What could be better to play than a “tabletop role-playing game about ethical insurgency against a fascist regime, taking place in a dystopian vision of 1980s America”? SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists ticks a lot of boxes that get me excited, so I had to back it when I was clued in about it through Boing Boing. If something promises to kill fascists, chances are you can count me in.
Players assume the role of Receivers, the superheroic vanguard of the Resistance, who possess incredible powers when in range of FM radio towers emitting a mysterious number sequence called “The Signal.” When the Signal is up, Receivers lead the charge against battalions of Regime infantry and armor or serve as the People’s Shield, protecting mass demonstrations from the brutality of a militarized police force and neo-Nazi hooligans. When the Signal is down, however, Receivers are mere mortals, desperately fleeing from a powerful state that senses their weakness.
It’s called the Sigmata, a Signal-induced stigmata, because it is a both a blessing and a curse. At least when you’re marked by the state, you can’t sit on the sidelines anymore.
SIGMATA takes place in a dystopian vision of America where fascists have taken control of the government. The Regime fosters white supremacy, religious bigotry, and Cold War hysteria to turn America’s fury against already marginalized populations, all while plundering America’s coffers and thrusting the country into pointless proxy wars all over the globe. To punish internal threats to “Real America,” the Regime rewrote the U.S. Constitution to establish the Freedom Fist, a complete merger of military and law enforcement, which dutifully executes the fascists’ national program of mass incarceration and deportation.
The communities targeted by state violence have begun to fight back. The Resistance is bolstered by an unlikely alliance of radical leftists, libertarian militias, religious activists, and wealthy entrepreneurs, whose grievances with the Regime overpower the seething contempt they have for each other. As linchpins of the Resistance, the Receivers must take great pains to prevent the alliance from fracturing. If they allow ideology to trump strategy, the factions will fall back on their worst tendencies, handing the Regime the political victories it needs to maintain a stranglehold on the people.
Mechanically, SIGMATA is a hybrid of a traditional role-playing game and a narrativist story game. There is a game master (GM) involved, but players will be doing most of the storytelling. Players make decisions about what tactics and powers their Receivers employ during structured scenes of combat, stealth, and intrigue, but who gets to narrate the outcome of decisions depends on how well players do on their dice rolls. When a dice roll is required, a player rolls a combination of D10 and D6 dice, depending on her Receiver’s four processors (i.e. Aggression, Guile, Judgement, and Valor), hoping to get a result of 6 or higher on each die. The more successes a player rolls, the more control she has over the outcome in the story space. Rolling a single success permits her to narrate a story of marginal success, complicated by an element of tension or stress that the GM contributes to the story. Rolling several success permits her to narrate a story of dramatic success, emphasizing how skilled, strong, or courageous her Receiver is, without input from the GM.
One feature of the game that stands out for me is the metagame about the optics of the counterinsurgency:
SIGMATA also features a strategic meta-game that charts the Resistance’s progress in toppling the Regime, based on real counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine. The Resistance’s efforts against the Regime’s military forces mean nothing if they are not also winning over the local population and the international community. The strategic strength of the Resistance not only tracks campaign progress, but influences the strength of the Signal, which the Receivers rely upon to fuel their most dramatic abilities.
The game is funded, with 9 days remaining as I write this. If you care about antifascist art or fresh twists on tabletop RPGs, this might be a perfect endevour to back.