The Alexandrian

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Go to Eternal Lies: The Alexandrian Remix

Eternal Lies - The Mouth

Campaign Props (Zip)

This is a special props packet containing a bunch of campaign-wide material that doesn’t fit conveniently into any of the individual locations.

Letters of Inquiry: These props are specific to the characters who played in my original campaign, but I’ve included them to provide a template for creating your own (including the necessary fonts). I actually printed these letters and physically mailed them to my players so that they’d arrive roughly a week before the campaign began. (I used the Veteran Typewriter font to address the envelopes, using the character names.)

Calendar: A simple wall calendar from October 1934 to December 1936 (which should be more than sufficient time to complete the campaign). I printed off fresh months as I needed them and posted them on the wall. The calendar conveniently includes the phases of the moon for easy reference once that becomes significant in the campaign. I had the players keep a log of where they were and what they were doing each day.

Reference Documents: For use when the players learn about either A Spell to Open the Sky or the Rituals of Self-Denial, regardless of where they learn about them.

The Mouth: This image had a tendency to manifest itself throughout the campaign.

MAPS

Eternal Lies - Los Angeles (1932)

Campaign Maps (Zip)

These 16 maps are designed to be printed at a large, poster size and used as the centerpiece for each location’s diorama. This can be surprisingly affordable: I was able to go down to my local FedEx/Kinko’s store and get them printed off for a couple of bucks each.

When I initially started this project, I thought it would be relatively easy in this internet era to find period-appropriate maps for each city. That turned out not to be even remotely true, which is why some of the maps are a decade (or more) out of date. In a few cases, however, I’ve been able to provide multiple options for a map and you can use whichever one you feel is most appropriate. (Or all of them if you want to go hog wild.)

Go to 1.1 New York

Eternal Lies - Pelgrane PressEternal Lies is an amazing campaign written for Trail of Cthulhu by Will Hindmarch, Jeff Tidball, and Jeremy Keller.

The basic conceit of the campaign is that a decade ago a band of occult investigators battled against the summoning of an ancient and monstrous evil… and failed. Now the PCs need to piece together what went wrong and try to salvage whatever they can. It was explicitly designed to be a spiritual successor to the Masks of Nyarlathotep and, like that classic campaign, features a freewheeling, international investigation of epic scope.

Long-time readers of the site may recall that I consider Masks of Nyarlathotep to be one of the best RPG campaigns ever published, and that it also provided the core concept for both the Three Clue Rule and Node-Based Scenario Design. Despite the incredibly high esteem in which I hold the Masks of Nyarlathotep, however, I’m of the opinion that Eternal Lies is even better.

It’s probably unsurprising, therefore, that a few months back I started prepping to run Eternal Lies. As is often the case, however, I got a trifle ambitious with my plans. The result was large expansion (and a slight revamping) of the entire campaign, and over the next couple or three weeks I’d like to share with you the material I developed in the form of the Alexandrian Remix of Eternal Lies.

SPOILER WARNING

This should probably go without saying, but from this point forward there will be huge spoilers for Eternal Lies. Literally stuff that will spoil the entire campaign for you.

As a particular warning for players in my extended gaming network: I’m planning to run this campaign again at some point in the (probably near) future. If you’d like to be able to actually play the campaign, I’m afraid you’re going to have to tune out of my website for a little while.

DESIGN NOTES

There are several core elements which make up the remix, and I think the material will be a little clearer if I explain its structure.

First, there are LOCATION DIORAMAS. The campaign, as published, is broken up across nine distinct locations. For each of these locations I prepped a diorama which could be hung on the wall near the gaming table. The centerpiece of each diorama was a large, poster-sized map. This was accompanied by a variety of photos, drawings, period advertisements, and the like. The idea was to provide a rich, visual reference for the players.

Eternal Lies - New York Diorama Photo

The dioramas were also intended to be persistent and interactive. As the PCs gathered clues and other materials in each location, they could be added to the dioramas. And as the PCs moved to each new location, the dioramas from the previous locations would remain. Over the course of the campaign, the gaming area would become immersed in the 1930s through a slow, inevitable, kudzu-like growth.

Second, there are PROP PACKETS. These are, again, grouped by location. I used a handful of physical props which, in the absence of 3D printing, I’m unable to share with you, but most of the material are paper props of various kinds.

  • For newspaper articles, I printed them on sheets of 8.5” x 11” newsprint.
  • Most of the photos are designed to be printed directly onto 4” x 6” photo paper.
  • Larger photos are designed for 8.5” x 11” photo paper. (In some cases, multiple images are arranged so that they can be printed on a single sheet and cut out.)
  • For telegrams, I found that simply printing them on yellow paper was extremely effective.
  • For the record album, I have included an MP3 audio file and also a CD label that can be printed using the Neato CD labels. (The CD is obviously anachronistic, but the ability to actually take the prop and play it is pretty awesome.)

Most of these props are original (albeit often sourced from period photographs and the like). But several of the props were originally developed by and shared by others on Yog-Sothoth.com. I’m including my copies here because most of them have been altered or repurposed to fit into the rest of my campaign schema, but if you end up continuing to develop Eternal Lies material for your own tables I heartily encourage you to pop over to Yog-Sothoth and share your work with the larger community.

Third, there are my CAMPAIGN NOTES. As with the dioramas and prop packets, these are broken down by location. They serve as a quick reference for running the campaign, but obviously also contain all of the other alterations and additions I’ve made.

NODE STRUCTURE

One of my biggest goals with this remix was to enrich the node-based structure of the campaign.

As written, Eternal Lies has a fairly straight-forward structure: A short track of investigation takes you from New York to Savannah and then to a mansion in Los Angeles where you discover a book which contains clues pointing to four other locations scattered around the globe. While investigating those locations, you’ll discover additional clues which will combine to form a “final Eternal Lies - Node Structurerevelation” pointing you towards the conclusion of the campaign.

I liked the open-ended, go wherever you want structure. What I didn’t like was the book. First, it was a single point of failure: If the PCs don’t find the book, the rest of the campaign doesn’t happen. Second, it feels a little too on-the-nose in the metagame: It felt like the GM saying, “Here’s your menu for the campaign. Please make your next selection.”

I wanted something a little more organic. I wanted things to feel messy and real. I wanted to give the players a greater sense of charting their own course, instead of just picking from a menu of three options. And I wanted the choice of sequence to have a more meaningful impact on how the investigation played out.

First, I significantly decreased the importance of the book and liberally spread clues pointing to the other cult locations throughout the Los Angeles investigation. I also mixed things up by adding additional clues to both the New York and Savannah investigations: It’s now possible to go from New York directly to Los Angeles, for example. Or to follow a lead from Savannah and go directly to Bangkok.

Second, I radically increased the cross-pollination of clues between locations. For example, in the original campaign the only “access point” to Bangkok was the book in Los Angeles. In the remix campaign, investigators can be pointed towards Bangkok from Savannah, Malta, Mexico City, and Axum.

So if the investigators, for example, take the first clue they find in Los Angeles and skedaddle before completing the rest of their investigation there, everything will be just fine: Wherever they’re going, they should be able to dig up more clues to keep their investigation alive. (In a worst case scenario, of course, they might find themselves doubling back to Los Angeles.)

THE FINAL REVELATIONS

The biggest weakness in Eternal Lies are two revelations that the PCs have to make near the end of the campaign. The first of these is the revelation that the Devouring Mountain, where the ultimate villain of the campaign is located, is Mt. Kailash in Thibet. In the campaign as written, this revelation is theoretically split into three clues:

  • A map in Bangkok showing that the villain is located at Mt. Kailash.
  • A clue in Malta that the villain can only be reached at Mt. Kailash during a certain time of the month.
  • A clue in Mexico City that reveals that Mt. Kailash is the Devouring Mountain.

I say “theoretically split” because it’s pretty obvious that once you get a map pointing you directly at the location, you can pretty much brute force the rest of the problem (which causes the entire campaign to short circuit).

To fix this, it has been recommended that the map in Bangkok is in a huge stack of papers and only becomes notable once the PCs discover the clue in Mexico City. This is unsatisfying, however, because it creates a dynamic where the penultimate conclusion of the campaign isn’t the result of the players solving a mystery, it’s just the GM telling them where to go next.

To make matters even worse, Eternal Lies then immediately repeats this mistake. At the conclusion of the events at Mt. Kailash, the GM is supposed to once again say, “Oh, yeah. Your characters now remember a piece of paper I never told you about that tells you what to do next.”

It’s as if you were playing a traditional murder mystery and, at the end of the scenario, the GM said, “Oh, yeah. Your character remembers seeing a clue I didn’t tell you about several weeks ago. Tom’s the murderer.”

To which I say: Bah! Humbug!

So as part of the Alexandrian Remix, these final two revelations have been significantly restructured.

First, the MT. KAILASH REVELATION consists of three clues:

  • Sirikhan mounted unsuccessful expeditions to several locations searching for the Maw of the Mouth, including Mt. Kailash. (Clues to this effect are primarily found in Bangkok.)
  • The Maw of the Mouth lies within the Devouring Mountain. (Clues to this effect are primarily found in Mexico City.)
  • The Rift of the Maw opens only on the night of a New Moon beneath a clear sky. (Clues to this effect are primarily found in Malta.)

So in Bangkok the PCs will essentially gain a big list of location names, with no way to distinguish which location is the one they want. (Note that the only mountain in the list is Mt. Kailash.) In Mexico City they’ll be told that they’re looking for a mountain. And in Malta they’ll be told when they need to be there (which also explains why Savitree failed). It doesn’t matter which order they find these clues in, they won’t be able to piece the whole thing together unless they have all three.

Second, the REVELATION OF THE APOCALYPSE was trickier to solve. The method I eventually adopted was to NOT provide clues that allow the PCs to “solve” the mystery. Instead, I designed four key concepts:

  • Great power requires great sacrifice.
  • Echavarria’s ritual had two layers / two purposes.
  • Edgar Job played a key role in Echavarria’s ritual, but no one knows what it was.
  • Azathoth was the true focus of Echavarria’s interest.

And then I layered material supporting these concepts throughout the campaign. I can then pull whatever subset of material they discovered to form the final, spiteful vision sent to them at Mt. Kailash. For example: “Edgar Jobs dragging a cigarette and telling you he was Chosen by Echavarria in 1924. The summoning of the Liar From Beyond as only one part of the ritual. Montgomery Donovan sacrificing his wife because he knew it was necessary to sacrifice great things to achieve great power. What greater sacrifice could there be then a god summoned from beyond the Great Wall of Glaaki? And what greater power than the destructive gaze of Azathoth!”

The idea is that, at least thematically, the answer was in front of them the entire time (instead of being delivered from out of the blue). The actual solution to the problem has also been tweaked, so even after they get this revelation, they’ll still need to figure out what to actually do about it.

NEW LOCATIONS

Those already familiar with the campaign will also notice that there are two completely new locations in the Alexander Remix: The Severn Valley and Axum. Both of these arose through actual play, and I’ll be discussing the role they play in more detail as they actually get presented.

CHANGE OF DATE

A final significant change I made to the campaign was the date: As published, Eternal Lies begins in 1937, thirteen years after the original ritual was performed in 1924.

I suspect, however, that the campaign was originally supposed to start in 1934 and the decision to move it to 1937 was made rather late in the design process (for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me). There are a number of subtle hints to this effect in the text, but the big one is that one section of the campaign is set during the Abyssinia Crisis, which started in 1934 and was concluded by May 1936.

Rather than try to completely rework the Ethiopia material, I decided to simply crank the clock back. My version of the campaign begins in New York on October 31st, 1934.

THE ALEXANDRIAN REMIX

Campaign Overview

1.0 Maps and Campaign Props
1.1 New York
1.2 Savannah
1.3 Los Angeles

Books of the Los Angeles Cult – UCLA Lot
Books of the Los Angeles Cult – Cult’s Library

2.0 Act II – Floating Scenes
2.1 Bangkok
2.2.1 Severn Valley
2.2 Ethiopia
2.2.1 Obelisk of Axum
2.3 Malta
2.4 Mexico City
2.5 Yucatan

3.1 Thibet
3.2 Apocalypse

You may also find my System Cheat Sheet for Trail of Cthulhu useful.

From Reddit:

At the conclusion to this school year’s campaign, in order to pick up at the beginning of next semester, I want to have Pelor and Sehanine fight, with Pelor winning and eating Sehanine’s heart to become corrupted. However, if I just set the gods in a valley and describe what happens as they throw down, I feel like I am taking away my players agency. Advice?

My response to this is based on Part 2 of The Art of Pacing, and I thought it raised some specific points that might be of interest to others:

Right now you’re setting the agenda of the scene as, “Will Pelor eat Sehanine’s heart?” That’s an understandable impulse because it’s clearly the biggest and coolest thing happening in that particular moment. But, as you note, that agenda doesn’t mention the PCs at all and, therefore, prevents them from taking any meaningful action.

Instead of focusing on the outcome of the god-fight, you need to figure out what the PCs’ agenda will be during the fight: What is it they’re trying to accomplish and what are the obstacles they’ll need to overcome to accomplish it?

Another way to think about this would be to replace the god-fight with a similarly cataclysmic event. For example, the PCs are in Los Angeles and the Big One hits the San Andreas fault. The agenda here would not be, “Will the earthquake destroy Los Angeles?” The answer to that question is beyond the PCs’ control. The agenda will instead involve the PCs reacting to the immediate chaos and destruction around them, probably answering variations of, “Can you survive?” or “Can you save that person/place/item?”)

Or you could actually think of the god-fight as a spectator event. For example, let’s say your PCs go to a football game. There are two possibilities here: Either the event is narrated very quickly and you move on to the next interesting thing which actively involves the PCs (“The game goes to sudden death overtime, but the Vikings pull out a victory. What do you do after the game?”). Or you’re focused on an event happening at the football match which is unrelated to the game (so that the agenda is something like, “Will Carlie kiss you?”). Or the PCs are able to take actions which somehow impact the outcome of the game (by stopping the gangsters who are trying to assassinate the star wide receiver or by outfitting the home team’s shoes with Flubber or whatever).

Returning to the god-fight, you’ll find that the same techniques apply. You could spend 30 seconds describing the titanic fight in brief (but effective) detail before moving onto the next agenda that’s immediately relevant to the PCs. Or you could set agendas that:

  • Deal with the collateral damage of the fight (saving themselves or others).
  • Use the god-fight as the backdrop for some other conflict. (Which may have nothing to do with the god-fight; for example, as the gods begin to fight the PCs might be attacked by a group of assassins. The narration of the god-fight backdrops or thematically complements the fight against the assassins; maybe by-products from the god-fight affect the assassin fight in cool ways.)
  • Allow the PCs to directly affect or influence the god-fight (maybe there are local shrines to the gods that they can imbue with energy; or they could organize mass prayers; or travel to points of sympathetic divine resonance in the region and sacrifice their divine spell slots to aid their god).
  • Or the outcome of the god-fight (for example they might be able to take actions during the fight which will either aid or hinder them later while dealing with Pelor’s corruption).
  • Allow the PCs to learn something from the god-fight.

If you’re struggling to come up with an appropriate agenda, don’t be afraid of letting your players set the agenda. For example:

GM: Pelor and Sehanine start to fight. What do you do?

Players: We RUN!!

Presto. The agenda is, “Can they escape?” and you should be able to run with it from there. Even if they decide there’s no possible agenda for them to pursue (like people just enjoying the football game in front of them), it’s still a useful technique:

GM: Pelor and Sehanine start to fight. What do you do?

Players: We sit in stunned silence and watch.

Now you can launch into you 60 second description of the titanic battle playing out in front of them, but you haven’t removed their agency. (They’re the ones who chose to stay and watch.)

Final tip: Break the fight into a half dozen or so distinct beats. Describing these beats succinctly is the 60 second description, but the beats also provide a flexible structure for any other agendas that might be pursued. (If they start fighting assassins, for example, each beat gets described as the backdrop to a round of combat. If they try to save people in a nearby village, some or all of the beats provide complications to that effort. And so forth.)

This article originally appeared in the August 2002 issue of Campaign Magazine. It originated as a set of house rules I used in my original 3rd Edition campaign. Its stripped down simplicity should make it widely applicable to most D20-based games (including 3.5 and PF).

This alternate system for magic item creation scraps the original item creation feats (found in the core rulebook) and replaces them with an alternate set, consisting of Scribe Scroll, Brew Potion, Enchant Wand, Enchant Magic Arms and Armor, Enchant Magical Items, Enchantment, and Major Enchantment.

The system defines five types of magic items:

Scrolls. A one use device for storing spells usable by spellcasters. This typically takes the form of written parchment, but this is not necessarily the case.

Potion. A one use device for storing spells usable by anybody. However, a potion must affect only the person using it (although the affect may allow the user to effect others, such as a potion of fire-breathing). Potions almost always take the form of a liquid which is activated by drinking.

Wands. Stores a single spell with 50 charges (with each charge allowing the user to use the wand’s spell one time). Wands usually take the form of a thin baton.

Magic Arms/Armor. Magical weapons, armor, and shields. Although arms and armor can actually be used as the focus for many types of items (for example, a sword could be enchanted as a wand), this category specifically applies to only two things: (1) Creating weapons or armor with magical bonuses; and (2) Creating weapons or armor with special abilities.

Magical Items. A catch-all category containing everything else (including items previously defined as wondrous items, rods, rings, and staffs).

The system defines three types of feats:

Basic Creation Feats. Scribe Scroll and Brew Potion are basic creation feats. Spellcasters can use Scribe Scroll and Brew Potion with nothing more than the feat, the spell, and the necessary materials.

Enchant Feats. Enchant Wand, Enchant Magic Arms and Armor, and Enchant Magical Items are the three Enchant feats. These feats represent the spellcaster’s basic knowledge of how to create a specific type of item.

Enchantment Feats. Enchantment and Major Enchantment are the enchantment feats. Enchantments are broke into three categories: Minor enchantments (spell levels 1-3), enchantments (spell levels 4-6), and major enchantments (spell levels 7-9). A spellcaster can create an item requiring only a minor enchantment (for example, an amulet of natural armor) with nothing more than the appropriate enchant feat and spell (in this case, Enchant Magical Item and barkskin). If a spellcaster wishes to create an item requiring an enchantment or major enchantment (for example, a wand of ice storm) the spellcaster must have the appropriate enchant feat, the appropriate spell, and the appropriate enchantment feat (in this case, Enchant Wand, ice storm, and Enchantment).

In general, creating items in the new system is identical to creating items in the original system – except that the prerequisites for creating an item now use the new feats instead of the old (as described above). (See the accompanying table for a quick conversion if the appropriate feat is not readily apparent for some reason.)

NEW FEATS

SCRIBE SCROLL
You can create scrolls, from which you or another spellcaster can cast the scribed scroll. A scroll is a one use device for storing spells usable by spellcasters. This typically takes the form of written parchment, but this is not necessarily the case.

Prerequisite: Spellcaster Level 1st+

Benefit: You can create a scroll of any spell that you know. Scribing a scroll takes 1 day for each 1,000 gp in its base price. The base price of a scroll is its spell level multiplied by its caster level multiplied by 25 gp. To scribe a scroll, you must spend 1/25 of this base price in XP and use up raw materials costing half of this base price.

Any scroll that stores a spell with a costly material component or an XP cost also carries a commensurate cost to the creator. In addition to the costs derived from the base price, you must expend the material component or pay the XP when scribing the scroll.

 

BREW POTION
You can create potions which carry spells within themselves. Potions are a one use device for storing spells usable by anybody. However, a potion must affect only the person using it (although the affect may allow the user to effect others, such as a potion of fire-breathing). Potions almost always take the form of a liquid which is activated by drinking (although some potions are known as elixirs, and magic oils are activated by rubbing them on the body).

Prerequisite: Spellcaster Level 3rd+

Benefit: You can create a potion of any spell of 3rd level or lower that you know and that targets a creature or creatures. Brewing a potion takes 1 day. When you create the potion, you set the caster level. The caster level must be sufficient to cast the spell in question and no higher than your own level. The base price of a potion is its spell level multiplied by its caster level multiplied by 50 gp. To brew a potion, you must spend 1/25 of this base price in XP and use up raw materials costing half of this base price.

When you create a potion you make any choices that you would normally make when casting the spell. Whoever drinks the potion is the target of the spell.

Any potion that stores a spell with a costly material component or an XP cost also carries a commensurate cost to the creator. In addition to the costs derived from the base price, you must expend the material component or pay the XP when creating the potion.

 

ENCHANT WAND
You can create wands, which cast spells. A wand stores a single spell with 50 charges (with each charge allowing the user to use the wand’s spell one time). Wands usually take the form of a thin baton.

Prerequisites: Spellcaster Level 5th+

Benefits: You can create a wand of any spell of 4th level or lower that you know. (You must possess the Enchantment feat to create wands with 4th level spells.) Crafting a wand takes 1 day for each 1,000 gp in its base price. The base price of a wand is its caster level multiplied by the spell level multiplied by 750 gp. To craft a wand, you must spend 1/25 of this base price in XP and use up raw materials costing half of this base price.

A newly created wand has 50 charges.

Any wand that stores a spell with a costly material component or an XP cost also carries a commensurate cost to the creator. In addition to the costs derived from the base price, you must expend fifty copies of the material component or pay fifty times the XP cost.

 

ENCHANT MAGIC ARMS AND ARMOR
You can create magical weapons, armor, and shields – enchanting them with magical bonuses or special abilities.

Prerequisite: Spellcaster Level 5th+

Benefit: You can create any magic weapon, armor, or shield whose prerequisites you meet. (You must possess the Enchantment or Major Enchantment feats to create an item with prerequisite spells of 4th level or above.) Enchancing a weapon, suit or armor, or shield takes 1 day for each 1,000 gp in the price of its magical features. To enhance a weapon, suit or armor, or shield, you must spend 1/25 of its features’ total price in XP and use up raw materials costing half of this total price. (See the core rulebooks for descriptions of magic weapons, armor, and shields, the prerequisites associated with each one, and prices of their features.)

You can also mend a broken magic weapon, suit or armor, or shield if it is one that you could make. Doing so costs half the XP, half the raw materials, and half the time it would take to enchant that item in the first place.

The weapon, armor, or shield to be enhanced must be a masterwork item that you must provide. (Its cost is not included in the above cost.)

 

ENCHANT MAGICAL ITEMS
You can create miscellaneous magic items – including rods, staffs, rings, crystal balls, and others

Prerequisite: Spellcaster Level 5th+

Benefit: You can create any miscellaneous magic item whose prerequisites you meet. (You must possess the Enchantment or Major Enchantment feats to create an item with prerequisite spells of 4th level or above.) Enchanting a miscellaneous magic item takes 1 day for 1,000 gp in its price. To enchant a miscellaneous magic item, the spellcaster must spend 1/25 of it the item’s price in XP and use up raw materials costing half of this price.

You can also mend a broken miscellaneous magic item if it is one that you could create. Doing so costs half the XP, half the raw materials, and half the time that it would take to enchant that item in the first place.

Some wondrous items incur extra costs in material components or XP as noted in their descriptions. These costs are in addition to those derived from the item’s base price. You must pay such a cost to create an item or mend a broken one.

 

ENCHANTMENT
You are capable of enchanting items requiring more powerful spells.

Benefit: You can create magic items requiring prerequisite spells of 4th-6th level.

Normal: A spellcaster without the Enchantment feat can only create magic items with prerequisite spells of 1st-3rd level.

 

MAJOR ENCHANTMENT
You are capable of enchanting items requiring the most powerful spells.

Benefit: You can create magic items requiring prerequisite spells of 7th level or higher.

This material is covered by the Open Gaming License.

Tagline: Life on Caprice is an incredibly strong book and absolutely essential to anyone interested in exploring a new world or keeping up on the cutting edge developments of the Heavy Gear universe. But behind its success there is a flaw — a flaw which must be corrected.

Heavy Gear: Life on Caprice - Dream Pod 9In 1995 Dream Pod 9 released the first edition of Heavy Gear. The game was set on the world of Terra Nova, a colony orbiting a distant star, in the cycle TN 1932 (6132 A.D.). The game consisted of two core books: The rulebook (containing both a roleplaying and a tactical system) and Life on Terra Nova (which described a setting of epic scope in copious and useful detail).

Over the next five years both of these books would see a much-improved second edition, and three additional volumes were also added to the core of the game: Crisis of Faith, Blood on the Wind, and Return to Cat’s Eye. Also known as “storyline books” these secondary core books would advance our knowledge of Terra Nova by nine cycles – taking us to TN 1941. Over the course of that time Terra Nova was wracked by an Interpolar War, and then suddenly faced with the knowledge that the fascist powers of Mother Earth were returning once more to conquer their world.

Confronted by this new threat, Terra Nova decided to respond in kind. At the end of Return to Cat’s Eye we learn that Terra Nova has launched a covert campaign against Caprice. Also known as the “Gate World”, Caprice has been subjugated by Terran forces, and represents the link between Earth and her “lost” colonies.

All of which opens the door to Life on Caprice: The most recent secondary core book for Heavy Gear and acting as the basic supplement describing the world of Caprice.

Life on Caprice, essentially, is the exact same type of book as Life on Terra Nova. This makes for a rather unique product – one which can be used as a supplement for existing Heavy Gear campaigns, or one which can be used as the basis for a whole campaign in its own right. Indeed, Life on Caprice comes so tantalizingly close to functioning as a completely separate entity from Life on Terra Nova that it becomes disappointing that the possibility was never realized.

First, let us understand that Life on Caprice is an incredibly strong product: Describing an alien world with startling precision and breadth. For those unfamiliar with the Heavy Gear universe, Caprice is a largely barren world – except for a deep trench gouged in the surface long ago where atmospheric pressure is high enough to support human life unaided. As a result, almost the entire population of the planet lives in Gomorrah – the city which chokes the trench from one end to the other with a population of 311 million. Colonized and controlled by corporations, the Capricians wage a silent battle against their Terran conquerors, who are using Caprice as a staging area for their invasions against the other colony worlds (including Terra Nova). While crafting an entire planet, the authors have not failed to provide all sorts of “gritty” detail that is immediately practical for the GM.

As I read through the book I literally began to seethe with the possibilities of adventure which are not only promised, but delivered. The aptest metaphor which occurred to me was that of a monument: Large and symbolic; yet also something real and tangible.

So let there be no doubt: Life on Caprice is a strong success that is an admirable addition to a wonderful game line.

Where it fails, however, is in the details. It is here, between the realm of the successes it achieves and the successes it should have achieved that Life on Caprice finds its strengths being chipped and whittled away.

For simplicity, let us compare Life on Caprice to Life on Terra Nova. Life on Terra Nova gives coverage to every single city-state and important settlement on the face of Terra Nova – a grand total of 80 different communities. The closest analogy to these on Caprice are the “Hubs” of Gomorrah – each of which is large enough to be a city in its own right. There are 72 of these on Caprice, but Life on Caprice only describes 11 of them. Thus, where Terra Nova was given a dynamic breadth which made the world seem to come to life even as you read through the book, all the facets of Caprician life become oddly focused through the one seventh of the planet’s Hubs which are actually described. When a character’s haunts are mentioned, they are always in these hubs. When a location is described, it is always within these hubs. When an important historical event took place, it is always within these hubs.

In the historical section in Life on Terra Nova we are told of Amanda Miyagama – important because she was the key player in establishing the Caprician Corporate Executive (CCE), a body which continues to function as Caprice’s government to this day. Why, then, is she not even mentioned in Life on Caprice?

In Life on Terra Nova dozens of influential people are described to us. In Life on Caprice we are given only 7 NPCs. Only four corporations. Only three Liberati clans. Again and again and again Life on Caprice finds itself damned not because it fails to give, but because it fails to give as much as we’ve come to expect from Dream Pod 9. Terra Nova seemed to have a legitimate life of its own, but that sense of life is lost in the all-too-narrow focus of Life on Caprice. Lang Regina is described in Life on Terra Nova because she is an important part of Terra Novan life; the fact that she ends up playing a major part in the peace effort following the Interpolar War seems to be simply a result of part in Terra Novan life that she plays. Qaid Henault, Captain of the Princess, on the other hand, is described in Life on Caprice because he plays a major role in the Black Talon program (which is, in turn, a major part of the Heavy Gear metaplot). Instead of feeling like a world which just happens to be involved in an interesting period in history, Caprice is described as a place whose primary function is be involved in the evolving metaplot.

I recently wrote (and feel compelled to repeat) that being truly excellent is a double-edged sword: On the one hand, of course, you’re excellent – and that comes with a lot of perks. On the other hand, though, you have set yourself a very high standard indeed – and a failure in the details suddenly becomes a notable offense.

And it is in the details that Life on Caprice fails; and it is in the details that Life on Caprice disappoints. On the larger scale I rejoice, because Life on Caprice is a success there. On this smaller, but no less important scale, though, I am depressed – because Life on Caprice could’ve, and should’ve, been so much more.

Consider this a message to Dream Pod 9: The 96 page books have failed. In producing books of this length you have been forced to sacrifice the fine hair’s breadth difference between being merely good and truly excellent. The true problem, though, lies in the next level: Left unchecked these problems will begin to cascade across the product line – information that was left uncovered in Life on Caprice will now have to be picked up in supplements further down the line. In turn, those supplements will be forced to sacrifice information in turn. Slowly, but surely, the shorter formats will increasingly weaken all of Dream Pod 9’s books.

By all means: Buy Life on Caprice. It is an incredibly strong book, and absolutely essential to anyone interested in exploring a new world or keeping up on the cutting edge developments of the Heavy Gear universe. But behind its success there is a flaw – a flaw which must be corrected.

Thanks are extended to M. Ramirez, Jeremy T. Fox, and Derek Guder for feedback during the process of writing this review.

Style: 4
Substance: 4

Author: Lucien Soulban (with Stuart Elle, Chris Hartford, Auden Reiter, and Marc-Alexandre Vezina)
Company/Publisher: Dream Pod 9
Cost: $18.95
Page Count: 96
ISBN: 1-896776-66-3

Originally Posted: 2000/07/07

The weak Canadian dollar in the late ’90s did really serious damage to both the Heavy Gear and Jovian Chronicles product lines. They had originally featured 148 and 160 page sourcebooks. When these were reduced to 96 pages and, later, 80 pages (literally chopping the books in half) the quality of the material necessarily suffered in what quickly became a cascading catastrophe (with the weaknesses of one sourcebook spilling over onto the next).

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

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