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Ignotus GM’s Guide RPG Review

Posted on May 2, 2005 by Flames


Available at RPGNow.com

Sacred Wolf, Inc 2004
Creator: Shawn Allbrandt.
Additional Material: Nick Allbrandt and Seth Allbrandt. Editor: William A. Rae
Game requires D20 Modern Rules (published by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.) for use.

Throughout known history, mankind has been threatened by the malevolent plane known as the Ignotus. How the Ignotus came into being is not clear – some believe it was a remnant of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, while others consider it to be a punishment from God. What is known, though, is that the Ignotus is the source of numerous trials and tribulations, including manifestations of evil spirits, ghosts and all manner of frightful things. As the Ignotus moves closer to the earth, its effects multiply and inevitably it is the innocent who suffer the most.

In this new D20 Modern setting by Sacred Wolf, Inc., players find themselves in a world of dark horror, where diabolical cultists and disembodied spirits conspire to make their lives miserable. They may not know about the Ignotus but they are fated soon to become acquainted with the evil that it represents. It is curious that people in every age invent the fantasies that most concern the societies in which they live. In the past, hordes of foreign soldiers stood ready to invade (as in the War of the Worlds), which was then modified to the threat to young people from alien ideologies (e.g. the insectoid creatures from Starship Troopers, based on the war in Vietnam or the meddling with dark forces in the Evil Dead films). In recent years, revivals of comic book heroes has tended to focus on their often flawed human natures, while their enemies are as much the threats to their own self-control as much as being any caped marauder. The good guys have overwhelming force but do not know where to use it and how much of it to deploy. Meanwhile, the enemy has become internalised and anyone might suddenly be revealed to have been converted to the dark side of life. It is easy to oversimplify these trends, of course, because the paranoia about Communism was in many countries at least the equal as the current level of concern over terrorist religious maniacs. Nevertheless, the Ignotus campaign setting and game fits nicely into such a worldview. On one level, a secret and unacknowledged war is being fought for the future of humanity against an evil so insidious and so superficially attractive that ordinary people must not know of its existence. Of course, there are many people who do know of the terrible evil and seek to profit from it, whether at the cost of their souls or not. Evil cults, monomaniacs and rogue government agencies are all following their own nefarious purposes.

This is all very well and a lot of fun in the right hands – but is there a compelling reason to choose Ignotus instead of the many other alternatives? Well, there are plenty of nasty monsters to run into and the rules for possession and ghostliness of all sorts are nice – although a little mechanistic. By that I mean that all aspects of, for example, the process of driving a character’s soul from her body and inhabiting it yourself is handled through a couple of dice rolls and the addition of modifiers. However, this kind of graphic action can really come alive in the hands of a good GM and set of players and advice on how to portray the setting and its terrifying aspects would perhaps have been more useful for gameplay. There are small snippets of examples of play interspersed in the text but these are so short that they do not really offer much real value to a GM who is unsure how to set tone and tempo. More scene-setting literature would have been helpful as, too, would have been more artwork. I am usually ambivalent about artwork since so much of its in RPG material is little more than a waste of space and frequently contradicts rather than supplements the text. Consequently, it took me a while to realise that there is no artwork here – nothing at all apart from a few changes of font. There are a couple of small building layouts in the sample adventure (cleaning out the house of a wererat) but nothing else that I can see. This is a very curious choice and I wonder whether it will make it more difficult for some people to identify with the game.

The early sections of the Guide consist of scene-setting, with some discussion of game styles and possible base organisations for the PCs to join. It is envisaged that the setting consists of the wheels within wheels model of enfolded conspiracies. That is, as soon as players pierce one level of conspiracy, they soon come to realise that an entirely new and deeper level still enfolds them and has second-guessed all of their actions and motivations. The ultimate level of conspiracy is not, however, explained in any depth and it seems likely that this would be the basis of a subsequent supplement, as is often the case with this industry. Many questions remain unresolved.

The largest individual section is entitled ‘allies and foes’ and provides a substantial list of creatures of various sorts. The description of these things tends towards the minimalist and, given the lack of artwork, can mean that it is difficult for the GM to create a memorable scene. Here, for example, is the description of the Urban Wendigo (p.60): “An urban wendigo is generally 8 feet tall and weighs 400 pounds.” We learn that it can fight with claw attacks and that gives a little more detail but I, for one, have no real idea of what a wendigo should look like and would be hesitant in setting one upon the players without a reasonable grasp of what one is supposed to be.

After allies and foes, there are rules for the ghosts, spooky manifestations and possessions and other kinds of apparitions. This is followed by some magic items and artifacts, optional rules and some adventures seeds. The magic items are a trifle bland and unimaginatively if clearly named – the Cup of Curing does pretty much what the label on the outside says. The Ring of Cold Cocking might perhaps have been better renamed. In total, there are 119 pages, which is not long for a book of this sort which seeks to encompass a whole world.

The author of the Ignotus GM’s Guide is Shawn Allbrandt and he has been assisted by Nick and Seth Allbrandt. Barring a coincidence that really would be a suitable starting place for a conspiracy, I would imagine that these are family members and its suggests that most ideas have been developed by a small group of GM and players. As a starting point for a game, this can sometimes work well but in this case has led to too many assumptions and shared understandings of how a game should go and so important information has been omitted. Perhaps more outside opinions would help to flesh out future offerings from Sacred Wolf and let the undoubted talent of the writer shine more obviously.

Reviewer: John Walsh

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