Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tommy's Take on API Demon Codex: Spectrals

Demon Codex: Spectrals is the new sourcebook for the Apocalypse Prevention Inc. RPG by Third Eye Games, a game I reviewed last year and was quite impressed with. For the most part, Third Eye Games has a pattern they take with API, which is Location Sourcebook, Racial Sourcebook, Location Sourcebook, Racial Sourcebook, etc...last book was API Europe and the one racial sourcebook so far as been Demon Codex: Lochs.

Spectrals, currently available in PDF format for $9.99, is a 90 page PDF that is bookmarked and searchable. From a layout perspective, if the 3EG products have a weakness, it is the table of contents, in that it is just the chapter headings and page numbers with no "detail" within the TOC, and that holds true here.

Spectrals are, for the most part, ghosts of humans that can't move on...this book promises to expand those boundaries a bit.

PROLOGUE: DREAMS THAT END AND DREAMS THAT DON'T

The prologue is a short fiction piece based around a young woman in the 60s who comes to terms (mostly) with her existence and takes her place inside API. It's a good piece that gets into the head of a Spectral, as well as sheds a little light on on API and their handling of Spectrals.

CHAPTER ONE: LIFE AFTER LIFE AFTER DEATH

Cute title.

First off, we get a helpful reminder that the very CEO of API is a Spectral, thus pointing out how important they are to the mythology of the setting. From there, we get an explanation about what happens at the moment of death...the Bright Lights that beckon the fallen to the beyond, with speculation on the hows and whys that some people don't see them, or why they don't move on.

We get a helpful sidebar on how animals perceive Spectrals (yes, it is possible that your dog will spot one while you remain unaware), and the living's unflattering perceptions of the dead. Spectrals are slaves to their passions, which can make them appear, to the living, as very single-minded and one dimensional.

We also get a handy, and sad, sidebar about summonings and what a spectral feels when they are summoned...and why it is best to ensure that you have protections in place when you summon one to you.

There is an oddly placed fiction interlude that is nicely written, with one Spectral witnessing another passing into the Bright Lights, it just felt oddly placed given the layout, taking up a full page and interrupting the flow of paragraph.

We learn about Spectrals and their senses (sight and hearing are all they REALLY have with the same clarity), and get a deeper discussion about Bright Lights and the common threads in all known cases of Spectrals that did not see them. Essentially, the Spectral community is made up of three types: Those that never had the chance to move on (because they didn't see the lights), those that had their Bright Lights stolen from them, and those that felt compelled to stay behind for their own reasons.

Important Places are covered next, but in a nutshell, ghosts tend to congregate at places where there are lots of living people. They just can't congregate for long, because Spirit Eaters are drawn to ghosts, and the more in one place, the more likely they are to swarm on them. In a nice twist, ghosts are almost never found in graveyards.

Sidebars include near death experiences and "Loops"...you know the drill, where living people get caught in a ghost's presence, reenacting some important event (usually the ghost's death, which is often a suicide...there was a Buffy episode about this).

A list of the things spectrals tend to fear (and why) is present, like the Spirit Eaters (ghosts that evolved into demonic versions of themselves), exorcists, necromancers and an artifact called the Soul Key, which can forcibly remove the spirit from a body.

The next section goes into children...both as ghosts, as well as dealing with ghosts. Like animals, kids often have a sense for the spirits, though they learn to tune this out.

The chapter ends with two alternate fates for Spectrals (beyond moving on into the Bright Lights, that is): Becoming Ancient - in which they come to embody a certain aspect of their passions completely - or Fading Away...which is as it sounds.

A GREAT first chapter just full of information on how Spectrals "work" in the API mythology.

CHAPTER TWO: GHOSTS ARE GOOD COMPANY

This is where we get into Spectrals and their involvement with API.

The chapter starts with a fiction piece in which API basically forces a Spectral into working for them, which isn't very nice at all.

We get an extensive look into the existence and mindset of the API CEO, Annabelle Iisley, including her death, return as a Spectral, and driving passion (to find her missing children).

A sidebar called "Ghosts vs Spectrals" breaks down how Spectrals is a company term, as well as how much nicer Spectrals are treated by API now, rather than how they used to be.

Next is the "life" of a Spectral Agent, which typically falls into two categories: API employees that want to continue serving the company, and Spectrals that are basically forced into working for API. Awesomely, we find out that Spectrals are not all super agents...but are often assigned positions throughout the company, including mail room and maintenance.

A discussion is given on Evolution, where a Spectral starts to become a spiritual embodiement of a belief or an element.

The main text of the chapter ends with The Igors, the section of API devoted to harming the Spectrals that don't get recruited and can't be left alone.

The head of the department has a sidebar about his perception of Spectrals and how they interact with other API-employed demons...notably having an odd kinship with Wolf People.

A two page optional rule is given here as well, for Demon Spectrals...various demons that are unable to move on, such as a Burner Spectral or even a Taylari Spectral. Some good info here for GMs looking to expand their options.

CHAPTER THREE: WHO YA GONNA CALL?

Here we get into some Spectral related organizations.

The Caballistas are necromantic drug runners who have a unique trick: They possess the dead! They are made up of a disturbing combination of criminals, voodoo priests and Catholic priests.

The King James Court is a European Spectral court ruled by the illegitimate son of Charles II, and they refuse to relinquish power over the spectral dead in Europe, often ripping Spectrals away from the Bright Lights to prevent them from moving on.

The Council of Paracelus seems to reveal that the Archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Raphiel and Uriel) are in fact Spectrals who are incredibly old (and, of course, long since evolved).

The Upward Spiral is rightfully described as "The Pyramid Scheme From Hell"...basically, Spectrals that look for people who are largely cut off from the world, murder them and let the Spectral that has waited the longest steal their Bright Lights, usually recruiting the newly murdered to their fold. They also have a unique shift in focus provided, which you can use as-is, or you could switch them to once your PCs run afoul of them.

Kellwood Forest is an awesome, creepy, haunted forest...that moves.

Last is a ghost hunter who likes to record paranormal activity, star of his own TV show...who has a very cool twist to his identity.

CHAPTER FOUR: YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU

Now we get into the gameplay part of it, such as focusing on your Passion, which API will help Spectral agents with...to a point. After all, a fulfilled Spectral isn't useful to them. The book also talks about likely roles (like spies...and smartass).

Four new Gifts are present, one of which is actually only for living agents who use a Dream Machine (that lets them become Spectrals). The others allow Spectrals to have cybernetic "husks", have a "personal medium" they can possess, or have emotion-fueld ectoplasm (such as a Spectral phasing through a person and filling them with ecstasy).

Two new Drawbacks are given: Tethered binds them to a place or thing, and Driven by Passion means they are CONSUMED with following their passion, no matter what.

New equipment is provided, much of it for API agents to use against Spectrals, such as Ectoplasmic Disrupters and Shriekers. spirit Gloves allow agents to physically touch Spectrals, and the Dream Machine lets an API agent leave their body and become a Spectral...for a time.

The Path of Radiance is used by the demonic Radiants, and has nasty tricks like Beckon Spirit, which can "fake" the Bright Lights in order to draw Spectrals in.

A number of new Evolutions are present, from the cool Circuit Jockeys (who can possess a cybernetic chassis) to the frightening Mnemosyne, who harvest the memories of the dead. Sadly, I will probably wind up as a Web Haunter, my consciousness out on the internet, blogging for eternity.

We get some game stats for adversaries as well, namely Exorcists, Necromancers and Spirit Eaters.

Walkers are the first of the three new demon races, and they are Spectrals that refused to pass on and refused to leave their bodies...essentially, they are intelligent zombies. While they are not necessarily inherently evil...they MUST eat living flesh in order to sustain themselves...making it hard to be TOO good. There is a hint to a darker purposes behind the very existence of the Walkers that is intriguing.

Radiants have a "mostly human" form and a natural form that is more than a little spider-like. They also eat ghosts, meaning that they are not popular with Spectrals...and are sometimes recruited by API.

Death Wishers are parasites that latch onto victims and turn them into murderous madmen...while draining their souls to the point that they never even SEE the Bright Lights, much less become Spectrals at all.

ADVENTURE: GHOST ROAD

Obviously, this adventure has a Spectral flavor to it, in which the Agents are sent to find the body of an API Agent who was in a high speed car crash, but fell off the radar altogether immediately after that. It is designed to be playable by any group of agents, and is an investigative adventure.

Without spoiling too much, the adventure relies on the PCs being at least a bit curious. If they don't try to investigate the "how/why", they can miss out on, well, the adventure...and they are under no explicit orders to do so. That said, if they are playing Agents worth their salt, they should be able to pick up on something being very "not right" when they find the agent.

The book concludes with a good index and a series of ads, including one for Third Eye Games' next RPG, Part Time Gods.

THOUGHTS

I dig it.

I really like Spectrals as it is, and I thought this was a stronger book than the Lochs book (which was great in and of itself). Most of the entries in Chapter Three could be turned into adventures at least, and full blown campaigns at most. Chapter One was just FULL of useful information on Spectrals and how they "work" in the API mythos.

One thing this book did, which all of the API books do, is present you with two different APIs...and this was present in the Anthology as well: You have the API that risks everything, standing at the edge to keep people safe from every last beast, demon, monster, what have you that would hunt them...and the API that isn't afraid to force Spectrals to work for them, with threats of slavery or worse. Neither version of API is every really given the lions share of "screen time" to me, and I think that openness is intentional: Much like all of the other plot seeds present in this (and the other) books, they are left open for your interpretation, to make them fit your game.

That's another thing...this book was a return to form from API Worldwide: Canada, as being JAMMED full of plot seeds. I could run half a dozen campaigns out of this book alone, without touching the included adventure.

My biggest complaint is that Brennan Bishop promised to top himself in the "creep Tommy out" category, and I gotta say, I just didn't feel it. The editing was much tighter than it had been on some past 3EG books, with the only real problem I found being a missing page reference on the art credits for Matthew Howerter.

A must-have purchase for API fans, no question.