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Trinity RPG - Review of Terra Verde

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Review of Terra Verde, contributed by Chris Hill

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Let me start this review by warning you well in advance, that I have never reviewed a product before. Yup - you may not agree with this review, you not find it detailed enough or may not even think this article worthy of being called a 'review' - so with that little admission out of the way - lets get on with it shall we.

There I was, before Christmas doing my rounds on the White Wolf discussion forum, reading through all the comments, guesses and advance praise and criticism for the upcoming Terra Verde. Like any other Aeon fan, I'd been eagerly awaiting the next installment of the Trinity line even though a couple of days before news had broke that Terra Verde would be in e-book format.

For a laugh, I decided to place a post on the EON forums stating that I had got hold of Terra Verde early - well I thought it was funny. After placing the post (and admitting in the post that I hadn't actually got a copy of Terra Verde early) I went back to the WW forums - and saw the magical words 'TERRA VERDE ON SALE NOW' - what? Had someone thought of the same wind-up I had, and posted it on the WW forums? No. I clicked on the post and there it was - official word that the (e) book I had waited so long for was finally available.

I dutifully (read frantically, excitedly) clicked my way though to the catalogue, handed over the credit card number and started the more than acceptable 4MB download.

Before warbling on any further, I feel it fair to inform you that I want to detail my experiences on the whole process here, the download, getting Acrobat to open it, first impressions, particular praise or criticism etc. - after all, this is not only the first release in a long while for Trinity, but also its first e-book. I think the e-book 'experience' will have as much impact on sales as will the content and quality of the book.

Anyway - back to the warbling and random scribbling.....

As word spread on the WW forum that the book was out, that people have downloaded it - I waited for my wonderfully fast 56k connection to the Internet to retrieve the book for me. Upon reaching 99% the server kicked me. Not fun. After messing about a bit with IE I got back to the download and this time it worked fine. No problem whatsoever - and not a bad download time on 56k for a 4MB file. I guess my eagerness to get the book won out against my knowledge that the WW server may well be a little busy!

Well, there I was, Terra Verde .pdf icon on my PC desktop. I didn't wait long - it was early in the morning here UK time, (like 1am or something) but I wanted to see the book - so I opened up the file.

There it was, Terra Verde full color cover staring out at my from my computer screen. The first thing I noticed was the style of the cover art - that had to be BROM. I happen to be a bit of a BROM fan, so this was an added bonus. The cover art depicts a Norca in a Prometheus chamber - very nicely done.

The second thing I noticed was the formatting of the file. A4, laid out exactly like a normal Trinity book - although not exactly perfect for printing purposes (see the WW forms for all manner of posts on how to print the file - there's more information on there than I can type here).

I skipped straight to the contents page, which I was delighted to find broke the book down into the same chapters as the rest of the line:

  • Fiction
  • Introduction
  • Psi Order Norca
  • Biokinesis and Biotechnology
  • Sudamerica
  • Storytelling
  • Dramatis Personae
  • Appendix

    All looked well so far - the only thing that I was immediately disappointed about was a lack of an Index page - something that has always bothered me about the Aeon Continuum books - but that's just a minor (personal preference) gripe.



    Like a lot of fans I would imagine - I skimmed through the 128 pages as fast as I could to see any information on major plot hooks and the Uberplot - yes they are in their, but I will come back to that (see Pro's and Con's at the end of this review).

    The entire book kicks off very well with a notable special thanks to Andrew Bates, and I was pleased to see an introduction from the new developer Bruce Baugh. I think that Bruce's introduction is a very nice touch - for those who do not know him from the White Wolf forums - he has been the advocate of all things Trinity related since he took over - and is one of the major reasons that we received this book at all I suspect - so a brief introduction from him was a good thing to see.

    My random thoughts on each section:

    Fiction: Down to the Bone
    For some reason the fiction parts of Trinity books are the last thing I read - but in this case I started first with the fiction, called 'Down to the Bone'. Without giving the whole thing away (go buy the book!) the fiction focuses on a close family member of Pai de Norca. The piece of fiction sums up quite nicely the aspects of what makes a member of the Norca - a driving need to succeed at what they do, to put humanity first above personal feelings and it explores an interesting take on 'loyalty' to the Order. When I reread the piece after completing the book for the first time I realized that the story, more than any other in the rest of the Trinity books, illustrated what it means to be a member of the Order that the book covers.

    Psi Order Norca
    This chapter open with an introduction that sets the scene very well. All the Order books have a 'profile of Psi Order: xxxx, and the write-up of the Norca one right off the bat goes into some depth explaining the relationship between the Norca and the rest of the world. The description details the reactions of the public at large to the Norca when they first appeared, and interesting lines such as 'The Norca's mere existence has spawned the development of psionic detection methods' go a long way to illustrating the attitudes of various governments and corporations towards the Norca.

    Keeping the book in line with the rest of the Trinity Order publications, there is then a breakdown of the 'guiding principles' of the Norca, as well as a concise description of the various groups under the Norca 'umbrella'. I have a habit of making changes to the various factions presented within each Order book, but the one thing I felt was extremely valuable was the 'Secrets of Norca Success' which details the common bonds between the various Norca and the collective attitudes and beliefs. For me this part clearly outlined the intense emotion that del Fuego inspires in members of his Order. It also reiterated the 'work ethic' of the Norca very well - and did a lot to emphasize the passion the Norca have for their duties to humanity has a whole - there is a distinct deliberate illustration of how seriously the Norca take their duties - perhaps more so than any of the other Orders.

    By page 17 the outline of the various factions and training practices are completed. I could go into detail about the various factions - but I won't, as I'd prefer you bought the book. What I will say is that there were no great surprises in there for me personally. There are the usual 'administration' and 'special ops' descriptions as you would come to expect from an Order book. The interesting tidbits are in the sidebars. Details of the 'secret war' and the like emphasize the common goals of the Norca. It seems that there was an intention to illustrate that there are 'divisions' within the Norca, but purely from a logistical perspective - the Norca are certainly united in goals. This differs from, say, Luna Rising, where there are factions based on beliefs - but that is hardly surprising considering the religious 'overtones' of that particular Order.

    Before launching into a section on the 'Norca in Society' there is a wonderfully 'cryptic' explanation of the coming to pass of 'Otha's Vision Process 418'. No - I'm not going to tell you what it is - and I don't think I could as this was obviously the first details of what will be further covered in Asia Ascendant. Things may even read 'a bit out of place' for the first time, but I urge you to remember that this book was planned for release at a time when Adventure!, Terra Verde and Asia Ascendant were all due out relatively close together. One thing I will tell you is that there are two confidential emails - one from 'Whitley' to 'Max' and and a reply from 'Max' that will start the whole rumor mill off again! I really can't wait for Asia Ascendant to elaborate on the foundation of just what 418 is / was, that was detailed on these two pages.

    The book then moves towards the Norca in Society, and opens with its relationships to the Aeon Trinity and the other Orders. The relationship between the rank and file and from del Fuego's perspective is covered well, and you can clearly see where there are some tensions building between del Fuego and some of the other proxies. The most interesting revelation regards the Chitra Bhanu - for those of you who are Chib fans - you will be fascinated by this sidebar.

    The next item covered is the history of the Norca, leading from del Fuego's early years, to his rising through the ranks of the (then pre-Psi) organization to the present day. This section differs from other books in that the Norca were an established organization before the advent of Psions. The history does a wonderful job of outlining del Fuego's personal victories during his acceptance as leader of the Norca, and then how he turns it into the Order that it is today.

    Overall what this section did for me is reiterate the 'attitude' of the Norca as a whole group rather than as individuals (although that is covered to some extent). I have always presumed that del Fuego 'embodies' his Order, perhaps more than the other Proxies do theirs. In this case my presumption was correct. The Pai de Norca acts as he would want any of his 'children' to do - he leads by example, but you can sense that he is man of truly terrifying action when he wants to be - a good description of the Norca as a whole.

    Biokinesis & Biotechnology
    I know that players in my Trinity game will jump straight to this section of the book! This section open with some details on the various 'technobabble' used to describe Biokinesis from a 22nd Century scientific viewpoint - and introduces a lot of 'contradictions' as well. This part is written almost from the perspective of an outsider 'looking in' in some cases. It also illustrates that a lot of time and energy goes into trying to define exactly what Biokinesis is - and where the line is drawn (if drawn at all) between Biokinesis and Vitakinesis. I particularly enjoyed the section called 'How does it work?' because as a Storyteller I've been asked that before about BK - at least now I have a plausible sounding explanation!

    There is an interest column about Biokinesis and how it works alongside the other aptitudes as well. Throughout this whole section their are clear indicators of a Biokinetics desire to push their own boundaries - this goes back to the work ethic thing I mentioned earlier on in this (now lengthening!) review. Although this is really game mechanics material (or the build up to it I should say...) the trend of making the various powers tied to either the development of the Trinityverse, or 'characteristic' of the Orders continues in this book. That's one of the things I personally enjoy about the Psi Orders - they each have clear 'character' from the top (the Proxies) down (the rank and file) and in their powers as well.

    Then we move onto the new alternate powers - boy are some of them nasty! There is the usual additional basic ability, plus 15 new mode levels, as well as Psionic Dysfunction, as you would expect from an Order book. What I particularly liked here was the building on other sections of the book. You can SEE the divide between Biokinesis and Vitakinesis become quite blurred (and downright invisible) when you read some of the powers. The major addition to the powers is the expansion of a Norca's ability to affect other with their powers, and of course the obvious developments (we're talking leaps and bounds here) with their basic skills. The alternate powers are at once a fascinating illustration of the continuing push to expand their capabilities whilst at the same time giving clear Uberplot implications (ST's will know what I Mean when the read the bit on Vitakinesis).

    What follows is almost a short essay on the applications of Biotechnology, across a variety of applications such as military and industry for example. What this section does is give you plenty of material to further develop your own ideas of what Biotechnology can and cannot do. There were several 'examples' of Biotech use here that I knew straight away I would apply to certain Trinity campaigns that I run - there are good examples of 'daily life' biotech as well. This section made (and still has me) thinking of the possibilities of Biotechnology and its uses - which I found very well written, and quite thought provoking (which wasn't bad as by this time it was well past two in the morning when I was reading it!).

    This section of setting material is then rounded out with a fairly detailed topic called 'Pharmacology: Drugs for every occasion. Until I fully read this section I don't feel it came across just how important the recreational drug market is to the Norca in the present day. The detail here helped me understand how to portray this booming industry quite well, and gave a clear feel for what society would be like with a 'reliance' on recreational (but harmless) drug. Very interesting reading. There are also some examples of recreational drugs, and their game effects at the end of this section - but in fairness I only skimmed through them, as 'design phase' section also covered got me thinking about making up my own recreational drugs for inclusion in my games :)

    Bioware:
    Yes it needs a heading of it own. The section on Bioware is only 7 or so pages long - and a good few of those are a variety of new biotech devices for you gadget junkies out there. What I felt was most interesting about this section was the 'templates'. This explains how bioapps are grown, developed and produced in quite some detail. It clears up some of the practical issues about Biotech that I felt were not covered anywhere near enough in other Trinity books.

    Nope, I'm not going to tell you the details of the biotech devices introduced. You should buy the book for that!

    Sudamerica
    With the Psi Order section done, the book moves onto Sudamerica proper. I have to admit that personally I know very little, if actually anything about South America - so this section was on the top of my 'read asap' list. The opening gives you an idea of the trials, tragedies and victories of the continent, with a short but crucial history of the nations. Throughout the entire book you get an impression of culture, loyalty, family and hard work being important to the Norca and the Sudamericans - and you can see why quite clearly here.

    This entire section emphasize diversity and unity at the same time - of which the Norca are depicted as an example. The variety of cultures, attitudes and the like comes over very strongly - but so does the Trinityverse take on Sudamerica as a relatively united region that is home to a wide variety of individuals. There is even a section called 'Keeping the self together' which describes how society does manage to keep itself together when comprised of such individualistic peoples. Again this reminds you that the Norca manage to exist in a similar fashion. Pai de Norca and the 'responsibility to humanity' is the anchor by which the Norca (or more to the point the Norcan ideals) manage to survive in the midst of very individualistic people.

    Religion is given a fairly broad amount of coverage as well, and acts almost as a 'newcomers guide to religion' for South America - describing the main religions and their relevant geography and the like. This may not be too detailed for some of - but for me it was spot on, Knowing absolutely nothing about South American religion (like myself) would be a major problem for those wanting to depict Trinity's South America with any realism - this section is a great tool to get the totally clueless like myself enough material to run with.

    There is then some coverage of media, fashion and Anima Culture - where the irrepressible Kostbaar gets notable mention. I can honestly say in these few short pages there is too much to assess here for you - again the theme of diversity and individualism comes over strongly in some sections - but how things manage to stay together at the same time.

    What comes next is a brief (three or four paragraph each) description of the major cities broken down by country, which whilst each description is very short actually manages to portray the look and feel of each city, as well as the people who inhabit them. The most fascinating (and I mean fascinating) part is the description of the living arcology and the Medellin Arcology- they are a treat, pure and simple!

    I would personally have preferred this section to be longer, but space is always a premium in RPG books - so I am satisfied with what I got. There IS enough material to choose a variety of locations here to set your games - such as living arcologies, or underwater cities - the rest you can make up yourselves.

    What you will find in this 'geography; section is plenty of plot hooks - there are speculations as to the future of some areas, there are direct tie-ins to the Uberplot (process 418!), and there is enough 'outline' material of groups involved in commerce and the drug trade to give you good ideas for a variety of stories.

    Directly following the 'lay of the land' section comes an overview of how Sudamerica relates to both space exploration and to other nations. It was very interesting seeing just who were the major customers of Sudamerican produce. As you would imagine, the relationship between Nordamerica and Sudamerica is about as smooth as it ever was!

    What I found about this whole chapter was a great depth of description for the diversity that makes up the Sudamerican whole, with a good amount of planted 'plot devices' - but I feel it needed to be longer. I personally would prefer to loose the 14 pages of character templates to say, half that size, and allow for more description of the locations in Sudamerica. The whole chapter is very well written, and I think that great care was taken to 'show' Sudamerican culture to beginners - as the vast majority of people buying this book will not be from South America. I think this was a good move and it has been done excellently. Until know Sudamerica was a place I hadn't set any games in, but this chapter has prompted me to start writing a game in the Living Arcology!

    Storytelling
    YES! A list of Sudamerican names! Seriously for a minute - some of the ST sections of the other Order books (especially the earlier ones) left me feeling somewhat disappointed Not this one. Straight of the bat the book illustrates how to play and run Norca (called 'Being sneaky with style' by the way) and after a couple of pages moves into Storytelling Sudamerica, but not before some more information about the Uberplot (there is a lot of hidden Uberplot stuff in this book).

    The 'people' section here was the most interesting for me. There are quite evocative descriptions of native culture, law, crime and punishment, politics and the like. What I also found interesting was the details concerning the 'hotspots' where regions and organizations clash. This 'Land of Conflict' section peeled back the skin (to borrow a title from earlier in the book) to show just what happens when opposing beliefs cause the various peoples of Sudamerica to come to blows.

    Before moving onto Aberrant in Sudamerica, there are two pages on using nature (that's the trees and stuff, not the game mechanic) in a Trinity game. These two pages alone illustrate just how diverse the ecosystems of Sudamerica are. There over a dozen examples of how nature and various events could be great backgrounds for Trinity games - by this time I was moving the idea of a Sudamerican based game much, much further up my list of game ideas! This is very useful, it brings together a lot of the information from the previous sections of the book and presents them in a nice package that any ST will find interest - even if they decide not to use them.

    Then there are the Aberrants - personally I have never liked Aberrants in the Trinityverse - I left them pretty much well alone - that is just a personal preference I have - but there is something I can't quite put my finger on regarding the Aberrants in Terra Verde. In case ST's get annoyed with me, I won't go into any detail here but the few Aberrants that are detailed are what you might expect - fascinatingly terrible and remarkable - they would have to be to survive in the nation that is home to the Norca!

    Dramatis Personae
    I will not give too much away at all about the details on Pai de Norca - except that I think the side bar about his little.........problem.........is one of the funniest things I have read in a Trinity book - especially the last line about what del Fuego thinks about his predicament.

    This rest of this section is a delight. There are some six prominent Norcans detailed, as well as 7 notable Sudamericans. The people detailed within are a good example of the writing as a whole - the people illustrate the diversity of both the Norca and Sudamerica. For the Norca there is even a 'marketing / PR' type that is the spokesperson for the Norca, which is an interesting deviation from any preconceptions I had about the Order as a whole. The notable Sudamericans include an excellent description of the one-and-only Kostbaar. The description of the attitude of Sudamericans to Kostbaar (he is considered a 'good joke' in some circles) had me laughing.

    To compliment the Dramatis Personae are 5 portraits (including Kostbaar, who looks exactly as I though he would for some reason) which are again of the excellent quality of the rest of the 'portrait art' throughout the book.

    Appendix - Character Templates and Character Sheet
    For me personally I feel that whilst this section of any order book help illustrate the diversity of the given Order - Character Templates take up too many pages. There are seven character templates in Terra Verde, which is 14 pages if you count the character sheets and the description pages. I have never used any character template in any of the Order books - and to my knowledge neither have my players (there are about 7 players in my group). They make interesting reading to be sure - but I always feel that they are simply filling up space - which I still feel with this latest offering.

    The character sheet is welcome as always, and is laid out in exactly the same way as the other two page character sheets in the other Order / Location books. I can;t really say any more than that for the character sheet - although I hope that the sheet will eventually find its way to the White Wolf web site - but I'm a hopeful kind of chap! At least with an e-book I don't have to scan the thing into my PC to print.

    Pro's and Con's

    Pro's:
    • For me what appears as potentially complex subject matter - has been explained in an easy to read, well written and enjoyable way.
    • The artwork is excellent - I particularly like the dramatis personae artwork, and the Aberrant artwork.
    • FULL of ideas - there is simply so much to this book I cant do it justice here - there is enough material here to keep you going with Norca or Sudamerica based games alone for a few years at least!
    • Process 418 has come to pass - and you are left 'baying' for the next book
    • Thoroughly well written all round
    • Hey its a Trinity book for heavens sake!
    • I wasn't sure about e-books until I read this. This book has revitalized my faith in the Trinity line (and the Continuum by extension) as a whole - hats off to all involved, particularly Bruce Baugh.

    Cons

      [*]Only the one - bloody character templates. I can't stand them. Rip them out of the next book and put the space to better use! As RPG'rs we come up with a lot of characters and NPC's ourselves, if I need examples of how it could be done - I certainly don't need 14 pages of the darned things!

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