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Desert Dreams RPG Review

Posted on May 31, 2005 by Flames

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Desert Dreams
Ignotus D20 Supplement
Requires the d20 Modern core book© for use.
Creator: Shawn Allbrandt
Editor: William A Rae.
Publisher: Sacred Wolf, Inc., 2004.

Desert Dreams is the first supplement produced by Sacred Wolf for its Ignotus modern D20 setting. Ignotus is a dark world in which the eponymous supernatural realm poses a grave threat to humanity and its hideous denizens work to undermine society. Shadowy government agencies and vile religious cultists combine to make the real world, beneath the level of consciousness of most people, nasty, brutish and short.

In Desert Dreams, players bring their characters into the American desert and then become involved in a nightmarish situation in which horrible monsters bend reality to strike violently at them. This leads to embarkation on a series of events which can involve black ops and some of the darker episodes of twentieth century history. Some of the plotting is vague and a GM will need thoroughly to be in tune with the motivations of the major NPCs to ensure that a suitable structure to play is possible. Fortunately, the leading NPCs are described with an admirable level of detail. Indeed, the backstory of these people is possibly the best part of the whole book and it would be something of a waste if they became little more than a set of statistics to be shot at with guns.

Desert Dreams continues the Sacred Wolf style in terms of presentation and design. Pages are divided usually into two columns of text, which is not always terribly convenient to read. However, the text is generally clear and there are few if any errors to distract the reader and spoil the suspension of disbelief. The first pages of the 48 in total concern an introduction to the Ignotus world, contents and acknowledgements. Details on the adventure itself are presented within just ten pages, which is the same number as that required to describe the three main NPCs. There is a lot to discover about these people and the ways in which they interact with the world and an experienced GM will be looking to create an environment in which discourse and investigation set the dominant tone, rather than violence and mayhem. Having said that, there are episodes of violence already provided to drive the plot forward and adding more would probably unbalance the game experience. Then again, players are rarely predictable or, indeed, rational and it would be quite possible for the adventure to become derailed amidst much wreckage.

The remainder of the supplement provides new enhancements for the base system, many of which seem to be detached from the main adventure. Several pages are dedicated to martial artists, for example, detailing their abilities and a range of new weapons they might wish to use to slice flesh into pieces and yet there is no real pce for introducing such characters as either PCs or NPCs. There could be some martial artist cultist enemies but few GMs seem to be able to restrain themselves when provided with a martial artist but have to have them leaping and flying through the air even in the presence of people to whom they have not been properly introduced.

Similarly, the shadowjack and technomage characters are quite fun but do not really fit into this background. Perhaps it would have been better to keep them back for use in a supplement in which their abilities could be more fully explored. As the game stands, there is a resolutely 1980s feel to the environment, which is reinforced by handouts, font types and the processes of research and investigation. The shadowjack, for example, has special skills for using computers and searching for information, among others. The problem is that providing some characters with these abilities necessarily denies them to all others for the sake of game balance. Yet, in 2005, nearly every player of an RPG is likely to be able to deploy sophisticated computer skills in terms of communication and creativity but will not be able to use these in the game. There is, then, a discontinuity between real life experience and game play and this can be a source of frustration. Further, little consideration seems to have been given to the use of the cybersphere in disseminating information, even and perhaps especially secret information. It is no longer sufficient in a modern game setting just to have one journalist to be intimidated into silence when there are so many more media available for distributing information and so many, let us say dedicated people determined to spread the knowledge of any supposed governmental wrongdoing.

Those who enjoyed the player’s and GM’s Ignotus handbooks will be likely to enjoy this expansion of the universe. Newcomers may be slightly baffled by some of the concepts and probably surprised by the Sacred Wolf house style of using no artwork to illustrate the book. Apart from a nebulous cover and a simple one page plan of a gas station, it is text all the way.

John Walsh, Shinawatra International University, May 2005

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