In this post I’d like to introduce to you all a good friend of mine, Troy. Some of you may know him as well, but I think there are also those of you who do not. I’ve known him, and been gaming with him, for many years. He’s an accomplished Gamemaster, in my humble opinion, and has an extensive library of system books which he has read thoroughly even if he hasn’t gotten a chance to play or run them all. I think that qualifies him as an “expert” on the subject. Anyway we often have interesting gaming conversations and after my last post he added an idea that I thought would make an excellent post in itself. So I invited him to run with it “on my dime” as it were. Take it away, Troy!
My topic has to do with a game already mentioned in this blog: Aberrant. It is a superhero game set in the modern age. The characters are commonly celebrities, mercenaries, pro-wrestlers, anti-human activists, and/or idealists trying to make the world a better place, all with super powers. The system is based off of White Wolf’s Storyteller system used in their World of Darkness setting (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, etc) with some minor tweaks and a flexible powers system.
That is not what made the game interesting to me, though (even if I do love a good superhero game.) I was most fascinated by the game’s themes. The major one is personal excellence. Characters are literally capable of doing anything they want. They can break the laws of physics at whim, with their power limited only by conscience and imagination (and of course their Quantum trait, the game’s power stat). Every point of experience they spend just makes them more powerful.
This leads me to the second theme: the price of power. As your character bends the laws of physics, the more your character will be warped in return. The Taint system, is the stick (as in “stick and carrot”) of the game. The more you abuse your powers, the more Taint you acquire. The more Taint you acquire, the closer you are to becoming an insane, inhuman monster, and in game canon, all the Aberrants end up monsters.
These two themes make the game great, but they are also its biggest problems. If you make a game about personal excellence, it can be hard to get characters to work together. After all, if everyone is busy trying to rule the universe, it does not leave a lot of time for others. In addition, the more tainted they become, the further they grow away from human society.
I wonder if Aberrant is so anti-teamwork because White Wolf had just made a game in the same continuity that was all about teamwork? Guess what I am going to talk about next.
It is easy to figure out what the themes of Trinity are; they print them on the back of the book: Hope, unity, sacrifice. Unity and sacrifice are the flip-sides of Aberrant’s themes. As I said earlier, when you are exploring the limits of your own personal power, a group can hold you back.
Trinity’s theme of unity is highlighted best by the ongoing struggle against both the returning Aberrants and a race of invading aliens called Chromatics. Humanity must band together in the face of these common foes. These foes are both more powerful than the puny humans and the Psions (the player characters) of Trinity, and they must work together to have any chance of saving humanity.
Now sacrifice sounds a lot like the price of power. Right? After all, you have to lose your humanity if you want to achieve ultimate power in Aberrant, (and there is a group in the setting that tries to do just that.) Losing is different than sacrificing though. Sacrifice implies a willing surrender as in to save your team. While in Aberrant humanity is squandered in the pursuit of power. That’s not really a sacrifice. In addition, the powers of Psions (the psychic PCs) are limited and very narrow in focus, the exact opposite of Aberrant’s power creation system.
Hope actually applies to both settings. In Aberrant, you have the hope that these super-beings will bring about a new golden age. In fact a lot of great advancements are made in medicine, communications, terraforming by Aberrants with weird powers or super intelligence. However, Aberrant is a game about hope that is inevitably lost. In Trinity you are fighting for the survival of your species. It is a game about a hope that could still be achieved.
Again, if you expand upon the themes of Hope, Unity, and Sacrifice, you get something that looks a lot like the socialist ideal. You have people working together and sacrificing in order to make everyone’s lives better. That is the great socialist hope, everyone contributing to the best of their ability and taking only as needed. In the end, you have cooperative, low power, psychic socialists working together to protect the world from individualist, high power, superhero capitalists.
So, did White Wolf write a pair of games about class warfare dressed up as superheroes vs. psychics or am I over-thinking all of this?