Review: The Everlasting - The Book of the Spirits

Copyright Aaron Smalley © 2004

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

"The sole goal of this dream spirit is to corrupt its unwilling (and often times unknowing) host."

This is a continuation of the review of The Everlasting role playing game published by Visionary Entertainment Studios, Inc., covering the third book of the series entitled The Everlasting, Book of the Spirits. The following is but a glimpse into the Secret World created by Steven Brown. As with the two previous reviews (The Everlasting, Book of the Unliving and The Everlasting, Book of the Light), the system (or rather systems, as he provides "Guidelines" for several options here) is only glossed over. The majority of the review will be covering the incredible way that he has brought history, religion, and mythology together to create an incredible world of magick and mystery right here in our own world. He has succeeded, where none have done so before, in creating a fantastic world just beyond our perception, yet one that is a solid part of our own existence.

To set the stage, Steven Brown has gone all out in an effort to put together beautifully illustrated works that really set the mood for the game. He has also gone to great lengths in his research to pull together some of the most widely varying and world-spanning heroic themes from mythology. While a little expensive these books are well worth the price of nearly $30 USD for a 300+ page large paperback. The editing leaves a little to be desired as does the binding of the books, however both seem to have improved since the first book came out. The outside covers are beautifully illustrated in color and nearly every page within has at least some artwork, albeit black and white. The full-page artwork that starts off each chapter sets the mood, which is enhanced by well placed black and white art throughout that complements the content. He also has a half page dedicated to a "Do you believe...?" bit with a lengthy explanation and examples that will make most people stop and think about their perceptions of the world around them.

It has overtones that are similar, yet much less contrived, than the works of White Wolf™. Yet, despite the fact that Steven had done some freelance work for White Wolf (he was the author of the much acclaimed and criticized "Sabot" books for White Wolf), he has done a commendable job with developing a better resolution system and a much more believable setting. Unlike the other White Wolf products where they are not easily combined into a multi race/genre game, the Everlasting was designed with just that intention. You can create a character from each of the books and throw them into a situation and role-play through it without major balance problems. Then you can take them back in time through a "flashback" sequence (ala- "Highlander" the movie) and the system(s) still work well.

The whole game is set up with the intention of taking role-playing to a new and much higher level than anyone has in the past. The Everlasting has turned it from a "role-playing game" into a "Legendmaking Experience". The ideas presented follow the writings of the likes of Sir James George Frazer and Joseph Campbell, both of which are considered to be the ultimate authorities on the mythology of our ancestors. Instead of playing the part of a fantasy character, you take on the role of a Mythic Hero or Protagonist and set out on a Hero's Journey to discover your own Personal Mythology. It is "Creative Escapism" at its best.

As far as the system behind The Everlasting, since he has several "Guidelines", all of which seem to work well, I'll only be touching on parts of the system and will be dedicating most of the review to the inspirational and enthralling setting of the Secret World. His guidelines include the use of d12's, d% (percentile dice), dice-less, playing cards, and--to give it that extra mysterious feel--Tarot cards. Any of these can be chosen and all seem to work well together.

The system of Magick (yes, that is spelled with a "k") that he has developed is reminiscent of Ars Magica or the underlying principles behind the Gramarye for the Fudge system. It has just about the ultimate in flexibility (although the lack of well defined "spell lists" that the average gamer has grown accustomed to from such systems as D&D, Rolemaster, Palladium, and the likes may seem a bit too open and flexible). A simple matrix determines the difficulty and cost (in Animus) of creating the effect. The variables that come into play are such things as the "willingness of target", the "obviousness" of the magic, source, distance, etc. Each of these can play a big role in determining the effect. For example, the two guys running through the park, are they really just two guys or are they a Manitou chasing after a Dhampir? Did the guy in front really trip on the steps, or did the weeds growing in the cracks grab his foot causing him to fall? It was probably just a mugger that tripped. Or was it?

Following in the footsteps of the last two books, the Book of the Spirits covers three base Gentes (or races of Everlasting) and two additional races (one of which could be a viable Protagonist if handled correctly).

The first to be covered are Gargoyles, the "Sin Eaters" of legends. They are spirit creatures who have been placed in, and bound to, solid and otherwise inanimate forms, very similar to the Golems covered in the first of these reviews. Due to their presence within an unfeeling inanimate body, they do not sense the world in the same ways as other beings do. Their senses are limited (initially) to sight, sound, and smell, and these are far superior to that of humans. However, taste and touch elude them, at least until the Horrification begins to overtake them. This Horrification is their Torment, or the struggle that they battle against during their existence, every hero from legend has a fault or flaw to deal with while traveling down the path of their Hero's Journey. This concept is something that Steven Brown has researched extensively and uses well to help balance and create a way to bring all of the powerful Gentes of the Everlasting down to a state where they have something internal to struggle against. As a race they started out in a realm of purity and light, but were captured and enslaved and brought to the Earthly realms as tools. Over the centuries, they have begun to feel the taint of evil from their "sin eating". They slowly become the monsters that they often resemble, and once this happens, then they themselves are hunted by their own kind. This is summed up in one of the common quotes that appears in the books from other sources that are used to set the mood:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

-Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, "Beyond Good and Evil"

They feel drawn to sinners and evil doers. They are then driven to touch and experience, through the gaining of the memories of the foul deeds, the sins. They then pass on the Curse of Absolution to their victims. This curse can take on many forms, but involves some form of punishment dealt to the evildoer, be it being hit by a bus, maiming themselves in an accident, or in some rare cases even the Gargoyle carrying out the act. Regardless, the result is some sort of tragedy that is meant to make up for the sin committed.

Like the Angels covered in the review of Book of the Light, Gargoyles are creatures that do not eat, breath, drink, sleep, or even die a true death. When their Simulacrum (or Earthly Body) is destroyed the spirit leaves the body and returns to the Astra until it can find a new host structure. The description and effects of this event are quite interesting. However their "True Death" is nearly impossible to bring about.

Details covered include the use of different materials for the Simulacrum, their own bizarre and strange powers (well detailed and explained in terms of game mechanics), their own fighting styles (specialized Marital Arts), and their Astrological Auspices (which is an optional rule; however, it looks pretty interesting).

The next race covered is a very broad and widely varying group called the Manitou. They are humans that have bonded with an animal spirit (or plant spirit, in which case they are called Verdantians). They are the guardians of Nature, the Earth Mother, or Gaia. Their legends come from Native American, Aboriginal, African, Celtic, and many other ancient hunter-gatherer cultures from the past.

Due to their nature, they tend to live in more rural settings and also tend not to "fit in" with normal human society. They are often involved to some degree with conservationist or environmental groups (but not always). The spirit, or Totem as they are sometimes called, will watch for a human that appears to have the qualities, personality, and values of the totem. Once a suitable human has been located for future Enspiritment (the term for the joining of the totem spirit and the human), the totem will send a lesser animal spirit called a Filgur to watch over the human and help to protect them. This protection lasts until the Totems current host has aged to the point where the mutual combination is counterproductive to the Totems mission, or is killed in the struggle against the Abominations.

Once the time comes for the Enspiritment, the Totem will slowly intertwine its sprit with the mind and soul of the human host. This results in the human slowly becoming more animal-like (slowly taking on traits similar to that of the animal that the totem sprit represents). The Torment that Manitou suffer is that of "Animalism", which results in the host slowly thinking more like the animal spirit that is inhabiting their body. The host's human psyche slowly fades as that of the spirit becomes stronger. This eventually leads to the Manitou having a progressively more difficult time dealing with and living around other humans due to their difference in outlooks on life in general. Or, for Verdantians, the torment is "Floralism". This refers to becoming more in touch with nature and slowly getting to the point where you want to stand barefoot in the soil and wanting to be in a natural environment (not that you want to wear floral print clothing and work in a flower shop).

In the past reviews, an explanation was given as to what a torment is. It was not, however, mentioned that the system is designed in such a way that the players find themselves struggling more and more with this torment. The system actually has effects that in the short term are often useful which can speed up the progress of this psychological battle against the Protagonist's flaws that is so common in our Hero Myths, but in the long run end up nearly destroying the Protagonist. This can lead a good role-player to really struggle to keep control of their character, but at the same time creates a much more immersive feel to the role-playing session. Thus good role-players will be progressively more challenged to work through the weaknesses that escalate due to their good role-playing skills. It also helps to bring into perspective that fact that everyone has flaws, which we must learn to live with and work to improve and overcome, even the greatest of heros are not perfect.

There is a lot of coverage of the spirit world and how the Manitou interact with it, as well as how different types of animal spirits deal with one another and how they fit into nature. There are also details on how to customize a Protagonist to mimic the spirit of any animal or plant that the spirit part of the union represents. Numerous example Totem spirits of various common animals are also provided to help see the wide range of possibilities that exist within this Genos of Everlasting.

The third Genos that is detailed in the book is that of the Possessed or dream spirits. This appears that it could be a very tough character type to play by their very nature, as they are normal humans who have been possessed by a spirit from the Dreamworld. These spirits always target someone who is just about the opposite of their own inclinations, thus creating a constant struggle for control. The sole goal of this dream spirit is to corrupt its unwilling (and often times unknowing) host. Many of these people, if they manage to survive for long periods of time under possession, end up in mental institutions often misdiagnosed as psychopaths. Most become so corrupted within a year or so, however, that they wither away and eventually die. Then the Possessed will move on to another host.

There are two different types of these Dream Spirits, the Yugtuhul and the Benederan. The Yugtuhul survive on negative emotions, and as such they tend to try to possess people of a good or positive nature, as the corruption of such a person is more satisfying to the Yugtuhul. Likewise the Benederan survive on positive emotions, and thus target those of a negative mind set to try to drive to corruption. While these two types are nearly opposites in their outlook, their basic goals are the same. Thus the difficulty in playing the part of a Possessed, as you need to be able to play two oppositely aligned personalities that are battling for control of one physical body.

The process of Possession is also explained, as this dream spirit is tied to a Phylactery (Yugtuhul) or Amulet (Benederan) also referred to as a "Soul Prison". This takes on the form of an item (usually a piece of jewelry) that the host must wear in order for the dream spirit to slowly corrupt them, but as in other games an intelligent or cursed item cannot be gotten rid of. These soul prisons are so desirable to the person who puts it on, and the incredible things that they start to find themselves capable of when their wear it make it nearly impossible to get rid of. Somehow this item appears in the host's dreams and they seem to be mystically or spiritually drawn to the item. Needless to say this is the perfect Protagonist to play for someone of a sadistic nature with a LOT of experience as a role-player as it is probably the most difficult of all the Everlasting to take on the role of.

There are guidelines for how to handle things in the Dreamworld since it plays a major role in the life of a Possessed, as well as a lot of background information regarding how and why these Soul Prisons were created and the spirits were tied to them.

Two additional Gentes of Everlasting are also detailed in this book, the Abominations (the alien and twisted Cthulhu horrors that are the arch nemesis of Nature and the Manitou) and the Djinn. The Abominations are intended as the enemies of the Protagonists (similar to the Demons in the Book of the Light), and as such there is enough information to create your protagonists archenemies, as well as an overview of their background and goals. The Djinn are a race of mystical beings that pre-date human civilization. They are an extremely magical people who are incredibly powerful and unpredictable, not to mention infinitely emotional. As Angels are the personification of Good, and Demons are the epitome of Evil, the Djinn are the embodiment of Emotion (good or bad, but always to the extreme).

As with the other books of the series (Book of the Light and Book of the Undead) this book is well worth the investment if you are interested in delving deeply into spiritual mythology. If nothing else it can serve as an excellent reference book for spiritual aspects of other games, or can be used with the other books of the series to add yet another realm to the Secret World.

As with the others of the series, I give The Everlasting, Book of the Spirits a 7.5 for playability and an absolute 10 for the setting due to it having more depth than anything else I've seen in the past 25 years of gaming.

Editor's Note:The Everlasting: Book of the Spirits is produced by Visionary Entertainment Studio. For further information visit their website at http://www.visionaryentertainment.com/