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Trinity

Reviewed by Nicholas HM Caldwell

Trinity has been recently published by White Wolf in a 320-page softcover volume "at an introductory low price", and so in a fit of curiosity, I purchased a copy to investigate further. Now White Wolf is more usually associated with role-playing games of angst and horror, such as Vampire and Werewolf set in the World of Darkness. Trinity, however, proclaims itself to be "Epic Science Fiction Roleplaying", and it is in spades.

The book is divided into two roughly equal halves, the first half describing the universe at the player-level and the second half detailing the rules. Oddly, the universe material has all the color artwork, some of it stunning, leaving the rules in black and white, if you will pardon the pun.

The Trinity universe opens in the year 2120. Between now and that distant hopeful year, human history has seen the rise and exile of the Aberrants, the Crash and its recovery, the return of the Aberrants and the emergence of the psionic orders, and the first contacts with friendly and hostile alien races.

The Aberrants appear in the twentieth century but only grew numerous in the first half of the twenty-first century. Able to manipulate the physical world at the quantum level, their powers become tainted and they become monstrous destroyers. After a devastating war, the Aberrants are forced into exile. Earth suffers a worldwide depression lasting a decade. Eventually, recovery begins in 2070 and humanity returns in force to space. In 2104, the Aberrants return to human space attacking the base on the asteroid Vesta. Two years later, the eight psionic orders led by their "proxies" appear to combat the Aberrant threat. Unlike the Aberrants, the psionic powers operate at the subquantum level. Using the teleportation powers, humanity seeds a few colonies in deep space and meets its first alien race. One of the psionic orders is revealed to be in alliance with the Aberrants and is destroyed, the teleporters disappear into the unknown. The remaining orders integrate themselves into human society and become its defenders. Aeon Trinity serves to unite the orders against the threat of the Aberrants and hostile aliens.

The geopolitical situation on Earth is very different from our own. North America (including Canada and Mexico) is now ruled by the Federated States of America, with the corporations and the military in control. South America's governments are manipulated by the kingpins of crime. Europe is in ruins, following the Aberrant-induced crash of a huge space station into the heart of France. Africa has unified itself as the United African Nations. Asia is dominated by China, which is the leading space superpower. Australia is the new refuge for the common man and woman.

The background for Trinity is detailed, self-consistent, and ripe with possibilities for epic adventuring. There are obvious threats in the form of the Aberrants, and more subtle dangers in the mostly covert conflicts of interest among the nations, the megacorporations, criminal organizations and psionic orders. The Aberrants provide the opportunity for straightforward good versus evil stories; the intricacies of the new world order provide the opportunities for a broader spectrum of stories. This is not a cyberpunk dystopia where survival is the only concern. There is real hope in this universe.

The second half of the book is the rules system. Unusual for role-playing games but not for White Wolf, there are some brief notes on live action role-playing. Very brief as Trinity is designed for table top gaming.

The principal game mechanic is the "dice pool". To resolve an action, roll as many ten-sided dice according to the rating of the trait involved (a characteristic, a skill, or a combination of these). Every die that comes up with a 7, 8, 9, or 10 is counted as a success. Get sufficient successes and the action is successful. A botch (or really bad failure) occurs if no successes are rolled and at least one die comes up with a 1. In a neat move, actions get harder for every consecutive failure owing to the frustration factor. This dice pool variation is easier and faster to run than the others I've encountered.

Character creation is as much about the origins, driving motivation, personality and allegiances of a character as it is about the mechanics of getting the numbers onto paper. Players must first design the character concept, choosing a psionic aptitude and a "Nature". The latter sums up the character's approach to the universe, e.g. analyst, critic, follower, martyr, visionary, etc. Playing to this approach is important as it is the major way to regain Willpower, a secondary characteristic which functions as psionic resistance, resistance to instinctual responses (such as fear or horror), and low-powered "fate points". Next come the selection of Attributes (physical, mental, and social characteristics such as strength, perception, charisma, etc.) and the choosing of Qualities (innate talents associated with high attributes). The third step is to select Abilities (skills) with the primary allegiance of the character biasing the direction of these purchases. The final steps involve selecting Advantages (which includes special backgrounds and psionic powers) and spending a set of bonus points to round off the character.

Nothing terribly unusual about the process, just another variation on the points-based approach to character creation. The juicy parts of character creation in Trinity are choosing the psionic powers. There are six available Aptitudes - Biokinesis (the power of shapeshifting and body morphing), Clairsentience (the power to extend one's senses), Electrokinesis (the power to manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum), Psychokinesis (the power to manipulate matter), Telepathy ( the power to read minds), and Vitakinesis (the power to heal and to harm). Each Aptitude has three modes, so Psychokinesis includes the modes of Cryokinesis (ability to cool molecules down), Pyrokinesis (ability to heat molecules), and Telekinesis (the ability to move matter). Each mode in turn has five powers, each of increasing potency. Including the basic techniques of each Aptitude, there are ninety-six psionic powers available in the game, some obvious, some not. All are interesting and well described. Characters can only choose one Aptitude, and the number of points available to starting characters to select psionic powers is deliberately low so characters won't immediately be able to scan a star system for habitable worlds, change their entire body structure, control plasma, or kill by a single thought. Choose wisely!

Combat uses the dice pool mechanic extensively. Multiple actions are the norm as characters will want to attack and actively defend against their foes in the same turn. The first action's dice pool is reduced by the number of actions to be attempted, and each further action's dice pool is also reduced. Hence the more actions attempted, the more unlikely it is for any or all of them to succeed. Assuming a character gets hit, either Bashing or Lethal damage will be inflicted. The human frame can withstand or "soak" a certain amount of Bashing damage, armour or psionic powers are needed to "soak" Lethal damage. This has the net effect of reducing the dice pool used to determine actual wounds. To inflict an actual wound, a "success" must still be rolled on the Damage dice pool. Characters have nine Health Levels with bashing and lethal wounds causing the overall health of the character to decline from full health via Bruised and Injured to Incapacitated and Dead. Take care!

Technology in Trinity comes in two flavors, hardtech and biotech. For greatest benefits, biotech has to be formatted to its user. Naturally there are limits on how much biotech can be safely used by any one character before a "tolerance overload" occurs. Computers in Trinity are essentially an evolution of what we have today. There aren't any artificial intelligences, just sophisticated applications. Moreover, the global electronic networks were comprehensively fried during the Aberrant War, so the "OpNet" is a mass of isolated and highly paranoid nodes. The Avatar programs won't be able to find any piece of information on demand so referees (or "storytellers") are unlikely to lose whole plots to cunning hacks of the computer banks. So while Trinity is not a cyberpunk paradise of omnipresent computer networks or rampant technology, there are more than enough futuristic devices from weapons, tools and clothes all the way up to spaceships to keep things interesting.

The final section of the book is reserved for Storyteller advice, including how to choose the mood of the game, emphasize the conflicts that will be relevant to the campaign, and how to organize a story arc from beginning to finale. All sound and useful advice. Hidden after the glossary of universe terms is a short section describing the "metaplot" of the Trinity universe. The key plot elements and secret backstory are revealed with pointers to the supplements which enlarge on the various threads. A very welcome conclusion to the book amid a myriad of launch points into the Trinity universe.

Overall, Trinity is an excellent science-fiction role-playing game with an exciting and fully realized background. The rules are more than capable of handling actions within the premises of the universe framework. The psionic abilities are detailed and "plausible", and their number ensures that every character will have unique abilities to contribute to an adventuring group. Trinity isn't appropriate as a generic rules set for any science-fiction background as the game system is fairly tightly bound to the needs of the Trinity universe. If Trinity excites you as a science-fictional setting, then take advantage of the softcover edition to investigate it for yourself.

Editor's Note:

Trinity is published by White Wolf Publishing Inc. Their contact details are as follows:
White Wolf Publishing Inc.
735 Park North Boulevard
Suite 128
Clarkston, GA 30021
USA
Web: http://www.white-wolf.com/

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