Alternity Dark Matter Campaign Setting
Alternity Dark Matter Campaign Setting Capsule Review by Daron "Dan" Patton on 05/09/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
Great Book! Dark*Matter’s thorough treatment of the subject of paranormal elements makes the book a valuable reference for any gamer wanting to play in this type of environment. This setting book retailed for $30.00 when it was released and I think it’s worth the money if you’re group is even the least bit interested in playing in an X-Files-like world. You can probably pick it up even cheaper at gamestore clearances or internet auctions.
Product: Alternity Dark Matter Campaign Setting
Author: Wolfgang Baur with Monte Cook
Page count: 287
Year published: 1999
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Daron "Dan" Patton on 05/09/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Modern day
Dark*Matter is a campaign setting for the Alternity game system and a doggone nice one at that.
Before I go further, let me explain for those who may not know, just exactly what the Alternity game system is or rather was. Around 1998, TSR (familiar to many gamers as part of the Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast corporate chimera) released Alternity. It was meant to be a generic game system for role-playing sci-fi. The game came pretty well set to run a space opera setting called Star*Drive which was the first campaign setting released for the game.
Unfortunately, whether due to the dice mechanic or the ultimate acquisition of the Star Wars license the game failed and was discontinued in early 2000. Dark*Matter was the second setting released for the Alternity game with Star Craft (based on the PC game) and Gamma World following on as last-ditch releases after the game was pretty much abandoned by WOTC.
Where Star*Drive tried to explore (no pun intended) the space opera sub-genre, Dark*Matter focuses on modern day paranormal stuff in the vein of X-Files. Dark*Matter’s thorough treatment of the subject makes the book a valuable reference for any gamer wanting to play in this type of environment. I won’t go into the game system, since this isn’t a review of the Alternity system, per se. However, Fast-Play rules, pared down basic rules that allow you to grasp the concept of the game/play a small mini-game are included in the book; perhaps unsurprisingly, the setting meshes very well with the Alternity game mechanic, providing setting-specific expansions to many of the core concepts.
Chapter 1 is the standard RPG introduction. It also discusses Alternity and most importantly the basic concept of the Dark*Matter world, which is paranormal adventuring in a conspiracy-riddled world. The first chapter also provides sample characters, the aforementioned fast-play rules and a nicely done mini-adventure called Exit 23. Exit 23 is a reprint of the same mini-game that was presented in Dragon Magazine to introduce gamers to Dark*Matter. It’s a great intro to the setting and gives GMs and players a really firm idea about what D*M is all about.
The second chapter focuses on the central entity of the setting, an organization dedicated to ferreting out truth in a world permeated with the supernatural and rampant conspiracies: The Hoffman Institute. Basically, Hoffman Institute serves as a launch pad and sponsor for the players’ characters as they explore the D*M setting. Everything from archives to super-science analytical laboratories can be found in the Institute’s arsenal and the players are gonna need everything HI can give them since there are bad things afoot in the world.
Chapter 3 centers on skills and other character developing concepts needed for playing in a modern conspiracy setting. Perks and Flaws (a staple of the Alternity system) allow players to customize their characters by using/gaining skill points that can also be used to purchase skills. D*M Perks and Flaws are particularly suitable to the setting and include, among other items, the character having been abducted all the way up to my favorite which allows a PC to try to “remember” a friend who may be living in/near the current scene so that help can be obtained. This chapter also covers Mind walking as applicable to the D*M world. Mindwalking is Alternity-speak for mental powers and psionics.
Chapter 4 expands the use of supernatural gifts even further through effects called “FX”. FX are abilities that call on other-worldly power and include Magic and Faith, depending on where the other-worldly power resides. From voodoo practice to standard spell-casting, this chapter covers it in respects to the Alternity system.
Chapters 5 through 7 are where the book really shines in my opinion. In order they cover the History of the World, The Illuminati (more than you might think) and Places of Interest. History of the World, unsurprisingly discusses the earth from the ancient past to present and incorporates everything from earliest myths to modern day tabloid headlines. The Illuminati chapter covers organizations you’ve always wondered about in one way or another.
From NASA and CDC to aliens themselves, this chapter makes you think about where your charitable donations and taxes are going and what’s being done with the funds on the other end. You also may never look at another tabloid headline with such skepticism again once you find out exactly how overrun the planet is with little green men. Places of Interest spans virtually every continent, providing nice little adventure hook seeds for the GM who wants his players to drag all over the globe and maybe even into nearby solar system space…
The eighth chapter is a good old-fashioned and much needed monster manual for the setting. Entitled Xenoforms, Chapter 8 discusses demons, mothmen, sasquatch and ghosts. As a note for fans of D*M, I have seen a follow-on product--also called Xenoforms if I recall correctly--that is supposed to provide even more nasties to inhabit this dark and scary world.
Chapters 9 and 10 might make some GMs scoff at first glance. They cover hints and insights on running a Dark*Matter campaign and Campaign Options. Many GMs may feel these are unnecessary but I think they’re welcome bits of information. After all, who couldn’t use a little more advice on how to make players paranoid or how to misinform them or how to ensure that you leak your secrets in such a way as to not give away the plot(s) too soon. I think these two chapters are solid stuff and much needed for even experienced GMs working with this type of setting.
Chapter 11 provides one additional adventure for fledgling D*M players and GMs to work on. Titled “Raw Recruits”, this adventure is designed to serve either as a stand alone one-shot game or as the opening to a longer running campaign. I personally think that Exit 23 did a more than superior job of doing this, but I also don’t want to argue with more content for the money. And that pretty much wraps up the play by play for this book.
One of the biggest kudos I can give the book is the amount of research that has been done to produce it. After all, this game--unlike most fantasy or sci-f RPGs--is based in our modern world. Encyclopedias, internet searches and paranormal books by the ton have been referenced to make this setting as thorough and--frankly--believable as possible. The timelines in the history section are particularly interesting, especially if you have an afternoon to putter around on your favorite search engine.
This setting book retailed for $30.00 when it was released and I think it’s worth the money if you’re group is even the least bit interested in playing in an X-Files-like world. You can probably pick it up even cheaper at gamestore clearances or internet auctions.
The book itself is a hardbound, like the Players Handbook and GM Guide and is filled with lots of great art to compliment the outstanding job that has been done in fleshing out this setting. One last note: Don’t read it in the dark. Trust me on this.