Monday, December 21, 2020

(Trinity 1e)Darkness Revealed 3: Ascent Into Light

I have to open this post with a correction. In my review of Stellar Frontier, I assumed that I was the only one to notice the unfortunate confluence of imagery between how the Psi Orders wanted to treat the Upeo wa Macho and historical African slavery. Turns out that White Wolf noticed too, enough to put a sidebar into this book, where the plot is introduced. They just decided that since the motivation wasn't racial, and because the Upeo recruited from all nations, that it was okay to include, so long as it was handled with sensitivity (they even predicted my complaint about the awkwardness of making Cassel a mastermind, albeit by pointing out that Cassel, especially, wasn't concerned "with who the Upeo were, but with what they could do").

Umm . . . Geez, I always feel like such an imposter when I have to untangle these sort of complicated representation issues. One time, with The Orphan's Survival Guide's weird crack about bisexuality, was I able to talk with anything approaching a position of real experience. This . . . ?

I guess my original guess that this was all a bit of well-meaning 90s colorblindness was pretty close to the truth. Except . . . they knew how it looked. I mean, slavery is an odious part of the human condition, but it has never not existed, so it's not wrong to put it your fantasy and science fiction, not inherently. Shitty people with power are always going to hate paying wages and allowing their workers to quit, so it's an easy sort of villainy to understand. And in a story with heroes, the villains have to be doing something to warrant a response.

However, this evokes a very specific real world atrocity, one that even today many people refuse to condemn or address, and it's obvious enough about it that it merited a sidebar in 1998, so I guess, in my position as self-appointed, half-assed judge of the historical context of problematic rpg content, I have to call a foul ball on this one.

Though there is a dark humor here. It reminds me of the episode of The Magicians where Penny is enslaved by the Library, and the white Librarian reassures him "we shackle people of all races and colors here." A slaver desperate to distance himself from the racial implications - "I only wanted to enslave you for your abilities," like no shit. That's where all slavery begins. The Europeans invented whiteness and blackness to try and justify it to themselves.

On a related, but tangential, note, I did not buy the "Theme" section's framing of the issue. "The Upeo wa Macho made a bad moral choice (and indirectly helped kill millions) by valuing personal freedom over their duty to help other psions get to the Esperanza (although Proxy Atwan had every reason to suspect it was a trap)."

This is why I hate trolley problems. That statement was way too strong. I think you could argue that the Upeo's decision was an error, in the sense that the worst case scenario for them staying was still less damaging than what actually happened when they, but they had no way of knowing what was going to happen, and from their perspective the likely consequence of them staying was much, much worse than the likely consequence of them fleeing, and it's not their fault that an unlikely event happened at almost the exact same time. Ten people escape slavery, and by coincidence on the very same night there's a fire that kills 100 innocents, a fire that the escapees could have extinguished if they aborted their escape and diverted across town to assist the sheriff that would have been tasked with hunting them down.

The Upeo made the best possible decision, given their situation. The blame, in both situations, lies with the slavers.

But between this and the Huang-Marr coverup, Trinity seems really determined to let Cassel get away with everything.

Oh, right, there was an adventure that we were supposed to discuss. The weird thing about Ascent Into Light is that it's about stopping an alien invasion, but it's set against the backdrop of the UN's hearings on the Huang Marr conspiracy. In the first half, Aeon sends the PCs to another star system to prevent them from testifying in open court (don't worry, Aeon's counsel has prepared a statement on their behalf). In the second half, the PCs have to bust in to UN headquarters to completely derail the proceedings with news of an imminent Chromatic invasion

But don't worry, guys, the psi orders make it through with their reputations intact.

That's been the creepiest part of the Darkness Revealed series so far, all three books of it. This repeated theme of "won't someone think of the reputations of these abusers."

It's weird that in a story with fanatical alien warriors and beings of pure psionic energy who possess and manipulate human beings for sinister purposes, that Aeon feels like the biggest villain of all.

Not even kidding. A major turn in the second chapter comes when the Aeon representative meets with the PCs and an Upeo agent who decides to break the boycott to warn Earth about the aliens. The Aeon rep uses a covert psionic dampener to prevent her from teleporting away . . . which is exactly what the Upeo were afraid was going to happen, and thus completely justifying their decision to flee.

I think you can build an interesting story out of the Darkness Revealed books, but you're going to have to dig into their guts and assemble your own theme. Sometimes, Trinity wanted to be a bright and hopeful superhero game and other times it wanted to be a dark and grim game of dueling conspiracies, and maybe it's okay for an rpg to be that versatile, but once you start getting into specifics, like with this adventure, it gets muddled. There were times when I felt like it was expecting me to interpret the cynical "we must commit these crimes for the greater good" aspects as if they were a morally uncomplicated superhero plot. Aeon is the bad guy here, and they are called out as such, but they survive with their reputation unscathed, and that's presented as a victory.

Then again, Proteus (one of the three arms of the Aeon Trinity) is headquartered out of an underwater base, so maybe that should have tipped me off that "Aeon is not exactly the kindling organization it presents itself to be."

Ukss Contribution: I liked Ravit Simon, the clairvoyant space pilot. She's just a backup character, in case there's no PC who can fly the ship, but she's pretty cool.

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