Monday, September 2, 2019

America Offline: Psi Order Orgotek & FSA Sourcebook

I could write a whole, rambling post about what this book gets wrong about fascism. I was preparing to. Even before I finished reading, I was marshaling my arguments, working out different lines of reasoning, historical evidence, and really cutting Trump jokes. But the more I thought about it, the more I was confronted with an undeniable truth - I really don't want to play an rpg that gets fascism right.

Trinity supposes a world where the United States of America gets so battered in its war with rogue superheroes that it abandons the principles of democracy and becomes an authoritarian state rife with corruption and crony capitalism. It's part of a smart and subtle thing it does where different physical locations in the setting are associated with different sub-genres of science fiction. If you're playing a Trinity game set in North America, then you're going to focus on cyberpunk tropes and themes.

Therefor arcologies. Therefor ubiquitous surveillance, militarized (yet corrupt) security, extreme stratification of rich and poor, and a government completely subverted by corporations. You can use your psychic powers and outlaw technology to stick it to The Man! But it's a theme park version of fascism. It's all very safe and anodyne.

If I'd started the blog in 2015, I'd probably be commenting about how the Federated States of America doesn't really feel like a true successor state to the USA. How it doesn't quite catch our cultural quirks and present a version of fascism with an American character. But I'd probably also concede that if your goal is cyberpunk USA, with overt fascism replacing the constitution, then there's no way that would have felt organic. I'd have probably made some snarky comment about how it would require a series of bizarre and improbable events (even more so than a tainted mutant poisoning the corn belt), of the sort that would make your worldbuilding seem ludicrously half-assed, for the USA to ever become a true dictatorship. Then I'd have laughed.

I'm not laughing now.

America Offline: Psi Order Orgotek & FSA Sourcebook is not hauntingly prescient. There's very little familiar about its version of a tyrannical, militaristic America. It presents a kind of straw fascism. Its cardboard cutout villains use excessive force and tell people what to do, but they lack the smug, bullheaded petty evil of real fascists. There are no concentration camps. "Federated States policy formally condemns racism as being economically unproductive."

In the 90s, people used the term "Nazi" as a kind of generic insult for those who were overly strict and inflexible. The FSA is that kind of Nazi regime.

It's really the book's best quality.

Also, how weird is it that the most heroic figure in the book is a tech CEO? Alex Cassel was given psychic powers by aliens and he used them to found a corporation, but the corporation is largely good. Gives fair pay and benefits. Opposes the fascist FSA. Only occasionally assassinates people with its "deniable" black ops team. Maybe I'm just getting cynical in my old age, but I'm finding it harder to believe than all the science fiction.

UKSS Contribution: I'm going to cheat a bit here. I'm picking something that popped up a couple of times in this book, but which only gets fleshed out in the others (mostly the core, but with bits and pieces of information elsewhere). I think it counts, though, because canonically Orgotek is responsible for them - the Jump Ships.

It's such an interesting bit of technology. In the Trinity universe, FTL is always the product of psychic or Aberrant powers (there's one species that may have tech-based FTL, but I think that was retconned out). Because of this, when the teleporters disappeared, they couldn't just build a regular starship to replace them. The solution was to genetically engineer a psychically active creature that could create its own teleportation effect.

The tessers are described as "puppy-like" in their intellect, which just strikes me as adorable. The big ol' spaceship's engine/navigational computer/onboard synthetic cthulhu just wants to please its friend/pilot. A very humane and empathetic way of approaching the problem of space travel.

No comments:

Post a Comment