by Ron McClung
(Book of the Unliving, Book of the Light, Book of the Spirits, Book of the Fantastical)
From: Visionary Entertainment, Inc.
Type of Game: Foundation Book
Written by: Steven Brown
When I was first handed The Everlasting (TE) rulebooks, I honestly was not overly excited about reviewing them. The author of the game is a former writer for White Wolf Games’ World of Darkness line (WoD). I am not a huge fan of WoD and this game initially came across as a WoD-wannabe. However, after reading, I found I was wrong on many levels but also right on a few.
First of all, this game has been out for a while. The copyright for the first book is 1994. It apparently has made a comeback because the most recent books were released in 2003 and 2004. The four core rule books are Book of the Unliving, Book of the Light, Book of the Spirits, and Book of the Fantastical. Each rule book is a stand-alone game and certain common sections are repeated throughout each book. However, new supernatural races (genos), locations, magicks and detailed backgrounds dominate each book.
The Everlasting claims to be an interactive legend-making experience and that roleplaying TE is a “higher plane of consciousness.” This seemed a little too touchie-feelie for me. I do appreciate the “art” of roleplaying a storyline, but it is just a game. This sense that it is a more mature way to roleplay is what turned me off from WoD. In reality it is just another roleplaying game.
TE makes several attempts to differentiate itself from other roleplaying games. One new aspect is the concept of a guide. Initially, I thought it was their gamemaster, but upon reading further, I realized it was more than that. TE encourages the group to share the role of guide. One person acts as the primary plot guide, while another person controls certain NPCs, and another controls combat situations. I can see the pros and cons of changing the standard dynamic of roleplaying this way. On one side, long-time GMs may not embrace this idea, and many may revert back to the standard dynamic. On the other side, multiple input could help to develop more interesting stories and adventures.
Towards the end of each book, the author delves further into the concept of legend-making and other “higher consciousness” concepts that, I feel, take it out of the realm of “just-a-game.” It encourages adding rituals to your game sessions for opening and closing ceremonies, exploring one’s “personal mythology,” achieving altered stages of consciousness through gaming and dream control. I personally have a strong objection to having these New Age concepts invade my hobby, so I will leave that to the reader to explore. It is one thing to apply it to the game universe and a totally different thing to try to apply it to real life. It is just a game!
The background for the game’s universe is rich and full of “legend-making” opportunities. TE begins in the mysterious Secret World, a supernatural world of infinite dimensions overlaying our mortal world. Very few mortals are aware of it, and fewer interact with it. Supernatural creatures interact with it, while at the same time living within the mortal world. The Secret World has many “onion layers.” The onion is called the Reverie. The layers are dimensions like the mortal world, the Astral Plane, the Dreamworlds, Menagerie and the Netherworlds. At the heart of the background is the Death Knell—an event that brought on demonic terror to the many planes of the Reverie. This event threatens both the supernatural world and the mortal world. Players roleplay supernatural characters intent on stopping the evil plots of the Death Knell demons or they play the demons themselves, working towards an apocalyptic end.
In TE, players choose from supernatural beings (gentes). Each foundation book supplies several gentes. Each genos (singular of gentes) has its own factions, sub-types, cultures, magick, weaknesses, special abilities and Torments. Torment is a measure of how far along the monstrous path the character is. An example of Torment is the Ghul Torment of Degeneration representing the mental devolution and the physical deterioration of the character.
Book of the Unliving explores the world of the undead. The primary gentes are Vampires, Ghuls, and Revenants. Vampires are more like the legendary creatures than the WoD version. Ghuls are like the Lovecraftian ghouls—creatures that feed on the dead. Revenants are dead who walk the Earth in a shroud of illusion, sucking the lifeforce out of mortals. There are also two dark gentes—Dead Souls (ghosts) and Reanimates. Although dark, they are not necessarily bad guys; they are just creatures harder to roleplay in the mortal world.
In Book of the Light, the primary gentes are Angels, Daevas and Questers. Angels are your standard celestial beings. They are divided into nine distinct orders including seraphim, cherubim, and merkabah. Daevas are humans so heroic they have been granted immortality and other abilities by ancient “gods.” Questers are humans driven by some great but possibly unattainable holy quest that sustains their life, like the Quest for the Grail. Also included are Demons (fallen angels) and the Wer (werewolves), both of which can be played as protagonists or player characters.
In Book of the Spirits, there are Gargoyles (demon-like beings of good that “devour sin”), Manitous (totem animal spirits) and the Possessed (dream entities that possess and corrupt mortals). It also contains sections on Astral Spirits, Dream Spirits, Djinn, Somnomancers (wizards of the Dreamworlds) and Leviathans (Great Old Ones). This book is highly influenced by H.P. Lovecraft and Call of Cthulhu. Note that Leviathans are not protagonist races.
Book of the Fantastical contains the basic races of fantasy—dragons (yes, you can play a dragon), elves, fairies, dwarves and orcs. All are relatively self-explanatory, except perhaps the dragons. Dragons are a protagonist race by way of shape-shifting.
Character generation is very flexible. There are three methods—point-allocation, random card-draw and random dice-roll. It is character-concept-based, with a 20-question system that helps you flesh out the history, motivation and overall story of the character. It encourages strong character conception and a good knowledge of history.
The author seems to feel that game mechanics are a necessary evil, stating upfront that there are no rules, just guidelines. This point of view, I feel, is a carry-over from the WoD philosophy and may either attract or deter players.
Base System: The approach to the game system is very flexible. It supplies two simple ways of playing—dice or cards. It has an interesting approach to ability scores or Aspects, Aptitudes and Skills. In the basic dice or card system the Ability defines the number of dice rolled or cards drawn. The Aptitude or Skill subtracts from the difficulty value. This interesting balance allows the raw Ability scores to affect the situation as much as the Skills.
Magick is similar to skills in the base system. The difficulty is based on effect, target and magnitude. There are also forms of magick—spontaneous, spells, and rituals. The addition of spontaneous magick is interesting. The system encourages the players to create their own spells by turning a spontaneous effect into a permanent learned spell.
Dice: The core die is a 12-sided die, with difficulties ranging from 0 through 13. This system is similar to WoD where each die is compared to the difficulty and successes are counted. 12-sided dice are reserved for supernaturals. Mortals role 8-sided dice and mortals with supernatural powers role 10-sided dice. There are some things supernaturals can do that mortals cannot.
Cards: The card system also has two options: regular playing cards or Tarot. It works much like dice, comparing the value to a difficulty.
Combat System: The combat system is simple but surprisingly robust. While not bogging combat down with clunky details that other combat systems tend to have TE keeps it exciting. Based on a simple system of ten actions within a 12-second round, each player can take a certain number of actions. Actions are declared at the beginning of a round and cannot be changed mid-round, some tasks require multiple actions. In an attack, both attacker and defender make a roll or draw cards. The number of successes the attacker exceeds his opponent by acts as a modifier to the base damage of the weapon used. The defender gets a resistance roll/draw to resist the damage.
TE’s core universe and deep background are inspiring. I find the unique changes to the gaming group dynamic interesting. Although I initially approached this game with a negative view, in the end I actually like it. However, the New Age concepts and touchie-feelie aspects almost deterred me from TE. I felt it went a step too far in making roleplaying more than a game.
Overall, The Everlasting is a very good game with a solid game system(s) and deep background. I would recommend it to more mature gamers, with a short warning about certain aspects. All of the books are certainly thorough and detailed. It is an engulfing world that is amazingly deep and dynamic. The world flows with lots of room to explore amid its own mythos.