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Minireview: Curriculum of Conspiracy

The first of two supplements for the brilliant Monsters and Other Childish Things, Curriculum of Conspiracy is the more “standard” one (the other one, Dreadful Secrets of Candlewick Manor, is reputedly a more radical departure from the base game and is also still in my “to buy” queue). Curriculum presents you with a campaign seed for a “Monsters” game, one with a lot of the same Buffy-esque flavor as the high-school one in the core book. It has its own twist, of course; while the locale is still a U.S. school, here some of the faculty know about monsters – and want to control and use them. In other words, some of NPCs are actively hostile to the PCs, and also know a lot about what’s going on.

It’s not bad. The NPCs are nicely detailed and have motivations that aren’t quite black/white. Full maps of the school are given, as are notes on how to run the game. If the idea of pitting the PCs (children) against an actively hostile group sounds like your thing, this book is probably what you need. It’s probably also useful in other “Monsters” games as a source of interesting NPCs. It’s a pretty thin book, with large font – there’s not a ton of content here, though the content you do get is quite good. My copy has some binding problems, not sure if this is a common problem.

Dunno, this feels like a way to run “Monsters” more like a “traditional” rpg… which may be just what some people want. I personally am more interested in the nonstandard aspects of “Monsters”, so I’d probably either use one of the settings in the core, or (more likely) go for the reputedly weird and excellent Candlewick setting. I’ll be able to comment more once I get and read that.

Minireview: A Dirty World

Ok, so on to A Dirty World, which is Greg Stolze’s new “film noir” standalone roleplaying game. As I mentioned eariler, I was lucky enough to play in a demo run by Greg at Ropecon and I had a blast. The game really seemed to promote the “feel” of film noir, though of course part of that credit goes to the very nice demo scenario we were playing, and to Greg’s quite excellent GM skills.

It’s a small, compact game engine, based on the ORE engine (as seen in Nemesis, Wild Talents, Reign, etc) – though this incarnation has been tweaked heavily in the “Forge” direction. In a good way, I think. The stat/ability design is quite clever, and the game has your stats changing every scene – the player characters get challenged and change all the time. A “femme fatale” character might begin her slow climb from corruption to purity – or become even more corrupt with every scene. It’s up to the player, and dependant on how the character acts in the scene. As befits the genre, going towards the “bad” direction is much easier than “good”, generally. This mechanism rocks, since “noir” tends to feature people confronted with difficult choices and being forced to compromise, and then to live with the results of those choices. The ruleset is extremely abstract and combat is handled in the same way as any other test in the game. For some games this might be a problem but here it seems to work wonders, since in the noir genre social skills (and attacks & backstabs) are at least as common and deadly as are flying bullets.

The book includes a “random noir plot generator”, in the style of the random one-roll generators found in Reign. It’s very cool, and gives you a basic story framework to build on. Greg also includes a couple of nice examples of how to build a story with it.

All in all, this is an excellent, modern “indie” roleplaying game that is tightly focused on one genre and one type of story theme. It also shows how versatile the core ORE framework is. Recommended.

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