Opening with some very strange e-mail correspondence (concerning the sort of crazy offers that most of us just delete without thought), The God-Machine Chronicle presents some of Onyx Path Publishing's radical ideas for the New World of Darkness. One thing they'd recognised was that many gamers wanted a little more guidance and support in cronicle creation, so there's the framework for a quite mind-blowing one... but there's more. They also had ideas for how the rules could be revised, updated and improved, and that's here as well. Originally, they had proposed a Second Edition to the core rulebook, but that had been rejected by the then owners of White Wolf, so they chose this way to present their game mechanics ideas. (The material has now been drawn together in their Chronicles of Darkness book, released after White Wolf changed hands, but that's another story... and another review!).
The Introduction lays out the chronicle framework, one that is almost too big to grasp. The concept is the stuff conspiracy theories are made of, a vast God-Machine most people are not even aware of, one that cannot be communicated with nor appeased or influenced, one that treats individual people as tools to be used or tossed aside, viewing them in the light of their usefulness... or potential to gum up the works. Supernatural beings are more likely to be aware of it, but are no more able to understand it than anyone else. It's a cosmic power and people have as much change of understanding it as a mouse running around some vast clockwork mechanism... one misstep and they risk being crushed by machinery that plain isn't interested that they are there. The overall feeling you are aiming at is of very small fish in an enormous fish tank. Things that the party do, or encounter, may in some way be connected with the God-Machine... and if they do, best beware! It's all about strange events, almost X-Files in flavour, things that it might be safer to ignore, pass by on the other side - but where's the fun in that? There are loads of ideas here to get your creative juices flowing.
Chapter 1: Building the God-Machine Chronicle provides the Storyteller with advice on how to go about setting up a chronicle based on these concepts. It starts off by talking about 'tiers' - the scope, the stage on which your story will be set. It may be local, regional, global or cosmic in scale, and this will dictate the places in which it happens and the magnitude of the consequences that result from events. Then there are sections on the length of adventures (or even the whole chronicle), how many characters will be best and even the 'rating' - think film classification - that your chronicle should have. It may be a game about personal horror, but it is the characters that should experience it, rather than their players. Talk with your group, consider who they are and how much detail is appropriate when, for example, describing a corpse. The discussion then moves on to look at the sort of stories you can tell and - critically - how you introduce them to your players. It's likely that realisation that the God-Machine is involved (indeed, that there is a God-Machine at all) will be slow in coming. There's advice on character creation (including building extensive backgrounds) and setting, then introduces the concept of Chronicle Tracks. Based on a common theme, a Track presents a series of adventures and the examples given make use of a sequence of 'Tales' which are provided in the next chapter, strung together over what could be years of play as the underlying truth unfolds. Example locations and NPCs to populate them round off the chapter.
In Chapter 2: Tales of the God-Machine, we find some 20 scenarios involving the God-Machine in some way or another. They can be run as one-offs, strung together using the Tracks suggestions in the previous chapter, or used in some other way that you have devised. Each one is introduced as if it is where you began your game (the Tracks provide transitions from one to another to aid in stringing them together, or you may prefer a more episodic game). Every one is the skeleton of good long-running adventure in its own right, or could be run more succinctly if that suits your needs. There is enough here for an inventive Storyteller to pick up and more or less run with it, whilst those not so happy running games on the fly might want to put in some preparation first. They are fascinating, compelling, fair make you want to rush out and gather up some players...
Next, Chapter 3: The Cogs in the Machine presents a collection of detailed NPCs for the Storyteller to use. Each is provided with a comprehensive backstory as well as a full stat block. Some are linked to the previous chapter's tales, others have suggestions as to where they might be best used... all, of course, may be slotted in wherever you feel they fit best. This chapter also presents some 'angels' - the spiritual servants of the God-Machine - again linked to specific tales but also crying out to be used in stories of your own imagining.
Finally, there's an appendiz entitled World of Darkness Rules Revisions. These are updates to the rules that can be used independent of The God-Machine Chronicle, and which are assumed in all future volumes published by Onyx Path. Note that if you are not interested in the storyline material in this book, there is a free God-Machine Rules Update download that contains all the new rules material, so that you do not need to buy this book unless you want all of it. Considerate. Starting with character creation, there are rules to devise aspirations, changes to vices and virtues, the concept of integrity and breaking points - the one thing that really makes your character freak and question what he's doing, and more. There are new merits that you can take, sample cults and gangs to join (or avoid), and the real biggie - Conditions. These are about consequences and rewards, and are based on what actually takes place in the game, remaining operational until resolution criteria are met. There are associated Tilts, shorter-lasting equivalents that take effect during combat as well. Discussions of extended actions and social manoeuvering follow, and revisions/extensions to the combat system. There are other hazards and sources of harm to contend with as well. And spirits. Don't forget them. This section ends with new equipment and artefacts... many of which spawn whole story ideas as you read about them. It's not a whole new game - you still need the core rulebook - but it certainly streamlines and hones the original game mechanics to a whole new level.
The concepts here are quite dizzying, overwhelming. The potential to create epic memorable tales with your group is clear. There are years of fun to be had. If you like the New World of Darkness, this is well worth a look.
Return to The God-Machine Chronicle page.
Reviewed: 21 January 2016