Monday, November 15, 2021

(Earthdawn 1e) Infected

 This adventure has one serious problem - the antagonists are total dicks!

Now, normally, that wouldn't be much of an issue, except it really seems like the book expects the PCs to make friends with them. As a group, they're too powerful to confront directly, and their stated motives are noble. So, I guess the takeaway is supposed to be that fighting them would be a tragedy, and probably wouldn't work, besides.

Never mind that they are authoritarian fanatics who have imprisoned an entire village and are constantly on the verge of killing an innocent girl. The ends don't justify the means, obviously, but when you get to the "quarantined" village and they politely ask you to surrender your weapons, "an unprovoked attack also puts the players at a significant disadvantage when attempting to deal amicably with the Legion later on in the adventure."

I suppose this is a good opportunity to interrogate my own psychology here. Infected is a courier mission where a merchant hires the PC to figure out why his home town has lost contact with the outside world, and when you get there you find that a group of Horror hunters (the Grim Legion) has falsely concluded that one of the villagers has gained magical powers from being tainted by a Horror, and have decided that they won't let anybody leave until the mystery is solved. 

And every time I picture myself in a PC role in this story, I can't help but imagine the bloody havoc I'll wreak when the guard at the front gate tells me I can't complete my letter-delivery mission without surrendering myself into his power and then being held prisoner for an indefinite amount of time.

I think some of my hostility just comes from the sense of being thwarted. Obviously, in real life things thwart me all the time and I don't go on a berserk rampage. But extend that thwarting into my entertainment, into a game where I am a dashing adventurer and suddenly I feel like some essential social contract has been violated.

Though that's not entirely what's going on. The villains are also just really shady, using Horror-adjacent magic like zombies. And while normal PCs wouldn't have this information without doing some unintuitive investigation, apparently in the Earthdawn lore, zombies ("cadaver men") retain some of their consciousness and usually hate and resent the magicians who animate them. They can even communicate this displeasure with other people, in the short window between being killed and their throat decaying too much to allow for speech. Which kind of seems like a fate worse than death, especially when the only reason this person is a zombie in the first place is because you're the one who killed them.

So I'm really primed and ready for these guys to get their comeuppance. But that's unlikely to happen. It's one possible ending, certainly, but given the adventure's level recommendation, it's a sub-optimal path. The best way to resolve the plot is to exonerate the supposedly Horror-tainted girl by finding the enchanted book that is the real source of her unexplained powers. The easiest way to resolve the plot is exploit the rift between the opportunists and the true believers in the Grim Legion and get them to fall to infighting.

And maybe this last one seems a little like justice, but if the wrong person wins that battle, he'll just stay at the village permanently, turning it into his personal fiefdom.

I guess you could praise Infected for presenting a complex and nuanced situation with no easy answers, especially when contrasted with Terror in the Skies video-game cliches, but reading them so close together, I guess what I want is a balance between the two.

I mean, I swear, if I run into that child-threatening necromancer again and she "save[s] the adventurers' bacon when they face certain death at the hands of a ravening pack of Horrors," I can't be held responsible for what I may do.

What, then, is my verdict for Infected as a potential adventure? That's tough. I think it might be good, but if so, it is good in a slightly off-genre way. It's the sort of adventure where the epic heroes rely on their talent for measured compromise and not rushing to judgement (in fact, there's a whole subplot where, on the trip to the village, one of the towns along the away offers the PCs hospitality as a scheme to put them directly in the path of an anticipated raid from a rival village, and you only get the full xp award if you negotiate a peace between these traditional enemies), and maybe that's okay, but in all likelihood, the points on my character sheet are going to reflect a high-action sensibility that simply has no place here, except as a failure state.

Ukss Contribution: I actually really like that Earthdawn zombies retain a significant portion of their humanity, and it just happens to be repressed by the magic that controls them. It's creepy and tragic and horrifying, and I'm going to make it a rule of Ukss necromancy too.

1 comment:

  1. Hey you got to Infected.

    The village girl becomes part of the Earthdawn meta plot , at least for 1e that I know.