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Dissecting Transgression-Arcane Reviews Genius

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  • Dissecting Transgression-Arcane Reviews Genius

    *sets the music to Collide, starting with Wings of Steel*

    Genius the Transgression is probably the most prolific work in the current White Wolf/Onyx Path fan community. For many people it is their introduction to the Chronicles of Darkness, and to the rest of White Wolf's and Onyx Path's games as an aside, and several of highly regarded fans in the community are fans of the game, if not outright people were directly involved with the playtesting and honing of the game. It is one of the are few fan games to have a distinction of being considered a finished product, which in and of itself is something to praise, as any game is it's own little miracle and being able to churn out a completed product, regardless of it's quality, is an accomplishment.

    Genius also has the less happy distinction of being perhaps one of the most controversial things in the community, by and large also thanks to its' fanbase. Several players have pushed the idea that Genius be added to the canon of Chronicles of Darkness games, claiming it to be as good as the other games, and some have even went so far as to say that White Wolf should buy the rights to the games(a notion that, asides from showing an absurd degree of arrogance, fails to account how if any sort of action were to be taken by White Wolf, it would probably to can it in defense of its' legal properties). Also of note is that many of the most highly disregarded names in the community today, including several individuals who were banned for being aggressive and offensive and flat out deragotory, were and are huge fans of Genius, proudly proclaiming it's superiority while damaging the reputation of the game with their own antics. Several fans who are less extreme about it put the margin of success much lower, causing a rift in the reverence of this game by citing several glaring flaws with the mechanics. The few times writers and developers from White Wolf/Onyx Path have commented on the game, it's often been to expose what they feel is a deep and abiding flaw with the game's design and its' principles.

    Genius is a messy place on the internet, is what I'm saying.

    I would love to say I was personally turned off by Genius long before any encountering any toxicity in the fanbase, but the simple fact is that I was introduced to the existence of Genius through a number of fans aggressively pushing for it's acknowledgment in threads, demanding that Genius be treated as canon and accounted for in any and all discussions, even those that made an explicit point of wanting to not talk about fan works. Honestly, that was enough for me to decide I was never going to read Genius ever, because I felt like everyone I knew who like it lacked a fundamental understanding of respectful, or at least polite, behavior on the internet. Years have passed since then, and while I have met fans of the game who I'm glad to have met, I've had the misfortune of meeting some of the most hateful people I've ever experienced on the internet while they were waving the Genius flag high in the sky. Honestly, I was determined to never read this game on matter of principle alone.

    However, recently things have been changing. It's not in the perception of Genius-if anything the past few months has actually made it even more trying for me to not conceive of the Genius fanbase as this seething mass of toxicity and arrogance as some of it's members have gone an extra mile and began pissing on other people's fan projects, which is utterly galling to me. But my attitudes towards "I shalt not see nor read" items came into question when my brother and I got into an argument over Sword Art Online which has resulted in us watching the entire series and critiquing the hell out of it(and in his case, defending it). This experience has led us to consider possibly starting a show based on our dissenting opinions, and it's opened me up to the idea of bad products as a point of discussion. More importantly, it finally made me cop that there are some things you can't really truly critique without experience. Much as I would like to assume that Genius is like the trashier elements of its' fanbase, I know too many people who think it's okay that I respect the opinion of. It's not like reading it is putting money into anyone's pockets and sending a solid sign of encouragement regardless of my actual opinion. So, yeah, I'ma read it.

    Why make it a public, chapter by chapter(maybe more sectional) review, though?

    There's a lot of motives for that, not the least of which is the mere exercise of it in relation to possibly doing a video series based on reviews. But more importantly, I find myself thinking on the people who want this game included into the canon, and with that the questions of expectations and design theory and ideas that surround that level of regard. People are entitled to like what they like, and Genius makes them happy, kudos-but there's a difference between enjoying a piece of work and thinking it's good. I enjoy several bad pieces of media-I've enjoyed the original Speed Racer tv series, King of Bandit Jing, and the Felix the Cat movie as a few examples. But I don't exactly put them on a pedestal. So I wanted to make an exercise of putting our darlings on a pedestal and really examining it. Also I think it's a good way of explaining my perspective and biases in regards media in general, and that makes talking to me easier for some people, if nothing else.

    I want to spend the rest of this post talking about the history of Genius as I understand it, my biases going into the reading of this without accounting for the people who have colored my perception of this game, and what I would expect from this game. I'm doing this because having a stable base understanding of the game and my perspectives will help guide the way throughout the review. If you're bored and want to get to the actual review, here's your jump off point. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

    Also, I've been refraining from the snark for the sake of semi-professionalism, but now we're starting on the actual subject, so it's time to start rocking out with my cock out.

    A Wizard Did It-Why Genius was Made

    *switches over to Peter Breinholt, starting with You Wear Flowers*

    The story of Genius the Transgression actually goes back to....well, actually, Vampire the Masquerade. No, not in a direct fashion, but it's important understand the sort of primordial ooze Genius started gestating in, even if to the casual viewer it's not even...well, anything. See, Vampire the Masquerade revolutionized the gaming industry in a lot of ways, not the least of which was it's pushing of character-driven stories, and the power of cathartic transgression through playing anti-aspirational characters. "A Beast I am lest a Beast I become" was mindblowing for the industry back then, particularly coupled with the games sincere belief in itself as an artwork and voice for the feeling of being surrounded by corruption on all sides while hurtling towards the apocalyptic fervor of the millennium's end. Basically, everyone from the goths to the critics got caught up in destructive and self-destructive stories of bad people in a worse world hurtling towards the worst possible ending. It was hype as shit, and was the flagbearer for White Wolf games in terms of their mentality for exactly zero games after that.

    Okay, that's an exaggeration, but the White Wolf styled their magnum opus and the rest of the games in that universe as Gothic-Punk, balancing the omnipresence of "Everything is falling apart, everything is fucked" with some "Let's kick in the doors, mangle the fuckers, and burn the world ourselves" within each. And yet, the expectation of Gothic influence on player's characters became lax for the next two games, not really coming back into fullness until Changeling the Dreaming, and some would argue it wouldn't properly re-emerge until Wraith the Oblivion. Apocalypse and the elephant yet to be named, on the other hand, were much more punk, fixated on this idea that if you shattered the world enough, sooner or later you could break everything back into place. Even if that promise was a lie, it really felt like it was possible.

    No where was that idea of "I can break the world back into place" more prevalent than in Mage the Ascension, White Wolf's second truly revolutionary blockbuster game(sorry Apocalypse, but history doesn't accord you much. You are still a popular beast, though) and the first significant elephant in the room as far as Genius discussions go-but we'll ignore that for now. TO be fair, I might be over-exaggerating that, but it seems like the two biggest camps of popularity and influence from the World of Darkness are centered on Ascension and Masquerade. The biggest difference between these two games really comes back around to that idea of anti-aspirational characters. Masquerade, however cool and influential it's characters were, ultimately portraryed it's characters as tragic figures, people you really wouldn't want to be.

    Ascension, on the other hand, thought being a mage was the just da best, or at least the best thing since MC Hammer. Sure, you might fuck up reality in the pursuit of your ideal vision of reality, but it honestly can't get any worse now. Nevermind that mages on the whole basically just said "Fuck everyone" and had no problem trampling over everyone else in pursuit of what they thought was right-you were power, you were will, you were change.

    I should clarify, at this point, that I actually really like Ascension and in fact my favorite games ever have been in Ascension-but I don't think it would be crass to admit that Mage loved it's characters perhaps a little too much. Benevolent gods or cruel demons, one and all, it was better to be mage than to be anything else.

    Now, that's not to say it was beloved by all at the exact same time. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Ascension's history knows it had lots of turmoil, and perhaps the most contentious part of that discussion is Mage Revised versus Mage 2nd. In relationship to that, It's time we talked about where Genius found it's face-The Technocracy and the Traditions of the Virtual Adepts and especially the Sons of Ether.

    In regards to all of that, some background if you don't know-effectively modern communications science and mad science(eh, see, right there) made up those two traditions, while the Technocracy embodied basically modern scienctific practices and advancements. Taken together, you effectively had half of the major power blocs in Mage dedicated to scientific pursuit as occult practice-to be some kind of scientist meant to be a nexus of power. This will be our second elephant to talk about when we get there.

    Anyways, what was the conflict? Well, The Technocracy, the majority of that "Science as power" half were the bad guys initially, but a lot of people didn't truck with the idea that the powers of education, rational observation and judgement, all that stuff being portrayed as the bad guy, and there was a lot of sympathy and outright support of the Technocracy going on. To be fair, In the context of the game, I think I kind of side with the Technocracy as well. I mean, they are well and truly fucked, and they won't actually reach their end goal because of how much they screwed themselves over, but the aspiration of the Time Table does beat out the visions of reality that the Traditions had. But, as happens with fans, the extent to which the Technocracy was defended reached absurd levels. Like, justifying the destruction of freewill, the erasure of people, and general imperialism absurd.

    Anyways, point is that These "Science Mages" were kind of hella popular with a significant portion of the fanbase, and in Mage Second, the war for reality was escalated, with a greater emphasis on the Technocracy as a viable playgroup as well as a more gonzo approach to the game-dinosaurs on zepplins were a thing, I understand. That gothic presence probably hit an all time low. In contrast, Mage Revised went bleaker, not only making the Technocracy not only more black-hatted, but also oppressively winning the game's war. Revised had a more gothic setting and certainly made more of a push for gothic characters, PC's wrapped up in the failures they experienced in the blindness of their hubris. Velociraptors with jetpacks were demonstrably missing.

    This is a fight that rages on still today, by the way. Of course, it would sort of be overshadowed when the world ended in 2004.

    Conceiving the Horror-Awakening to Genius

    The transition from the old World of Darkness to the New World of Darkness, now Chronicles of Darkness as we'll refer to it from here on out, was not a happy one. Requiem seemed like Masquerade-lite, high on the angst, low on the grand history, and Forsaken seemed to think trading the epic environmentalist warriors for maligned, underpowered puppies was an equal trade, or so at least a lot of the diehard WoD fans felt. It didn't help that it would be years before the World was picked up again-for now, it seemed like White Wolf had abandoned their darlings for this new game, and in fairness, the amount of problems that existed in the earlier Chronicles games were enough to be off putting. There was a time before Promethean when it seemed like, for the haters of the Chronicles world, that White Wolf was content to just churn out poor shadows.

    Masquerade and Requeim had the worst of it, but certainly Awakening as a followup to Ascension was probably the second largest anger bubble bursting-after that, Promethean and Changeling would go to break the expectations for a lot of people who were on the fence and win the Chronicles a unique identity apart from World, nevermind the effect that was happening in the supplements for the first three gamelines. To explain the response against Awakening from the Ascension crowd, I'm gonna cite a post from Mister E that sums it all up incredibly neatly.

    Originally posted by MisterE
    I can remember the controversy over Mage and its attendant Atlantis mythology, mostly because most of the lads and lasses of my gaming circle were just getting into WW games. Interestingly enough, while I gravitated towards toward what was the 'New World of Darkness', they started to embrace the 'Old World of Darkness'. It seems, with hindsight, that the narrative approach or metaplot initially drew them in more than the open world toolkit of the New World. Lately though this trend has reversed, and the new Chronicles of Darkness has become more popular as these now more experienced players have decided that they like toolkit approach more than the older meta-narrative. Not that they dislike the Classic World of Darkness. In any case, I ramble off topic...

    As for Atlantis, I'd guess that there were a couple of reasons for its negative reception.

    Firstly, there has to be the fact that Atlantis was the poster-child for everything that new Mage was, particularly how it was not Ascension. It was the first, front and centre piece of the new rule book, in a position where the older books would have featured some some in-character dialogue-come-explanation of the World of Darkness from a mage's perspective. Instead, this heretical version had an abstract description of a lost, seemingly objective ('Ha! No more consensus, losers!'), history, one completely alien to the tone and tenor of Ascension. It was like the front-piece from a late Medieval English translation of the Latin Bible - obviously wrong, but seemingly also glorifying in its wrong-headedness - at least from the perspective of an Ascension fan.

    Secondly I'd point to the fact that most roleplayers (as quintessential geeks - like myself), despite their love of fantasy and magical worlds, tend to be of a somewhat skeptical bent. They tend to be rationalists who support a scientific/skeptical view of the world, one that is critical of non-scientific or even anti-scientific views of the world. Now as 'Atlantis' has often been seen as a central trope in the 'ridiculous' New Age movement of the 80/90s, its inclusion in Mage the Awakening immediately cut hard against the grain; much much harder than the 'consensual reality' ideas, talk of 'paradigms' and The Technocracy did in Ascension. This wasn't an ideological opposition, but you could detect the reoccurring feeling among Ascension fans that Awakening had shamed itself by importing some daft New Agey nonsense at the expense of the hard-edged dystopian supra-science of the original game.
    In particular, it's that last part where the place for Genius finally came about. You had some fans who might be enjoying the differences Chronicles had, but missed out on how the things you well and truly valued no longer had a representation in the world, and that it was instead replaced by what they probably regarded as it's antithesis. As time went on, it became clear that wasn't a mistake worth fixing to White Wolf. There would be no Sons of Ether in Mage the Awakening. To them, it probably seemed like there would be no Sons of Ether in Chronicles of Darkness period.

    So, an idea was sprung in the head of a guy names Kyle Marquis, TvTropes tells me. That person would make this slice of Mage the Ascension without it being Mage the Awakening, and fill the void that White Wolf had left in their fanbase.

    Cue the third elephant. And then switch gears-that's where Genius came from, in broad strokes, now to see where I'm starting from.

    I AM MAD SCIENTIST! IS SO COOL!-Biases, or "Didn't I beat up this guy for lunch money?"

    The lunch money comment might be going overboard, but I feel like it accurately conveys what I think of when I think "mad scientist"-largely, that I'm unimpressed.

    This isn't to say I don't like any mad scientist. I'm a fan of Ansem from Kingdom Hearts, hammy as he is, I was identified for years as Icchan, the self-given moniker of Clamp's premier mad scientist Ichiro Mihara, and Holtzmann from Ghostbusters is the best part of that movie. There are more examples scattered about my head of characters who you can easily slot into the mad scientist category who I think are cool and worthwhile. But when you get me on the archetype of the mad scientist, I just kind of sit there, looking blankly at you. This is because the archetype is not powerful to me. Mad scientists weren't heroes or monsters to me growing up, or even now. They were much worse.

    They were buffoons.

    Here's the thing-I grew up with shows like Star Trek and Stargate going on constantly. I grew up in the era where Jurassic Park blew open the doors of archaeology. I had a presence of scientists in my life, but the thing of the matter is that those scientists weren't mad. They were often voices of reasons, highly respectable, and restrained, just as concerned with morals and ethics as they were progress. There might have been villain scientists, but oftentimes, if they were serious, they were presented in a fashion similar to the heroes. if they were mad....well, they weren't a threat.

    Mad scientists for me are summed up in that one Superman short-you know the one. If I sit and take an intellectual look at that guy, sure, he's scary, and the things he does are terrifying-but it's just as hard for me to do as it is for people to think of Harry Potter is terms of a horror icon. All I remember is how easily Superman made that guy look like a fool. And later on, characters like Data(Promethean, what now?), Crusher, LeForge, or Samantha Carter and Daniel Jackson just trumping these people again and again, revealing their flaws with so much more panache and inspiration.

    I just don't get excited by the image, the myth. Even if I hadn't had a bad introduction to Genius through it's fanbase, I probably still wouldn't have checked it out just because of lack of interest. I don't check out a lot of things because of lack of interest. So, even if I try to set aside the people bias, and I can't, Genius has an admittedly uphill battle.

    It's not like other games haven't, though. Mummy the Curse didn't impress me at all when it was announced-in fact, I felt disappointed. But that game went on to subvert everything I knew, not only about the icons of mummies, but of the Chronicles of Darkness itself, and really impress me with it's lore and ideas and how powerful the character potential was.

    So, who knows. I'm down right doubtful, but sometimes you can actually crap out a diamond.

    My apologies if you do.

    UNDERSTAND MY VISION!-Expectations Can Always Go Lower

    What would I expect a game about mad scientists to deliver?

    This is honestly another part of the problem, because you say that to me and I just go "Wha?" I, High Intelligence, Crafts, Science, Medicine, extended rolls covering weeks to months, and bam, that's all you need. Everything else is pretty much narrative or context sensitive.

    Mad Scientists are not major template worthy in my head. I know they are for the fanbase that finds them, but honestly, it makes more sense to me to just have it be a matter of die-pools and GM discretion. Maybe a minor template? I dunno how that'd work, because even that feels like it's going too far.

    But okay, let's indulge the question and try and come up with an answer. What do I expect out of a game that treats mad scientists as a major supernatural power, that can build the impossible and unleash them onto Hawai'i so they can steal everyone's left shoe and learn the meaning of ohana?

    Honestly, the big limitation is also the main thing I want executed. i want the mechanics to reflect the craftsmanship of any of the field that might be applied to the mad science of the game, an emphasis on the ritual build up. I want devices that are always there, that you have to ask why they were built for something so specific, why this nutso would just so happen to have a raygun that transforms floors into sudden pit traps. I want a disposition to make the world worse, because these guys are always trying to blow up the world or to become the Ruler of the Tri-State area or to rid the world of those damn bunnies, to hell with the consequences-Beast-like, you know. They might have a counter, some sort of good side-sympathetic freaks happen, but for the most part, really getting into the monstrousness of the character, you just want everyone else to have a worse day than you, to be crying while you moonwalk around in your baby seal leather boots. Probably not as gonzo as I'm putting it, but let's be honest, you need a certain amount of gonzo to make this work.

    I really have no idea.

    Okay, Enough chatter. It's time cut into this specimen and find out what writhes within.

    NEXT TIME: Introduction and Chapter 1. Maybe

    Jesus Christ, this thing has 488 pages and nothing but text?!
    Last edited by ArcaneArts; 08-15-2016, 05:24 PM.

    Kelly R.S. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
    The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
    Feminine pronouns, please.

  • #2
    A WORLD WITHOUT GROUND, PART 1 of Genius's Opening Review

    *sets the music to Invocation Array*

    You are, of course, entitled to like whatever you will. Good, bad, otherwise. You are even allowed to like parts of a thing that you otherwise dislike.

    But for me, I have no idea how anyone got past Chapter 1 of Genius. I'm not even all the way through it and I am just utterly bamboozled. The point of this chapter is to enthrall me and make me even more curious how the world works, right? To make me want to dive into the monstrosity, to make me want to suffer through the condition and emerge victorious or miserable on the other side, to make me feel something? Well, I felt something-deep and abiding hate and frustration. If I were to judge Genius purely on the first half of this chapter, and I will, I would have to declare that Genius is utter fucking shit.

    I wish I was joking. I really wish I was. I, generally speaking, do not like hating games as much as I have hated what I have read thus far. I don't like hating anything that much. It's an unpleasant place to be. It's stressful, it's bitter, it's-no, just no. It's a thing I do not want.

    But where I initially thought Genius was merely going to be unimpressive, I did not-could not-believe people, however much I radically differ from them, could like a game this terrible. But Genius kept finding new barriers to smash. Uninspired? Obvious from the first bit of the story. Boring? Distinctly probable from the second page of the story. I planned on that going in.

    Utterly nonsensical, though? From the first words of Chapter 1 straight down into non-Euclidean scribbles pretending to be world-building statements, Lewis Carollinian babble and nonsense as explanations. Discriminatory? Proudly statistical. Outright offensive? WHAT?!

    I mean, honestly, who the fuck could ever conceive that the single most prolific piece in our fandom could be outright offensive?

    But Genius did it. Genius went there. And it did it with pride. And I don't know how anyone ever got past it. I don't know how anyone read Chapter 1 and thought to themselves "This is a game I can play", let alone "This is a game I can take refuge in." I feel deep loathing for any answer I come up with, and I don't want that

    Games are art pieces, and art is about communication, and communication is about connecting to people. This is a fundamental truth. It is a truth I don't think Genius realizes. I think Genius just wanted to be entertainment, and somehow confused the connecty bits of Chronicles games as bits of fun.

    Originally I intended to go through this in order of presentation in the book, but it becomes apparent to me that I need to talk about this in a different order. So here's what we're going to do. I'm going to explain the ways this game falls apart as a game. Then I'm gonna explain the ways this game gets offensive and fails to connect to people, and the terrible ways it does connect. Then I'm gonna hit on the extraneous bits, like why the lack of art is a problem. Then I'm gonna give my own thoughts on what you could do to quickly and simply fix this game, because I know some people are working on Genius Second Edition, and honestly if I can make it so this game is at least okay rather than this hot mess, I would actually be very happy.

    And the entire time, I'm going to hope and pray that there is something better than this in this book. Because if the rest of the book is as bad as this part, I don't know what I'm going to do.

    So, where do I even start? Well, let's go with what this chapter's review title implies with-how there's zero ground to stand on.

    We Are Zero-The Failure to Be Anything

    Early on in the reading of Genius, I took note of the tendency to use non-declarative statements, and much of my notes at the beginning were along the lines of how Genius couldn't actually just say something and let it stand. Little did I know just how deep this problem went, as it becomes apparent that Genius doesn't know what it is, and goes so far as to actually define itself as nothing, or nothing more than basically "Things Happens Because People and Things." This is the problem at the heart of Genius as a fictional experience, as a thing to buy into-that there is nothing to actually buy into.

    Before I go on, I should unpack what I mean by declarative statements and non-declarative statements and why they are important. Simply put, a declarative statement is asserting that something is this, that an assertion is a fact of the universe. "Changelings are people who have been turned into faeries by the True Fae" is a declarative statement-it tells you something about the world of Changeling the Lost without waffling on the subject or contradicting itself or simply not saying anything. "Promethean the Created would be strengthened by accounting for transhumanist options for players" is a declarative statement about the product of Promethean, a strong opinion of what should be done to make it a better game. It is clear and concise statements that tell how things are and that's that. Even if there are exceptions to the rule, such as disagreements over whether or not Promethean would be strengthened or not by including transhumanism into it, that statement sets the precedence for what it being done and asserted, what is trying to come into existence. No one can argue that a person saying that, for instance, is trying to say that Promethean the Created could be strengthened by giving them faerie powers.

    (By the way, if someone ever made a Refinement about understanding humanity through the lens of their transhumanist desires, I'd be all over that like honey on Pooh, just saying. Why is that an angle no one has talked about yet? We have lots of stuff on the humanism and people wanting to skip over meaning for as we are now and just want to be past the human condition, but nothing on where the two meet.)

    By contrast, a non-declarative statement is anything that does not strongly assert a reality or idea, a statement that undermines itself by weakening it's own argument and conviction. The easiest way to spot these sorts of statements is the presence of qualifiers like 'usually', 'often', 'sometimes', and other such things.

    The importance of declarative statements in fiction is paramount, because they assert the reality of whatever the fiction is trying to get people to buy into. It can even do this through a sort of narrative Newton's Third Law, in that even if we experience a sort of "But not all X" response to the assertion, that means we are still responding and engaging with the subject matter-we are treating it as though it were real. Non-declarative statements make a world fuzzy and indistinct, hard to pin anything on because there are so many exceptions to the rules.

    It's easiest to think of Genius commiting this sin on a sentence level, and it does, but Genius magnifies the idea of being non-declarative to a idiomatic level-any more, and the concept of Genius as a roleplaying book would, in and of itself, be broken.(For the record, I tend to break any art piece down according to Scott McCloud's six steps of art, starting as an idea or purpose, and then developing a form, then an idiom, a structure, a craft, and finally a surface. I imagine you can look up the Six Steps online, but if you can't and want to know more of what I mean, ask me.) Chapter 1 literally starts an assertion that the rest of the chapter will undermine, follows it up with the existential crisis of Geniuses before we really even understand anything about Geniuses, and proceeds to contradict the vast majority of any meaningful declarations it gives. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the Geniuses themselves.

    As a perfect example, answer this question: What character archetype is Genius about? Mad Scientists, right? Okay, good, correct, easy peasy. So that means that Geniuses must do some form of hyper advanced scientific practice, right? Even if they don't really know how to connect the World of Tomorrow to the World of Today, Geniuses practices must at least be able to slot into what we know on a theoretical level, right?

    Well, no, actually. Genius the Transgression goes out of it's way to make it clear that whatever your mad scientists are doing, it isn't science. In fact, it makes it clear that being a Genius interferes with your ability to be a regular scientist. Wait, what?! How can you have a game about mad scientists if what they're doing isn't science? How can this game make a declarative statement like that? Already, this game contradicts itself down to the heart. But wait, it gets better.

    So, if what they're doing isn't science, then it is some form of magic, for lack of a better term, right? Like, putting aside the philosophers(does philosophy really count as a science? One wonders) and the psychologists for a second, Geniuses are basically hyper versions of various forms of African sorceries, where the act of unleashing magic is committed through the act of craftsmanship rather than through language, right? Well, no, that's not true either. Genius is just as hard and clear that whatever they are, they are not wizards(We're going to talk about the mages, I swear).

    So if they're not scientists and they're not wizards, what the fuck are they? Maybe if we knew anything about how their power worked, we could answer that, but Genius goes and stomps on it's own foot there too. Geniuses flat out have a "law" they teach each other about their Wonders that basically no one know how or why they work. While there's a general feeling that Inspiration is this alien force that invades the minds of people and pushes them to creative and entropic extremes(Huh, this feels familiar somehow), the book constantly questions it, asking if Geniuses are themselves Inspiration or asserting that Inspiration has nothing to do with scientific principle and reasoning but it none the less attracted to people who are strongly rooted in the practice of science (Ho, boy, do we have shit to talk there). Mania is described as the product of Inspiration in the same way you can get electricity from a generator, and that it generally is a pushing and bending force of some kind, but what Mania actually does is not very well covered.

    At no point in this chapter does Genius ever actually tells you what it's characters are, only what they are not. It's declarative statements clash and explode and neutralize each other, and in the end we're left with Geniuses who are....nothing. They are People who do Things and they Work until they Don't for Reasons.

    And this problems extends beyond into the world, because the books starts off telling you that the world is ordered and bound by various natural laws, and that a big thing Geniuses do is violate those laws. But as the chapter goes on, it basically goes on to describe the world as being something that Geniuses can never tame or control, that it violates it own laws and ultimately has no reason or rhyme, and that reality as we know it is basically just the least messed up and least contradictory

    And this messes up the premise of the game as it understands itself, because the selling point of the mad scientist is the fear that they might succeed. In the world of Genius, it's mood of bitter disappointment is hammered in time and time again by emphasizing that no matter what they do, they will not succeed. A Genius is unlikely to see their obsession(cough) ever actually come to fruition, so that promise of transgression is utterly lost because we never get to see them actually violate anything. And then you take a step out and realize that the world of Genius is characterized as chaos and you realize you're doubly thwarted because there are no laws to violate-this, at it's heart, is why Genius's wonders are non-repeatable and why they cannot stand, because reality just simply doesn't have any kind of infrastructure(heh) to support itself even by hanging from it.

    With one exception that really honestly shouldn't exist, Genius refuses to be anything. It contradicts its' own statements all the time and never asserts to being anything. And that's not a game you can invest in-it's literally telling me to be excited in a featureless white room.

    Now, I can hear two arguments.

    1) "But Arc, aren't you always harping on about how ultimately there are no answers and how the fundamental nature of the Chronicles universe is a mystery? Genius is playing in perfect accordance to that!"

    Yes, on the grand scale, there is no ultimately answering the Chronicles world, because that is it's thematic existence. To posit an end-all, be-all answer in some form of canon way is the gut the entire franchise as surely as pissing on Promethean's themes will ruin that one. But the problem is not that Genius has no answers, it's that it has no questions.

    Answers are cathartic for people, but they also end a conflict unless they raise a question in kind. Questions, by contrast, create interest, create the desire for exploration. It's that open door that wasn't open before-the fact that it is open makes you want to know more about what's behind it, because you can find out. The other gamelines in the Chronicles franchise posit a sort of isolated world, for the most part(Beast, cough), and we learn and understand enough about those worlds that when we find cracks, we ask the questions that start the stories. Then, when you throw them all into the same world, the conflicts of these varying paradigms inspire all sorts of questions in how, exactly, they interact together-hell, even exist together.

    Genius doesn't do that. There's no cracks to ask questions about because there's nothing to observe. A mystery is not an answer, it's a question, and if you have nothing to question, you aren't a mystery.

    2) "But Arc, you don't get it-that's the point!"

    Well, yes, and ultimately it's a point I can get behind. I'm inherently a fatalistic nihilist, and as much as I hate that fact, I often find I can't make anything in opposition to it without giving that position it's fair due first. Genius is ultimately all about giving that fair due, but for the life of me, I can't tell what for.

    See, in order for fatalistic nihilism to earn a fair due, in order for it to be resonant with people, you have to establish the illusion for people to believe in first. You have to create the sense that something has meaning and that something will last and that something can be succeeded at. I need a world first, in short. Then, as it crumbles apart into nothing and the hubris of my belief is revealed and that terrible truth that All is Nothing comes in as the only real thing in the universe, then it becomes something more tragic that weeping-it becomes the way it is.

    Genius doesn't have any delusions to tear up, because Genius believes it is nothing already. It exists in that void. It is a snake eating itself without having been a god first, a mere thing devouring itself for the sake of just devouring itself.

    Speaking of chewing the scenery, let's go back to that science image for a second.

    Look Daddy, I'm a [Scientist]!-Science Fetishism and Committing to the Ass

    If you get that reference, I apologize. In the meantime, consider the following.

    Previously, if you had asked me what science fetishism is, this would have been my answer. I mean, it sums it up pretty well. But then I read Genius, and, well, no. This is not it. Genius is science fetishism in a nutshell. But somehow I don't think either of these make it immediately apparent for some of our audience, so an explanation.

    Science Fetishism, as I'm discussing it, is basically the worship of the image of science and it's practice without appreciation for the actual practice thereof. It is basically "Science is good, and anything that is not science or gets in the way of science is bad" as well, a position that ranges from being casually dismissive of things that aren't scientific in appearance to openly attacking anything that is not science.

    Guys. Genius is basically Science: The Fetishism.

    Now before we go into it, I need to make something very clear-there is a difference between valuing science, even on a superficial level, and making science effectively holy. Science is marvelous tool, one that humanity has been using longer than it's codification, and our understanding of the laws of nature and the development of technology has caused a lot of truly marvelous advancements, be they great or terrible or both-the hydrogen bomb is as astounding a work as is penicillin, and our ability to see into the vast cosmos is as much a credit to our species as discovering precise best places to inflict pain on the human body. But at all times, scientific pursuits are a tool in service to people(be those people human or robotic when the singularity inevitably happens and we embrace the coming of our robotic overlords and probably our own extinction)- it is a thing to be used, not to be worshiped or regarded uncaringly, nor is it it the sum answer to all our problems-keep in mind you're talking to someone who would have been a cyberpunk proper had she been born in the 70s.

    But all that aside, Genius is all about fetishizing and masturbating to the image of scientific endeavor. Geniuses are described(ugh, the hate) as coming from backgrounds that at least have an involvement and high understanding of various scientific pursuits, going as far as to suggest that one in three Geniuses have an actual doctorates....but as we've established, Genius tells us that science has nothing to do with what they're doing. So, why then? Why is Inspiration drawn to people of these sorts of backgrounds? Why do the major factions style themselves in the language of academics and colleges and science if Geniuses apparently can't even do science anymore? Why do one in two Geniuses call themselves doctors? If what they're doing is not science, then why is the language of the game science?

    Well, the simple answer is because the people who were behind Genius thought that science had a nice butt. The ideas and forces that support and surround the scientific fields appeals to them more than any other image(Not there yet), so they went there. This game is all image. It's lab coats and goggles and sparky things and Tesla coils and the REALLY SUPER COOL FIELDS OF SCIENCE(if I could make that flash in hip, cool colors, I would), including ENGINEERING(what kind of engineering, I ask? There's, like, dozens of engineering fields), and PHSYICS AND BIOLOGY AND PSCYHOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY(Okay, seriously, is philosophy a science? Are we trying to assert this? I'm 90% certain without Google Searches it is the premier of the humanities, not the sciences. I mean, this'd make more sense if the rest of the game pretended it gave was interested in the Renaissance as anything more than a butt-flap, but it's mentality is rooted in late-twentieth century disdain for the idea of philosophy impeding scientific progress) and none of the other major ones. Where's the formal sciences, the geosciences? If you go deeper into the foundations(as described in this chapter, it might be fixed later), they become even narrower, leaving out things like sociology and botany and several other things. I mean, what it does have covers a lot of stuff, which just makes it all the more perplexing when philosophy is there-and I love philosophy to high hell! Those are the only school books I didn't sell!

    Later on, in describing the organization of the Peerage, they make a point of saying that all of the Foundations operate in an egalitarian structuce that is really rather loose, while Lemuria operates in hierarchies. And I find myself asking ...why? Why isn't their more variety in terms of their structure between Foundations? Lots of scientists I've met work in hierarchies and prefer them to the sort of system that Genius describes for the Peerage-in fact, I shared the description with a friend of mine who's an engineer at SpaceX and he told me that he flat out couldn't imagine working in that sort of a system, though after some thought, he could see people in other fields possibly going for it.(Thanks Aaron!)

    To the book's credit, it is declarative. Nonsensical, but declarative. Point in your favor, Genius.

    My point is that I don't get a sense that there was actually any effort to bring in the scientist element of "mad scientist" beyond the really cool, fun sparky bits,. And I get that, it's a game, and a fantasy asides, we can't bind it too much to reality lest it bog down the experience-but it feels like it ran too far in the opposite direction too insanely keen to put forth an image that was all surface and no substance.

    Now, I can already hear an argument that just so happens to be a handy segue-way.

    "But Arc, you don't understand, how can you attack Genius when you defend Demon the Descent and this is the exact way I feel about that? I hereby call your argument null and void!"

    Normally I would tell you how you're wrong and how the Unchained are demons, thank you very much, but for now, yeah, okay, let's treat Demon as a failure. If Demon failed at giving demons, it is still a better failure then Genius. Why?

    Because regardless of how the image of Demon might not fit up with the argument that it's about demons, the game nevertheless sticks to it's guns and tells you unreservedly that these are demons. In this case, it's like someone dragged a car engine into a demon convention and said "This is a demon."

    Genius might have the aesthetic, but it lacks the guts. It does not insist that it's characters are mad scientists-it insists they are nothing. It never fights to make you believe in it's story. In this case, it's someone brought in a man dressed in the lap coat, goggles, and strange machinery to a mad scientist convention and said "This is not a mad scientist."

    The former confuses me. The latter makes me ask why they are even here.

    But hey, speaking of Demon the Descent, there's a game that actually does stick to it's mad science. See, if you aren't familiar, Demon features heavens and hells of the transhumanist sort, their divinity and profanity a result of their place as the pinnacle of scientific achievement, every utopia every transhumanist ever dreamt of and every dystopian nightmare dreamt of by cyberpunks. Demon categorizes this result of futurism made manifest as arcane physics, or physics known to only a few, and the game sticks to it's language-science is constantly used throughout, it's insinuated humans might reach that level of understanding one day, and the supernatural effects Demon puts on display are often grounded, loosely if nothing else, in quirks of physics and psychology and the ideas of reality as simulation.

    So it's not impossible to do a game of mad science. You just have to stick to it and be willing to work to justify things as science. Maybe when you use Mania to build Wonders, you enter into a state of reverie where your information processes these arcane physics absurdly fast, and in the flow of inspiration, you build or exploit branches of science hundreds of years ahead of where we're at. When you snap out of the reverie, you've defied current understanding, but you don't know how except for bits and snippets of information-nothing that makes sense yet, but you know it has place in the models. But because you were caught in the act of doing, these ideas are often just done, without the scrutiny needed to ensure these things can last or work perfectly. Bam, You can maintain the game as is while still talking about it in terms of future science and the manifestation of questions of "What if?".

    It's entirely possible that's how this works in terms of actual mechanics. I hope it is! But Chapter 1 doesn't communicate any of it. I have no idea what it's trying to communicate. I just know that I look at this and I see a guy in a lab coat standing a corner, hand down his pants, softly grunting, going "Look daddy, I'm a scientist." And it doesn't have to do that, because it can give me more tools to better pretend that I am a mad scientist and that I am so cool, son of a bitch.

    Of course, when you're suffering deep existential confusion, I suppose I can't hope for better

    I do not have my elephants in order. I jumped straight to the second one instead of the first one. Silly me.

    Disturbing Lack of Faith-The Mage Problems and Why Sons of Ether

    Let's go back to that thing I pretended to be a history lesson for a second. You might have noticed that, despite going "especially The Sons of Ether", I focused more on the Technocracy as the focal point of where Genius came from. Well, there's reasons for that, and the first is honestly was just that the Technocracy was and is a bigger fight in that fandom. While the Technocracy was evil and corrupt and a damnedable force of imperialism, it was also everything good and 'holy' about science as an active tool. But the Sons of Ether was where the game was fun for people. The good side of the Technocracy provided validation(heh), but the Sons of Ether was where you got steampunk swashbucklers and engineer-rogues fighting vampires on biplanes and zeppelins while the geniuses yelled "FOR SCIENCE" into the night. It was just the right kind of gonzo, and in terms of aesthetic, they were the fun of showing the faith in science without getting bogged down in the science.

    In short, it was proto-Genius. But it worked-the Sons of Ether were probably one of the most popular Traditions in Mage the Ascension, and I can understand from that sense why someone would want to magnify on that.

    While ultimately a problem, it's not hard to see Genius the Transgression as a flipped version of Mage the Ascension, with the Technocracy free of their oppressive, imperial practices and corrupt inner culture, but infected with the Sons of Ether sense of madness, impossibility, and zeal-all crazy, yes, but united in the real possibility that this batch of crazy could harmonize and become a preferable reality. You can even see the Traditions, in a form, in Lemuria(ugggggh), with every Lemurian have a fixed theory of reality they hold to be true and therefore that group having the more radically divergent views seen from without and the Peerage being more unified. I won't talk mechanics, but you can see the idea of paradigms as a universal concept in the game very strongly, with Wonders happening more or less because the Genius believed they could make it, and that' just one of a lot of ways that you can see Ascension's make up in the game. And honestly, if it had gone whole hog-well, it wouldn't have been good, but it would have been better. While cheap, going from "wizards vs scientists" to "scientists vs wizards" would have at least worked, and given certain animosities, it would have at least worked better if they just flat out went to war with Awakening.

    Of course, that's not what happened, and Genius opted to try(and fail) to build it's awesome science in it's own little corner of the universe...but with some problems.

    It comes back to how I worded it in the earlier post. Genius wanted to be Mage the Ascension without being Mage the Awakening, and ultimately it excised all the parts it didn't like from Ascension to make that happen ,getting rid of the seven obviously occult Traditions and using the rest as material. But in doing that, I never once got the feeling that anyone ever asked why mad scientists were mages in the first place.

    Like, if you think about it, that's kind of a weird concept. Why make scientists, even mad ones, wizards? Why make them their antithesis, the thing they are not? Sure, they share the roots of doing the impossible, and a significant amount of their horror lies in the idea of them succeeding, but still, why do that? I can't speak an actual answer, but I have my theories, and I'm gonna share the big one: Because magic filled the holes that mad science just couldn't cover.

    Perhaps the first question I ever asked in regards to Genius was "So what do they do if they're ever in a scenario where they don't have tools or materials?", and while that question will be answered in Chapter 2(Hopefully, preferably with gruesome body surgery or with Mania also representing crazy preparedness), I feel like that points out the initial thoughts on why Mage had mad scientists. See, in Genius, you have to have an answer, a justification, that you just honestly didn't need in Mage. In Ascension, it wasn't the science that did it, it was the belief in the image that did it. All you had to do with anything in Ascension, theoretically, was create an answer that fit well enough with the image you believed in, and then just believed in it more than the other guys, more than the world, more than God(except you never could, because God never bothered with dice anyways in those games). If you could build enough critical mass behind the belief by connecting it even loosely to the paradigm, you were golden. So a mad scientist of Ascension, in that situation, would just need think of a theory, a pre-existing one or one made up on the fly, and bullshit their answers enough to get a result, and bam, lightning from the hand. It might be non-repeatable based on their theory, but in that moment, it saved their lives.

    And that's probably the one of the big problems Genius had in it's writing. In Ascension, all you had to do was bullshit, and reality did the rest. In Genius, that framework of "clap your hands if you believe in Tesla's Death Ray" doesn't exist, and the game had no idea whether it wanted it to be there or not. Was it science or was it the magic of belief? No one knew. I'm not even sure they thought about it.

    I don't want to harp on too long about it, because it's an old and tired discussion, but the sheer amount of Ascension in this game without any actual fixer-upping is a large reason why this game can't commit to anything. If the magical framework was ever realized, it was removed, but nothing was put into it's place, and so either we're left with people thinking no answer was cool, or didn't realize that in the course of their excisions they left nothing in its place. Yippee.

    I could actually go on about how Genius also has trace elements of Awakening. I really could, surprisingly. There's definitely elements of Geniuses waking up to the Truth of reality as they go on to reject the Lie that everyone else has bought into and pursue their Obsessions, slowly warping themselves into monstrous eyes and hands that reshape the world according to their vision and get punished by their hubris by the very nature of the world itself. I suppose it's not very surprising, given that Awakening and Ascension have, while not completely similar bone structure, some parts that do mirror each other, albeit with odd angles, but you can find places where this game is just as Awakening as it is Ascension.

    If I'm honest though, I didn't want to linger too long on this subject. It's heritage and purpose are very wrapped up in the Mages, so it's not like I could ignore it, but at the same time, it's not fair to any work to keep on comparing them to specific works complaining about how they aren't that. I might want to argue about how these things influence it, but honestly, Genius can fail on it's own accords.

    Speaking of failing on it's own accords...

    Those Who Are Lost, Wander-Using Stakes to Make Failure Work

    *switches the music to Benny Hill. Yes, that Benny Hill.*

    I'm going to give some backhanded credit-Genius manages to be a work of fiction that is nothing but wish fulfillment with zero stakes at any point in time without basically asserting it's characters can breeze through any issue that comes it's way. It is unique in that fact, bold perhaps even for managing to do that by going the complete opposite route. However, that faint praise doesn't change the fact that on top of a world that makes no sense, this is fundamentally a world where there's no reason to do anything. I touched on this idea earlier in a cosmological sense, and we'll talk about that again a bit here, but I also want to talk about it mostly as a subject of "Failure to be failure as fun or engaging."

    Genius tells us that the theme of this game is Transgression, that it's characters will be the flaunters and violaters of everything from social norms to causality, playing trump cards and pulling the rug out from everyone time and time again. And yet this principle is at odds with it's mood and what we're told throughout the book is basically the biggest flaw of Geniuses, the tragic weakness that will snatch victory out of their hands time and time again.

    That weakness is basically that they will always fail. Time and time again, they will fail.


    ...You, uh, you have anything to add there Genius? No? Oh. Okay, cool. I'll just, uh....I'll just sit here explaining why that's lame.

    But first, in my incredibly screwy way, I want to give credit that Genius has caught on to an idea that lots of people in writing miss out on, at some point in their life invariably, and in fact sometimes never catch onto for their entire lives-that failure is interesting. Failure inherently brings conflict-the character tried to do something but didn't, and now has to deal with the fallout of that and figure out a new way to solve their conundrum. It's writing 101-the answer to any conflict of scene should not be Yes alone, but some variation like Yes But, No, or No And Further(I've talked about this idea in fuller detail elsewhere, and I'm sure most people know it, but if you don't know and would like to know more, feel free to ask). Failures move the story along. Failures bring out the humanity of any character. It is easier to connect to a person in a moment of failure then it is a moment of success, and those failures make success all the more cathartic. Genius at least understands that there is power in the No answer. Lots of people do not. Pat yourself on the back, Genius!

    Unfortunately, it plays that card a little too hard and not with enough support. Let's look at that starting with just the general problems of too much failure.

    First off, as a general point, If the big reason it sucks to be a Genius is that you'll inevitably fail, then why start? As I mentioned before, nihilism is all fine and good as a narrative theme and force, but it lacks teeth in the narrative if it's so forceful that it becomes apparent that there's no point. Success has to exist, at some point, for that inevitable rug ripping to do anything. Genius doesn't assert a good enough reason why it's characters do anything when it becomes clear they'll fail. I would normally say that at least new Geniuses have a reason to believe that they might not fail, but the Peerage makes a point of teaching that what they do is nonsense and inevitable-the society of Geniuses does not believe in it's capacity to do anything meaningful, but it does it anyways. At least Lemuria(ugggh, we'll discuss them later), is committed to making something happen. With the book so heavily reinforcing this notion, it gives no reason to go anywhere.

    Second off, the predominance of failure doesn't build to anything. This is actually a big point in science itself, as scientists spend a majority of their time trying to do something to get a result and coming back with a negative. This isn't a problem in that field, because science operates on the "I found a thousand ways not to make a lightbulb" principle, using the failures to help refine an answer that will inevitably remain, and finding ways to use the negative results in interesting and useful ways. Genius emphasizes it's failures, but never posits that that failure might serve a point, that it builds into a climatic point. Instead of telling a story of failing upwards into violation, it maintains a steady flat land of failure. And that's disappointing, because as a narrative there's a lot of cool to be found in failing upwards, and if I believed Genius did anything interesting with it's mechanics, I would be excited at the possibility of failing as a way to earn Inspiration Experience to possibly make a Wonder stick in the same ways Prometheans can calcify their Alembics.

    Thirdly, it doesn't feel unique to Genius. As I mentioned, if I want a story about seemingly perpetual failure, I could just play a normal scientist. Hell, I could play....anyone. Beyond the general principle that most people just spend their time failing most of the time, it's actually a principle built into the Storyteller system at it's core. No, seriously, Chronicles of Darkness starts off with the premise that people will only succeed at one in three things they set out to do-that's why the target number is set at 8, the low end estimate of one third of the possible outcomes on a single die. If I want to fail, I could literally play anything.

    And really, I have no reason to come to Genius for powerful failure, because worse than enforcing failure for failure's sake, it manages to be merely failure for failure's sake.

    Again, maybe this changes with mechanics, but Chapter 1 is supposed to convince me this game is worth playing, and as it stands, all that Genius offers me is that my time and resources get burnt up. If I fail in Mage, I unleash Paradox on the world. If I fail in Changeling, I lose my sense of reality. If I fail in Demon, God sends his hounds to run my happy ass down. If I fail in Genius....I get moody for a bit then start up again. There's no stakes beyond my own sense of validation if a human fondles my portal gun and it break apart into bits of plastic, lights, and oddly explosive lemons. I don't suffer anything, the human doesn't suffer, reality doesn't suffer. Failure takes no toll.

    And you know, that could be fine. It's not like powers have to be the place where stakes comes in, although a mad scientist is only actually a mad scientist if they actually do mad science-this is an archetype that is define by the thing it does. This is why Mage's major consequences for failure are baked right into the thing they do and not as heavily in what they are. But, okay, fine, they don't have to be bound to powers. A Vampire doesn't need their Disciplines to explode, they need to drink blood. I was wrong earlier on Changeling just cause, the reality is that living my life as one generally sends me down a self-destructive spiral that might end with me rejecting the world in favor of a fantasy that serves me and only me, to hell with anyone else(True Fae are the biggest assholes in the cosmology after Mordred, and they also suspiciously remind me of people I know), and a mummy suffers from the loss of self and will time and time again. There can be something intrinsic to the being that causes me to actually feel motivation to move, to overcome, to struggle.

    Well, apparently Geniuses go insane really easily, I guess. Disregarding the ableism for now, the problem is that the book doesn't really sell this problem too well. It never feels like a consequence, namely because it doesn't posit a reason why it happens. Maybe if I knew that the longer a Genius sits there not building wonder, the more and more his brain breaks, that'd be something. Hell, that would be cool, building Wonders is literally a stress relief mechanism, done to tire and weaken the connection to Inspiration for a while for some peace and quiet. But as is, Geniuses just kind of go insane because they go insane. It is bound to Inspiration, but it just feels like a thing that happens, much like the rest of this game.

    Beyond that? There's nothing to overcome nor is there something that causes motion, a reason for the story move on or even start in the first place.

    Some friends of mine actually put it in a really interesting way: there's no drama if you can tell your family that you are character splat. While the extremes of being Genius might alarm people, like cutting up people for science, in someone walks in and finds you building a raygun gothic pistol, they might raise an eyebrow but never care. If someone walks in on a Mage doing a little ritual, holding the crystal wand under full moon while naked, as a Mage is likely to do even for small things, that's significantly more alarming. At it's most basic form, just in terms of appearances, there's not even the slightest bit of cause of alarm or tension or drama. Everything is ordinary. And that's boring. If you want to succeed at being 'the thing', it has to really, truly feel alien in some way, be a thing you really couldn't show your family because they would legit not understand-to be a thing that would cause them to say you need counseling for, to make them cast worried glances at you for over the mashed potatoes.

    You might have noticed, under all this, there's an undercurrent of success as a significant point, and that is something of key point. Pure Success and Pure Failure, by themselves, are useless because then there's no sense of struggle, of conflict, of fun. It's the interplay between the two that creates the roller coaster, the experience, the drive. Even if, at the end of the day, success is an illusion, it has to be an illusion that at least plays out, that feels real.

    Genius doesn't have stakes, at any level of it's action. It never really has anything to lose. So, it's failures fall flat. It's failures don't mean anything. Really, when Genius tells you you'll fail, it feels utterly ridiculous.

    Want an example that annoyed me enough to warrant it's own section?

    Apparently the Wicked are Resting and Complaining-Seriously, Money Issues?

    Yep. Genius gripes about how it's characters are broke.

    Let's all just sit here and think on that for a second. Look on that sentence and sit there and just....feel for a second.

    Genius gripes about how it's characters are broke.

    It might possibly be a question to you why this is a problem at all. I would not blame you if it is, because a staple of the mad scientist is that they often have trouble getting people to fund them. Their ideas are too extreme and too costly for people to think of, and this is what often drives them into a life of crime to begin with and exacerbates their problems with people and sharpens their spite. So, what's the problem?

    Well, for starters, let me point out how of any of the games that style themselves as a ChroD game, this is the first that makes an issue of it. Like straight up, none of the other gamelines spends much time talking about the financial state of their characters or how they get by. They might be implied to exist on the poorer end of things, like how Promethean and Changeling do so without saying a word. They might be implied at being very good at gilding their rooms with gold, like Mages and Demons are without ever saying a word. We get a variety of character examples that might show them in the various walks of life. But by and large, it's not actually talked about, except in Genius.

    And there's a reason for that-how a character deals with their finances is something to be decided by the character and how they reconcile their state and employ their powers with those needs. More importantly, it assumes the fans are smart enough to figure out how the characters handle their financial concerns. They've usually got better things to talk about.

    Genius makes a point of it, though, saying that it's really hard for them to earn resources to build their wonders with. Now, resources is an important factor in the Genius aesthetic, so much I would propose that Genius develop a system to reflect on that issue that works better than merely relying on the Resource merit(if it even does that), but the extent to which they try to make this an issue are baffling.

    For starters, it keeps going on about how they'll never be able to sell their Wonders for money and emphasizing, stupidly, that being a Genius ruins their ability to work on more mundane projects that make them money-so, for the record, your Genius can't make waffle irons for a living, think on that for a second. So, even if I accept that, the question of using your Wonders to make money never seems to cross the mind of the genius? Can I make money as an assassin, using my impossible wonders to kill people for large sums of money? Can I make bombs and rob banks? Can I walk in the backrooms of high-end hospitals and offer once-in-a-lifetime miracles for payment? Can I basically use my Wonders in any way, shape or form to make money like any other supernatural creature I can name in the Chronicles of Darkness? Genius is mum on that, because the other games are mum on that, but keeps assuring me I'm going to struggle to get resources.

    In fact, given that I'm working with mad science, why would I even need money, or to get it from involving myself with humanity? Even if it hamstrings me a bit, is there no way I can just build a post-scarcity printer for parts and pieces and money and valuable things and just use that? Even if I need other things, can't I make a gold-printing machine that works on impossible principles and cash out the gold bars until the shop I'm selling to rats me out to the mafia who then raid my lab and destroy my machine goose? Is Genius trying to tell me that I can't use my powers in anyways to resolve this problem? It's not like I can't have limits on what I can do-in fact, when we get to Chapter 2, I'm sure I'll discover those limits rudely and harshly in a way that is believable-but for now, in the chapter that is telling me about the world directly, It just tells me I'm gonna be scrambling for resources and that there are dark places we'll have to go before being set.

    And really, it just flies in the face of the idea of creating the extensively large creator guilds in the Peerage-organizations need resources, and apparently the Peerage gets them, because they are a source-an apparently struggling source. But these Foundations are made up of Geniuses like the player characters, which means they aren't going to really be better individually at solving this resource problem than they are, which honestly means that the institution doesn't have enough resources to sustain itself and really Geniuses probably exist in collaboratives and that's it, but NOPE, the Peerage exists.

    I feel like that, in trying to be declarative and evocative of mad scientists on this particular subject, they put this idea out there and made a really big point without ever actually thinking about it or the consequences of it. In fact, it feels more or less like a way to shove people into Lemuria, because the book says that they have the most stable income, which is stupid.

    Why is it stupid? Well, it's finally time we begin talking about the other main feature in the Game, the impact of Lemuria, and how utterly nonsensical it is...before diving into how repugnant they are, along with the rest of this game.

    It is possible that at the time of this reading, your Benny Hill has stopped.

    Turn it back on. You're going to need it.

    A Kingdom Made of Sand in the Middle of a Hurricane-Lemuria is the Worst Antagonist Splat Ever

    Lemuria is the most utterly bizarre thing I have ever read. Right down to it's very core, to it's very first declarative statement, this thing makes no sense.

    Actually, a brief interlude if you will. Most people take issue with the idea of declarative statements because of the assertion of things being one way rather than another. The Alchemist Rant over in Promethean is all about this, as an example-Promethean slots it's alchemists either into the category of rational people who wouldn't seek out a Promethean and therefore wouldn't appear, or the power-hungry, humanity-tossing antagonist alchemists that Promethean focuses on. People took issue with that, seeing as it ignored all the story possibilities in between the two, all the ways alchemists could be something other than those two.

    And I get that-when it's obvious that a thing said doesn't cover the whole of the situation, it becomes infuriating to be told that that's that and there's nothing to do. Cases like this, whether you agree with the writing team's decision to portray it that way or not, still demonstrate the importance of carefully considering your declarative statements-what assertions you are going to use to be the support beams of your world. Declarative statements are necessary- I cannot stress it enough- to creating a world you can believe and invest in, to make it real, to make it a place we can stand in. Sometimes, it's better to take the risk of the gamble. Maybe some people will buy in, maybe others won't. You can't make a game for everyone, but you can decide if it's at least going to work for the people you hope to reach. And then there are times you need to not take that gamble, to withdraw the declaration and reconsider what it does and why it does it and how important is that.

    Genius's first assertion on Lemuria is a great example of why you sometimes need to withdraw.

    So, what is Lemuria? What is this organization that infuriates me so deeply?

    Lemuria is a global conspiracy of crazy people.

    Okay, I might need to break that down before the nonsense of that can actually truly be appreciated.

    Lemuria is posited to be this large, world spanning organization made up of Unmada. The Unmada are basically Geniuses who have gone crazy, which in this case means they have bought into their own personal vision of what reality is and how that reality works, to the rejection of all other visions.

    Let that sink in for a second.

    Genius is trying to tell you that it's Seers, it's Pure, it's Technocracy (or Traditions, if that's your fancy) is a global organization of people who cannot accept each others fundamental understanding of reality.

    Are you laughing yet?

    Putting aside the conversation about madness for a bit, because I am neither angry enough nor hopped up on enough of caffiene for that yet, it's not hard to see some of the appeal of this in theory, because it meshes the all-reaching might of an oppressive conspiracy with the electric 'insane' factor that makes for dire opponents. It tries to mix the best of multiple antagonist types to make something really fun and challenging. On a purely surface front, it makes sense...until you start thinking about.

    See, the reason that your "large, oppressive organization" enemy type that is often the playable antagonists is not also your "individual or small group of radically deviated perspectives with radical, unusual powers" is because the idea is that the "radically deviated perspective" is so unique and personal that is can't work in a larger harmony-in fact, that's why it's so strong, because it is unique and personal and a surprising one-hit KO in terms of shock value. Large organizations need to agree on something, and people who are invested in their own personal mythologies to the exclusion or all else don't really work in structured organizations. You might have Marauders running the Technocracy(although it's actually the Nefandi, yes, I know), but the Technocracy is not made up of insane people because insane people don't really work together well. The same goes for every other pairing of that sort you might imagine.

    Genius tries to explain a way to overcome this principle, but it's honestly just as laughable given the base line. See, Genius tries to tell you that Lemuria teaches that every viewpoint is correct, but that they all play second to a universally agreed upon higher truth that apparently only the those with the deepest understanding of Lemurian ideology know-basically, Lemurian specialists in Lemuria. Again, this is utterly asinine and clearly a handwave, because it contradicts what we've already been told, because a) no Unmada is going to accept a version of reality outside of their own because they literally cannot comprehend it, and b) no Unmada is going to accept a supposed higher truth that permits itself to be the answer behind their version of reality as well as every other and therefore reconciles all of them because it is, itself, a view of reality that they cannot again comprehend or fathom admitting to. The fact that the game doesn't even bother to hint what that truth is means that it's nothing substantial in the first place. Basically, it's the game's way of saying "They work together because they do" or, more crassly, "They work together because we need a reason for them to because we're not going to commit to a different idea." And it does this on a global, historical scale! It's more or less stated this impossible nation of people who can't even understand each other have been behind the scenes of human history since, well, the dawn of history!

    Speaking of, what is Lemuria's goals? What does this impossible state of people who can't even understand each other want? Well, validation. They want the world to acknowledge their vision of reality. By itself, this isn't terrible-actually it's completely in theme with the game-but it manages to go off the rails once you stop and think about it in context of a few things.

    First of all, isn't that the inevitable goal of every Genius in the world, Peerage or Lemuria? Doesn't every Genius crave the day when they can make their Impossible Wonders stick and have it radically change the world and how people perceive it-is not the end game of every Genius to change the world? It's implied that in some form or fashion that Lemuria actually succeeds where the Peerage doesn't, because they actually did shape human history for ages, which makes no sense but we'll come back to that, but in terms of what makes them different from the Peerage, this point is a non-starter because they both have the same end goal-there's no difference between them.

    Secondly, if the vision of every Lemurian is out of step with what reality actually is, then how the hell do they actually control and shape reality and have the influence implied over the course of human history? If their ideas are doomed to fail because they have no accordance, then how do they actually stick hooks into anything and become accepted by the human masses? And wait, isn't a large point of this game that there is no grand order in the end? Isn't that part of the reason why every wonder is doomed to inevitable failure, because nihilistic nonsense is the end fact of reality? If they can assert a majority and get people to play along, then they clearly hooked into something and produced something like results, which means that there must actually be some validity to their assertions and mean that the universe is not actually a nonsensical nihilistic void in denial of it's own meaninglessness, but is, at a minimum, a subjective reality where in a vision of existence can be asserted over others if not some more complex and meaningful model of the universe.

    Thirdly, Genius tries to tell us that many of the backwards ideas that pervaded throughout history were the result of the Lemurians and that the majority of their viewpoints are essentially backwards candle babble, but it also tells us in a section that will turn Genius from a bad game to an offensive one that Lemuria had flying cars and Mars colonies about to come out before the finally got beaten down, which means that Lemuria had always had absurd forward thinkers who were just as likely to unleash nonsense versions of the future on the world, which means that if human history is the product of Lemurian involvement as much as it's propoganda, then the past should be this confusing mishmash of features that demonstrate science well beyond our understanding as much as it is humors and leeches, but the past is far more coherent to anyone who doesn't get their information from the History Channel, which is not the sort of thing you would expect from an organization of people who cannot comprehend anyone else's fundamental view of reality.

    Fourthly, for history being a huge mishmash of lies and end results from an organization of insane divergent viewpoints, not only is it surprisingly coherent, but it also speaks to a steady and strong development of scientific advances in understanding that seems in line with the Peerage's favor, so how the fuck does that work? Genius seems to think that the human world was basically purely idiotic until the Europeans said the Church was dumb, and yet an actual study of world history, even a fairly superficial cross-world examination, demonstrates that wasn't the case.

    Fifthly, if the end goal is to be acknowledged and validated for their insane visions of reality, then congratulations, goal achieved until the Peerage kicked in your teeth, you did that and maintained it for ages, soooooo-what, asides from maintaining it, what were you chucklefucks up to? Why isn't history more pervaded with actual insane beings being in charge of shit? Why doesn't historical investigations yield that Jupiter was the actual fucking ruler of Rome or shit like that? The Peerage hasn't had long to clean up history, so you imagine the educated masses would believe in gods actually ruling their people directly, but even among Christians and Hindis and all the people who believe in that spiritual nonsense(be it actually nonsense) that doesn't seem to be a majority case, so what even the fuck happened there?

    Lemuria's effect on history in accordance to it's make up and it's goals is honestly just too damn clean, even with the utter, pervasive mess that history is, as any historian will tell you. Even with the backbiting revisionism going on with this sort of organization, I can't believe it-I can almost believe it, until I remember that these people are supposed to be insane.

    Speaking of, it's asserted that Lemuria is a hierarchy, structurally speaking, but how the hell does that work? In other systems where there's honestly just as much cause for backstabbing and forceful negotiations of positions, it often makes sense because the hierarchical nature of it all becomes a game setting for those involved that actually allows for leveraging and power plays-look no further than the Seers. But in the case of Lemuria, you'd think every Unmada in this group would just throw the game nature of such a structure out the window and go for the jugular, because there's no reason for the Lemurians to be a respecter of persons.

    As if that was not enough, it needs to be understood that the Lemurians were basically the predominant force of the world until the Peerage finally kicked in their teeth in the mid-twentieth century-it is asserted that Lemuria was beaten enough that their grip on the world finally slipped and technological advances in society boomed, going back to the Renaissance when the Peerage finally started getting ground on Lemuria. Disregarding for now how thoroughly Euro-centric this version of history is(a position I did not think I'd stand and fight against given all the fighting I did against Blood Lore), I would actually be down with this idea of the big antagonist being someone on the rebound in modern times, because it is a unique idea with lots of cool dynamics....if Genius ever actually delivered on that.

    It doesn't. Lemuria is implied to still be in control of a majority of the world. Going back to the last section, this is how they stand as a major source of resources-apparently they still have enough influence to kill your tenure where ever you work or to cancel your loans or to deny your application, like this ever looming spectre that is in control of the world.

    Because, you know, global conspiracies that had their teeth kicked in and finally lost their grip on the world can still knock over your ice cream cone from anywhere.

    It's not impossible that Lemurian Remnants have power and control over resources, don't get me wrong-you know, asides from their utter inability to comprehend the reality they're working in-but the scenario Genius set up should mean that the major veins of resources are actually up for grabs, an area of contest between Geniuses of any stripe as well as the other supernatural, criminal, and governmental forces in the world. Instead, despite being the loser of the longest drawn out and most critical battle in the war for the advancement of humanity to date, they still rule the world effectively. The game tries to tell you no one's in charge, but the fact that Lemuria is asserted to still be the most powerful entity in the world ruins that. If there is a significant risk that the only way you'll be bale to pull together what your vision needs is to deal with the Lemurian Unmada, then you have not done anything to them worth commenting on.

    And oh, yeah. That bit about how the world has no one controlling it now-that's where this utter fucking trainwreck catches it's nuclear engine on fire and transforms into something truly abysmal. Strap yourselves in and kill the Benny Hill-talking about this last point of Lemuria, we're now going to start talking about how this game goes from bad to repugnant.

    People are Stupid, Am I Right?-Misanthropy and Superiority Complexes

    *switches music over to Blue Stahli-specifically, The Devil*

    Really, I was not the least bit surprised to find out that Genius did not have high regard for the 'common masses'. If the mass of fans I met prior to reading hadn't tipped me off, I still would have expected it from this game by virtue of the archetype. Mad scientists showing disgust at the "sheeple" around them is as old as Frankenstein. What does surprise me is that Genius made a pretense of of playing against type anyways, in the form of it's Morality-equivalent, Obligation.

    Obligation basically is supposed to represent a Genius's connection to the 'common' people, and the sense that the purpose that their inventions and discoveries are supposed to benefit everyone, even if they run a serious risk of actually endangering them. And you know, I appreciate it. I really do, down to an archetypal level. Much as I have been characterizing the mad scientist as always being a misnathrope, there is actually a rich tradition of these scientists as being commited to the betterment of mankind, even if spite of their objections. This reminder that the character can be good intentioned is something to feel for, and the fact that they can be monstrous in spite of those intentions is powerful material, good personal horror and drama. If it was played up the right way, it would have been very compelling.

    But even by the time I got to Obligation, I had zero reason to believe in this actually being worth a shit. From the opening story onward, there is a casual contempt for humanity expressed whenever it is discussed. The terms are always negative, painting them as stupid, boring, vapid. It is omni-present throughout the text. It's not an overt thing-there's no long rants about the sins of the species and how pathetic it is to waste time on the average man when they will trample over and muddy any pearls thrown before them. it's small, brief, and matter-of-fact, like this game doesn't think it needs to convince you that humanity is really nothing to waste thought on. The most obvious place where this comes up is in the discussion of Obligation, where the book flat out admits that most Geniuses rapidly lose Obligation out of a preference for their mad science and the extremes they reach. What was subtle subtext prior to that point is made actual text-that the norm is to stop caring about people because they just can't keep up with Geniuses. Hell, even the name of that stat, Obligation, feels less like it's trying to inspire a sense of responsibility and more one of drudgery, a case of "Mom said I have to care or else I don't get cookies."

    Havoc, the "Law"/mechanic description, doesn't help much matters. Havoc is basically the assertion that if a normal person handles a Genius's Wonder, that Wonder will break. Going with Mage for a second, because, honestly, obvious closest comparison-going with the Mages for a second, this is not a a feature we haven't seen before in games, but the end feeling is very different. In Ascension, the presence of humanity wrecking magic reinforces the oppressive Consensus in force of the world at this moment, a facet of the world that might be supported by people but is largely the fault of the success of the Traditions enemy and peer, the Technocracy. Really, it reinforces the sense that mages are not the only ones oppressed and denied the heights of their capabilites, but that the entire world is. Sure, mages might resent the Sleepers for casually reinforcing this paradigm, but it's impossible to think that without realizing, even in callousness, that humanity can be swayed and serve other paradigms in time, and that they too can, even from the most cynical position, be made to reinforce a mages preferred vision of reality and ultimately have value. Really, it inspires more connection that not.

    When Awakening does it, the presence of humanity reinforces a similar oppression of reality, but in this case, it's the fault of the Fallen World. Sure, the Exarchs reinforce it and the Seers fight to keep it in place, but at the end of the day, mages have cause to remember the depths to which the Lie seeps into their experience. Some Mages might resent humanity for still buying into the Lie and suppressing magic, like the Mysterium do, but because of the metaphysics of the world, it's impossible to do that without remembering that they too once were shackled by the Lie, leaving at least a few threads of connection and sympathy.

    When Genius does it, it....doesn't have an assertion of anything. THere's no rhyme or reason to why anything a Genius does works, so there's similarly no rhyme or reason why their Wonders break down in the hands or presence of humanity. Really, Havoc is just a thing that happens, much like anything else, but it's one of the big pieces of the setting that has a feeling of something, and that something is...."God damnit, MOM, HE'S BREAKING MY TOYS AGAIN." It feels utterly petty and blaming, because nothing else is happening other than "normal human touches Wonder, Wonder breaks." Without anything else, it basically becomes the 'unenlightened' masses fault that Geniuses can't actually achieve anything, that they are the main force in the world holding them back from greatness, from achievement, from freeing them from themselves.

    And you know, I thought that would be the end of it. Casually hostile language and some mechanics that reinforce the sense that when things go wrong, it's not your fault, it's the people around you who just don't understand. It's these plebians fault. Offensive, but a dull throbbing headache at best. I deal with that sort of shit online all the time. I am not surprised to find it here.

    And then I found this bit of dialogue.

    Originally posted by Genius the Transgression, pg 35-36, No One is in Charge
    No one is in charge now, either. That, say many Inspired, is why we didn't get the future with the flying cars and the "televisors" and the moon bases: those things were in the works, all set for the Lemurians to hand them down to us like manna from heaven, and we were supposed to accept them and let our betters maintain them while we lived our happy, comfortable lives. But Lemuria got its ass kicked, and has your life ever been comfortable? It hasn't, say many in the Peerage, because humanity is off the rails, free from control or intellectual extortion.

    So no one is in charge of humanity, mundane or Inspired. We've been forging our own path for fifty years―or 500 years, depending on how you count it. It's been a terrible mess, but it's been our mess. There are no Secret Masters, no answers hidden by centuries-old secret societies―well, not anymore―no Golden Age in the past, no Utopia in the future, no free rides, no easy answers, and no one at the wheel.

    Let's unpack that for a second here.

    The first thing you need to know is that prior to this point, the smashing victory of the Peerage over Lemuria was largely painted as a good thing-Humanity was freed from a force that was supposedly scientifically and technologically retarding them, and while reality has certainly been an unsteady place since then because no one has been in charge, we have radically advanced in our understanding and acheivements and have developed just as many things that make today a better world as we have that make today a scary world, and that fundamentally humanity's freedom to explore and develop might tinge on the side positive. Okay, fine, sure. We're cool so far.

    This section plays up the fear factor a lot more, which, okay, fine, horror setting, being scared is okay. It also mourns that we do not have flying cars and Mars colonies yet(I know it says moon, but let's be honest, people are way more interested in a Mars colony) because humanity is distracted, and worried we might not get that. Okay, still fine-fear of humanity using advancement to destroy themselves is not only a trope, it's a genuine fear, from the oil collapse to global warming to mutually assured destruction.

    But then it points out that the Lemurians had flying cars and Mars colonies about ready to launch, and that the Peerage stopping them prevented humanity from getting that. Basically, the text is saying that had our nominally not-as-bad guys not done that, we would actually be scientifically more advanced than we are now, achieving things that we deeply wonder about the possibility of now. Genius has asserted that such advancement is the Holy Grail of this game, and that the bad guys were giving it to us. Or, in simpler terms-we were better off being oppressed by the bad guys.


    But wait, it gets better, because with this failure and mourning, not only does it create a twisted backwards vision, it also makes a new assertion-that what humanity really needs is someone in control of it again, that it be made subject to Genius control and led to a future where we will, in fact, attain those things, and be free of the chaos and fear prevailing today. It is not simply a "We were better off", but a "We should do that". It is a strong implication that the highest purpose a Genius might have is to subjugate humanity to bring about a better humanity. Genius is telling you that humanity is better when it is oppressed.

    I need to explain something, right here, right now. I am not allowed to scream. I am not in a place where I can scream. I had, prior to this section, been wanting to scream, because some heinous stuff exists long before this point. But when I read this section, I needed to do something. I basically hopped into the chat where my Changeling Playtest group was hanging out and completely derailed their conversation by textually screaming and yelling about how fucking mad this made me, how fucking utterly twisted and perverted and wrong it was, for about half an hour, if not longer.

    It's not like you can't make an assertion that humanity is better led by a supernatural. It's not like you can't assert that supernaturals can't have a dislike for humanity. Awakening actually does some rather good jobs with these ideas in the form of the Silver Ladder and the Mysterium. The former believe that everyone has a place in the Great Chain of Being, and that people on the low end should serve those on the higher end, all in service to the Awakened. This is caste-based form of oppression in favor of the player character-and yet, the core principles of the Ladder involve the liberation of all people from the Lie and Exarchial Rule, an extension of their belief that it is the birthright of Humanity to ascend into their proper sphere of power and agency. It is messed up, but it at least feels like the Silver Ladder is asserting a dream of humanity where, even with it's oppression, it is still has higher regard for the oppressed then their enemies and that the Order is striving to give everyone what is rightfully theirs. THe Mysterium, in the meanwhile, tends to be very hard on Sleepers because they see them as chasing magic to where they cannot follow, if not outright killing it, and doesn't hide that they are an organization that often persecutes humanity, that it is a flaw-but it at least openly calls it hubris and makes it a point of contention, and sets it's declarative statement as "The Mysterium have problems with humanity" rather then setting the bar right on "the Mysterium will always kick Sleepers in the face" The degree of their problem is left as a variable explored as result of the declarative.

    EDIT: While the overplay is important enough that I'm going to keep it, upon a second readthrough of this last paragraph in comparison to the writeups in Awakening second, it does feel unfair enough to both of these organizations that I must stress again that these are very harsh portrayals-not inaccurate but way too high in the 'vibrancy' of theirs sins, if that makes sense.

    Both of these groups have some deeply problematic relationships with humanity, but the books they are featured in very clearly asserts that even at their worst, they are not as bad as their opposite, the Seers of the Throne, who flat out have the oppression of humanity as their goal and primary mode of operation in the world. Where those flaws, they are often called out as flaws and not insinuated to be the better state. My writing of these Orders leans heavily on the negative interpretations, but they have the grace to be human, to be a collection of good traits in one pile and bad traits in another. It shows a real skill at finding the line of being anti-aspirational without being egregiously offensive.

    Genius, in it's utter failure to think, may not have intended to make this message, and were it in isolation, I could probably let it go as an error. But mixed in with the fact that the game just doesn't ever seem to be interested in showing why a Genius should care about humanity, I can't. Even accidental, it ties into the rest of it's message too sharply for me to just let go.

    Genius thinks we, the human family, are better under oppression. And it knows exactly who should be leading the masses. But that's a subject for later. For now, just let that sink it. This game thinks everyone is so stupid, people needs to be oppressed. That in it's version of history, we as a species would have the things we're dreaming of now had people not knocked an entire conspiracy of utterly insane maniacs who had been oppressing us since time immemorial off their throne.

    Are you laughing yet?

    Are you screaming yet?

    You Will Be What We Tell You-Statistics and the Failure of Inclusion

    Now, if that's where I snapped, where did I want to start screaming? Ironically, the very first place Genius decided to actually declare shit-The statistics section.

    I started my ranting, both here and and in my notes, about how I hated Genius for not commiting to anything-that declarative statement thing again. But you know, I'm willing to take it back. Genius, don't declare anything. Waffle about. Spend a lot of time talking to me and telling me nothing. At least, this is how I felt during that section.

    What, exactly, is the statistics section of Genius, you might be asking? Simply put, The statistics section is the portion of Chapter 1 that tells you about Geniuses and what sort of people they are. But instead of the vaugeries that other Chronicles might briefly gloss over before going onto something else, Genius decides to give an extensive section of statistics asserting who has what probabilities of being a Genius, what it's population is like, even down to the a 1 in X count.

    Now, before I rip this section a new one, I need to at least acknowledge that I know where this section was coming from. Geniuses, being analytical folks who like to have information on everything, are really likely to thoroughly study their culture and produce a census. The idea sounds like it's atmospheric and distinctive, something that reinforces the sense of just who these people are. And it's not like Chronicles games haven't done it before. so there's precedence.

    However, from a game design standpoint, it's a terrible idea. You don't have to listen to my rant to see the problem-Requiem and Forsaken have a history with this issue that's very easy to find just in terms of it's 1 in X execution. Fans took that number and then applied it to the world population, and came up with numbers that honestly sound too low in a world where the supernatural, while not obviously present, is still a thing people run into at least once in their lives. There have been numerous rants about these figures, and as you go further along in Chronicles backlog, you find assertions about the populations, whether it be number or characteristics, really starts to dwindle until there's no statements about class, race, sex, gender, or other such similar subjects.

    That's because beyond fans getting mad at the sense of it, the simple fact is that doing this sort of thing is alienating. White Wolf and Onyx Path have prided themselves since their inception on the importance of inclusion and proper representation. People don't necessarily play themselves in these games, but a big part of what draws a person into a game is their ability to see themselves included in the game. This is true in all games, even in Chronicles of Darkness where the main characters you play are anti-aspirational, the sort of people you wouldn't want to be. I hear stories all the times from fans, developers, writers about moments where a woman expressed gratitude for the use of feminine pronouns because it made them feel welcome to the game, that they could take part in it. Keep in mind, that's just sometimes positing that the characters they are talking about are women. Where people get the angriest and most defensive is when they feel like the games might be marginalizing those who feel outside, because White Wolf and Onyx Path have always fought very hard to let everyone in, to feel like they had a place here, and White Wolf/Onyx Path has fought very hard to keep that place open as a rule. Sometimes they screw up, and they manage to screw up in ways that are head-scratching(cough cough Gypsies), but a look through how they've developed through the Chronicles backlog shows real progress and deep understanding. It is a thing to always aspire to.

    I don't think Genius was out to alienate anyone, but it didn't realize how those states created discouragements it didn't need. I can't even be angry that it just keeps doing it as long as it does. It does manage to feel naive and innocent.

    That does not stop me from being angry as hell with it-I'm just not sure if I can actually blame it for it.

    Well, fuck it, it did it anyways. By laying down these statistics, possibly even an attempt to be open, it started basically saying what sort of characters you can make, and by extension who can play this game. Let's talk how, starting with classism, as well as more science fetishism!

    As we established, Inspiration has no bearing on science. Genius is very clear on the subject. Really, Inspiration probably just hits whoever for whatever alien intentions it has. In fact, if the ability to do grounded-science-y things really is ruined upon becoming Inspired, then it makes even more sense for it sort of be repulsed by it-unless it's out to destroy it(which would be the ultimate self-destructive irony of a game that's about mad scientists). Instead, Genius asserts that people who are heavily tied with the scientific, academic, and educational fields are much more likely to have their lives ruined by Inspiration than not, and that it is attracted to "scientists, researchers, philosophers, sociologists, professors, mathematicians, engineers, technicians, medical doctors, computer experts, librarians, historians, field guides, teachers, explorers, mechanics, architects, and all-purpose scholars". In fact, it says that nine out of ten Geniuses come from these sorts of backgrounds. Genius then goes on to say that one out of three Geniuses actually have earned their doctorates. That's a heck of defined majority there

    Now, if you know anything about those sorts of field and jobs, you probably know that they are not cheap to earn the credentials of, or that employers are not likely to hire you for them if you do not convey a strong sense of at least decent affluence. Money is respect, or at least it allows a person to buy the clothes and accessories to look neat and presentable as well as denote a background of education that allows a person to fake being respectable, and reputation is something many of these professions live and die on. Even if it's not an illusion, it takes money to earn the degrees and take the tests that facilitate being proficient in those fields, nevermind being exceptional enough to stand out among the competitors in those fields. Even for more mundane jobs, interviewers are looking less and less for people who can do the job and more and more for people who go above and beyond in some way, and the better your social class, the more opportunity you have to actually go above and beyond and therefore be desirable enough to actually be hired and therefore properly count as any of those things. And that's ignoring just how damn expensive for those one in three Geniuses to earn a god damned PhD.

    If you aren't doing financially well, it's easy to see all of that, because you are acutely aware of how much you'll never be those things-not because you're not smart enough or dedicated enough to do it, but because you just can't afford it, because every dime you earn if going to the table or to making sure you don't lose the car or you're trying to keep the damn table up while you try to work up enough spare change to replace it. If you're lower-middle class or poorer-hell, maybe even proper middle class, in today's market-those things feel out of reach.

    And because you can't be those things, Inspiration is really just not that likely to pick you to. If you were in this world, you'd probably never be a Genius.

    Sure ,the game asserts that about 12% of the Genius population come from basically anywhere-a figure that does not line up with that nine out of ten earlier, but whatever-but that's a low minority. Regardless of whether it wanted to or not, Genius is strongly asserting that you probably shouldn't play a character who is from the poor side of town. Just as one in ten Geniuses come from outside of affluence, it basically says one in ten characters come from outside affluence. Players ask themselves if their characters realistically make sense, and with that sort of a figure, the answer is much easier to err on the side of "No" in terms of conforming to the game's vision.

    As if that was not bad enough, that assertion comes with racism and sexism baked in too. Sure, the book doesn't say a thing on race, and while there is a snafu in regards to gender,(we'll get there), but again, if you come from those backgrounds, you read what the majority of these backgrounds are and you know that being black or Hispanic or a woman or a transgendered person is discouraged, because unfortunately those are problems we have in real life. We might be improving on them, but people have these problems none the less-we live in a culture where the white male is still seen as the more stable and respectable image to present to people who grade the reputations of markets to. Hell, that's overselling it-really the white male is just flat out seen as the better worker, the better representation of the aspirational citizen, nevermind hero. Even with all the strides we're making in today's society, this is a problem people feel sharply, and this game just reinforces that feeling of exclusion, whether it wants to or not.

    Going back to the gender thing for a second, it's a subtle thing for people who just straight up identify as women and are biologically equipped to get a scornful eye to approve, as the book says that 56% of Geniuses are men and 40% of them are women. That looks, on the surface, to be fair-some realistic disparity, but it feels relatively equal-but that's a not an insignificant gap between the two, and it's enough to reinforce the sense that women are not as welcome as guys are. That's a small thing that becomes a big deal when you couple it with the prevailing sense that this industry really does not like women being in here, and become a solid block. Heaven forbid if you don't recognize yourself as a binary gender, or worse if you do feel you fit into the binary but not in any neat way, because Genius posits 4% of the population don't answer to a binary gender assignment-yes, technically permitted, but highly discouraged. If you're a genderfluid person such as myself, it's less of a backhanded invite and more of a slightly apologetic letter of dismissal.

    And the stupid part is that there's no reason for any of this.

    Much as I hate to put it this way, Genius is a fantasy. It is a thing to live in and have fun in and use to take some time off from reality. I'm not crazy about escapism, but as a bare minimum, any worthwhile fiction at least offers that. In some cases, any presence of reality as an influence for versimilitude is there to strengthen the fantasy, to make it a thing you can invest in. When I make a demand that Genius try to at least look more like it's playing to actual science, it's to improve the buy in, to enhance the fun, to help become the mad scientist and to build the doomsday device that might also give everyone a cute kitten to play with. But in the same spirit of providing that fantasy, I don't need Genius to try and loosely mirror real world politics, because that doesn't increase the versimilitude-that doesn't suck me into the game. I just need to be told that I can be the mad scientist. Even if I end up not playing the game as an expy of myself, which most people actually do, I feel like I can play the game because the game isn't telling me I can't.

    Even worse, from an archeytpal stand point, it's just as useless. Mad scientists aren't reputable, they aren't people you look at and take seriously. Part of the horror of the idea of failure as a major element is that sometimes mad scientists, in their ignorance and arrogance, are smart enough to make something that will violate reality but not smart enough to actually ever achieve what they want. The enforcement of the image shouldn't rely on the inside of academic communities, but on the outside-the junkyard diver who swear, guys, he can make a particle accelerator of this stuff, the poor girl holding an atompunk pistol telling you to give her all the cash, the alchemist working out of a book ze got from Goodwill. And it's not like you couldn't assert that as people use Inspiration, the become more proficient in those fields, picking up pieces and slowly processing them into comprehension from the repeated manic influence of Inspiration. In fact, it would support this game's weird feeling of being outcast by not showing their work, because these people are smart on subjects they clearly never actually studied this shit, so they clearly must be cheating.

    And as we've stated, it's not like those backgrounds help from an in-universe standpoint, as Inspiration doesn't actually rely on them and apparently tears up one's ability to meaninfully interact in those spheres to begin with-it's honestly a force of anti-science, in some ways. Even if it plays dress-up in the shape of science, it's not science. And really, by taking the focus away from the upper echelons of society and not stating anything about who's likely to be a Genius, it implies by absence that the game and world of Genius is a lot closer to the ground, more immediate and interesting instead floating around the lofty rooms of esoteric and so-advanced-as-to-feel-sort-of-unreal pursuits that Genius leads to. It's not just conquering the world that way, It's fixing up the Tri-State Area or feeding stray cats with a duplication machine or getting back your stupid boss with an improbability engine. It makes the game feel like it can be legitimately be played at any scale, be it local or cosmic.

    But no, it has to tell the poor brown girl that they'll never figure out how to kill Superman, and that's pretty much the last thing you wanna do in a game about mad scientists. Why? Science fetishism!

    Even though the actual involvement of science with Genius basically means shit all, Genius again holds the image of science as the highest and most right thing in the universe, and wants to make that clear even as it goes off into the supernatural(funnily enough, while ignoring the chance it had to be legitimately supernatural). It wants to reverence the pursuits and the philosophies and attitudes of science and make sure that their game indulges in it even as it fails to actually deliver on it. It wants to be the scientist, because why the fuck would you want to be some kind of redneck, even if you are inspired by the same source? Even as it disconnects from the qualities, Genius loves the intelligence and the dedication of these people and wants to assert them as it's saints.

    Wait, wait, wait, this is starting to get into a topic I wanna hold off on. What else does Genius have no god damned clue on-Ah, there we go, ableism!

    They Called Me Mad, But They Were Wrong!-That's Not How Insanity Works, Guys

    I admit, most of my notes were dedicated to the appalling lack of anything to believe in this game, it's deep desire to be one of the Mages, it's classism and it's misanthropy. A lot of my notes are really just about how this game is chasing it's own tail, how none of it makes any sense. In a game about mad scientists, you don't hold high expectations for the game for the most respectful or the most informed reading of the subject. Realistically, if I just said it fails and moved on, I think most people would be able to intuit how and why that worked.

    But that would be ignoring just how....juvenile I found Genius to be in regards to the subject, how prone to cultural misinformation it was, and once again how it didn't need to be. While I sometimes feel like I lack the proper awareness for this subject, I have it in my notes enough that it almost feels like sectional punctuation. I would be doing a disservice if I didn't try to speak my mind and lay out as clearly as I understand it how this game continues to be offensive. So, without further ado, let's talk about the madness in the long, failed method.

    First off, if Inspiration makes you insane, it does a poor job of it. Inspiration often has these moments of punctuation that feel less like it's pushing you towards a vision of the future that could be, and more like it's pushing you to try ideas you normally wouldn't do unless you were drunk. I know, part of the idea is that it is transgressing the limits of what you know, violating casual physics as you understand them to reveal the true laws of nature that it works on, unless of course those are nonsense as Genius keep obnoxiously ending it's arguments on. But it doesn't feel like a radical revelation that everything I knew as a Lie(cough, sorry not sorry). No, instead it just feels like it pushes you do bad ideas and happens to reward you for it, like trying to throw yourself at the ground hoping you'll catch just the right angle with which you'll miss it. This might not be the case if there was even the illusion of rhyme or reason that could later be broken down, but there isn't. Really, it doesn't inspire a sense of Inspiration or insanity. I kind of feel like Geniuses look like that one asshole everyone knows from the neighborhood bar.

    And you know, it just keeps going on and on and on, that pervasive sense that Inspiration might actually be turning you stupid, from the money problems to choosing organizational structures that seem actively detrimental to the group's ability to actually get anything done to apparently suddenly becoming socially retarded(as in, you know, actually medically diagnosed with with a social ability more suited to an age level far below your actual level of maturation)-I'm not even sure if that's a thing the book is really trying to assert that last one or if that's an actual misreading, but it's pervasive enough I asked questions. Just, handicap after handicap after handicap.

    I'm sure someone thought some of these conveyed an actual sense of insanity, but it doesn't. It seems to equate insanity with stupidity. Inspiration seems determined to inspire bad ideas. I'm not even sure how that happens.

    Anyways, all of that is something of a sidestep of the core issue, but it's important dressing to the conversation. Even someone like me who's not as in tune with the problems at work can tell someone's throwing some wonky ass pitches.

    But really, what do you expect? The entire premise is that the monster of the game is defined by their madness, poorly portrayed as it is.

    A big part of the reason why Genius can't commit to anything is because it desperately wants to enforce that what makes it's characters alien and eldritch and outside of humanity is because they are unsound in mind as a result of Inspiration. Of course what they do isn't science, it's the product of a rambling mind producing sound and fury, signifying nothing. Geniuses aren't dangerous because they suffer an alarming sense of entitlement or blame others for their lack of practiced ability to actually interact with groups, Geniuses are dangerous because in their schizophrenia, they develop death rays and psyche transferal programs. It empowers psychological and emotional disabilities and trauma with power only to immediately demonize it. Hell, apparently in Chapter 2, where we get to the actual mechanics, Geniuses have to start out with a Derangement-you know, that set of conditions that were heavily criticized for years because of ableism-and makes collecting even more fairly easy as Geniuses go even bigger and darker with their Wonders.

    To make matters worse, I made mention of how pop-cultural it's misinformation is, relying on ideas such as "Crazy people don't think they're insane; if you think you might be insane, then you must be sane." In fact, let's go back to Lemuria for a second, because it's this principle that that antagonist group is founded on. Lemurians are considered to have given into their madness and have rejected outside views that disagree with their own, but once again, I don't feel like there's an actual meaningful difference between a Lemurian doing this and a Peerage Genius pursuing whatever Obsession(cough, not sorry) they're focused on. After all, they are both trying to make something that exceeds the understanding of modern science come into being as a valid point, and both apparently have the ability to actually make it happen. Yet the Lemurian is demonized because, what, he's working without a hypothesis, just under the assumption it will happen? That's bad science, sure, but since what Geniuses do isn't science and both can achieve their goals to a limited degree anyways, that's a non-point. And yet, the Lemurian is dangerous because he does not accept that his viewpoint does not coincide with reality, while the Peerage member gets off scot free because he admits that what he's doing is nonsense.

    That makes zero sense. Sure, you can argue that a Lemurian is going to hurt people to make them bow to their assertions, but that's not what Genius focuses on. It focuses on "They don't understand the world like we do" as what makes them dangerous, a position that is literally true of every splat. Not only is true of everyone, Peerage included, they're right in some form or fashion regardless. You want to demonize Lemuria for hurting people, go right ahead. But as is, it's just the same as everyone else, when you get right down to it.

    Mind you, all of that disregards the fact that the truth is that that little phrase just isn't true. Crazy people can know they're crazy, that what they think and experience aren't the way things are supposed to be but still have to deal with it regardless. It happens all the time, it happens more often than not.

    I vaugely wish I had actually recorded all the things that Genius asserted about madness so I could go and dissect them individually, because it's loaded with similar easy, trite things you hear growing up that are fun to say great to assert because they make you seem like you know things but actually are outdated and wrong if not just flat out never-considered-true. THis review would double in size, but it'd be worth it.

    But really, even without that, the fact that the only thing that makes Geniuses monstrous is their insanity is insulting. Genius doesn't exactly try to sweep it's behaviors under the carpet of insanity, but it still makes it a notable factor, a second pillar of monstrosity, and it certainly sideglances at the idea of blaming all of its' terrible attitudes on the subject.

    "But Arc, what about Changeling that does the same thing, making insanity and traumatic behavior the big reason that changelings are monsters, that these things are the bedrock for fae logic and behavior that makes them terrible?"

    First off, yes, it must be acknowledged that Changeling does not ignore the significant possibility of the abused becoming the abuser and that is a source of monstrosity in the splat-but Changeling doesn't rely on that. Trauma and psychological conditions exacerbate and provide stress on choices, but changelings are monstrous without those things being the blame. The Wyrd warping their perception and binding their choices as they go along is the actual cause of their monstrosity, make them nexuses of laws and ideas that promote monstrous behavior and mentality on it's own. Trauma and Insanity may make that worse, but they don't force the Changeling's hand the way the Wyrd does.

    You can actually see this in the difference between Clarity Triggers and Wyrd Frailties. Clarity Triggers might impose a condition, but those conditions do not lead to monstrous action, and often are left up to the player how the Changeling reacts-hell, a normal failure might be a purely internal reaction, with outside viewers not even noticing that anything has changed. Wyrd Frailities, by comparison, are compulsions, that set a line of things that must be done or must not be done, action that a very minimum often cause changelings to alienate and exclude others, to keep them out in some form or fashion. Clarity might hurt and may be a significant factor in why some changelings become particularly monstrous, but the Wyrd's influence has more to do with it early on, even starting with just pledges. And mind you, Clarity doesn't even properly represent mental stability, but instead represents an internal metaphysical force, so even that becomes more mitigated than not.

    There's a difference between demonizing the perspective a splat has versus demonizing insanity and various psychological and social disabilities, and there's even ways to use the one to comment on the other in not only a fun and engaging way, but in ways that are respectful. Mage and Changeling do it very well, and I would exhort people to go back and look closely at what was actually being done, even under the limitations of First Edition and the problematic Derangement system. Genius didn't think about it at all, it just went there and embraced it hog wild. It didn't even try to say that mental illness was a smokescreen that normal people latched onto to explain the monstrosity of Geniuses while missing the deeper metaphysical consequences of inspiration, it just let it be the problem,

    Which is funny, because what little cause there is for Genius monstrous behavior really stems from the bias of different factor tied to the mind.

    The Cults of Rationality-Intelligence is Not a Rarity

    Early on in the reading of Genius, I had me a big, long groan when I realized that this game was going to stumble over the problem of whether or not Geniuses should be crazy intelligent or not. I knew this was going to be problem from the sentence "I wasn't smart, but I was a genius." It was utterly embarrassing to read, doubly so since I knew where Genius wanted to go. I mean, it's obvious in how desperately they painted their game, to make it seem like this alien super-intelligence was attracted to things were of no use for it.

    This actually goes a step beyond science fetishism, down into the cause for that. Genius might know from a certain viewpoint that good games allow for a wide variety of characters, but at it's hard, this game resonates a lot for people because it puts high mental capability on a pedestal and worships that. Never mind science fetishism, Genius wants to be a game about intelligence fetishism.

    While I might have, prior to this point, acidically implied reasons why someone might be attracted to Genius, I've tried not to call things out. I want to continue on in that vein here, because I don't want to pretend to know the reasons why people like this game-but I can't talk about this point and the fundamental problem of it without acknowledging that at the heart of everything, this is probably the big appeal of Genius. Genius's characters are special because they are smart. Genius's characters are tragedies because they are smart. Genius has an awareness of some sort that keeps them from committing to it, but there's a reason why they can't commit to the idea of Geniuses merely being channels for Inspiration, for having their own characteristics have no bearing on what is done when they let Inspiration is.

    Genius is about people who are smart, both how utterly capable they are and how thwarted they are, by the world, by people. Ironically, not by their own limitations. Smart people are exceptional, smart people are special.Not people who work at being smart, mind you-just being inherently smart. to be gifted with a curse and to be cursed with a gift.

    It's actually kind of twee how much of a point this is. Going back to the much maligned statistics section, Genius points out that 60% of the Genius population becomes Genius through their own efforts. Now, that doesn't sound impressive because it's only over half and they do talk about how the other half get in under the guidance of a mentor. In writing though, you learn that certain things call attention to themselves and leave a more lasting impression than others, and numbers in a text sparse on them are one such thing, particularly it's opposite statistic doesn't receive an actual mention. Hell, you can see this just in the writing-60% is more noticeable than sixty percent, even though they both communicate the same idea. What's more is that while the number is moderate, it is a majority, and so the impression you walk away with is not "Two out of five Geniuses are mentored in" but "The majority of Geniuses become so on their own." 60% feels like a lot, until it just becomes A Lot.

    To build up this idea even further, another statistic states that anywhere from 30% to 50% of Geniuses do not realizes they are Geniuses at all. We tend to gravitate towards large numbers because it feels more impressive, so really what the take away from that is that half of the Geniuses do not realize they are supernaturally empowered, which means they must think themselves merely incredibly smart but somehow unable to communicate their genius to other people. Just let that sink in for a bit-half of all this game's protagonists feel superior but limited, and can't explain why.(Not that knowing why helps)

    Does the reason I feel like this is twee come across? Put those two and what they feel like to the average reader together, and you basically have this character who I swear to god is just waiting for someone to come along and say "Don't you realize? You were special all along!" And it's not like the few times this happens in other games. While Catalysts might ramp up the horror factor, the first part of Chapter 1, as it talks about the Breakthrough, doesn't really seem to stress too much about how it's characters think they are going mad or being psychically torn apart, not in the same way Werewolf describes the tumult of experience a werewolf goes through their First Change as the spiritual worlds starts ramming down their proverbial doors or how a burgeoning mage feels invaded upon as they chase after their first Obsession. Even with the ways Genius does, those statistics I mentioned just honestly paint a stronger picture. There's no horror in the change.

    "Don't you realize? You were special all along!"

    So, how is that a problem? How is any of this a problem? Isn't intelligence a thing to celebrate, and doesn't intelligence cause lots of problems?

    Well, yes, but there's some key points here. Yes, Intelligence is a highly valued trait. Yes, even without adding other issues on in relationship to it, people can and have also alienated people for it. I'm not going to sit here and tell you those things aren't true. What I am going to tell you that intelligence is not special. Because intelliegence isn't special, the place that Genius is trying to draw it's horror and pathos from feels shallow.

    First off, While intelligence is a highly valued trait that can be the cause for strife, it's not the only one. The same thing could be said of being a good socializer-on the one hand, look at how well you can interact with people and get them to side with you! On the other hand, god, bet you that person is flighty and has no brain. It can be said of being stoic-nothing bothers you, but you come off as anti-social prick. Strong? Impressive to watch, probably a dumb jock. Strong and smart? God, he must think he's so much better than us. There are lots of traits we say are important, but every single one them has stigmas attached to them, ways they are devalued. In fact, in today's world, the stigma of being intelligent is actually decreasing-it's the age of the geek, baby. My point is that whatever burden is thrown at intelligence, however prized intelligence is, it's about the same as everything else.

    Secondly, and my main point-intelligence isn't really rare.

    I could explain this a general academic way, but it's my rant, so you'll have to deal with me being personal instead. I learned at a young age that I have an IQ of 130. Depending on what scale you work on, that's either genius level or just below it. And you know, yeah, I knew it. I had an intense capacity for memory that I exercised with a passion, I was very good at figuring just about anything out and even approaching what I learned from different angles to produce new answers-I was a very creative thinker. No one explained negative numbers to me in the first grade-I just figured out that zero couldn't be the end of the line. And you know what? I thought I was special growing up. Hell, for a couple of years, I thought I was superior to people. There were enough people that seemed to resent it, at any rate. Enough to warrant cruelty, to a young, bitter mind.

    Promethean, Dreaming and Lost radically affected my life and the way I thought of life and people and the way I acted, but a lot of that wasn't put into action until about a year after Lost came out. As mentioned by one rude bird trying to use this factor against me, I was Mormon for most of my life, and I served a mission in Riverside Country, California. That's two years of being assigned to work with random strangers and trying to convince strangers to let you into their homes and chat with you. You get exposed to a lot of people that way, and you get to know them in ways you might not ordinarily be able to. Lots of my fellow missionaries walked away from their mission with their faith in God bolstered, but their faith in people dramatically dropped.

    My faith in God might have been the highest it would ever be in my life at that point, but I had a different reaction to people. With my companions, I lived with a lot of people I ordinarily would have brushed off as dumb before, and I found that while I often was the smartest person in the room, I was not the only smart person in the room. My companions, many of whom I might have had various reasons to assume were stupid to begin with, actually often knew a lot of things I didn't know, even with my extensive learning, and didn't really have a problem keeping up with me. Those who knew their IQ's often had average IQ's, sure, but they used it well. Even if average was well below where I was, that didn't mean they were unintelligent, or that they couldn't contribute meaningfully to my life and own well of knowledge. They could help me figure stuff out. These people were not bringing down the world and ruining my life because they were stupid or inferior in some way. The math might enforce that notion, but the reality broke it down completely.

    And you know, that trend continued out on the street. I dealt with all sort of people, most of them not interested and just trying to get us out of their life quickly, trying to shut us down. There was a fair number of people who were rude shits. I've had someone try to throw salt in my face, I've had to dodge beer bottles flying from cars, I've had to run down an extensive driveway to a five count as one guy readied his gun after showing us that, yes, the bullets were genuine. There were also a fair number of people who were very nice, very thoughtful, ready to at least provide us some comfort in our long days, and several who didn't mind letting us talk and share. It is a minute number who met us for regular lessons, but you know, point is I've met the gambit.

    It kept happening, what happened with the companions-where once I had blamed stupidity, I found that to no longer be the case. You could tell that most of these people were quite intelligent(again, perhaps not as intelligent as I was, but intelligent none the less). There problem was not that they weren't intelligent, but that they were comfortable in their position(More on that later). Put to the test, people rose to the challenge more often than not. These people knew things, they were could quickly put things together, they could come up with surprising questions when it came to it.

    Honestly, the worst people I met tended to be highly intelligent, or at least thought they were(More often than not, it was the former), who made a thing of it. You could hear it in the language, you could see it in their analysis-this disdain, this contempt, this willingness to blame the world for not being as smart as they were. Those people were always the most contentious and cruel opposition.

    And you know, all of that has born out since. I pay closer attention to people now, and really, I've found the trend of intelligence to be more the rule than the exception. People are smart. People on my level might not be common, but people are smart. They get things, they understand a lot of things. They might have their reasons for doing stupid things or mean things or negligent things, but it's not because they're dumb.

    And when you realize intelligence is not a rarity, I gotta admit, it pisses you off when people treat it like that's the case anyways.

    Really, the biggest problem is comfort, comfort in one's ideas and understandings of the universe and the things in it. And you know, smart people are just as liable into falling into comfort as anyone else.

    As an example, regardless of where you stand on gun control, the simple fact of the matter is it is a dynamic subject with lots of factors and considerations and possible answers. But growing up, I never thought about any of that. Of course it makes sense to arm your people. Of course if we take away the guns, that means the criminals will win. I grew up in Texas, and my dad was a retired Navy officer. I was part of a conservative church with a strong tradition buried in the Wild West, with all the glorification of the Myth of the Gun that comes with it. The right to bear arms was not a thing I had to support intellectually, because growing up, it just seemed a given, inherently right. It seems unintelligent to take that attitude at face value, much as any other attitude should be question, and I am not an unintelligent person. Yet, I bought it, for years. It wasn't until I started asking why other people thought otherwise and really dug into it that I began to understand. And regardless of your opinion on the subject, you have to admit-anything that causes you to support a judgment without all the facts is a dangerous thing indeed. In this case, it wasn't stupidity.

    I am strongly in favor of gun control, in case you were wondering and/or wanted to use that a reason to invalidate everything I've said, because, you know, what can someone wanting to take away our guns really know, am I right?

    But we tell ourselves things and we support them and believe them and it becomes a thing to not question. It doesn't matter how intelligent you are if you're comfortable with a thing. And when you're comfortable, anything that rocks the boat seems like an enemy. Fuck stupidity as the root of all evil-comfort causes more damage than anything else.

    Genius wants to build it's fantasy, both the power and the tragedy, out of intelligence. And it's a foundation that honestly just doesn't support a game. It doesn't really mean much to anyone who doesn't feel that sense of victimization or empowerment. Intelligence is not a virtue or a vice. It's not the face of the outsider in any particular way, no more so than it is the face of those who are inside. It's just a trait. The fact that Genius seems to think otherwise, that ti's willing to tell people that they won't be accepted because of their gift, and that it might be okay to be harbor resentment against them for it is terrible. It affects life, sure, but there are worse things to be than unintelligent. There are better things to be than intelligent.

    I think that's the main things that make this game repugnant. Let's deal with the small things.

    BLOCKS-Layout and Art

    *switches the music to Chvrches, starting with Science/Visions*

    Lots of people have raised their hackles to my mention that this is a problem. After all, it is a fan game. It may have been developed by a group, but it was made by one guy on no budget. Art is not easy, nor is it cheap. With no money and no artists in the community, of course there is no art. As for Layout, there is some at least. It's at least on par, maybe a little under, the 99% texts Onyx Path puts out.

    Well, yeah. I'm dealing with people with no training, no software, no money, no outreach. I am dealing with a game that has limits.

    So limited, in fact, it doesn't even have a release date mentioned in it's credits.

    I don't know when, exactly, Genius came out, which makes it hard to know it's context-what games did it have to ape? How long was it worked on? How long has it even been out. I just know that it's probably been out since 2010 or earlier, since that was when Genius's loudest fan first shoved it into a conversation it didn't belong in. Which means it's been about six years, or more, with fans saying that "This is the greatest game ever!" and that it should be considered part of the canon of Chronicles games.

    Well, I'm taking you seriously, and with that comes expectations, and with that comes some ironic leniency. Genius has had six years or more to clean up itself up. It has had time to go the above and beyond it's fans have suggested it has done, and the fact that it hasn't honestly would mean it is the longest running game "considered as canon" to go from 99% to complete.

    Now, again, limitations, I get it. Meanness about the level fans put this game at a level it shouldn't be put at aside, what do I expect people to do about it?

    Well, there's this thing called the internet.

    I'm here to tell you that while it isn't easy, it is actually possible. It won't necessarily be the greatest thing ever, but it's steps above other fangames, and you can at least better pretend like Genius is a canon game. You can do it.

    First off, Open Source Art exists. Seriously, head on over to Google, go to images, click More, click Usage Rights, and click Labelled for Reuse or Labelled for Reuse with Modification. Search to your heart's content. There are various open source image sites too that you can scour too, though I can't name them right now-once I remember them, I'll let you know. This gives you a wide base of images to work with.

    Second, there are open source pixel and vector photo manipulation software available. Go and grab GIMP and Inkscape(or other alternatives, if you prefer), look up guides on downloads and patches you can add to them to bring them up to Photoshop and Illustrator level. This gives you a way to play around with the images you find, make them fit into the color scheme of Genius(Dark Blue and Not-Obnoxious Orange), and transform them in a variety of ways to create even better imagery for your work.

    THird, though I can't name any right now, there are open source programs that operate like Adobe InDesign, which allows you to professionally layout a book, arranging art and text in easy peasy ways. I'll find a really good one and get it to you all later, if you don't find it before I do.

    Fourth, there's Youtube, and with it tons of guides, amateur and professional, on how to use these programs and how to do a professional job with making an aesthetically pleasing book.

    And you know, it's an important thing. People often skim works, and it's easy to lose interest in a bunch of text-Art gives them another way to become interested. Good Layout makes the book easier read, breaks down the pervasive weight of a thing, creates some open space for the eyes to wander in. Art can enforce the feeling of the text. It really sets the atmosphere, the feel, the excitement and horror one is supposed to feel. It's worth it.

    It's not like, even with all of this, you'll really sell Genius as an game comparable to the actual games-but Genius has enough diehard fans that I believe they could work out something really incredible regardless. The tools are there. Get on it, crazy fans. Learn something new, develops some skills.

    Stop telling me Genius is so great until you can at least make reading it a not-smothering experience.

    Two Rooms and Rat Brain Pachinko-Opening Stories that Don't Anti-Sell

    If you asked me what Genius's alternative title should have been after the opening story, I would have said "Cafe Scene: The Variations."

    Seriously, this story is boring. It has moments that I like, sure, but by and large, what happens throughout the majority of is that two characters exposit a lot of information sitting down in flat and boring rooms. The conversation is dull and dreary-really, Genius's problem with failures never come in then it does here. There's little sense of purpose to these characters beyond just asking questions and answering them so people can learn that this game is terrible in brief, so when shit finally happens between the two of them, I really don't care.

    And you know, that's a crime a from a game that promises gonzo pulp sci-fi horror. That's a crime coming from a game that was inspired by velociraptors on zepplins.

    What should have happened is that, instead of setting up a scenario to explain the game, the opening story should have been about Geniuses doing their Genius thing. Do not sit in rooms and have people talk to each other. Have them running around on a floating sky fortress hovering above New York, then dive down to the streets, cutting in and out of traffic before-damnit, lost them!-going to a laboratory to analyze trace elements left from the failed Wonder and determining where they came from before diving into their dumptser of an apartment, flipping through photo-books and despondent e-mails, before-aha, at the docks!-where in a spatial distortion device is discovered and used to enter into hidden lab when the water spirals to the heavens the tesla coils warp flesh as they last out angrily and the tv moniters scream as the Lemurian cackles as their machine almost finishes charging!

    Do not tell me about Genius-Show me them building the Flash Gordon lightning gun as they work out the rhetoric that will force that damn boss realize his Oedipus Complex and resign out of indignation, walking through the rain parsing out the stray dreams offered by the radiation in their dreams, wondering how their lives came to this, until they walk into their job and-damnit, Jimmy, don't touch that!-the work of weeks falls apart and you pick Jimmy apart into a quivering, dribbling, neurotic mess on the floor.

    Don't give me just regret-show me the thrill of conversing with an ex-wife from 2062 and her desperation that the present be fixed, the loneliness as a Genius just can't connect to the concerns of her wife and best friend, the confusion over why this plutonium doesn't seem to maintaining the stasis.

    Give me quirky-yet-deep characters-angry one, sad ones, jealous ones-give me characters who lick their guns and characters who are hypochondriacs and characters who struggle to believe that it'll all be worth it in spite the junkyard they've built. Give me characters who hurt each other because they care too much. Give me characters who inspire desire as I tremble. Give me people I can believe in.

    For fuck's sake, tell me a story.

    TL;DR-What Can We Do to Make Genius Good?

    If you wanted to skip reading this monster, I wouldn't blame you. It's a lot of text, and a lot of hate. That's not an easy thing to try and swallow. So, if there is any part you read, should you decide to skip the rest, this is the important one to read.

    At this point in my reading Genius comes off as a ....Hang on, I need to find it-here we go. To misquote someone who inspired this entire project, "Genius is cheap self-congratulatory inspiration porn, fight me" (Thanks, inspiration, you're a gem.) as of the middle of Chapter 1. That's kind of a shame, because it has pieces I like, and more importantly it clearly does something for people. Whether that something is a good thing or not is irrelevant at this point, point is if I'm going to even just pretend I care at all, I can give some pointers. So, let's do that.

    Make Inspiration the Divine Fire. No, seriously, this is genius for Genius. Just think about it. The Divine Fire is a force that pushes people along trends of creation, change and entropy, that inspires obsession and operates on psuedo-scientific and hyper-scientific principle, who's biggest effects are non-repeatable because it requires a massive amount of desperation to call down the Divine Fire in that sort of mass, a desperation that's not easily repeatable. It's Inspiration with a better explanation and grounding. On top of that, if you've seen the Alchemist thread in Promethean, you know there's a demand for playable and sympathetic Alchemists, and this honestly broadens and enhances the idea of humans using Pyros. I guarantee you, this one change alone transforms Genius into a good game so long as you follow the principles laid out by Promethean to their logical conclusion. Hell, if you want to play up the social isolation, give Geniuses a variant version of Disquiet that happens as people are exposed to Wonders.

    Commit to Science. Even if you don't like the idea of Inspiration being the Divine Fire, be willing to commit to a portrayal of it being a force of hyper-science. Inspiration it self can be supernatural as hell, but make it seem like a force that is eager to advance humanity along their progress into the World of Tomorrow, in their transformation. Let Wonders be the results of science years ahead of where we're at, describe how it works in scientific terminology, commit to the language and the feel of it. Let your mad scientists be scientists.

    Break the World. I don't particularly care how you to do, but make the action and projects of Geniuses change the world. Let them win on that front. Maybe one thing you can do is to build a Magnum Opus similarly to how Promethean has their Pilgrimage designed-create Milestones that a Genius has to accomplish before their really big project can happen, using smaller projects and failures accumulate into a critical mass, an event horizon to cross. On the small scale, saturate Wonders with Inspiration so that people who witness them are overcome with something akin to Sybaris from Mummy, their minds not prepared to channel the trace presence of Inspiration. Just do something so players can feel like they're cheating, that they're violating the world as they know it, and have it actually feel taboo.

    Fight the Chaos. I actually really super grok the idea that Geniuses are forces created as a way to fight the chaos of the Chronicles world. Something looked out at this world, with it's end being unanswerable and it's world being the result of contradictory occult principles and said "NO MORE." Science is the vein it decided to pump blood into, to banish the shadows and define the universe. It's up to you if they are creating it as they go along or reasserting true natural laws that have been replaced by supernatural support beams, but either way, while the world is fatalistic and nihilistic and defies understanding, Geniuses believe that if there is any principle they can violate and transgress, it's the meaninglessness of the universe. Create the illusion of hope. Be the only sane humans in a world gone insane. Hide the folly-they'll discover it in time.

    Don't Sweat Mage. Yeah, I know, I ranted a long time about that, but let's be honest, if your premise is breaking the world and having people being unable to interact with your miracles, collision is going to happen. Focus on trying to make Genius feel like mad scientists where you can, bring in the tactiles and emotions that are strongest in the mad scientist, find ways to show in text how they operate differently (REINFORCE THE SCIENCE), do what you can to make this game distinct. You can do a lot to deviate the idea enough that even with some large similarities, people can't solidly accuse Genius of just being Mage. And where Genius just can't escape the similarities? Don't worry about it, man-so long as you have done everything else you could, there's no need to sweat the Mages.

    Make Characters Lose Something. Geniuses are supposed to be estranged from their peers and the masses. Convince me that the forces of Inspiration actually do that. Make Inspiration burn too bright, too hot, make experiencing a Genius at their most mad scientisty feel like people are losing their minds. Let them be the transgressors, even when they don't want to.

    Kill the Statistics. Inspiration will make a Genius out of anyone. It needs social butterflies and physical paragons as much as it needs actually intelligent people. It needs poor people, rich people, black people, Hispanic People, Asian people, women, genderfluids, androgynes, dumb people, smart people. Science waits for no man and has to shape the world at all levels, and Inspiration strikes any and all people to get the job done. They don't need to be smart or educated or anything, it just needs someone to work through. Let the players imagine who will be Geniuses, and then let them do that. Inspiration is doing all the hard work, the actual science, mad or otherwise.

    Kill the Money. Look, you want to tell me resources are important, you can do that, but don't tell me Geniuses are strapped for cash. Players are infinitely creative and can work their way around these problems. In fact, they will. If you must talk on it, make it clear the various kinds of resources they needs and provide ideas on how they'll get it in varying lifestyles. But for the most part, just skip it.

    Bind Them to Humanity. Long before you get to the mechanics, you have to convince me that Geniuses need to be involved with humanity. it doesn't have to be "OH MY GOD, I LOVE THEM", but there should be a distinct variety of feeling asides from disdain, from amusement to exasperation to love to fear to sorrow. But while you make Geniuses conflicted with Humanity, convince me there's a reason they don't abandon them. Love them or hate them, there has to be a reason Geniuses keep coming back instead of hopping on Asteroid M.

    Redefine Lemuria. Kill the insanity. Really, actually, toss everything you have on them out the window and start fresh. Start on something sensibly shared and go from there. Maybe they've decided humanity doesn't deserve the World of Tomorrow, and selfishly work to create a world only the Inspired can go to while striving to send humanity back to the stone age. Maybe they fear what the unInspired masses will do if the World of Tomorrow comes too quickly, and determine it's best to keep Inspiration's fruits away from them. Have the Peerage be fighting to bring the World of Tomorrow in as quick as possible, fighting Lemuria and the world to make it happen. Whatever you do, make them make sense.

    Restructure the Foundations. Yeah, I know, I didn't talk about the Foundations. Honestly, I kind of like them now, but at the same time, having them be built on specific mad practices feels limiting. I think a more interesting idea is to build them along the philosophies of what the World of Tomorrow should look like, what the Wonders are put to and how they shape society.

    Get Creative With the Sciences. In the vein of that last one clearing space based on removing all the stats and money shit, have a section that explores various edge sciences and crazy theories and find possible applications on the street. Get really creative and truly varied in what you can pursue as a Genius. Break the mold and create a sense that there is a mad, cool, scary application of any science you care to name. Free your science.

    Get More Global. Genius kind of has this Euro-centric vibe to it that's off-putting, like Europeans were the only ones to actually make advances in science or to use it to reshape society. Other civilizations in the world had their own revolutions and advances, and even figured some shit out way ahead of Euro-land. Explore some of that, make the world of Genius ground and diverse and weird and cool by giving credit where it's due.

    Scrub the History. The history section was so boring and useless I kept skipping it until I forced myself to read it-and what a slog. You don't need it. You might need instances to talk about and have fun with in places, but as a general rule, the overview hurts the game.

    Ditch the Insanity.Look, it's enough your characters are channeling a force that brings 25th Century science in today that's probably honestly going to burn out the brains of other people looking at it. They'll develop complexes enough from that. You don't have to work that hard to sell a mad that isn't offensive. Just let your characters dream of the World of Tomorrow today through their actions. That's 'madness' enough.


    Ignore This Asshole On Whatever Point You Want If You Disagree With Him.

    No, seriously, you have my permission, even down to thinking of me as an asshole. I can take being an asshole, it's cool.

    I mean, I hope you won't. I hope you'll think about what I've said thus far. I might have more to say-I plan to continue reading the book, and I feel like I can still bring myself to comment on it-but even if not, I don't want this mass of ragging to not be considered.

    But at the end of the day, if you like Genius as is?

    Then don't let me ruin that for you.

    I may hate this game. I may not care for this game. I may not really understand why people like this game, or be inclined to believe the worst motives. I may disagree with the principles it was built on down to a fundamental level. I can do those things.

    The one thing I refuse to do, to try and do anyways, is make you change the game if you don't want to.

    It is not enough to hate a game. At the end of the day, you have to hope for change. But it's not also enough to assert change. You have to let people decide if they want to make the change or not. To decide if it matters to them to change. I can't make anyone do that, and I'm not going to try.

    I don't like this game. I don't imagine reading more of it will change my opinion of it. All I will do is reveal flaws as I see them and suggest changes as I think would work. All I can do is assert a need for change. All I can do is stand for what I believe in, and try to invite people to better things,even if they disagree with me.

    This rant only works in that sort of faith-in the hope that people might change themselves. No, not merely that-that I can change myself into a person worth listening to, and maybe considering. That I find a clarity and anger and courage that invites a better world, that invites people to better views.

    It is in that hope, that purpose, that I'm going to continue reading. That causes me to believe, that even after all this, I might be able bring myself to say more.

    I hate this game. But I don't have to. And maybe, with some good faith, there will come a day I don't.

    Part 2 of the Genius Opening Review possibly coming. I mean, Jesus, I hope for it, but this was a shit ton of work to do-23,500+ words, guys! From an opening story, an introduction, and half of a chapter! I do have a life, I can't just keep doing this, Christ.

    PS: Ayoko Von Schreber is so fake a name I wouldn't be surprised if it actually went right back around to being real.
    Last edited by ArcaneArts; 01-15-2017, 03:27 AM.

    Kelly R.S. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
    The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
    Feminine pronouns, please.


    • #3
      Reserved for Chapter 2.

      Kelly R.S. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
      The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
      Feminine pronouns, please.


      • #4
        Reserved for Chapter 3.

        Kelly R.S. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
        The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
        Feminine pronouns, please.


        • #5
          Reserved for Chapter 4.

          Kelly R.S. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
          The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
          Feminine pronouns, please.


          • #6
            Reserved for Chapter 5 and possibly the Appendices.

            Kelly R.S. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
            The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
            Feminine pronouns, please.


            • #7
              Reserved for Final Thoughts.

              Kelly R.S. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
              The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
              Feminine pronouns, please.


              • #8
                I'll be watching intently. I'm interested in your opinion on Genius, both as a general nerd who likes to hear people's thought process, and also in relation to things that might be worth looking at for Genius 2E.

                Genius: the Transgression 2E is a thing that's being worked on.


                • #9
                  Also interested in your thoughts. I'm in a similar boat when it comes to feelings toward the general concept of mad scientists, and have seen (and occasionally been annoyed by the omnipresence and force of) the praise for Genius as well, so I'm curious to hear whether or not it manages to capture your interests at all despite your rather sour introduction to it. Both as a general review and as a possible motivator to give it more than the partial skim of a year or two back.

                  ... Aaand I'm intrigued by your choices in music, which is a lesser factor, but admittedly more relevant than it ought to be.

                  I've got a bit of a bad habit of extensively editing my posts after the fact. Please try and bear with me...
                  In case you're comfortable being more friendly and casual about things, my name's Estella, or Es/Essie for short. They/Them or She/Her, please.


                  • #10
                    Good Intro section, Sean. I might be wrong, but I also thought an initial conflict with Genius coming out was with an internal conflict amongst the writers of Genius and/or other texts? I do not remember details or names or where I heard that from.



                    • #11
                      (Also, full disclosure, my partner, who minored in Physics at Uni, likes Genius a lot. I'm not a fan.)



                      • #12
                        Originally posted by hm8453a View Post
                        Good Intro section, Sean. I might be wrong, but I also thought an initial conflict with Genius coming out was with an internal conflict amongst the writers of Genius and/or other texts? I do not remember details or names or where I heard that from.
                        In regards to writer conflicts, this was, as far as I know, an open source production developed over on, that wretched hive of scum and villainy that was also the place we got Dave Brookshaw from, so mixed results. My default assumption is that internal conflict was basically pervasive throughout the entire process. The PDF only cites Kyle Marquis as writer, developer, and *cough* layout artist though, so it might have been smoother than expected.

                        As for conflict with the rest of the texts in the ChroD canon....We'll talk about that when we get there.

                        Kelly R.S. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
                        The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
                        Feminine pronouns, please.


                        • #13
                          I will endeavor, by the way, to try and not make this entire thing nothing but one big "Why the fuck isn't this just the science hack from Mage's Chroniclers Guide?", but I'ma say it now: Genius is fighting me hard on that front, and I imagine we're going to definitely talk about the Mage the Ascension Elephant as soon as we can to avoid choking the rest of the review with it, or at least to try to.

                          Kelly R.S. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
                          The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
                          Feminine pronouns, please.


                          • #14
                            I'm actually gonna be following this closely. Since the intent behind Mage: The Transgression is to fix the problems with Ascension, Awakening, and Transgression, it'll probably be quite helpful to see a very critical perspective, even if I'll probably disagree with a lot of it.

                            Right out of the gate, for example, I just can't relate to Arc's disdain for the mad scientist. The mad scientist and Frankenstein's Monster have always been my favorite classic monsters, and it's always been one of my favorite, if not my favorite, fictional archetype.

                            And that leads into the "why not just use the Mage science hack" issue. To someone like Arc, who doesn't really have a connection to the mad scientist archetype, it makes sense, but to someone who really loves mad scientists and their role in horror media, it just seems unfair that they should only be able to exist as part of an old Awakening sourcebook. And Genius gets that. I think it might actually have been better as its own thing, because it creates such a complete and versatile setting. And the brilliance of that setting, and why a Mage hack isn't enough, is that it wonderfully deconstructs the entire idea of "mad science" by creating a setting where science is treated the way fiction treats magic. Manes are a perfect example of that. They are, essentially, the ghosts of debunked scientific theories and superstitions, and that is WONDERFUL.
                            Last edited by Geckopirateship; 08-13-2016, 09:35 PM.


                            • #15
                              I played Genius once. Everything you point out as a mark against in your intro it is super accurate in my eyes.

                              When one is accustomed to privilege, equality seems like oppression.