Scholars Review #60: Coalition Manhunters
Updated: Jan 15
Author: Kevin Siembieda
Release Date: April 2022
As the top choice from my Christmas Grab Bag 2022, I dove into this title pretty much as soon as I had the chance. For a sourcebook, it sits at a beefy 224 pages, which is what most jam-packed World Books come in around. Updated psionics, updated Psychic Classes, and more depth into everyone’s favorite protagonist, the Coalition States? What’s not to love! It includes a deep dive into the Psi-Ops Division and how they interact with the populace of the Coalition and the shadow reporting structure that keeps people in line, but surprisingly also tries to keep people content. New spy-tech and cybernetics are always a bonus, but the meat of this book is in the new updated classes and the Manhunter O.C.C.s. So, without further a-do, let’s get into it.
Psi-Ops Division: Secrets of the CS. An overview of the Psi-Ops hierarchy, as well as the covert cells and mechanisms they use to monitor and keep a grip on the populace. It also presents a bit of a deep-dive into the worldview of the CS citizens; there is a great deal of text devoted to the ‘beneficial’ elements the Psi-Ops Division employ to ensure the populace is content and well-treated. Apparently a happy populace is a compliant populace. Despite their benevolent and patriotic fervor, forget about what you think you know about privacy rights in the CS. It also demonstrates where the eponymous Manhunters fit within the greater construct; think scalpel solution when NTSET and ISS resources are insufficient or too slow.
Street Cleaner O.C.C. A new psionic class employed by Psi-Ops. Likely presented as an NPC character for GM’s to control, it can work as an excellent protagonist. The Perception Roll bonuses are clunky, and there are some confusing links to WB 11: CWC and WB 12: Psyscape. Provides a number of MOS specializations that make a great skill-based class. I understand the distinction between this Class and those of the Mahunters, but placing them together would have been a better editing choice, even if a suggested NPC Class.
Psi-Ops Division Tech. A number of surveillance devices that any spy or surveillance-based class would have significant interest in reading.
New CS Cybernetics. If you had told me CS research into reverse engineering Mindwerks M.O.M. technology they somehow acquired was going to be called Project Bananas, I would not have believed you. Well, they got the tech, and they indeed called it Project Bananas; there it was in black and white, LOL. The new NeuroStim implant provides the non-psychic recipient access to random psionic powers, with a handy Psionic Determination Table to guide the GM (who is likely going to controlling this individual). This is followed by a series of augmented Bio-System Organs and the benefits they provide (think super heart with bonuses against fatigue, or liver/bladder/kidneys/pancreas and saves versus diseases and toxins).
Coalition Psychics. Psychics are an integral part of CS society and held in relatively high regard, which is a bit of a change from older publications. What I would suggest is that society can and does change at a relative pace, so with enough concerted effort (and tagging of the Psychic), this could be explained. For the long-time fan though, this comes as a bit of a ret-con shock. This section goes over the tracking of youths with the spark of psychic abilities, and how they are guided into productive and supportive citizens. If you haven’t gleaned it yet, there is a heavy amount of social conditioning within the CS that goes against the grain of our contemporary worldview. Otherwise, there is a great bit of world building here.
Coalition Bogeyman. A short story that segues nicely into the next part.
CS Manhunters. Now into the meat of things. Masters of spycraft and deception, the CS Manhunters answer directly to the Emperor (even Psi-Ops and Psi-Battalion are unaware of their existence), and they are unregistered…., which means that technically they can be executed on-sight for using their powers. Presents their modus operandi and various mission types they conduct within the CS or externally. I found the idea of the operative reporting **directly** to the Emperor a little off – I would have assumed the Administrator would be that direct report, with the Manhunters in attendance if required; akin to James Bond reporting to ‘M’ vice the Prime Minister. No matter how loyal, I can’t see the justification for allowing a powerful psychic alone in the room with the Emperor. Otherwise, this part adds to the previous segments’ world building.
CS Manhunter O.C.C. I was really looking forward to this portion, and I’m rather unhappy to say that whatever momentum the book had didn’t come to a screeching halt, but it was jarring (think driving highway speeds and all of a sudden you’re in a school zone with kids at play). There is a lot here in this section, and we’ll go over this in two manners: review of what is there; and, how I would have presented it.
Part 1 (as presented). Provides a series of Classes and associated codenames (e.g. a CS Mind Melter is codenamed Manhunter: Panther); others include the Zapper, Psi-Healer, Psi-Slayer and Psi-Mechanics, Bursters, among others. There are a lot of interesting, revised powers and updated psionic abilities. I would challenge they should be more universally applied to the equivalent Classes found in RUE or World Book 12: Psyscape. I have an issue with the way these are presented – there is a lot of back and forth references to Step 2 Skill Packages and baseline abilities. It’s not very intuitive.
Part 2 (as presented). Details the special skills and Skill Packages available to the various codenamed classes. Includes a new Human Chameleon, Incorruptible (which inexplicably has a skill percentage for something that doesn’t roll a d100 to function), Poker Face, and Manhunting (another with a percentage-based mechanic for something that equates to a series of bonuses to Perception rolls done on a d20). Also includes an odd new skill called W.P. Modern Weapon Proficiencies, giving the bearer W.P. bonuses for *all* modern weapons. This really needs a qualifier to state this is not in addition to any W.P. chosen (e.g. W.P. E-Pistol), but also to define what the advancement scheme looks like (is it the same across all weapons, or based on the original W.P.); you can imagine that the latter means the player needs to constantly refer back to the W.P. list each time they grab a new modern weapon…. I have to say this section was an utter disappointment in terms of formatting and presentation of the information. After defining the Baseline Special Abilities, they are again listed under O.C.C. Skills (e.g. Human Chameleon), which really seems like a silly waste of line space. Some great updates to the classes could have been leveraged to present a revised Psychic O.C.C.
How it *Should* Have Appeared
(or at least how I would reformat it)
Part 1 – Updated Psychic O.C.C.s. Presented in a manner that non-CS character could choose the class and leverage its relevant updates. These should have been discrete entries that allow the following classes to be chosen by non-CS Player Characters:
Revised – Zapper O.C.C. (CS: Hummingbird)
Revised – Mind Melter O.C.C. (CS: Panther)
Revised – Burster O.C.C. (CS: Ram)
Revised – Psi-Mechanic (CS: Raven)
Revised – Psi-Slayer O.C.C. (CS: Wolf)
Revised – Precog/Seer (CS: Owl)
Revised – Super Spy O.C.C. (psionic option) (CS: Raven)
New – Diviner O.C.C. (CS: Spider)
New – CS Manhunter Team Leader (CS: Eagle); in my opinion should have been presented as an NPC only option.
New – CS Street Cleaner (where I would have placed it); in my opinion should have been presented as an NPC only option.
Part 2 – CS Manhunter Options. Provide the details for all those O.C.C. Special Abilities as a baseline for every CS Manhunters in a single points of reference (Human Chameleon, Incorruptible, Manhunting, Poker Face and W.P. Modern Weapons Expert), with a validation of how each rule is supposed to work in game play (e.g. is it a d100 skill roll, or has d20 functionality). Each Call Sign is tagged to a Revised or New O.C.C. from Part 1 (e.g. Hummingbird = Zapper, Wolf = Psi-Slayer). Here I would detail any Class-specific bonuses for choosing the CS version of the Zapper or Psi-Slayer, as well as the eligible Skill Programs for each class.
Part 3 – O.C.C. Skills and Skill Programs. Here we would have presented the Baseline O.C.C. Skills for every CS Manhunter, which would replace the Revised O.C.C. Skills listed in Part 1. The Skill Programs would be fleshed out, indicating that this choice would replace the O.C.C. Related Skills option of the Class selected. There are no Secondary Skills if the CS Manhunter version is chosen, which is fair given the load-out of skills the Skill Programs provide.
Psionic Powers. A meaty 30+ page section of new psionic powers, oddly preceded by the Perception rules. Some specific entries of note:
Revised Meditation skill should apply to ALL psychics; lends credence to presenting the updated baseline for revised psychic classes.
A good number of powers are really just updated versions available to any Psychic
Call to Life comes in cheap at only eight (8) I.S.P.
Brain Fog reads well but is randomly in the GM’s hands to define for effect unless they and the Players are meta-gaming.
Death Grip is essentially a psionic choke for interrogation (you are now acting like Darth Vader) with a ‘death option.’ This has serious implications on Players and they navigate their Alignment and game play.
Precognition has 5 whole pages of text….
Anti-Demon Powers (Super). A series of specific powers targeting demons/gods.
Dog Boys and the Minion War. Like many of the lesser demons from Hades and Dyval, the Dog Boys are pack hunters that have very keen sensing capabilities to aid the CS and allies in fighting off the Minion Wars. The O.C.C. gets a “deep dive,” which is more like a slight refresh, including how they act as a pack, special abilities are fleshed out, along with some Minion War bonuses. There was a missed opportunity in not including an updated table of common breeds and specific bonus abilities, particularly with the inclusion of the Corgi. And then we detail the Corgi Dog Boys, specialists in anti-magic with a series of additional abilities that I would have folded into the Dog Boy O.C.C. abilities, and *then* give the Corgi a bonus to these abilities. The Kill Hound O.C.C. also gets a bit of a deep dive, but nothing really worth noting given the previous points.
The 7 Dangers. Once again, we revisit the prophecy originally presented back in Rifts Sourcebook 2: The Mechanoids. A look at the prophecy with the benefit of hindsight allows the seers and prognosticators to discount some threats and reconsider more recent foes. If you’re hoping for a definitive answer, you will need to keep waiting. That said, it provides the GM with some great fodder for adventures.
Wiggly Squiggly (a.k.a. Tin Cans or Tin Men). A bizarre alien robot lifeform that feeds on energy; lock up you e-clips.
Cho Zo. Mistaken for baby Xiticix (finally with official pronunciation!).
Dinosaur People. Bipedal dinosaurs claiming to be from an alternate Earth.
Initial Assessment (7/10). The ‘benevolent’ presentation of the Psi-Ops Division provides a very divergent worldview to that which the vast majority of GMs and Players bring to the gaming table. Calling a spade a spade, anyone from our contemporary setting rifting into the CS would be branded a violent dissident based on any number of points. There is a lot in here to give the reader a sense of the Coalition as a people and glean some points about their culture. It explains a fair bit on the government oversight and how this benevolence is received – Hint: Not the same as the ‘Burbs.
I really wanted to like the expanded classes and psionic powers, but there are a number of pages that could have been shaved (excessive text, O.C.C. bloat in the manner it was presented, and in particular the exceedingly convoluted structure). As described above, this should have been refined to provide discrete revised psychic O.C.C. entries so a player looking to make a Zapper or Burster could use the updated information. It took me a several readings to come close to understanding how to create a CS Manhunter character; the section is not intuitive at all. Then there are the specific ‘Skills’ that aren’t skills. Case in point, why does a Panther (CS Mind Melter) care about the +15% bonus to Manhunting (which start at 50% + 5% per level), when all the Manhunting skill provides are bonuses to Perception and +10% to I.D. Undercover Agents? Lastly are the myriad of bonuses to Perception, based on an unwieldy number of factors that could have been wrapped up into a single entry (e.g. Assassin Skill Package has 4 separate Perception clauses), and most O.C.C.s come with a situationally specific set of bonuses as well.
Back to a big positive, the artwork throughout is very evocative, with some great full-page illustrations from Shane Wray and Michael Mumah, supported by some other really talented artists. Shane Cummings does some top-notch yeoman’s service, and I would be remiss to not mention Nick Bradshaw’s brilliant comic strip and cover art. Probably my favourite is the full-page classroom setting with a single Skelebot overlooking Dog Boys at their student desks, the teacher with a pistol handy on her desk.
There is a lot in here for GMs to dig into, and certainly no small amount of information for players as well. It is somewhat limited in scope and scale of impact – I mean, it **is** a Coalition States’ region based book. At the end of things, the book is bogged down by the frustratingly convoluted O.C.C. Section, getting what I would consider a weak 7/10; this could have been a very strong 8/10, perhaps even a good 9/10. Overall it’s an interesting and fun read, a great addition to any CS-based campaign with some great world building. I think that as a PC, Manhunters can be absolutely fantastic characters; they remain ‘untagged’ Psychics, making excellent moles and spies supporting myriad campaign or adventure ideas a GM can exploit from this book.
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