Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dark Conspiracy New Orleans

There are a lot of nits one can pick with Dark Conspiracy, but I think my biggest is how everything is just thrown together without a single thought as to how, or even if, all these elements work together. One example is the inclusion of modern cellphones - cellphones capable of providing the Data Services available in Dark Conspiracy (DarkTek, p. 31) - when the book is clear as to how 80% of the people have moved to metroplexes (p. 67) and the only ones left in the Out-Law are gangs, agricorps, and "a scattering of die-hard farm families" (p. 71). If everyone is in the metroplexes, then who needs a cellphone?

That probably isn't the best example, and I go into more detail on such inconsistencies elsewhere, so I'll leave it at that for now; my point is that the designers threw in any- and everything and a lot of it is incongruent. Unfortunately, the same can be said of Dark Conspiracy New Orleans.

New Orleans is far more than an adventure: it is a campaign guide, extended (multi-session) adventure, campaign setting and sourcebook, and resource. Several new Minions are introduced, but all of them are merely variations of those found in the Dark Conspiracy core rulesbook. However, New Orleans does provide one new Darkling Skill, as well as UV sunglasses.

Much like the rulesbook itself, New Orleans reads as though the designer got lost halfway into it and just started improvising. It never seems to settle on being an adventure or a sourcebook. When done correctly, these are the best kinds of tomes, but New Orleans is not done correctly.

While it provides several maps, only one is of the metroplex itself and it provides next to no information; for all the map on p. 12 tells you, you can do just as well with a general map of the city online. Maps for the specific sets in the adventure are given, though at least one seems unnecessary (Lou's house), but I think they gave it to provide referees with an example map to use for all such houses... except that the text specifically states Lou is one of only a handful who has such an estate - all the rest have been made into duplexes and apartments. Outside of this adventure, you are unlikely to ever use the map again. And even though it has keyed entries, the map is unnumbered (though it's easy to determine, using the entries as a guide - just an editorial oversight). I would have preferred the city be detailed to all these generic maps.

Like the rest of the game, the main problem with New Orleans is that literally everything has been thrown in; PCs will encounter almost everything from Apeps to Zombies. Really! And while the Insectoid ETs are expounded upon, it's all rendered moot because that information applies only to the ETs in this specific adventure.

What I found really cool about New Orleans is that this is the first time I've ever read it, yet you would think I ripped it off several times over - the dark vines and the focus on Insectoid ETs and Cobra People. But again, this is the first and only time I've ever even held the book in my hands! So I used this new information - welcome content I did not expect - to improve my material. In these regards, the book covers a lot of ground and includes a little bit of everything, so its greatest flaw is also what makes it worth the investment.

As for that point, New Orleans involves no fewer than nine Dark Minions! While the entire thing is powered by some kind of Darkling mind control (Nexus of Evil), there is still no good reason for all these Minions. Even if we accept that this Nexus of Evil has overcome their predispositions toward working together, there are still too many Minions and this Nexus of Evil is the only thing keeping them from turning on one another. Excepting the Insectoid ETs, none of the coverage brings anything new to these Minions - again, it seems like they just kept adding them for no real reason, never stopping to consider how or why all these many Minions would ever be working together or active in such close proximity to one another. Furthermore, the encounters with these Minions are designed like video game encounters: the PCs face lesser-powered Beasties on their way to "The Boss." This is probably why they included so many minions.

There are so many Minions, so much Minion activity, that almost every NPC they talk to has seen or heard something. If your whole DC world is like that presented in this book, then there is no conspiracy! If everyone knows there are Dark Minions - even if they don't understand what that means - then there is nothing to cover-up!

All said, New Orleans fails as an adventure, mainly due to a lack of focus. While it provides some great new material - such as UV Sunglasses (p. 14) and the prices of airplane tickets to New Orleans (p. 8), not to mention the names of many metroplexes - it should have provided much more. Boat stats, a jazz club/bar, something on Vodoun - there are many things for which the area is known, and Dark Conspiracy New Orleans explored none of them.

As a sourcebook however, Dark Conspiracy New Orleans is fantastic! The information on poor houses and a corrupt mayoral council is superb and the author did an incredible job of packing so much information in so little space. I really wish the book had been more about this kind of information than the mediocre adventure. In fact, though there are two megacorps at the center of the whole thing, neither is given an actual profile - hell, they're really only barely mentioned! Norleans BioChem has a few, short paragraphs of history which provides no meta-information.

Overall, Dark Conspiracy New Orleans is a great resource to have, but not essential. It definitely adds to the game, but does not expand it much. As there are so few books in the line, this is one of those that you can live without but will improve your game and enjoyment immensely.

As a side-note, I don't think the adventure should be run as written. You should ditch almost all of the Minions outside of the Insectoids and minor Beasties (Swamp Apeps, Wolf-Like Creatures, etc.) - no Cobra People (although this is precisely their environment), Harpies, etc. - for a stronger game. Better yet, focus on how the Minions from one corporation are against those from the other, but still keep the Minion count down to a modest three or so. Even then there's too much going on! As I said above, this is no mere adventure - there is enough information here to make an entire campaign set in the (now flooded) city.

You can do without it, but Dark Conspiracy New Orleans is worth purchasing. Recommended.

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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