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Monday 7 October 2019

Cannibals & Colin

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 five 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 following a successful Kickstarter campaign, it has released a major new supplement.

Cannibal Sector 1 is the first and worst of the Cannibal Sectors, the model for the other four, so it is no surprise that it should be the subject of its own supplement. Yet SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 is not just a supplement for SLA Industries, it is also a whole new campaign framework and a set of miniatures combat rules. As a supplement it opens up a vast region abutting Mort City for examination, infiltration, and invasion; as a campaign framework, it provides a new point of view from which to roleplay SLA Industries; and as a set of miniatures combat rules, it provides a new way in which to play in the World of Progress. It comes packaged in a handsome, sturdy hardback that showcases some of the best art seen for the World of Progress, in turns grim and grimy, weird and horrifying, cartoonish and toothsome—all of it in full glorious colour. 

After opening with an overview over the five Cannibal Sectors, SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 dives into the history of Cannibal Sector 1. Once called the Central Outskirts and home to millions, in the year 300sd, Salvation Tower, the great hope for solving Mort City’s epidemic unemployment, plunged several storeys into the ground. In the chaos that followed, millions of civilians rioted and looted, then fled towards the city walls, seeking refuge in Mort City proper. But unable—or unwilling—to deal with the wave of refugees. In the six centuries since, the descendants of the Central Outskirts civilians turned to cannibalism to survive and as it became acceptable evolved into tribes of what SLA Industries now consider to be an entirely new species. As the Central Outskirts decayed and crumbled, other factions used the ruins as a vector to get closer to Mort City. These include the strange antler-skulled Carrien with their hockey-stick-like clubs and DarkNight, which set up bases from which to launch terror strikes inside the city; the gasmasked, trenchcoat wearing, chain wielding Scavs appeared from nowhere to smash at all other factions; whilst the otherworldly, Dream Entities seem to come from somewhere else to tempt and taunt the weak and the unwary before sending them mad. SLA reacted to these threats first by constructing the impregnable, 207 km long Sector Wall and dispatching Digger, the great Manchine to track down the leaders of those who had rioted following the collapse of Salvation Tower. Digger went rogue and haunts Cannibal Sector 1 even now. Although Sector Rangers have long been slipping into Cannibal Sector 1 to map and scout its furthest reaches, it was not until three years ago that SLA decided to take back Cannibal Sector 1. Project Red Sky sent thousands of Shiver Units—the mostly Human urban pacification and police—into Cannibal Sector, but poorly supplied, the operation was a disaster and most of the Shivers died under waves upon waves of Cannibal attacks. As SLA suffered from the recriminations and fallout from the failure of Project Red Sky, another plan, the Bellwood Campaign, has been put into operation—establishing bridgeheads. Better armed and armoured Shiver Units, Sector Shivers, would establish forward bases from which to patrol the immediate surrounds and curb the activities of the denizens of Cannibal Sector 1. Naturally, this renewed effort has been heavily mediatised with shows like the popular Sector 1: Life on the Wall which became the highly popular Shivers Fuck Shit Up.

This sets up a detailed exploration of Cannibal Sector 1, which itself consists of some seventeen regions across twenty thousand square kilometres bounded on one side by the Sector Wall, pierced by just six Sector Wall Holes. Much like the rest of the World of Progress, Cannibal Sector 1 is poisoned by pollutants and lashed by near constant rain, but this varies region by region. Each is detailed in terms of its area and level of pollution, weather, terrain, resources, logistics, and notable inhabitants. So the war zone Southern Front consists of two thousand square kilometres, suffers from low (relatively) pollution and intense rainfall as well as flash floods, resulting in mud fields where Shiver forces are engaged in trench warfare with DarkNight. Its most notable resource is a rich copper mine, which the terrorist organisation uses for weapons manufacture. In comparison, the Northwest Compact is three times the size and suffers from greater pollution, and its main threats are Carrien, followed by Cannibals and 9th Division—the remnants of Project Red Sky turned rebel. Beset by torrential rainfall, it consists of a tightly-built grid of office tower blocks and civilian apartment highrises, many of which have collapsed into piles of rubble. Its most notable inhabitants include Klip-Klop, a Greater Carrien who leads a conclave on deadly sweeps of his territory; Jordy, the murderous offspring of the largest Cannibal clan in the region, The Bloody Bones, who only lives to kill those his mother dislikes; and of course, Digger, the largest and most notorious of the Manchines.

Across the seventeen regions, SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 as a setting offers a huge range of terrains and threats. It means that the player characters could have to hunker down in the Western Front-style trenches of Southern Front, get stuck in the weird post-apocalyptic suburbia of the Tabor Projects—home to The Homespun Cannibal clan, and perhaps monitor the marshlands of the McGill Valleys, at the heart of which are the almost-luxury hotels and complexes where the 9th Division has its headquarters. 

Some nine factions are to be found in Cannibal Sector 1, most of them inimical to SLA Industries. They include the Cannibal clans, which have long feuded with each other for food and territory, but some now fight over whether or not they believe in their deity, Rawhead. Four Cannibal clans are described—The Bloody Bones, The Gartaks, The Homespun, and The Black Shucks. The strange alien origins and biology of the Carrien are explored, as are those of the Scavs, genetic experiments from two centuries ago who have come back to plague SLA Industries. DarkNight and its operations are detailed, as are the Dream Entities which cause fear in their opponents, affecting them with horribly realistic illusions or their worst phobias. Some take the form of tortured Shivers expressly to prey upon their victim’s survivor’s guilt, whilst the child-like Titters use their supposed innocence to lure their victims in before distorting their realities. In presenting all of these factions, it should be noted that a lot of teeth are on show and for an SLA Operative—or more likely Shiver trooper—there is a strong likelihood of their being torn apart, if not simply eaten. This is horrifying, but as much as SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 focuses on physical and body horror, with the Dream Entities it does not ignore mental horror either.

In its campaign to occupy, pacify, and reclaim Cannibal Sector 1, SLA Industries send innumerable men and women into the different regions on a variety of missions. First and foremost—at least recently—are the Shivers, previously assigned to patrol the streets of Mort or man the sector walls looking over each of the five Cannibal Sectors, but following a massive recruitment drive, sent into Cannibal Sector 1 to establish bridgeheads. Sector Rangers are SLA Operatives trained to scout the far reaches of the sector on six month-long tours, whilst SLA Operatives, the company’s elite, undertake missions to look good on television as much as they are to fulfill their objectives. Lastly, NAGA 7 Division protects Mort from the unknown and the unseen, primarily the Dream Entities.

These faction descriptions are not just simple write-ups of their history, their organisation, and so on. Every description is accompanied by write-ups of typical roles within the factions. So for the Shivers, there are stats and descriptions of Troopers, Pacifiers—close combat specialists, Sergeants, Breachers—defensive specialists, Medics, Shiver Dogeybone—heavy armour suits, and Shiver Elite. These are accompanied by write-ups of notable figures, in the case of the Shivers, Sergeant Rooker, a famed squad leader, and then notable squads. Similarly, the description of the Cannibal clans goes into their culture and daily routine, as well as their worship of Rawhead, before detailing the four clans and their organisation. These include their Matriarchs, Butchers—the prized sons of the Matriarchs, Wranglers—who raise and herd carnivorous pigs for feast, fighting, and fun, Runts—the not-so prized sons of the Matriarchs, and the Mastiffs—the Cannibal clans’ prized hunting beasts. This is followed by a full write-up of the aforementioned Jordy.

In all of this, SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 presents the Game Master with NPCs and threats to bring to her SLA Industries game, but that is not all. Another more chapter follows, detailing the flora and fauna of the sector—from the Arachnostalker, the armoured spiders known to lay massive webs and stalk its prey to exhaustion, and the disgusting Fleshworms which strike from cadavers to the annoying Clinger Algae, which degrades ceramics and so has to be scraped from the fortress walls of the Shiver Bridgeheads, and White Queen Lichen, the most poisonous substance in Cannibal Sector 1 which is harvested by Carrien to smear on their antlers and by Cannibals to coat their blades. Later on, full descriptions of the weather, toxins, diseases, and other environmental hazards to be found in Cannibal Sector 1 are given—and vile they are too! Lastly, Digger, the most feared thing in Cannibal Sector 1 is given stats and a write-up. The stats are all but superfluous since no player characters—whatever their skills or equipment—is ever going to take him down.

Equipment details are provided for all of the factions operating in Cannibal Sector 1. So the arms and armour of DarkNight as much as the Shivers, plus the bizarre things used by and against the Dream Entities. Not just the manufactured equipment of DarkNight and SLA Industries, but also the hand-built Scrap Armour, Punch Dagger, Ripper Gauntlet, Slingshot, and more used by the Carrien and Cannibals. The hardware section covers mundane equipment too, like the MT04 Trencher Shovel, the Piggy Wiggy easy-to-open meat tin, and Spritzcleen Sanitiser, the latter vitally important for operating in a sector that is redolent with disease and crud. Every item is given a full colour illustration, every gun, every melee weapon, every armour, every thing. Previous supplements for SLA Industries have not been able to do this, but it is important for two reasons. There is a strong military aspect to roleplaying and gaming in Cannibal Sector 1, so what a character takes beyond the city walls and might help ensure his survival is important, but also, SLA Industries is a game of commodification and mediatisation of violence and survival, so what you are equipped with matters… Lastly though, there is one vital piece of equipment that every Shiver squad will not go without—Colin the Teddy Bear. The surrogate squad member in case any one of their number is lost, Colin the Teddy Bear staves off any fall in morale which might come with the loss of a squad member, preventing their number falling the standard ten to the dreaded nine…

In terms of roleplaying, SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 adds a range of new skills, from Animal Husbandry—essentially Pigotry and Bridgehead Construction to Gristle—the Carrien language and Sector Lore. It provides rules for creating Shivers, the recruits currently being sent out to establish and hold Bridgeheads from to patrol and pacify, including various training packages. These are supported by a guide to building Bridgeheads and everyday life within them, as well as five scenario outlines. What SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 presents in terms of a campaign, is military-themed, a low intensity conflict that can be best described as a ‘Police Action’, with the ‘alien’ environment as much a danger as the inhabitants. There is scope also for long range patrols as Sector Rangers, as well as standard BPN missions for SLA Operatives, but the focus in SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 is on the Shiver set-up.

Lastly, SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 includes a set of skirmish rules for handling tactical situations between the various factions within the sector, each player controlling a patrol from one of these factions. Each player is given a pool of points or Creds, with which to design his patrol, whilst the Threat Level of any one model will determine how many can be in a patrol. These are clear, simple wargames rules for handling small engagements in 25 mm scale on an area roughly three by three feet. Rather than the standard roleplaying mechanics of SLA Industries, it uses a dice pool of ten-sided dice, with the best result counting. This being for SLA Industries, the rules also cover the use of Ebb—the strange power harnessed by Ebons and Brainwasters, as well as the various abilities of the Factions, like Juggernaut or Terror, fear being a possible response to many of the things found in the sector, plus the equipment. Several scenarios are given as are optional rules which cover vehicles and denizens.

The skirmish rules being for SLA Industries means that it is not just about defeating your opponent, but looking good on camera whilst doing it. Success in the rules means generating Ratings Points, the better the success, the greater the number of Ratings Points. A higher kill count will generate more, as will melee attacks. This modelled by the Bullet Tax, which encourages SLA Operatives (at least) to forgo the use of guns in favour of melee weapons. Overall, this is a solid subset of rules, offering an alternative to roleplaying in the World of Progress, though one that requires some investment in terms of the necessary figures.

Physically, SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 is a well-presented book. The layout is simple and clean and profusely illustrated. Every thing, every creature, and every one to be found in Cannibal Sector 1 is given a full colour, fully-painted illustration, and barely a page goes by without an image. And the artwork is all  very good. The writing throughout, is engaging and in many cases, entertaining, the pieces of in-game text in particular, whether it is jingles for Spritzcleen Sanitiser or Shiver Sergeant Raymonde Giles’ prologue to episode 238 ‘Jimmy’s Release Party’ of Shivers Fuck Shit Up. Note that the language is of an adult nature throughout, but that is in keeping with SLA Industries.

On the downside, of course, SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 is written for use with the first edition of SLA Industries rather the forthcoming SLA Industries: 2nd Edition, which is currently on Kickstarter. This means that its content are not easily compatible and so will need a conversion document. Another issue might be the lack of maps of individual locations, such as the Bridgeheads. 

The anticipation among fans of SLA Industries for Cannibal Sector 1 has been long and not without its difficulties. That anticipation, that wait though, has been worth it. The interesting fact about SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 is that were it to come with a set of rules of its own, it could have been the ‘Cannibal Sector 1 Roleplaying Game’. There is enough content and gaming material for it to have stood on its own and not as just a supplement for SLA Industries. It is no mere supplement though, for it extends and deepens the World of Progress like no supplement before it, at its core, pitting the ordinary lives of the Shivers against the outlandish—in all senses of the word—environments of Cannibal Sector 1, as well as offering other options. In addition, the effort made to show what the world of Cannibal Sector 1 looks like, from the mundane to monstrous is amazing, helping to bring the vision of the authors and artists to life.

SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 literally opens up a whole new sector for a SLA Industries campaign to play in, whether that is as a Shiver squad assigned to a Bridgehead or a team of SLA Operatives sent on a particular assignment. It presents threat after threat, danger after danger, and mystery after mystery in a wealth of detail which will fuel a SLA Industries Game Master’s campaign for months and months of play—if not more. Cannibal Sector 1 is a testament to the perseverance of its authors and artists, that despite the difficulties faced, they have produced such an impressive supplement. Overall, Cannibal Sector 1 adds so much to the World of Progress and in such a simple and stunning fashion, that every SLA Industries Game Master will want SLA Industries: Cannibal Sector 1 the way a Shiver wants a Colin.


  1. I would argue this as a supplemental book,as it is a standalone game in its own right (while set in the same world/time it's not the same game) if it was a supplement/update there would be no need for the upcoming 2nd edition release. But that said thanks for a well thought out and comprehensive look at this rather weighty tome of SLA knowledge

  2. I do not state anywhere that Cannibal Sector 1 is a standalone game. I do suggest that it could have been its own standalone games under certain circumstances, but nevertheless, it is a supplement.

    In the meantime, thank you for comments and feedback.