#RPGaDay2015 18: Favorite SF RPG

RPG-a-day-2015Extraterrestrials Sourcebook cover art for Conspiracy X 2.0.Conspiracy X isn’t your typical science fiction. It combines the weird pre-millennial “is there an apocalypse coming?” zeitgeist of the 1990s with the UFO lore of the 20th century and paranoia about government overreach, packaging it all in a familiar but legally distinct wrapper of federal agents investigating weird phenomena.

The game enjoyed a brief renaissance thanks to Kickstarter, as Eden Studios pushed out a number of supplements stuck in the pipeline after publishing a second edition of the core book, but it seems to have petered out in the years since. One of the stretch goals of the final fundraising campaign was to publish a long-rumored sequel game, Extinction, advancing the timeline one hundred years to an era when the various races are locked in all-out war for their own survival. No word on that front, and Eden’s efforts seem to be going into All Flesh Must Be Eaten and a new kid-friendly game, Adventure Maximus.

The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook for Conspiracy X 2.0

Extraterrestrials Sourcebook cover art for Conspiracy X 2.0.The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook collects previously published information about the alien races at large in the Conspiracy X role-playing game, and then brings their activities up to date with the new oughties timeframe. That said, the book is very rooted in the past. Each of the three chapters goes deep into the history of its species. “Way back, before you were born”-deep,[1] to the origins of each species. Which is great for the long view. Midway through the Saurians chapter, I started asking myself, “Is this all we’re going to know about what they’re doing now on Earth?” Atlanteans, Greys and Saurians do all have a section on what they’re up to at the moment, but it’s so tantalizingly brief and vague compared to the full, detailed histories of the three species.

A lot of that must come from the original remit of The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook: condense material written for supplements of the first edition of Conspiracy X into one volume for the current line and move the timeline up by fifteen years. In light of that, each chapter does a remarkable job covering history and culture of three distinct species.

The name of the podcast escapes me, but I remember hearing the designer of Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, Chad Underkoffler — I think? It’s been a long time since I heard the episode in question — describe his realization that long histories of how Sir Buffington defeated Lord Nemesis, and so on, can and ought to be elided into “Epic stuff happened leading us to this tipping point. Now you guys need to do something.” I’ve taken that to heart, and any time I run across supplemental material that is basically a long timeline of events that sound very cool, but are of limited utility to informing the present situation — unless you decide all those points on the timeline are covert plot seeds to bring forward to your game’s time frame — I do look askance, and wonder if this space could have been given to something a little more relevant to the contemporary status quo, and how it’s about to fall apart.

That said, I did appreciate the look into the culture and mentality of the extraterrestrials, different and varied as they may be. The Greys are the closest to monolithic, since they’re so deeply interconnected by telepathy. But even they have differences and internal division — especially, interestingly, between those on Earth and those on Greyworld. Greys on Earth are quarantined from the rest of the species because of concern about psychic contamination. The Saurians, it turns out, are divided into many factions, unlike their representation in the corebook, which is really just one faction that is most visible to AEGIS. And the Atlanteans wind up a race of radical individualists, as everyone strikes out on their own.

The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook is an interesting peek into the alien races interested in Earth. I’m dubious, though, how much use the information is here to 80% of the Conspiracy X games out there, as it seems unlikely most of them are going to go that deep into interaction with any one species, let alone all three. I’d rather have much more information about what they’re doing on Earth right now, and examples of how AEGIS cells and Black Book agents interact with them.[2]


[1] “Do you know how you got that dent, in your top lip? Way back, before you were born, I told you a secret, then I put my finger there and I said ‘Shhhhh!'”

[2] Acknowledging that any throwaway mention of what an AEGIS cell did or reported is really a coded plot seed for the GM’s own campaign, either to kick it off or provide a template of what the players might get embroiled in.

Conspiracy X Extraterrestrials Sourcebook is on Kickstarter

The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook for Eden StudiosConspiracy X game line may see the light of the material world after all. Yesterday afternoon, George Vasilakos opened the Kickstarter page to put out the hard copy version of the book.

I jumped right on board, pledging enough money to get the printed edition. (I think I may have been one of the first two backers, actually . . . ) Of course, this being a Kickstarter project, Eden needs to raise the whole $5,000 by the November 30th deadline in order to collect the funds and send the book to the printer.

Conspiracy X has served me well as the engine for our Doctor Who campaign. I would love for crowd-funding to revive the series, which gets undue short shrift in the ever-balkanizing role-playing hobby. In addition to the Conspiracy X universe, which blends together the modern mythologies of Men in Black, grey aliens and other weirdness, the game is a solid platform on which to base any game in the modern era. Plus it’s cross-compatible with the other classic Unisystem games, and pretty equally compatible with Cinematic Unisystem material as well.

Furthermore, I would also love for this venture to show Eden Studios that crowd-funding can work for their other unreleased works, especially the WitchCraft supplements caught in their pipeline, so I have more than one reason to throw down for The Extraterrestrials Handbook. Not only could I get that book, but WitchCraft fans might have the opportunity to front for The Book of Geburah.

Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier

While laid low over the past weekend with a cold, I took the opportunity to delve into some books that lay untouched on my bookshelf for too long. One of them was Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier by Brad and Sherry Steiger. It’s a massive tome that I picked up mostly because I kept hearing ads for it on some podcasts and at the time, I had more Paperbackswap credits than I had uses for.

As it turns out, it’s something of an informal encyclopedia on none other than conspiracies and secret societies in history. Rosicrucians, the Trilateral Commission, the Rockefellers, the assassination of political figures throughout the centuries; it’s all in there. Hundreds of oddball topics get some page time in this book. It’s a great way to skip around subjects. You can read up on the Theosophy movement and Madame Blavatsky, then move on to orgone radiation before taking in the Knights Templar.

It’s all grounded in historical fact, mind you. There are no flights of fancy or bisociation. The Steigers’ short articles, typically drawing on Internet resources, but also many traditional works, present the real world perspective as their book is nominally non-fiction — in that they don’t purport that the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s workings actually achieved anything, just that there was an order and its members did stuff like that.

Coming off Things That Never Were and my refresher course in Suppressed Transmission, this book reminded me that it’s not all about making stuff up for role-playing games. There’s still plenty of ideas to mine here, but it’s a sober testament to the fact this stuff changed real people’s real lives, for good or worse.

Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier is published by Visible Ink Press and is available today.