Thursday, February 20, 2020

(M:tAs) Destiny's Price

I feel so embarrassed on White Wolf's behalf right now. This book . . . it's . . . um . . . you know how sometimes an rpg book will be bad, like, say Heroes Unlimited, where it's just unskillfully made, with lots of inconsistencies and questionable ideas. But then, at other times, a book will be evil, like The Complete Barbarian's Handbook, which was just filled with open racism?

Destiny's Price was neither bad nor evil, but it came perilously close to both on multiple occasions. It's a book about "the streets" in The World of Darkness and as soon as I figure out what that means, I'll tell you.

No, that's not fair. It's pretty clear that the authors of this book had something specific in mind when they were writing it, but there's a cultural divide here that makes it look extremely silly and kind of racist in retrospect. Basically, people in the suburbs used to be terrified of the big city. Now, I don't want to front like this is a completely alien concept to me. On my last vacation, I stayed the night in San Francisco, and when my night-shift-adapted brain woke me up at 3am, I was pretty nervous about walking to my car, despite the fact that my home town has a nearly identical crime rate. So, on some level, I get it. I consume media. I've got prejudices.

But damn.

This book presents such a bleak and pessimistic view of the urban landscape that it starts to move beyond what you can attribute to the grim genre of the World of Darkness. You know, you can point out that there's a black market trade in blood, because of all the vampires lurking around, and that's one thing, but when you start throwing around terms like "psycho gangs" or "white slaves," that starts to get a little suspect. It starts to feel less like the World of Darkness and more like the Death Wish expanded universe.

Though the weirdest part of Destiny's Price is how dorky it is. Ostensibly, this should be about crime drama - stories of greed, desperation and betrayal in a world where survival is uncertain and honor is a luxury most can't afford, but the tone here is so detached and anthropological. Before the first chapter, there's a glossary, for crying out loud. Did you know that the word "hood" is derived from "neighborhood." Well, Destiny's Price will explain it to you. Also, the concept of double penetration, for some reason.

Although, that's this book all over, really. You start with middle-class suburban hyperventilating, leaven it with the occasional bit of empathy, but add in some prurient gawping at luridly described atrocities (it's . . . weird how many of this book's prostitutes are precisely 14 years old), and then be sure to gloss over any accidental insight, and that's pretty much the book's formula.

Like, this book recognizes the existence of gay sex work, and while it's pretty judgemental about sex workers in general, it's not noticeably moreso when those workers are gay, and I get the sense that this was a conscious choice. Destiny's Price was released under the Black Dog imprint, which meant that they were both free to speak frankly and obligated to be exploitative about "adult" subjects like homosexuality. Where it gets frustrating is that there is no discussion of queerness outside of sex work. Being gay just kind of gets lumped in with sex stuff and there's no understanding of why big cities might have gay subcultures. The whole framing of the gay experience is as something furtive and, if not wrong, then at least embarrassing. So you wind up with the grim spectacle of a book that is vaguely supportive of "alternative lifestyles," but still calls them "alternative lifestyles." And, I don't know, maybe it would have been more subversive and more interesting to actually engage with urban gay culture as it actually existed than to be so "dark and gritty" all the time.

I mean, I love you 90s White Wolf. You were trying, bless your hearts. But it's clear that huge swaths of your worldview are just uncritically received from the Georgia GOP and then run through a rebellious goth filter that swaps "bad" for "necessary."

Anyway, I expect that to the degree that anyone at White Wolf HQ remembers Destiny's Price at all, it's been officially decanonized. I can't say that I enjoyed this book either as a whole or in part, but it was pretty useful to dial in my expectations when it comes to classic White Wolf excess. This is pretty much what people mean when they say that the World of Darkness thrived on juvenile shock value.

Ukss Contribution: I don't take contributions from evil books, but on the whole Destiny's Price squeezes in just under the wire. Anyway, this book asserts that Chinese organized crime has been traditionally associated with magic, and while I could not find anything on the internet to back this up (aside from Shadowrun references), I do like the idea of black market sorcery in general. So Ukss will have gangs that sell access to illegal magic as their primary means of criminal income.

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