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Dark Conspiracy is a near-future horror role-playing game (RPG) originally developed by Game Designers' Workshop (GDW) in 1991. In 1997, the Second Edition was published by DPI (Dynasty Presentations, Inc). In April 2010 the option for a third edition was granted to US-based company Kinstaff Media, who began to release brand-new material in February 2011 under the name 3 Hombres Games. The third edition rules were released in December 2012, with the final release having had various errata corrected being known as Conspiracy Rules V.1.1.
In August 2017, German-based publisher Uhrwerk Verlag (Clockwork Publishing) announced their intention to release a modernised fourth edition. This will be the first time the game has been available in print since second edition.
Lester Smith's Dark Conspiracy (1991), used GDW's new house system derived from Twilight: 2000, and was a near-future game of dark horror.:60 Shortly after the release of the core game a trilogy of Dark Conspiracy novels (1992) by Michael Stackpole was published.:60 The Dark Conspiracy product line was shut down in 1993 due to the declining customer interest.:62–63 Dark Conspiracy Enterprises picked up the rights to Dark Conspiracy and later licensed a second edition to Dynasty Publications and an abortive third edition to The Gamers' Conglomerate.:63 A third edition was eventually released by Kinstaff Media/3Hombres Games in December 2012. A Kickstarter campaign for Clockwork Publishing's fourth edition is expected in late 2018.
Dark Conspiracy was well known for its extremely detailed setting and background material. The game was set in the early 21st century after the "Greater Depression" has destroyed the global economy. Focusing on the United States, the game describes a country undergoing slow collapse. Most of the largest cities have continued to expand and formed massive metroplexes, in some cases covering entire states' worth of land. Outside of the metroplexes the majority of the country has become known as "Out-Law" where there is virtually no federal or state protection and the road network is barely maintained between the glittering lights of the Metroplexes. Scattered throughout the Out-Law and even in the darker and more forbidding areas of the Metroplexes, zones known as "Demonground" have begun to appear. These areas are warped and twisted by energy leaking from other dimensions, trying to impose their version of reality onto our own. Out of these areas spread monsters: everything from legendary creatures such as Vampires and Werewolves to the science fiction nightmares of aliens and cyborgs. The PCs typically assume the roles of people who have stumbled across this "Dark Incursion", known as Minion Hunters, and taken up arms against it.
Dark Conspiracy was originally developed and printed by GDW in 1990 to 1991. It was designed by Lester Smith, and illustrated by several artists including Larry Elmore who did the cover, Earl Geier and Tim Bradstreet. When GDW closed down in 1995, the rights passed to Dark Conspiracy Enterprises, who remain the current owners. In 1998 the game was licensed and re-released by Dynasty Presentations (DPI) as a 2nd Edition. The Gamers' Conglomerate 3rd Edition, originally announced in 2006, was never released. The first proper release for third edition is Conspiracy Rules, issued as a PDF in mid-December 2012 through Kinstaff Media's imprint 3 Hombres Games. The third edition material is commonly referred to collectively as Dark Conspiracy III or just DCIII.
The first edition was published in a single 366 page rule book, in a soft cover, standard size volume. The second edition was published in two folio sized volumes, one targeted at Players (184 pages, Basic Edition and 400 pages, Master Edition) and the other at Game Masters (180 pages, Basic Edition and 462 pages, Master Edition), both in soft cover. DPI released two versions of each book, a Basic Edition and a Masters Edition. An upgraded version, known as 'DC 2.5' was developed by DPI but never released.
The first edition had numerous expansion volumes, e.g. Empathic Sourcebook, Dark Races I, Protodimensions, PC Booster Kit, and Darktek, as well as several modules, the aforementioned novels, and a boardgame. The first edition was also well-supported in GDW's own gaming magazine 'Challenge', and occasionally in several other gaming publications such as Dragon (magazine) and White Wolf magazine. The UK magazine Role Player Independent also carried several articles for first edition.
The second edition combined all of the information in the first edition expansion volumes with the information in the main book and sorted it into the Players Guide and Referee's Guide.
The third edition rulebook Conspiracy Rules was released in December 2012 as a PDF-only download. This 298 page publication is in effect the core ruleset. A second book detailing the game world was to be entitled Conspiracy Lives, but this and other adventure and sourcebook materials that were under development have effectively vanished with the demise of 3HG.
The entire back catalogue of both first and second edition materials are being sold in PDF format through DriveThruRPG, as with GDW's other work. Far Future Enterprises, who are selling the products through DriveThruRPG have also compiled two CD-ROM collections, which include the previously unseen DC 2.5 as well as a short promotional video for first edition which was thought to have been completely lost until a VHS copy surfaced in 2008. The video takes the form of a low-budget horror movie trailer of the type often seen in the 1980s.
3Hombres Games material is no longer available via DriveThru RPG.
The fan community (more specifically Marcus Bone, Mike Marchi and Geoff Skellams) were also responsible for the freely downloadable magazine Demonground, which was solely a Dark Conspiracy related publication for its first few issues. It later expanded to cover other role-playing games of a similar nature to Dark Conspiracy. The last issue was released in 2002, but there will be a 20th anniversary special edition released in late 2018.
The free PDF fanzine Protodimension, first published in 2010, is based on similar principles. Protodimension was edited and published by the members of 3Hombres Games and covered a wide range of game systems as well as publishing short fiction and "other things that can serve as inspiration for gaming".
Protodimension ceased publication in late 2016, and has since been replaced with The Dark Times fanzine (DTZ).
Using the same system as Traveller:The New Era and Twilight 2000, in the first edition, Dark Conspiracy is a skill-based ruleset. Character creation is achieved through a multi-step process in which the player selects various career terms for their character. Each career term specifies either a pre-determined set of skills that the character gained, or allows a certain number of points to be distributed among a set skill list. Each skill is governed by an attribute, either randomly rolled or set using a point distribution method. Each career term also grants the character a fixed number of contacts. As a limit to the number of terms a character can take, each term ages the character four (4) years. Once a certain age limit is reached, the player has to make rolls to prevent the loss of physically oriented attributes due to aging.
The first edition used a d10 based system for determining success at skill use, while the second edition used a d20 based system. Combat is broken into 30 second rounds, which are in turn broken down into five second phases. Each character has an initiative phase that they may act in. Actions are limited by what can logically be performed within the five second window of each phase, i.e. speaking a few words or firing a gun a limited number of times. For common tasks and situations the rules are very direct, but the rules that govern more unusual situations, such as explosives, become extremely complex, requiring the use of square roots and decimal fractions.
The 3Hombres Games edition has altered character generation and combat rules. Several other rules tweaks and rewrites are also included. The system is still largely compatible with the previous versions.
All editions include an expansive list of equipment for use in the characters' fight, and pictures of many of the items, weapons and vehicles mentioned. Lester Smith is quoted as saying in regards to the amount of equipment detailed: "Some people want lots; others want little... [P]eople that don't want them can ignore them, but people who do want them will be glad they're there. It doesn't work the other way 'round... As a role-player myself, I want to be able to see what something looks like, if my character is going to be carrying it. I hate picking something for its stats and having no idea of what it looks like."
Multiple products set in the Dark Conspiracy universe have been released, including three editions of the game, novels, and a board game series.
Dark Conspiracy 1st Edition Products
- Dark Conspiracy Core Rulebook
- PC Booster Kit
Sourcebooks and Scenarios
- Among the Dead (Scenario)
- Dark Races #1 Compendium (Sourcebook)
- DarkTek (Sourebook)
- Empathic Sourcebook (Sourcebook)
- Heart of Darkness (Scenario)
- Hellsgate (Scenario)
- Ice Daemon (Scenario)
- New Orleans (Scenario)
- Nightsider (Scenario)
- Proto-Dimensions Sourcebook #1 (Sourcebook)
Dark Conspiracy 2nd Edition Products
- Player's Handbook (Basic Edition)
- Player's Handbook (Master Edition)
- Referee's Guide (Basic Edition)
- Referee's Guide (Master Edition)
- Referee's Screen
Scenarios and Sourcebooks
- The Shadow Falls (Sin City, Vol 1)
- Of Gates and Gods (Sin City, Vol 2)
- Masks of Darkness (Sin City, Vol 3)
Michael A. Stackpole wrote three novels set in the Dark Conspiracy universe. They were published by GDW and released alongside the first edition of the game.
- A Gathering Evil
- Evil Ascending
- Evil Triumphant
3 Hombres Material
- DETOUR - A short adventure, the very first all-new official Dark Conspiracy material in a decade. Written by Captain Obvious, art by David Lee Ingersoll.
- Acute Care - A short adventure written by Dave Schuey, art by David Lee Ingersoll.
- This Just In - A short adventure written and illustrated by Norm Fenlason. Originally conceived as the intro adventure for The Gamers Conglomerate's cancelled edition.)
- CONSPIRACY RULES - The main rulebook for Dark Conspiracy III. Currently in version 1.1 with any outstanding errata corrected.
- Empathic Guide - A free rules expansion detailing psionics rules and sanity. Largely derived from the original Empathic Sourcebook with new material by Lee Williams and Norm Fenlason, who also provided the interior illustrations.
- Conspiracy Rules Character Sheet - The official and expanded PDF form-fillable and auto-calculating version of the Conspiracy Rules character sheets. Designed by Norm Fenlason who also provided the cover design.
Clockwork Publishing Proposed Material
- Core Rulebook
- Referee Screen with introductory scenario
- Equipment sourcebook
- Monsters sourcebook
- Scenario collection
- Empathic powers sourcebook
Dark Conspiracy was ranked 43rd in the 1996 reader poll of Arcane magazine to determine the 50 most popular roleplaying games of all time. The UK magazine's editor Paul Pettengale commented: "Players take on the roles of people who have learnt of the evil forces at work in the world, and are struggling to defeat them. The evil forces have infiltrated what remains of the government and powerful corporations. A great blend of cyberpunk, Call of Cthulhu and conspiracy paranoia."
- Shannon Appelcline (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. ISBN 978-1-907702-58-7.
- Smith, Lester (October 1998). DEMONGROUND 1. p. 4.
- Challenge Magazine. 1991.
- "Minion Hunter". Boardgame Geek. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
- "Minion Nation". Boardgame Geek. GDW. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
- Pettengale, Paul (Christmas 1996). "Arcane Presents the Top 50 Roleplaying Games 1996". Arcane. Future Publishing (14): 25–35.