Monday, April 6, 2020

Aberrant Storytellers Screen

The Aberrant Storytellers Screen makes the curious choice to have the first published Aberrant adventure be an espionage thriller in which the players must travel to Ibiza, Marrakesh, and Monte Carlo on the trail of a beautiful ingenue who is using her invisibility powers to keep one step ahead of a shapeshifting assassin out to silence her before she can reveal a cache of documents containing compromising information on a global conspiracy.

It's a fine story in its own right, but probably a bit below the PCs paygrade. I mean, there are builds out there that would work well here, but they're not generally the sort that are attractive to players out to experience a superhero rpg. Black Widow and Hawkeye have plenty to do on this mission, but the rest of the Avengers are probably going to have to sit this one out.

But more questionable than the scale is the tone. They are coming right out of the gate with the "trust no one" feel. There's a narrow band of "well-behaved rebels" that the adventure treats as trustworthy. The Aberrants (Project Utopia skeptics and conspiracy theorists) are okay. And Count Orzaiz (the aristocratic playboy and one of the top three handsomest Terragen) is a pretty cool guy. But if you work directly for Project Utopia, no one will talk to you, and if you work for Proteus (the shadowy black-ops conspiracy that hides inside Utopia), everyone seems to sense it somehow.

Ultimately, the lesson here is that no level of cynicism is ever unjustified. But if you don't mind the genre, the adventure is fine.

In addition to the adventure, the Aberrant Storytellers Screen also features some expanded setting information. Specifically, it covers the prominent corporations in the Aberrant universe and the way that the world's religions reacted to the emergence of novas.

The corporate stuff was good. I'm pretty sure that if Microsoft merged with Viacom, industrial espionage would be the least of our problems, but it's a good plot hook. Utopia offshoot, Novation, that specializes in monetizing novas in the form of comics, toys, and cartoons is also a great addition. It probably won't feature as part of an adventure, but it's a fun bit of background texture to torment your PCs with . . .or, perhaps, reward them, if they're that vain . . . oh, wait - adventure pitch inspired by the in-setting success of the Andre Corbin doll (boys like that he's a sports star, girls like that he's handsome, irony-poisoned college kids like that he starred in a porno): the PCs' action figures start to outsell those of Cestus Pax. . . good luck with that.

Like I said, fun.

The religious stuff . . . what's the mid-point between "meh" and "yikes?"

Basically, there are three general schools of thought as to how a religion might react to the emergence of novas - they represent some blessed power and are therefor sacred; they are demons/monsters meant to task the faithful; they are basically human beings, perhaps with challenges and opportunities beyond those of baselines, but not something the faith is unprepared to handle.

That's all fine, as far as it goes. And I think that some of the more picayune theological details ("what, exactly, is the difference between a superhero and a saint") might even be appealing to the right sort of nerd. But the material in this book seems to imply that differences in opinion will break down along existing denominational lines ("Sunnis embrace novas, shi'ites think they're demons"), and that leads to unfortunate religious stereotyping. Official Catholic doctrine is that novas are human, but there's a sinister conspiracy of cardinals that stand ready to assassinate the Pope and replace him with someone more anti-nova. Israeli Jewish novas are all recruited to a secretive black-ops team. In India, novas are worshiped as avatars of the gods.

Nuance is the name of the game, people. None of these plotlines would be a problem if the religions weren't presented in such a monolithic fashion. I doubt I'd use any of them in a game, though.

Overall, I thought this was a fairly decent supplement. Not essential, but nice to have. The shapeshifting Proteus assassin, Chiraben, would make for a great recurring villain, even if the book dramatically under-sells what he's capable of. The Queer Nova Alliance makes its first appearance, and while there is some unfortunate 90s ignorance (an NPC refers to Andy Vance with the big slur and the book itself can't decide whether he has a "husband," a "partner," or a "lover"), it's still vague enough to be a fun example of inclusion, instead of the mess it was in the Players Guide. And the genre stuff is undeniably part of the game's DNA, even if it's not what I would have led with.

Ukss Contribution: Oh, it's finally happened. I have to use something from the contemporary world. I'll probably futz around with the name, like I did with Sparta, but the real star of this adventure was none other than Monte Carlo. There's just something about setting a high-stakes espionage mission in this famously aristocratic city that just feels right.


  1. I feel like the actual result, should superheroes arise, is for every religion to schism as they factionalize around the various options on how to rationalize the event.


    1. You're probably right. Aberrant is just a little too neat in the way it assumes that disagreements will follow existing schisms.