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Saturday, 27 April 2019

Extermination Exercises

Originally published by Nightfall Games in 1993, SLA Industries is a roleplaying game set in a far future dystopia of corporate greed, commodification of ultraviolence, the mediatisation of murder, conspiracy, and urban horror, and serial killer sensationalism. The player characters are employees of the eponymous SLA Industries, undertaking missions and assignments across the many sectors of Mort City, into Downtown, and even into the Cannibal Sectors beyond. They will hunt down serial killers, search the sewers for monsters, prevent terrorist attacks by rival corporations, silence dissenters, and more, not just taking the pay for each mission, but hoping to be caught on camera and the action footage be good enough to get them noticed, get them sponsorships and contracts, get them on the first rung to fame, fortune, and being media darlings. Over the years, the roleplaying game has been through the hands of several publishers—for good or ill—which means that it has not been as well supported as its devotees would like. Now back in the hands of the original publishing team, Nightfall Games, the core rule book for game has not only received a new printing, but the first new supplement in many years has finally seen print.

Previously only available as a series of PDFs—or data packets, Hunter Sheets Issue Two brings together twenty ‘Hunter Sheets’ that SLA Industries has issued to be taken by Contract Killers and Contract Hunters and fulfilled in return for an agreed payment. In the World of Progress that is SLA Industries, standard Operatives are assigned BPN or ‘Blue Print News’ sheets, tasks that require a mix of investigation and combat to fulfill, but Hunter Sheets detail threats, problems, and difficulties that SLA Industries wants dealt with by freelancers with more combat experience. They include serial killers, escaped experiments, aliens, rogue operatives, gang leaders, and more.

In game terms, these are assignments suited to experienced player characters and as such, are not fully fleshed out scenarios, but more slightly detailed outlines. Each target is accorded a description of his criminal portfolio and an actual Hunter Sheet which could be copied and handed to the players prior to their undertaking the assignment. This Hunter Sheet lists the target’s name and description, crime, and the department issuing the Hunter Sheet and the amount of the bounty to be paid upon its completion. Each Hunter Sheet also gives a Criminal Profile, Last Known Location, and Method of Attack for the target as well as headshot photograph. All together, the twenty of these take up the first half of the supplement. The second half of Hunter Sheets Issue Two provides the game stats for all twenty targets as well as some notes for the Game Master on using each target in the game.

The subjects of the Hunter Sheets include Rover, an Advanced Carrien trained by SLA Industries, but since gone rogue and become a business suited executive in Cannibal Sector 4 where he leads a very well organised carrien pack of his own. Suzi Tic-Toc is the last of the Tek Trex employees whose knowledge and ability to build and command drones is keeping her alive, but who SLA Industries wants dead—as well as her knowledge destroyed. Socko is the latest serial killer on Mort to break through the thirteen victim threshold and so come to the attention of the media, despite the fact that he is uncharismatic, inept, and ripe for the takedown by SLA Operatives or even civilians wanting to make a name for themselves. On the plus side, Socko is very good at making a getaway and he even has his own fan club!

Baba Naga is an incredibly old Ebon—a bag Ebon—who has the ability to use Glyph Cards to powerful and seemingly effect. Known as the ‘Blind Witch’, she is also known to cast fortunes using these Glyph Cards and the Department of Ebb really wants her and her knowledge off the streets of Mort City. Criss Cross is a preteen gang leader and visionary whose gang members have engaged in petty crime across Sector 45 of Downtown just as she has been indoctrinating them in anti-SLA propaganda. The Hunter Sheet for Sidi Gejkta is one the few to take the Operatives offworld. The Wraithen has gone rogue on an alien home world of Matanwa and dedicated himself to protecting the planet from further incursions by SLA Industries military forces. The change here takes SLA Industries as a roleplaying game and the player characters out of the Urban Horror genre which lies at its heart and ‘up country’ rather in the style of Apocalypse Now.

Each of these is then given game stats—though not Baba Naga—and notes and suggestions for their use in a game for the Game Master. For example, the notes for the serial killer, Socko, highlights what a sad individual he is with a domineering sister and a slew of wouldbe vigilantes and bounty hunters on his tail, whilst those for Criss Cross are surprisingly short and focus on the importance of her visions to certain departments within SLA Industries. Rounding out the section for the Game Master are details of the Root Dogs, one of the most vicious of the Conflict Races who used science and advanced technology to wage war rather than fight face-to-face, including releasing random herd creatures on target worlds to simply test them as much as defeat their enemies.

At the start, Hunter Sheets, Issue Two  suggests that Hunter Sheets are a fairly recent new innovation, one that has been taken advantage of by certain  combat focused operatives who have been forming ‘Death Squads’ and then going deep into Downtown. Not to go rogue as such, but to take advantage of their power to set up small fiefdoms lording it over civilians far from the reach, let alone the oversight, of SLA Industries. Consequently, opinion within the company is currently divided as to what to do about this situation, either seeing the use of Hunter Sheets and Death Squads as a necessity, but wanting to curb and control their excesses, or simply wanting to stop them all together. The twenty Hunter Sheets presented in this supplement represent reactions to them so far—as experiments, as necessities, as exercises in power, as the means to clear up embarrassments, and so on.

Physically, Hunter Sheets Issue Two is a slim hardback nicely presented full colour, although primarily using an olive or khaki-based colour range. Every target of one of these twenty targets is given a full illustration by Dave Allsop and these are all fantastic. Unfortunately, the editing leaves something to be desired. Almost every ‘fi’ or ‘fl’ letter combination is missing, making the book challenging to read in places, though the reader should be able to adjust.

If you run a SLA Industries campaign or are a devotee of the roleplaying game, then ownership of Hunter Sheets Issue Two is a must. It provides a score of combat-orientated missions and more than a score of potential foes, the player and their characters having some leeway in how they approach each, the Game Master being free to develop the specifics of each mission from the information given. Hunter Sheets Issue Two does need a tighter edit, but the Game Master can work around that to further develop its content for more experienced players and more experienced player characters of SLA Industries campaigns.

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