Review-The Everlasting-Book of the Light

Copyright Aaron Smalley © 2004

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

"Thus they are the ultimate warriors as their bodies are of little value to them in their battle against the demons."

This is a continuation of the review of The Everlasting, covering the second book of the series entitled The Everlasting, Book of the Light. This review will attempt to explain what is contained within these pages, as it is unlike any other role-playing game I have seen in my 25 years of active gaming.

The books are a little on the expensive side. Despite the $29.95 price tag that I had paid for each of these 300+ pages of large soft cover books, it was money well spent. The black and white interior artwork is incredible in quality and really sets the stage for an amazing delve into the world of the Divine within the Secret World as set down to words by Steven Brown. From barely discernible images in the background of the text to large full-page pictures, many of incredible beauty, as well as haunting illumination at the beginning of each chapter. Nearly every page has at least something of minute interest. Many of these pictures are of the feel of ancient tomes from centuries ago, almost like flipping through an ancient illuminated bible from the Middle Ages.

The Everlasting will appear vaguely familiar to anyone experienced with the White Wolfä products, however he has made some major improvements over their system and setting. They will also likely recognize the name of Steven Brown, who had authored some of their "Sabot" books as a freelancer. Yet the Secret World is a place of amazement hidden behind everyday events, and the unearthly just out of sight. He has also done a wonderful job of using quotes in the right location (with full credit to the originator) to extend and solidify the feel of the Secret World. Some aspects (especially the Book of the Spirits) will appeal to those who have an interest in the Cthulhu Mythologies, or an interest in Animistic or Shamanistic Lore. The fourth book, The Everlasting, Book of the Fantastical will be of interest to anyone who would like to see fantasy races such as Dragons, Elves, Dwarves, Faeries, and the like in a modern setting. Those who have an interest in Gothic Horror will likely find the Book of the Unliving an interesting read (reviewed in the January 2004 issue of The Guild Companion).

I won't get too heavy into detail in this review as a large portion of it has already been covered in the previous review mentioned above. This Secret World that he presents is not a fantasy world that is hard to believe could ever have existed, like so many settings for role-playing games that have been produced. But then, as Steve says, "it is a Legendmaking Experience (or 'mythic experience')". It is "Constructive Escapism" at its best. At the beginning of nearly every chapter he has a short half-page blurb as an introduction, across from the beautiful artwork previously mentioned, that starts out with "Do you believe in...?" This sets the stage to make the subject of the chapter as believable as it can be within our modern world of Scientific Methodology. His broad use of terminology and the included "Lexicons" only add to this feel.

The entire presentation is built upon the concept of constructing a Personal Mythology or a Hero's Journey. It is to develop a story more than to act out a series of combats and puzzles. To take on the persona of one of the Everlasting who resides amongst the common humans undetected. He has taken his cues from the great Joseph Campbell, author of "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" and "The Power of Myth", who, in turn, followed in the footsteps of the great Sir James George Frazer, author of "The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion". The first chapter explains in-depth the concept of these ideas, as well as the most intuitive, spiritual, and inner-thinking explanation of what a Role-Playing Game is.

The system will only be glossed over, as in reality he presents several different but very similar systems using twelve-sided dice, percentile-dice, a completely dice-less system, a deck of common playing cards, or my personal favourite (as it adds to the mythic feel of the setting) Tarot cards. It appears that it would be possible for a group of players to sit down and each use a different system and still be able to play the game effectively.

Character generation is handled by using a set (or if you prefer, a randomly generated) number of points to spend for Aspects (these serve as your "stats" in most other systems), Aptitudes (which are then further broken down into actual skills), and Distinctions (sort of a portion of your background). Then you can spend these points as you see fit to develop the character that fits your character concept. Note, however, that you cannot transfer points from, say, Aspects to Aptitudes or from any one area to another, so the whole min-max thing that some people feel prone to abuse is minimized.

Each character also has Preternaturae or Magick (and yes, they spell it with a "k" in the books) that are based partly off of their Genos and partially chosen. Thus, there are certain types of special abilities that you will expect Angels to have, but not all will have them, and some may have some special abilities that are unexpected.

The majority of the book covers the concepts of the various Genos orGentes (pl.), or races, of the Everlasting that can be played, and the details of how they fit into this Secret World. Each of the four books of The Everlasting (Book of the Undead, Book of the Light, Book of the Spirits, and Book of the Fantastical) contain the same material through roughly half the book. This material covers the Guidelines, the concepts of what The Everlasting is (Hero's Journey, etc.), overall notes on the Secret World, and the art of Story Telling and "Guiding an Odyssey".

Each of the books contains three chapters that each cover one of the races of Everlasting that are intended for use as Protagonists within the Legendmaking Experience. They are covered in alphabetical order. Then there are more chapters that cover other beings that are intended to add further depth to the already incredible Secret World. Some of these can also be used as Protagonists, if the Guide will allow it (although some are intended for use as the Antagonists that the Protagonists will be battling against within the Hero's Journey).

The first of the Gente's covered in the Book of the Light are the Angels. The treatment of the nine Exalted Orders of Angels is very well done and thorough. These include Seraphim, Cherubim, Merkabah, Kyriotetes, Dynameis, Exusiai, Archai, Archangels, and Aeons. Each is described and explained in detail as to their abilities, their Provinces, and any other relevant information. He even briefly covers famous angels from the bible and other accounts, detailing to which Exalted Order they belong. As with all the Everlasting, even the Angels have a torment, and theirs is Imperfection. The longer they reside among the earthly realms, the closer they come to the imperfections of humans which in turn interferes with their ability to carry out their role in the Divine Plan. They are one of the few "Immortal Races" that are truly immortal, as the destruction of their Corpus (or earthly body) causes them to return to the Seven Heavens. However they can return back to earth once they construct a new Corpus (which can be done by spending Backlash points). Thus they are the ultimate warriors as their bodies are of little value to them in their battle against the demons.

He also goes into great detail covering the Luminaré (or half-angels). They are the exceedingly rare offspring of a union between an angel and a human (see the movie "Michael"-- who says angels can't have their fun too? Note, however, that Michael is an Archangel [Eighth Exalted Order], but his escapades in the movie show how a Luminaré could come about). While they do not fit well into angelic society due to the fact that they are an example of the occasional blot on angelic perfection, they fit into human society much more closely. With that in their favour, and the fact that they still have some angelic type abilities and are incredibly durable as a race, they are an important part in the battle against the demons. This is one aspect of the book that is liable to draw criticism from those of strong religious faith.

It is a pretty tall order for Steve to be able to pull off, taking an idea like angels and bringing them to life as characters or Protagonists within an RPG, but he has pulled it off beautifully and with style. He makes it clear that while angels are of a different realm and level of though than are humans, they also have personalities and faults, goals and desires, and can be played as characters in a meaningful way.

The next race of Everlasting covered is the Daevas, the most common of all the Gentes of Everlasting within the Secret World. They are the cornerstones that Everlasting society is built upon. He has an interesting quote by Charles DeLint, from "Ghosts of Wind and Shadow" that is incredibly fitting here, which I will share with you:

The old gods and their magics did not dwindle away

...rather, they changed. The coming of Christ and

Christians actually freed them. They were no longer

bound to people's expectations but could now become

anything that they could imagine themselves to be.

They are still here, walking among us. We just

don't recognize them anymore.

Charles DeLint, "Ghosts of Wind and Shadow"

The intention with the Daevas is that they are the minor godlings that have always been present throughout human history. They are the Olympians of Greek mythology, the Tuatha DéDanann of Celtic lore, the Vanir of Norse legends, the Maribur of Indian culture, Dekans of Egyptian Myth, the Huecuva of South American lore, and the Kuni-Tzu-Kami of Japanese legends. They are the "Immortals" of "The Highlander" (the movie) fame. They are like beings that are human, but yet much more advanced (mentally, physically, and spiritually) than the common mortals. They are immortal in that they can only be truly killed by some "Personal Vulnerability" which varies from one to another of their kind. However, due to their constant battle against the forces of evil, all they see is their violent end approaching.

So what could these super powerful beings have as a Torment you ask? Doom! The fate of the world rests on their shoulders. They have, among their interesting abilities, the ability to "feel" destiny unfolding before them, so to speak. Their amazing abilities and lives have been put in place for a purpose and that purpose is quickly approaching. They will be the primary weapons in the Final Battle. Their time of playing the part of minor gods in human society has come to an end, and soon their kind will no longer be needed. The threat posed by the demons, however, continues to grow. They can feel the final battle against the demons approaching and know that they will either save the earth and humanity from the demon threat (and perish, themselves, in the process), or the earth will be overrun by the demon hordes and humanity as it stands will cease to exist. Thus is their lot in life, to die as a tool for the greater good. Their fate was foretold in the "twilight of the gods" or Götterdämmerung.

It must be remembered that not all Daevas agree with this feeling of Doom or in the legends that hold sway over their lives. However, one must consider the destiny of immortality, as portrayed in Queen's song, "Who Wants to Live Forever" from the "Highlander" movie (and appearing in the book as a quote):

Who wants to live forever,

Who wants to live forever...?

There's no chance for us, It's all decided for us,

This world has only one sweet moment set aside for us.

Queen, "Who Wants to Live Forever"

Next are the noble and dedicated Questers. They are humans who have shown such strong faith or drive towards some quest, ideal, or goal that they have attained immortality in order to complete their quest. They are the true heroes of legends. The most famous example is the Grail Knights of King Arthur, however other quests have driven otherwise normal humans to the point of living beyond their years and gaining amazing abilities and powers. Every Quester must have a Quest that they follow and seek to fulfil. This can range from guardianship of some sacred location or artefact to gaining knowledge on some remote and obscure branch of lore. It can be fighting tyranny and evil, or protecting nature from environmental threats.

While there is a lot of potential here for creative players to develop interesting protagonists, the bulk of this chapter focuses on the past history and future prophecies surrounding the Grail Knights and their role in the upcoming battle with the forces of darkness. The time is growing near, and some of the signs from the prophecies have become apparent (and he has tied these to real world events that have occurred).

Among the additional Gentes covered within the book are the Demons and the Wer. The author has specifically stated that the Demons are not to be played as Protagonists, since they are the epitome of evil. The Wer (werewolves, lycanthropes, etc.) have enough information provided that it would be possible to play them; however, according to the books they are the vile creatures from legend. They are cursed with the Changing Virus (or CV). Their primary goal is maiming and killing and thus are intended to be a scourge of wild creatures and a secondary antagonist, after the Demons of course.

Coverage of the demons is quite extensive and interesting (and also very disturbing). They will serve as the most fitting and dangerous enemy that any player could possibly have nightmares about having to face. They are the ultimate in evil. The Abominations that will be covered in the next review (Book of the Spirits) are the next closest in evil-ness. However, the demons in The Everlasting get my vote as the worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) antagonists in any commercial setting so far devised and published.

In my opinion these books are well worth the price tag. The editing leaves something to be desired, but is improved over the first book of the series. While spelling and grammatical errors occur, they are not so bad as to take away from the feel of the books. The more I read them and delve further into the mysteries of the Secret World, the looser the bindings get, so care must be taken with these books. With the pages being 8.5" by 11" it is tempting to remove them from their bindings and place them into a ring binder inside clear ring binder sheets. But on the other hand, it is difficult to tear them apart with the beautiful artwork that runs throughout the books. Steven Brown's works are treading where no games have gone in the past, trying to revive the "Hero's Journey" that the legends and stories of old played up.

Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd have to give it a 7.5 for playability and a resounding 10 for the setting. Despite the fact that it is not original, it is the most well structured, amazing, and intriguing use of past and present mythologies that I have seen in my 25 years of gaming.

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