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A dark turn in the pop-culture? (Part Eleven)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted March 24, 2014

Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast had carried out a massive effort to make Dungeons and Dragons, Third Edition (or "3E"), the main template or game-engine for many roleplaying backgrounds, under the so-called D20 (twenty-sided die) system. D20 Star Wars had been brought out, as well as a D20 version of Deadlands: The Weird West. It is expected that at some point, most of the distinct RPG systems, such as those used in Call of Cthulhu, or White Wolf's World of Darkness, will appear in a version with D20 mechanics.

Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast also allowed any other company to bring out original products based on the D20 system – which they called "Open Source Gaming" -- in the hopes of creating a major synergy on behalf of the RPG system. The concept is somewhat derived from the very popular idea (among some computer enthusiasts) of "Open Source Programming" (in an attempt to undermine the monopoly of such firms as Microsoft), of which Linux had been the most prominent example. However, the irony may be that "Open Source Gaming" was meant to entrench the hegemony of the D20 system (Hasbro/WotC may well have been the dominant tabletop gaming company), whereas "Open Source Programming" challenged the hegemony of Microsoft, then the dominant computer company. (Today, Microsoft has certainly been challenged by other mega-corporations such as Apple and Google, who have focused on new platforms such as smartphones and tablets, but clearly not by the Linux operating system.) The essence of the arrangement is that D20 mechanics are combined with another company's original creative content.

Another RPG brought out by Last Unicorn Games is based on Frank Herbert's Dune. Although there was a small print-run of the Last Unicorn Games version of the DUNE RPG brought out by Wizards of the Coast, it will probably be re-done in D20 format, if WotC continues to hold the rights.

The Holistic Design Inc. Fading Suns RPG, with its aristocrats, priests, and merchant guilds, is somewhat similar to the DUNE universe. However, the idea that Fading Suns valorizes the aristocratic and priestly virtues is highly questionable. First of all, there is the curiously hypermodern emphasis on absolute gender equality -- for example, noblewomen are portrayed as just as warlike and aggressive as male aristocrats. Secondly, the attitude to religion is rather derisory – for example, the Inquisitors armed with flame guns who are likely to flame first and ask questions later. One gets the impression that the religions of Fading Suns are almost invariably corrupt – merely a mask for power and sometimes for almost unbelievable cruelty (as in the orthodox religion's treatment of those possessing psionic powers). Thirdly, there are some highly disturbing elements of genetic engineering, electromechanical body parts, and nanotechnology – which could make the background rather horrific. One finds here notions of transgressive technology similar to that of extreme cyberpunk. So this, too, is a rather dark future.

It should also be noted that Fading Suns was also re-worked into a D20 version.

A fairly representative product of Fading Suns is the Lords and Priests sourcebook (2000), which consists of revised editions of Lords of the Known Worlds, and Priests of the Celestial Sun. The historical and sociological templates from which the various noble Houses and religious groupings are derived are fairly easy to identify. For the noble Houses, these include Byzantium and medieval England, barbarous Muscovy, medieval Spain, medieval Islam, ancient China and Japan. The religious factions are mostly based on medieval Catholicism, such as the main Church hierarchy, the crusading orders, the monastic orders, and the inquisitors. There are also factions of mystics, and an order of compassionate healers.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.






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