RogerBW's Blog

The Dark Times 1 29 October 2017

The Dark Times, edited by Lee Williams, is a new fanzine that follows on from Demonground and Protodimension in dealing with "the horror-conspiracy-weirdness gaming genres", beginning with Dark Conspiracy and drifting into nearby areas.

The PDF table of contents is badly broken. This is sadly common even in professional publications; I think that quite a few PDF readers don't display it by default, so publishers don't notice that it's present and wrong rather than absent. Otherwise the production is fairly good: there's an unfortunate speckled grey background that doesn't help ease of reading or printing, and font sizes and spacings are inconsistent between articles, but the layout is otherwise effective.

The Introduction (Tad Kelson) makes it clear that this zine is less game-specific than earlier incarnations: many of the ideas of modern horror can be shifted fairly easily between settings.

First Hand Accounts (Eric Rodriguez) is an investigative scenario featuring a support group, supposedly for survivors of an obscure disease but in practice for people who've encountered the Mythos, whose members are disappearing. This is intended for Delta Green, so it assumes PCs can be ordered to investigate but will begin as outsiders and have to infiltrate. It's short and open-ended, requiring a fair bit of preparation from the GM, but I could certainly see myself using this as raw material (which is really what I ask for; I rarely use scenarios directly).

Carcosa Fringe Festival (Sean Smith) sees Trail of Cthulhu PCs invited to a play at the local fringe theatre by an old friend who's directing. Yes, of course it's that play. This is mostly an endurance test rather than an investigation: plenty of atmosphere and stuff to notice and be driven mad by, but not much for the characters to do.

Web of Deception (Tim Bisaillon) has Dark Conspiracy PCs hired to find a CEO's missing urban-explorer son. This is a pretty straightforward combat scenario that doesn't have much to say.

Ten Spiritual Parasites (Eric Fabiaschi) is effectively a set of micro-scenarios: some of them are actual physical parasites, some are magical and immaterial ditto, some are just strange creatures that blight the lives of their victims. The connecting theme isn't all it might be but some of the individual ideas are excellent. (Unfortunate editing failure: "attracted to the moment of sexual organism".)

A Short Guide to Australia (Kevin O’Neill) is an introduction to gaming in that country, emphasising the huge distances and generally low population density (unfortunately taking up half a page with an utterly pointless table - it doesn't matter how many towns of more than 100,000 people you have in absolute terms, how about telling me that relative to population or land area?) This takes an unjustifiably long time to make its point ("it's easy to find yourself hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement") and then says nothing at all about gaming, still less horror-conspiracy-weirdness gaming.

The Trouble With Dr Murphy (Eric Fabiaschi) is for Silent Legions, an RPG I've never heard of before. The scenario is essentially a creepy house with a monster in it, but does at least list a few reasons for PCs to get involved.

The IDEAL Conceal (Lee Williams) gives Dark Conspiracy and Call of Cthulhu statistics for a (real-world) pistol disguised as a mobile phone.

The Open Veil (Paul Riegel-Green) is a longer scenario for Dark Conspiracy: a mysterious voice tells the PCs to go and investigate an abandoned sanitarium, and seems to give away rather too much about what's going on. At least, that was my impression; I'd rather run this as a straight investigation. Each location within the complex has a "Reports" section detailing the spooky activity that's been seen there, as well as "Actual Activity" tying the reports to the monster; bizarrely, though, there are no maps, which would really have helped to make sense of the layout. In play this is unfortunately close to being a dungeon with creepy events, nuisance monsters, and a final boss.

It's a pretty mixed bag, as fanzines often are; for my taste, too many of the scenarios are essentially just combat, with any investigation brushed aside and the curtain rising as the characters reach the place where they'll fight stuff. But First Hand Accounts is solid if too short, and Ten Spiritual Parasites is helpfully inspiring.

The Dark Times #1 is freely available from its web site.

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