Wednesday, February 26, 2020

(M:tAs) Void Engineers

Void Engineers has a problem. The people it's about are bold, charismatic adventurers . . . who just so happen to be the heralds of genocide.

It kind of deals with it. Well, it dances around the issue. "None of the explorers - not the serious ones, anyway - wanted anything to do with the bloodbaths that sometimes occurred." Which is a . . . nice sentiment, but maybe one that seeks to downplay the Void Engineers' culpability in the atrocities of colonialism. The book acknowledges that European explorers largely "discovered" places that were already inhabited, but then doesn't really do anything with that information. The Void Engineers keep finding places, and then shortly thereafter, those places keep getting ground under the boot of a ruthless imperialism, but it's a weird coincidence. Just because a bad consequence has happened with clockwork regularity every time you've done something in the past doesn't mean that it's guaranteed to happen again in the future.

The only reason this is really a problem, though, is because Void Engineers is the first Technocracy book to treat its subject as largely sympathetic. The Void Engineers' claim that they're out there protecting humanity from monsters out of the spirit world is at least taken seriously, even if it's not enthusiastically ratified by the text. They're also given a few other signifiers to indicate that they're okay by Mage: the Ascension's whimsical standard of ethics - they have a "research and execution" department, because the dry minutiae of "development" is just a bummer, they dislike the Syndicate and the NWO, presumably because they wear suits, and some of their exploration teams even run on a democratic basis.

This all probably ties back in to the idea from the 1e core, that the Void Engineers were on the verge of defecting. I'm certain that this was a decision ultimately driven by aesthetics, but I can't say that I blame them.

"In our upcoming urban fantasy game, we have a faction of mages that uses their powers to become sci-fi space adventurers, flying around in giant spaceships, fighting aliens and exploring the universe."


"They're the villains."


Void Engineers winds up trying to have it both ways. The Void Engineers are the cool, casual, reasonable Technocrats, able to at least acknowledge the humanity of the Traditions, but they're also violent xenophobes who turn over sentient aliens to be experimented on by the Progenitors. In the end, the big plot twist is that they might indeed defect . . . to the Nephandi (dark mages who want to destroy all creation).

It's not really an earned payoff, and feels evil for the sake of evil, but you could make something of it. Earlier Technocracy material has the other Conventions "worried" about the Void Engineers traipsing around the universe unsupervised, and it always felt like they were including those bits to show that Technocrats had a huge stick up their ass and just hated space exploration. But if it's a legitimate worry, that voices in the void might whisper to isolated explorer teams, luring them away from their old allegiances with the promise of forbidden knowledge, then that changes things.

I think the problem with the Void Engineers is that the interpretation of the Technocracy as "the fun police" has driven so much of their presentation so far. Time and time again, mage books will imply that the great crime of the Technocracy is that they're boring, and that they want to make reality as boring as they are by suppressing all the cool, fun Tradition mages. So when you have a faction of the Technocracy that is decidedly not boring, who in fact embodies the most exciting facet of real science, then you've got a piece that doesn't fit. They'll more or less have to defect eventually. Maybe to the Traditions. Maybe to their own new faction. But probably not to the Nephandi.

If they'd wanted to make that plot point work, they should have put more emphasis on the horror of colonialism. A technologically advanced force appears out of nowhere, tears apart your society, and when they rearrange it, they put you at the bottom and themselves at the top. You and everyone you know are helpless before this injustice, and in time, even your history will fade away, replaced by fictions that serve the interest of the conquerors.

It could work. Overworked space explores, constantly tempted by dark entities, determined to turn the whole universe to humanity's service, but so authoritarian and venal that they're in permanent danger of succumbing to corruption. But then, you'd have wound up reinventing WH40K in the Mage: the Ascension universe.

Wait . . . The Void Engineers employ a group of non-mage acolytes they call "space marines" . . .

Nah, probably a coincidence.

Ukss Contribution: According to the Void Engineers, the Deep Ocean is almost as strange as the spirit world, and houses all sorts of lost civilizations and terrifying magic beasts. I could probably do something with that.

No comments:

Post a Comment