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1 June, 1998

Lester Smith Speaks

In response to some recent inquiries in the Dark Conspiracy mailing list, Lester Smith decided to clarify a few of his interpretations of the Dark Conspiracy environment.  If nothing else, the pair of messages gives an intriguing insight into the author's vision of the game.

Note that the following were off-the-cuff responses by Lester.  They represent his own personal viewpoint, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dark Conspiracy Enterprises or Archangel Entertainment.

The Truth behind the Dark

Okay, here's my two cents.

First, when GDW asked me to do a horror game, they left me pretty much wide open. As I recall, they said only "We want it to have an ecological bent" and (later) "Twilight: 2000 is doing well for us, so we'd like you to change the mechanics to fit T2K."

At the same time, they asked Mike Stackpole to write some novels, but both projects were done pretty much separately. Mike's stuff tends more toward cyberpunk and high action, while mind tends more toward universal dystopia and a setting that can incorporate pretty much any horror story you might read or view.

Second, there are some realities of publishing that any designer working for an established company has to consider. For one thing, RPGs die if there aren't supplements. But supplements don't sell very well. And adventures are shorter lived than sourcebooks. Then, you also have to make the game be as close to "all things to all people" as you can manage. Given the T2K comment above, and my reading of GDW's audience, I definitely included a gun-toting aspect to the game. We even used to tout it as the horror game in which you could go get some big firearms and blow the nasties away--if you could figure out where they were. Many of my own group's adventures revolved around the idea that in the first session the PCs got their clocks cleaned, and in the second they came back loaded for bear and got revenge.

But behind all that backgroung, Dark Conspiracy was my take on the nature of evil. First, assume that Earth is essential, that humans central are to the desires of the Dark Masters. The Dark Masters had spent centuries, at least, able to do little more than mess with people's dreams, creating madmen to do their bidding on Earth. By great expenditure of energy, they could sometimes send a minor monster through to help terrorize. During this time, their hands were otherwise tied. But they lusted and craved to be back on Earth again. It is, and always has been, their obsession.

Now, suddenly a key falls into their hands. The ETs show up, telepathic plums ripe for the picking, and open the gate on Io, just out of curiosity. The dam is breached, and nasty things are crawling through. But the biggest ones--like Stackpole's Fiddleback--are still too much a violation of Earth's natural laws to be able to enter Earth's dimension yet. They need special preparation before they can come through. So they send their minions to research and construct hi-tech portals, or to enslave more humans and use their psychic energy, or whatever else you can think of, to prepare for the coming of these Dark Masters to Earth.

As a result, what we have is an Earth in which the supernatural quotient is cranked up several notches. But it hasn't fallen completely to the dark. It is the job of the PCs to stumble across whatever plots they can and thwart them, to keep the Dark Masters from taking over the world.

(As for the dark elves, they're pretty much just out to have a good time at everyone else's expense. Humans just prove to be the easiest dupes, and give the richest suffering in return.)

As to what Archangel will be adding to the Dark Conspiracy history, that remains to be seen. If you want grand plots like Fiddleback's, maybe we can do that (though to me, that sounds big enough to make a line of products in itself), For most RPG lines, however, grand campaigns are left to the referee, and stand-alone adventures are the traditional wisdom for publishing. After all, if you publish one huge adventure campaign, and partway through your players decide they'd rather follow some sidetrack, you've got a whole lot of book on your hands that'll never be explored.

Still, this gives me something to think about. Maybe a sourcebook describing a number of Dark Masters, and their current plots on Earth.

I hope the above discussion sheds some light on the history and thinking behind Dark Conspiracy. I, for one, and excited to see the game coming back into print.


Lester Smith

MegaCorps in DarkCon

I don't claim to be an expert on economics, but I don't see the problem with Megacorps in DarkCon. I think there is and has been in modern times a tendency for conglomerates to build, for them to think themselves above national law, for them to try to accumulate most wealth in the hands of a few, and for them to turn the rest of us into very lower middle class consumer families who can't afford much quality of life so we compensate by buying big boom boxes and TVs and eating at McDonalds. Skilled labor is disappearing, being replaced by automation on the one hand, and sweat-shop third-world plants making marginal quality goods on the other.

In the US in particular, which was once a land of burgeoning factories employing upwardly mobile people, the big three commercial pursuits now are technology (for business more than private citizens), finance (loans and market manipulation), and service (from hotel maids to nurses' aides, to hamburger flippers). It seems pretty clear to me that few families can afford to survive on one paycheck any more, let alone hope for a home of their own. At the same time, professional people are being pressed more and more away from permanent employment and toward short-term contracts (freelance, in other words).

Now, in DarkCon, I just push those things a little further. There are more people on the public dole, except now it's corporate. What little cash they can actually scrape up, they spend on frivolities, trying to brighten their cheerless lives. The middle class has become smaller, and more professional than ever. The big money for corporations is in manipulating the world market, raping third-world countries of their natural resources (including their labor), and selling arms to the ever-more-desperate nations.

Maybe that doesn't allow enough of a tax base for those national governments to stay alive, let alone be granting contracts to the megacorps. But I never said it was a financial system which would work in the long run. I just think it's where we're heading.


Lester Smith


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