Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: No Security: Revelations

No Security: Revelations
Publisher: Hebanon Games
Page Count: 32
Cost: Pay What You Want
Release Date: 08/04/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

Revelations is the fifth release from fledgling publisher Hebanon Games. Well, I guess they’re not really new anymore, considering they’ve been putting these adventures out since June of 2012, but it still feels like yesterday when they had their very successful Kickstarter campaign. All the No Security releases so far have been system-less, meaning that you can plug them in to any system with a little bit of stat creation, but all were originally made for SOME kind of Cthulhu based system, like Call of Cthulhu and Cthulhu Dark. All of the adventures have been incredibly well done too, which is doubly awesome considering they are technically free. The first four adventures (Bryson Springs, The Red Tower, Lover in the Ice and The Fall Without End) are free on their website, while the DriveThruRPG.com versions are “Pay What You Want,” meaning they are free, but you can leave Hebanon Games some money if you feel inclined. Revelations follows that same pattern, so decide if you want to download it for free or if you want to leave them a little something for their trouble of giving you a thirty-two page colour product.

Like Lover in the Ice, Revelations might be a bit harder to run or play through than Hebanon Games’ other adventures, due to the subject matter being a trigger or sensitive issue for some. With Lover in the Ice, it was sex and rape, while Revelations is, as you may suspect, about a literal interpretation of the Christian Bible, specifically the modern King James edition. I think religion is LESS of a trigger than rape though, and Hebanon Games does a great job of including a disclaimer that this adventure is not meant to be an attack on Christianity or deride it in any way. Indeed, this adventure is anything but, as it is more highlighting what happens when an life form alien and unfathomable to human comprehension takes the English Language translation of the Bible literally word for word without an understanding of the flowery wording, poetry, metaphor and subtext of the written content on its gilded pages. Plus, this is a Cthulhu style adventure, and in those games, you go in knowing that humanity’s concept of religion is completely and utterly wrong, so an adventure of this style shouldn’t affect a player any differently than one where an old priest turns out to worship Yog-Sothoth, or one where some other religion, say the Norse gods, Greek Myths or Shinto based Yokai play a prominent role in the narrative. Still, the subject matter of the adventure is a corruption of the Christian faith, and if that bothers you or your players, you might not want to download this one, but hey – it’s free!

So the crux of Revelations is that all player characters are police officers in a small Illinois town during the later 1930s. This is a great setting for the adventure as all around, the Dust Bowl is occurring, and many a farmer, especially in the Midwest, are losing their sanity, hope and faith in addition to the top soil that once covered their land and allowed crops to grow. This town, named Toil, was lucky enough to be growing soybeans, which has allowed it to weather the worst of the Depression and Dust Bowl. Still, the Midwest has always been full of very religious God-Fearing folk, and in the 30s, this was doubly true (Check out the Ken Burns documentary about the Dust Bowl for wonderful source material to use with all the No Security adventures), so it’s no surprise that the people of Toil will recognize Scripture and passages from the Bible made manifest… even if it’s not exactly in the way the words were meant. The catalyst for what appears to be the end of the world is indeed Christianity itself, although not in the way you might think. I can’t really explain it without massively spoiling the adventure, but suffice to say, someone went a little overboard in terms of their devotion to a God they are pretty sure is dead or gone.

Now of course, an entire party of cops might sound a little dull to some people. Occupation and/or class variety is the spice of roleplaying after all, so my advice would be to give the cops very different skills and backgrounds, so as to give the adventure that mixed party feel. For our game, I made four different pregens for the players. The first was a by the book veteran, the second was a raw recruit, the third was a middle aged ex Olympic Decathlete who had since become an officer in his home town (based on the real life Harold Osborn of Butler Grover Township, Illinois who actually did win the gold in 1924) and one was basically Rod Farva, because I knew otherwise Super Trooper jokes would be inserted constantly anyway. The end result was a mix of skills, and the Decathlete’s experience with archery and jumping ended up being pivotal skills at the climax of our playthrough. So Keepers, if you are using pregens, don’t forget that four cops doesn’t mean four identical characters.

I will say this adventure requires a LOT of work on the part of the DM. There are almost fifty events the Investigators can come across throughout Toil. Now, no one party will even see half of these, so it is up to the Keeper to either plan out what encounters their players will encounter, or to keep very close track of the time and where every location in Toil is with reference to everything else in the town, lest confusion and anarchy reign. In some ways, Revelations reminds me a lot of games like Deadly Premonition, where you have to be at a certain location at a certain time to witness an event, and if you’re not, well, it still occurs, but there’s no player or character knowledge to be had. Because of how much of this adventure is based on specific events in exact locations at precise times, Revelations is the most intense No Security scenario to run, and for some Keepers, it may be too much work and/or information to keep track of. For the more detail minded/OCD keepers however, Revelations will be an adventure you can run multiple times, and have each playthrough be wildly different than the last, even with some of the same players! That’s pretty fantastic if you ask me.

Revelations is also not an adventure most parties will walk away from. Because of the precise nature of events, time and location, it’s extremely easy for players to miss out on the actual hints and clues they need to survive this adventure. Without them a total party kill (TPK) is assured, but at the same time, you also don’t want to force your players to be at location X at time Y, as they may rebel. Even if you do get them there, they still have to pick up on the clues, which isn’t a guarantee, and you also have to find a way to make players understand the religious significance of what is unfolding around them. If you don’t have players that know or care about tidbits and specific passages of Judeo-Christianity, then you are in for a long and potentially dull play session for everyone involved. I mean, I’m a folklorist who pulls in a steady paycheck from the Catholic Church (even though I’m Jewish) so the religious references and iconography were a blast to me, but I know that if I have to talk one or more players through every reference in the game and cite the passage in the Bible and what it means in relationship to what is going on, it’s not going to be a fun gaming session as much as it will be a theology or religious philosophy class. Again, this means Revelations, while a very creepy and thrilling adventure, is also a very niche one that a lot of gamers won’t fully appreciate. That doesn’t make it a bad adventure – far from it. It does, however, mean that the potential audience that will truly “get” it is much smaller than the one that will truly enjoy, say, Bryson Springs or The Fall Without End.

All in all, while Revelations is decidedly NOT for everyone, it is certainly a well designed and ambitious adventure that showcases why I love Hebanon Games so much. Sure, Revelations needs a very specific DM and set of players to reach its true potential, but even in less than optimum circumstances, it can be a memorable and extremely creepy affair, where the party ceases to exist and never learns why or even what happened. Instead, their last days are simply full of bizarre horror, and honestly, that’s as Lovecraftian as it gets – pure cosmic unexplained weirdness. Remember that Revelations is free, but you can leave Hebanon Games something in the way of a tip or payment if you want (These guys need to eat after all). I do think even if you don’t play through Revelations, each and every one of you reading this should still pick it up, simply to read it and see how well designed the adventure is; it’s that good. They might want to update the PDF so all the headers for Revelations don’t say The Fall Without End though…

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