Friday, March 27, 2020


So much of Euthanatos is devoted to resolving the situation in House Helekar that I'm left with the suspicion that the aim was to reboot the Tradition in the eyes of the fandom. My understanding from reading The Book of Chantries was that Helekar's serial killers, death worshipers, and sadists were meant to be an aberration, rogues who existed so that heroic PCs could thwart their sinister schemes.

I still think that was the intent, but I wonder if perhaps Helekar being the only Euthanatos we've really seen on-screen for a significant length of time might have led to a distorted view of the Tradition as a whole.

Although, even with a maximal benefit of the doubt, the Euthanatos are a tough sell. They use their magic to identify people whose death would improve the world and then they kill them. At their best (and I use that term lightly), they are vigilante assassins, using their powers to target and remove those among the wicked that have placed themselves above the law.

At their worst? I'll let the book sum it up: "[they] had to let the weak die." It is impossible to overstate how tyrannical it is that they've appointed themselves the arbiters of life and death with no oversight or input from the people most affected by their decisions. Isn't this the sin of the Technocracy? That they believe their "noble goals" justify murder in order to bring them about? What makes the Euthanatos different?

Is it because of their religion? That they are more precise in their targets (if you don't count "renegades" like House Helekar and, you know, the Euthanatos who are just starting out and haven't quite mastered the whole "assassins of fate" thing yet)?

Really, it's just because they're the designated edgy anti-hero faction and their whole thing with the killing is meant to give them plenty of fascinating moral dilemmas to work through.

I can't help thinking about the trolley problem. It's not my favorite thought experiment. The very thing that makes it useful is also the reason it fails to really get at the essential question of ethics. It seeks to provide clarity in how we form our moral values by presenting a situation where the actor has perfect information. Yet I think the most profound benefit of moral education is the way it can prepare us for uncertainty. You see four workers on the track in front of you, do you switch tracks? You don't know what's on the other track. Most likely nothing, but if there are any workers, there are probably less than four. But if there turned out to be five or more, did you make the wrong decision?

Can you imagine the fucking hubris the Euthanatos must have, to decide that they can kill people and send them on to a newer, better incarnation?

Of course, it's possible that the Euthanatos really do know what the consequences of their actions are going to be. They've got magic. According to this book, one of the things they use their magic for is to learn who it's helpful to kill. Tvtropes calls this the "omniscient morality license". Where it gets tricky is that the Euthanatos are far from omniscient.

It all comes down to Mage: the Ascension trying to have it both ways. This book does its best to remake the Euthanatos into "the Hindu mages," (going so far as to give them the new name "Chakravanti") but it also wants to avoid making definite statements about the truth or falsity Hinduism as a religion. It's the Book of Worlds thing all over again - you can visit places that resemble any number of ideas about the afterlife, but not anywhere that is definitively the afterlife.

Mage is a game that is fundamentally about religion, but which does its best to never confront religious mystery. And so the Euthanatos kill people to advance them along the cycle of reincarnation, but they have no way to verify that what they're doing actually works.

Aside from miring them in the exact sort of moral depravity this book was trying so hard to debunk, it also makes it a pretty shitty move to cast them as particularly Hindu. Now, I will cop to the fact that I don't know a ton about Hindu beliefs, but I'm pretty sure the Euthanatos' whole deal is one of those "Holy shit! They did what?!" sort of things. Like, maybe with an overly literal reading of certain soteriological ideas, it seems logical, but in practice is the sort of reckless heresy they (rightfully) call out the militia to suppress.

As a thought experiment, I designed a Christian sub-faction of the Euthanatos called "The Sacrament of Confession," and what they do is manipulate people into asking for God's forgiveness and then, in the moments immediately after, while they're still in a state of grace, kill them, so that they are guaranteed to get into heaven.

If I tried to use those guys in a game, the reaction would surely be, "whoa, John, even as villains, that's pretty offensive." And if I then followed up with a "no, you misunderstand, they're supposed to be heroes" I'm pretty sure I'd catch a well-deserved "what the fuck is wrong with you?"

Where it gets difficult for me is that I'm not knowledgeable enough to judge whether this is an apt analogy. Or even whether it's actually that much of a problem in Indian culture to goof around with such self-evidently ridiculous heretics and include them in your fantasy rpg. Or, for that matter, whether heresy itself is that big a deal.

What I do know is that, for all that it's a good thing to base one of the Traditions out of India, the idea that exotic eastern spirituality can redeem the Euthanatos' prima facie abhorrent practices smacks to me of an unexamined Orientalism. "No, you don't understand, they're okay because Hindus have a different conception of life and death than Christians."

Although, the irony is that the Euthanatos' makeover wasn't really necessary. This is the World of Darkness we're talking about. "Killers who only kill killers," already puts them in the top 50% of supernatural factions. Wear that black trench coat and wear it with pride. You are a Tormented Assassin and you're exactly where you belong.

Overall, though, Euthanatos, as a book, mostly feels like an early preview of the Revised era. It's got that same preoccupation with anthropological detail, it makes a deliberate effort to be cross-cultural (though the Euthanatos are mostly Indian, they've also got Celtic and Greek members), and it's got an obligatory technomagic faction (the Lhaksmists, who mostly just hang around online and bait pedophiles). I've still got a lot of 2nd edition to go, so it will be interesting to see if the bulk of it is more "Book of Worlds" or "proto-revised."

Ukss Contribution: There's a pretty fun quote, "Half of white necromancy is throwing a party good enough to wake the dead." There should be a group in Ukss that throws parties for ghosts in order to achieve some benevolent aim.

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