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Underground [Game]

Entry updated 12 March 2019. Tagged: Game.

Role Playing Game (1993). Mayfair Games (MG). Designed by Ray Winninger.

Underground is a game in which all the worst fears of US Democrats in the 1990s are brought to life. In this vision of the early twenty-first century, weaponized superhumans turned petty criminals terrorize the cities of a corrupted America. The world is locked in a second Cold War, a hostile stand off between the North American, European and Asian trade blocs. Military actions are confined to proxy wars fought by mercenary armies hired by the major powers, a situation which has fostered an arms race between companies whose profits depend on building better soldiers than the competition. This has resulted in the creation of infantry with metahuman enhancements, based on technology recovered from an escape vehicle ejected by a disabled Alien Starship. In order to reduce the high incidence of insanity among these supersoldiers, the process used includes immersion in a Virtual Reality simulation in which the subjects are conditioned to believe that they are costumed Superheroes, programming from which they never fully escape. There is much broad Satire; unified Germany (or "Neo-Deutschland") is a repressive theocracy in which Scientology is the state religion, the new Vatican is a South American banana republic and America is a land of free speech permits and violent propaganda, dominated by giant corporations which have seceded from the Union. The dominant impression, however, is one of cynical disgust; this is a future of traumatized superveterans, fly-by shootings and fast food restaurants which specialize in cannibalism.

The game's mechanics are largely borrowed from the cleverly constructed DC Heroes (1985 MG; rev 1989; rev 1993) designed by Greg Gorden, Sam Lewis, in which exponentially increasing scales are used to represent the enormous variations in power typical of DC Comics Superheroes. Its background is clearly influenced by the revisionist Comics of the 1980s, notably Pat Mills's violent and misanthropic Marshal Law (1987-current), 2000 AD's Judge Dredd and Alan Moore's Marvelman. Nevertheless, Underground is an original work with an explicitly political agenda. Players, who adopt the roles of boosted veterans, are encouraged to have their characters join the eponymous organization, a terrorist group dedicated to the violent overthrow of the US government. Unusually for a Role Playing Game, not only are Underground's characters expected to change the world, but the designer's hope was that the game would provoke political debate amongst its players. [NT]

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