Monday, April 10, 2023

(M: tAw 1e) Banishers

Order mages practice magic in ways the Banishers find unacceptable, and in return, order mages find the slaughter of their own by Banishers unacceptable. Both sides are responsible for atrocities committed against the other, and neither side is likely to change their point of view.

Aw, c'mon, Pentacle mages. Shouldn't you at least consider the possibility that you deserve to be slaughtered? I mean, you oppress us with your existence, and also you claim that we oppress you by trying to eliminate your existence. What's clear is that oppression is going on, and as reasonable people who are foes of oppression, we should be able to come up with a compromise that eradicates your foul practices from the face of the earth without necessitating your violent deaths. It's called "reaching across the aisle." My hand's already out. Where's yours?

Oh, man, that felt bad to write. I'm not saying that Banishers (by Jackie Cassada, Matthew McFarland, John Newman and Malcolm Sheppard) is crypto-fascist. I'm saying that it is so morally incoherent that it reads like a catalogue of demons, swerving into fascist arguments with total unawareness, when it's not being just generally murder-apologist or naive to the point of dangerousness.

"The Feared don't use the word lich to describe themselves and take offense at any comparison to the Tremere."

. . . I'm . . . sorry? They're two groups that eat souls to unnaturally prolong their lifespans, but unlike the Tremere, the Feared only eat the souls of people they were already planning on killing for unrelated ideological reasons, so that makes it . . . okay?

The difficult thing about reading Banishers was that it would be a fine villain book, if it had the conviction to just be a fucking villain book! Half the page-count is given over to example Banisher cabals and most of them work pretty well as antagonists. You've got your roving band of killers who take cover in a creepy carnival, the pack of cannibals who suppress their human intellects and hunt mages like beasts, the extremely thinly-veiled scientologists of the "Militant Auditing Division," the conflicted Christians who run people down in their hippy bus for being witches, and so on. If the book had just been twice as many groups of villainous mages, it would actually be pretty good (modulo old White Wolf's propensity for putting horrifying things like child abuse and rape in their villains' backstories).

The main thing holding Banishers back is that it keeps trying to make "Banishers" a thing. "Mages who hate magic" that's all it ever had to be. We don't need legends of those the Atlanteans called "Timori" (the Fearful). We don't need speculation about how their Awakenings went wrong. We especially don't need "high Wisdom" Banishers who "confront sorcerers as counselors and evangelists and try to talk their quarry into giving up the Mysteries."

Or, more accurately, we don't need any of those things to be "Banishers," a metaphysically distinct order of being that is mutually exclusive with being a mage. To paraphrase my notes: Is a Banisher not just an asshole mage? Why do you need forebearers to be an asshole? Did any of this call out for an explanation?

Take, for example, the Venus Valley bed and breakfast. It's a wondrous place where an undisturbed Hallow sheds its excess mystic energy to create an aura of peace and contentment, which not incidentally makes the B&B an enchanting destination for couples looking to rekindle the spark in their relationships. The owners believe that harvesting the Hallow for mana would destroy its aura and ruin the valley's natural beauty, so they defend their territory with lethal force, killing any mage who comes around and attempts to exploit the Hallow.

That's already a Mage story. Mages having turf wars over Hallows is already an established part of the setting. Making the defending mages into a charming hippy couple who want to protect a precious natural resource and share its benefits with community is giving them an interesting and sympathetic motive. Saying they use poison to preemptively strike at any mage who passes through makes it a small-town murder mystery - a staple of the occult procedural genre. This is absolutely something you can run, and it will probably be a fun and memorable adventure.

So, why would you then add on top of that the information that "Their son, William, is a mage himself, but is a member of the Free Council and is not a Banisher, a fact about which the couple remains ignorant." Like, the concept of small-town mages not realizing their son is one of the big city mages they frequently kill is a fine bit of drama. But what is "not a Banisher" supposed to mean? Not a murderer? Because most people aren't murderers. It's a piece of non-information.

Except in the context of this book, where "Banisher" is something you are, not just something you do. Banishers have special Banisher-style awakenings and can recognize each other, even if they have nothing else in common. The Carnival of Innocents will release the Banishers of the Militant Auditing Division from their deadly trap because they recognize a pan-Banisher solidarity and part of the mystery of Banishers as a phenomenon is the fact that "no mage has ever successfully rehabilitated a Banisher." There is only limited permeability between the two groups, so much so that mages who join Banisher cults are not entirely trusted, because even though they are mages who stalk and kill mages, they are not Banishers who stalk and kill mages.

It's the dullest, most frustrating type of conflict. Fanatics who want to kill you for something you can't control, and who you can never get through to because they don't consider you to be the same species . . . and they're right, at least about the fact that they're different enough to not technically be hypocrites.

"Banishers invoke a theme of violent ignorance." Oh, good. But at least it's still fantasy. Except "the stories of Banishers are the stories about the denial of all that wonder."

The best thing I can say about this book is that it did not consistently succeed at what it was setting out to do. It's a useful, and occasionally even fun, rpg supplement, but only when it forgets it's supposed to be about "Banishers."

Ukss Contribution: One of the groups, the Translators, believes that mages are actually aliens in disguise, so they use a homemade "Translation Chamber" to teleport them back to their planet of origin. Except that it's not a teleporter. It's just a disintegrator. They're unwittingly vaporizing mages while under the impression that they're defending Earth with a compassionate alternative. It's not actually a plausible plot if you strictly follow the rules of the game (because disintegrating someone is more difficult than teleporting them, generally, and uses different Arcana besides), but it is an interesting conflict. An equivalent group on Ukss is more likely to believe in demonic possession than alien abduction, but the tropes are close enough that I think the concept will . . . translate (the pun is, sadly, intentional, but I tried thinking of an alternative and the synonym "carry over" is actually discussed in the book's text, so I bowed to inevitability.)

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