When Aberrant was first released in 1999, comic book superheroes were in a state of flux. The 90s had been a dark period where heroes shied away from the fantastic origins of the genre. Everyone was trying to prove that comics were serious business even as the genre swung back toward a mixture of big stories and grown-up storytelling in comics like Astro City and the Marvel Ultimate universe that came out a few years later. Aberrant set itself up as an engine to tell superhero stories different from contemporaries like Champions or Mutants & Masterminds. Those games sought to emulate the Big Two team stories while Aberrant wanted to be more like Watchmen. The core book showed a lot of potential but the line never quite lived up to it thanks to a Storyteller system that was mechanically stretched thin and a seeming desire to not want to tell superhero stories in a game about superheroes. Trinity Continuum: Aberrant looks to take a second bite at the apple with a redesigned system and a better sense of where it exists in the Trinity Continuum setting. Let’s dig inside the copy of the book sent to me by Onyx Path and see if the second time’s the charm.
The Aberrant setting is the middle child of the Trinity Continuum set between the far future space psychics of Aeon and the two-fisted pulp heroes of Adventure. When the book was first announced in the back of Aeon books, the assumption was that players would be playing the villains of the Aeon era, horribly mutated humans called Aberrants that nearly caused the world to nuke itself to stop their rise to power. Instead, Aberrant featured a near future setting where people around the world had manifested superpowers. These Novas, as they had come to be called, were part superheroes and part celebrity. Some had taken roles like their fictional forebears, others had signed up with government backed super teams, still others got sweet endorsement deals from corporations. The central question of the game was “What would you do with the powers of a god?” and set up players to answer them in a way that was a breath of fresh air compared to the World of Darkness.
Nowadays, however, comics have evolved. Media like The Boys and Invincible have taken a deeper look at how normal people with powers would live messy lives. The biggest media franchise in the world centers around superheroes and how they cause big changes in the world. What does a game like Aberrant have to offer audiences much more familiar with sophisticated superhero storytelling?
The world has changed. While the original Aberrant was coming fresh off the 90s conspiracy zeitgeist and framed every power player as a bad guy with a secret to hide, this version offers a more nuanced take. The good guys are trying to be good and the bad guys made some valid points. There’s a better chance of cross-factional play that doesn’t end in the players murdering each other. The titular Aberrants, for example, are the novas who push their powers to eventually become the dominant faction and bad guys of the future, but they are considered a fringe faction of the Teragen. The Teragen are loosely connected novas who want to explore their powers and push back on anyone who thinks they should be controlled or made to submit to law. Project Utopia is trying to protect people and use their powers for good, even as their efforts sometimes get bogged down by bureaucracy and worrying about public image. The rewrite also gives some depth and shading to the ‘signature’ characters in the setting. Caestus Pax is no longer just a jerk version of Superman, nor is Divis Mal simply a clone of Magneto’s ideals.
Trinity Continuum: Abberant offers a lot of good exploration of these tropes and the underlying system has much more thought put into it. Storypath is an evolution of the classic pool of d10s system that mixes in more narrative elements from Fate and other systems. Making a character is as easy as assembling packages based on where your character has been, what they are doing now and where they are going. Adding in nova powers makes things a little more complex, but designers Steve Kenson and writers Kenson, Fiona L.F. Kelly, Danielle Lauzon, Alejandro Melchior, Leath Sheales, Vera Vartanian, Ian A.A. Watson and Eddy Webb offer excellent examples of powers. There’s even an appendix for quick power packages that’s quite robust and handy for people who can describe their characters in terms of preexisting comic book heroes.
The book also benefits from having a clearer picture of the Trinity Continuum storyline. The 90s were the bad old days where games were trying to sell metaplot as a way to keep people buying books beyond new mechanical toys. Knowing how this game fits in the overall story sharpens the focus of play. This Aberrant knows that it's in the boom times when things are great and nobody would ever consider there are consequences to the big nova party. It also opens an interesting megacampaign for fans who would start with characters from the pulp era, revisit them in this era and see where they might have ended up in Aeon. If it’s good enough for Maxwell Mercer, it sounds like fun for a group of PCs, too.
Trinity Continuum: Aberrant is a great game for fans of modern action, deconstructionist comic book stories and sprawling multi-game chronicles.
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