Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Luna Rising: Psi Order ISRA & Luna Sourcebook

This book is sooo 90s. I'm eventually going to make the argument that Mage: the Ascension is the most 90s rpg imaginable, but this book here is pretty darned close. I suppose it's something that could be said of Trinity as a whole, but even so Luna Rising is where the game line's 90s tendencies are given their fullest license to run wild.

What does this mean, exactly? Well, it's not just one thing, it's a lot of little things. One of the bioapps is described as a "zip-drive for the brain," which was an analogy that was helpful for, like, a minute. More significant is its approach to inclusiveness. I don't want to make this a thing, because it was really quite good for 1998 (and, hell, good for 2019 - it would definitely piss off gamergate if it was made today), but also sort of mired in the decade's low level background insensitivity.

For example, one of the profiled NPCs is an activist fighting for the rights of people with a common Moon-induced disability. He's presented in a very positive light, and is quite unambiguously a heroic figure (which relates to another 90's-ism - a lot of shadowy conspiracies and people not being what they seem in this book), but then the last sentence of his write-up is  "Dante Miller is a charismatic social figure, despite his frequent confinement to a wheelchair." They were so close to getting it right, but that word, "despite," it's rough.

I'm inclined to cut Luna Rising some slack there, though, because I just saw what full-on 90s obliviousness looks like in The Complete Barbarian's Handbook, and this isn't even close. It really does seem like they were trying their best. There's even what we would today call a gender-non-binary character, who is handled with relative grace. There's a thing about her description that's kind of a trope among LGTBQ-friendly people of my generation, where she's just too fabulous to be confined to one gender (and I'll admit, it's a blindspot, even to me, today), but if you can accept that it's a very particular late-90s brand of woke, she's a pretty good sample NPC.

But the single most 90s thing about this book is something so subtle and ubiquitous in the background that I'm not even sure it was a conscious artistic choice. Basically, the premise of Luna Rising is that in the future, we are going to export capitalism to the Moon, and it will mostly work out okay.

I don't want to get all Marxist, hoist-the-red-flag, here and go on about how capitalists will surely fuck up the Moon, just like they fucked up the Earth. That's not the point I'm trying to make. Rather, the triumph of Moon-capitalism is conspicuous in how the book just treats it as a matter-of-fact. Of course there are going to be corporations and class stratification on the Moon. The conspicuous consumption of the rich and the criminal tendencies of the poor are just how human nature works.

It's not necessarily an endorsement of the capitalist system. You've got corporations performing dangerous and unethical science experiments and the richest of the rich subverting the justice system. And I've got a strong feeling that at least one of the writers was an outright Marxist (I don't think the sentence "Lenin's legacy of state capitalism is essentially dead on Earth," could have been written by anybody but a 90s leftist). Yet there's a peculiar resignation here. There was a feeling, characteristic of the elder Bush and Clinton administrations, that geopolitics was a solved problem. That the trajectory of the human race was towards a sort of homogenous liberal capitalism that would lead to increasing regional and global cooperation and a blurring of national borders. This historical paradigm is bone-deep in Trinity (the core has a background called Citizenship, which lets you be a legal citizen of up to 6 countries), but it's especially prevalent here on the Moon.

Various nations of Earth established Lunar colonies over the past century (90s alert: the Russian colony is called Yeltsingrad) and while they are independently governed, they've all signed on to a Lunar Unity Agreement that ensures they are able to cooperate on certain important matters. What, specifically, you might ask. Oh, you know, law enforcement, extradition, disaster relief, and, of course, a unified currency based on the . . . ahem . . . platinum standard (I'm sorry, that plot point will never stop being funny to me). Basically they cover all the bases of the turn of the century "political consensus." The only settlements not to sign on are shady corporations, disorganized squatters, and . . . ugh . . . libertarians.

In the end, the weirdest thing about Luna Rising's vision of the moon is how utterly not weird it is. It's basically just cities in space. The most alien thing about it to a 21st century American is the efficiency of its public transportation. There are mutants and aliens and psychics and the occasional threat of explosive decompression, but mostly it's the sort of place where you tell the same kind of stories as any earthbound city.

I think that's probably to the game's credit, though. As I mentioned in my Technology Manual post, Trinity is not a game where you spend a lot of time trying to emulate thoughtful, idea-laden literary sci-fi. This is a game optimized for playing an amped-up version of Total Recall, and the moon is the perfect setting for that.

From a world-building perspective, I'd question the choice to make the Moon's largest city, Olympus, into a place where you've got space bankers living in elegant towers inside a giant glass dome, and then to have the poor live in crime-ridden neighborhoods with really on-the-nose names like "Underworld" and "the Pit." There are some pretty baked-in ideological assumptions going on with that kind of setup. However, from a game standpoint, it makes sense. Sometimes you have a game where people go to fancy cocktail parties to have arch conversations about politics, and you need a place for that to happen. And sometimes you have a game where psychic vigilantes have shootouts with space-gangsters, and you also need a place for that to happen. Trinity's version of Luna is a place that can fit in both scenarios. As a backdrop for sci-fi-action and/or political thrillers, it works.

But let's move on from a contentious subject like politics and into something a bit less fraught, like . . . um . . . religion (dammit).

Psi order ISRA isn't really a religion, not even a whimsical sci-fi religion, but its leader is a very religious man, and thus his faith has a strong influence on the group as a whole, and thus it becomes something worth talking about.

Only problem is, I know basically nothing about the Baha'i Faith. I first learned of its existence back in '02 or so, when I read the Trinity core book for the first time. I haven't really learned anything more about it in the subsequent years, but reading Luna Rising this time, I had an intuition that the term "Messianic Baha'i" might be Not Okay. So I did a little research, and, well, I'll just link to an actual Baha'i's thoughts on the subject. It pretty much tracks with my suspicions - Otha Herzog is a pretty cool guy, but theologically, the Baha'i Faith of Trinity is on shaky ground (but please, don't take my word for it, I'm almost completely ignorant on this subject). Also, the Arabic was butchered, but that's just par for the course.

I'm hoping this is something that gets improved in 2nd edition, because otherwise ISRA really is one of my favorite factions, not just in Trinity, but generally. They're a group that has a general goal of helping humanity, but which takes a really laid-back approach to advancing their agenda. They don't really have a hierarchy, but rather members just take it upon themselves to follow-up on any plot hooks that interest them and their leader is a guy who rarely gives orders, but will often pop in unannounced to introduce cryptic prophecies and is so personally inscrutable that you can pretty much attribute whatever happens to his mysterious plans. It's like they were custom built to make things easy for the GM.

Anyway, overall I really like this book. I think it suffers a bit from the fact that we've had some absolutely brilliant Solar System-focused sci-fi rpgs in the 20 years since this was published (a couple of which are on my list for later), and if it never reaches the heights of Transhuman Space, it does have the advantage of being in an adventure-filled pulp-sci-fi world that never lacks for things to do.

UKSS Contribution: This is tough, because I already picked ISRA as a whole as my contribution from Trinity, and they were the best part of this book as well. I guess the runners up would be the Vacuum Emergency Response teams. They're like action space plumbers. Most of the time, they run around fixing leaks in the Moon's life support systems, but sometimes those leaks are caused by invading mutants and they have to throw down. They're the only non-military group on Luna authorized to use heavy weapons. Yeah, Mario is cool, but he never had a portable rail gun.

No comments:

Post a Comment