Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 3 July 2021

The FATE of Yig

FATE of Cthulhu added two elements to Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying—time travel and foreknowledge. Published by Evil Hat Games, the 2020 horror roleplaying game was built around campaign frameworks that cast the Player Characters as survivors in a post-apocalyptic future thirty years into the future, the apocalypse itself involving various aspects and entities of the Mythos. Not only as survivors though, because having entered into a pact with the Old One, Yog-Sothoth, they have unlocked the secret of time travel and come back to the present. They have come back aware of the steps along the way which brought about the apocalypse and they come back ready to fight it. This though is not a fight against the Cthulhu Mythos in general, but rather a single Old One and its cultists, and each thwarting of an Old One is a self-contained campaign in its own right, in which no other element of the Mythos appears.

The five campaigns, or timelines, presented in FATE of Cthulhu in turn have the Investigators facing Cthulhu, Dagon, Shub-Nigggurath, Nyarlathotep, and the King in Yellow. Each consists of  five events, the last of which is always the rise of the Old One itself. The events represent the roadmap to that last apocalyptic confrontation, and can each be further broken down into four event catalysts which can be people, places, foes, and things. The significance of these events are represented by a die face, that is either a bank, a ‘–’, or a ‘+’. These start out with two blanks and two ‘–’, the aim of the players and their investigators being to try to prevent their being too many, if any ‘–’ symbols in play and ideally to flip them from ‘–’ to blank and from blank to ‘+’. Ultimately the more ‘+’ there are, the more positive the ripple will be back down the timeline and the more of a chance the investigators have to defeat or prevent the rise of the Old One. Conversely, too many ‘–’ and the known timeline will play out as follows and the less likely the chance the investigators have in stopping the Old One.

Each of the five timelines comes with details of what a time traveller from 2050 would know about it, more detail for the Game Master with a breakdown of the events and their Aspects, Stunts, Mythos creatures, and NPCs. Most of these can serve as useful inspiration for the Game Master as well as the advice given on running FATE of Cthulhu and her creating her own timelines. After all, there are numerous Mythos entities presenting the prospective Game Master ready to create her own timeline with a variety of different aspects, purviews, and even degrees of power, but nevertheless capable of bringing about an apocalypse. However, Evil Hat Games has already begun to do that with its own series of timelines, each again dealing with a different Mythos entity and a different downfall for mankind. The first of these is The Rise of Yig.

Darkest Timeline: The Rise of Yig is different. It is triggered by a surprise eclipse in 2020, visible only in northern Mexico and in the southern United States, casting the whole of the region into shadow and it was into this darkness that Yig—the Father of Serpents—awoke. Wherever he walked, civilisation was destroyed in his wake; his full psychic emanations led to terrifying dreams of snakes and other reptiles; new species of snakes appeared with a painfully venomous bite that defied science, only those that pledged themselves to the Father of Serpents and became his foot soldiers, the Children of Yig, proved to be immune; Serpentmen appeared and struck at important leaders; and the weather heated up the planet leading to the spread of a hothouse jungle which would swallow up city after city in less than a year. Only in the polar regions has mankind been able to find a refuge…

In that year, organisations also appeared to combat the threat faced by humanity. Organisations such as the Center for Defense against Elder Threats from the UN, the Chimalli Union, and the Dark Light Net which had all long prepared in secret in case such an event as this occurred. However, the one of the Old Ones that they had not been prepared for is Yig. That is the first difference in Darkest Timeline: The Rise of Yig in comparison with the five timelines given in FATE of Cthulhu. Yig is almost comprehensible in his actions, and has a reputation for benevolence when it comes to mankind, being mostly concerned with the well-being of his children—reptiles, snakes, and of course, Serpentmen. So the question is, was Yig planning the downfall of mankind in 2020, or was there something else going on with this most benign of Old Ones?

As with the timelines in the core rules, Darkest Timeline: The Rise of Yig details the history of its apocalypse and the four events which led up to it for the benefit of the Investigators who will be aware when they jump back from the future. It is accompanied by a more detailed timeline for Game Master along with their four event catalysts (which can be people, places, foes, or things) and their die face settings which the players and their Investigators will need to change by making enquiries and working to defeat the cult. There are details of threats and situations, including cultists like the Agents of the Snake and Snakepersons, the relics and magic associated with the cult, and in particular, the agents of Center for Defense against Elder Threats from the UN, the Chimalli Union, and the Dark Light Net.

If there is an issue with Darkest Timeline: The Rise of Yig it is that it is very busy and there is a lot going on, but the Game Master is given a clearer explanation at the end of the supplement. That is the other difference between Darkest Timeline: The Rise of Yig and the five timelines given in FATE of Cthulhu. It is more complex, not as straightforward, and there are multiple factions involved across the timeline. This makes for a much more challenging campaign, both to run and play, for the players and their Investigators to determine what is going on and what the motives are of the various factions involved in the apocalypse—on both sides. Then for the Game Master to depict the various members of these factions. Again, the clearer explanation at the end of the supplement is a big help with that.

Physically, Darkest Timeline: The Rise of Yig is cleanly presented. It is easy to read and the lay out is tidy, though it needs an edit in places. The artwork is good also.

Although Darkest Timeline: The Rise of Yig is specially written for use with FATE of Cthulhu and very much built around the Investigators coming back from the future forearmed with knowledge of the past, there is nothing to stop a Game Master from using to run from the opposite direction and from a point of ignorance. That is, as a standard campaign a la other roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror, whether that is actually for FATE of Cthulhu or another roleplaying game. Plus, given the nature of the threat faced in Darkest Timeline: The Rise of Yig, it is easy to comb the support for roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror to find, if not more Yig-related scenarios, then at least more Serpentmen scenarios. Which gives it a flexibility beyond FATE of Cthulhu.

Darkest Timeline: The Rise of Yig gets the ‘Darkest Timeline’ series off to a strong start. It serves up a horridly ophidiophobic and fairly complex framework that will take some effort to really run right, but delivers a surprising take on Yig and his associated Mythos.

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