The Secret World (TSW) is one of the most original MMO IPs ever, and it’s a damn shame it came from Funcom. Rather than attempt to fix what was wrong with TSW, they attempted a Final Fantasy XIV-style end-run and created Secret World Legends (SWL) alongside the original game. Not only was this confusing, but it apparently didn’t fix anything; it only made things worse in a different way. Personally, I am flexible and never had much of an issue with either game from a mechanical standpoint. I did have an issue with Funcom flipping us lifetime subscribers the middle finger with SWL by removing all perks and benefits we had in TSW, meaning I will never trust these idiots to do right by their customers ever again. That’s a shame considering their upcoming Dune game. But I digress.
The Fourth Age Is Now
In TSW, all myths and conspiracies (of the supernatural and possibly technological kind) are real and are playing out across the world every day. There is a war going on in this Fourth Age between the forces of Gaia, the creator and caretaker of humanity, and the Dreaming Ones. Those who protect existence are called “Bees” and have been activated though Gaia’s gift of anima, the life-force of nature, and are given powers to see and to fight back against the manifestation of the will of the Dreamers, called the Filth, and other forces which seek to take advantage of the turmoil for their own purposes.
This setting makes gameplay in the TSW universe more familiar to us because it’s about us, not about some weird-ass online fantasy-name-generator-created world with played out tropes centered on orcs and elves and wand-wielding magic users. The lore in TSW is understandable. It’s about Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Mothman and the Jersey Devil. It can include any and every myth and legend we can recall, and every urban legend we’ve heard in the Internet era can be explained away through a simple application of TSW-level paranoia. Beyond that, TSW is about how modern humanity is defending and fighting back not just with anima-granted “magic”, but with technology. We’re not limited to fighting fire with fire; we can certainly use swords and shields, but often times shotguns and voodoo dolls are more effective. Grenades exist that can dispel spirits, and we can deploy EMP-like devices that cordon off areas and prevent the Filth from gaining a foothold. Whereas high-fantasy is limited to sword and sorcery, and sci-fi falls apart as soon as ghosts and magic are introduced, TSW gathers everyone and everything and throws it into a battle royale for the survival of the Universe.
Carrying the Torch
Since TSW and SWL have gone into maintenance mode, there’s no perceptible chance that we’ll be getting any more content in this IP from Funcom. It’s a shame because I love this setting; it’s also good, because it means Funcom can’t fuck it up again. The light at the end of the tunnel, then, comes from Star Anvil Studios who have gotten hold of the IP to create a tabletop role-playing game using the 5e System.
After a very successful Kickstarter, original backers were treated to a rough draft of the text this past weekend. I have been reading through it as best as I can (it’s unformatted, without images, and contains editor comments, so when I say “rough draft” I mean rough draft). I will not comment on the content of the draft as it is a draft and because this is not a critique post; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I have only gotten to page 76 of the document, and my mind has already started exploding with ideas for adventures set in this version of the Secret World.
Despite the fact that getting to play a TTRPG is rare for me, I still love to collect TTRPG source books, especially for non-TTRPG IPs. Back when I was younger, I had the original Aliens TTRPG book. I also had the original Mechwarrior set (the one that focused on the pilot adventures outside of their battlemechs). These and others provide a wealth of background information that we might only get from official sources in drips and drabs; for example, Weyland-Yutani was never mentioned by name in the theatrical releases of Alien or Aliens (it was only called “The Company”) but was named and explained in the TTRPG text, long before they became the ubiquitous background villain for the entire franchise. The TSWTTRPG document has been providing similar information on the lore and background of the Secret World which has probably been present elsewhere prior to now, but certainly not in one convenient location such as this.
I am very much looking forward to the finalization of the TSWTTRPG product; Although there was a pledge through Kickstarter, I upgraded my buy-in to include the hardcover physical edition (Templars represent!). The only downside is that in order to keep their costs down, Star Anvil made the product “print on demand” through Drive-Thru RPG. I can’t fault them for that, but it means I’ll need to spend additional money (with applicable discount because of my pledge) to get the book in my hands. I’m OK with a PDF, though, as I can read it on my Scribe. Sadly, I expect DRM which will prevent me from being able to take notes on the device, which is really my only concern.
I have yet to actually get to the rules part of the existing beta-document, not that I’d comment on that at this point. I know some people are going to turn their noses up at the fact that this system is riding on top of the 5e System, but really, who cares? A good TTRPG is about the setting; the rules are there to use or discard in the service of the experience. Right now, with a brain full of TSW lore, I’m bouncing back and forth between putting together the outline of an adventure module, and venturing once more into the grey area of source book-fueled fiction because the IP behind TSW makes coming up with ideas so damned easy, IMO.
I do wish that one of the stretch goals of the original KS was to create VTT content for the game, but then I realize that it would undoubtedly be for Roll20, the “training wheels” platform of the VTT universe (yes, I said it). Thankfully, the Foundry community seems very good at pumping out support for all kinds of systems, but my heart still lies with Fantasy Grounds, as its the most comprehensive and feature-rich VTTs on the market. Maybe someday.
For now, though, I’m going to return to reading this beta document and thinking up adventures for players set in the Secret World universe. I might even fire up the game once again before it vanishes under cover of the night and becomes just another vague memory we’re never sure really existed…just as They want us to believe.