Review: Necropolis 2350

Posted: 26 October 2011 in Reviews
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While I’ve temporarily stopped buying new games stuff (I think we all know me better than to think this is permanent), I still have quite a few lurking on the hard drive which haven’t been reviewed yet. Next up is Necropolis 2350 by Triple Ace Games, a Savage Worlds setting book by the prolific Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams; 180 page PDF file or hard copy.

IN A NUTSHELL: Knights Templar vs Zombies in Spaaaaace.

WELCOME TO HELL (23 pages)

This chapter introduces the setting, explains how to create setting-specific characters, and describes the organisational structures into which they fit. This is a military-themed setting, and Warhammer 40,000 players will feel very much at home.

It’s 2350 AD, the Earth has been destroyed, and the only habitable planet left to mankind is Salus, more commonly known as Necropolis, a colony world dominated by Church and Corporate interests. Unfortunately, Salus is being overrun by undead armies. To fend them off, the Church has established orders of warrior monks – that’s you, that is.

The organisation and financial clout of the Holy Orders is similar to that of the historical Knights Templar, who also served as the original model for W40K Space Marines. Indeed, the description of life in an Ordo, the rivalries between them and so on reminded me strongly of the background information on Space Marines.

In general, character creation follows the usual Savage Worlds process. All characters are human, and must use their initial attributes and skills to meet the requirements of various character types such as artillerist, assault knight or chaplain. Each must also choose an Ordo, which grants particular benefits such as +2 on certain skills; in a sense, these replace the races of most settings. Gear is assigned by the Ordo rather than being bought as normal.

Some Hindrances (e.g. One Leg) are not permitted, as they would have prevented the PC’s selection or training by the Ordo. There are a handful of new and modified Hindrances appropriate to the setting, such as Bullet Magnet or FNG; likewise there are 5 pages of new Edges, including Nepotism and Media Star.

Powers in this setting naturally flow from Arcane Background (Miracles), and in consequence there are a few paragraphs clarifying what counts as a minor, major or mortal sin, and a handful of new powers.

The focus of the campaign is on the challenges of leadership. The group of 4-6 PCs will have a chain of command; one member is in charge, and the others have to follow his orders. There will also be at least a handful of Extras, and the group might well be in platoon strength with vehicles and off-table fire support.

ARCHETYPES (8 pages)

This is a selection of pregenerated PCs; I cannot overstress the value of these in the sort of campaign I run, or quick pickup games, and urge any game designers reading to include them in their products.

The archetypes presented are a Chaplain, five sample knights (one from each Ordo), and a Knight Penitent (one whose failures were sufficient to merit reassignment to a punishment battalion).
Each is a fully generated and equipped PC, with a typical quote and an introductory paragraph that can be read out to the rest of the party to explain the character’s role in the group.

CHURCH HARDWARE (13 pages)

This section explains the armour, weapons and other items favoured by the Knights of the Church; primarily standard SW armour types, molecular blades and flechette rifles, each of which has several variants defined for it. We also find man-catchers, sledgehammers, and a handful of others, including my personal favourite – the bolt rifle, which fires 5cm steel bolts for use against vampires.

The section also describes the Church’s standard armoured vehicles and anti-vehicle weapons. It concludes with a one-page summary of Salus history, from the first manned mission to Mars in 2012 (hey, that’s next year! Mind you, this was written in 2008). Personally, I would have put this in the Guide to Necropolis section, but sometimes the vagaries of layout force this kind of decision on one.

SETTING RULES (4 pages)

There are few setting-specific rules; they cover awards, promotions and transfers, fire support, and air support.

GUIDE TO NECROPOLIS (6 pages)

This is the overview of the PCs’ homeworld, covering its geography, ecology, climate and political structures, with a gazetteer of important locations. There is also a paragraph or so on the system’s star and the other planets nearby, although these are likely only to be peripheral background detail in most campaigns.

It’s worth noting that this is a “points of light” setting – 75% of Salus is uninhabited wilderness, and national borders represent no more than how far the relevant military could project power if it really wanted to.

MOTHER CHURCH (9 pages)

Since all PCs work for the Church, and it is one of the major governments on Salus, there needs to be an explanation of its structure and how it operates; those are presented here. Like any government, the Church has a civil service (the Curia), a treasury, secret police (the Inquisition) and so on; but unlike some it controls all education and media. The organisation, activities and interests of each are defined at a high level.

The Church governs roughly 400 million people, making it very roughly the same size as the EU or USA. Most of these live a life of rural poverty.

While not a direct analogue of the Catholic Church, the Church on Salus is headed by a Pope, who is elected by the Cardinals; all other officials are appointed by the Pope.

Salus has its own calendar. Personally I never use these, as I find them too much work for too little benefit, but Your Mileage May Vary.

We also learn about the Church’s laws, policing methods and trials, although since Knights are exempt from local laws and taxes these are of only indirect interest to PCs – mainly as sources of scenarios. Trials are handled by the local bishop or his nominated representative; juries and lawyers as the players know them are absent.

The other major powers on Salus are the Corporations, but the Church-controlled media says little of them, and consequently players don’t know much about them. For those details, you need to be the GM.

WAR MASTER’S SECTION (12 pages)

The book so far could be read by the players without revealing any secrets; from this point on, it is for the GM’s eyes only. For that reason I’ll try to avoid the more egregious spoilers, but some light in the darkness is necessary.

This section kicks off with a description of life in the Corporate city-states, which is not as opulent as the pirate soap operas Church citizens can sometimes watch illegally would suggest. While urban industrial workers rather than rural peasants, Corporate society is just as divided into the Haves and Have-Nots as the Church. Each of the five major and six minor corporations is described, outlining its background, industries, and relationship with the Church. There are also sections on Corporate armed forces, their equipment (including vehicles) and mercenaries.

The total population controlled by the Corporations isn’t explicitly stated, but it seems to be about the same size as the Church.

THE REPHAIM (13 pages)

Here are the Bad Guys, with an explanation of where they come from, what they want, their buildings, their Arcane Backgrounds and powers, and their internal politics. All of these are unknown to the players, the Church and the Corporations, but help give structure and motive to the forces opposing the PCs. Their more grisly equipment may or may not be known initially, but the PCs will soon learn its capabilities the hard way.

Everyone on Salus knows that the undead armies are composed of skeletons and zombies, with the occasional vampire. They may know that captured vampires have spoken of greater undead, but no-one alive knows what those actually are. (Naturally, in this GM-only section, that is explained.)

DANGEROUS SECRETS (6 pages)

While the Rephaim – and to a lesser extent, the Corporations – are the obvious opponents for the PCs, there are also heresies and conspiracies within the Church itself, reaching up to the highest levels of the government. This chapter describes half a dozen, each of which could be the central story arc for a campaign.

OPERATIONS (8 pages)

This is a collection of GM-only setting rules, covering buildings, defensive works, alertness of undead sentries, and tweaks to the standard mass battle system. The meat of the chapter, though, is the adventure generator, which uses die rolls to create missions, each with its own objectives, support, opposition, and complications. This is followed by a simple random encounter table and notes on how to use it.

Most of this would be useable in any military-themed campaign.

BATTLE FOR NEW BUDAPEST (26 pages)

This is a campaign in a number of mandatory “Plot Point” scenarios, focussed on liberating the city of New Budapest from its undead invaders. There are 16 classic military scenarios – the advance, the ambush, gathering intelligence, rescuing wounded and so forth, each with its own briefing for the players, background information, map, opposition and tactical problems.

Of particular interest is the campaign flowchart; success or failure in each mission determines what Plot Points are available to play next, and there are six different campaign outcomes depending on the PCs’ overall progress, ranging from total victory to “May God have mercy on your souls.”

SAVAGE TALES (20 ages)

These are the traditional “filler” adventures for a SW Plot Point campaign; they can optionally be run in between any of the Plot Point scenarios. There are 14 of them, ranging from encounters with TV crews to recruitment drives to uncovering heresy.

BESTIARY (16 pages)

This is divided into three sections; Church NPCs, Corporate NPCs, and Rephaim. The Church and Corporate NPCs include a couple of non-combatants and various flavours of military personnel; the Rephaim group includes heretics, and undead both generally known and as yet undiscovered at the start of the campaign. Even the standard models – skeleton, zombie etc. – are slightly modified from the SW core statistics. Some of the non-standard undead will look familiar to players of zombie-themed FPS video games.

The book concludes with a glossary, mission and vehicle forms, a character sheet, and an index. Each chapter starts with a framing quotation from the Bible, which is a nice touch.

CONCLUSIONS

Combined with the SW core rules, there’s enough material here to keep you playing for years, and Triple Ace Games have supported it extensively with expansions and free web supplements. There are not many changes from the core rules; the focus is on adventure material, with one fully-fledged campaign that would last six months or more for a group meeting weekly, and the seeds for half-a-dozen more follow-on campaigns.

Although this is a grimdark world like that of W40K, Necropolis only turns the dial up to about 8, rather than 11. This is a near-future zombie apocalypse, with equipment you could reasonably expect to see in the real world within the next 50 years or so, requiring no real breakthroughs apart from some means of interstellar travel.

This is not a setting for freewheeling individualists, as PCs must demonstrate unquestioning obedience and rigid discipline; for that reason it will not suit all groups, including mine – my players show a distinct lack of interest in military campaigns. The challenge to the GM is to railroad the players into missions while leaving them enough freedom of action to stay interested.

Overall, this is a remarkably good SF Horror setting, which I’d love to GM or play in; sadly, it’s not what my current players want, and as ever who I play with is more important to me than what we play. I will be able to borrow a number of the undead for other campaigns, though, and possibly their entire political structure and some of the buildings.

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