Detour is a 14 page Dark Conspiracy adventure that explores portions of New BosWash and the Outlaw lands that surround it. The first by the new DC licensee, 3 Hombres Games, it is available only as a pdf (via RPGnow and DrivethruRPG), for a price point of $6 US. With a new and interesting approach, it offers an insight into the direction that 3 Hombres Games is to take Dark Conspiracy in the future.
In terms of production style and format, Detour mimics the folio structure as seen in Ice Deamon and Nightsider (minus the card covers and maps). This includes such things as the adventure-related banner art on each page, the standard Dark Conspiracy footer and a single column of text, all which are great ‘nods’ to the previous editions and the continuity of the line. The art, all of which is provided by David Lee Ingersoll, is grey-scaled illustrations (except the front cover, which is full colour). These do a good job of invoking the atmosphere of the adventure, and ranges from average to good in terms of quality. That said nothing stands out as distinctly Dark Conspiracy in style or subject matter, although it makes up for this with a sheer quantity that far surpasses most other RPG products (for any line or system) of this size.
Structurally Detour is divided into eleven scenes although it should be pointed out that a few of these are more background and setting frameworks rather than being actual scenes to be played out in game. The first five of these detail the backdrop to the adventure and the information needed to involve the characters in the story, while the final six describe events within the plot and their likely outcomes during play.
As Detour endeavours to detail life outside of the metroplexes and controlled zones, as much as it attempts to provide an actual playable scenario, it is not surprising that the adventure’s hook sees the characters, hired, coerced or forced into signing up with a group that frequents such places. In this case, the Minion Hunter’s potential employer is Salvage Incorporated (or SI), a company that earns a living as rubbish collectors and ‘refurbishers’ of old and abandoned goods.
The scenario’s first scene Taking the Road Less Travelled, offers a number of ways in which the characters might find gainful employment with SI, from the typical – the characters are on the trail of a missing friend or colleague and discover that SI are about to travel through the last place they were seen (deep in the Outlaw) – through to the one I could see being used most readily – the characters need to get away from the city as soon as possible, and the contract, as dangerous as it might seem, offers just that. It is also pointed out that, SI controls ‘a fair amount gray market activities’ in the community and this is yet another way of getting the characters involved in the story. It is great that Detour suggests a range of ways of being brought into an existing DC campaign, and these all gel well with the scenario’s style. Especially as I personally see the best use of this adventure being played out while the Minion Hunters are at a loose end or on the run from someone or something much more dangerous.
The main plot elements in Detour is SIs attempt to retrieve of a large backhoe (or, as they are often referred to outside of America, a JCB) that has either been put up for salvage in a small out-of-the-way place known as Crystal Lake. Of course Crystal Lake sits deep within the Outlaw and with trusted manpower in short supply the Minion Hunters are just the sort of individuals SI is looking for to complete its Sweep (group assigned to the task of retrieving the backhoe).
The events leading up to this opportunity, as well as the standing Salvage Incorporated and its owners – ‘Judge’ Darien Carter and Doug Wiley – has within the local community are detailed in next few scenes. The Urban Ecosystem, Making a Living from Society’s Scraps, Salvage Inc. and The Backstory and the Interview, all add greatly to the atmosphere of Detour and brings to life how society has changed with the onset of the Greater Depression.
The introduction portion of the adventure is rounded out with Scene Six – Salvage Incorporated’s Road Contracts – which explains just how Salvage Inc operates on the road. This is an excellent insight into how organisations like SI have to prepare for travelling in the Outlaw, and could easily be turned into a full scene where the characters are introduced to the team and told what to expect once out of the safety of New BosWash.
At last the adventure proper starts with Scene Seven, The Trip, which covers the initial part of the outbound journey facing the Sweep and again highlights just how much life has changed in Dark America.
Scene Eight, Idle Chatter?, covers just the sorts of stories and rumours you’d expect a team of hardened ‘collectors’ to have gathered after years on the road. As with some of the earlier ‘scenes’, scene eight does a lot to add to the atmosphere to the game and would act as an excellent introduction to the world of Dark Conspiracy for the uninitiated. Approached as on the premise of someone positing the question of ‘what’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen on the road’, it covers things like the discovery of weird road-kill through to the appearance of strange new roads and beyond. It is a great scene, and the material introduced here alone could spark a dozen more Dark Conspiracy adventures.
Scene Nine, A Night in the Woods, returns to the main goal of the adventure, the retrieval of the backhoe, and details both the night the Sweep spends in the Outlaw, and how the group will approach Crystal Lake (or more importantly the lake’s lodge). The scene also provides the potential for an encounter with a group of Rock Gargoyles, although this both seems out of place and is easily avoided as presented.
The real crux of the story is played out in Scene Ten, Breakfast at the Crystal Lake Lodge, and it is here that we discover the real reason that SI (or, if the characters are there because of them, their friend or colleague) was lured to such an out of the way place. Suffice to say that Darkling lurking in the lodge is both conniving and cunning, and has the tools to achieve what it wants – yet more bodies and minds. Unfortunately this scene is somewhat of a letdown compared to the others, a real disappointment when it should have really been the focus (or climax) of what has been other wise a very immersive experience up to this point. My main complaint is that beyond the general motivations and ‘tools’ at the Darkling’s disposal, no real plan or goals beyond the collection of more bodies are mentioned. Worse still, what is presented is likely to quickly become a nothing more than a simple shoot-out and combat scene, with little chance of the players ever really discovering who, what or why the creature is in the Lodge (unless the Referee does a lot of plot development themselves).
The Day After is the eleventh and final scene of the supplement. A collection of further challenges that might face the Sweep as it returns with its prize to New Boswash, these range from encounters with gangers through to discovering another party interested in the Darkling the Minion Hunters have just encountered. Again, while these are well thought out, they seem all too brief and lacking details to really drive any further stories. That said, I think the one idea that does directly relate to the events at the lodge is very, very good, and has the potential to spawn an very interesting and perhaps different sort of Dark Conspiracy campaign.
Detour only provides a few extras, game stats for two weapons (a generic 12 Gauge Revolver Shotgun, and M1919A4 Machinegun) and an updated version of standard body armour (the Spectra Vest with Armour Inserts). In addition, the Darkling from the lodge is detailed in all its gory greatness, although disappointingly its personal minions are not (in fact, it is a bit of a serious error that the reader is pointed to the Dark Races Compendium for details on these, as other than that this scenario is nicely self contained).
It is difficult to sum up what I think of Detour. The reason I say that is because in the end I don’t think it quite knows what it wants to be – an atmospheric setting piece or an example DC adventure. Personally I think it does better as the former, with some interesting and diverse ideas, and a style that really highlights the Dark Conspiracy setting. As an adventure it doesn’t have, in my opinion, much substance beyond the vignettes and core set-up.
Despite these rather negative sounding comments, Detour definitely hits some hit notes. The writing is excellent and, as I’ve said, it is probably the best example of atmospheric prose I’ve seen for the line. It is also interesting to see the author’s take on the Outlaw, a perspective which gives a feeling of it being part ‘wild west’, part ‘post apocalyptic’ in nature . Likewise the scenario does a great job in offering options for bringing the player characters into the adventures, being flexible enough to allow the adventure to be used by players of any DC style game. I also really enjoyed the design and layout of the adventure (a nod to the original supplements that to me says that 3 Hombres Games both respects and wants to build on Dark Conspiracy’s history), and the art, on reflection, is much better than one should really expect from a start-up game publisher releasing their first product.
While there are some editing errors in the text (for example, paragraph 2 on page 7 repeats the same information about the ‘trunk monkey’ – a truck’s tail-end gunner – twice in two different ways) and punctuation seems inconsistent throughout (a few missing fullstops, etc.), nothing really stands in the way of one enjoying the supplement for what it is – a damn good setting and kick-off point for Dark Conspiracy. In fact that is exactly what Detour is, an atmospheric look at ‘what Dark Conspiracy can be’ and how its themes make stand out from other conspiracy or horror games.
In the end there are just three things that in my opinion hold Detour back from great. The lack of details around the darkling creature (its goals and motivations beyond adding new victims), the absences of any sort of investigation (that the characters are limited to essentially entering a running battle with the Darkling once they are aware of its presence*), and the failure to provide the stats for the Darkling’s own minions (in my opinion, a publisher shouldn’t expect a potential player/Referee to have to purchase further material to use a supplement). As I said, none of these are ‘show-stoppers’ but if 3 Hombres Games ever decides to revisit Detour, they could do worse than add these few simple things to the PDF.
I like Detour, it is a great little product and it really showcases just what 3 Hombres Games brings to the line. I definitely look forward to reviewing more of their material in the future.
* although equally one could point out that this lack of investigation actually reinforces the themes of Dark Conspiracy and is probably more honest to its source than many of DC products.
Detour, 2011 3 Hombres Games (11001DC2)
Author: Captain Obvious (an ‘obvious” nom-de-plume)
Cover & Illustrations: David Lee Ingersoll
Editing: Lee Williams
Graphic Design and Layout: Norm Fenlason
Additional Material: Kevin O’Neill