Fatal and Friends has a review of why Beast: the Primordial is bad. It is not a very good review. Someone posted a review of the review, and because that someone is a self-described information communist who doesn’t care when people repost his writings in their entirety, with or without attribution, I’m going to copy/paste his entire review2 here. It’s big enough to go below the break, so I’ll mention here above the break that I’ll be following it up with a more better review of why Beast: the Primordial is bad. But first, the review’s review:
That rant had several really big problems:
- Giant block quoting. Like, what the fuck levels of block quoting. I understand that it’s a Chronicles of Darkness book, and one of the signature facts of that is that it is something close to half a million fucking words, so I’m sure the amount of quoted text is some shockingly small percent of the original work. But it’s still an absurd amount of shitty text. You can get across the fact that the text is horrible by just quoting a few horrible things. Nothing is gained by graphically representing the enormous amount of fucking filler text by actually quoting enormous amounts of filler text. For fuck’s sake. The review as a whole is unreadable, and can only be skimmed.
- Inconsistent Voice. Outside the blockquotes I can rarely tell when the author is straightforwardly reporting what the book says in perplexingly thorough fashion and when he’s editorializing. Often he switches from one to the other and back again within the same paragraph with no warning. This makes it really hard to tell what parts are actually worth reading – since I’m already skimming the TL;DR block quotes. More importantly, since the author is frequently sarcastic, it is often hard to tell whether a sentence is the author saying what the book says or making fun of what the book says.
- Trivial Bullshit. Chronicles of Darkness games are really bad. Like, they were so bad that they destroyed White Wolf and then destroyed the table top gaming arm of the company that bought White Wolf’s IP. No right minded person is going to play any CoD game in modern nights, and the impetus to not play fucking Beast is higher still. So no one gives a shit about individual die roll modifiers to specific tests or the XP costs of whatever the fuck or really any of this shit. Just give us the failure points and don’t dryly report a bunch of extraneous bullshit no one cares about.
- Questionable Authorial Competence. With so much of the text taken up with literal copypasta and so little given over to analysis, it’s very difficult to tell whether and how much one should be giving credence to the analytical skills of the author. Sure, often you get some looooooong piece of quoted text followed by a one sentence judgement that you could rationally agree or disagree with, but as mentioned earlier you often get a one sentence description of a section followed by a one sentence hot take. How accurate are those? To be honest, I don’t have a lot of faith in these hot takes because a lot of them that I can double check seem to be pretty dumb. There’s one where he talks about how badass it is to have a magic power that is the equivalent of a kind of shitty gun that never runs out of ammo – but guns suck in Chronicles of Darkness because of the fact that Save or Lose effects just work and it takes a lot of success accumulation to drop fools with weapon attacks. Also, no one ever runs out of ammo in that fucking game because fights don’t last many rounds and you need a special merit to fire two bullets a turn. But I had misgivings right from the get-go because he straight up says that Demon was released to universal acclaim. This is… not true. Demon has a very small number of people who even know that it exists, and despite the massive overhaul of the system, the contention that “nWoD is still shit” was so close to universal that the gameline and the company that spawned it is still dead.
I’ll state for the record that I’m not necessarily endorsing the entirety of this review-review (example: Chronicles of Darkness post-dates White Wolf and therefore is not responsible for its demise), but it is certainly correct on two important points: The text quoted from Beast: the Primordial often dwarfs the size of the actual analysis, and it is far too difficult to tell when the review is summarizing what the book said and when the review is sarcastically commenting upon what the book said.
So I’mma fix that problem with my own review of why Beast: the Primordial is terrible.
To catch people up the uninitiated, Beast: the Primordial is a tabletop roleplaying game produced by Chronicles of Darkness, the undead corpse of White Wolf run by its most passionate (but note: not necessarily its most competent) fanboys that still shits out games that range from “interesting concept executed poorly” to “my God, why?!” Beast is in the second category. In Beast, you play as a nightmare monster trapped in a human body who gains power from human suffering, and you are opposed by Heroes, who try to murder the Beasts but are very definitely doubleplus not supposed to be sympathetic at all.
Also, it has recently come out that the author is a pedophile (Chronicles of Darkness has since cut all ties with him). I’m saying that up front because this game likes to justify abuse a lot, and tends to do it with just enough plausible deniability that each individual justification for abuse is potentially defensible in context. Rather than ask you to consider why a single rulebook contains so many situations that just so happen to justify abusive behavior, I’m going to lead with the proof CoD fans had to wait three years to learn for sure: It’s because the author is an abuser trying to justify their repugnant actions. While the extent of the author’s abusive nature wasn’t clear until years after this book was released, it should’ve been clear for the start that the author was justifying abuse (at best, this could have been purely an accident which the author subsequently doubled down on out of pride – which is still not a good reason to write a book about why abuse is totally okay).
With the background information taken care of, let’s talk about the first big problem with Beast:
It Is Clear From The Start That The Author Is Justifying Abuse
In Beast, you are a nightmare monster who benefits from causing suffering to human beings. Specifically, you must cause enough suffering to make a human lose a point of Integrity. Integrity is a bit like Sanity points in Chronicles of Darkness, in that it represents self-confidence, willpower, and commitment. It doesn’t necessarily equate to morality, but a lack of it is often used as shorthand in CoD to indicate an immoral character, because being moral does often require self-confidence and willpower. In short, CoD generally treats high Integrity as necessary but not sufficient for a character to be a good person, something which will be important later. For now, what’s important is that the titular beasts benefit from inflicting suffering on people so badly that their self-confidence and willpower is permanently damaged. Different beasts have different specific motivations, referred to as a Hunger, which dictate why exactly they like to make people suffer. These Hungers are:
-Hunger for power, in which the beast wants to make others feel small and weak.
-Hunger for hoard, in which the beast wants to have things that other people also want.
-Hunger for prey, in which the beast likes to terrify others and make them fear for their safety.
-Hunger for punishment, in which the beast seeks (usually disproportionate) retribution against others for their transgressions against some moral code of the beast’s.
-Hunger for ruin, in which the beast just likes to wreck things for fun.
Beasts have magical superpowers derived from their nightmare form, which can be either the giant Anakim, the shadowy Eshmaki, the watery Makara, the hideous Namtaru, or the flying Ugallu. Using these superpowers makes the nightmare horror living inside the beast hungry for more suffering, and so the beast must go out and feed that horror. Feeding the horror tends to attract (or, in the original version before being revised due to fan backlash to cheerlead for abuse slightly less, create) heroes, who seek to kill the beasts and put an end to their reign of terror.
People who’ve read my Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy articles will know that I hold in contempt the notion that playing the bad guys in a game is the same as actually wanting to be a terrible person in real life, so the fundamental premise that you are a horrible nightmare monster who feeds on the suffering of others and is opposed by heroes who witnessed or directly suffered your attacks and now seek to stop you from doing it again, that’s all fine, provided that the game admits that you are unambiguously evil.
The game does not do this. Instead, the game heavily codes its abusive nightmare monsters as misunderstood LGBTQ minorities, while equally heavily coding the heroes as racists, MRAs, and various others that are universally reviled by CoD’s generally entrenched progressive audience. In fact, nearly every beast presented in the book is, in addition to being coded LGBTQ, also literally gay.
Example heroes, meanwhile, are depicted as wearing trenchcoats and trilbys while hunting beasts with katanas (which actually works, because heroes have special powers that allow them to make arbitrary weapons effective against beasts (and only beasts) because they think the weapon works against beasts), or as being convicted of hate crimes because of their efforts to kill a black woman who is secretly a soul-eating monster. Particularly the last one is pretty terrible, because the alleged racist is one hundred percent correct, the black woman he’s trying to kill really is a soul eating monster and his assault really did have nothing to do with her race, but his short fiction is written to try and convince us that he is evil because he uses some redneck shibboleths.
In both drafts of the book, heroes are repeatedly vilified for interfering with the beasts’ hunting, portraying them as narcissistic and vain, wanting the story to be all about them and how great they are for killing the beast. The beast, contrariwise, has powers that allow them to force the hero to believe (usually phrased as “admit” or “realize” even though these are subjective fucking judgments) that they have no right to judge the beast for what they’re doing or interfere with it. The final draft of the book, in response to the fan backlash over the beta, added in a sidebar about how some heroes were more moral and not at all narcissistic, but because of this morality they didn’t hunt the beasts, which solves some relatively minor issues with how heroes were portrayed as irredeemably evil despite being created largely through circumstance (and in the beta draft, as a direct result of the beasts’ own actions), but only further reinforced the larger problem that heroes are portrayed as wrong specifically for trying to interfere with the beasts’ preying on unsuspecting (and often innocent) humans.
Now, there was one element added in the final draft which is allegedly supposed to make the beasts into a force for good, and therefore justify a vilification of heroes for opposing them. That is that beasts are supposed to be “teaching lessons” (using those exact words repeatedly) through their terror. If an abuser claims that they only abused their child/spouse/whatever “to teach them a lesson,” would that make them even slightly less terrible of a person? Would someone who tried to prevent them from abusing their child/spouse/whatever be even slightly less heroic for doing so?
In short, Beast posits a world where some people are actually nightmare monsters (to varying degrees of human/nightmare hybridization depending on whether we’re talking about the beta draft or the final draft) who inflict human suffering in order to sate their own supernatural hunger for terror and misery, other people seek to hunt beasts (and only beasts) and stop them, and we are supposed to side with the nightmares. The beasts are coded as groups that the target audience is sympathetic towards and the heroes coded as groups the target audience dislikes, and the author personally wrote forum posts in response to the backlash against the beta draft about how heroes aren’t supposed to be sympathetic and not-so-subtly comparing his detractors to MRAs.
Shorter still, Beast portrays abusive people as an oppressed minority and the people who seek to thwart the abuse as their oppressors.
Beasts Are Given Pre-Eminence Over Other Monsters in a Monster Crossover Game
None of the other issues that Beast has is going to get even close to the level of terrible that the original issue was. From now on, we’re talking about things like how Beast makes the Chronicles of Darkness setting as a whole weaker in every campaign they’re included in, how the character creation system is so poorly designed as to make one of the two major chargen choices seem almost completely redundant, and…well, just those two, actually, but the point is that these crimes against worldbuilding and game design pale in comparison to pushing a narrative that not only justifies abuse, but portrays abusers as an oppressed minority who need support from allies so that they can just be who they are free from the oppression of heroes who try to stop them from tormenting everyone around them. If you don’t really care about the nitty gritty of why Beast fails as a work of art and just wanted to know why it’s morally repugnant, the rest of this review isn’t for you. You can tab out now.
Beast claims its titular protagonists are essentially the older siblings to all other supernatural creatures (except demons, for some reason), as all terrors are ultimately descended from “the Dark Mother,” who is like Tiamat or Echidna or something. As the direct progeny of the Dark Mother, beasts are specialer than other supernaturals and thus other supernaturals automatically start out one attitude step more favorable to beasts in social interaction. If you are a beast, all vampires, werewolves, changelings, etc. etc. automatically like you and will continue to like you so long as you don’t kill their cat or whatever. Note that changelings are abuse victims who have escaped from their abusers into a world that’s moved on without them and are now trying to use the magical powers they inherited from their stay in the world of their abusers to rebuild a normal life, but without using too much of the powers that they turn into a true fey and become one of their abusers. They start out predisposed towards liking beasts, who are a slightly different flavor from abuser than the kind the flight from which is the entire purpose of their character archetype.
This makes all other supernaturals inherently less worthy compared to beasts, who are given a mechanically enforced pre-eminence over them. And remember, this is in a splat that was specifically supposed to be particularly crossover friendly as part of a game that was overall intended to be more crossover friendly than oWoD (which was notoriously crossover unfriendly due to having originally been conceived as several similar but fully separate settings, and only got retconned into a twenty conspiracy pileup later on).
One of the things a component work of a greater multi-author fiction should never do is make other contributions seem less important. Indeed, one of the greatest accomplishments of Rogue One is how it made the Death Star seem so terrifying, even when only using a tiny fraction of its total power (which also respected the other material of the overall setting, by making it clear that while the Death Star had been used at all prior to A New Hope, it had never used more than that tiny fraction of its total power, so the need to test it at full power was not invalidated). Conversely, one of the greatest failings of the Force Awakens and the Last Jedi (regardless of their quality in other departments) is how they constantly snipe at earlier movies (including the Last Jedi sniping at the Force Awakens) to try and make themselves seem bigger or more worthy by comparison. Beast falls firmly into the TFA and TLJ camp of making other parts of its multi-author universe seem weaker in order to try and puff itself up – and can’t even make the excuse that it is otherwise a solid piece of media.
Beast Chargen Is Deeply Flawed
The first problem with Beast’s chargen system is that it is a part of the Chronicles of Darkness, a game created by promoted fanboys of the original White Wolf books, which are notorious for being mechanically shit and carrying themselves purely on the strength of their setting and meta-plot, which is why when nWoD came out and had slightly better mechanics but also a worse setting and meta-plot, the company imploded. The best thing you can say about Chronicle of Darkness’ mechanics is that they aren’t as bad as oWoD, and that is not a high bar to clear.
I’m not here to write about the problems with CoD in general, though. I’m here to write about Beast in particular, so all the various sins that Beast inherits from being part of CoD at all are going to be mostly ignored. Instead, let’s talk about how they fucked up even one of the basic concepts of CoD. In each Chronicle of Darkness game there are two primary chargen choices to make, each one from a set of five, and each choice from one set of five can be combined with any of the five options in the other set, to give a total of twenty-five combinations. It’s all a bit rote (why does it always have to be five exactly? It wouldn’t harm crossover compatibility if sometimes you had four or six – but now I’m breaking my promise not to throw shade on CoD in general), but Beast can’t even get that much right, because there’s such extreme overlap between many of the horrors and hungers. As mentioned earlier, one of the nightmare horrors a beast can be possessed by/hybridized with/secretly have been all along is the Anakim, giants, and one of the hungers is the hunger for power. These two are extremely closely related, to the point where the Anakim are basically described as always having the hunger for power. It’s mechanically allowed to make an Anakim whose hunger is for punishment or whatever, but there is absolutely no narrative guidance as to what that would look like.
It’s fairly simple to just flat-out ignore the fluff description of the horrors and treat the horror as supplying your mechanical superpowers while using the hunger exclusively as the foundation of your character’s fluff, but flat-out ignoring the horror fluff to make things work is a concession that the horror fluff is frequently incompatible with some of the hunger fluff – and in the extreme case of the Anakim, a horror’s fluff practically locks it in to a single, specific hunger.
Beast: the Primordial is a bad game. It fails at being crossover friendly and it fails to hit the mark of its own rote chargen formula, and it’s got some other failures that I didn’t end up including (the deeply unhealthy relationship between beasts, for example, and how it’s portrayed as just “the way things are” and not as fucked up and dysfunctional). More important than any of that, though, Beast pushed a narrative that justified abuse and vilified people who tried to intervene on behalf of the abused. In earlier drafts, it even explicitly depicted those trying to intervene as those who witnessed victimization or were themselves victimized – thus depicting victims of abuse who fight back against their abuser as inherently evil, acting out of narcissism and vanity to “oppress” the abuser by denying them the ability to abuse whoever they want.
There are a lot of bad games or books and I write about them with an exaggerated sense of outrage because that’s fun to write and to read, but I want to draw an extremely strong distinction between a piece of Media like Beast: the Primordial as opposed to something like Awaken Online. Awaken Online fails to meet my standards for literature. Beast: the Primordial actively supports the ability of terrible people to do terrible things to the innocent.
Awaken Online is bad, and that’s ultimately not a big deal. Beast: the Primordial is evil.
2 thoughts on “Beast: The Primordial Is Terrible”
Tabletop games in general seems to attract a higher percentage of “weird people” than other hobbies. From Warhammer 40k’s “totally not fascist” sub-fandom who revel in what is supposed to a parody to the orgy-filled “magical realm” that is Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms, I can’t help but be slightly disturbed by what some of the people in this hobby think is acceptable.
I agree Beast is bad but you lost me at, “The first problem with Beast’s chargen system is that it is a part of the Chronicles of Darkness, a game created by promoted fanboys of the original White Wolf books, which are notorious for being mechanically shit and carrying themselves purely on the strength of their setting and meta-plot, which is why when nWoD came out and had slightly better mechanics but also a worse setting and meta-plot, the company imploded. ” That’s….a weirdly specific bit of nonsensical historical revisionism that isn’t remotely true.