered by the Apocalypse and it’s many variants. ‘Against the Dark Conspiracy’ is very much in this genre. Player characters are larger than life, best of breed, and have access to the skills and resources they need to get the job done without needing to worry about how many gold pieces they have or listening at the door before attempting to pick the lock. It is a refreshing approach and gets to the decisions that matter to move the plot on and resolve the action.
As for the last year, (I’m writing this in February 2021) we have been in and out of pandemic related lock downs and gathering together around a gaming table to roll some dice with friends is a vaguely remembered experience, Alun has been running an ‘Against The Dark Conspiracy’ campaign for us over Zoom. The light touch and narrative strong approach really suits playing remotely. The photos shown this approach together with the online character keeper we use to store character sheets and all the in game information.
Each character has an ‘investigative scene’ to follow-up the lead and gather intel; the abstracted fruit of their investigations. They then spend intel to define the nature of the operation they’ll undertake or spend it to force the revelation of the powers or weaknesses of potential supernatural foes … and go in blind. Intel can still accumulate during the operation so maybe they’ll get lucky and learn enough after the Op has started. Maybe …
Character Stress inevitably rises through a session, indeed a key function of the GM is to prompt ‘roll for Stress’ by using any backstory prompts to unsettle characters. However, seeking relief from the horror can keep them functioning at the cost of doing something reckless or revealing. The lowest personal cost is always to reveal something about someone they care for … but that puts that person on the Conspiracy’s hit list. Alternatively, they could reveal something about their backstory with either the member of the team they care most about, or the one they care least about, and risk it turning into a shouting match, or worse.
Sometimes succeeding at a cost isn’t good enough so characters can get out of a hole by doing something cool or flashing back to call on a contact … both of which cost them Stress but that’s not a problem … is it?
Clumsy failures or success at a cost generate Heat that raises the Conspiracy’s level of alarm and preparedness until they come after the team, their contacts or, worst still, the person they care about, their Anchor. That can have lasting effects on a character’s capacity to absorb Stress. Success in an Operation can, though, reduce Heat and Stress as they degrade the Conspiracy’s effectiveness. They can reduce it further by spending Intel against the Conspiracy to distract them; another hard choice about where to spend a limited resource.
The game offers players hard choices in the moment but also hard choices across a narrative arc and that the mechanics are light and stay out of the way of a shared narrative. While it’s not an ‘investigative game’, it rewards investigation without the need for the GM to have plot details or clues at their finder-tips, instead it gives players a chance to shape where their investigations take them.
Alun has a Kickstarter running at the moment which runs until the 25th February. A pledge for the PDF version only costs £6 and is highly recommended for an exciting new gaming experience. Click here to take a look at Aluns Kickstarter.
This is the start of, (at least for me), a new type of hobby article, 'Reviews & Resources'. The idea is that as a gamer, those are two of the main things that I am interested in finding about a game. If I've not brought the game yet, I'd like to read some reviews to find out if it is any good and if it is the style of game that I am likely to enjoy. If, I have already brought the game then I'm interested in on-line resources for it, (errata sheets, quick reference sheets, painting guides, house rules etc). So, this series of articles is going to be structured that way with a top section with extracts and links to reviews of a game, and the bottom section containing descriptions of resources for the game and links to take you to them.
We are starting off with'The Cruel Seas'. This is a game that I got as a Christmas present. The contents of the box look fantastic, the models are very nice, but what is it like as a game?
"Announced at this year’s Warlord Studios open day, Cruel Seas is a new game, due out in December, that brings the naval action of flotillas of small ships to your tabletop. On the tables of Cruel Seas you’ll find everything you need to fight a fast-paced “naval dogfight,” which is where the game captures my attention. There are already plenty of games out there that simulate big battleship based naval combat, on and off the tabletop. Whether you’re looking at a game that faithfully recreates the setting of World War II, or most starship combat games (if you look at how they work, they’re basically WWII naval combat but in space), we’ve been there and done that and adapted a miniatures game."
Warlord have produced some excellent land games and the models and game components are well up to that standard, but in the rules they have attempted something out of their comfort zone with a lot of things that are just plain wrong – and which could have been made right before publication with just a little effort. Cruel Seas is, I think, an excellent introduction to naval wargaming and judging by the interest on Facebook and elsewhere it is proving to be a popular seller, and as an ardent supporter and promoter of naval wargaming I really wanted this to be great. But those with some knowledge of the subject will be annoyed and put off by the errors (see the extensive Facebook discussion on the topics highlighted above and more), and newcomers run the risk of believing “that was the way it was” because the rules said so. Shades of Warhammer Trafalgar.
So in summary, a good start, plenty of issues, hoping the second edition will clear these up at some point in the future. And at the time of writing Warlord have just released a ten page errata sheet where some of the issues above have been addressed, 13 days after release of the rules.
Quick Reference Sheets
There have been various chats about, and calls for, rules that covered dived submarines in Cruel Seas. I decided to take the old ASW rules from the Felix edition of "Action Stations" and modify them for CS. They will no doubt be appearing in "Narrow Seas" in the main rulebook or as a free supplement.
I've been musing on some house rules for "Cruel Seas" since they came out. The errata does a good job of clearing up mistakes in the rules, but there are some areas where I feel the rules lacked authenticity, and so could be "house ruled" for added realism without adding to the complexity of the game. Here's what I've come up with so far. I'd be keen to hear from anyone else who has thought about this.
Here we have a great set of video's covering how to paint ships from all of the main nations covered in the Cruel Seas miniatures game from 'The War Gamer' video channel.