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SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
by Ronan C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/29/2018 15:47:53

Sigmata is a really powerful game to have in the current climate thematically, but the fact it's an absolute blast to play definitely doesn't hurt. Very simple to pick up, 100% recommended



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
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SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
by Christopher L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/20/2018 11:25:14

Short version: excellent fast-paced game for playing rebels fighting a totalitarian government alongside hated allies. Definitely not a general RPG, and definitely not tame on subject matter. Extremely political in themes.

Now the long version:

Recent political events have brought fascism, Nazism and other serious topics into the forefront of modern society. So it was only a matter of time before fiction and games started to hit what is culturally relevant for this time.

Sigmata is a tabletop game of anti-fascist politics and insurgent strategy. Taking place in an alternate universe 1980s, the United States has taken anti-communist paranoia and American jingoism to its natural conclusion, and transformed into a totalitarian state where "un-American" behavior is a crime, and minorities of all stripes keep their heads down in fear of a police state that takes joy in their suffering. From there the setting takes a fantastic twist. A government experiment called Project Sigmata succeeded at creating the Signal; a pseudo-supernatural data pattern that, when transmitted via radio waves, can transform select electronic devices and human beings into supernaturally-powered metal components and cyborg superhumans respectively. Now hunted by the Regime trying to exploit your existence or hide it from the public, you have little choice but to join the Resistance that hopes to topple the government in revolution and restore freedom to the nation.

First I'll talk about the mechanics of the game, then the central element of the setting; the so-called "Signal". One interesting thing to note is that the game mechanics operate on two scales: the tactically-scaled "Operating System" which acts as the core mechanics of the game during play, and the strategically-scaled (and aptly-named) Strategic Phase that monitors the progress of the campaign overall.

The core system of the game is an interesting one, as it combines high-level abstraction with narrative-driven resolution mechanics. The fundamental dice roll of the game (much like it's predecessor Cryptomancer) is a pool of five dice: a number of d10s equal to the "Core" (the name for this game's attributes) you are using, along with an amount of d6s to bring your total pool to 5. All rolls of 6 or higher are considered a success, while all rolls of 1 are botches which subtract a success. If the net total exceeds 0 (which isn't particularly hard), you have succeeded to some degree. If the result is negative or 0, you have failed. Of interesting note is that the pool itself cannot be modified by factors external to your Cores; modifiers may affect the final result, but these all take place after you roll. Ultimately this gives the game a decent simplicity, as there's no need to remember pool adjustments. Instead, various character powers and traits positively affect your result after the dice land, allowing you to ignore botches, double the successes of 10s, add free successes, or any number of other benefits. All this comes at the caveat that you must work the implant (known as Blades), superpower (known as Subroutines), skill, memory or equipment into the narrative description of your success. And true to newer game trends, narrative control falls either entirely on the player if they succeed, or entirely on the GM if they fail.

Of interesting note is the flow of play in the game. To simplify work for the GM, they make no rolls and track no attributes. Instead, the GM adds a fixed quantity of exposure (the game's analog of hit points) depending on the scene type (evasion, combat or intrigue) and degree of opposition faced. Then the players use their turns to respond or negate those effects with their actions. Exposure is capped at 10, and if any PC's exposure remains at 10 at the end of a round (as in after every player has taken an action and just before the GM takes his next move), they are taken out of the scene in some way... captured, injured, whatever. Players may get a second wind and jump back into the fight with an action called Rebooting, but that character then spends the rest of that scene and the next one at risk of being permanently removed from the campaign. Thus, PC death effectively rests in the hands of the players, and its up to them at any point whether or not they wish to risk it. That so much of the tactical play rests in the hands of the players not only reduces the workload that sits on the GM's shoulders, it alleviates GMs of many of the common complaints that players often have... whether it be that they have too many good rolls, or that they're being too lethal.

The strategic ops of the game are interesting in that they have broader mechanics that the players have indirect control of, and provide gauges and scores that help the players understand the status of the war effort. This makes the effects of the campaign very visible to players in an obvious and readable way, rather than relying solely on the descriptive talents of the GM running the game. Another neat feature is that players choose their missions rather than GMs (with the exception of choosing what the Regime does in each Strategic Phase, which still happens at the GM's behest). The play structure of the game lends itself well to improv missions rather than pregenerated or designed ones. GM's mostly need to set the scene and define objectives, while the players will largely control events from there. It makes for a very comfy game behind the screen, and a fast-flowing and frenetic game on the other side.

One thing I'm learning very recently is that the structure of the game lends itself well to play-by-post. Since players retain narrative control on successes (and they will succeed on most rolls), and the game's explicit use of exposure and progress trackers, it's pretty easy to let the players take most of the reins during play and just sit back to watch the madness happen. So long as their descriptions don't contradict the trackers and mechanics (they don't declare an NPC dead that hasn't hit max exposure, or don't claim a bonus they didn't work into their narration), they're fine and need little babysitting. And if you're playing on a forum or asynchronously in a chat, that's a godsend for easy play.

Now we'll talk about the force that creates the game's namesake: the Signal. Land of NOP's previous game Cryptomancer utilized metaphor to teach infosec concepts to laymen, turning fun and fantasy into educational symbology. The developer continued this idea with the Signal, a metaphorical superpower-creating radio signal that represents the information feeds and internet connections that sustained rebellions during the Arab Spring, or were suppressed to topple similar rebellions in China. Much like in these real world rebellions, the existence of the Signal and retention of the feed puts the Regime in a weakened position and forces them to remain on the defensive; when the Signal goes down, the Regime becomes free to crack down hard, with the player characters becoming powerless used as a metaphor for when media blackouts give tyrannies liberty to use excessive force and violence to smother resistance.

This, combined with the strategic elements of the game, is intended to teach players the complexities of managing a contemporary rebellion, and why revolutionaries often ally themselves with unsavory folks. In many ways, it's a contemporary take on the plot of Star Wars (complete with seemingly supernatural powers and cyborgs) which does not shy away from the gruesome aspects of rebellion and paint the rebels as saints and martyrs. You'll be allied with religious fanatics, self-serving businessmen, disgruntled war vets and Soviet apologists... and you have to figure out for youselves how you stick to your ethics while preventing your revolution from falling apart at the seams.

Trust me, after a game of this you'll fully understand why the Founding Fathers joined up with slavers, French nobles and German mercenaries.

Now this game might not prove enjoyable for everyone. The book is chock full of trigger warnings, and for good reason. This game deals with racism, sexism, bigotry of all sorts, and especially fascists and Nazis. If these topics bother you either because you are offended by things that address them directly, or because you think these are things that are exaggerated too much in modern society, you will not enjoy this game. The writer clearly does not see Nazis as a harmless presence, but an imminent threat to modern society that he is trying to warn you about the dangers of. It does not pretend to be apolitical, and it does not pretend to have no agenda. This is entertainment for education's sake, not entertainment's sake... and at no point does it claim otherwise. You have been warned, and the book will warn you again.

Overall I think the game does a fantastic job at its goal, which is to portray an ugly emulation of revolutionary politics. If you want to play a lighthearted game of good vs evil, this won't be it. To that end, the mechanics are wrapped tight around its premise, so this game could in no way portray things outside a revolution. I wouldn't recommend it if you wanted to play any other thing, regardless of whether it's a supers game, cyberpunk game, or even an anachronistic 80s game. Admittedly, it wouldn't be hard to make adjustments to the specific genre of the game... making blades into magic artifacts and subroutines into spells would be a simple way to convert this into a fantasy setting... but the themes are ingrained so it will still be a game about revolution against a totalitarian state. And towards that purpose this game is excellent and highly recommended.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
by Anthony D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/09/2018 09:07:13

Check out my full and detailed review at Sticky Bunton, found here. But for the TL;DR version:

SIGMATA has a lot going for it. It easily captures the feel of 80's dystopian cyberpunk with an alternate history America. The book also is rather timely, as it ties in events occurring around the world, and protrays them in an easier-to-digest and educational matter that the author has proven in his other work, Cryptomancer.

Mechanically speaking, SIGMATA is easy to pick up and teach, and is light with physical requirements (5d6 and 5d10). The game system is built for newbies as well as for the experienced player.

I also felt the game has one of the most balanced super powered mechanics out there while still keeping things interesting.

Sadly, the game does have a few flaws. The art is nice, but there isn't enough of it in my opinion. The core mechanic is simple, but it can leave more to be desired by some play groups due to the limited actions (but they do remove the issue of decision paralysis). Combat of any sort can be a bit one-sided with a heavy-handed GM due to how the game is designed, which is a concern for most of the groups I've shared this with.

Overall, it's a nice game that's a clear improvement over Cryptomancer, but suffers some of the same flaws.

If you like cyberpunk, 80's vibes and technology, and a game that is both quick to pick up and an educational tool, then you should absolutely give SIGMATA a glance.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
by Blaine W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/06/2018 15:18:18

I haven't played the game yet, which is the only reason this game doesn't get a 5 star review from me (yet). But can I just say H O L Y G O D is this game incredible. It hit me like a freight train and I've been obsessed with it for a week now. It's this incredible blend of simple narrative driven mechanics and an incredible setting. Straight up if you're hesitant about this game because of the title and you think that it's just going to be some "edgy antifa worship" I promise you it is so much more than that. This game is a beautiful work of social and political commentary AND YOU GET TO PLAY CYBORGS....WITH LIKE LASER BEAMS AND SUPER STRENGTH AND JUNK!!! LIKE AM I DREAMING HOW IS THIS REAL?! I am literally struggling to describe my feelings about this game with words. Its incredible. Ok, I think that's enough inarticulate rambling about an RPG for now. Buy this game, you won't be disappointed.

Repeat the Signal!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
by David S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/03/2018 01:02:47

This is a damn fun game, packed full of potential. With a virbrantly realised setting that is hauntingly provocative, the system provides a huge wealth of possibilities for the type of characters that you can create and interact with. The concept for the signal itself is novel and unique in gaming, and the use of NPC factions to interact with reminds me of other games with a strong socio-economic eye like Red Markets. It's also very current, capturing a lot of the modern punk aesthetic even despite its retro setting. This game is highly recommended.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
by Donald G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/01/2018 17:02:06

This Signal Kills Fascists. Beautifully simple title that gets right to the point, and yet Sigmata is very quick to point out that if you just keep taking the violent options in the pursuit of your American Insurgency, you lose.

So what is Sigmata. I feel Chad Walker's overview at the beginning of this book does a great job of laying that out over the course of several paragraphs, but I'll try to pick the one quote that stood out to me:

"SIGMATA is a table-top roleplaying game about repeating a signal at all costs."

That, to me, is the heart of this game. It is a game about desperate struggle against overhwelming odds. It is a game about communication and how the battle of words means just as much as the battle of bodies. It is a game where sacrifice is commonplace, where ideals die and are reborn, where the most epic thing your campaign entails may be just flipping a literal switch: the buildup to and fallout from that simple action is the most nailbiting, intense, and emotional core of this game.

Sigmata, as the product description points out, is about being a Cybernetic Revolutionary in an Alternate History 1986 America. Long story short, a certain Senator Joseph McCarthy manages to win a primary and then an election, becoming the American President. While his presidency fails, his ideas (such as the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the notion of the 'Interior Threat') live on. The fear and paranoia of the Cold War, the omnipresent threat of nuclear annihilation, the rising strife in America as racial, gender, and other civil movements get under way in the Post-War world, it all contributes to the American government becoming more and more radicalized towards Fascism in the name of Security. Rising to fight this decidedly Un-American regime is The Resistance: a loose coalition of wildly different peoples who may only have a common enemy and not much else to bind them together, but hey. That's enough in this case.

The Players star as Receivers: the Radio-powered cyborg super-soldiers of The Resistance, marked by the mysterious Signal. The Signal is an FM Broadcast that rewrites DNA, turning flesh to steel, arteries to power lines, and muscles to blade server modules. It marks those it affects, hence our title: Sigmata. The Signal Stigmata. These Receivers are going to be hunted by the government, feared by those around them, and outcast or killed quickly, but when around other Receivers they can control their appearance, blend in better, and, most importantly, master their usage of The Signal to do amazing things. Receivers are pure Cyberpunk Fantasy at its best: their bodies can be upgraded with new, physical parts to heighten their abilities. When the Signal is being broadcast, they can become literal iron juggernaughts, ghosts in the machine, or just shoot Cyclops-style laser beams from their mouths if that's more your style. As a normal person in the Fascist Dictatorship of 1986, you, by yourself, may not be able to make much of a difference. As a Signal-empowered Receiver, you ARE the difference in a seemingly hopeless war.

Make no mistake, Sigmata is absolutely a game about politics. The game isn't called "This Signal Kills Fascists" because the author is a huge Woody Guthrie and William Gibson fan (although he might be, I don't know his life). The game deep dives into explaining how fascist governments operate and how they systematically oppress "unwanted" groups, citing from real events and history often. It shows how such governments can come to be, and how different parts of societies will react to their rise. It also explains the game's premise of "Ethical Insurgency" (Thoroughly researched with many, many sources cited, very nice to see) - the concept of not just fighting the enemy but winning hearts and minds at the same time. This is not a game of going around and executing law enforcement officers or assassinating hated political figures: The game has a mechanic that will HEAVILY punish you if that's your idea of the American Insurgency. The Resistance has no time or place for vengeance, rampant idealism, or absolute pacifism: just as Resistance Fighters are knocking the walls down on Concentration Camps, they are also hosting protest marches and helping to repair and rebuild damaged areas of America. One of my favorite sections very heavily implies that Resistance agents that steal personal property in the name of fighting The Regime will find themselves reimbursing the unfortunate victims of insurgency-based theft. You're not here just to cybernetically punch fascists: you're here to convince the office worker, the forklift operator, the record label producer, and the farmer why The Regime has no vested interest in their growth, development, or protection. Sometimes that means waylaying and attacking military convoys headed to "pacify" a peaceful protest. Sometimes that means community outreach and distributing food supplies to quarantined areas. Essentially, there's a lot of Revolution to go around and not all of it is done from the business end of a .45

Mechanically, Sigmata uses a system I, personally, have never seen before, but one I'm coming to enjoy. The system only ever uses d6s and d10s, and you will always roll 5 dice for everything you do. Depending upon your abilities (Core Processes) and certain bonuses (from Receiver special features or meaningful items), you will end up rolling more d10s and d6s, where a 6 on a die is a success and a 1 on a die is a botch that removes successes. Sigmata itself is played over 3 different types of scenes: Combat, which may be an all-out firefight in a Regime secret bunker or a tense and drawn-out sniper duel in the Ozarks, Evasion, which could be sneaking and fleecing your way into a Regime-loyal corporate HQ or fleeing as fast as you can from your raided Resistance Base with dogs, foot troops, and helicopter gunships hot on your tail, and Intrigue, which can be meeting a possible defector at an underground punk show or trying to lead a peaceful demonstration against a new Regime policy. These play out like Missions, essentially: the players get told their goal, the GM sets the scene, and then the players use their skills and special abilities to achieve said goal. Anything outside of these major scenes are under the umbrella of Free Play: open roleplay scenes where, if rolls are needed, they are usually resolved quickly and simply. At first I wasn't exactly keen on such structured play, but for the setting and story it's trying to tell, it makes sense: You are members of a paramilitary organization. You are getting orders from above to carry out. You have mission assignments, strategic and tactical goals, and you're constantly trying to stop the Regime from achieveing theirs. It all flows quite nicely: there's no complicated math or mechanics to deal with and all 3 major types of scenes mechanically work the same. Using The Signal to lift an APC and throw it through a wall uses the same exact mechanic as easing tensions at a checkpoint to avoid being searched too thoroughly for that floppy disk you have hidden away. There's nothing like D&D where magic users are basically operating on a completely different playing field than their mundane counterparts, or Shadowrun where Deckers have an entirely separate world to deal with than their fellow Runners. You want to do a thing, you just describe it, roll it, and resolve it.

In terms of resolving it, Sigmata emphasizes player-control over the stories as well. Rolling very well allows the Player to dictate more of what is going on, while rolling poorly means the GM gets the majority of the narrative power. Now, of course, this comes with all sorts of stipulations: a player on a good roll cannot just immediately start declaring things that clash with the setting and tone of the game, but they ARE given a pretty liberal amount of freedom. One of my favorite examples is that on a good roll, a player could possibly provide a quick flashback to a bit of setup their character did prior to the mission to show why they are succeeding so well at the current juncture. In this way, Sigmata has a pretty cinematic feel to it: there's just enough crunch to optimize and theorycraft your Receiver if you're into that, but in practice the game definitely feels like it's supposed to be a movie or a tv series writ large.

Another good mechanical aspect is how everyone, no matter how they built their character, is useful in all situations. There are no "purely combat" or "purely Face" characters: everyone has some sort of competency in every type of scene. It has to do with the way the system handles Approaches: HOW you want to do something is more important than just saying "I'm going to roll this plus this." As a very quick example, one of the main stats (Core Processes) is "Valor": a measure of physical strenght, empathy, and a committment to the team. In Combat, a High Valor allows you to better protect your allies by laying down covering fire or distracting enemies. In Evasion Scenes, High Valor may come across as creating a distraction for an ally to slip by unnoticed or taking point to guide your teammates through a set of searched lights and barbed wire. In Intrigue Scenes, High Valor allows you to break the building tension during a traffic stop or convince a potential ally that the Resistance is not their enemies: the Regime is, and always has been. In each structured part of play, Valor, and the other 3 stats (Aggression, Guile, and Judgment), all have their roles and uses, but they are all USEFUL, which is a nice change of pace. For too long have I not enjoyed being encouraged to sit out of negotations because I wasn't playing a High Charisma character, or cringing when a forced stealth section came up and I, of course, had not put a single point into Sneak. In this way, Sigmata shares some design philosophy with other games that I love (7th Sea stands out from a mechanical standpoint), and I appreciate what the design is trying to do.

So why fight Fascists in Alt-1986? Why deal with heavy themes such as unethical mass incarceration and deportation, the removal of civil protections and liberties, the threat and possible execution of genocide? Why explore the concepts of Ethical Insurgency, of how a popular movement can get its message out when it is being shouted down, of how violence can be both a tool and a liability when fighting against literal government-backed genocide, of how peoples with wildly different ideologies such as Socialists and Libertarians would have to find a way to cooperate in the face of Blatant Fascism?

Yes, some people are going to say that this is "too real". It hits "too close to home". Others are going to laugh at this and call it "bandwagon propaganda". They'll say it's "virtue signaling". I will be the first to say that Sigmata is not for everyone, and that is coming from someone who is 100% behind the team's intentions with this book. Some people may disagree with its message, others may agree with it so much that they feel uncomfortable exploring such subjects via dice and roleplay. The author and co. fully admit in their book that they, too, were and are uncomfortable by the things they had to explore to create this product. It IS uncomfortable. Reading this brought up a lot of questions to me and they are questions that I don't have ready answers for, and some answers that I'm not entirely okay with the fact that I have.

But I also feel that's why it's important. I am a huge proponent of the idea that art, and roleplaying specifically, are how we vicariously experience things to grow and better develop as people. I am a Hetero Cis White Male. I am exactly what most gaming companies and media in general are aiming for when they talk about their target audience. I have never experienced anything near the sheer level of fear and dread that the Alternate History of Sigmata explores, but that's coming from the perspective of someone who is not intimately exposed to the issues this game delves heavily in to.

By taking on the role of Receiver, Revolutionary, Outcast, by exploring what it means to ally with those I, personally, politically disagree with for a cause we both fight for even if we seek different results, by creating a scenario in which it is impossible to not choose a side because the Regime's tragedies are so large and so widespread that there is no way to avoid them.

It also forces me, the GM. The Player. To not avoid them either. To take a second or third look at the dystopian world of the American Insurgency and then, when the dice are put away and my fellow players have gone home for the night, to think of how our shared experiences at the table relate to what is going on today. Sigmata does not at all try and avoid that. It does not hide what it is. It is uncomfortable. It is brutal. It is steeped in what has absolutely happened before in our world and what can easily happen again.

Sigmata is not for everyone. But I still encourage you to pick it up for yourself. To see what it means to join hands with what you THINK is villainy in order to fight what is TRULY reprehnsible. To experience how a movement gains traction, and how to both put a stop to one while amplifying another. To give names and voices to the desperate, the sacrifical, the hungry and the wild. To remember that in the end, tyranny and despotism are not stopped by Cyborg Superheroes but by millions of people all chanting the same message, louder and louder.

This Signal Kills Fascists. Repeat The Signal.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/30/2018 15:59:16

I'm a little hesitant to write the review before playing the game, but if play greatly defies my expectations one way or another, I will alter this. You play as cyborg revolutionaries ("Receivers") in an alternate history 1986 fascist USA, utilizing a mysterious Signal broadcast by your comrades in the Resistance to temporarily wield superpowers against the Regime, until the Regime shuts the Signal and you have to go back into hiding. The setting of an offers a lot of opportunity for players to jointly explore and reflect on contemporary political and social events, perhaps especially because the intriguing mix of GM-player narrative control, seems like an excellent way to really draw on the insights and experiences of everyone at the table. The setting itself is a pretty broadly outlined canvas on which you can freely, and jointly paint your own details as needed. Mostly the fluff details were nicely evocative, with only a few pieces that made me groan as implausibly on-the-nose ("How could 'fake news' be a recently evolved term to discredit anti-Regime information in a fascist country where the Regime has presumably dominated most media for decades?") or raising questions of setting coherence ("How are consumer electronics, civilian automobiles, and other tech-dependent goods exactly on par with our world's 1986 counterparts when the U.S. has supposedly been in an economic recession for ~30 years? ") Based on the Kickstarter page, the setting caught some flak for its selection of the four Resistance Factions maneuvering to dominate the Resistance and post-fascist U.S., but I would say that the selection are narratively excellent: the Old Men (militia types, some of whom are just adamantly libertarian, some of whom are white nationalists themselves, and all of whom are intending to take up arms against the government), the Party (revolutionary democratic socialists, some of whom are Soviet agents), the Faith (Christian activists opposed to the Regime, some of whom just want to humbly help their neighbors, and some of whom make the Mujihideen look tame), and the Makers (the ultra-rich who fund the Resistance, possibly because they find the Regime morally repugnant or threatening to the Makers' business, possibly because they like using the purse strings to control the Resistance and use them as pawns). These are diverse groups with potential for both noble heroism or to themselves become oppressors. The tension between the factions, the spectrum of extremism within each, and their desire to act on their own agendas to the occasional detriment of the Resistance overall seems like a source of endless opportunity for interesting stories. And, your group won't lack for fuel to start these stories, due to a nice meta-game cycle system for generating events and missions, the success or failure of which each influence Faction loyalty and the overall strategic picture (specifically the Resistance's degree of popular support, international support, and fighter strength) [these factors are based on respected real-world models of insurgencies]. The overall strategic status of the Resistance affects how long your comrades in the field will be probably able to broadcast the Signal during your missions, which is to say how long you'll have your cool super powers. Meanwhile, earning the favor of the various Factions allows use of their various perks during those same missions (the Makers offer a handsome bribe to an obstacle, a Party undercover agent delays your pursuers, etc.) These factors, plus the fact that XP-gain is tied to the total Loyalty each Faction has to the Resistance, means that there's an interplay between the strength of the Resistance and the strength of the PC's. The missions themselves are built around a core mechanic of using 5 dice, some of which are d10s and other of which are d6's, depending on your competence in the type of action--nicely unified across Combat, Intrigue, and Evasion scenes in a fairly streamlined system. The outcomes of each of these rolls can be modified through a variety of different character traits, each of which are a nice way to subtly push players to flesh out their characters' backstories and roles in the setting. The hybrid of GM-player narrative control comes from the fact that the number of successes (6+ on the die, subtracting any 1's) gained on a roll determines how much of the action its results the player can narrate: 3 or more successes gives the player nominally complete narrative control (barring a few mechanical restrictions and what amounts to social pressure to keep things from going too much off the rails and contravening the established facts/tone), which seems like it opens opportunities for truly creative collaborative scenes. This joint-narrative building does seem like it could slightly clash with at least one meta-game mechanic: the inherent randomness of the regular Faction Loyalty Check. Essentially, at a point during the meta-game cycle, the GM chooses one of the Factions, rolls d6, and then compares the results against that Faction's current Loyalty (which is between 1-5). If the result is equal to or less than the Loyalty, great: you get a boon from them and the opportunity to go on a mission for them and increase their Loyalty further. If it's above, then members of that Faction try to do something...counter-productive to the Resistance's success, the precise nature of which depends on how well the war is going overall: from desperately stupid actions like the Faith sending suicide bombers against civilians when everything looks terrible, to the Old Men carving out their own personal warlord fiefdoms when it could go either way, to (just when you're on the verge of victory!) any of the Factions' extremists joining up with the Regime, murdering the moderates in their own Faction, murdering almost everyone in the next strongest Faction, and then becoming the new hybrid-antagonist as Theocratic Fascists, Stalinists, Corporate Oligarchs, or White Nationalist Fascists (the lattermost of which doesn't actually seem all that different from the existing state of affairs.) That last one in particular seems like a lot to settle with just a die roll, and while I'm thematically excited by the idea of the Great Betrayal, as its called, and I think that the unpredictability of the Factions' actions adds some excitement, I'm anxious about what this looks like in execution. Overall though, I'm definitely looking forward to playing it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
by Kai D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/26/2018 14:05:38

I have yet to play Sigmata with my group but I gotta say that I can't wait to try out the system outlined in this book. Of course, the themes of fascism, insurgency and the messiness of building an alternative to the fascist status-quo of the setting are very striking but I think it's the system which really convinced me to play this game.

Sigmata's system is highly structured for the most part. Like an onion, you have one layer which are the Factions, Regime- and Resistance-actions and underneath that are the missions which consist of Evasion, Combat and/or Intrigue-scenes and beneath that layer are the player-characters themselves who engage with that system from the bottom up by making their OP-rolls to deal with the dangers they face in the moment. What makes it such a well-rounded system is while you have a very clear idea of what happens when, there's still enough freedom left for GMs and players to take ownership of this process in creative ways. But because of the structure, there's a clarity to these choices you wouldn't normally have with a completely narrative-driven system (or one where RNG reigns supreme).

Also, there's a part of the game called "Free Play". Calling "Free Play" player-driven is an understatement. It's more like a a vacuum of nothingness; it's whatever you want it to be. Everything that happens between missions and doesn't directly interlink with the structured part of the game is essentially "Free Play". The book says that most of the game should be focused on the structured part and there are some light suggestions for what you could do with "Free Play" in your campaign but it's never anything substantial. It's a bit disappointing to have this great system on one side but whenever you're not following its structure, the game just shrugs and says "Do what you want.". And I don't think it's a good decision to just force GMs and players to fill that void themselves. Blades In The Dark, for example, has a similar mission-driven structure to the game and has specific rules for the phase of the game when you're not on a mission, if you're looking for ideas of what to do with the "Free Play"-sections of the game beyond just being an improv-exercise.

Just like Cryptomancer before, the book's great at describing what its themes are and how they are relevant within the game. The tenets of Ethical Insurgency are a good baseline for a game such as this. Especially since it would be very easy to ignore Ethics since the villain is a fascist police-state. And the book ponders all the aspects of this Ethical Insurgency-philosophy in a way that make them very accessible for readers.

While the setting is purposefully vague, with the lack of historical examples (only the Arab Spring and the recent Syrian Civil War are discussed to some degree) the game is missing out on showing off the messiness of insurgencies/revolutions in the past. There's a reason why the tenets of Ethical Insurgency are written the way they are and why Faction Fallout and the so-called "Grand Betrayal" are parts of the game. Now it isn't really the job of a book like this to explore the history of such things. I do think, though, that the complexity of that topic puts a burden on the group. The game doesn't want to be a GI Joe cartoon and therefore this burden is put on the players and GM to express what's mostly written about in theory in the book.

The book already mentions reading-material, so I want to add two podcasts that I think would be a good resource for getting inspirations as a GM or simply get a feel for how difficult the task is the players have as a goal in this game:

One is http://www.revolutionspodcast.com/ It's a podcast presenting the history of revolutions chronologically. It hasn't yet arrived in the 20th century but I still think it offers good examples of what kind of people will fight for change, which will defend the status quo and what kind of things turn the will to change into a mass-movement.

The other is https://www.patreon.com/radiowarnerd/ . The Mujahideen are, for example, mentioned in Sigmata and Episode 99 of this Patreon-podcast has an episode of almost three hours dissecting the Soviet-Afghan-war. I find it to be a very insightful podcast, especially since they often talk with historians from the countries of the historical event/period they talk about.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/26/2018 00:46:46

SIGMATA is one of the most visceral and brutal RPG settings ever written - not because of over-the-top numbers like thousands being sacrificed every day, or millions dying in lasergun shootouts every day. Rather, because it is so close to home. The setting provides only a small alternate-history push to the fascist components of the USA, and the results are a dystopia that feels too close to happening in real life. In this alternate universe of 1985, the number of people who would stand up for life and decency in the USA are all-too-few, and the Soviet Union is little better. The cyberized superheroes must carefully balance their own needs with those of four contradictory resistance factions to survive.

Much like Cryptomancer, this is a book that is useful just for its setting and whose laws of reality could change the way you run & play other games, even if you never use its rules. It is full of realistic explanation about the way that certain technologies work, such that you become better-equipped to deal with them in real life. Where Cryptomancer dealt with encryption, Sigmata instead deals with radio and the early days of the Internet. If you are not from the USA at all, then the book still has some utility as a real-life guide to aspects of its internal politics and social currents which have produced the results that you now see in the news.

The rules themselves are significantly streamlined compared to those of Cryptomancer, and more focused on fast-paced narrativism. They are designed to reduce GM prep time as much as possible, so that the GM can focus less on enemy stats and maps, and more on the important aspects of NPCs and scenes. The players are responsible for describing the results of rolls, putting flavor on top of the simple damage system. The rules also make it easy to keep track of the resistance effort as a whole, so that both the players and the GM can clearly see how various actions work towards victory or defeat for the major factions.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cryptomancer
by John S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/15/2018 18:50:49

One of my favorite purchases from recent memory. I bought the PDF, just to read it because the reviews said it would generate new ideas, then after a half day consuming all this book had to offer I went and got the POD. Without a doubt what is presented here is presented in such a unique perspective that you can't help but feel your head begin to split with all the ideas this book is going to generate. This is truly a top notch book that goes beyond most other books in its worldbuilding and ideas. I'm happy to have found this book, and I have to applaud the authors for their work. I wish more books were as brilliant as this one.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cryptomancer
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Cryptomancer
by Richard B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/17/2017 20:24:40

Quick Review Buy this game, it's at the very least I source of different ideas, and maybe you'll also get a lot more out of it, like I have.

Detailed Review Do RPG mechanics sometimes get in the way of game flow, or even box-in peoples’ creativity? I’ve come across this line of questions on many occasions. The typical debate comes down to agreeing that rules abstraction is required, which I don’t fully agree with, but look at how most games leave character psychology to the players with no rules needed to track character mood or stress. For example, I am not a fan of the cyberspace/hacking design used in many RPGs. I’ve been working on a game for years in which I am using computer language structure as a part of my vast magic system, so I decided to do a search on RPG + hacking, to see if anyone had recently made some interesting mechanics. I was pleased to quickly find something new: Cryptomancer. After a few minutes of reading about Cryptomancer I genuinely paused to absorb what I considered to be a genius approach to handling hacking in an RPG; to focus on the reality of hacking, not to reduce the idea down to a few simple dice rolls, or worse. Within moments I had a multitude of ideas racing through my mind, plus the bonus that old designs were being influenced. I quickly contacted various friends to discuss the game, and to find out whether they knew anything else about it. Whilst waiting for replies I read a review, checked out some Reddit posts, and then decided to buy the PDF. The PDF is a whopping 430 detailed filled pages, so it is very great value at $10. The layout fits the theme of the game, as does the artwork, which I think helps to drive the theme home by keeping drawings stark, and utilises grey-scale to help with the mood. The same art style is used throughout, helping with the book’s consistency. I love the front cover, besides it being beautiful, it really helps to highlight one of the special things about this game: Shards. Shards allow a user to connect to other shards that originate from the same original larger shard, this collection forms a Shardnet. There is also a vast network called the Shardscape, which is akin to the Internet. I think these concepts are well explained, and are novice friendly. All throughout the book more details are continuously added, allowing a reader to build-up layers of understanding about how the Shards influence everything, from a few individuals interacting to the international scale. The game does not use an encryption skill, or a Shard skill. Some people may be concerned that this would affect game flow, or be too confusing for new players, but the book introduces the shard concepts carefully, with some great examples about different types of encryption. I think this is a wonderful example of proving that RPG mechanics are not always needed. Just present ideas for players and let them explore them.

System & Setting These days there are so many different RPG systems and settings that I’d be quite surprised if a game could be called unique, but I do believe that there are still ways to stand out, and niches to explore. Cryptomancer’s focus on data security, encryption, social engineering, along with some different spells and items, brings this game close to being called unique. Interestingly the game setting is introduced as Tolkienesque. I think this was a good design decision. For people that don’t play RPGs, they are likely to have heard of Tolkien’s work, and maybe even Dungeons & Dragons. Given how much new information the game presents, reducing the products overall learning curve makes sense. I think this decision also adds another benefit, allowing experienced gamers to understand how this approach to hacking fits in settings they are familiar with. The setting is not a direct copy of Middle Earth or the Forgotten Realms, and the differences are due to the shift in the Elf, Dwarf, and Human cultures in response to Shards and the magic of Cryptomancy. Thus there is something new, even if the foundation is familiar. I adore R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk RPG, despite the brutal skill system. The cyberpunk genre in general has dominated a big chunk of my life. I also like Shadowrun; I’m not one of those people that cannot like both. Some of the games of Mage: the Ascension I’ve ran have had the player characters (PCs) being members of the Technocracy, including some fun sessions of just playing Hit Marks. I was asked by one player whether Cryptomancer’s Internet-like Shardscape is just the Matrix/Cyberspace with a twist? I explained that both in setting, but crucially mechanically, Cryptomancer is doing things quite differently, that it is about the players learning how to exploit systems, and how to protect their own. So although Shadowrun already exists, with its fantasy races and cyberpunk themes, that Cryptomancer's differences translate to changing how a player approaches the game, as well as them possibly learning something new. The book highlights the idea of adding the Shards and Cryptomancy to other settings, which is the main reason I was interested in the book. I did read the setting information, because I felt it would help my understanding of the ramifications of Shards and Cryptomancy, and from this I could determine how best to implement the ideas in to my own setting. I also liked what I read of the setting, and I am planning on running some sessions in the game’s setting.

Risk & Mechanics The game is focused on the PCs being on the run from the settings main adversaries, the Risk Eaters. These powerful mages monitor the world using Dwarven decisions engines to predict dangers to the world, and in particular to the social systems in place, so they can dispatch agents to deal with problems before they get out of hand. The party has a Risk rating, which goes up as the party do things that affect the world, especially if the PCs are not careful in covering their tracks. Whilst the Risk Eaters are an inevitable enemy, with a combination of luck and care a party could keep the threat at bay for a long-time. At this point I think I should mention the system mechanics, I’m only introducing skill checks since they tie in to the Risk rating, a percentage score. In Cryptomancer any skill check always uses a pool of 5 dice. When a character makes a skill check, their skill rating is used as the basis of the dice pool, adding a d10 for each skill point. If they have less than 5, then they add the remaining dice with d6s to take the dice pool to 5; the d6s are known as Fate Dice. For example: a character making an Acrobatics check has an Agility of 5, then they roll 5d10, but if their Agility was 3, then roll would be 3d10+2d6. For a trivial action the target on the dice is 4+, for challenging a 6+ and a tough check is an 8+. Add up each dice that successfully hits the target, but deduct a success for any botch. A botch on a d10 is a roll of 1, and on a d6 (fate dice) any roll of a 1 or a 2; fate is dangerous to rely upon! For example: continuing on from the Agility of 3 with a challenging target of 6, the player rolls 3d10+2d6. For this example the dice result is d10(6, 1, 3) + d6(2, 6), meaning d10(successes of 1, -1, 0) + d6(-1, 1) for a total of 0 successes. With 1 success an action is successful, whilst 3 successes means it is a dramatic success. Likewise if the pool total is -1 then it is a clear failure, whilst -2 means a dramatic failure. A player can choose to Defy Fate, which will raise the party’s Risk rating by 1 for each botch removed from a dice result, so a buying off a result of -2 will raise the Risk rating by 2. I particularly like this part of the system, and how it all fits together. I think it does several interconnected things:

  1. Keeps things simple, which is particularly good for inexperienced players
  2. I’ve met many veteran gamers who dislike having large dice pools.
  3. It results in an interesting bell curve. I am not keen on systems that have no bell curve due to rolling a single dice, ‘they have unnatural fate’. I’ll expand on this semi-joke, but important point, another time ;-) I do play and enjoy D20, Cyberpunk, etc., it’s just I prefer using several dice since they give reliable averages.
  4. Players have a choice, often they are about deciding between short-term vs long-term issues. There are other games that use fate systems like Warhammer, or Deadlands chit system, etc. This system’s Fate linked to Risk is like a Doomsday Clock.
  5. The mechanics help to keep the game’s theme, the gravitas of long-term risk to the party, which just builds, and builds. Our world has become increasingly obsessed with risk over the last few decades, now more than ever, people strive to manage risk, which is an understandable thing, but when obsessed over … Hacking systems is a common part of RPGs, so there is nothing stopping a group from tweaking the Risk Eaters from being a bit like Cthulhu crossed with 1984, to a lesser threat. Be careful to avoid turning the Risk Eaters from a Cthulhu like threat to something more akin to Hello Kitty.

Downtime I love a good Downtime system. As a Play-By-Mail fan, I typically see downtime as something major, and equal to everything else in a tabletop game. Downtime is a great chance for strategising, as well as a good place to highlight whether the PCs have things to discuss; I’ve had downtime lead to whole sessions of PCs discussing things that have been bugging them, and working out major plot points. Downtime can be thought of as a break in the weather, the calm before the next storm. There are plenty of things in the Cryptomancer Downtime system to think about, and for people like me that love this this often ignored part of role-playing, I am sure you will enjoy the options, and maybe you’ll hack your own.

Writing & Design Overall I really like the writing style. I think it does a wonderful job of introducing concepts and overall the book has clear explanations. As there is so much being covered, not just the classic tabletop RPG aspects, but also encryption/security explanations, the book could be accused of being a bit much for some. I think it is fair to say that the book is not perfect (what is?), so I don’t want to give the impression I think Cryptomancy is the exception. I think a valid criticism could be a lack of rules being repeated, or some more rules summaries, and maybe more things could be in the index. I suspect this was an intentional decision mostly down to the issue of preventing an already large book becoming even bigger. Many design reasons are explained, which I appreciate, and I think this also helps with explaining a topic, by providing extra context. I don’t believe that these design explanations were defensive in nature, or so numerous that they distract from the game explanation, so I am sure most readers will appreciate their inclusion.

Sheets Whilst reading comments on the game I was intrigued that the character sheet had been highlighted as being something that was a bit different, complex even. For me, the character sheet is well designed, having a distinctive attribute & skill section, has sections for core character points of interest and utilises white space well. Cryptomancer also has a system for Safehouses, a good place for the party to carry out downtime. Safehouses have their own sheets to help keep track of things, and given the likely lifestyle of the PCs, it is a rare place of safety for them, and something else for them to care about. The sheet is quite detailed, but has been laid out well, utilising space and boxes well to help differentiate information.

Summary I think the game succeeds in its goal of spreading understanding of encryption and cybersecurity to the RPG community, and maybe vice versa. Whether a player is new or an experienced role-player, there is definitely something in this game for everyone; that is a rare thing, and thus Cryptomancer is something I highly recommend. Additionally there is a free expansion book: Code and Dagger, and with Code and Dagger vol. 2 on the way, this game’s value keeps increasing.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cryptomancer
by Michael M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/18/2016 16:06:05

I recently have had some chances to play Cryptomancer from the player perspective and I've grown to like it. Cryptomancer is essentially a cross of cryptosecurity and dark fantasy. It has a simplistic character creation system and with a good GM, can generate some awsome epics. If you are looking for something that feels llike White Wolf with fate dice, you will like Cryptomancer.

CHARACTER CREATION Character creation is simple. You come up with the character's concept, appearance and personality qualities to flesh out what makes your character tick. Then you set your Wits/Resolve/Speed/Power stat array through either answering a series of questions, or just setting them to how you want (each stat starts out at 6, but a +2/-2 exchange can be done to beef one stat to 8 while bringing another one to 4). The 4/6/8 represent your typical Difficulty Class, and in the case of your base stats, they represent your defense against different types of attacks (Speed makes you good at dodging, Power makes you good at parrying, etc)This base value is then broken down into two numbers to represent how well your skills for that stat are. These two numbers have to add up to your base stat.

Example: Jack has a speed 8, and to represent his general 'nimblyness' he has 4 Agility and 4 Dexterity.

Once you've gotten your stats down, you get your trademark weapon/armor and misc. equipment/loot/consumables. With trademarked weapons/armor, its your chance to add in flavor to your gear.

Example: Jack has a knife with a symbol of a Griffin on one side of the blade and the acronym "KPBTS' on the pommel.

The final point of character creation is the Talents and Spells. You get starting points which are used to buy talents (passives that allow you to ignore botches depending on th skill check and event going on) and spells (from resurrections, to kill balls, to even summoning ghosts to torment people like a jerk)

System Cryptomancer is largely narrative based. Dice rolling is done with 5 dice, with D10s being rolled to represent your skill point allocation and D6s being rolled to make up for times you have less than 5 for the skill. The difficulty is the same 4/6/8 set by either the GM or the defense of the target you are rolling against. For the D6s you need to get a 6 to count that as a success. On the other side, a 1 on the D10 or 1-2 on the D6 counts as a botch and negate any successes from the other dice. Your goal is to get atleast 1 success, with each additional success generating more flavor and opening up additional options (depending on how the GM takes it).

Example: Jack is attempting to to jump across a large chasm. He has 4 agility, so he would roll 4D10s and a D6. DM rules that its a challenging skill check, 6. He gets 1, 1, 1, 5 from his D10s and a 4 on his D6. He does not suceed.

Setting Setting is one of the strongpoints of Cryptomancer. Basically they use psionic crystals are their 'internet'. Each member of society has their own crystal shard and can use it to send telepathic messages to other members in the party, they can use it to research on a 'shardnet' to find more information, and they can even encrypt/decrypt information. The party itself is usually composed of individuals on the run from what are called Risk Eaters. Essentially powerful assasins that are 'paid' to help eliminate potential societal risks. DMs can run the setting in a different way if they don't want to deal with the risk system.

Presentation I'm not completely well versed in cryptosecurity, but I can recognize some of the SQL and Terminal commands that dot the book. Very nice touch. The visuals are reminiscent of White wolf, more specifically Exalted (atleast to me), and the PDF chocks in at 430 pages. I haven't gotten my hands on the Hardback, but I plan to get my copy next month.

**Overall** I like it. It took a little bit of getting used to (I come from DnD and Pathfinder mostly), but so far what I have played I have enjoyed. As a narrative game, I definitely recommend Cryptomancer. The system is set up perfectly for players who like roleplay. 10/10 would encrypt again.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cryptomancer
by Dylan F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/01/2016 14:03:18

I approached this game with a slight hesitation, because this concept is so... different. I grew up playing DnD and other high fantasy games, and I grew up playing Shadowrun and other cyberpunk games. Both very different, both amazing in their own right. But, this is a game that combines some concepts from both. Aside from that, it's easy to pick up, easy to learn, easy to teach, and easy to play. If if I could give it more than 5 stars, I would.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cryptomancer
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/18/2016 22:28:34

Ten years since I last rolled a dice in an RPG, and this is the game that's finally lured me back. It takes a setting we all know - sword and sorcery fantansy - and adds a new layer that's smart, creative, and remarkably unique. No other game, that I'm aware of, takes concepts from infosec and cyberwarefare and integrates them more fully and thoughtfully into play. There are elements here of the old cyberpunk hacking and evasion games I cut my teeth on, but there's so much more to Crytpomancer than rolling your 'hacking' skill and hoping for the best. It requires, on a deep level, thinking and planning oriented around modern information security concepts and tradescraft. To my mind, that's what really makes Cryptomancer stand out - it presents a set of challenges that are fresh and unique, and requires solutions that are equally outside the traditional RPG box.

I'll add that the game also gives us a setting filled with tension, danger, and constant second-guessing. Artwork and writing are also excellent. A great buy, and I'm excited to have a reason to start gaming again.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cryptomancer
by Carsten H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/08/2016 17:08:48

Don't believe the blurb about this game.

This game is about authoritarian horror. Its main arc consists in a death spiral that makes Call of Cthulhu look like a carebear game. Before suffering an inevitable TPK at the hands of GM Mary Sue characters, your character may briefly struggle with a dice pool system that punishes him for the hubris of trying (that is how the books explains this,not me).

Forget "kill all the orks". The Combat system is of extreme lethality,and if you try to "kill all the orks", the game will only punish you for it by either having your character die in the lethal combat system, or advancing the the death spiral of the game because you did not adhere to what the game designer or you game master imagines as "operational security". Operational security means that of course that you should do only the most efficient means of advancing your employers cause. Even the slightest error will advance the death sprial.

Speaking of your employer: in this game you play the mercenary henchmen of the power interest groups. Take your pick of effete degenerates, cold calculating drug-peddlers and tyrannical bureaucrats.

There is really no good place for your character to be in this game. If you get a magic item that will your character allow to fly for one movement action it will turn your character into a cannibal. You can get a "safe house" in this game, but that is more bait: because of course it WILL be inevitably compromised and building this"safe house" is another opportunity for the GM to deliver the fun of failure with beatdown play on your characters. Basically any time a character in this game could gain anything there is immediatly advice for the GM on how to take it away or make it a liabilty.

As easy as it would the to give many more examples of this, but in the end this is about how this game is not telling potenial buyers it is a henchmen horror game where GM Mary Sues will kill you at the end.

I know that there are players who like horror games about flutile struggle. For the rest I cannot recommend this game.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Creator Reply:
Thank you for the feedback! You are not the only customer who expressed concern about the game's thematic death spiral or how punishing it can seem. As a result, I have released a free expansion, providing rules for a more heroic / fair conclusion to a campaign that gives players the means to storm the Spire and defeat the Risk Eaters. You can download it as part of your Cryptomancer PDF purchase. It might not address all of your concerns, but at the end of the day, you've helped make the game better. Thanks again for your purchase and your candor. Cheers.
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