Far into the future, mankind fights a losing battle against the Dark Symmetry, an evil force from beyond the stars that has been our sole enemy for centuries. This warped and twisted power corrupts both machines and people, ruled over by the vile Dark Apostles. Technology has stalled out into a dieselpunk, industrial era aesthetic as mega-corporations vie to fight off one another and extinction alike. Mutant Chronicles tells this story over three ages of the eternal war. Dark Eden takes place in the third, and perhaps final age, when mankind’s struggle against the Dark Symmetry is at its most deadly. A previously unexplored age, this campaign book takes us into the future of the Mutant Chronicles to see humanity in the last throes of its fight for survival.
In Dark Eden, humanity has finally found a way to strike back at its eternal foe. There will still be ways to continue playing after completing the story, but this epic adventure, while not the last release, is the capstone to the Mutant Chronicles. The campaign kicks off with a sense of grand scale, and builds from that point as the implications from the characters’ actions brings the universe down around them trying to handle it. If you have been playing already, you can bring characters from the Dark Symmetry and Dark Legion campaigns straight into Dark Eden without issue, or just as easily make new ones. The book provides some thoughtful suggestions as to how you would handle this, which goes a long way to show consideration for the players. There is room for plenty of types of characters to be involved. All they know at the outset is that Cybebrtronic needs specialists for a mysterious mission, and are willing to take anyone who has proven they can handle the job. And that job won’t be an easy one…
One of the most striking things about Dark Eden is what a useful adventure it is. I can’t overstate enough how important it is that RPG books be written for use as opposed to reading. As a GM, you have certain technical goals for prepping and running a game, all of which require a specialized type of writing. Dark Eden understands this very well. Instead of throwing blocks of text at you for you to parse out, each section is a series of separate paragraphs which explain what the goals and challenges are with little else to clutter up the scene. Dark Eden allows you to tell your story while giving you the outer boundaries of each scene. Making notes out of these sections is a breeze: enemy statblocks are cleanly laid out in easily readable boxes, and only when you deal with high-level enemies and vehicles at the end do they start to get onerous. The one real issue is with overall structure. I don’t see anywhere that gives you a clean list of goals or a flowchart about where the adventure is heading. The final few chapters actually do, which makes it all the more unclear why there weren’t any earlier on.
Each NPC gets a small introduction which includes his or her goals, personality and physical description. Many are also paired with a portrait to complete the image. Everyone you interact with has some deeper levels to them to make them memorable and alive. At times, you are also prompted with dialogue for these NPCs, which is notably less lively. Some of their written dialogue is the type that looks fine on paper but sounds awkward and stilted as soon as you say it out loud. It is an uncommon problem, but one that you will have to work around.
As to the campaign itself, it starts out with a huge reveal (i.e. spoilers ahead): your team is made up of the chosen of prophecy who will locate and close the Final Seal secreted away somewhere in space and permanently shut off the Dark Legion from its source of power. This revelation is a shocking way to start things off, and it will immediately set your players on edge. The prophecy angle is a little clichéd but easily ignored and something that fits into the lore of the setting. From that reveal, you have some time to do research and preparation before venturing out on the quest for the Final Seal.
The buildup and tension work well, but it takes a while for the action to begin. Your mileage may vary on how much you appreciate this, but it should take a full two or three four hour sessions of roleplaying before the combat and exploration begin in earnest. That said, the first action set piece is a Russian road warrior cult riding cyborg rhino monsters attacking a train the characters are riding, so the time spent waiting is well worth it.
Dark Eden opens up into a planet-hopping series of adventures which will take you to a variety of locations. Because of the importance of your mission, players will struggle to feel like they are making crucial choices during the first half or so of the campaign. The locations you explore are varied in terms of environment, aesthetic, and political makeup. Each of the locations has a variety of layers to peel back as you uncover secret plots evolving around you. However, the official adventure doesn’t give as much room as you would like to explore and peel back those layers. The set goals are so important (like saving the world) that you end up feeling shuffled around from place to place by a crowd of NPCs, even if each of them is interesting and memorable.
There are multiple points where the characters are ordered to do certain things, and the book doesn’t contemplate what happens if they don’t comply. One powerful character orders the party to escape as she stays with her bodyguards to hold off the enemies. Isn’t it entirely reasonable that you would ask her to leave the guards to fight and come with you? Wouldn’t those guards agree that it’s the best plan, even possibly against her will? It makes for a dramatic scene in context, watching a likeable character fight to her last so the last hope of mankind can makes its escape. It would just make for a better one if the strings were less visible.
Despite these funnel points, Dark Eden does have occasional subplots that help develop the intrigue if your players choose to investigate them. Individual interactions and locations are full of interesting moments; it’s really the campaign as a whole that’s on rails, in a pretty literal sense. Given the diesel-punk aesthetic, one of the main methods of travel is by train, and the sacrificial scene from before takes place on yet another moving train car. There are a lot of things happening around the players, but not because of them or even to them in many cases. The early campaign is a sightseeing tour, but you can’t help but feel those sights are awesome. You get to feel the scale of the world, fight off dieselpunk gangs, and peer into the lore of the Final Seal in an attempt to understand your mission.
From there to the campaign’s completion, your characters take a direct part of some of the formative events for the entire Mutant Chronicles universe. Along the way, you get to uncover political schemes, explore the dark places keeping the secrets of the universe, and battle through the forces of the Dark Legion in an epic last stand. As the adventure goes on, options open up and gain variety, especially in the latter portion. Things really kick off when players get the Final Seal and the Dark Soul (the dread power behind the Dark Legion) realizes it’s under threat. Everything ramps up from there into a grand final conflict, and the energy that takes you to the climax builds fantastically.
That last stand is wonderful, taking many of your accomplishments into account and giving you time to build up, make alliances, and prepare for the final battle. This battle is more than just a fight with mass combat rules. It’s an adventure all to itself, being a protracted set of tactical decisions and encounters which take real input to be successful. By the end of it, your players will have earned their victory, died trying, or seen themselves converted into the Dark Legion itself. Spoilers end.
Along the way, there are a multitude of individual encounters that involve a lot of creativity on behalf of the players. A radiation cloud stands out as a simple example. It takes up a paragraph or so but puts the players in a tough position: do they prepare for it and risk going through it to their destination, take some time to go around without knowing if the wind will change for them, or wait it out and take even more time? There are still points along the way that need to be followed, even up to the end, but the encounters make room for many character types to shine, sometimes in surprising ways. Dark Eden also uses the environment to its advantage, giving a real granular feel to different environment types. Survival elements will make the players use all of their wits and skills to make it through.
Beginning to end, Dark Eden is an epic adventure and a serious investment in time. Depending on how fast you get through certain sections, be prepared to be playing this adventure for a good few months at the least. Given that you are fighting for the future of the human race itself in Mutant Chronicles, this is an entirely appropriate choice.
The art direction (props to Mischa Thomas) goes a long way to reinforce the feel of Dark Eden. The book feels like a WWI era mission briefing. Worn and mechanical, the maps look like they were carried by a soldier for untold miles and splayed out on a mission table. Pages are lined in the cogs and mechanisms that would be the Mutant Chronicles’ technological makeup. The maps are also incredibly useful, making use of different styles and tactics to explain areas’ layouts. In every area where space matters, you will be sure you have a clear idea of how everything is laid out.
Not all of the art is consistent, using multiple styles to depict people. They all stay within certain boundaries, feeling appropriately washed out and even changing given areas to show more art direction. The priest of the Brotherhood is shining and clean, making a stark contrast to the dusty mutants on the boundaries of civilization. Some pieces are even deliberately evocative of 80s RPG books, with all the ridiculous action that you would expect. All of them are tied directly into the story, so those of you who use electronic assistance to set the mood will have resources tailor made for you.
Appendices provided at the end of the book also have separate, useful information, like enemy stats and setting placement to get you oriented to the timeline. More interestingly, they have extensive subplots to get you connected to the other adventures. You can integrate these subplots directly into the game if you want to give people more freedom to explore.
The appendices also include four pre-generated characters to help get you directly into the action without having to take the time to learn character creation rules. Their back stories are far from extensive, but the simple characterization is intended to provide a largely blank slate for you to make your own. They are high-level characters, so getting your head around their abilities will take some time.
Designed by: Jay Little
Published by: Modiphius Entertainment
Age Rating: 13+
Time: 10+ Sessions
Mechanics: Roleplaying, Metanarrative Currency
MSRP: $25.99 (PDF)