Posted on October 19, 2012 by mazecontroller
Available at RPGNow.com
The 90’s were a dark time in fiction. Conspiracies abounded everywhere. The end of the world was near. Genre television was abuzz with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files and dozens of shows of a similar nature. RPGs went through their own dark period as well thanks to the World of Darkness. Many games set their PCs as regular people who stumble into a world where the supernatural was real and tabloid headlines were prophets. But only one put the unmarked helicopters in their control. Conspiracy X offered a world where aliens have sinister plans for humanity. The most recent edition recently held a Kickstarter to continue the line.
Conspiracy X owes its biggest influence to agents Scully and Mulder. The PCs are agents of Aegis, a conspiracy within the government to protect humanity from three meddling alien races. In addition to those factions, the agents face their own mirror in the NDD. The National Defense Directorate are the members of the government that think they can cut deals with the invaders and work to sabotage defense efforts. The setting is meant to make trust a rare commodity and missions come from cigarette smoking men rather than shadowy tavern dwellers.
This is the new edition of the game published in 2006.The PDF features black and white art in the classic White Wolf style. Many of the pieces are reused from earlier books in the line. The book is now Unisystem compatible, though there are conversion rules in the back from the original Conspiracy X RPG. A free quick start is available for download featuring a classic convoy protection mission. The interior is laid out with two columns and sidebars for extra information. Suggestions for other Unisystem games are scattered throughout the text.
The basic campaign setup is the PCs as agents of Aegis. They build their cell and investigate UFO crashes, enemy faction agents and interference from the NDD. Aegis and NDD were once the same conspiracy but split into two groups over the Roswell crash. NDD works with the aliens. Aegis has access to psychics and mages to combat alien plots. They also try to expand their influence for better equipment, suppressing arrests and all the other things a conspiracy is known to do.
The game was adapted for Unisystem. It’s a very straightforward roll. Add stat plus skill plus a d10 roll. For every level the roll beats a nine, more success.The two biggest differences are pulling strings and influence. Pulling strings are the favors each PC can call in during their investigation. Someone with the background of a FBI agent can detain people, someone from the CIA can retask satellites and so forth. Influence lets the players make these phone calls as well as build the group’s secret headquarters. Someone from the CDC makes sure the agents will have biohazard suits when they crack open that alien corpse. Building the cell itself is just as important as building everyone’s agent.
One of the big differences between Conspiracy X and other horror games are the players are part of a conspiracy. Most games cast the players as innocents stumbling upon larger truth. The options in character creation assume the players are already through the looking glass. Aegis is the lesser of two evil conspiracies. They’ve done their fair share of bad things to hide the truth, including arranging for the death of a U.S. President. Groups who are tired of playing people who have to learn on the job to handle monsters will find having a conspiracy at their back a refreshing change.
This game was first released in the 90’s. The new edition does update a few things for the modern era, but there are still a few things that feel like they didn’t jump forward. The reused art has a few pieces that still fit in the decade of hippie shades and action mullets. The HERMES link, a futuristic cell phone back then, reads more like a simple iPhone these days. There are recent mentions of history like 9/11 but they feel quickly added rather than woven into the fun conspiracy history chapter.
Playing a government agent is a central conceit of the game. Options outside of government work are very slim. Aegis seems to be the type of organization that would need help from civilian friendlies. Border agents, ATF agents and prison wardens all have profession packages but not astrophysicists, academics or even amateur UFOlogists. The game’s focus is refreshing but it betrays the source material. Anyone wanting to play the Lone Gunman are out of luck till a later book. Some of these character types are attached in affiliated organizations but there still feels like something is lacking. Generic packages would take up little space, or even a build your own section to allow for “government contractors”
Science is the main focus of the investigation. Magic is explained as psychic phenomena. Many games have a supernatural bent to them but few center on a pseudo-scientific explanation. This gives this setting an edge by letting GMs and players explore things like parapsychology and cryptozoology rather than falling back on classic monsters. That beast in the forest can’t be a werewolf…so what the hell is it? And why does it only kill on the full moon then? Is that when it’s home star is visible in the night sky? Groups looking for a horror game without eldritch old ones or scheming immortals will find this setting a bit refreshing.
Bottom line: A good change up for horror fans, especially those who want to be on the other side of the mirrorshades for once.
Review by Rob Wieland
Tags | unisystem