Written by Michael C. LaBossiere
Nightsider was the second and final ‘folio’-style adventure released by Games Designer Workshop (GDW) in the Dark Conspiracy line. Well, when I say adventure, I actually mean a collection of three loosely connected scenarios based in Maine, New England (but easily transferable) that all involve an otherworldly invasion by the the titular Nightsiders. These creatures, beings able to inhabit the bodies of the dead, are slowing but surely infiltrating our dimension, and, as always, it falls on the Minion Hunters to stop this invasion before it is too late.
Coming in as a 30-page supplement, Nightsider was one of the last releases published during initial GDW Dark Conspiracy run (in 1992) and like its predecessor, Ice Daemon, is a simple staple-bound booklet with a tri-fold, cardboard cover. As with many of the GDW products of this period, the art work is sparse and really doesn’t extend past the cover and a few Non-Player Character portraits (oh, and a reprinting of a picture from the Dark Conspiracy core book). In regards to the layout, it is again the standard GDW fair, although the header banner seems oddly too large, and is slightly distracting.
Special mention must be made in regards to the maps in the supplement, while art might be lacking their are plenty of layouts to assist the Referee in running these scenarios, both inside the folio itself as well within the adventure booklet. These range from basic location area maps through to building layouts and are all very usable (if occasionally a bit extraneous; there really is no need for a ‘town’ map for the Off Ramp scenario).
I’d also note that it feels as if a lot of effort was put into creating Nightsider, as not only is Michael C. LaBossiere listed as the Designer, there are also credits for Lester Smith and Phil Tobin in regards to Development, and Dave Nilsen noted for Additional Development. Although I’m not one to jump the gun with my conclusions and thoughts, the idea that such a collection went through so many hands may actually reflect on its final quality1…
But more on that later.
The first part of Nightsider, Dead Island, is your typical ‘industrial zombie’ scenario2 which sees the Minion Hunters dispatched to the auspiciously named Fang Island (somewhere off the coast of Maine) to investigate an incident at military base located thereon. Interestingly, two options are presented to trigger the Minion Hunters; either as a part of an official military unit or as taking on the roles as members of Eco-terrorist organisation keen to know what is happening on Fang Island. While the former option provides the players with more information on what might be going on, the later is probably more in line with the traditional Dark Conspiracy trigger.
The plot itself is simple enough – communication has been lost with the base on the island, just as a special project (Project Voodoo) was being undertaken by the personnel onsite. To add a bit of a challenge to the plot, the island doesn’t exclusively house only the military base, and in fact the larger, southern potion of Fanfg Island is home to numerous holiday houses and summer homes. So, as the true threats of Dead Island are realised, the Minion Hunters could find themselves up against not only Eco-terrorists, Special Force Operators and Military Zombies, but also a horde of terrified civilians who I’m sure will do their best to get in the way.
The Nightsider element of the overarching plot is brought into the story with the commanders of the military force dispatched to investigate the radio silence (a team that may well include the Minion Hunters). These two individuals, Colonels Fisk and Ruskin are both Nightsider Darklings, although they both have very different goals (one working to progress the the goals of its race, the other looking to break free and become its own Master). While not too much information on the Nightsiders and their ultimate goals are provided in this adventure, enough motivation to at least create some sort of tension and dynamic during play.
Beyond the drama of the situation on Fang Island, and the introduction of the Nightsider element, there is no definite outcomes from the Dead Island adventure, well not at least ‘on screen’.
Out of the Grave
The second scenario in the ‘campaign’ is Out of the Grave, an open sandbox-style adventure set in the creatively named community of Old Town. The plot here involves a trio of entities (known as Nosferatu) trapped long ago on Earth and an attempt of one of their lesser kin to free them.
Like the Nightsider Darklings, the Nosferatu inhabit human bodies, and are able to drain their host to sustain their life in our dimension. The creatures at the heart of the story were long ago trapped on earth by another entity, who was not quite able to complete its task before its own host body failed. As a result, it’s up to the Minion Hunters to finish this assignment. Of course, nothing is that easy, and the characters will need to locate the prison-cells of their targets, and ensure that they secure the right tools (specifically a gateway control device) needed to successfully complete their goal.
Throw into the mix, the lesser Nosferatu and a Nightsider presence (who will be one of the antagonists that the Minion Hunters had encountered in Dead Island), not to mention a few more Military Zombies (as created by the aforementioned Project Voodoo), and the adventure will quickly become something of an action-orientated investigation.
Out of the Grave concludes when the trapped Nosferatu are finally defeated, and the gateway controller is in hand (as it is needed in the final part of Nightsider). This, unsurprisingly, might be harder than expected, as there are numerous leads for the Minion Hunters to be followed and dangerous red-herrings to get in their way.
Off Ramp is the last and shortest adventure in the Nightsider collection, and it sees the characters ‘recruited’ into another Minion Hunting group, Nightwatch. A member of this group has discovered the home dimension of the Nightsiders (located via a fake highway off-ramp), and is looking for a way to permanently seal the gateway. Unfortunately, the only way this seems possible is to enter this ‘shadow’ dimension and utilise the gateway controller the group retrieved in Out of the Grave.
The majority of the scenario involves the Minion Hunters ‘invading’ the Nightsiders’ realm and battling these entities in an attempt to place the remotes need to activate the gateway controller. Here to the characters will face not only the Nightsiders in all their guises (including a Nightsider Master), but also the various humans who have unsuspectingly found their way down the aforementioned off-ramp.
Disappointingly, the Nightsider antagonists introduced in Dead Island and active in Out of the Grave do not make an appearance in Off Ramp, and this seems odd given the effort taken in utilising then earlier in Nightsider.
As a general observation I find that Nightsider is something of a missed opportunity. It is obvious that GDW saw something is these adventures, but instead of taking the effort to flesh each out into a full scenario, they instead thought that they would be best suited in this shorter format (something more akin to the ‘Challenge magazine’ article length). As a result the whole collection suffers, especially in regards to ensuring a robust connection between each adventure. For example, there is nothing that really connects Dead Island to Out of the Grave, and again Off Ramp outside the loose idea of the Nightsider entities; it surely wouldn’t have taken too much to build up the threads between the individual scenarios.
Even the Nightsider Darkling theme seems like an afterthought as a connecting theme. These entities aren’t necessary in either of the first two scenarios, and then when you get to Off Ramp, an adventure that focuses on these entities directly, all the effort done to introduce these individuals goes to waste! Perhaps, as I mentioned way back in the introduction to this review, that is is the reason… or maybe the result… of having so many different designers involved in producing Nightsider?
Moving into a more positive view of the collection, one has to say that we do have here a good core of scenario ideas, plots that with more work from the Referee could be fleshed out to be really interesting Dark Conspiracy adventures. There is an openness and quality in the themes, they just need to have the connections reinforced and a better thread through all the adventures.
So perhaps in a few short words you might be to sum up Nightsider as… an opportunity lost?