Crusade of Ashes

... something for everyone ... damn few flaws ... This review was written as of the time when Shadow Games was already released, so I've had the opportunity to compare later sourcebooks with the first. And ... I feel that - with its quality and the sheer volume of new information in it - Crusade of Ashes is the best sourcebook Orpheus has seen so far.

Reviewed by Tuukka Hurmeranta

Crusade of Ashes begins the story for which Orpheus set the stage. Advertised as "the first plot-driven role-playing experience," this is what Orpheus is all about. And in the very first supplement, the players are going to find that someone swept the rug off from underneath their feet.

That someone is, of course, your friendly neighborhood Storyteller, acting on the fiendish advice printed herein. If you don't count yourself in their ranks, and foresee a chance of playing Orpheus one day, you are given the Spoiler Alert. Previewing the book without mentioning the sweeping changes it focuses on would be a greater exercise in walking on eggshells than yours truly can manage, so proceed at your own discretion.

Now, a word of advice to those who hate "metaplots" with a passion or decide to run their own kind of game: go buy Crusade of Ashes anyway. The book is littered in each section and topic with alternative approaches and outcomes, enabling you to take the game anywhere you want with the writers' full support. More than that, the book outlines rules and concepts the main book is - in retrospect - severely lacking in.

Whether you use or ignore the over-arching plot, Crusade of Ashes fulfills the world of Orpheus on countless different fronts from what the Laments really mean to what the garden-variety, one-man projection industries could look like. The book has something for everyone.

Crusade of Ashes is a taste of things to come in many ways. It's not surprising that the format of CoA is adopted with each of the latter sourcebooks, down to similar chapter layout and what's presented in each.


The Prologue of Crusade of Ashes is highly typical Orpheus fare. The signature event that characterizes each sourcebook is viewed from the point of view of the signature characters from the Shades and Laments of the main book, illustrating one way things could go. Likewise the Introduction is nothing special, touching on the themes and contents of the book, an overview of Events So Far, recommended sources of inspiration and an illustration via the 'movie model' the designers adopted to pace the events of the ongoing metaplot.


Chapter One: Orpheus in Wane describes a crucial, world-changing event - the fallout of which occupies much of the book. The signature event of Crusade of Ashes is an outbreak of violence that sweeps throughout the "Afterlife industry": Projecting firms everywhere are set upon, both by militant crucibles from NextWorld and Spectres. And Orpheus Group - the flagship of the entire sector of post-life businesses - literally goes down in flames as a result.

Orpheus in Wane deals out everything that goes on, when it takes place and who's doing it. The chapter presents a timeline and plans of attack, tactics adopted by the mercenaries, and identities and descriptions for the attackers and their victims alike. Orpheus Group HQ's most interesting real estate - the basement levels where the work of projecting is undertaken - is given full-page maps, the lead attackers are given comprehensive stats, and hooks are suggested to have the players either in the thick of things, or else fortuitously absent when the assault takes place. The chapter concludes with the beginning of the fallout: many, many parties are alerted when a cold-blooded mass murder takes place inside the US. Many of those were already waiting to get any excuse to come down on the Orpheus Group.


Chapter Two: Dead Men Running is a two-tiered chapter. It opens up with the player's section: a comprehensive look at what awaits the characters now. The characters are falsely - or perhaps truly - accused of things they did in Orpheus Group's employ, and there's electronic evidence {however forged} to back it up. This revelation sets off a national manhunt, with all Orpheus survivors as its target. Perversely enough, being one of the few survivors {though in a game featuring ghosts mingling freely with the living, survival takes many shapes} lays the characters squarely in the path of a hellstorm of accusations, suspicion, warrants for their arrest and contracts for someone to bring in their heads without the rest of their bodies attached.

The chapter looks at the hows and wherefores of surviving when every TV is broadcasting news-flashes showing your picture, and describing you as an armed and dangerous terrorist. Where do you go for support when your family, friends and enemies alike are relentlessly canvassed for leads to your location? And what do you do when your home, bank accounts, insurance, driver's license and indeed your whole life are taken from you? The chapter outlines, and in general hands down, the rules for life on the run; Scenarios from squatting to assuming false identities to a life of crime, analyzing Abilities and Backgrounds that may come in helpful.

The ST section is as close to the Orpheus fan's Bible as we've yet to see. The secret of Project Flatline and the identity of Bishop are revealed; the early days of Orpheus and whispers of what came before them come out into the open; we find out why no ghost older than 3 years has been found and much more. The focus moves on to assess the current state of affairs, looking at the many powers arrayed against the players. The roster includes the FBI, Spectres, NextWorld, the media, the Blasphemers...

"The who?" Read on and find out! Bishop is not the only living - well, sort of - legend out there. Fittingly enough, the last lines of the chapter are advice on what do in face of incidents like 'No matter what I do, the players follow their own storyline' and 'I killed all the characters. Help!' Words to live by, all around.


Chapter Three: The Unearthed Player's Guide is all about rules, perks and cold, hard facts. Merits and Flaws are dealt out, as are several possible ways to balance having your characters' lives being taken apart, yet getting at least something to show for all the points you invested in Backgrounds that just went up in smoke. Crucible-oriented Merits and Flaws are one such method: they are circumstances or exceptions affecting every member of the team and with correspondingly high point costs, reminiscent of the - at times half-baked - systems introduced long ago in Wraith's The Quick and the Dead. Artifacts conclude the treasure chest, complete with rules on how they come to be, what they're good for and several examples of what an enterprising ghost might get his hands on.


Chapter Four: Storytelling the Dead moves behind the scenes while the players are still gloating over Chapter Three. First, it looks at the themes of running Crusade of Ashes in a reflective bit of advice on how to play out the events. Next in line are the characters. We're told how a character's Lament may be changed, and what it actually means: these pages made at least yours truly bury his grumblings about the stupidity of "so you dump a Skimmer into a sleeper tank and they turn into Sleepers, period, unless they waste time and XP all over again? Yeah, right" as the artificial 'splat-book' feel from the main book is taken a level deeper. There are some surprising revelations, too, like the bit about how everyone assumes Hues are irredeemable...

After the characters are well taken care of, it's time to move on to the very opposite: the enemies. Sections such as "Anatomy of adventure" presage a slip back into the familiar Antagonists model from the main book (the Orpheus classifications of Blip and Echo-levels, Foes and Confederates, Green, Red and Shadow-class entities, etc). In a somewhat odd move, the antagonists receive a second look, so when trying to remember the snippet about the FBI you're sure the book mentioned you now have two different chapters to look over. The sheer amount of words poured into a single subject could do with some hatchet work at the most basic levels; Still, the information is all good.

There are stats for signature antagonists, "recovered files" from Orpheus detailing an in-game look at the subject, new and much more imaginative breeds of Spectres, an explanation into who the Death Merchants actually are {not just rogue projectors gone hitmen, though the main book gave that impression} and an overview of official agencies such as the FBI and the DEA. All this is side by side with survivors of the NextWorld massacres, such as other Orpheus projectors on the run, free-lance projection magnates and clueless gangs dealing pigment.

The chapter and the book itself come to a close with more Ghost Stories. Many of these are example scenarios that can be used to introduce the book's many revelations into the game: finding ghosts who died more than three years ago, dodging the Death Merchants, seeing with your own eyes how the first Spectral hives take shape, etc. But at the finish are several more missions to be used as you will, such as the main book's Appendix introduced. The Orpheus crew seem determined to look out even for those customers who decide to leave the Orpheus intact after the NextWorld assault.


Looking over it all, Crusade of Ashes has damn few flaws and they all have to do with information. Much of the new revelations might not have been written when the main book hit the shelves, but they should have been there since the beginning.Their presence would have upgraded the game itself from "great" to "even better." Likewise, some of the people who are paid to write on the subject seem to suffer from the same malady as your not-so-humble reviewer: namely, going on at such lengths over a favorite subjects that you could publish two different chapters over the exact same thing. But where I just leave the excess material moldering my files, the writers go and publish the lot. Makes you wish vacancies at WW's roster of employees were up for those who grab them.

This review was written as of the time when Shadow Games was already released, so I've had the opportunity to compare later sourcebooks with the first. And, in spite of the two quibbles above, I feel that - with its quality and the sheer volume of new information in it - Crusade of Ashes is the best sourcebook Orpheus has seen so far. Perhaps it's not flawless, but I would be selling the book cheap if I dubbed it a "merely" four-star piece of work: Crusade of Ashes gets the full five skulls from me.

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