Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 22 February 2020

Cultural Conflict

Hearts and Minds: Saving a World on the Brink of War! A Mindjammer Adventure is a sourcebook and scenario for Mindjammer – The Roleplaying Game: Transhuman Adventure in the Second Age of Space, the Space Opera setting with a harder, more contemporary Science Fiction edge published by Mindjammer Press. Set some fifteen thousand years into the future during the Second Age of Space, it takes place on the world of Olkennedy whose society stands on the brink of civil war. Originally settled eight thousand years ago during the First Age of Space, like so many planets settled then, the original colonists were forced to survive with no contact from Old Earth, a local astronomical event forcing some into stasis, the others to survive as best they can. When the surviving original colonists awoke, their reappearance led to tensions between them and the society which had survived, regressed, and was building anew. These tensions have been exacerbated in the last two decades when long spread rumours of aliens were confirmed with the arrival of the Commonality.

In the Second Age of Space, the New Commonality of Humankind presides over an expanding sphere of influence and control, seeking to maintain and protect its culture as it maintains and protects those of other worlds through the offices and agents of the Security and Cultural Integrity (SCI) Instrumentality. Yet not every world wants or is ready to accept the influence of or integration into the Commonality. So it is with Olkennedy. There are many on the world who do not believe that the Commonality when it says it protects the rights and cultures of those worlds it adopts and in particular, they fear the loss of individuality should they accept implants which grant them access and membership of the Mindscape, the virtual world which connects the Commonality. There are a great many who would take up arms to protect the loss of such rights and culture, and there even more who could be persuaded to join them. Opposing views clashes, tensions rise, and civil war  looms. It is into this febrile situation that the player characters step.

The first half of Hearts and Minds is devoted to detailing and describing the world of Olkennedy, its people, history, and culture. Or rather it focuses on the area which can support life, a crater deep enough to hold an oxygen-rich atmosphere and which has a subtropical climate, including a sea, with snow layers to the north. The planet has a high gravity, is subject to high winds and storms, and has a short day. The generally self-reliant inhabitants have had millennia in which to adapt to this. The planet is home to five distinct nations. Columbiana is youngest, but the most advanced and most dominant, its citizens mostly descended from the colonists—known as the Awoken—who emerged from stasis a millennia ago, whilst Van Kuvrai is home to the descendant of the colonists who did not enter stasis. Nwasha and Omianto are home to the Nwasha pithecines who were originally developed as labour by the original colony. Nwasha is primarily an arboreal culture whilst Omianto is more industrialised. Lastly, Akantack hominids, similarly developed as a labour force by the original colonists are nomads who live in the Snow-Layer which runs around the rim of the Crater or the Akantack Sanctuary. Although the five nations of Olkennedy have existed peacefully for a century, now their planet’s membership of the New Commonality of Humankind threatens to bring them into conflict once again.

As well as the inhabitants and cultures of Olkennedy, Hearts and Minds details the colony’s ecology, flora and fauna, major cities such as Craterport Down, technology, and more. Scenario hooks and random events are provided for both wilderness and urban settings, such that there is more than enough information here for the Game Master to run her own adventures. Together with the Genotype for the Akantack hominids, there is also information enough to create characters native to Olkennedy and perhaps explore some of its history, for example, why the Awoken emerged from stasis when they did or what were conspiracy theories surrounding the Commonality’s presence prior to the Disclosure, the traumatic event which revealed the existence of the New Commonality of Humankind to the Olkennedians. 

Of course, Hearts and Minds is designed to explore a clash of cultures, that is between the Commonality culture and a relatively newly found culture, that of Olkennedy. Whilst some Olkennedians accept the presence of the Commonality, many do not and they have coalesced around the Fiver separatist movement, named for the five nation on Olkennedy. In the years prior to the arrival of the player characters, its activists have been actively attacking the Commonality presence on planet, fomenting riots, causing unrest and engaging in acts of ‘terrorism’ or ‘freedom fighting’—depending on your point of view. This is not helped by factionalism within the Commonality itself. Two factions are detailed. The Integrator faction want to bring newly discovered planets into the Commonality, whilst the Dialogic faction wants to maintain a conversation with each newly discovered world rather than simply bring into the Commonality.

The second half of Hearts and Minds is the adventure itself. The most obvious role for the player characters will be SCI Force agents, sent to Olkennedy because of the deteriorating political situation, but they might also be diplomats, soldiers of the Armed Forces Instrumentality, merchants, scientists, or a mix of all six. Their roles of course will colour their approach to handling the situation on Olkennedy. For example, soldiers of the Armed Forces Instrumentality are more likely to commit to a military solution, whilst diplomats will seek a more conciliatory solution. Whatever their roles, throughout the scenario the Game Master will be tracking the effects that their actions have using Mindjammer’s Plot Stress mechanics. Essentially, through their actions, it is entirely possible for the player characters to sway the opinion of the Olkennedians towards or away from accepting the presence or membership of the Commonality—or somewhere in between.

The adventure is played out over four episodes and an epilogue, the latter being when the Game Master will assess the actions of the player characters and determine the ultimate outcome of events on Olkennedy based on them. There are plenty of opportunities for both roleplaying and conflict, but Mindjammer being a Transhuman Space Opera roleplaying game, there are lots and lots of opportunities for action. Now much of the action may well look a little like a cliché in places, but the action scenes are well handled and once the player characters get involved, with their wide array of Aspects being brought into play, the action will be anything but. If there is an issue with Hearts and Minds, it is that running it is a challenge. This is because it explores numerous options and their consequences as the scenario proceeds, and it is all too easy for the Game Master to get lost in them. The likelihood is that the Game Master will need to work harder to keep track of everything, especially of the consequences of the player characters’ actions and decisions, and when combined with having to present the scenario and roleplay its many NPCs, she may well find she has a heavier workload than is the norm.

Physically, Hearts and Minds is well presented behind its Eugène Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’ inspired cover. The book is mainly done in black and white, but touches of colour are used to bring out its maps. The artwork is excellent, although a little dark. The writing and editing are well done, but if there is one thing that the book lacks, it is an index. Although less than a hundred pages in length, there is a lot of information in Hearts and Minds and having a better means of finding things would make it easier for the Game Master to run.

Originally published in 2015, the politics present in Hearts and Minds, although set on a Science Fiction world in the far future do feel relevant today. The adventure and situation explores deeply polarised political views, threats to cultural identity, loss of status, and so on, which escalate into civil unrest, acts of violence, and even terrorism. Of course, Hearts and Minds is a fiction, but undeniably there are parallels with contemporary politics, whether in the United Kingdom, Europe, the USA, and elsewhere. How much a gaming group wants to read into the scenario is another matter. It can be played with or without the group drawing the parallels.

Hearts and Minds can be played as one-shot or a convention scenario, and there are guidelines given to that end. Yet to do so, would be to miss a lot of the depth and nuance to the scenario’s set-up, to all too easily and quickly side with one polarised faction or another. Played as a full scenario, and what Hearts and Minds does is present an exploration of Mindjammer’s core themes—cultural conflict, the rediscovery of strange new worlds, and the personal conflicts which arise from them, all played out against an advanced Space Opera background. Simply, Hearts and Minds: Saving a World on the Brink of War! A Mindjammer Adventure is the ideal first scenario to showcase what the roleplaying game is all about.

No comments:

Post a Comment