Friday, April 12, 2013

Giving Keepers Some Love

For the most part, the portrayal of Keepers in Tribe 8 has skewed toward a few archetypes: the hard boiled survivalist, the over curious yet-open-to-that-hippy-crap youth, the doddering wizard-stand in, or the tech-obsessed lunatic (as in the Machine Monks). Many times they are depicted as reluctant allies - often relegated to the role of firearm and ammunition dispensers. When they act as antagonists, often they're more of the gun-toting, "Get off my lawn!" type and not nearly as multi-faceted as, for example, Tribal antagonists.

Given that Tribe 8 is about the Fallen and their plight, this is  somewhat understandable. Keepers just aren't the heart of the game. It's still a damned shame.

At one point,  there was a Keeper supplement in the works called Word of the Keepers, which fell by the wayside and was never released. It was pitched as:

TRIBE 8: WORD OF THE KEEPERS
Enigmatic and reclusive, the Keepers are those who hid themselves away during the Fall of the World Before, and now devote themselves to the preservation and recreation of ancient technology. Word of the Keepers is both a sourcebook and player's handbook for incorporating members of this group into your Tribe 8 campaign.

Opining about the relative incompleteness of the Tribe 8 core books is especially poignant considering how many books were released - surely something like the Keepers could have been slotted into the line a lot earlier. While Tribe 8 2nd Edition featured Keepers more prominently than other books, they still amounted to a couple of decent factions (the Sanjon Keepers) and a motley assortment of groups that are just downright xenophobic, isolationist, hostile, weird, or most often some combination of all four.

Yet there are some fascinating tidbits and unexplored facets to the Keepers. The first is that Keepers are, without a doubt, the only ones who know exactly how much time passed while the bulk of humanity was in The Camps. At least one group of Keepers, mentioned in the Tribe 8 Companion, has only recently emerged from their high-tech bunker. While I'm hesitant to drag realism into it, I can't see how they could have stayed down there for too horribly long.  I've seen estimates for the time between The Camps and the Liberation ranging up to 300 years, on account of the amount of knowledge the Tribals lost. Given the overall amount of decay and ruin seen around Vimary, that figure seems way too long - I'd put it at less than 100 years. The Keepers surely know, but in the published books they aren't telling.

As a side note, for those wondering how the humans in the camps could have lost everything in the span of only a decades, it's simply because of the Z'bri. For those in the Camps, hundreds of generations could have passed, as the Z'bri used Sundering to accelerate their lives and resurrect them again (there are descriptions of Z'bri doing this in various books). Also, the opposite is true of the Keepers - while the wholesale destruction of modern civilization naturally led to a loss of a tremendouds amount of knowledge, given the Keepers' persistence at trying to uncover the past after a couple of centuries they would be much further advanced. Their loss of knowledge, if it has been less than a century, is still difficult to explain - but it can be fudged or chalked up to supernatural reasons a lot easier than explaining two centuries or more of very little progress.

Another piece of information apparently lost in the plethora of setting material is the Ancient One. While later books, and especially Tribe 8 Second Edition, mention "The Ancients" in Olympus, Tribe 8 First Edition says "the Ancient One." The implication here is that there was a single person, entity, or something else at the heart of Olympus. Does he predate the Camps? Is he the equivalent of a Keeper Fatima? A Keeper mech? We don't know because that little blurb was never explored.

I think "never explored" pretty much sums up the state of canon Keepers in Tribe 8. The Olympus Keepers are pretty much our template for what a "Keeper" is. Yet they turned out to be just one group among dozens, each of them a following a cookie-cutter pattern of "Find an industrial-looking location, insert Keepers with goggles and gas masks, make them not trust people." As antagonists or protagonists they are little more than cardboard stand-ups with remarkably little to flesh out the things that could make them truly stand out. While I appreciate that the Sanjon in Tribe 8 Second Edition got their own city and have a write-up, I kind of only got out of it that they dress like the Morton's Fish guy and make people drink alcohol out of dead cod. The closest we get to some kind of non-superficial variety are the Novohuron, who are described as "like Keepers."

For my part, I've tried to battle the two-dimensional nature of the Keepers with a Keeper antagonist, Hanna. She was actually involved in my game with meta plot, dealing with the Institute, Abonom and Agnes. Basically, she is the head of a Keeper group called the Zetetics who are dedicated to discovering a way to harness and control the River of Dream. Hanna isn't a horrible person beyond being highly motivated to seeing her theories and experiments through. In many ways, she is a pawn being played by other groups, including her own kind.

While obviously not every Keeper character or group has to be unique, as it stands they are entirely too homogeneous. They're behind the curve, especially given their story potential. In my fantasy world where Word of the Keepers was actually published, the Keepers would have unquestionably been on the forefront of the curve instead of hiding out in the tunnels underneath it. For now, I'll just have to take solace in my personal reconstruction of Tribe 8 using Fate Core, where I'm able to inject a little bit of variety to the Keepers.