When Dark Conspiracy hit the shelves in shelves of game stores in 1991 it wasn’t the first RPG to deal with the themes of conspiracy horror, and nor would it be the last. What follows is a number of other roleplaying games that, in their own way, embrace the concepts of alien invasion, terrors from the dark, and hidden mysteries.
This list is by no mean complete and comprehensive, but rather presented as sources of ideas and adventures for your next Dark Conspiracy game.
In the aid of full disclosure, I’ve set a few prerequisites in creating this list. All are:
- Modern Horror – or in other words are based in own our (or close) world and are set
- Currently Available – you can readily source a copy from the publisher or are a dime-a-dozen on the second hand market.
- Of Interest – I’ve only listed games that I’ve either played and enjoyed or which I own. I realise that this might mean I have excluded one or more obvious additions to this list, but I’m sure to revisit it at some point!
The modern setting for the granddaddy of all horror roleplaying games – Call of Cthulhu. While physical copies of this book are technically out of publication, one still acquire an electronic version via Drivethrurpg. More over, the latest – 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu core rules has more than enough information to run a monster hunting game in our time period.
I’d say that why it is the game/setting that one is least likely to play out of all those presented on this list, it is still a good addition to any horror gaming fan’s collection – especially if you get a hankering for some over the top 80’s-type action. Further more, in the edition I own at least, one can find a number of excellent adventures that could be easily updated to any modern time line (The Killer Out of Space being a true standout).
Despite having a long, albeit stuttering, history, Chill makes this list because it was likely an inspirational predecessor to Dark Conspiracy. While it seems that the original publisher’s – Pacesetter – intentions were to make a Gothic horror game (if the initial box setting and scenarios are to be believed) this material quickly morphed into more current day content. The second edition, published by Mayfair in the late 80s, was full rooted to the modern era, and while at times it could be a little too tongue-in-cheek for its own good, it most certainly deserves to be on this list (not to mention the awful graphic design decision made around the bright purple ‘blood’ stains appearing on various pages).
It is important to note that, just as with Dark Conspiracy, you can’t keep a classic down, and a third edition of Chill (based on the Mayfair version) was recently released by gaming alumni Matthew McFarland (who has had an influence of at least one other game on this list). This edition has all the hall marks of great modern horror and in my opinion readily embraces the concepts of conspiracy horror more than any before it.
Finally, I’d be reminisce to leave off without adding Cryptworld to this list. Another new ‘version’ of Chill, it is firmly developed as a reboot of the original Pacesetter version. Brought to us by Goblinoid Games, the creators of the OSR game Labyrinth Lord, it is worthly addition to this list.
It seems that all the games of this list are destined to have new editions, and Conspiracy X is no different. More of a ‘conspiracy within a conspiracy’ style of game, Con X most definitely finds itself rooted in the zeitgeist of mid-90s America, a time when the biggest perceived threat was from within the superpower’s own borders.
The original edition saw numerous supplements produced for it, and while many started to include aspects of the supernatural and paranormal, to me at least it was (and still is) a game defined by the conspiracy aspects presented by the alien invaders.
A second edition, utilising the Unisystem mechanics, was produced in the mid-2000s, reflecting the changes to the US governmental structure post 9/11. But is wasn’t until 2011 that anything more was published (and again like many of the games here the publication of these supplement where enabled only through the power of Kickstarter).
For me this game is definitely a ‘go to’ for presenting a true conspiracy game, one which has numerous layers and where there is no such thing as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
The darling of conspiracy horror, Delta Green is one of those games that every gamer has heard of – and most likely played. When compiling this list, I was tempted to lump DG in with Cthulhu Now, especially as it is essentially the same RPG with a a few more setting details bolted on. However, Delta Green is more than worthy of its own entry as a 90s era classic.
It’s probably quite hard to put one’s finger on exactly why this game appeals to so many, or just why it has develop such a cult following. Coming from the twisted minds of Pagan Publishing (which was nothing more than a few friends going through college trying to avoid getting real jobs) it definitely brings a darker, more serious approach to the Lovecraft Mythos. But maybe, just like many of it contributors, maybe it is it enigmatic nature that captures so much interest.
Out of publication for many years, one would often see copies of the rarer supplements (such as Delta Green: Countdown) going for crazy prices on the second hand market. The rise of the PDF trade and a republication through Arc Dream has meant that the game continues to be available, although somewhat dated in its setting. This later point, however, may soon be receded, as rumour has it that many of the game’s original authors, assisted by a ‘who’s who’ of horror game writing are working on a new stand-alone edition.
The second incarnation of the Hunter line for White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting, Hunter: The Vigil is probably the game that mimics most closely Dark Conspiracy. Originally released as a limited run line, it provides a sand pit approach to monster hunting and conspiracies; with the characters able to be simple ‘Joes’ defending their neighbourhood through to armed and dangerous government agents.
In this World of Darkness setting, the Hunters are definitely on the back foot when facing most supernatural entities (many of which have their own setting books and rules), this, however, just makes the line more interesting, especially when the players know that the creature you are tracking could well be the next character you get to play. By far the most professional and well presented game on the list, its packed full of advise, mechanics and suggestions on how to create a distinctive brand of modern horror game.
It was my recently renewed interest in the Esoterrorists that was the inspiration for this list. Like many of the other games I’ve described here, the Esoterrorists is a game of government conspiracy, where the players work as agents trying to stop the aforementioned Esoterrorists from destroying the world by unleashing a wave of supernatural terrors.
The original edition was one of the first settings published by Pelgrane Press to utilise the Gumshoe gamesystem; a set of mechanics designed to relieve the issues of randomness in investigative roleplaying. Coming in at around 80 pages, this first attempt was more game system than setting, and despite attempts to flesh out the world in later supplements, always struggled because of it. The new, second edition, is a much better product, in regards to being a complete game, and brings with it a unique aspect to the horrors facing humanity and just why the operatives must do what they do.
Well I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief introduction to other modern conspiracy horror games, and while I know I’ve missed many, it is these that I fall back on when I’m looking to extend my own Dark Conspiracy games. I seriously encourage you to track down one or two of these games if you don’t already own them (most are no more than a few US dollars via DrivethruRPG), as each brings a fresh perspective to a style of game we all love.