Monday, 19 January 2015

Esoterrorism and I

Well, I've read it, several times.


The Second Edition does have the benefit of expanded sections both on the OV and the Esoterrorists. Personally I could have done with even more information, as my main problem remains unanswered. I really don't have a clear idea who the Esoterrorists are, except that they're described as psychopaths, insane, misfits, rejects, power-mongers, megalomaniac, sociopaths; I get the impression none of them have ever hugged a kitten or played with a newborn baby, except possibly with barbecue tongs.

On the flip side the OV are the unsung heroes of civilization, and Verity, whether Mr or Ms, is always right. This does have one very definite advantage, in that the players no longer have to worry that the higher-ups are going to be backstabbing them, or that Verity's going to let them down in their moment of need. It also avoids the Mr Johnson trope so common in Cyberpunk and similar systems.

There's a lot that can be done within that stark good vs evil paradigm, but it can also feel a little stifling. There's a further risk that the game might devolve, under the logic 'we're the good guys and everything we do is right, therefore what we just did must have been right, since we're the good guys.' Some very strange and terrible things have occurred using similar lines of logic.

There's rules within the system for psych evals - I particularly like the suggested Operation Medulla Strange - which I would probably emphasize every other session, were I running a campaign rather than a one-shot. I think you'd also have to play up the organization as an organization, rather than have the players float off like little Yojimbos lone-gunning it through a host of evil dudes. Thankfully there's lots of new tweaks in the OV section that help the Keeper do that. 

The role of the Outer Dark Entities in all this is ripe for exploration. On more than one occasion the text makes it pretty clear that some ODE are actively seeking a way in through the Membrane, rather than passively waiting for the Esoterrorists to open the door. Several of the cells described in the second edition get their start this way. As the Outer Dark isn't fully described, the Keeper's free to make it just as foul as necessary. There's also one significant unanswered question: is there anything else out there, apart from the Outer Dark? There are some hints in the Factbook that suggest there might be other realms of reality, and the main text makes it clear that there are such things as psychics, mediums and other humans with extraordinary abilities who don't necessarily have contracts signed in blood with the ODE. What would it mean for the OV if it could be conclusively proved that there are realms other than the Outer Dark out there, which aren't necessarily malevolent or inimical to human life and civilization?

If I were to steal just one thing from another system and plug it into the Esoterrorists, it'd be the Conspyramid from Night's Black Agents. It would lend the Esoteric terrorists a structural backbone that could be incredibly useful, from a thematic perspective. It also allows the players a shot at some kind of victory, once they realize that there is an Esoterrorist endgame and it can be thwarted.

In that Conspyramid I'd put the Esoterrorist new recruits or potential recruits at the lowest rung. These are the folks identified by the higher-ups as having potential, and so are given tasks to see if they can do anything with that potential. These are also the folks most likely to be in this for what they see as good reasons. The ones who want to bring back the Good Old Days when Main Street USA was still a thing, to make it as if the Kennedy Assassination never happened, to assassinate Hitler, to bring back King Arthur; whatever their trigger is. Yes, they want Power, but very few people seek Power for its own sake; they seek it for what Power can do, or for whatever higher purpose they've set out for themselves.

A community activist might get into politics, for example, to reform the police force, and be stuffed full of good intentions; but after forty-odd years of politics, when that activist becomes the Mayor, Governor, State Senator, or even a Presidential nominee, those good intentions are often buried under layer after layer of other things, whatever those other things might be. Reforming the police, if it's even still on the priority list, is right down there next to take the dog for a walk.

If, as suggested in the comments thread of my previous post (hello Kelvin!), these Esoterrorists are freedom fighters in the style of the Invisibles, this lowest rung is also where they'd be. Of course, there'd also be plenty of would-be demon worshippers, occultists and loonies in this bunch too, just to keep things lively.

Then you get the next rung up, which would consist of recruiters, spotters, trainers and informers; the ones who don't really know what's going on, but who've had that idealistic exterior scuffed up. They're still working towards that so-called good end, but they're prepared to get their hands dirty to do it. These operatives, and any operative above this rung, are very likely to have had some kind of first-hand ODE experience, or even be working with an ODE. These are the folks who probably recruited the ones on the lowest rung, but they're also the ones keeping an eye on OV cells. These self-righteous OV want to stop us killing Hitler? Then we'd better make sure they never get the chance!

The next rung up is the heavy mob and the regional coordinators, the ones who move in when something bad needs dealing with, when a weakened Membrane needs a good kick in the slats, and who keep an eye on all those other cells out there. If a lower rung screws the proverbial pooch and has attracted OV attention, these are the folks who sanitize the survivors. These are also the psychologists, the wonks in white coats who work to capitalize on any weakening of the Membrane. Any idealism has left the building arm-in-arm with Elvis at this point; there's too much blood on these hands for all the perfume in Araby

Up one more rung are the planners, the higher authority, the folks who come up with Esoterror schemes in the first place, who pick the targets and provide the tools for the job. These are the ones who think they know what it's all about, the ones who believe they have everything under control. If there's a true Demonology out there, perhaps scribed by Satanic monks or babbling madmen, these are the folks who use it as their Bible. Using the Prisoner as a guideline, this is where the Village administrators lurk, the ones in that big room full of shiny toys, spying on everyone else. If any of these ever were idealists, they laugh at the idea now. Ultimate power is within their grasp, and who gives a tinker's cuss for Main Street USA? Burn it down and seed the earth with salt. There's a new order coming, and anyone who isn't part of it had better get out of the way.

Then there is the highest rung, that rules over all the rest. Again stealing a note from the Prisoner, this is what's behind the Green Door: if ever there's a Number Two, he or she is here. Perhaps it's a survivor from the earliest days, when Esoterror first got its start in the Victorian era (or before). Perhaps it's the ultimate power broker, who decides who wins or loses elections, or whether Communism or Capitalism is in this year. Perhaps it's Elvis, or a man in a monkey's mask. Who can say? There might, of course, be nobody there at all; the Esoterrorists could be pouring all their effort into an empty throne, their highest authority just another babbling idiot in a long line of idiots.

And beyond that?

The Outer Dark ...

Next up, the scenario outline I mentioned!

1 comment:

  1. It looks like the second edition has given you at least some of the material you were after! I am a bit surprised that they delineated the goodies and baddies with such certainty as the first edition seemed more ambiguous than that, but perhaps that was because it was -- as you identified yesterday -- underwritten.