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Sunday 12 November 2023

Terminator Terror

Published by Nightfall Games, The Terminator RPG is based upon The Terminator, the original film by James Cameron from 1984 and then on the seventeen or so comic book storylines published by Dark Horse Comics between 1990 and 2019. The Science Fiction horror roleplaying game enables play in two time periods. The first is the future of the here and now, or at least an alternative here and now. This is the future of Judgement Day, in which the A.I. Skynet attempted to destroy its creators and the rest of humanity in nuclear, biological, and chemical conflagration before sending out increasingly sophisticated machines to wipe out humanity, whether through brute force or infiltration followed by brute force. The Resistance arose, led by those who had been preparing for Judgement Day and the rise of the robots, most notably, John Connor, to defeat Skynet and its forces. By the end of the 2020s, the Resistance would prevail, but not before Skynet developed temporal technology with Time Displacement Equipment, enabling it to send Terminator units back into the past and attack those who would become a danger to it in the future. Thus, the war against the machines became not a war of resistance and rebellion against Skynet, but a war through time, a hunt for Skynet’s agents across the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This opens up the second time period, the 1980s, and whilst it would be possible to run campaigns in both periods without any crossover, travelling back from the 2020s opens up the possibility of some entertaining ‘fish out of water’ style roleplaying. In general, the emphasis in The Terminator RPG is on the period of the 2020s, but there is still plenty of information about the 1980s to run a campaign set there. This is the inspiration for The Terminator RPG: Campaign Book.

The Terminator RPG: Campaign Book presents a series of fifteen interlinked missions across both the devastated future post Judgement Day and the unware period of the horrors to come, 1980s. Many of the missions can be played on their own, but by linking them, the Resistance Fighters can explore stories that weave in and out of, and parallel to, those of Sarah Connor, the future leader of the Resistance, her son, John Connor. What this means is that the players and their Resistance Fighters are not playing out the key events of The Terminator, but like the comic stories published by Dark Horse which specifically inspire many of the missions in The Terminator RPG: Campaign Book, instead exploring the world and stories away from the core story. There are one or two wholly original missions in the collection as well, but in general, the players and their Resistance Fighters will be telling their own stories, stories that support and contribute towards the core story. The interlinking nature of the missions is also quite loose, with in some cases, years passing between one mission and the next, enabling the Game Master to develop and add her own plots and missions between those given in this supplement. In addition, The Terminator RPG: Campaign Book has been written as part of the publisher’s ‘Signature Series’, which brings together a number of scenarios or missions from a variety of authors to provide different styles and approaches to a setting—or in this case, The Terminator franchise.

The campaign will see the Resistance Fighters fighting and surviving their way back and forth across the post-apocalyptic future of North America in the 2020s and even to a Moscow dominated by MIR, Skynet’s Russian subsidiary A.I., before throwing them back into the past of the 1980s, with rug-pulling deviation along the way. Here, in the past of both the Resistance Fighters and their players, the Resistance Fighters will hide out until needed, searching for three things. One is signs of Skynet’s operations from the future trying to ensure it creation and domination of that future. Two is looking for the events and persons involved in the creation, whether intentionally or inadvertently. Three, ultimately, chasing after Sarah Connor and her son, if not to actually locate the fugitives themselves, then at least prevent Skynet and its various terminator units, let alone the authorities, from locating them. This again, will take them back and forth across America, before a push long way south of the border. Throughout, the Resistance Fighters will encounter terminator model after terminator model, in some cases, hordes of them. In each and every incidence, the fights will be tough, the nearly unstoppable nature of the terminators horrifying, the encounter always desperate, whether defeat or victory. This does not vary whether it is the past or the future. In the future, the Resistance Fighters will have the advantage of advanced weaponry, but that will be against multiple terminators, whereas in the past, the Resistance Fighters will encounter terminators in ones and twos, but will only be armed with the weapons of the 1980s that they can scavenge or steal.

The campaign begins in the future, post-Judgement Day. The Resistance Fighters will find themselves investigating damaged Terminator Complexes for information about Skynet’s operations, visiting Russia and Moscow by submarine to curb Skynet’s operations there, and being hunted by Terminators before being rescued by unfamiliar faces. They will ultimately be given a mission by unexpectedly familiar face, before being thrown back into the past of the 1980s. This is where the bulk of the campaign takes place, missions include tracking down a notorious serial killer, survive being hunted again—though this time in rundown New York city of the period, stop a Terminator effort to take advantage of period communications (this nicely adds a Terminator twist to the suspicious man atop the telegraph pole. Very eighties and seventies), and hunt down a Terminator nurse—suitably named Nurse Hatchet—in a hospital before it reaches its target. The missions are suitable varied, but will involve a lot of action and combat as well as the desperate planning and investigation. The Resistance Fighters will also need to adapt to living in the 1980s whilst fulfilling missions and avoiding the attention of the authorities.

Structurally, the interlinked nature of the scenarios in The Terminator RPG: Campaign Book means that it is loose in places and there are long gaps between scenarios. There are two ways to address this. One is for the Game Master to add her own content to fill those perceived gaps or to run the campaign episodically, perhaps running other roleplaying games during the gaps to suggest that time has passed. Of course, there is nothing to stop the Game Master running the campaign for her group straight, from beginning to end.

To support the campaign, The Terminator RPG: Campaign Book includes two appendices. One contains seven pre-generated Resistance Fighters, some of whom are more critical to certain scenarios than others. The second provides statistics and descriptions for the campaign’s NPCs, which are surprisingly few in number. This is because the campaign draws from the core rulebook for The Terminator RPG for the majority of its NPC and Terminator stats.

However, as a whole, the campaign is lacking in a number of things. One is maps. There is only one location for which a map is given in the whole of the campaign. Now in many cases, it is easy to visual and describe certain locations, such as a hospital or a pawn shop, but there are number of bunkers and similar locations which would have been easier to visualise and impart their descriptions to the players had they been given maps. In most cases, though not all, the locations are decently described and so the Game Master can create her own. Another is hacking diagrams. There are some in the campaign, but not enough to be a strong feature of the campaign or threaten to overwhelm it with a large number of hacking attempts being needed. So, this is not an omission so much as a feature, and whilst a hacker will be required as part of the campaign, his technical skills will probably be required more often.

Physically, The Terminator RPG: Campaign Book is decently presented, well-written, and illustrated with some good artwork. The book is easy to read and includes staging notes and suggestions for the Game Master from one scenario to the next.

The Terminator RPG: Campaign Book is not a campaign in the traditional sense of there being a beginning, a middle, and an end. It definitely has a middle, and it could be argued that it has two middles rather than one with the switch in time periods, but in a more traditional campaign, the ending would involve the Player Characters defeating the big villain and bringing the story to a close. Not so in The Terminator RPG: Campaign Book, which does not come to end with the Resistance Fighters defeating the big villain. Rather, they will defeat a big villain and so contribute towards the defeat of the big villain, that is, Skynet. Which makes sense since the Resistance Fighters are not the stars of The Terminator franchise, but the stars of a story within The Terminator franchise. Overall, The Terminator RPG: Campaign Book is solid support for The Terminator RPG, providing the Game Master with some great Science Fiction horror with which to torment the Resistance Fighters and their players as they battle to make a difference and help save the future of humanity.

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