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Quality Control: Creating the New Look of the Game

The Substance, In True Reverend Mother Style

Joshua Brain Jaffe
November 27, 2000
 
Hallo, boy and girls.

Lemme kick off this column by stating that I'm not Pidge. Instead, it's the Reverend Mother Sean Benjamin Jaffe, AKA Qui-Gon, AKA Lord Have Mercy, taking a break from tapping out all the words that will soon be compiled into the volume we like to call The Last Exodus around here to do my brother a favor and write his column for him. Now, I'm not doing this just to give him the day off, but rather to school you guys in what TLE is actually ABOUT, something that apparently isn't too well understood in these parts. I'm excited about meeting all of you and doing Quality Control. You bet your ass I'm gonna make Josh do A Place Beyond Shame for me once GO is back up.

As per the conditions of Quality Control, I'm writing this from a weird location: A tattoo parlor, Times Square, the Hudson River, or, in this case, my bathroom.
Just trust me on this one, Okay?
So. Time for me to drop some TLE science on the RPG.net crowd, huh? Well, it's not gonna be easy: I'm essentially compacting a half year's worth or so of articles into a single column. Keep your eyes peeled, this is gonna be a lot to take in. Ready?
Where to begin?
At the beginning.
The Last Exodus.

Two Gods- the one who created man, who lives in Heaven (Ahura Mazda), and the one who man created, who lives on Earth (The GODHEAD) - have been battling for supremacy since before the Old Testament. In the past it has always weighed incumbent on certain individuals to carry out the orders of these Gods- Guys like Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.
However, something went wrong with the final plan, and the girl chosen to be the Messiah of Earth, a Muslim, was killed in the ethnic cleansing of a small Bosnian town in the early nineties by a group of Serbian Nationalists. The powers that be panicked and chose to awaken every potential Messiah and Antichrist (apparently, these Gods, collectively known as the Demiurge, have been procreating like mad for the past century or so) for a final war in the new Millennium. Each God chose six humans to act as leaders for their various Religions, which are brand new here on Earth, but have existed in the theocracy of Eden for centuries where they have been disseminated and over-analyzed into literally millions of smaller religions. These smaller religions govern everything from business to the military to waste management.

On Earth, however, the lines are drawn neatly between two camps: The Sanhedrin and The Apostate.
The Sanhedrin (who take their name from the council of Jewish priests said to condemn Christ to death in the New Testament), which is based on Earth, worships the GODHEAD and venerates it through reveling in the darkest aspects of human nature- the dark and evil things that separate humans from the pure souls of Eden. The Sanhedrin is comprised of the Chain, a cult of occultists and scholars, The Crush: a pack of rapists and perverts, The Firm: a cadre of fatcats and financiers, the Horde: a swarm of fanatics and bigots, The Institute: a cell of scientists and researchers, and The Regime: a battalion of warriors and killers.

On the other hand, there's the Apostate (Named for their Apostasy from the GODHEAD itself), which is based in Eden, and seeks to save what they can of humanity from the trappings of Earth before our realm is completely quarantined and separated forever from the divine plan. The Apostate consists of The Alliance: a group of survivors and vigilantes, The Congregation: a Bah'ai-esque conglomeration of faiths, The Chamber: a collection of freaks and rejects, The Order: a faction Of webheads and techno-artists: The Squad, a gang of urban types and disaffected youth, and the Underground: a cell of artistic revolutionaries.

These religions seek out Scions, or Prodigal Children, on Earth- the dozens, perhaps thousands, of Humans born on Earth who are direct children of the Demiurge. These Scions, as direct descendants of God, have a whole slew of interesting powers at their disposal, first of which is the ability to Cross Over or Shift into Eden by performing a Sacred Rite (specific to each religion- members of the Congregation pray to God, Members of the Horde engage in self mutilation, and members of the Firm pay a small fee to their branch office over the phone by credit card.)
Crossing over is a strange ability- it is essentially spiritually turning inside out. The Body becomes ethereal and retreats within, the Soul becomes Physical and steps to the fore. In doing so, the Scion can no longer perceive or interact with the physical world (Earth) but becomes completely real in Eden.

There is an infinite variety of souls, which can be anything from angels to robots to elves to giant frogs. Souls eat, drink, screw, piss and do just about everything we do except die- so Eden is a little crowded at times. The locals break themselves down into Soul Orders- twelve hazy categories into which all souls fit somewhere. There's The Bestial Order: the animal souls, The Cerebral Order: thoughts and concepts personified, The Created Order: Souls crafted by other souls, The Cryptic Order: mysteries and nightmares somewhere between angels and demons, The Dominion: angels, The Elemental Order: substances given form, The Enlightened Order: ordinary shmoes who are unchanged by passage to Eden, The Karmic Order: near-superhuman heroes and villains, The Infernal Order: Demons, The Outsider Order: alien souls from other planets, The Primordial Order: lesser gods, and The Sovereign Order: Dragons, elves, and all things Fae. Everyone on Earth has a soul, and very few will ever learn what it looks like.

The next ability available to the Scion, and the one that really makes them formidable, is the ability to work Miracles. Miracles are not your average run-of-the-mill game powers, they are HUGE. Mindbending effects like punching through a battleship, convincing a nation to follow you, or raising the dead with a touch can be done with a simple Miracle, but there's a catch: responsibility. You get one shot with a miracle per story (you can get more by amassing followers- roughly one extra for every ten people willing to follow you around and swear that you are the Child of God) A Messiah who uses their miracle for selfish or evil reasons can undergo Unholy Apotheosis, and wake up an Antichrist (or Vice versa.) The six different kinds or miracles are:
Benediction: The divine art of Blessing and Cursing affects fate and luck, sometimes in completely impossible ways. Studied by the Underground and the Firm.
Deliverance: The tricky power of moving back and forth between Earth and Eden, and taking followers, items and other things along. Studied by the Chamber and the Horde.
Exorcism: The complex ability to control, compel, and cast out souls of all types. Studied by the Congregation and the Chain.
Scripture: The impressive capacity to create things from thin air, like loaves, fishes, doorways, or ATM cards. Essentially re-writing the holy code of existence. Studied by The Order and the Institute.
Smite: The formidable might of a wrathful Demiurge, smite is just what it sounds like, from the fist of God to creating new plagues. Smite is studied by the Squad and the Regime.
Stigmata: The disturbing ability to call up the divinity in the blood, Stigmatics can shapeshift, bleed pure holy essence and boost their physical abilities beyond human comprehension. Stigmata is studied by the Alliance and the Crush.

Finally, it bears mentioning that Eden itself is where the bulk of the action takes place in this war. Eden itself is a very strange realm. It's where souls live, it's where you go when you die. It a realm outside of our perception, built on clouds and brimstone, that is both Heaven and Hell and everything else. In connects to our world through dreams, so for example, the Midwestern United States is the Land of Oz, Britain is Avalon, The Middle East is Samarkand, and Xanadu lines the Pacific Rim. There's all sorts of cool funky crap to screw around with in Eden like flying cars and boats, flaming holy swords, magic and Psionics.

Systems-wise, The Last Exodus is card-based in order to make system transition between live and tabletop play nonexistent. Essentially, all challenges are either Mental (spades), Physical (clubs), Cultural (hearts), or Spiritual (diamonds). You draw a card and add it to your stat and proficiency, adding another one to your score if you drew the appropriate suit. Aces are ones, jacks elevens, and queens twelves, with kings acting as automatic successes and Jokers as automatic failures. Character creation is a breeze- there are only four stats and the rest is all advantages, disadvantages, and proficiencies.

Whew.
There you go- the most comprehensive overview of The Last Exodus to date. My Influences are as wide and as varied as possible, but I suppose I should single out some of the most brutal offenders.

For starters, The Old and New Testament, The Koran, what I could read of the Torah and what I have seen of the Upanishads and the Gnostic Gospels were obviously heavy influences, as well as dozens of mythologies, with Egyptian and Norse ones making a special case. More modern books have been Greg Bear's Blood Music, (The definitive explanation of God, near as I can tell) Milton's Paradise Lost, Gore Vidal's Live from Golgotha, Dr. Hugh Schonfield's The Passover Plot, A.N. Wilson's Jesus: A Life, and just about anything by Andrew Vachss. Two tremendous thematic shout-outs go to Garth Ennis's Preacher and Scott McCloud's Zot!, Although I should point out that Sandman, Heavy Metal, and Penthouse Comics (back in the day) deserve mention as well.

Musically (I wanna go on record as having stated this) it's not just hip-hop! I will be the first to stand up and argue that to release a street-level game and ignore hip-hop is like releasing a fantasy game and ignoring magic. It's patently absurd, and anyone who actually knows anything about the Genre will happily point this out. That said, the Last Exodus is Metal, Goth, Industrial, Hardcore, Techno, Trance, Motown and Punk. The three biggest influences on TLE, musically, are unarguably My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Dream Theater, and Wu-Tang Clan. However, Jurassic 5, Busta Rhymes, Blackeyed Peas, Mobb Deep, OutKast, Das EFX, Ice Cube, Redman, Anthrax, Megadeth, Black Sabbath, Dio, Disturbed, Iron Maiden, The Sisters of Mercy, Fields of the Nefilim, Rosetta Stone, Ministry, Lucyfix, Seraphim Shock, Rise Robots Rise, Bouncing Souls, 2 Bad Mice, Armand Van Helden, Moby, and countless movie soundtracks also deserve mention here.

Speaking of that, the Movies which have left their mark on TLE vary wildly, from Star Wars (all of them) to The Last Temptation of Christ to Demon Knight. Jakob's Ladder, Seven, Doom Generation, The Matrix, New Jack City, The Siege, Boyz In the Hood, The Fifth Element, The Omen, The Exorcist, Edward Scissorhands, Akira, Princess Mononoke, Blade Runner, Kafka, THX-1138, Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, and of course, Manos, The Hands Of Fate. Okay, I'm Kidding on that last one. In any case, A special shout-out needs to be made to a fellow Jersey boy who did a piece about a reluctant scion- Dogma!

Yeesh. I have to admit, this column was a bit more utilitarian than I'm used to, back on my home planet I've disseminated this info in my usual meandering writing style over the course of nearly twenty separate columns. This is a whopping pile of pure information for you to refer back to as Josh explains and describes his design choices, and I do realize that it's a lot to take in at once. No biggie. I'll try to answer whatever questions you got as best I can, but If I get overwhelmed, try not to hate me too much. I'm one guy.

Well, Josh will be checking in back on schedule in 2 weeks to kick this thing back on track, but he was pretty adamant that doing a design columns requires a bit of knowledge of the product, and I agree. Design isn't like a widget, it's not all-purpose, and I pushed Josh to go with the MTV style on this one for very specific reasons that he can explain himself when he gets back. In any case, thanks for your time, RPG.netters, and God bless.
Whatever that means.

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What do you think?

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