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Fool's Paradise

Reviewed by Nicholas HM Caldwell ©2002

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

Fool's Paradise is a scenario supplement for Principia Malefex, the game of horror role-playing in the contemporary world, which we reviewed in the October 2000 issue of The Guild Companion. Written by R. Armstrong, A. Whetton, and Mike Lay, this 68-page volume carries a parental advisory that its contents are strictly for mature readers.

The atmospheric cover artwork depicts a bleak nocturnal suburban street, empty of life, capturing the setting of most of the Fool's Paradise's scenarios - the suburbs and run-down "council estates" of the city fringes. The scenarios are all set somewhere in Britain, but are not tied down to any particular place. With minimal effort, they could be shifted to suburban America or continental Europe.

Fool's Paradise contains six full scenarios with a series of ably written fictional vignettes, which both evoke the modern horror mood of the game and suggest possible plots. Each full scenario contains a complete set of fully written up NPCs and a variety of entry points to get PCs involved. Each is also ready to run as is - just add some place names and dates and they are ready to play. As I don't want to spoil the surprises of the scenarios, this review will tread carefully around the plot lines.

In "The Danger of Fascination", residents of a decaying suburb are dying of starvation. Tensions are rising as people want something done to stop these mysterious deaths. It's only a matter of time before the local gangs will get really nasty ... This is an exceptionally good scenario with a deceptively innocuous enemy. The unexpected intrusion of the unnatural combined with the natural human problems could make for a gripping "X-Files" style adventure.

In "A Friend in Need", a low-life criminal finds himself in over his head, and embroils his acquaintances and friends (the unfortunate PCs) in his attempts to extricate himself from the mess. This is a nitty-gritty solid scenario, most suited to those running Principia Malefex games emphasizing the mundane threats of the modern world. It's a good adventure, but not one that would appeal to me.

"Waiting for the One" is about a local cult, whose leader has had a revelation that his sect must persuade mankind's only hope to join them. Unfortunately some of the cult members are prepared to do rather more than just persuade the unwilling last best hope of humanity. This is a relatively straightforward "thwart the bad guys" adventure, which would be a suitable (and relatively easy) introduction to the game.

The fourth adventure, "The Children of the First Sun", also features a cult, but this one hides dark secrets. This is intended as a careful and painstaking investigation, with the PCs slowly unraveling the clues and the deceptions. While the danger level can be raised a notch higher by involving the supernatural, the discovery of what is really going on will be suitably horrifying. This is an extremely good scenario with very believable NPCs.

As a change from death and despair in the suburbs, "The Dinner Party" offers PCs a congenial evening of conversation and conviviality with fellow guests, who are interested in the occult and the supernatural. There's no rest for the wicked, however, as one of their dinner companions plans a very bloody ritual. As a race against time, this makes for a very effective one-off scenario; in an ongoing campaign, this could provide an opportunity to network PCs with other occult investigators and dabblers. If used for the latter purpose, the GM might want to spend some extra time tuning the scenario and the NPCs.

Finally in "Nightlife", a new superdrug with vicious side-effects is seeping into the clubbing scene as well as finding its way to addicts on the streets. Worse, the drug stimulates the supernatural so users are in for the fright of their lives. This is a difficult scenario for PCs to "win"; if they are not on the ball fast enough, they'll find that "victory" consists of picking up the pieces of shattered lives. It's Malefex at its best, combining the mundane and the magical with gritty realism.

While I'd prefer a greater explicit focus on the occult, mainly because I have a wish to run "X-Files"-style games, there are suggestions for increasing the supernatural menace within the scenarios.

All in all, Fool's Paradise is a first-class adventure resource for Principia Malefex; likewise, it would prove useful to GMs running modern horror games with other rules systems. Replacing Malefex statistics with Call of Cthulhu, d20 Modern, or modern-day Rolemaster statistics (using either the Pulp Adventures or Black Ops genre books), for example, would not be difficult. Recommended for anyone who is serious about running modern horror.

Editor's Note: For more information on Principia Malefex and Fool's Paradise, see http://www.malefex.co.uk

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