This article originally appeared in Pyramid #15
Published by Marquee Press
Written by Joe Williams and Kathleen Williams $24.95
I love Marquee Press, I really do. Not so much the games they publish (though I'm quite fond of them, too), as the whole concept the company represents. There was a time, not too long ago, when most gaming companies were like Marquee - a few dedicated, gifted gamers working hard and pooling their resources to publish the kind of games that they like to play. There are scant few of these auteur-style publishers left, and most of them are, sadly, rank amateurs and wannabes. The good folks at Marquee, however, never fail to produce games with real style and creativity.
I first became aware of Marquee Press through their delightful horror/humor game Lost Souls, where the PCs are all restless spirits. Lost Souls (which predated White Wolf's Wraith by several years, if you were wondering) gracefully split the difference between Topper and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Marquee's new game, Khaotic, stakes out a completely different genre than Lost Souls did, but with much the same verve and originality that marked its predecessor.
Khaotic is a trans-dimensional cyberpunky game. Its closest relatives are probably Fringeworthy and Torg, but it's definitely staked out a territory all its own. It seems that during the second World War a sociopathic physicist named Isabella Bayne discovered a way to psychically travel to another dimension where ordinary earth-humans have incredible psychic powers. Isabella used her new powers and scientific knowledge to set herself up as the dictator of the new world, Xenos. In addition to dominating the local humanoids, she also started using her powers to evolve the local fauna into hulking, monstrous sentience. She also started working on some serious bio-mechanical enhancements for her new subjects. Now, almost 100 years later, Isabella (still alive and going strong in her otherworldly domain) is starting to send her subjects back across the dimensional void to scout for a full-scale invasion.
Needless to say, the Earth isn't taking this lying down. ISES is the agency charged with figuring out the source of the alien invasion and shutting it down. ISES has managed to learn that Isabella Bayne is the root of the problem, and to use her original inventions to start sending their own scouts over to Xenos. The adventures on Earth are pretty standard near-future bughunts, but when it's time to send a party, or "jump-team" over to Xenos, the entire group jumps into the same native host body. Primary control of the new body defaults to the character with the highest Willpower stat, and the rest of the inhabitants are relegated to an advisory capacity until the boss chooses to abdicate his command in favor of one of the other personalities. This extremely audacious concept takes "troupe-based" roleplaying to a whole new level. Obviously, egotistical power-gamers should be kept away from this game at all costs (or at least confined to the referee's chair, where they belong).
Like Lost Souls before it, Khaotic is stronger on ambiance than it is on mechanics. The task-resolution system isn't particularly elegant, but it's not especially intrusive either. For many gamers, the best thing about the Marquee mechanics will be that, much like Talislanta, they're simple and basic enough to make it relatively easy to port the nifty campaign concept over to virtually any other system. Khaotic will convert with equal ease to GURPS, Hero, even Rolemaster. And, of course, some gamers will find the rather quirky Marquee rules right up their alley. Like Lost Souls before it, Khaotic continues the Marquee tradition of tables of questionable utility but undeniable charm. Why don't all games have a random hair-style generation table? (Long & flowing / Short & frizzy / Mohawk or shaved . . . )
Obviously this is not the game for those who like big, slick and mainstream, but in a market where the simple goal of "something different" is becoming ever more chimeral, Khaotic qualifies as a truly unique roleplaying experience.
- Chris W. McCubbin
Article publication date: October 1, 1995
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