Well, now this is something I haven’t really tried before. I’m going to be reviewing a book that is indeed a roleplaying game supplement, but one that is system neutral. While any roleplaying game book with a high enough fluff-over-crunch ratio could be used for the purposes of researching for another system – for instance, while I have no real desire to ever play the system, the amount of research and data that goes into GURPS books has ensured that my RPG library has a fairly solid section of said titles – a system neutral sourcebook is tailor-made to create no assumptions based on rules sets or game setting beyond a general idea of what direction the title is going for.
I’d actually been meaning to do a review of such a title for a while, but the logistics of trying to keep such a review in a roleplaying game context and not stray into just a generic book review was somewhat difficult. I think I’ve finally found a generic (if sometimes somewhat brief) system that works for such reviews, however, so let’s get our tinfoil reading caps out to look at the book 100 Conspiracies from Postmortem Studios.
What’s The Gist?
100 Conspiracies is, as its name rather obviously implies, a book of 100 conspiracies you can use in your own conspiracy-driven, urban fantasy, dark horror, occult, espionage, etc. games. The author has combed pretty much every corner of the credulous world, from paranoid screeds of the religious right and racial supremacy groups to the infamous “truthers” and the offbeat ramblings of David Icke. No real world conspiracy stone is left unturned, no matter how ugly it is, and thus you have a wide variety of conspiracies that may or may not exist in your own game’s world.
What’s the Layout?
The book has no real chapters to speak of, instead having each conspiracy on a single page of the title. On each of these pages, the conspiracy is divided up into several header-bearing sections: the name and conspiracy number, a general overview of the conspiracy, a section on how the conspiracy is implemented, a section on how the conspiracy benefits the individuals plotting it out, a list of possible conspirators that are putting the plan into action taken from a sister book entitled 100 Conspirators (we’ll get to that later), and three different adventure hooks that range from playing the conspiracy straight to wildly subverting it.
What are the Contents?
Well, as I said before, all of the conspiracies in this book are taken from the world around us, and have all been spoken of and dubiously given as fact by at least one person or group at one point in history. The sheer variety of conspiracies is what probably will be the biggest selling point, though. While author James Desborough’s own biases and leanings do shine through the text at moments, he has nevertheless gone whole hog on the range of conspiracies at hand. A very small handful of the conspiracies discussed include 9/11 conspiracies (conspiracy #2 of 100), a living Elvis (conspiracy #25), Holocaust denial (conspiracy #41), crazy conspiracy tales about President Obama (conspiracy #71), a coverup of the real author of Shakespeare’s plays (conspiracy #87), and Matrix-style reality conspiracies (conspiracy #100).
How’s the Execution?
As you can tell by a few of the entries listed above, the author isn’t afraid to tread on sharp-edged ground while writing up examples of the most out there and sometimes bigoted and hateful conspiracy theories that exist. He’s also rather clever about actually figuring out how conspiracies would work out and how to implement them into your game, especially with the adventure hooks. A good example would be conspiracy #65, the New Coke conspiracy (yes, this of all things is one of the ideas that have been thrown around by conspiracy theorists). In the section, Desborough manages to actually make some very frightening adventure hooks, including a new soda flavor being used to smuggle a passivity drug by the conspirators and the idea of multiple corporations working together to have their products become a frightening sedative and carcinogen. Personally, though, I think the supernatural conspiracies such as Bigfoot and kin as the creation or tool of a conspiracy (#11), holes to the underworld (#21), and supernatural energy sources (#72).
How Well Does it Fit?
Now here’s the big question: just what can 100 Conspiracies do for your game? Well, plenty, really. While a large chunk of the conspiracy theories in this title are almost tailor-made for government and techno-conspiracy games such as Spycraft and Paranoia, there’s a little bit of something for everyone. The roleplaying games that will definitely benefit the most are the “kitchen sink” conspiracy settings where the occult, the government, and the alien all intermingle, such as the GURPS setting Black Ops, the Unisystem setting Conspiracy X, or our old system-crossing friend Dark*Matter.
Pros and Cons/Final Thoughts
Now that we’ve looked at the workings of this title, let’s just lay the cards down on the table and look at the boons and banes of this trippy little title.
- Lots of conspiracies across wide categories.
- Al of the conspiracies are espoused by real world conspiracy theorists, meaning that if you are willing to get your figurative hands dirty you can delve into the realms of madness and find even more game ideas.
- Even if a particular conspiracy is one that you don’t want to be real in your setting, there’s always the chance to use it as a subversion or a smokescreen that conspiracy theorists in the setting speak of while ignoring the real conspiracies.
- Well thought out sections on how a conspiracy could be implemented and how it would benefit the conspirators.
- Lots of sensitive topics earn this book a trigger warning. If you don’t wan to read about Holocaust denial or racist conspiracy theories surrounding fried chicken, then don’t pick this title up…or at the very least be prepared to skip some of the pages.
- Not a book for you if you actually believe in what the author dubs “paranoid conspiracy theories” as a specific term for the types of conspiracy detailed in this title.
- Also not a book for you if you can’t stomach dry British snark.
- Unless you are willing to do the extra leg work, you more or less really need the companion book 100 Conspirators, which we will be reviewing next time.
So, all in all, what can one say about 100 Conspiracies? Well, for all its steps into uncomfortable and pants-on-head crazy territory in order to bring a wide variety of real world conspiracy theories to your gaming table, you can’t really deny that the book has a cornucopia of different conspiracy subjects and thought put into it. At the same time, the writing style of the book, the contents, and the fact that it is somewhat co-dependent on another system neutral book drags down the score a little bit. It is thus that I believe that 100 Conspiracies solidly deserves an 8/10.