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Tabletop Game / SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists

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SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists is a Cyberpunk tabletop role-playing game about ethical insurgency against a fascist regime, taking place in a dystopian vision of 1980's America.

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.

This game contains examples of:

  • Alternate History: The game takes place in a version of the 1980s that resulted from McCarthyism catching on in a big way. Also, cyborgs.
  • Author Tract: Hooo boy yes. The game is explicitly meant to teach the lesson that violent insurrection is a completely understandable and permissible reaction to an authoritarian government, while strongly hinting that contemporary America has or is heading for precisely such a government. This results in the text occasionally have to twist itself into a knot to assure us that the Regime is 100% completely evil and never ever does anything good, even by mistake.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The Regime is bad! The Regime is baaaaaad! Did I mention how bad the Regime was? Because it's bad. That said, the Resistance isn't perfect, and some unpleasant moral compromises are necessary to overthrow the Regime.
  • Black Shirt: Regime loyalists in general. They support the Regime because the Regime punishes the enemies of "Real America", and couldn't give a rat's ass about the evil that they are doing; for quite a lot of them, what the Regime is doing is what they want to happen — to many loyalists, the America that the Regime rules is what utopia looks like, what "Real America" looks like; and the Regime is giving them the country that they have demanded for decades.
  • By the Power of Grayskull!: Receivers always have a few special tricks available, but they only get access to their most impressive powers when they are within reach of a Signal broadcast.
  • Can't Stop The Signal: The Signal is an unusually direct example, but the game also mentions more mundane examples of hijacking the airwaves to counteract Regime propaganda.
  • Defector from Decadence: Each of the four main Resistance factions represent a group of people whose ideals and interests the Regime claims to support but in reality doesn't give a rat's ass about: American patriots (the Old Men), the working class (the Party), the Christian religion (the Faith), and the entrepreneurs and captains of industry (the Makers).
  • Dystopia: The 80s America of this game has been taken over by homegrown fascism, but is meant to draw parallels to America under Donald Trump, who was President when the game was released. The police and the military have been consolidated into one body called the "Freedom Fist" that enforces a nationalistic and oppressive rule across America. Women and minorities racial, sexual and otherwise are subjected to serious oppression by the Regime and its supporters, and immigrants are hauled into internment camps for daring to outstay their welcome. The media are controlled, and all forms of communication are used to try to catch would-be resisters; the only hope the five groups that make up the resistance have is The Signal, which gives those that have been attuned to it the power to fight back against the Freedom Fist and the Regime.
  • Eagle Land: The game has a lot of things to say about America, none of them flattering. Some of them are part of the alt-history version of America in the game, but others explicitly apply to the country's entire history, including using Manifest Destiny as an example of how Americans are anything but immune to fascist and genocidal thought.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The Cold War is this, since America is nearly as totalitarian as the Soviet Union. The biggest problem of the otherwise-sympathetic Party is that a lot of them refuse to believe that the Soviets aren't the good guys.
  • Faceless Goons: Members of the Freedom Fist wear skull masks when on duty.
  • Flawless Token: Played with. There's an optional rule to make a minority voice (a woman speaking to a group of men, a black person to a group of white people, etc) have potentially more impact, since it stands out more. However, this rule also makes failure in such a situation carry harsher consequences. The point being made is, if you're a token, you have to be flawless, because you Can't Get Away with Nuthin'.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: One possible outcome. If the faction who performs the Great Betrayal wins, it will form a new Regime every bit as oppressive as the first.
  • The Fundamentalist: The dark side of the Faith. Notably, the Regime is not this; it considers religion a useful tool, but any televangelist who gets the idea of putting God before state is going to fall out of its favour in a hurry.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: The Regime, needless to say. Also the Old Men to some extent.
  • Hero Killer: Jammers are Receivers who have been brainwashed by the Regime into serving it. They are sent in as a final measure when the fight is really going against the Regime.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: One of the Regime's unappealing aspects is that it persecutes homosexuals under the pretense that they are a security risk, since Communists might compromise them by threatening to reveal their orientation, which they would turn traitor to avoid, since if their orientation was revealed it would get them persecuted by the Regime. The Faith also tends towards this on a bad day.
  • Honest Corporate Executive: The Makers are a small cabal of ultra-rich people who want a return to actual laissez faire capitalism instead of the Regime's kleptocracy and cronyism, and who fund the Resistance to make that happen.
  • Inherent in the System: Some people within the Regime is hoping to reform it, but this is explicitly stated to be impossible; the Regime's various institutions are so hopelessly corrupt that they can't be saved.
  • La Résistance: The Resistance, natch.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Despite them technically being a heroic faction, the text heaps searing contempt on the Makers' claim to be "wealth-creators" or "self-made men."
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: A variation. The Makers are certainly in it for the revolution, but they're not in it for any particular revolution. They will happily support the Party, the Faith or the Old Men, confident that when the dust settles, money will still talk.
  • Oppressive States of America: 1986 America is far from being the land of the free. It is a democracy in name only, and while there are still elections and things like the Bill of Rights and such, the Regime has a stranglehold on control of the media and strongly dominates all branches of government, and enforcement of rights is significantly lopsided with a very strong bias against women, minorities and other groups the Regime and its loyalists hate, who find that there are all kinds of ways to criminalize them or otherwise render the rights that they're supposed to have moot. The Regime's loyalists certainly aren't going to do anything to stop all this or wake up to the evil it is doing because their belief in the close-minded lie of "Real America" means that what the Regime is doing is what they want.
  • Pragmatic Hero: The basis for ethical insurgency. Doing things like targeting civilians and torturing captives makes the wider public and the international community see you as a bunch of deranged terrorists, and that causes them to support the government you're trying to overthrow. Since you can't fight the whole world, you need to come across as the good guys.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: A lot of the Regime's minions are really just in it for the paycheck. That's good news for the Resistance, since it means that they'll happily take a bribe if offered one.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized : The factions of the Resistance bands together when the Regime is threatening all of their survival, but the closer they get to victory the more each of them starts thinking about how to ensure that its vision for a post-Regime America becomes the dominant one. Conversely, when the fight is going too badly it makes Resistance fighters more likely to throw all morals out the window in their desperation.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The Resistance is completely justified and heroic, as the book never gets tired of informing us. Individual factions and people within the Resistance may be a little more complicated, though.
  • Role-Playing Endgame: The Resistance getting close to victory triggers the Great Betrayal - one of the four Resistance factions destroys one of the others and joins with the remains of the Regime in the hopes of setting up a new dictatorship with themselves in charge. The remaining two factions band together and there is a final battle over the fate of America.
  • Shout-Out: The game's subtitle is one to Woody Guthrie's guitar sticker.
  • Stupid Evil: The Regime's grassroot loyalists are explicitly said to know that the Regime is bad for them, but to continue supporting it anyway because it's even worse to women and minorities and other "enemies" of "Real America".
  • Take That!: A lot of aspects of the Regime and its supporters are very thinly veiled references to Trumpism.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Deconstructed. The game states that America loves to make fun of Nazis, but somehow that doesn't make the Nazis go away. In fact, despite the Regime using them as a convenient scapegoat, they are also the only group of its loyalists that it has given absolutely everything they wanted.
  • Torture Is Ineffective: The book goes on a whole rant about it and further claims that it's not even meant to be efficient but only to destroy the humanity of both the torturer and the tortured.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The libertarian Old Men, the socialist Party, the religious Faith and the capitalist Makers barely agree on anything beyond "we gotta get rid of the Regime." However, each brings something absolutely essential to the fight, so they have no choice but to get along... for now.