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Friday 29 September 2023

SLA Species I

SLA Industries Species Guide 1: Shaktar – Wraithen is a supplement for SLA Industries, the 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. S.L.A. Industries has its headquarters on Mort City, its rain sodden, polluted, and overly populated heart, located on the industrially stripped planet of Mort and surrounded by five Cannibal Sectors, and from here it governs the planet and the World of Progress beyond, encompassing all of known space. It is here the citizens come from far and wide to enlist in Meny to become SLA Operatives and part of the mediatised programme even as they protect SLA Industries and the World of Progress from innumerable threats from without—and some from within. Some of the most loyal of citizens who serve as Operatives are the Shaktar and the Wraithen and have been part of the Operative Programme since the start and it is both of these that the subject of the species guide for SLA Industries.

SLA Industries Species Guide 1: Shaktar – Wraithen is a slim volume that divides its content equally between the two very different species. These are the honourable warriors that are the Shaktar and the hyperactive hunters that are the Wraithen. In both cases it provides details of each species, their history and home world, culture and outlook, and connection to SLA Industries. This is supported with details of some of the species indigenous to their homeworlds, arms and armour particular to their species, and new additions to the rules. These include new skill packages and Traits for use with Player Character or NPC creation as well as Feats for cinematic action, and their outlook and attitude towards the other species who typically sign up as a SLA Operatives. Beyond this, there is extra content as such as details of the Shaktar faith and of ‘The Killbox’ in Mort City, an attraction in Little Polo—the Wraithen focused entertainment district—where a five-kilometre square area underground has been turned into a killzone watched by a live audience that only one team has so survived. Plus, there are two BPN—BluePrint News files—tasks tied to the Wraithen Liberation Front, a political movement dedicated to Wraithen life to what it once was on Polo before SLA Industries arrived, and a Hunter Sheet for ‘The Copycat Killer’, which directs the Operatives to track down a serial killer who is murdering the bird-like Nephrons in the style of a Wraithen presently arrested as the perpetrators of the crimes.

There is a sense of duality which rules throughout the supplement. Most obviously in the two very species presented in its pages. The Shaktar, stoic, valorous, honourable, and always at war with something—themselves, the pitiless nature of society, or an enemy of SLA Industries, versus the Wraithen, ultra-competitive, win-at-all-costs, casually sadistic, impulsive hunters with low attention spans. Yet even within the Shaktar, there is a duality, between the ideologies of those who follow the Shining Moons and those who follow the Shadow Moons. The Shining Moon Tribes have long been allied with SLA Industries, whereas the Shadow Moon Tribes worship the White Earth. The Shaktar embrace war and conflict, but feel the need to counter this violence by paying a debt to society, by doing good works, helping others and so on. They call this ‘The Sword and the Bowl’. When a Shaktar has no purpose, such as undertaking an ordeal, pursuing an injustice, going after the Ion Pirates—Shaktar who follow the Dark Moons, he is unbalanced and tip into its counterpart, Emptiness. This is the absence of joy, faith, and compassion and the Shaktar is in danger of slipping onto the path under the Dark Moons. Dualism plays out again and again with the Shaktar, adding depth and detail, but not so with the Wraithen. They are much more straightforward and direct, having no sense of reflection like the Shaktar do, regarding the need for faith and honour as a waste of time when one could instead be winning and being the best. The focus for them and on them is on the immediacy of what they want.

In the first half of SLA Industries Species Guide 1: Shaktar – Wraithen, the focus is on the Shaktar, reptilian humanoids of The Shining Moon Tribes and the balance in the Shaktar species. The descriptions are full of details that the Game Master can use to bring their culture to life. For example, the ‘sword’ aspect of ‘The Sword and the Bowl’ is easy to fulfil with combat and violent deeds, but the ‘bowl’ requires charitable, unselfish deeds, which need to be resolved and accepted by a Shaktarian Confessor or Priest. Here then is a roleplaying opportunity that can only be made the more interesting if the Shaktar’s squadmates have to get involved too. Ordeals—grand, self-appointed quests—drive a Shaktar’s actions too, so every Player Character Shaktar should be on one or thinking about one. The Game Master can flesh out the Player Character Shaktar’s relation with the Confessor or Priest using the accompanying description of Shaktar religion, whilst the Tribal Education packages are good for Shaktar who are native to the worlds of the Shaktar Nation, though all Shaktar trace their lineage back to the eight tribes or castes. The supplement adds Language: Shaktarian and Lore: Shaktarian, though only the Progressive dialect of the Shaktarian language can be spoken outsiders, the Dawn language bing incomprehensible and unpronounceable. New equipment includes the HonourBound armour, which can only be given as a gift to those Shaktar on an ordeal and must be worn until the ordeal is complete, Ion weapons that fire positively-charged ions, S’k’-r’n blades made from the bones of personally vanquished foes, and legendary weapons—weapons, armour, and artefacts that have lost since the Conflict Era and Green and Yellow BPNs are used to recover. Shaktar starting skill packages include Gallant, Stalwart, K’th Priest, and R’tha Champion—the latter from a religious sect of warriors dedicated to the destruction of anything connected to the White Earth. Feats include Battle Lust for Body to act before Initiative is rolled for and Shadow Blood for Bravado and a Shaktar who has family members who have fallen into Emptiness or aligned with the Shadow Moon Tribes. Can he be trusted? Rules are included for Shaktar honour codes, Lineage, Acclaim, and Blessings, enabling the Game Master to bring out more Shaktar culture in play.

By comparison, the Wraithen are shallow. What the highly competitive fast-moving apex predators are not—as the supplement makes clear is ‘comedy cat people’, ‘attractive to other species’ because they are too alien with their movement and big jaws full of teeth, or indeed, savages, honourable, stupid, or actually evil. It is a warning upfront to the Game Master and player alike on how to roleplay given how alien they are. There plenty of details also what does keep their attention span, such as the ‘Hlicks’ or ‘Hunting Flicks’ which show fast-moving prey animals hunting and culminate in a bloody kill (there is the suggestion of underground Hlicks where the target is a humanoid being hunted by skilled SLA Operatives), Wraithen focused adverts, and Little Polo, the district specifically designed to cater to Wraithen. There is some background on the Wraithen homeworld of Polo, extremely cold such that Wraiten need a bio-implant to encounter the effects of the heat on Mort, but in someways the means of getting off it and into SLA Operatives training at Meny is more interesting, SLA Industry having turned the application process for young Wraithen into a game! New skill packages include the Media Darling, the Big Game Hunter, the Saboteur, the Sneak Thief, and many more. Wraithen specific hardware includes the WWD ‘Heart Stopper’ Blade, originally designed as a filleting and flensing knife, but now used as a finesse weapon, WWD ‘Monofangs’, and FEN 313 ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ Tranq Rifle, which can fire a range of drug-delivering darts. Some tranquilise the target—with or without leaving an aftertaste, and some like Kickoff, causes uncontrollable and indiscriminate aggression, so can be used to make a hunt all the more challenging. There is the comment that bored Wraithen are known to fire a dose of this into their squadmates because they simply bored… Besides a wide range of arms and armour—WWD ‘Ishmael’ Harpoon Launcher from hunting Ice Whales on Polo anyone?—there are a lot of new Feats, such as ‘Nine Lives’ for Body, with which they avoid a killing blow, but are knocked prone and stunned and ‘Me?’ for Bravado which enables a Wraithen to feign innocence by blaming someone else. New Traits include Double Jointed, Perfect Balance, and (really, really) Short attention Span. 

Physically, SLA Industries Species Guide 1: Shaktar – Wraithen is very well-presented. The artwork is as good as to be expected for a SLA Industries supplement, the writing is decent, and it gets away with not needing an index with its relatively short page length.

SLA Industries Species Guide 1: Shaktar – Wraithen is a good resource for the player and Game Master of SLA Industries alike. The player has extra background about his character and plenty of new character options to help him bring them into play, whilst the Game Master has content she can use to showcase both the Shaktar and the Wraithen and their culture and outlook in her campaign and provide species specific content for Shaktar and Wraithen Player Characters, both on their homeworlds and off.

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