Friday, February 8, 2013

Dark Matter

Looking outside, I start to get the impression of what a snow globe must feel like, except the snow is on the outside and I'm on-

That wasn't my best opening.  I do apologize.  Let me try again.

Naming storms after Disney characters never ends well.  There was superstorm Sandy Plankton that devastated the northeast a short time back (and also claimed that sea turtles only lived to be a hundred years old).  We all remember how Louisiana was after being hit by Hurricane Katrina Van Tessel,  It seems to be happening again now that the blizzard named Nemo (they aren't even being subtle anymore) looms overhead.

And yet, as I watch the white flakes swirl around, I can't help but be reminded that things could be much, much, worse.

For instance, the storm could be powered by an ancient artifact wielded by a satanic cult member, with a demon hidden amidst the flakes.

Overactive imagination, much?  Perhaps, but I was actually making a reference to a classic tabletop game setting called Dark•Matter, which is a mix-up of the Men In Black movie franchise blended with the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Steven King.  It was published in 1999, and remains one of my favorite systems and settings.

Let's take a look.

For anybody who's played Dungeons and Dragons or saw an episode of Big Bang Theory where they played it, you know the basics.  People have characters, they roll dice to see how well they do an action, and someone manages all of the details of the setting.  If you've never played a tabletop roleplaying game before and are interested, contact me.  If you have an imagination, you can play and have fun.  Plus, there can be drinking.  If you don't care...well, then, might I interest you in some living movie stills?  I'll try to make my next post more socially "normal."

Dark•Matter takes place around the turn of the century, which is one major strike against it, I'll admit.  It's hard to keep a "modern day" campaign under control when people can simply pull out a magazine or use their own knowledge of how things work to find ways to run rampant over your story.  Trying to explain why people can't rig together gadgets when one person in the group knows more about engineering than you do can be quite the frustrating experience.

"Okay, so you think you've found the creature's lair.  What's your plan?"

"We go to the hardware store and get the following items."

"...should we just stop now and play some Apples to Apples?"

"Well, unless you got your masters degree in electronics and know how to counter what we're doing...probably."

However, for any faults Dark•Matter has in its time frame, it more than makes up for it with the detail behind the setting.  The players are all members of an organization called The Hoffman Institute.  To the public eye, the organization is a liberal think tank with several government contracts.  What they don't know is that the agency is actually run to hold back the tide of "Dark Matter" that sometimes bleeds into our world, allowing creatures that haunt the nightmares of children and the insane to emerge from the crevices of our world where they've been hiding.

An introductory adventure in the core book lets the players experience being trapped in a gas station in Idaho in October as a blizzard storms around them.  It turns out a cult member is tracking someone who stole an artifact from the person who founded his cult, and has summoned a winter demon to get it back.  It's a simple adventure I've run a few times, and each time it's been a relative success.

Some major points that the game had in its favor was its attention to detail.  Locations are fully researched, from the correct exit marker numbers to local sites people might want to visit in cities.  The game went further, creating websites that players could utilize to help them figure out their next move.  You need to figure out which person at a company might be secretly hiding alien technology?  Head to the corporate website and look up who's recently been promoted to head of R&D!  You need to know where a cult might be hiding and you're in Port Gibson, Mississippi?  A quick Google search shows the Oil Works was recently shut down and locked up.

The game encouraged props for the players to interact with, puzzles to be solved, and keeping up a sense of fear and excitement as players explored the cave system of Mammoth Park or slowly maneuvered their way through swampland in Florida.

Now, TSR has been out of business for years and the new property owner Wizards of the Coast seems to have no plans for it (nothing's been done to update it in years), but as simply a sourcebook for ideas, few other books I have hold a candle to it.  I have a "possible" history of every secret organization from the Masons to the Illuminati to death cults around the world, I have a reference book to monsters, aliens, and spirits from around the world.  I have a (somewhat outdated, but that comes with the times) guide for modern day equipment and gear.  However, for every secret the books reveal about how things work in this version of the world, they leave other mysteries for the Game Master (that person running the game, for you new people) to make up himself.

The books are probably cheap to find online (or in pdf form at a reputable online retailer), and if anybody out there is looking for ideas for a supernatural game or for ideas to throw into your own rendition of Men in Black, I can't recommend picking the books up enough.      

There are also a series of novels based on the works that I own, and they're also quite the entertaining read for anybody who's a fan of aliens, mysticism, and government conspiracies. 

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