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Retro Review: The Everlasting: Book of the Unliving

October 19, 2013

The Book of the Unliving is the first of four projected volumes detailing The Everlasting, a World of Darkness-like gothic fantasy-horror game, and was apparently the only one to be published (certainly I have found no evidence of the others). Book of the Unliving, a little unimaginatively, given that the other volumes promised less Vampire-like fare in the form of Grail Knights and Dragons, details Ghuls, Revenants, Vampires, the Reanimates and Dead Souls, covering much the same ground as its vampiric predecessor. Indeed, like the End Times of the old World of Darkness, The Everlasting are entering a final battle phase, many of the angelic daeva having vanished, allowing demons and other evils to plague the Earth.

The races are interesting and despite sharing the same space as the World of Darkness setting, attempts have been made to avoid retreading too much of the same ground. Ghuls are humans transformed into immortal monsters by imbibing an elixir known as Anecro and are skilled alchemists as well as cannibalistic horrors, although some tend more towards the latter, whilst others are almost indistinguishable from humans (and those that aren’t can wear the skins of the victims in order to pass). Although the Dead Souls are ghosts not dissimilar to Wraiths, their close kin, the Revenants, sit somewhere between White Wolf‘s Wraiths and Vampires as risen dead with a complex society. Vampires come in various types, similar to Masquerade‘s clans, but attempts have been made not to reuse the same archetypes and to link them more to regions and cultures; they seem much more like the vampires of Requiem. Reanimates are Frankenstein Monster-like beings and cyborgs that also would fit neatly in with the present World of Darkness. Interestingly, each race of beings has a unique effect that occurs when they die, making their endings just as dramatic as their unlives!

Whilst the other volumes in the series don’t seem to have been released (not a surprise, as it seems to have made little impact at the time, despite great promise), there is a chapter giving brief descriptions of the other major races and their powers, allowing them to appear in games as antagonists – which is a surprisingly thoughtful move given how interwoven many of the different types are in the background.

The rules – or ‘guidelines’ – can be used with regular playing cards or tarot cards or dice or variable dice or percentile dice… all while stressing the virtues of freeform play! There is nothing in the rules section of any particular interest and the multitude of variants, rather than offering up lots of choice, merely wastes paper on bland and uninspiring ideas. Much better had the authors chosen a specific rules set and allowed others to adapt the setting to whatever rules they wished.

Where The Everlasting succeeds is with its setting ideas, offering slightly more mythic takes on its protagonists than its rivals in the World of Darkness lines did, as well as injecting a little more fantasy into the background (if not this particular book). At the time, I certainly thought it looked inspiring and more like the sort of game I wanted to play, and even now it has plenty of intriguing nuggets, although I think the new World of Darkness has followed much the same paths in greater detail.

Having long wanted to get my hands on a copy, I am still glad that I have had a chance to read it, even if the novel ideas don’t seem quite as novel as they did then and the whole thing could have done with being further divorced from its World of Darkness inspiration. Unfortunately, the game spends a substantial number of pages wandering off into the silliness of personal Mythmaking and waffle about lucid dreaming that really have no place in a gaming book and could have been better spent on further detailing the setting. Obviously, the authors were positioning the volume as an alternative to Vampire: The Masquerade and, whilst they succeeded to a degree, it needed tighter writing, more originality and far, far less pretentiousness to become the brilliant game it might have been, rather than the merely interesting curiosity that it is.

If you enjoy either incarnation of the World of Darkness and can find a cheap copy of The Everlasting, then I would recommend that you buy it as a source of ideas or even an alternative setting to play around with. But, as a game in its own right, it doesn’t quite manage to work.

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