Everlasting :Book of the Unliving
Lizard skips the half-human dream insects and decides to look at a late nineties game where you play angst ridden undead in a world filled with all sorts of supernatural entities, using a dice pool system and filled with pretentious posturing. And, no, it’s not from White Wolf! Welcome to Everlasting: Book Of The Unliving!
Everlasting: Book Of The Unliving
Originally, my plan for this next installment was something called “Numenon”. As far as I can tell, Numenon is a game about playing imaginary half-human, half-insect creatures that exist in some vague sort of… uhm… I’m not sure. I couldn’t really figure out where the game started and the weird self indulgent pseudo-philosophical text stopped. So I put that one on hold, and decided, mostly on a whim, to haul out “Everlasting”, a game which manages to be just about as pretentious as Numenon while still having an obvious game there. It’s a lot like a mid-90s White Wolf game, except with worse art and layout, a more poorly designed system, and the “pretentious poser git” factor turned up to 11.
It produced four volumes and some supplements, though, and it seems to be workable. I say “seems” because, like 90% of my games, I have never even tried to create a character. This ends now!
But first… the pretension!
A quick break. When you are roleplaying, what you are doing is pretending to be magical elves in fairyland. I usually bring this up in online game boards, especially those catering to the PVP crowd, because they tend to act all rough and tough and macho and claim to be “HARD-CORE!” because they like games where they can “kill” their opponents and “risk” things, and look down on “WoW kiddies” and “roleplaying weenies”. But no matter how much they try to act as if there’s something manly about ganking n00bs, it still boils down to pretending to be magical elves. The equivalent in tabletop RPGs is the attitude that there’s something special, mystical, or otherwise meaningful about playing. This group tends to look down on “hack&slashers” or “D&D players” and usually blathers on about things like “recapturing the collective storytelling experience” or “tapping into Jungian archetypes” or “voyages of internal self discovery”. Bull-effin’-shit. You’re playing magical elves in fairyland. Get over yourselves!
While the banner of hippy-dippy New Age psychobabble has moved on to those games published under the “Indie” banner, notably disciples of Ron Edwards and the Forge, back in the good old 1990s, the Usual Suspects were White Wolf (which has, since the departure of Rein-splat-Heigan, finally mostly grown out of it, though not their unreadable layout issues)… and their hordes of wanna be imitators. One such was (perhaps still is, I think they’ve published recently) “Visionary Entertainment Studio”, and,in 1997, they published the first of the Everlasting games, “The Book Of The Unliving”.
Before we get to chargen, though, let me justify my charge of “Pretension”. The back of the game screams “It’s More Than A Roleplaying Game”, and goes on to note it features “communal protaganists”, “tips on achieving epiphanies” (!), “dream control methods” (No…. not for characters who can enter dreams. These are for the players. Really!), and “personal mythology”. The second score in the Pretension Trifecta is that they claim it’s not roleplaying, it’s… wait for it.. “Legendmaking”, and the final capper comes from the fact they include a cermony — that the players are expected to perform — to open and close the game. Now, if this ceremony consisted of:
Players (as a Greek chorus): Oh when shall we begin the game?
DM: When the pizza arrives!
Players (again, in unison): Oh when shall the pizza arrive?
DM: When it gets here!
It would be pretty cool. But, it doesn’t. I have no time to type in all the balderdash, especially as I’m writing this on a laptop which is slowly but surely cooking my testicles, because we have a blackout and this is all I can do and I want to write as much as I can before the battery dies and I have to try to fall asleep, but here’s a sample:
Guide: Here we gather, we who seek admittance into the Secret World of magic and wonder, we who seek entry into the worlds of legend, we who shall be eldritch for our allotted time.
(The Guide lights the candle)
Lights. The. Candle. The FRACK? The frackin’ frack?
This is the kind of crap people who know nothing about RPGs make up because they think that’s what RPGs are all about. Maybe the authors are snickering up their sleeves at all this, knowing it’s a joke, laughing all the way to the bank at the thought of a bunch of pasty-faced nerds, perhaps with a token goth chick, intoning this with all seriousness before getting on with the business of killing things and taking their stuff.. I mean, having an Odyssey of Personal Legendmaking inspired by Lucid Dreaming, or maybe they really believe it. I hope it’s the former.
Did I mention you can use dice, playing cards, tarot cards, or a diceless system? And that they recommend each player use the method they’re most comfortable with?
The thing is, this game, and the others in the series, are not devoid of Cool Shit. It took White Wolf years to bloat their world with every conceivable bit of Urban Fantasy rubbish imaginable — Everlasting gives it to you from the get-go. While future volumes contain orcs and dragons, this first book gives you not just Ye Olde Bloodsuckinge Freaks, but Ghuls, Revenants, Dead Souls, and Reanimates, and each has quite a few subtypes. There are ideas here worth stealing, developing, and exploring. The layout is actually quite a bit more readable than most of White Wolf’s stuff. (Hey, graphic artist people! Most gamers are male. Most males have some form of color blindness. Dark grey text on a black background, or anything printed over an image, is often un-bloody-readable! Sheesh.)
So, any way.. let’s make a PC.
Wait, did I say “PC”? I meant “Protagonist”. (Oh, and you’re not a player… you’re a participant.)
OK, we skip past more pages of pretentious crap, and I can’t tell if the writer is describing the game world (which makes it more tolerable) or expressing his belief about the nature of the real world (which makes it hilarious). Come on, people, I just want to make up a character already! Stop telling me about “Legendmaking” and get on with it!
Ah, here we are. Protagonist Creation. Hmm. We’re finally getting to the good stuff. There’s three basic undead types for play… participants — Ghuls (cannibal undead), Vampires (Non-sparkly, I hope.), and Revenants (animated corpses which are sort of psychic vampires). Each has many sub-types, many of which are actually unique and interesting. I remember liking the Ghuls when I last flipped through this book, so we’ll go with them. There are five types of Ghul, of which four are playable.I will choose a Grotesquerie, a ghul which drank too much “Anecro” (the magical liquid that makes you a Ghul) and which are hideously deformed. What can I say? Sometimes I just like to play myself. This gives me +1 Instinct, +2 Resilience, and +2 Strength. Please note that neither the attributes nor the scale have been defined yet. Just in case you were wondering if I skipped something.
It suggests flipping ahead to Chapter 4 to learn more about Ghuls, so I did so. The fact is, it’s a very nice chapter. There’s a lot of stuff about catacombs. There’s just enough information on each of the Ghul sub-races to give you an idea about them without drowning you in detail or leaving no room for your own twists and imagination. There’s spcial Ghul powers, Ghul magic, a discussion of why someone might choose to become a Ghul, the rules for “degeneration” (the process by which a Ghul slowly becomes less and less human and turns into a mindless monster), etc. It’s well written, clear, evocative, and mostly bullshit free. It actually gives you what you need to know to either play a Ghul or run them as NPCs, and gives them enough unique things that it justifies having them as a separate race. What pretentiousness there is seems to be written from an in-game-world perspective, making it far more tolerable. Inspired by the picture on page 91, I decide I’ll be playing a scholar type, perhaps from the 1920s (very Lovecraft), who, let’s say, stumbled on the Magic Ghul Formula in Ye Olde Forgotten Tome and did something wrong (hence the Grotesquerie), and now pursues Ghulish magic in the hopes of altering his appearance while still preserving his immortality. This probably takes him to lots of dangerous places, where his heightened physical might will be useful. We’ll call him Gary. Gary the Ghul. Why not?
(Oh, my personal lair is a Cryptorium, being a Ghul is called “the Curse of Azael”, and, and this is a direct quote, I can “travel to the Underworld as easily as traveling to New Jersey”. I know where I’d rather go. Badum-bum!)
Apparently, one of the things Ghuls do is smuggle guns into the Underworld. Which sort of makes the New Jersey reference make more sense. That’s…. kinda cool, actually.
Finally, I notice that Ghuls don’t like Elves, but do like Orcs. Why, yes, Elves and Orcs are part of the kitchen-sink urban fantasy Legendmaking Odyssey that is Everlasting, but they’re mostly covered in another book. Which I own. If you ask me nicely, I’ll roll up an elf and post it here, too.
OK, back to game mechanics. I’ve done Step One, which is to pick my splat (sorry, my genos, and Step Two, which is pick a concept — though I didn’t follow their “20 Questions” format. Now comes Step Three, Ethos, or what White Wolf used to call “Nature and Demeanor”. Aaaaand… we’re back in Pretension Land. “In order to have real legendmaking” (as opposed to, what? Fake legendmaking?), it begins, “a protagonist must undertake a Hero’s Journey“. It further notes a participant cannot change their ethos without the Guide’s approval. (The GM is the “Guide”, in case you hadn’t picked up on that bit of clodswallop.) None of the “ethoi” really fit my concept, but Explorer comes closest, so, Explorer it is. This doesn’t seem to have mechanical effects, the way similar things do in White Wolf, or maybe I just haven’t gotten to them yet.
We’re about to get to Persona Qualities, but the light here is fading fast (how appropriate!) so I’ll continue later. Of course, this won’t be posted for hours, perhaps days, so it’s all sort of meaningless, but I write these things as unedited stream-of-consciousness and my stream is damming up, so, I’ll stop here. Maybe I’ll go outside and take advantage of the remaining light to read some more KODT back issues.
Hey, blackout’s over! Let’s move on, shall we?
So, Persona Qualities. This is where you rate your Greed. This section, it ought to be noted, is marked as optional, and while there are mechanics possible, it’s recommended you don’t use them. Basically, it’s shown as Ye Olde Roleplayinge Crutche, a way to quickly sketch out a character. I happen to personally like personality mechanics, because it’s a good way to keep people from “forgetting” bad traits when it becomes suddenly inconvenient. (i.e, the guy who rips off his fellow PCs because he’s “Greedy”, but stops being greedy the instant someone who can seriously smack him down looms into view.) As with almost everything else in Everlasting, there’s multiple methods provided, but there’s no indication of any balance issues or why to choose one over the other, besides personal whim. I get that the designers didn’t want to, y’know, totally harsh everyone’s buzz with all those “rules” and “regulations”, but, dudes — it’s a game. Pick a system that works, and stick to it. Toss the optional rules into a supplement, or at least recommend that people use a consistent method for all players in a campaign. (Sorry, all “participants” in a “legendmaking odyssey”. Snerk.)
So, I can allocate points, roll dice, or draw cards. I’ll roll dice. 2d12, to be precise. Apparently, the folks behind Everlasting took pity on the poor unloved D12, as it’s the dominant die in the game — but there’s optional rules, of course, to use other die sizes. I roll a total of 14 points, one shy of the 15 a point-buyer gets. I can divide these among as many traits as I want, provided I have at least one from each of the four groups of Beliefs, Outlooks, Passions, and Relations. Once again, we have an interesting little diamond — or at least a passable cubic zirconium — peeking out. This section does provide a good deal of inspiration and does what I think a character generation system should do — makes you ask, and then answer, questions about your character, and gives your imagination a helpful kick in the patootie.
A score of 0 in a “Persona Quality” (what’s wrong with Personality Trait? Or just Trait?) is “Average human”, while 7 is “Zealous”. Since I’m doing Obsessed Scholar, I decide to spend 8 of my points on two Passions: “Restore My Looks” and “Learn Ancient Secrets”. (There are lists of suggested “qualities”, but no fixed set; the lists are to inspire, not limit, another bonus point. With 6 left, I toss 2 into a Belief (“Everything can be learned”), 2 into an Outlook (“Curious”), and 2 into Relations (“A mortal great-grandchild who lives in the city above.”) This process took about a minute and gave me some pretty good plot hooks, if I were ever to play this. But before we leave this section, we get another blast from the Horn Of Pretension, as the text notes you may need to “develop certain persona qualities to complete [your] Hero’s Journey”. Sigh.
On to Aspects. These are what other games call “Attributes” or “Abilities”, but since Everlasting is a firm product of the mid-90s “Originality is based on how incomprehensible your game is even to an experienced roleplayer” school of design, we get “Aspects”. To no one’s great surprise, there are three groups of three. (In the 1970s, there were always 6 or sometimes 7, rated something where 10-11 was average.) Sometimes, Everlasting reminds me of the games I “designed” when I was 14 and the only game I’d ever played was Holmes-era D&D, and I felt that changing “Strength” to “Might” and “Fighter” to “Warrior” constituted making up a new game system. But I digress.
Three methods of generation, yadda yadda. See rant above. Wait. The “Random” method looks like it wandered in from an FGU game. Roll 1d12 nine times, then divide each number by 2, place them where you want, then roll another D12 and use that many points to divide up among your attr… Aspects… as you see fit, except that they max out at 6.
Anyway, there’s no great shocks in the Attr…Aspect, dammit, Aspect… department. Instincts, Strength, Dexterity, all the usual suspects. The rating is 0 to 10, with 2-3 being human average, 6 being human maximum, and 7 being “Supernatural mortal limit”.
Smeg it, let’s roll them bones! 1,3,6,9,4,1,12,6,5. Note I have to place these before figuring out how many points I get to add. I round up when I divide by 2, so my base rolls are 1,2,3,5,2,1,6,3,3.
Instinct: 3, Intellect: 6, Perception: 5, Dexterity: 2 Resiliance:1, Strength: 2, Inspiration: 3, Presence: 1, Spirit: 3. And a D12 roll gives me 6 more, I place them and apply my racial modifiers, and I end up with:
Instinct: 5, Intellect: 6, Perception: 5, Dexterity: 3 Resiliance:5, Strength: 4, Inspiration: 4, Presence: 1, Spirit: 4
Now comes Abilities, further divided into Aptitudes and Skills. Yup, three different methods, and for fun, this time, we’ll use point-buy. I’ve got 15 for Aptitudes and 30 for skills and nothing can be above 5. (Maximum Mortal skill is 7, Supernatural is 9 and “Eldritch” is 12. Just thought you’d like to know.) Aptitudes are basically skill groups. You have a base in all Skills equal to the governing Aptitude. I figure I’m an Arcane Scholar, so of my 15, the full 5 goes straight to Supernatural. Of the 10 left, let’s see, 3 in Sciences, 2 in Criminal, 3 in Martial Arts, 1 in Athletics and 1 in Naturalism. That was reasonably painless. Of course, I may have just gimped myself royally. Who knows?
I can’t raise any of the skills in Supernatural, since they’re all at 5 already. So, I will buy Climb and Run up to 5, for 8 points; Grapple up to 5 for 2, History up to 5 for, well, 5, and Research as well, for 5 more, so that’s 20, Track to 3 for 2, Stealth to 5 for 2, Alertness to 4 and Religion to 2.
Are we done yet? No!
Now we have Distinctions, not to be confused with Persona Qualities. Distinctions are sort of combined Merits and Flaws, ranging from -9 (bad) to +9 (good). They’re all pretty vaguely defined — you pick a category and decide exactly what it means. Again, three methods, I pick point buy, nine points, let’s see. (Oh, I can spend more than 9 positive points, so long as I balance it with negatives so it all evens out.) Let’s have some fun..
Biography: Let’s glom some points here, going for a -2. This means, basically, I’m a little infamous. I was part of something rotten sometime in my past. I’ll leave it you to decide what could offend a cult of immortal degenerate cannibal monsters. Maybe I was caught cuddling a kitten. Anyway, I’ve now got 11 points to blow.
Psyche: +5. I’m a focused be0tch. 6 left.
Resources: +2. I’ve got a well-stocked arcane library and lab, though it’s not spectacular. 4 left.
Servitors: +1. I have a Loyal Lackey. I’ll make him a young Ghul who thinks he’ll learn from me. As if I’d ever share my secrets! Bwahaahah! 3 left.
Eldritch Ties: +3. Despite being a disgusting anthropophage, I have a lot of information to share, and people come to me seeking wisdom. This gives me friends in odd place.
Not bad. There’s some meat there. Rotting, maggot-ridden, meat. Mmmm…. maggots….
So, now we’re done.
Step eight — k3w1 p0w3rz. Oh, I’m sorry. “Preternaturae And Magick”.
Lizard says: Anyone who spells magic as “Magik” or “Magick” or “Majyque” or “Wommyn” deserves a boot to the head. (Naa-naaaa!) Every time I start looking back at what I’ve done and start thinking, “Hey, that all worked out pretty cool. I can see where you’d get a good character out of this”, Captain Pretension rears his ugly, clove-smoking, emo-haired head and whacks me out of my good mood. As far as I can tell, the book has a single author with a split personality — one half a reasonably clear game writer who has produced a decent enough Gothicpunk Heartbreaker that might have deserved better than the obscurity it fell into, and one half an utter pillock whom I desperately want to kick in the nadgers until he gives up and screams “I admit it! We’re playing Cowboys and Indians with polyhedral dice!”.
Oh, each race has its own name for Preternat…Prater…Prayt… their magic powers. Ghuls call theirs “Nekrosia” and each individual power is a “Nekros”.
Captain Pretension stops in again to tell us that “Magick” is very “real world oriented”, which, to me, means it’s mostly concerned with card tricks and Penn shoving Teller into a giant meat grinder, but I suspect the good Captain believes the Real World TM contains Real Magick TM. Hey, dude, James Randi has a million bucks if you can prove it. Anyway, as you might guess, there’s three ways to decide how many Pret…. Cool Powers you can have. Once more, the easy way out — point buy for 30.
(Oh, lots of stuff about Magick is supposed to be in the Magician’s Companion sourcebook, which was never… wait. It was! Way cool, I’ve got a book to look for at GenCon! I thought I had everything for this game line already!)
Hmm. The Ghul powers are pricey, costing usually 15 or 30 points! They seem cool, especially the one that lets me summon swarms of roaches, but I think I’ll look at Chapter 11 for “Magick”, instead. (And, oh great non-existent gods, here’s Captain Pretension again, letting us know that, and I quote, “Magick (is) spelled with a ‘k’ to represent real magic, not the fantasy sort.” I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume this is in-game-world voice, that he means “real in the context of this fantasy game, as opposed to the stage magic practiced by mortal NPCs also in the context of this fantasy game”, but, somehow, I don’t think that’s the case. Sigh. Anyway…
There’s a whole lot of rules intermixed with fluff that turns the Pretension Level up to… 12, I guess, since it’s been at 11 all along, and a chart which shows some very important game mechanics in a completely ugly and unintuitive way, because this chapter is really where Captain Pretension took over and “inspired” the writer to try to make a simple chart of modifiers into something vaguely mystical looking. Ack! Anyway, Ghulish magick is called “Solomaris”. It’s 4 points for each point of “Art” and “Lore” in a path, I’ve got 30, so let’s say 3 art and 3 lore for a total of 24 points, and there’s 6 left over to put towards roach-summoning later on.
Step Nine — Last Details. Well, I’ll start at the default of Level 3 (yes, there’s levels in this game), my Speed is 2, and my Life (hit points) is 13. My animus (hello again, Captain!) which powers my Magick is 9. (I can replenish spent Animus by consuming the Sustenance required by my Genus, which means, for me, eating dead people. A handy list of refreshment points per body part is provided. Thigh=6, Head=3, in case you were wondering. Suddenly, I’ve got the image of some ghul’s sharing a corpse and one of them say, “Actually, I’m a bit of a leg man, myself.” Badum BUM!)
We really are sorta kinda done with character generation now, but there’s one last interesting concept worth mentioning. You’ve got Destiny Points, which are your generic Action Point/ Plot Point/ Fate Point type mechanic, and then you’ve got Backlash Points, which are the GMs… sorry, the Guide’s way of completely screwing up your character. As the rules note, they’re “anti-Destiny Points”. The Guide can use them to reduce your successes or just cause you general grief, and you “earn” them by being a Bad Doobie. A little like the Humanity Track in good ol’ Vampire, but with, IMO, a more interesting mechanic. As a side note, everyone starts the camp… the Odyssey… with 0 Backlash, except dragons, who start with 30(!). Oh, the Guide is encouraged to use Backlash for “Legendmaking” purposes, not for petty revenge. Yeah, that’ll happen.
And so we are, finally, done. Wow. Thing is, this isn’t a bad game (though, having not played it, I have no idea how well the mechanics actually work), and there’s glistening hints of good ideas scattered hither and yon throughout it, and when Captain Pretension is off posturing in the corner, out of sight, and the game just sticks to presenting rules and setting material and the like in a clear and direct manner, it looks like it could be a lot of fun, even though the question of “Why not just steal some ideas from here and play White Wolf?” is never clearly answered. It’s pretty much a canonical Heartbreaker game — something into which a lot of love, thought, and pretension has been poured, but which doesn’t manage to set itself apart enough. Maybe if the more outre elements — the modern-day dragons and orcs and knights and what-not – had been in the first book, with the vampires and ghuls saved for later. Maybe if the game did not so drastically over-promise on the back cover(“It’s More Than A Roleplaying Game”) and so completely under-deliver (No, it’s not. It’s very much a roleplaying game, with no really original mechanical innovations despite some cool setting material.) Maybe, maybe, maybe…
Next time…. I dunno. I’m hitting GenCon next week, so, let’s just promise something from the massive pile of obscure crap I’m going to buy, and leave it at that.