Published on June 12th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen1
Primordial 2: Electric Boogaloo
The longest article on the site wasn’t enough, so he came back to post more…
In case you hadn’t heard, Beast: the Primordial is the latest game in the New World of Darkness RPG series. Produced by Onyx Path, the successors to White Wolf’s legacy, Beast: the Primordial uses the New World of Darkness 2nd Edition rules (aka, post-God Machine Chronicle rules). Onyx Path just released their Kickstarter project for the book, and the game reached its funding goal within its first 24 hours. That doesn’t mean that it’s not in hot water though.
As I said in my review of it earlier this week, Beast has quite a few detractors already. This is possible because in response to the community’s requests for transparency, Onyx Path had recently begun to release the non-formatted text of their books during World of Darkness Kickstarter campaigns. In an industry that is typically very scared of digital piracy and for a company that does a significant amount of business selling PDF versions of their products, this was a very bold move on the part of Onyx Path.
As I mentioned in my review, there are definitely issues with the text of the book, but overall I felt like the good out weighed the bad. After reading the whole 500 page document once all the way through, and some sections several times, I felt that it was similar in quality to other nWoD books on the market. I tend to be more forgiving when RPGs have problems than I do with board games, mostly because I run RPGs with a pretty light hand on the rules and the thematic elements of any RPG are 100% controlled by who is at the table.
The Backstory to the drama
At first I was willing to leave everything at that and write off some of the more hyperbolic detractors (and defenders) of the game line, but then when reading RPGnet I stumbled across this gem from Matt McFarland (Beast’s Developer and RPGnet Moderator):
Rich, Rose, Michelle and I just got done with a meeting. We’re going to be changing some things about Beast. I’m going to be doing a post for the KS and the blog (and probably linking/reposting it here), but the tl;dr version is that a lot of the points brought up in this and other threads are getting addressed.
That’s going to change some things about the game, some of them pretty important. Beasts are still going to be monstrous; that was deliberate. What Banshee46 is talking about, though, that is not a feeling I want my game to engender. Beasts can be monstrous – and Heroes can be antagonists – without inviting these kinds of comparisons.
What comparisons is Matt talking about here? Beast has a strong subtext of playing as someone who is socially outcast, and exploring the angst generated by being shunned by ones peers. To reduce this into layman’s terms, you’re basically playing the angsty goth loner in a high school movie (gothic angst in a World of Darkness game?!). The text of the book reinforces this by making the enemies of Beasts into Heroes who map roughly to some preppy/jock stereotypes to continue my analogy.
Beast’s focus on exclusion has invited comparisons from marginalized groups, and many people have shared that Beast evokes their experiences being bullied. The Namtaru are Beasts who evoke the Fear of Revulsion, which is a character concept that hits home for a lot of people who have been picked on because of their appearance. Anyone who has ever felt discriminated against or oppressed has a chance to find something to connect with in the Beast splats.
Beast also features a mechanic where one must Feed their Beast Soul in order to remain in control of their beastly nature. If a Beast ever fails to Feed then their Soul goes wandering around while they sleep, turning nearby people’s dreams into horrible nightmares. What constitutes Feeding in Beast is still being argued within the community, but it’s generally agreed that a Beast has to frighten or subordinate someone in order to feed. If you don’t feed then your soul goes dumping spiritual toxic waste into the local metaphorical drinking water.
This is similar to a mechanic in Vampire where a character will Frenzy if they ever get too hungry. The mechanic in Vampire is meant to reinforce a theme of “a monster I am, lest a monster I become” because Vampire is all about struggling to keep your Humanity. You have to drink a little blood often to keep yourself from just draining the next person you see completely dry.
What is even the problem here?
What Banshee46 was saying is that for some people who undergo daily oppression, one of the main emotional hurdles of dealing with the struggle is convincing yourself that you don’t actually harm people just by existing. For examples of this, just look at all of the bigots who say that gay marriage being legal will ruin their hetereo marriage. These people say that gay people being happy harms them, just because they exist.
Beasts evoke themes of oppression, but then Beasts are required to actively harm people or else they will harm people just by existing. The conflation means that some people are reading the text as saying that marginalized groups really do inflict harm on people by existing.
This problem is exasperated when you start reading the section about Heroes, which explicitly evokes Mens Rights Activists and not-so-explicitly references Gamergaters and internet trolls as prime examples of people who are Heroes. Now, “heroes” in this sense is sarcastic because they’re the antagonists of the game, but this just makes Banshee46’s point stronger. Heroes are the people who are blinded by hatred so much that they want to exterminate you just because of what you are- lynch mobs and gay bashers.
It’s at this point that things get complicated, because on some level Heroes are right. Beasts really do actually hurt people just by existing, and even though destroying them doesn’t fix the problem, from a limited perspective it seems to make sense. If it turns out your neighbor is actually a nightmare inducing spawn of the primordial darkness, wouldn’t that upset you? On top of that some of the examples of Heroes in the book are completely relatable- like the girl stuck in a coma because a Beast fed on her, who is now essentially a ghost that fights Beasts where she can.
So to continue the high school analogy from earlier, if Beasts are goths and Heroes are jocks in this high school movie, then the tone of the book seems to suggest that Columbine was a perfectly acceptable reaction to goth kids getting bullied. Coupled with the MRA references, I’m sure now that this is where the “Feminist Dismissal: the RPG” complaints are coming from. Which, ironically means that both the marginalized groups and Gamergaters both dislike the same parts of the game for largely the same reasons.
So, is it fixable?
I think so. Ultimately I don’t think that the text “as is” is unredeemable, even if no changes are actually made. While these readings of the text illuminate the problems in the writing, I don’t think that there is a flaw in the fundamentals of the game as much as there is a need for a more coherent, unified voice and tone in the text.
Beast is capable of being a very powerful game about over-coming your own self-loathing and trying to carve out a place in the world, despite the horrible things you’d like to do to people sometimes. It has a narrative that can be about carrying yourself through depression, and fighting back against the bigots of the world who hold you back. Let’s hope the changes Matt will be making help it focus on these themes even more.