It’s getting close to the second Falling Down event, which means that I’m upping my keen by catching up on more of the various Tribe 8 materials that have been recommended to me as being reasonably metaplot-free. As previously I should mention that although I am a crew member on Falling Down, I’m not privy to the GMs’ overarching plans or metaplot for the campaign and I don’t know where they intend to go with it, aside from the fact that only the core book and Vimary supplements are held to be canonical and as of event 1 they’ve already deviated from the canon metaplot in a few very public ways. So, if you’re trying to glean hints of what’s coming up from this then you’re going to run into problems.
Weaver’s Screen and Assistant
Go frugal with this one; a PDF from DriveThru is available, but obviously not so useful if you want the actual physical screen, whilst physical copies can be obtained for decent prices if you are willing to hunt and be patient. The accompanying Weaver’s Assistant is useful mainly for the collection of Archetypes offered up for use for NPCs or PCs, unless you’re particularly invested in following the metaplot; as well as providing a prewritten adventure which kicks off the first arc of the metaplot and providing an overview of said arc (Children of Prophecy), much of the Weaver’s Assistant consists of giving precise instructions on how each significant faction and location in the core Tribe 8 book should be portrayed.
Now, don’t get me wrong – this is a really good idea if you want to present a metaplot-heavy product line: by presenting precise instructions on how all the important moving parts of the story should be presented, you can help referees make sure that the portrayal of the groups and places in their home games don’t end up radically divergent from the way they need to be portrayed for the purposes of the metaplot. That said, what can be a good idea in principal is wrecked in practice if the metaplot’s portrayal of the setting features in question are at odds with what is presented here. (For instance, it’s often said by those who know the metaplot that the Herites can generally be counted on to be in the wrong or take action to make everyone’s life more difficult, and whilst they’re cited here as occasionally being hasty they certainly aren’t presented as being quite that wrong quite that regularly.)
Moreover, if you don’t intend to follow the metaplot, a section which tells you how to portray everything is at best patronising hand-holding, at worst manifestly useless. For me, I find that coming up with my own understanding of setting elements is an automatic and natural process which I don’t really need help for as a referee; if I genuinely don’t have a firm idea of what to make of a setting element, it’s probably because I don’t care enough about it to invest that level of thought in it in the first place.
Tribe 8 Companion
Aside from including a couple of adventures, the Tribe 8 Companion stands out mostly for the way it opens up a range of alternate options for Tribe 8 player characters.
First off, it details the Joshuans and Marians – two groups with just as much claim of being the true Eighth Tribe as the Fallen (though their existence does open the door for the Fallen to start calling themselves the Tenth Tribe, or if they want to get extra extreme “Tribe X”). Both Tribes owe fealty to Fatimas who in principle have died – but somehow they wield the forces of Synthesis anyway, putting the lie yet again to the Tribal dogma that Synthesis requires the favour of the Fatimas. At the same time, both Tribes’ mode of existence is distinct from each other and from the Fallen – the Joshuans live outside Vimary altogether, patrolling the periphery in a constant, thankless quest to divert dangers away from the Tribal homelands, whilst the Marians are a conspiracy within Tribal society itself, each Marian apparently being a member of a different Tribe before they awaken to their true nature. (You’d think it’d be obvious when they can’t use the Eminences of their supposed home Tribe in Synthesis, though you have to remember that amongst Tribals the art of Synthesis isn’t actually as widespread as it is amongst the Fallen and other special groups.)
Secondly, the book details Quest Circles. These are transparently an attempt to provide a structure for player character parties comprised of members of different Tribes within Tribal society itself, rather than within the Fallen, but it works quite nicely. Circles come into four different types. Harvest Circles are brought together to look into and resolve a particular short-term problem with the authorisation of the Tribal authorities; Horizon Circles are brought together to take a look at more long-term, far-reaching agendas, also with the Tribal authorities’ nod. Moon Circles happen when the Fatimas say “yo, we need some folks to go do a thing”, and naturally since they have Fatimal authority the Tribal bosses are happy to rubber-stamp them.
Perhaps the most interesting variety of Circle is the Shadow-Cast Circle – those Quest Circles who don’t even have authorisation to do this shit in the first place. This isn’t necessarily for sinister reasons – sometimes they are Harvest Circles whose mandate wasn’t updated and feel that they still have unfinished business, for instance, and other times they may have comparatively sympathetic goals but just had their requests for authorisation turned down because they weren’t able to convince the authorities of their necessity. However, they also include Circles who come together for reasons of personal revenge, brutal criminality, or even more outright sinister shit. (There’s an amazing example Shadow-Cast Circle given in the book whose particular experiments fall into that fantastic category of “too extreme not to end in disaster, too interesting not to attempt”.)
Lastly, we end up with a bit more detail on the Keepers and various factions amongst them (at least one of which comes close to just straight-up putting Alpha Complex in Tribe 8, which is too fun not to at least contemplate), as well as rules and details on running Keepers as PCs.
Although the core Tribe 8 rules revolve around the Fallen and present a setting where, at least at first glance, the major force for change is going to come from the Fallen, the Companion does a nice job of enabling alternate takes on the setting – all of which have an interesting different focus. If you want to run a Tribal-based game, Quest Circles are perfect for that – indeed, they’re also handy for a prelude to an ordinary Fallen-focused campaign, since characters could believably all Fall together if they end up being part of a Quest Circle whose Quest goes badly wrong (or a Shadow-Cast Circle that gets rumbled), but at the same time the constraints of acting within the taboos of Tribal society and avoiding Falling provides an interesting challenge, and if your take on the setting has the Fatimas be mostly in the right (or indeed outright objectively in the right if you want to change up canon a bit) then Quest Circles are going to be the perfect focus of play. Likewise, Joshuans, Marians and Keepers all suggest distinct and different modes of play – and each group could believably be the catalyst for the major changes to the setting instead of the Fallen.
Although I felt that the Tribe 8 setting doesn’t really stand up if you have full-on Z’bri-aligned PCs, at the same time the Companion illustrates just how flexible the setting is, and just how much scope there is for reinterpreting major parts of it in order to entirely change up its themes and implications.
Into the Outlands
This sourcebook provides rules and setting material to support wilderness exploration adventures beyond Vimary, including some details on the various Squat, Keeper and Z’bri outposts dotted around out there. Readers hoping for major revelations about the status of the wider world, however, may find themselves disappointed: we know there’s big settlements out there like Capal where Quebec City used to be and Hattan down in the vicinity of New York, but if you want your PCs to go down to Hattan and yell “YOU BLEW IT UP” at statues by the seaside you won’t quite get that far on the material here; the Outlands presented here essentially consist of Vimary’s sphere of influence, the narrative to the North, South, East and West cutting off just as you start finding particularly strong communities that could stand as rivals to the Tribals.
That said, perhaps the best aspect of the sourcebook is detailing all the different ways the Tribals and Fallen exploit the Outlands. It’s clear that going out there to gather and trade for resources is an absolute necessity for long-term survival – but it’s also clear that here the Fallen have a distinct advantage, in that their Fatimas have already abandoned them whereas to the Tribals passing outside the aegis of their Fatimas is taboo and shameful, something to be feared and fobbed off on those who have disappointed enough to merit punishment but not enough to actually Fall. The Outlands are a venue where the Fallen can not only outcompete with the Tribals, but also have a chance to sway crucial components of the Tribal social mechanism to their side. After all, if being sent into the Outlands is a half-way step towards Falling anyway, why not take the last step yourself rather than waiting for someone to decide your expedition didn’t hit quota this year and you’re the one to carry the can?
Adrift On the River of Dream
One of the later metaplot-independent rulebooks for the line is also one of its most ambitious. Written to give referees a comprehensive overview of the spiritual metaphysics of the Tribe 8 universe, Adrift On the River of Dream sheds light on the precise nature of the River itself, the Fold between the physical and spiritual world, the terrible consequences of the Fold being sealed and the true nature of Synthesis and Sundering.
Some of this information was touched on before in prior Tribe 8 material, but it was never set out as clearly and straightforwardly as it is in the expansive Weaver’s section at the back of the book. If the Tribe 8 line has a whole has a major weakness, in fact, is that it relied an awful lot on game fiction in order to get across ideas – which is fine and dandy if you are a collector who just reads RPG rulebooks and never actually intends to use them to run a game, but is much less useful than a set of clear, uncluttered writeups when you are actually running a game. Thankfully, Bradley Robins and his team avoid that pitfall here, making sure that the Weaver’s section at the back contains a clear recapitulation of all the information that’s hinted at in the game fiction – recognising that the mild redundancy that results is necessary for a book optimised for use in gameplay.
On top of that, the game fiction presented here is perhaps the best and most ambitious piece the line has to offer; rather than being a collection of thematically-related chunks of microfiction, it is instead a full-blown Tribe 8 novella, detailing the history of a group of Tribals whose innocent curiosity about the true nature of Synthesis sparks off an investigation which leads them at first to their Fall, then to Hom, and then to the Outlands and cosmic realms beyond. Neatly, useful NPC stats are provided for the members of the cell at each stage of their quest, so the referee can not only decide whether the events of the novel are canonical in their Tribe 8 campaign, but also decide how far events have progressed, and have the player characters encounter the relevant individuals (and perhaps save them from their rather grim destiny) at an appropriate point.
On top of this, the cosmology presented here is an impressively original vision of a cosmos gone badly wrong. The sabotage and slow collapse of the Great Architecture of the universe represents a spiritual event on a truly grand scale, one which is particularly vertigo-inducing next to the tiny geographical scale Tribe 8 tends to focus on. On the one hand, it’s part of the nature of fantasy to have apparently small events actually have vast significance; on the other hand, if you want to go full-on bleak and decide that the cosmos of Tribe 8 is irrepairably broken, you can absolutely do so if you like. (For extra grim, go with the idea I had in my review of Horrors of the Z’bri and throw in the cosmology of Kult too – have the Great Architecture be the illusionary universe, and have its collapse herald humanity’s graduation into Metropolis, a realm where the very parameters of “human” are broader and stranger than they are in our universe. The question is, are people actually happier and better off in Metropolis, or does the prison of the Great Architecture actually represent the sanest and safest mode of existence for us?)
And I Think I’m Done
With this, I think my Tribe 8 collection is as complete as its going to get. Given that I don’t ever intend to run the metaplot as written, the adventures are likely to be of limited use to me at best. Likewise, I’m disinterested in the Capal setting book because a) it assumes a whole bunch of metaplot stuff has taken place and b) the Vimary book already provides a really top-notch default setting for the game, and the idea of forcibly shifting the PCs away from a setting they are already immersed and invested in to a brand new setting they don’t care about so much seems incredibly silly. (In particular based on what I’ve read of the metaplot the shift in focus is accompanied by setting fire to everything the PCs built in Vimary, and I’ve learned from bitter experience that when you burn down everything the PCs have built the players – not unreasonably – stop feeling like it’s worth building anything).
There’s also a set of splatbooks for the Tribes (Word of the Pillars, Word of the Dancers and Word of the Fates), but I tend to be a little sceptical of splatbooks in general and I’m happy with the level of detail I already have on the Tribes. In particular, since most Tribe 8 campaigns are likely to focus on the Fallen, I think it would feel odd to have substantially more detail on a life within the Tribes which the Fallen have left behind compared to the detail we have available on life within the Eighth Tribe itself, but in fact there was never a comparable splatbook put out in the line for the Fallen or the individual Fallen factions.
No, between these, the core book, Vimary and Horrors of the Z’bri I reckon I have more than enough to make a Tribe 8 campaign work just fine.