Saturday, December 26, 2020

(Trinity 1e)Alien Encounter: Invasion

 Alien Encounter: Invasion is, unsurprisingly, an rpg adventure about an alien invasion. But this time, the humans are the aliens and they're the ones doing the invading. The book doesn't have quite as much fun with the inversion as I might have liked, but it is, nonetheless, a pretty interesting story.

The planet being invaded belongs to the Chromatics, a species who, until the past 20 years or so, had a culture and technology are meant to evoke humanity's distant past. Shortly before Trinity's start date, they were technologically uplifted by the Doyen (the series' resident jerks) who wished to exploit their naivete and powerful innate psionic abilities to create an army of fanatics to attack and destroy the human race.

The rough sequence of events is that humanity captures a high-ranking Chromatic, the PCs interrogate him to learn the location of the missing teleporters, there's a quick sideplot where he's kidnapped by mercenaries, then after the PCs recover him, they take him with them to Chrome Prime for reasons that are not adequately explained. The mission to rescue the teleporters goes sideways, and the group escapes into the desert. Along the way, the PCs learn about Chromatic culture and begin to suspect there's more to the aliens than just antagonists, while the prisoner learns that not all humans are hopelessly corrupt and maybe the Gods of Light (the Doyen) were . . . misinterpreted.

In the end, the PCs get a second chance to complete their mission, if they can successfully team up with Chromatic outcasts, a move that requires freeing their captive from his psionic restraints. With their combined forces, they can take out the psionic dampener that's keeping the teleporters from escaping, but only if they can survive the Aberrants that show up at the last minute to wreck things for everybody. In the end, if there's to be any hope of peace between the species, the PCs must intervene with their superiors and ensure that the bomber squadron that comes to rescue them from Chromatic territory only attacks the Aberrants, demonstrating to these aliens that they share a common enemy and are honorable enough to hold up their part of a truce.

As an outline for a novel, the story works great. As an adventure for four to six random characters . . . it's fragile. Ultimately, it comes down to the pacing of the emotional arc. The PCs have to go from viewing the Chromatics as an implacable alien foe to respecting them as a people and as individuals, and they've got to hit the right beats at the right time. It's easy to imagine a group that remains prejudiced up until the very end, wrecking any chance they had at rapprochement, but just as damaging is a group that trusts too quickly and gives Vermillion (the Chromatic captive) too much slack. He has his own arc to go through, and he's supposed to start off hostile and borderline violent. In theory, his attitude warms as the PCs' does, but the thing that worries me is that first impressions might last forever . . . or that the PCs trust him while he's still an avowed enemy, and I'd feel compelled to make them regret that trust.

It's a balance, to be sure, though maybe I'm overthinking it. Suffice to say, if you can manage to reach roughly the correct relationship milestones at roughly the correct time, the adventure will be a memorable one.

Provided, of course, that you don't get derailed by the anthropological and linguistic mystery at the start of the story. That's the other failure point I foresee - that talking to a genuine alien is so much more interesting than whatever else you might have planned (and that talking as an alien might be too interesting a roleplaying exercise for the GM). On the one hand, that's a good problem to have. On the other, it's not something you need a whole book for.

That's probably why there's a kidnapping. When in doubt, send some mooks in with guns to shake things up. It winds up being a completely pointless digression, but it's undeniably a kick in the pants when it comes to pacing.

The main question I have, after reading this book, is "where, exactly, are the Chromatics as a species." They're described as "bronze age" on several occasions, but when it comes to their culture and especially language, they seem more paleolithic. They call spaceships "high-far-rafts." They do not have verb tenses or articles, giving all their talk a real "caveman" vibe. Seeing as how classical human cultures had sophisticated astronomy, philosophy, and theology even before they started using bronze, we really should be seeing more depth to their language.

It's a tricky thing to puzzle out - what parts of this are an alien species with a totally different physiology and way of speaking (if people communicated using flashing lights, you can bet that the grammar would be different), which parts are a legitimately different path of cultural development (the Mayans had all that artistic and scientific stuff, even if they never learned metal working, so why can't aliens get it the other way around), and which parts are just White Wolf being lazy about giving us a shorthand for "primitive" people (the word "savage" is tossed around as a noun at least a couple of times, though never in a way that gave me the impression the book approved)?

All-in-all, I liked Alien Encounter: Invasion. My gut instinct is that the way to play it is as an inversion of a 50s B-movie about aliens who come to Earth only to learn that it's possible to coexist in peace after befriending a plucky teenager, but even without the genre twist, it's a good expansion to the Trinity Universe's setting.

Though, I was floored by the part about the Lunar crime boss, who was known only as "The President" being really into US Presidents, even to the degree that she calls her advisors "the Cabinet," decorates in a red-white-and-blue motif, and says things like "four score and seven years ago" for no reason. I've read almost every other Trinity book in existence, and this is the first I'm hearing about it. Maybe they decided it was unworkable to have a major antagonist also be a huge dork.

Ukss Contribution: I liked that the Bronze-age Chromatics also just randomly had hologram technology. When you can shoot a laser with your mind, why not use them to etch 3-D images into crystals?

1 comment:

  1. Aw, I like the huge dork crime boss. I even just named my kittens Chester and Arthur.