The Conspiracies Sourcebook is a sourcebook for Conspiracy X, second edition which provides an overview of several “conspiracies” in the game world, mainly Aegis (the default PC organization) and NDD (the default “bad guys”), along with a bunch of other smaller players. As far as I can figure out, it’s a combination of slightly modified reprints from 1st edition sourcebooks, along with a bunch of new material. It’s pretty good; there’s a lot of info here and much of it should be useful for anyone running this game, and I suspect many of these groups could be lifted whole from this game into some other “modern conspiracy” -type game with only minor modifications. Probably the best part – at least the interesting, to me – was the listing of several smaller cults and groups, along with info on how to construct your own.
As with the other books in this series, this is a dense book; the font is quite small and the pages thin, so the book ends up being a lot more hefty than it looks based on outside appearance. This is not a bad thing, but it’s not exactly quick, light reading. The writing is decent, quite good in some places and more plodding in others (probably due to different writers and/or sources). Art is the same as with previous books, sparse but decent enough.
Empty Graves continues the “Mummy’s Mask” storyline, and after a lackluster first episode I have to say that this is more like it. It’s not problem-free, but at least it now starts the actual main plot (though that is still quite hidden to the players).
The events of the first episode triggered an attack on the city of Wati by and undead horde, and the PCs are expected to track down the source. On the plus side, this opens up Wati into a nice sandbox environment and expands on the (somewhat meager) location selection of the first adventure. There are neat little set pieces, and the fact that there are multiple plot lines running at the same time gives the GM some help for providing events for the PCs to tackle. On the minus side, I have a slight problem with PC motivation here; in the beginning, they are expected to be tomb raiders (of sorts), and now they are suddenly expected to save the city? Why don’t they just say “well, screw this!” and get the hell out of Dodge? Some GM intervention may be needed there. Also, I’m a bit worried that the main plot is too obscured here, and that the players will probably finish this with (still) no real idea of what is going on. This is not good for player buy-in. In any case, it’s a decent module and better than part one at least.
Ancillary Justice is one of those books to come out of nowhere a few years ago and suddenly appear on all sort of “read this!” lists… including getting shortlisted for several major awards. It went on to win a Hugo, a Nebula and the Arthur C. Clarke award, among others. For a debut novel, that’s impressive. And you know what? It’s a very impressive book.
The book is set in a far-future universe with some slight Iain M. Banks overtones, but where Banks’ universe is tilted towards the utopian, here things fall somewhat in the other direction. The protagonist, Breq, is a citizen of the vast and imperialist Radch empire, which conquers and exploits worlds with brutal force. Those that submit quickly enough are allowed to exist as vassals of the empire, those that do not are eradicated. Under the absolute rule of Lord of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, vast armadas enforce the rule of empire. Braq “herself” is unusual since she isn’t human, she’s the surviving fragment of an AI which used to be the starship Justice of Toren, destroyed nineteen years ago due to treachery. Nobody knows that Breq survived, downloaded into an “ancillary” (a mind-wiped body from a conquered planet), and she intends to keep it that way while she plans her revenge.
There are two storylines intertwined here. One has the “current-day” Breq, in her ancillary body, journey back to the heart of Empire. In the other, we see events nineteen years in the past when Breq was still the Justice of Toren, and slowly learn what led to the destruction of that ship. It’s an unusual tale, told via an unusual protagonist. It’s also refreshing in that here everything is viewed through the eyes of a huge, conquering empire, instead of some rebellion against it. The Radchaai conquer because that’s what they’ve always done, it’s the proper way of things. Even Breq, rogue that she is, doesn’t really question this (though she slowly starts to question other assumptions).
Also noteworthy is the novel’s treatment of gender in general. There’s a nice trick in there, which I won’t spoil in advance. Read it yourself.
Interface is a short (six stories) collection of short stories based around the new Demon: the Descent game. It was produced as a result of a Kickstarter stretch goal for that game, and like many other similar recent anthologies from Onyx Path, it’s quite good, if a bit uneven. The good stories more than make up for the mediocre ones.
Demon is a complicated game. It posits a world (universe?) invisibly ruled by a “God-Machine”, a vast inhuman power which, while not directly hostile to humanity, is not a benevolent god by any means. This god creates “angels” from time to time, powerful mechanical/supernatural beings which enact the will of their god. While their programming leaves them no room for individual thought, there are rare times when an angel doubts its mission – and “falls”. Those which aren’t recaptured and “reprocessed” immediately become “demons”, fallen angels on the run from the forces of a now hostile god. They retain a small sliver of their old capabilities, but they are also partly human. In the game, the players are demons, and the general theme is “cold war paranoia and spy stories”. It’s a great game, but a complex one – the above merely scratches the surface. Unlike most other White Wolf / Onyx Path games, the PCs here were never human in the first place, they are alien beings.
The stories here look at various facets of “demonic” life. Some focus on evading hunter-killer angels, some focus just on “getting along” quietly, while others still dream of going back to “Heaven”… ideally with their sense of self intact. Adding to the mix is the fact that demons can switch their identities (their “covers”) at will, and can build them form bits and pieces of other people’s lives (via various pacts and deals).
As an interesting tidbit, each story here also contains some game “crunch” as an add-on to the story, giving stats to some of the characters or describing some of what happened in game terms. It’s a nice addition, and since it’s only a page or two it doesn’t detract from anything.