Game: The Everlasting: Book of the Fantastical
Publisher: Visionary Entertainment Studio
Series: The Everlasting
Review Dated: 21st, September 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 50
Average Score: 7.14
There’s a warning in the first pages of the book; this is a roleplaying game, it isn’t real, don’t take it too seriously. Immediately there’ a second warning, forgive the author’s pretentiousness, he is too passionate about the book not to take it seriously. To be harsh, Steven Brown should have taken the first warning to heart rather more and shouldn’t have taken it so seriously. Actually, we’re told; “Do not take the seeming pretentiousness contained within this book seriously”. So just how are we supposed to take it then? With a laugh or a pinch of salt? The pretentiousness is annoying. We’re not roleplaying, or even storytelling here, we’re legend making. This RPG manages to bring out my harsh side.
“There are rare and fleeting occasions during roleplay when you reach an altered state of consciousness; your imagination takes hold and becomes so vibrant that you transcend mundane life. No drugs or alcohol are involved – it all happens through your imagination.
Most experienced roleplayers have had at least one experience of this sort, though many long time roleplayers have never even come close.”
Have you ever reached an altered state of consciousness through roleplaying? Perhaps you’re just a long time roleplayer – of the non-experienced sort.
Okay. One more quote from the book and this time to highlight how clumsy the language can be at times, if that wasn’t already clear.
“Miniatures are any small-scale representations of things you use to represent characters or objects within the guideline system”.
Hmm. Miniatures are what now? Representations of representations of characters?
You don’t actually play a character either. Character is a catch all term that includes the antagonists, protagonists and supporting characters. The players get to control the protagonists. Where other RPGs might talk about generating a character, the Book of the Fantastical talks about generating protagonists. This is technically correct and I suppose it’s good to inject a little more literary intelligence into the game. It may just be because I’m not used to it but whenever the book refers to “your protagonist” it sounds wrong to me. It’s not because people will debate as to whether there can be more than one protagonist in a story but because it sounds as if the Everlasting is referring to a character leading you.
The Everlasting is brave enough to push forward, quite strongly, a twist on the usual roleplaying set up. Use the characters, sorry the protagonists, as communal property. That means you don’t play the same character for every roleplaying session. Players would cycle through all protagonists taking part in the story. This supports the idea that the story, the legend, is more important than individual characters. It’s also a bit of a roleplaying challenge. This is a variant of the troupe style game. A less extreme version of this would be to have a pool of protagonists, more than there are players in the game, and players can swap out their main PC for a secondary one if the storyline suits it. These secondary ones are the communal property, not the primary characters. This is my extrapolation; The Everlasting doesn’t water it down. No. Treat all the characters as communal property. This undiluted communal doesn’t appeal to me but it’s easy to ignore. I was expecting a second wave of persuasion from the book once I found myself in the protagonists generation section – but it doesn’t get a mention. When you generate your protagonist you create one that you’d like to play. There’s no communal creation. Nonetheless, The Everlasting deserves kudos for the attempt.
Kudos for the attempt. Hmm. I could take that phrase and use it to summarise the entire book. It’s a bit like getting “Tries hard” on a school report card.
The Book of the Fantastical is the fourth book in the Worlds within Worlds series. To be honest (since I was being harsh before) this isn’t a series I’d heard. This changes a lot. I could have done with much more world setting information from the Book of the Fantastical, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure I was fully aware of all the ins, outs and twists of the setting. Supernatural creatures are real – we’re just not imaginative enough to see them. Hmm. More on that later. The Book of the Fantastical is a complete RPG. It might be the fourth book in a series but it is entirely standalone. That’s pretty good. Let’s call this the White Wolf model for want of a better phrase. Each book contains everything you need to play. You don’t need The Everlasting: Book of the Unliving to use this one, but if you have the former then you’re buying a duplicate copy of the rules. The alternative, which we’ll call the d20 model, is to have the core rules in one book (or set of books). This means that you don’t buy lots of repeats but you do have to fork out money more money and perhaps buy a default campaign setting you dislike just to get going. Steven Brown has a history with White Wolf, perhaps that helped Visionary Entertainment Studios make this caught between a rock and a hard place decision.
You get 368 pages for your US $36.95. That’s a lot of pages and a lot of money. I’d expect a lot for $36.95. I’d expect an index page, I’d hope for a thorough index, but I’m disappointed on both accounts. I’d shudder at horror if I found a blank page midway through the book, page 61 for example. As you’ve guessed, I did indeed shudder in horror just after page 60.
All this review and I’ve still not mentioned what the book is about. I suppose that’s telling. It’s about the fantastical. It’s about elves, dwarves, dragons, faeries and orcs. It’s not fair to re-title the game “Book of the Usual RPG Suspects”. The Book of the Fantastical is surprisingly successful in injecting fantasy back into the hobby. For a start, the player character races are the elves, faeries and dragons. Yes, dragons. The races not so suitable for players are the dwarves and orcs.
The book is so large because it thoroughly describes each race and the many sub-races too. Playing dragons is going to be popular with many people so let’s take them as an example. You’ve the Aghni – the Dragons of the Inferno (red), the Lakhmu – the Dragons of the Deep (sea serpents), the Nanaru – Dragons of Darkness (black), Nibiru – Dragons of Light (chromatic), Ramman – Dragons of the Winds (blue) and Zarpanitum – Dragons of the Earth (metallic).
There’s a sizable amount of text for each of the races. The Book of the Fantastical isn’t the sort of roleplaying game where the main difference between an elf and a dragon is +10 strength and +100 life points. In fact, there are over thirty pages for each of these three protagonist races. That’s about equivalent to a ten dollar sourcebook for each.
This heady mix of races isn’t lost to yet another cheese fantasy world. As mentioned before, this is a world that runs along side to our view of Earth. Dragons and Dwarves have always been real; mankind has just stopped being able to imagine them and so stopped seeing them. I’d point out that this is the default explanation for all such modern day with fantasy races mix. I’d do that even if the Book of the Fantastical hadn’t managed to bring out my harsh side. It’s pretty much the same as Urban Arcana or Changeling. It has perhaps more in common with the latter since it takes the dim view of modern day life and argues that we’re all banal buggers who couldn’t imagine our way out of a paper bag. I’m not sure I agree. Unlike the World of Darkness series, surprisingly for a book that falls headlong into pretension elsewhere, there’s no annoying tempt to imply tragically hip angst. I think there could be angst, but it’ll be the natural sort. In the story elements section early on in the book we’re advised that the Everlasting isn’t about doom and gloom, it’s about magic and fantasy.
There are demons and all sorts of monstrous villains. The unimaginative mankind are thrust forward as being solely responsible for the ills of the world and this suits my tastes better. In fact, as a storyteller (or Guide as the game calls them) you could easily use the pre-emptive strike of the “good” Daevas against the demons that freed them in the first place and caused all the trouble. The Everlasting encourages shades of grey. This is another move away from cheese fantasy and another success for the book. You can set out with the best intentions, act for what you think is the good cause and be wrong, make mistakes and make things worse.
You don’t need dice for this game. You can use dice if you want but they’re the alternative option, the back up choice for people who don’t fancy using playing cards. There are a few different ways you can use playing cards as the random element in the game. I happen to like the poker option! There’s a random draw and yet the player gets to make the call; does he aim for the easy two of a kind or does he take the risk and aim for the flush draw. The better the poker hand then the more its worth; it’s like rolling high on the die. There’s a Tarot card option to. It’s not to my tastes but I can really see some gamers whole heartily embracing a RPG that lets you play dragons, maintains faeries are real and uses Tarot cards in the system mechanics.
There are photographs in the book. I think someone from Visionary Entertainment Studios went on holiday to the UK (what? And didn’t pop in to say hello?) and took photographs of our standing stones and barrow entrances. It’s a black and white book. I’ve seen the mix of black and white with photographs produce grainy monstrosities but that doesn’t happen here. I think I’d have preferred to have had these locations illustrated (after all, what are black and white photographs when you’ve explored the original) but the mix of these real images into the fantasy game suits the flavour of the book quite well.
I think The Everlasting: Book of the Fantastical actually does quite well within its own little niche. It brings out my harsh side by being far too pretentious at times but it does then temper that by being brave enough (communal characters, shades of grey, alternative mechanics, twists on the cheese fantasy races) to allow some self-satisfaction. It’s one of those times I turn to the list of guidelines penned for these RPG reviews. The Book of the Fantastical scores some serious negative points but also scores many little successes. Overall, I think the positive out weighs the negative, just. Combine that with the Book of the Fantastical’s most important success; it manages to do what it sets out to do and the resulting grade is a solid B+.
The blurb on the back of this book says the Book of the Fantastical is THE BEST (their capitalisation, not mine) on the market. Pah. What did I say about being pretentious? I don’t believe whoever wrote that has read every new roleplaying game on the market so I won’t take the claim seriously. If I did, I’d have to alter the “does it achieve what it promises to achieve?” goal post and fail the book horribly.
The Everlasting: Book of the Fantastical is one of those RPGs that would work wonderfully in the hands of an experienced GM, Storyteller, DM, Narrator, Guide, G.O.D., etc and delivered to relatively new gamers. If you’re as cynical as me (but clearly not so experienced as to be able to enter altered states of consciousness) then you’ll benefit very much more from The Everlasting’s mature approach. If you want to avoid dice rolling dungeon crawls then this is your game.