Game: CORPS: Diceless Conspiracy Roleplaying
Publisher: Politically Incorrect Games
Series: Active Exploits
Review Dated: 9th, July 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 20
Average Score: 6.67
The non-believers would dismiss it as a coincidence but those of us in the know can be certain that it’s a result of careful planning and behind the scenes cooperation. BTRC and Politically Incorrect Games are two of these most respected RPG companies operating in the PDF market. In the form of CORPS: Diceless Conspiracy Roleplaying these two industry illuminati have come together. The keyword there is “Conspiracy”. CORPS stands for Complete Omniversal Role Playing System and, as the name suggests, is a generic set of rules that can be applied to any sort of campaign setting. CORPS uses ten-sided dice. Politically Incorrect Games’ diceless system is Active Exploits. Active Exploits uses no dice. This isn’t the diceless version of a d10 game system. CORPS was originally designed as a conspiracy game and I believe that’s how the now out of print first edition was presented as. It’s to this original CORPS conspiracy setting that the diceless Active Exploits system has been applied to.
Before we can enjoy conspiracy without dice (dice are just alien mind control devices anyway) we need to get hold of the Active Exploits rules. Fortunately, they’re free and come bundled with the Shaded Veil RPG. This is rather handy, Shaded Veil makes for a rather good supplement for the CORPS: Diceless Conspiracy setting.
In the early sections of the download, safely ensconced in the player friendly fraction of the PDF, we’ve got the additional character generation options required for the setting. Chiefly among these are the lists of possible contacts or possible enemies. After all, it’s not who you are, it’s who you know. There are all the rule additions you need to create a new Active Exploits character for this setting. Rather nicely there are also conversion rules that allow you to take your old CORPS character and liberate it from dice.
In the rest of the player friendly section we’ll find the introduction to the conspiracy world. It’s great and it’s horrible. The writing is wonderful, tight, conscience and yet thoroughly atmospheric. Why’s it horrible? There’s no beating around the bush. This wonderful writing plunges headlong into conspiracy and pushes on relentlessly. I avoided the phrase “conspiracy theory” quite deliberately. In CORPS: Conspiracy Diceless there is no conspiracy. It’s true. It’s bad news for people who like the world as it is. The Doom is coming and coming soon. Those involved in the conspiracies are aware that an end of the world, of sorts, is going to strike. It will drag humanity back to the Stone Age. Behind the scene, powers are trying to bring this about, other secret powers are trying to stop it and different secret organisations are doing whatever they can to ensure that they’re well placed to rule in case it happens. This information doesn’t take up the bulk of the player section though. Ready to go character templates do. There are pages of sample characters and character sheets for people in these groups. In CORPS: Conspiracy Diceless you’ll be playing a believer. Someone who knows the “conspiracies” are true.
If you think you might play the game rather than Direct it and if you’d rather keep the exact truth of what’s going on behind the scenes a secret then stop reading the review now. Stop reading the review now but be sure that your browser has already reported back your surfing habits to the central database and the agencies have been informed that you accessed this page in the first place.
There are lots of secret groups in CORPS: Conspiracy Diceless. There are 70 pages or so of them. The players are warned off by a flying saucer on page 21, the Director (the GM) gets to keep reading to page 91.
I said that the conspiracies are true. They’re all true. Aliens. Vampires. Time Travellers. Illuminati. Mutants. Secret Agencies. Immortals. Organised Hackers. You think of it – and it’s probably true. If you want it to be true then just make it so. If you don’t want it to be true then it’s not too hard to untangle it from the web. There is a web and I love it.
I think it’s worth skipping straight down to page 79 of the PDF. Either type 79 into Adobe Reader or just the professionally done bookmarks to jump to Running the Game » Conspiracy Diagrams. Yeah. Conspiracy Diagrams. These are circles of awareness. There’s a circle for the Immortals that encompasses other small circles. Those people within the Immortal circle are aware that Immortals exist and those without the circle are clueless. There are smaller circles inside the Immortal circle; there’s a Vampire circle within it for example. This means that not everyone aware of the Immortals are also aware of the Vampires. You’d need to be within the Vampire circle to know that some Immortals maintain their immortal life by drinking blood. Within the Vampire circle there’s a Vampire Anonymous circle and so not every vampire knows about this sub-group. If you’re one for visual aids and succinct summaries then you’ll love these diagrams. They’re a clear and easy way to show which conspiracy is aware of another and where the interests rest.
Before you get to this stage, before the Running the Game chapter, there are numerous chapters on different conspiracy groups. The headings are: Aliens & UFOS, The Hierarchy, Immortals, Time Travellers, The MAJI Group, UFO Researchers, Mutants and The Others. The Hierarchy – and I’m picking the not so obvious ones here – are an organisation of, well, psychic mutants. They’re also known simply as Them. I’m going to quote from the supplement to describe Them. I think this paragraph sums up the game setting nicely. “You can buy lawyers to fend off the law, buy the law to fend off criminals, and buy criminals to fend off lawyers, but you can’t, however, do anything to keep from having nightmares or to stop the odd compulsion to jump off the balcony of your high-rise condo. All you can do is leave them alone and hope they leave you alone.” The MAJI Group is a secret USA agency that researches and counters alien activity. The MAJI are especially concerned with the aliens known as The Grey. I’d picked up references to The Grey before I’d heard of CORPS. Whether this these references are a result of CORPS or a case of parallel ideas (the mind controlling alien in Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher is called Mr Grey) – but it doesn’t matter. The point is that conspiracy games always benefit if the players can sit back in their chair and voice an “Oh yeah…” of realisation. Sampling from “The Others” I can find various levels of government, hackers (who should probably be known as crackers), terrorists and eco-guerrillas among others. It’s also rather nice to notice that the Time Travellers are known for not bringing back technology from the future. This is an obvious game safety catch but it’s also a feature of BTRC’s famous TimeLords game. It would be possible (but it’s not the default setting) to link the two together.
The last chapter offers up a selection of conspiracy scenarios, pre-written adventures if you’d like. I’m not normally hot on such offerings, especially when there’s more than one, but in this case it’s rather nice to be able to see how the authors imagine how the various threads of conspiracy criss-cross into a web and just how easy it is to have players entangle their characters in it.
CORPS: Diceless Conspiracy is one of those RPGs which offer up a contemporary campaign setting through the groups and organisations involved in it. It’s not my favourite approach but it does work especially well in the case of a conspiracy themed game. I’d have liked to see a little more on The Doom. There are clues and suggestions in the Time Travelling section; the main group of time travellers come from a hellish Earth (again with overtones of TimeLords‘ machine invasion) but we have to assume that the future is malleable (at least from the PC’s perspective). I’d always reserve the right to ignore the interest any “Conspiracy Group” might have in The Doom but I’d have liked to have had that option. As it stands now it’s rather hard to see what anyone but the anti-human aliens would stand to gain – but perhaps that’s enough. This is a small quibble. As a whole CORPS: Diceless Conspiracy simply oozes professionalism and more. I feel it’s one of those games that expertly targets open minded, veteran gamers… at least, those people who consider themselves to be open minded and beyond throwing dice in the dungeon. I like it!