The Game: The Last Exodus
The Publisher: Synister Creative Systems
Degree of Familiarity: Haven't played save for a quick sample that I was going to base a playtest review on before I left Germany.
Books Required: There's only one book for the line.
The Last Exodus is an odd cookie. On the one hand, it appears to be a game that hooks in to millennial tensions and the worst of humanity for shock value. On the other, it appears to be a game about soldiers of absolute Good and absolute Evil realising that both concepts are equally as bad, and trying to find a middle ground. Unfortunately, the former game tends to win out.
The game's strapline is "The Interactive Story Arc of the Third and Last Dance", and that should say a lot about some of the liberties that the game takes. I'd been gaming for about nine years when I first read this game, and I still had trouble with the "Interactive Story Arc" given the game's references to taking input from groups around the world. It's a fucking roleplaying game. That said, the premise is a good one: the Second Coming was born in 1981, and shot dead in Croatia in 1995. With the prophecy unfulfilled, spiritual beings have bonded with people with smaller shards of divinity on the side of both God and Lucifer, and have started fighting a war. Those on the side of Ahura Mazda, the original God, are out to rescue all worthy people (no matter their religious views) to Eden, the heaven-analogue. The GODHEAD's forces want to bring Hell to both Eden and Earth. Each have six sub-factions; and it's here that the game seemingly ignores subtlety. Heaven's sub-factions are bad enough, containing one group that rage against the system for being a system rather than having any useful critiques, and a group that's entirely hip-hop for reasons that are entirely beyond me (they focus on music as an expression of culture, yet ignored punk, jazz, and blues entirely). The sub-factions of Hell include a corporate plutocracy, a cult of personality around a serial rapist/murderer, a group of evil technocrats, and a white-supremacist group headed by the dragon Tiamat. Who happens to have joined a racist woman who believes that her only role is to squeeze out white babies.
Yeah. Okay. Mature themes included? Hell yeah. Mature themes treat maturely? Well... maybe.
See, such shock value presentations don't help. Worse, the writeups are handled in exactly the same way as the Angelic splats, as a basic deconstruction of the group's philosophy, though there is a prominent sidebar about playing the bad guys leading to all kind of squick. Ideally, all the groups need a section that contains neutral, out-of-voice information; stuff for GMs on using all the groups as antagonists in a horriffic—yet still respectful of the issues—way. Why would I want to join up with a bunch of fucked-up lunatics if I wasn't already a fucked-up lunatic? Currently, there's no answer, so it's up to individual groups to determine if "an examination of some very real, very human evil" is on the same level as "for lulz" and "because girls/brown people/the poor aren't like me and must be murderised in degrading ways". Sidestepping the very real issues with including groups like this as valid PC choices does nobody any favours.
Where the game does deal with characters coming to terms with the problems in their own factions, and the cold aspects of the war, it really shines. Plus, when it comes to variety of character choices, we're once again in the high points—a character's deiform (spiritual body) can be everything from a robot to an elf to an angel to an action hero.
Wow. I've gone on quite a bit, possibly because this is a rather niche game (wait until I get to Continuum or Mechanical Dream) and I wanted an oppotunity to run on at the keys. On with the character.
Oh, man. What to make, what to make. The Coil is a human until induction, or rather, normal human for the turn of the millennium. Damn. Now I need to think back through the fog to remember what happened eight years ago. Someone who's got the potential to be an action hero; but I don't want to make another cop or government agent. for an undercover reporter who infiltrates criminal and borderline organisations to bring new information to light. Warren Black.
Messiah. There ain't no way in Hell that I'd make an antichrist.
I'm going for a member of the Alliance, survivors of suffering. In his case, Warren was abused by his father, who beat him terribly but insisted that it remain a secret. Since then, he's been dedicated to tearing down the web of secrets in the world.
Soul Orders are the body that one has in Eden. In this case, I'm going for a Karmic, a reincarnation of an ancient hero with incredible luck and prowess.
Sixteen points among four, on a 1-10 scale where 4 is average. I'm thinking he's not wonderfully bright, capable of handling himself, good with words, and possesses a spiritual spark. That'd be Mental 3, Physical 4, Cultural 5, Spiritual 4
The character creation summary and the actual text don't agree on what the next stage is. Which is doubly a bastard, because the book's made from glossy paper and is slightly oversized, which makes flicking through a real pain in the arse. I'm going with the text from here on out.
Proficiencies are effectively Skills, and are ranked as such. You get points equal to the Quality to buy them with. So... not many points, really.
Mentally, I take Attention 2 and Memory 1. Physically, I spring for Athletics 1, Fight 2, and Shoot 1. Culturally, I grab Current Events 1, Fast-Talk 2, Lie 1, and Luck 1. Spiritual doesn't have any Proficiencies.
With no measure of how much each Proficiency is supposed to have, I've no idea what' good and what's bad. Why is a quick list of "trait x=example" so hard?
In Eden, a character's Deiform has slightly boosted traits, distributing Spiritual amongst the other three. I put two points each into Physical and Cultural, leaving Mental as it is.
Time to spread the Deiform bonuses out through the skills that only work in Eden: psychic powers, magic, and metascience.
I put the points from Cultural into the Sorcery application of magic. Only two points, but it'll do. It's enough to command a basic level of damaging energies.
The Physical points go into Endokinetics, amplifying the physical form. Again, it gets me some useful boosts: self-healing and boosting physical prowess, for example.
At least these powers have some indicators of what one can do with the points available.
Now, I can buy access to Miracles, again using the Spiritual score. The Alliance is linked to Stigmata, but... there's no rules for what that means. I'm going to assume that I've got to put at least one point into that category of Miracle. There's no real idea of what each level can do beyond some handwavy suggestions, and the actual mechanics (such as they are) really don't help. I think Miracles are a bad attempt to shoehorn freeform magic into the game. If only they'd done it well.
Reading between the lines, Stigmata is a form of biomanipulation through blood. I put two points into it. I then put two points into Smite, which lets the character focus power into an attack to utterly destroy something.
Again, I can distribute Spiritual score amongst inborn aspects of the character's Deiform. Incredible Luck is a great ability, making all draws into an automatic trump, and trumps into a +2 bonus. I want Receive the Mantle, making the character a reincarnated hero. Five extra Deiform proficiency points: two into Physical, two into Mental. But as the reincarnation of Gilgamesh, the character will have plenty of enemies. Finally, You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet is a decent pick, this time for Fight.
I've no idea if the increased Deiform traits carry over to Proficiencies. I'll guess and say "Yes". Two points into the Mechanical Engineering facet of Metascience. Two more points into Endokinetics. Rock.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Interesting trick: Your Disadvantages in human form offset Advantages in Deiform. They've got to balance, though.
Mental Coil Disadvantage: Obsession [-3] Immortality seems to cover Gilgamesh's traditional distaste for death. Coil Advantage: Media Ties  (I had a concept, honest). Gives me three points in each to make up on the Deiform side. I pick up Enhanced Senses  for the fun of it, and pay off the media ties with a Curse: All his friends will die before he does.
Finally, damage. On earth, I get 4 MAX levels, 40 MOD, and 800 MIN levels. In Eden, double those numbers.
I'd forgotten how this system niggled me. Oh well, I appear to be done.
Name: Warren Black/Gilgamesh
Mechanical Engineering 2
Current Events 1
Fast Talk 2
Receive the Mantle (Gilgamesh)
You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet (Fight)
Earth: 800 MIN 40 MOD 4 MAX
Eden: 1600 MIN 80 MOD 8 MAX