Monday, August 31, 2020

Suspended Transmission


Suppressed Transmission:  The First Broadcast and Suppressed Transmission The  Second Broadcast (pub 2000) published by Steve Jackson Games

Both volumes of Suppressed Transmission:  The First Broadcast and Suppressed Transmission The Second Broadcast  were published by Steve Jackson Games  back in 2000 and consist of collections of columns by Kenneth Hite, known for the RPGs, Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Dark Agents, as well as several books for White Wolf Publishing and recently announced as the lead designer for Vampire The Masquerade 5th Edition, published in Pyramid Magazine, which had morphed at the time from a money losing glossy paged print magazine to a (theoretically) non-money losing web based magazine. The  topic of the column was loosely defined as Hite rattling on about whatever he wanted to write about, just so long as it did not cover game industry news or gaming reviews. Given pretty much carte blanche to write on whatever topics he wanted, Hite eventually decided to focus on four genres- alternate history, horror, conspiracies and secret history-and how players and GMs could incorporate the topic at hand into a RPG campaign.

For example, the very 1st Transmission touches on all four, looking at an early conspiracy belief among some people that Abraham Lincoln was too good a politician and lawyer to be some backwoods nobody and that he was actually the son of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall or former Vice President John C. Calhoun. After all, Lincoln leaves no historical paper trail until he begins his legal career so all we really know about his early life is what he told the public. Similarly, the theme of secret or alternate history could take the suicide of Merriweather Lewis and ague that he was murdered because He Knew Too Much. For horror, he touches upon Edgar Allen Poe, setting a campaign in a world in which Poe’s stories were real. Finally, for alternate history in the first column, he briefly looks at what might have happened in the Napoleonic Wars if Wellington had died fighting in 1809 instead of leading the campaign that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo? How would European history have changed? Could England have found another general with Wellington’s ability? The rest of the book and the next one looks at similar questions, only in more detail in each column. After all, when was the last time you read any discussion of Paul Bunyan as an American God and other larger than life American myths?

The columns collected in each book generally focus on a particular topic, (strange)historical event or conspiracy theory, along with annotations. Anyone familiar with the X-Files television series should know about Roswell and the spaceship that allegedly crash-landed there but imagine what would could have happened if the crash landing had taken place a century or two earlier? Hite looks a six potential alternative histories that games could use in a campaign. Other columns in the First Transmission look at the Philadelphia Experiment, Norton 1:  Emperor of the United States and the history of Chess, which is certainly a bit weirder than you would expect. The Second Transmission meanwhile looks at Robin Hood and his predecessors,  the occult Shakespeare, Who REALLY sunk the Titanic and why,  and the Knights Templar in America (which, if you remember , is a major plot device in the first National Treasure movie). Oh, and Hite tosses in a comparison between the Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc and Gilles De Rais, better known as Bluebeard.

Both books are highly entertaining romps through the borderlands of history and sociology and it is obvious that Hite loves this stuff and, even more, loves talking about it. Either is the sort of book that you can pick up, open to any page and, assuming you have an interest in conspiracy theories and the secret history of Planet Earth, find yourself immediately engrossed in the subject matter. You won’t find any pre-stated NPCs in either book (for that, look for a copy of GURPS Who’s Who) but you will find plenty of adventure  seeds and ideas as well as hours of entertaining reading. Both books, are as already noted, well annotated and have a pretty exhaustive indexes. Actual reference pages at the end of each column would be helpful, if only to see what sources Hite drew upon  for his columns, but that is a minor quibble. For anyone running a pulp or modern day RPG campaign, the Suppressed Transmission books are wonderful resources. For anyone else, they are incredibly fun reads.

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