Written by Jack Yeovil (Kim Newman) and published by Games Workshop in 1990, Demon Download is the first book in a quartet and continues the story that began in Route 666 anthology. Going into the book I thought it would star Sgt. Quincannon from Route 666, but it’s actually centered around other members of the US Road Cavalry. Well, actually the main character is a nun named Sister Chantal who I kept envisioning looked like a more well dressed Aeon Flux.
Anyway, Elder Seth is back and this time one of his acolytes is carrying around a demon in his gut that he uploads into Slim’s Gas ‘N’ BBQ, some gas station out in sandside (the desert wasteland). From there this creature possesses an interceptor, which it uses to drive to a hub in a rundown church in Welcome, Arizona..a well connected hub hosted by the Catholic Church. Much ensues in Welcome as the local priest, Father O’Pray, attempts to keep the possessed vehicle at bay. Unfortunately, the beast jacks into the hub and takes over the Fort Apache US Road Cavalry facility on its way to its objective in El Paso. If it can make El Paso all chaos will break loose between what’s functioning of the US of A and the countries of South and Central America. Sister Chantal and Trooper Nathan Stack attempt to thwart the demon before it gets out of Fort Apache.
I’m not sure how much background Newman was given on the setting, or perhaps how much leeway he was allowed, because there’s a slight difference in tone between the novels and the fluff in the Dark Future rulebook as I read it. Where the rulebook focuses on the ‘state of the world’ and has fun adverts from megacorps of dystopia 1995, Newman’s tale is centered around cultists, demons, and those fighting to keep them at bay. Very much a post-apocalyptic Warhammer Old World fighting against chaos rather than Mad Max versus the Humongous. The ‘Dark Future’ title font isn’t even the same between the novels and game components. Not sure how this happened. Maybe GW wanted these tales to be more widely read and not just seen as game literature?
I’m not saying this tale couldn’t, or shouldn’t, take place in Dark Future, it’s just not what I was expecting. Sanctioned Ops, road gangs, etc are mentioned but more as dressing in the background. We do get mentions of Nurgle and Khorne though…
Another bit of disconnect is looking at the governing law enforcement. The GW police minis by Alan Perry have a sort of 1940s retro vibe. The US Road Cavalry in Demon Download look like they belong on horseback defending the western frontier. I like how Newman has them up like this as they are essentially defending the wasted frontier, but again, it’s just a bit different than the aesthetic of the game pieces.
This all makes sense when reading Graeme Davis’ recollection on Dark Future. It seems it was an rpg setting developed by Jervis Johnson and Marc Gascoigne bolted onto a game of road combat that Richard Halliwell had put together.
No matter though, its a great read. We learn a lot more interesting tidbits about the world, but interestingly not a lot on how it came to be. It’s almost as if the world as we know it went a bit off the rails decades ago, say the 1960s, rather than just taking a hard turn in the 90s. Newman incorporates lots of pop culture references but with a twist and these are fun to spot. There is a bit with a horseman helping out Stack while stranded in the desert. I couldn’t make out who he was supposed to be though…Eastwood’s Man with No Name?
I know this book was later republished in the 00s and I think the timeline was then advanced a bit, so maybe instead of 1999 it takes place in 2023 or something? I’m not sure. I also have no idea if Newman updated any of the pop references in the latter edition, if some GW ghostwriter did, or if there were no changes at all.
How will this impact my return to the Dark Future game? I do like the chaos tint so will likely incorporate a little of that in some future scenarios. Forces of chaos are definitely the big antagonist of GW’s settings, so it wouldn’t be out of place here. Again, I’ll probably not go overboard. I’ll also likely update the timeline and look of the US Road Cavalry compared to the General Custer look of these guys. Maybe a bit more armored a la Judge Dredd. Or maybe use the colonial marines from Stan Johansen. Demon Download includes some battle droids employed by the US Road Cavalry. These droids are golden and nicknamed ‘Oscars’…from the trophy. I do like this and will see I can find some decent ones at 20mm scale when I hunt down infantry for this game in a few months.
Finally, the book sleeve fancies the tale as ‘Arcane cybergoth fiction set in the nightmare world of the near future’. I knew cybergoth was a subculture, but I don’t think it’s related to this book series. Well, I doubt it sprang from here. Despite my initial setting confusion, this was a fun tale and am looking forward to continuing the story of Sister Chantel and Trooper Stack…though if the mortality rate of characters in this book is any indication…they may not be long in the next one…