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Publisher: Abstract Nova Entertainment
by Flames R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/15/2013 11:08:28

Introduction Aletheia is an extremely difficult book to write a review for because, while it is an RPG, it is one with an extremely defined, extremely tight, extremely focussed setting which amounts to a campaign idea with its own rules, rather than as an RPG as such. Given that so much of the book is devoted to the reality behind the secrets of the setting it is nigh impossible to give a full review and assessment of the game since that would give away too much and spoil it for those that do buy it.

This is something of a conundrum.

As to the game itself, I can’t decide whether I like it or not, while the execution of the game is largely flawless and the ideas within it are interesting, in their way it is very restrictive and very set. Fine if your gaming group likes the setting and the idea, then it gives you a great springboard from which to launch straight into play, if your gaming group are difficult bastards as mine often are, then this may pose a problem.

Overview The players are some (or all) of the members of The Seven Dogs society, an elite group of specially selected people taken from an exhaustive list of genealogical investigations undertaken by the society’s missing founders. You don’t get a choice in that matter, though you do get to generate your character as you wish within those boundaries. These characters can be just about anything but since the game is centred around investigation, lacking investigative skills will tend to cause you problems. The other commonality is that every character has a supernatural power of some kind.

The role of the characters, the setting in which they find themselves and the home location from which they operate are all absolutely defined so it is vital that the designated GM not allow the players to read the book, at all, ever. Which rather restricts the ability to hand around the ‘cool new game’ to get people interested. A basic synopsis however would be something like this:

“You are all members of The Seven Dogs Society, a special group of psychically gifted investigators who are trying to reconcile weird events with a rational view of the world in order to arrive at an overarching understanding of the truth, a unified theory of everything. In the process you will encounter strange phenomena, investigate them and try to come to some manner of conclusion.”

There are many similarities and many influences that seem to be readable in the game, it seems to occupy a similar space to the new version of Mage, but one can also see a similar design philosophy to The Gumshoe engine and I would think Over The Edge would have to have influenced the writers. In fact, you could view this as a linear Over The Edge with a slightly more defined mechanic and player role, the defined setting of both games resonate with each other and Al Amarja wouldn’t be out of place – at all – in Aletheia’s world, even if it is a bit more mondo-bizarre.

Artwork The use of artwork is minimal, but striking, mostly depicting relatively ordinary looking people doing relatively ordinary looking things but with a few pieces that demonstrate the weirdness of the game. That sort of combination, along with the clear and unfussy layout gives the game an appropriately dry and ‘scholarly’ air for most of the book and creates a ‘shock’ when you do encounter the weirder bits later on, increasing their effect.

Writing The writing is good, clear, crisp. Explains itself well, the system is simple and so is simply explained, leaving the lion’s share of the book for the background material, sample cases and a sample adventure. I only found a few simple mistakes in the text so there’s really nothing to complain about here that wouldn’t be nitpicking.

Background This is what I can’t really talk about without giving the game away too much, at least I can’t talk about specifics. Suffice to say that the game has a specific background, this is the way things ARE in the setting and there isn’t much room for deviation, interpretation or shifted focus. The whole game is a single, large mystery, made up of smaller mysteries and the campaign plays out in the solution of that mystery and then comes to a natural conclusion, so this is a limited-life product, much like the old White Wolf offering Orpheus.

While I like the idea of the overarching mystery this just reinforces my impression that this isn’t really an RPG so much as a campaign with some rules tacked on to it. As such this could be a good thing to buy for any modern mystery game or to incorporate into an existing setting, even as an investigation of, rather than by The Seven Dogs.

So, what can I actually say about the background? Not much that I haven’t already but I can say that the defined ‘truth’ is a mash-up of many different new-age and eclectic religious beliefs, topped off with a little popular quantum theory. I say popular because it has little to do with real quantum theory, people hear terms like entanglement, observer effect and quantum consciousness and then go off on one to Neverland without pausing to actually consider these things. I don’t normally find this sort of thing a problem but within this game it did make me uneasy.


Well, reading through the book I read a lot of things that I run into in discussions, things that people genuinely believe. Again, this isn’t necessarily a problem but normally in such games there’s a nice little disclaimer in the introduction, something like…

‘Magic isn’t real, pointing a stick at someone and shouting in Latin will only annoy them, aliens aren’t mating with your left nostril while you sleep and any resemblance in this book between gods depicted and gods that may or may not exist is purely coincidental. But gee, doesn’t this stuff make for whiz-bang stories?’

Aletheia doesn’t have that and it reads almost like you’re being preached at, right from the get go. I have no issue with drugs, religion or magic in game settings, or even being preached at (you can ignore a book easier than a frothing street preacher after all) but the matter-of-fact way the material is presented runs from the out-of-character introduction right the way through to the end. In a world where people buy into Deepak Chopra and blatantly exploitative nonsense like The Secret that can’t help but make me a little uneasy.

Rules The rules use a simple dicepool system of between one and five dice, with a bonus dice if you have a ‘descriptor’ (such as strong, tough etc) that is applicable to the situation. You roll these dice needing to score a 5-6 with each dice scoring that counting towards a target number of successes. Professions or skills add automatic victories toward that goal target number and to succeed you have to meet the number.

Characters start out very average – two points in each statistic if they were spread out evenly, but also get a profession, some pick-up skills and a psychic or otherwise supernatural power. Different powers and different professions are rated with stars, the more stars the more expensive but also the more useful the profession or power, so you have to trade expertise in for usefulness, which is fairly balanced.

The investigative side of the game is somewhat similar to The Gumshoe system, but not as detailed or quite as responsive. Vital clues are identified and these are always discovered first, but you don’t automatically get them, you still have to roll. Thus an investigation can stall if nobody is able to succeed in finding that all important clue. Additional success brings additional supplementary clues, which may reveal more of the whole.

Its a simple but responsive system that seems to work very well indeed for its intended purpose.


  • Brilliant investigative campaign world.
  • Well crafted ‘light’ system mechanics.
  • Mature approach and presentation.


  • Preachy.
  • Very locked down.
  • Finite usefulness.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Abstract Nova Entertainment
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/24/2009 04:32:08

The concept of a group of people investigating contemporary strangeness and paranormal events is not a new one, but this book provides a coherent and well-considered approach to what is going on that makes it worth investigating.

It begins with a short Introduction that provides the obligatory "what is role-playing?" explanation and describes the core premise of the game: that the characters are members of a society dedicated to hunting out the truth. It also states that the following four chapters can be read by players and gamemasters alike, while the rest is best left to the gamemaster alone. As with any game in which there are secrets to unearth, it's best not to know those secrets in advance if you are one of the people trying to unearth them... but it does presuppose that only one member of your group wishes to game master at least for this system.

The second chapter gives the background history of the remarkable man, Jerico Usher, who laid the groundwork on which the character's society - the Seven Dogs Society - is based. As this would be known to a member of the Society, it's regarded as 'open access' and tells how a seemingly blessed Renaissance Man appeared to lose it totally and sink into madness, albeit well-funded madness, before disappearing leaving a loyal follower to actually organise the Society. Note the 'well-funded' bit - unlike many such groups of seekers after truth, your characters want for nothing in terms of resources, freeing them to concentrate on their search without having to worry about mundane matters like the rent or where the next meal is coming from... or even what your boss wants.

Chapter 3 provides a comprehensive description of the Society's base, a mansion in Alaska. Luxuriously-appointed with just about everything you could wish for - including an excellent library and a high-speed Internet connection - you'll find everything you need to know about the place that will become your team's home. Again, the assumption is that the players will know all about it - the basic premise is that the game will open about a month after they have accepted an invitiation to join the Society, so they will have had time to explore. This includes a fascinating section called the Annexe, where doors lead into remote and unlikely places... such as the Amazon river basin, a used car lot in Mexico and the French Bibliotheque Nationale.

Next, Chapter 4 looks at Characters - the underlying rule mechanics for creating them (the rest of the game mechanics are in the following chapter, Mechanics). It's a very basic and simplistic system, while allowing for considerable flexibility and customisation of your character to be precisely what you want him to be. Those who like very precise game mechanics might prefer to use another contemporary system (I'd recommend either Spycraft or the New World of Darkness core rules), but for those for whom the unravelling of the plotline is of key importance and die-rolling just a means for combat and other task resolution this should suffice, particularly if the game master is adept at assessing a situation and determining the results of character actions without need for rules to refer to!

Whether you use the ruleset here or import another, however, you will need to pay attention to one component: the special powers which each character has to have. To be eligible for membership of the Society, a character needs to have at least one extraordinary and unexplained (at least for now...) power, ranging from quite minor ones like being able to sense that something's not quite right, through rather fun ones like the ability to know your way around a place you have never visited before to really strange abilities like time travel. While the characters will have no idea how they came to have these abilities, it does fit in with the underlying story which they will, in time, discover... perhaps.

Mechanics out of the way, Chapter 6 takes a look at Anomalous Phenomena. This chapter includes a good overview of how to go about investigating an incident (useful even if you are an avid watcher of such TV shows as the X-Files or Poltergeist: The Legacy - both, incidentally, recommended if you want some ideas for events to be investigated) which should also prime the game master as to what evidence he needs to have ready for the characters to find! It also presents some thumbnail sketches of events you may wish to use, in very general terms - you will still need to work out the specifics of each one before play. Things covered include spontaneous human combustion, crop circles, UFOs, alien abduction and other standard fare.

Then things get a bit more interesting, although this is moving into Game Master territory. Chapter 7, Revelations, provides a unifying theory which ties together Jeremiah Usher, the characters' own abilities and the sort of paranormal events suggested in the previous chapter. With some highly speculative use of modern cosmological theory mixed in with ancient myth, it actually holds together quite well and means that the game master will be empowered to create his own mysteries which fit in with this underlying concept.

Chapter 8 is entitled Gamemastering, and looks at the nuts and bolts of putting together individual game sessions and complete campaigns that are both original and faithful to the core concept of this game, and how to run them in a way that is both effective and fun. This is done in part by creating a sample investigation, which you could even use more or less as is with a little extra work to flesh it out, or which provides a useful template for creating your own events for the characters to investigate. Anyone who runs games in which investigation features could benefit from reading this. There are also plenty of ideas for extending some of the specific concepts of the underlying theory that is the core of this game, so as to enable the characters to come closer and closer to the 'Truth.' One artifact to be investigated are the few remaining pages of Usher's own writings, the 'Usher Codex,' and these are presented in facsimile (along with a game master-only explanation of what the symbols and cryptic comments mean). If you own the PDF, print out a copy for your players, but if you have the book version it will be better to make use of a photocopier rather than rip them out (for a start, some of the explanation is on the back of one of the pages!). There's more: other people investigating the same phenomena as your characters may be friendly or hostile, and plenty of ideas for extended campaigns which might, just might, see your players unravelling the lot and becoming fully enlightened beings...

Finally, Chapter 9 presents an introductory adventure called From the Heavens to get the ball rolling. It's a well constructed investigative adventure involving a sudden influx of extraterristrials in a Mid-West university town, and demonstrates the sort of evidence that you'll need to have ready for the characters to find. It is admittedly short on action, but there are a couple of suggestions as to how to provide something a bit more physical for those players who want to include combat in their games.

Overall, this is a game based on a coherent underlying concept which holds together well. Mechanically it is a bit weak, but given the nature of the game this should not be a problem and as the mechanics are not vital you can easily substitute another contemporary ruleset if you prefer. The whole plot, from what the characters know initially to the full revelation - if they get that far - has been thought through and is consistent, enough for you to be able to believe that it might be true. If you like paranormal investigations, this game is well worth a look.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
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