Saturday, May 30, 2009

HOT WAR: A game of friends, enemies, secrets and consequences in the aftermath

Hot War is a possible sequel to Cold War, both indie RPGs from Contested Ground Studios. In Cold War, the Allies secretly hunted down Nazi occult/technology in Post-War 1950 Berlin. In Hot War, the Cuban Missile Crisis went hot, both sides used monstrous Other Weapons based on Nazi occult/technology, and the British government barely hangs on in a shattered and faction ridden London. Characters are Special Situations Groups (SSG) operatives, an agency that hunts spies, saboteurs, and Other Weapons. Character options include soldiers, policemen, even underground staff, but all are driven by their agendas and relationships (both negative and positive). Agendas are hidden (coming from another political or military faction in London) or personal, and like relationships provide bonuses and penalties to die rolls as appropriate, including those of fellow SSG agents. Agendas only last so long before they have to be resolved, which pushes the story along and gives the campaign an episodic television-like structure.

Games can be played “Closed,” the Agendas kept hidden, or “Open,” with the players (not the characters) knowing everyone’s Agendas. This allows greater player input (and trust) in a game that asks the players to participate in describing the narrative and in deciding the consequences of a conflict. Hot War has clear rules, excellent examples, evocative art and in-game documents, and a brilliant bibliography that helps evoke the post-apocalypse of the 1960s. It needs a proper scenario and more Other Weapons, but Hot War is a fantastically grim game of a Quatermass-like future past.

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