Tuesday, 13 October 2015
10th Anniversary Classic Rant: Does the Magic Deer Trample on Roleplaying?
John H. Kim has written a rather interesting sort-of FAQ, where he claims to "debunk" the criticisms people have made about Blue Rose. What follows will be my own point-by-point rebuttal to his statements.
The Nation of Aldis
Aldis, the primary kingdom of the Blue Rose game, is a fairly Utopian little monarchy that is prosperous and happy, unlike its "Shadow" misguided Christian Neighbors, who live in misery and who's land is harsh because they deserve to be punished for being quasi-christians.
Does Aldis have organized crime and occasional monsters? Sure, occasionally. After all, the Queen's own guard has to have something to do, because they sure as hell won't be stopping any rebellion that by all rights should be happening against an oppressive government where anyone who is a free-thinking individualist is automatically excluded from the upper classes, and where a godlike entity (the Magic Deer) makes it impossible for anyone to overthrow HIS chosen system of government. In other words, Aldis is a nation of slaves to the Magic Deer. And yet the writers of Blue Rose (who are a gang of self-described feminist gay and bisexual ultraliberal Wiccans; I'm not saying that as some sort of attempt at slander, but because it really does bring into question their repeated claims that they don't personally support the Collectivist ideology of Aldis, doesn't it?) have chosen to design Aldis as a nation where everyone (even the crime lords) are basically happy with being slaves to a magic deer. Like there's not a single man among them who would give up the security of being in a relatively comfortable venisonocracy for the freedom of self-determination. And woe betide your character if you should choose to be that man! Because according to the rules of Blue Rose your character would then be at best Shadow or more likely Dark aligned, would accumulate all sorts of penalties, and ultimately would be bound to fail in any case, because there's no way to defeat the magic deer, it's the unstoppable god of the game.
The Government Of Aldis
On paper, the venisonocracy is ruled by a king (the king is chosen by the Magic Deer, and the deer stops anyone who tries to choose otherwise). There's also a council consisting of nobles, merchants, and talking animals. But all the real power is in the hands of the king and the nobility. And the Nobility is chosen by.. you guessed it... the magic fucking deer. It's not an inherited aristocracy like in a normal fantasy kingdom, instead its determined via a test. What's more, the deer has provided a magic scepter (hereafter referred to as the Magic Deer's Rod), that will detect if you're one of these evil Individualists. You can't lie to it, you can't fake your way through it. If you are one, you will FAIL your noble's test. Thus there's no way for anyone who isn't a Collectivist to be able to get into any position of influence by which to make any change in the venisonocracy, not that anyone in the kingdom seems to want to change it, all of them being happy little sheep according to the stupid fucking game designers.
The Magic Deer
The Magic Deer personally shows up every time there's a need to choose a new king. The only method of selection is the Deer's own choice; though it appears that the Deer chooses the most "Light" filled person in the land (that is to say, the most Collectivist little drone that's been best brainwashed by Aldisian society to believe in the Nanny State) and picks him or her (though of course in the current moment of the game it's a Her) to be ruler of us all. The deer will instantly and automatically succeed in any attempt to stop the coronation or assassinate the ruler, stomping on the would-be freedom-fighter's head with its hoof that automatically renders them unconscious (no save vs. anything, but then that shouldn't surprise you since John Snead, the main designer of the game, has stated unequivocally that he hates D20), and the person will then be left with a permanent hoof-mark and be sentenced to exile from Aldis. So not only can't you kill the fucking puppet that the Tyrant-deer wants on the throne, you WILL be exiled if you try, and you'll be permanently marked so that you can't go back in secret to Aldis to keep trying. What's the fucking point anyways?
The Magic Deer also shows up anytime the King or Queen stops acting the way it wants them to.
Is Aldis a Socialist Utopia?
No, it's a ridiculous medieval-collectivist state that should not be. There's no way it can exist in any real way, it's a nation that makes no sense, its suspension of disbelief is only held together by the Magic Deer. The setting doesn't feel like the medieval world, it doesn't feel right for the technology level, it doesn't feel right for the society; the writers have chosen to make the setting medieval whenever they think it's cool to be medieval but utterly and totally MODERN (and by that I mean American Liberal Post-modernist Feminist Collectivist) in its culture and values, so feels like if you were to go to a Rennaisance Faire in San Francisco sponsored by the local Wiccan Church.
Doesn't the Magic Deer trample on people's freedoms?
Yes. Clearly. Any other system of government, be it a totalitarian dictatorship or a democracy or a monarchy or even anarchy would be preferable to any right-thinking person than a Venisonocracy. Because under the former ones, at least it is human beings, choosing of their own free will to participate in their political system; or having the freedom to oppose it. But the Venisonocracy, which is John Snead, Steve Kenson and Nichole Lindroos' idea of a good time apparently, is a state where human beings are chattel to an alien entity that has taken away any and all possibility of self-determination, and goes on systematically breeding it out of its human sheep from one generation to the next by encouraging those humans with the most slave-oriented mentalities (the ones that accept the Deer's rule and approve of its governance) to get special favours (the nobility) while punishing those who dare to defy its control.
Doesn't Blue Rose have freaky sex stuff in it?
Not really. It has got open homosexuality in it, but if you consider that freaky you really need to purchase an imagination. It also has these sailor-folk who practice polygamy. But in any case, if you were to compare it to Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms (the RPG-setting's answer to the Satyricon), Blue Rose is positively vanilla.
Does Aldis Represent Modern Liberal Values?
Let's see now; first of all let's keep in mind the people who wrote the game: one is an acknowledged self-described feminist. The other two are "male feminists", gay and bisexual respectively, and one of them is a hardcore "Wiccan" with a history of imposing his Wiccan values on the books he writes (to the point of having ruined a Shadowrun sourcebook by doing so). Now, Aldis is a setting where there's absolute equality of the sexes, no racial discrimination, all sexual orientations are accepted, everyone runs around in medieval garb but practices collectivist post-modernist morality, everyone is running around talking to magic spirit animals, they have Real Psychic powers and "Magick" all over the place; in short, Aldis isn't so much a marxist manifesto or anything like that as it is a West-Coast Wiccan's wet dream. Like a Ren Faire or New Age Convention that never ends. It is utterly modern and liberal in its values.
Isn't every animal in the world intelligent and psychic?
No, but there are a lot of them.
Did the Magic Deer choose two insane sovereigns out of eleven? Isn't that bad judgement?
Yeah, I guess so. But the setting does state that even though the Magic Deer is unbeatable and omnipotent, and can sense people's goodness, the one thing it can't do is sense the future, apparently.
Do alignment rules advocate collectivism?
Absolutely. Compare the following two descriptions of alignment. First, D&D's description of "good":
implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. ----- characters make personal sacrifices to help others.
Second, Blue Rose's "Light":
believe in community and the good of all over mere self-interest. They seek peace, harmonious coexistence, and the general good although, there is sometimes disagreement as to what exactly is the best for everyone.
The first says "be a good person, help others". The Collectivists have no monopoly on that, in fact that's not what they're about. The second says believe in the COMMUNITY, help the community and it will help everyone. The community, together, must determine what is "best for everyone".
So the D&D definition is one person, as an individual, helping other people as individuals. The BR definition is each person having to rely on the community to help everyone, and the community, not the individual, determining who should or should not be helped and how, and then everyone following the dictates of the community.
That's Collectivism, bucky!
So why are people complaining about this? Surely there must be something wrong with Blue Rose for people to complain about it so.
Well, JHKim sadly falls back into the "they must be homophobes" argument for this. You'll note that in the above my issues have FUCK ALL to do with BR being either girly or gay. My issues, and most people's issues with Blue Rose are that:
1. It intentionally presents alignment rules that dictate that if your character is an Individualist (which is the standard kind of character in an RPG party), he must be Shadowy or Evil. You have no choice about that, because the game defines individualism itself as evil, something that is quite insulting to the rather large part of the population in the real world that still believes Individualism to be a virtue and not a vice. Oh, and it also insults Christianity and Monotheists in general (presenting them as either objectively evil or misguided in the setting).
2. It pretty well acts as an advocacy piece for Collectivism and new agey wiccan philosophies. It shows a setting that is a relative paradise for following these values, and one where the population as a whole is very happy to be living in these conditions. Its as stupid a piece of propagandism as if a Christian created a utopia where everything was ok because the Religious Right was in power in the US. It smacks of preachiness.
3. It presents a cheap-ass deus-ex-machina Fiat-by-Game-Designer where you cannot actually do anything to change this setting, because of the alignment rules and because of the invulnerability of the Magic Deer. Its bad gaming where the Game Designers are trying to force you to play the way they want the game played. In other words, my issues with the game are the same as my issues with countless other games I've disliked.
4. Its not even good Emulation of Genre. In most Romantic Fantasy novels, the setting is one that is fairly standard medieval, with discrimination of all kinds, and the heroes are brave freethinkers who are out to succeed in spite of the difficulties caused by that discrimination. Not here, where the setting has no discrimination, and the "heroes" are the powerful enforcers of state collectivism.
Frankly, I really would have expected more from Mr.Kim. Specifically, that he would try to hide behind such cheap claptrap like "if you don't like Blue Rose it must be because you're a sexist homophobe" is extremely disappointing. Anyways, now you've gotten the real facts, my proxies!
Currenty Smoking: Lorenzetti volcano + H&H's Beverwyck
(Originally posted July 26, 2007)