Dark Conspiracy (1991)

A while back, a bunch of people asked me to look at GDW’s near future RPG Dark Conspiracy. This week is for you!

This is the core rulebook (1991), by Lester Smith, and you can tell from the cover vibes that GDW was trying to get in on the Shadowrun/Vampire/Cyberpunk competition. Elmore cover in full effect. Like it, though coming back to it, I want to know why that lady is wearing her underwear over her jeans. She also does this in an interior illustration and on the cover of the Dark Conspiracy tactical board game Minions, and it is a real head-scratcher. Inside, Earl Geier, Janet Aulisio, Liz Danforth and Tim Bradstreet sell a gritty, street-level vibe similar to those previously mentioned games.

Anyway, Dark Conspiracy takes place in the early 21st century, after…a great depression ruined the economy, climate change paved the way for the rise of demons and monsters, cities expanded, vast wastelands free of law and order developed. A lot of the structure of the world reminds me of Cyberpunk, while the monster incursions have a Shadowrun/Torg vibe. Dark Conspiracy never feels as wildly out there as those other games though; we’re still rooted in a plausible, realistic world (albeit one populated by demons). Most people are oblivious to the supernatural threats. PCs, as monster hunters, are obviously aware of the titular secret plot and fighting against it.

I was surprised to learn that Dark Conspiracy’s system derives from GDW’s military RPG Twilight 2000, which is too complicated a system for my taste (though it has intriguing character creation mechanics, using career terms to bundle skills in exchange for increasing character age). Twilight, and therefore Dark Conspiracy, has an emphasis on realism, particularly in combat. I feel like that is at odds with the setting a bit.

Its funny, looking back at old reviews, it seems folks thought the system was great and the horror, a melting pot of silly and serious, didn’t work. Today, though, I feel like the system is clunky but the horror is fun and anticipates The X-Files in a lot of ways.

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