Conspiracy of Shadows

Conspiracy of Shadows

From: Bob Goat Press

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Conspiracy of Shadows is a Role Playing Game Core Rulebook (PDF) from Bob Goat Press.

A cross between Cthulhu Dark Ages and Dark Conspiracy, Conspiracy of Shadows (CoS) attempts to redefine the dark age horror. Placed in a fantasy world called Polian, the players play the roles of medieval heroes trying to stop a dark evil from taking over their world. I like horror genre in almost every form (except World of Darkness) and this intrigued me from the beginning.

From page #8:

“On the continent of Polian strange things occur with an alarming rate.”

Contents: After a brief two-page introduction, the e-book first delves into the fictional world of Polian. Polian may be fantasy, but it is not your traditional fantasy. There are no elves, dwarves or halflings – just humans. There are several societies on Polian – the Narrlachi, the Norderins, the Soderins, the Valadarins, and the Vors. Each are unique in its own way, with breakdown of cultural hierarchy or castes and social norms described. The Narrlachi are a clan-based society, each clan ruled by a patrarch. They are very reminiscent of the Huns of Mongolia to me. The Norderins are another tribal based society and are similar to the Vikings. The Soderins are from the far east. They were warriors at one time but now focus on knowledge and have a strict caste system. Valadarins are also from the far east and are basically the Asian-equivalent on this world. Finally, the Vors are basically the old Anglo-Saxon European equivalent who first colonized Polian and hearken back to the days of their great but now conquered empire. Each society is described in terms of either castes, tribes, clans or social hierarchy of some way or another, allowing for a potential of political intrigue and mystery.

The world religion of Polian is Albinicanism. The author provides an interestingly detailed account of the history of the religion, drawing a few parallels from the early Christian church. Behind it now is the Orthodox Albinican Church, the most powerful political power in Polian. However, it is not alone. Its rival, Amdati Church, is spreading its influence and doctrine throughout Polian. An off-shoot religion (much like Islam is to Judeo-Christian), it spreads through similar techniques, hinging on the teachings of one prophet.

The maps of the the lands of Polian are pretty well done; although I think full-color would have been better. It is of course divided up into kingdoms and tribal lands. Each region has a short description of the terrain, a brief history and occult lore notes. A full 20 pages cover in moderate detail the major kingdoms and regions of Polian.

After character generation and rules section (covered below), the author provides a Game Master guide starting with Creating a Conspiracy. Of course, the core of a CoS is the conspiracy. Central to the conspiracy is the power structure behind it and behind the opposition. Much of this can stem from the existing social structure they present in the book or it can be made up by the GM. Lots of room is left for the GM and his imagination. The players can usually help at least on the opposition side because they are playing members of some opposing organization.

The final sections also provide the GM with special rules like rules on disease, environmental conditions, poisons, non-player character (Goon) mechanics, horror checks and supernatural threats (creatures). There are only two creatures completely stat’ed out, but it provides a general guideline in creating your own. I would hope that future publications include a monster manual of some kind.

From page #9:

“It draws themes from Gothic and pulp horror fiction, conspiracy theories and the kinetic action found in modern horror-action films and places them squarely in a medieval world that is a dark reflection of our own past.”

System: Character generation starts with a concept. There are three parts to the concept – Passion, Drive and Ethnicity. Passion is the ‘heart of a character’s emotional being’ (pg 56). The player is directed to write out what the character’s passion is in a short paragraph or two. The character’s Drive is what pulled him into the struggle between the dark and light forces of the supernatural. Once again, the character is directed to write a short paragraph about the single event that revealed the darkness to the character. The character’s Ethnicity is simply his race, but since there is only one race in CoS, they reference it with a more proper term. The character chooses a people and a clan to be a part of.

It was uplifting to find a game that did not start character generation with dice rolling or point allocations. Instead, the character writes out a story that becomes the character’s background. This is appealing to GMs like me who are very story-oriented.

There are four attributes – Fortitude, Reflex, Knowledge, and Temperament. A very simple system of point allocation generates them. No attribute can be less than 1 or more than 5 at character generation. They are fairly self-explanatory and simple. This is followed by creation of the Cover – the alter ego the character uses for everyday life. The cover supplies the character with resources and relationships (contacts). Not all characters have to choose a cover. Some can choose to be born into the service to hunt the minions of darkness. If they choose to do this, they lose the access to resources and relationships. Covers are made up by the character. They are more or less classes, but there are no specific restrictions on them. That cover fits under one of the many social classes of the peoples of Polian. The character chooses that social class based on the cover and takes the resource and relationship values given.

Skills are obtained by spending more points. All characters get the same starting points. There is a short list of skills that is pretty basic, nothing special. There are 14 total skills, but many of them are expandable to areas of specialty like Knowledge or Craft (just like the d20 skills).

Up until this point, the character generation system was not any different then anything I have seen before. The difference comes in something called Descriptors. Every skill and attribute (collectively called traits) have a descriptor. Many examples of descriptors are given throughout the attribute and skill text. For example, a descriptor for Athletics is Can out-swim a dolphin or Has weak hands when under pressure. As you can see, they can be positive or negative. They help focus the skill, giving the player and GM a little background to the skill. I found that kind of neat, but was not sure how that would work in advanced characters.

After the descriptors, the player generates some values such as Endurance Points and Vitality Levels, as well as decides on other factors like Languages, Gear and Witchblood. Endurance is important in combat and is equal to two plus the character’s fortitude and his temperament. A character with Witchblood is a magic user, basically. The trouble with this approach is that why would anyone NOT choose to be a magic user. The text indicates there is a cost to the magic, so I hoped that the cost was enough of a deterrent to make a magic balanced.

The final step of character generation is Cell Creation – creation of the secret minion hunting society the character is a member of. The rules supply a simple system to create a cell, starting with determining the Assets of the cell including Allies, Real Estate and Contacts and ends with Origins and the Kicker (the event that brought the players to the beginning of the adventure).

The character generation system is another open-ended class-less based system. I like these because of their playability and simplicity. However, I do not like them for long term campaigns because in the end, all the characters end up being the same no matter what their career. However, I get the feeling that this game is not meant for long term campaigns. It does provide a simple and very open-ended character advancement system, but it does not seem that the authors saw too many people playing this game long term. There is not structure (or stringent rules) surrounding character advancement. A player can get an advancement in attribute or skill if the GM simply feels like it or through a Dramatic Moment. A Dramatic Moment is something in game that occurs that the group decides is dramatic for the particular character. The group then decides based on that moment what kind of reward the character would get.

Another interesting mechanic is called Destiny Points. Like many systems, this system has the extra points the character can use to enhance the rolls they make. Destiny points add in points to task rolls, helping the character succeed (see below about the task resolution system).

The task resolution system uses six-sided dice (d6). The standard roll is 2d6, modified by the Traits, Descriptors ( plus or minus 1d6) and Destiny Points. This is compared to a difficulty number either generated by the GM based on how hard the task is or an opposing target’s roll. Difficulties range from Mundane (12) to Supernatural (30).

Combat is straight-forward. Starting with Initiative, players go through rounds exchanging blows, like any other RPG combat system. An interesting advent in combat is at the Initiative stage of combat. A player can buy a new position of initiative by spending endurance points. Also, initiative changes each round based on the success and failure of the character in the round. I like this most especially and may incorporate it in my d20 campaign.

Combat is driven by endurance points. At the beginning of a round, an amount of endurance equal to the character’s fortitude is regained. Actions costs endurance and if the character’s endurance is reduced to zero, he is Staggered and bad things start to happen. Some combat maneuvers are basic and take one endurance while others take more. There is a short list of actions with endurance costs supplied. There are six pages of weapons and armor listed in the combat section, with damage values. Damage effects vitality level and once vitality levels reach a certain point, the character starts to lose endurance points. I like this because it is simple but elegant. It is a well integrated system that reflects a person’s ability to endure long-term combat. It is not bogged down with too much detail, but some who like a lot of detail in their combat may not like it. It is a system that makes sense to me.

Magic in Polian is a dying art. I like the way they relate the Witchblood to the First Men and how after generation to generation, the purity of the Witchblood is slowly but surly thinning and thus magic is becoming a lost ability. Magic is now feared, and magic users are hunted (thus the balancing factor I was looking for). There are 13 powers, and each have an endurance cost to cast – like Evil Eye, Far Seeing and Fire Dancing. There are also 8 Ritual Magic spells that are a little more involved but have a broader effect – like Atonement, Exorcism and Ward. This simple system with limited use also balances out the prevalence of magic users in the character party.

The Goon Mechanic is almost too simple. All basic Goon non-player characters (NPCs) have one stat and a vitality rank. The stat acts as everything – attributes, skills, and combat values. Damage is taken from the vitality rank to determine survival of that NPC.

The final mechanic that I will cover is the Horror Check. No horror-based game would be complete without an equivalent of the Call of Cthulhu sanity check. Interestingly, other characters with high leadership ability (charisma focus in temperament) can effect the horror checks, giving players a chance to roll again if needed. There is a short list of horror check difficulties and if a player fails, his reaction is based on how high his temperament is.

Layout: The cover art, to begin with, is eye-catching and well done, but I do not know how important the cover is in PDF format. The interior art leaves a little bit to be desired, but it is not all bad. The page layout is eye catching and printer-friendly, although some of the art may not be.

In conclusion, I do not dislike CoS, but I did not find anything that drove me to want to play it. There are some very imaginative concepts in this game, but I do not feel compelled to play because I do not feel I have enough to play. Perhaps a basic beginning adventure and a few dozen more creatures might drive me to play it. I like the unique concepts introduced, and some I may even use. I like the background okay, but I do not feel like there was enough in that to engage or inspire me. There was enough similar to Cthulhu Dark Ages that I would probably rather play that.

What I liked most was the noted portions of the combat system for their simplicity and innovation. I feel like it is yet another game that treats the system as a necessary evil. So there is just enough of a system to get by, but not too much to get in the way of the story. That approach can work for some systems and not for others. There is a fine line between playing a role playing game with rules and just sitting down with friends to make up storyline with no structure guiding you. This game skirts that line pretty tightly. Overall, I like it but not overwhelmingly.

For more details on Bob Goat Press and their new Role Playing Game Core Rulebook “Conspiracy of Shadows” check them out at their website

Conspiracy of Shadows

From: Bob Goat Press

Type of Game: Role Playing Game Core Rulebook (PDF)

Written and Created by: Keith Senkowski

Edited by: George Pontikis

Layout and Design: Keith Senkowski

Cover Design: Keith Senkowski

Cover Art: Pat Loboyko

Cartography: Keith Senkowski

Interior Art: Keith Senkowski, Pat Loboyko

Number of Pages: 122

Game Components Included: RPG Core Rule book in PDF

Retail Price: $ 10.00 (US)