Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/08/07/tabletop-review-falling-scales-chapter-two-world-of-darkness/
I reviewed Falling Scales, Chapter One back in March and found it to be one of the better adventures I’ve seen for the New World of Darkness. I’ll freely admit that I’m one of those that feels the Old World of Darkness was better than White Wolf’s current one, but that’s why I have The Onyx Path that White Wolf started with the release of Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition. Falling Scales has you playing as human beings rather than supernatural creatures, albeit with the caveat that through the Chronicle, the PCs are made aware that there are, in fact, things that go bump in the night. PCs can (and probably will) get infected with a highly specialized virus that makes normal mortals aware of the supernatural, and sometimes even immune to the powers of WoD creatures. PCs will find themselves involved with an organization known as The Unmasked, which they will eventually take down with the why and how being up to how the adventure goes.
Now we’re back with the second and final part of Falling Scales, which surprised, me as Part One felt and read like it was going to be a multi-part series. You don’t need to have played Part One in order to get the full effect out of this adventure, but it will definitely help a lot. Characters will have more of an understanding of what is going on, certain events in the adventure will make more sense and the Storyteller won’t have to modify things to make the Chronicle flow smoothly. Again, it’s doable, but it’s worth your time to play through Falling Scales, Chapter One first, as it not only will fill in the blanks that are there in Part Two, but it’s a better adventure overall anyway.
Chapter Two brings back the PCs into a group a few months after the events of Chapter One. This time they are united to stop, and I kid you not, a nationwide government and pharmaceutical conspiracy to reveal the existence of monsters to the general public. Unfortunately, why they want to do this and who is actually behind the conspiracy is never spelled out in the adventure, which is not only a letdown, but makes things harder for the Storyteller. A chronicle needs a definite ending as well as a whodunit for players to feel satisfied. If you are a big NWoD fan with a lot of books, you CAN read between the lines to figure out who the big bad is, but for casual fans of the system or those that don’t devote themselves to anything and everything White Wolf puts out, it’s going to be hard to know who is behind it all. Here’s a hint though: He’s not an Antediluvian in the New World of Darkness, but he’s still around…
There are four big things I really liked about the adventure. The first is that White Wolf really did try to make it accessible to people who haven’t played/run Chapter One, right down to reprinting the full rules on the Mimetic Infection. That was a nice touch. The second is that the adventure includes a truly incredible flowchart that outlines all the possible ways the adventure can unfold and in what order scenes can occur. This thing is a blessing to any Storyteller thinking of running Falling Scales, Chapter Two, and it makes organizing the entire affair so much easier. The third is that the adventure gives you constant ways to use supernatural creatures instead of “mere mortals.” This means if you have a current World of Darkness campaign going for say, Vampire: The Requiem or Werewolf: The Forsaken, you can play Falling Scales while still letting players use the characters they have no doubt grown attached too. Finally, I love that Part Two is actually a few dollars less to buy than Part One, even though it has a slightly larger page count. More bang for your buck!
Of course, there are several big drawbacks to the adventure too, and this review would be remiss if we didn’t talk about them. The first is the layout. For some reason both Falling Scales adventures have been in landscape layout rather than portrait. This is really annoying, especially on an e-reader like the Kindle Fire or a Nook. I will admit it works okay if I read the PDF on my PC, but I very rarely do that. Trying to read the edges of Falling Scales will cause the PDF to advance to the next page on an e-reader, making this a bit annoying to go through on one.
The second big problem is the entire plot. I just really didn’t care for it. I’m fine with big, over the top adventures, especially for World of Darkness and Call of Cthulhu games, but Falling Scales, Chapter Two just fell flat on its face for me from beginning to end. The conspiracy isn’t handled very well, and the characters aren’t very believable, even for a universe where ghosts and golems walk freely amongst mankind. Perhaps it’s just because I live here in D.C. (where the adventure takes place) and I’ve got a background in politics, but there was so much about this adventure that I instantly found wrong, I think I spent more time picking it apart than actually enjoying it. Now, that doesn’t mean it will happen to everyone who reads this. It’s just a very political adventure set in D.C. written by a person who obviously doesn’t have a strong background in either, being reviewed by someone who does. I honestly think the average WoD fan will have fun with this for what it is without going, “Well, that’s not remotely possible because the system doesn’t work like that…” every five minutes. Just remember, it’s fantasy. I might like my intrigue a little more grounded, but that doesn’t make this adventure a complete bust.
The third and final problem are the antagonists. One of them really only works if you played Falling Scales, Chapter One, and then only if you played it in a very specific way. The adventure gives the excuse of saying, “Character XYZ is crazy and delusional now,” but that doesn’t work for me. I also didn’t really care for The Thief. He’s too ancient and too powerful a concept, yet horribly defined both in background and game mechanics. Finally there’s the fact that this is the last adventure in the chronicle, and nothing wraps up properly in terms of a big bad reveal. You never learn who was pulling what strings. For an adventure to end, that’s fine. Mystery is good most of the time. When the adventure is also the end of a full Chronicle… that’s not so good. Unless you’re playing a Cthulhu or Chill game, resolution and reveal, even if it’s out of character to explain to players the full story, is needed.
Overall, I give Falling Scales, Chapter Two a thumbs in the middle. For everything it does well, there’s a big red flag to balance things out. It’s definitely worth buying/reading/downloading if you have the first, but there is a noticeable drop-off in quality from Chapter One. You might be better off playing Chapter One as a one-shot rather than trying to do Chapter Two. If you do decide to run it, at least the adventure is nicely laid out and all the possible situations that might occur from PC actions are given to you, so even a novice Storyteller can run Falling Scales, Chapter Two rather smoothly. This isn’t an adventure that is going to win the New World of Darkness any converts or new players, but it should satisfy the more zealous fan of the system as well as those that loved the first Falling Scales so much that they are chomping at the bit for the second.