The 0.7 pre-release of Aetherco's "Narcissist" RPG (http://www.aetherco.com/narcissist) begins with a one-page letter that encapsulates the main qualities of the rest of the book: It does an excellent job setting up the "crasher" point of view, but hints at far more than it delivers. (As this is a pre-release, that's really all we can expect.) The letter is written to all humans in all times... it is an apology for creating us.
"Narcissist: Crashing Free" is the companion game to Aetherco's stunning 1999 game of genuine time-travel, Continuum. Where Continuum posits a universe that cannot, must not, be changed, Narcissist claims that the Continuum's beliefs cannot be trusted. Perhaps space-time is malleable and the "the Swarm" is really just trying to maintain a stranglehold on "their" history. Crashers (the less insulting term the Narcissists use for themselves) dedicate their lives to escaping this "prison universe" and creating their own, perfect realities. Hence, Narcissist is the game of genuine alternate histories.
But you could have guessed all that from reading the Continuum RPG. Narcissist promises to bring a few metric tons of the same thoughtful, intelligent analysis to these ideas that Continuum brought to the time-travel genre in general. Among the burning questions it will answer are: "How can alternate realities be reached?" "What tricks and schemes do the Narcissists use to move among the Continuum unseen?" and most importantly, "Who first invented time-travel?"
The pre-release version of Narcissist only hints at most of these things. A good portion of the page count is dedicated to retooling RPG rules from Continuum. (The two games are, not surprisingly, meant to be played together.) However, the retooling is still worth a read to Continuum players because a considerable amount of Narcissist flavor is added to most of them. For people new to both games, they make Narcissist a stand-alone product. The new setting material, though a little sparse and rough in places, is quite interesting. In many ways, I think Narcissist might even turn out more playable than its predecessor.
Like Continuum, Narcissist can be a bit hard to read at times. The subject matter is so esoteric, and the level of detail so rich, that it's hard to write about any individual topic without references a few others. This state of affairs packs both games with in-text references and makes learning the glossary a top priority. Still, I wouldn't tell anyone to let the higher-than-average reading level of the book deter them; Continuum is definitely worth the effort and Narcissist promises to follow in its footsteps.
Though I was certainly left with more questions than answers after reading Narcissist v0.7, I was also left salivating for more. My GM's brain is already swimming with ideas for characters and adventures. Do yourself a favor and at least flip through a copy of Continuum at your local game store. The 48-page Narcissist v0.5 pre-release is also available from Aetherco's website for a very modest $5.95. (I got my copy of v0.7 at Gen Con. Aetherco's PDF catalog does not list it.) It's the only game I've ever played that could occupy a half dozen gamers for over an hour just trying to buy groceries!Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)