The Paranet Papers, Part 7 (Goes Bump, Who’s Who) + Conclusion

OK, let’s finish it.The last two chapters update general information about the setting: new supernatural creatures, the fate of old ones, new characters, upgrades for old ones.

It’s more Farla’s domain than mine, so I’m not going to cover it in detail. It would be more fun when we get there in the readthrough (so, keep voting for DF on the poll. We need more Farla suffering to sustain us). Instead, I would mostly focus on game-related stuff here and in the end give my opinion on the book as a whole.

Goes Bump

This chapter deals with various supernatural creatures, and there isn’t much to say about it. For the most part, it just summarize the information from the books and provides stat blocks. As an adaptation, it’s good. The entries are detailed enough that you get a clear picture of what you’re dealing with without being overwhelming, the stats fit the role the creatures are intended to serve and reflect their abilities well enough. If you’re a fan of DF, you probably won’t be disappointed. For everyone else, the typical problems of DF world-building are carefully preserved here.

One interesting point is an update on Fae Court Knights. For those who don’t remember, Summer and Winter Knights are mortal empowered by royal fae to act in their interest. Each Court has one Knight only.

In the previous volumes, Knights just have Seelie/Unseelie magic and Mark of Power (a brand, basically, that says to anyone who can see it they act in accordance of the interests of big powers) by default, plus an optional artifact granting some additional powers. All in all, the minimum Refresh cost was 5 (without the artifact), plus there were options to expand it, especially since Knights often were sorcerers or the like before accepting the job.

The idea here is that the artifact gives the basic superhuman package to the character (super-strength, super-speed, super-toughness) and the pact itself grants access to fae magic.

Now that Harry is a Knight himself, however, it’s clearly not enough. The book lovingly describes various superhuman feats Harry has demonstrated during Changes and argues that what they wrote before is clearly not sufficient to account for all of it.

“Hm. That sounds almost like a modified version of Modular Abilities—the mantle comes with a  certain amount of refresh set aside for you to buy powers with as you need them. There’s probably a minimum level of it, also—unless you start as a Pure Mortal, it’ll probably be a one-way trip into negative refresh, the loss of individuality that Harry always feared.”

I’m not going to dwell on it because one Mary Sue summoning was enough for me, I would just note that while the book speculates on “true” abilities of Knights, it doesn’t actually present them. There is no new template to use, just the above paragraph amounting to what I would expect to see from an idle forum post rather than a supplement I’m supposed to use in my games.

Neither the stat block of the (potential) Russian Winter Knight nor updated Harry’s block reflect the proposed changes, either. The former just upgrades powers granted by the artifact by one step.

That’s rather disappointed.

Now, as for me, I’m actually all for upgrading the Knights with new abilities and pushing them into NPC heavy hitters class.

The big problem with the Knights as PC templates is that they’re way too specific and way too tied up to specific factions and conflicts. It’s easy to explain why, say, a sorcerer lives in the city you’ve picked as a setting of your game: sorcerers can pop up anywhere. Same goes for changelings, minor talents, wizards, lycanthropes, etc., etc., not to mention pure mortals.

Knights, however, are supposed to go where their Queens send them, which logically would mean the biggest conflict around involving fae. There is only one Knight per Court, after all, they need to be used to their full potential.

For example, let’s consider the settings present in this very book.

Las Vegas is considered backwaters by fae. Summer Court send their fae here to rot on a dead end job, Winter has a bit more of an interest in the area, but still more as an afterthought than priority. Why would they send their Knights here with that attitude?

Russia actually is a major arena of a conflict between two Courts, and the presence of the Knights here is more expected than needs justification. The problem comes from another angle: there is a Winter Knight around already, and trying to still preserve a possibility of a player using the template actively hurts the setup since now he can’t be properly integrated into the big picture, he has to be described in a way that leaves a possibility of him being a pure mortal.

Neverglades… actually is fine in that regard. It has a strong Summer influence with some conflict brewing, that would easily justify Summer Knight taking an interest in it, and that, in turn, could attract the Winter Knight (or Winter could just decide to fuck shit up there).

But then there is South and Central Americas plus Mexico from the fourth chapter, and they’re apparently not considered important by fae Courts, who remain inactive in the area. Again, not a good place for the Knights.

So, two out of four settings at best, with one of them suffering for it. Not a good record.

It is not to say that Knights can’t be used in other settings, but it requires more effort to explain why they’re here. An effort not needed for other types of characters.

And, of course, if more than one player wants to play as Summer Knight, that would cause an issue of its own. Or when one player wants to play a Winter Knight and another – Summer one.

As such, I do believe turning Knights into NPCs is a good idea. If players want to get into fae conflicts, they can always play as changelings or mortals who made a deal for power with fae and now have to work for them (which would give them pretty much the same abilities as the standard Knight template).

So, I guess some good came out of Harry’s Sueness.

Who’s Who

This chapter deals with specific characters. Again, it’s a good adaptation: the information presented is enough to understand who they are and how they can be used in a game without drowning in it, the stat blocks are OK as well.

There are more… interesting points, however.

First of all, the book finally addresses the idea behind “plot device” characters who don’t have stats, just estimation of how high all of their skills are. The idea is close to what I said in my review on Our World volume: plot device characters are the ones you aren’t supposed to defeat in a straight confrontation (be it physical, mental or social) but rather work around them, figuring out how to achieve your goals without dying or being otherwise taken out in the process.

I don’t mind the idea itself, an unmovable object can present a fun challenge when used sparingly, and can serve to enhance the experience in some genres, like horror. I do question the choice of characters statted as plot devices.

Here’s what the book itself says:

“You know, the fact that we’re having to represent more and more of the people we encounter as plot
devices is probably not good for us …”

Yeah, it means you have power inflation on your hands, and it’s just going to get worse. Butcher is already a full wizard with a bunch of Refinements, has soulfire, pact with that magic island and is the Winter Knight, and I’m probably forgetting something. He fights against more and more powerful opponents because at least the author mostly gets now that defeating impressive people is impressive, and they, too, are going to become more and more powerful. People who were once supposedly way above Harry’s ability to handle are now wary of him, and new characters are introduced to menace him.

What needs to be done here, assuming you want to utilize these elements of DF, is mechanic recalibration to provide options for more powerful PCs going against more powerful foes. Kerberos Club should work for that purpose, though combining it with DF RPG power mechanic may be tricky.

As it is, they’re just going to add more and more characters on plot device level because the system wasn’t intended to handle high tier DF powers.

Next point of interest is the section on the current Merlin (which is a title for the head of the White Council), which has a sidebar about the history of the Council with this lovely passage:

“The White Council has existed since before Roman times, in one form or another. And since it was formally founded by the original Merlin, that tells you something about him, eh?”

Yes, that tells me Butcher has no idea about the actual legends about Merlin. With each new piece of information revealed, it becomes very, very clear that Harry picked Merlin to be the founder of the Council because Merlin is this famous wizard everyone knows rather than because he actually fits the role.

I mean, his whole legend revolves around his involvement with King Arthur, which goes right against the policy of non-involvement spouted by the Council. And apparently Merlin did it well after the formation of the Council, so here goes the idea of him going NEVER AGAIN over the tragedy and establishing the Council to prevent such events from happening again.

You know who would make a better founder for the Council? Simon the Magus. He actually was a leader of a sect, lived in time of early Christianity (a bit later than “before the Romans”, but, meh, the idea an organization could survive for so long without major changes is silly to begin with, and it’s not important to make the Council that ancient), and he had a pretty cool proto-gnostic philosophy about the world being a prison built by angels to trap a thought of the God, which took a form of mortal woman, eternally reincarnated to be eternally tortured by cruel angels. He also claimed to be God descended from the outer world to save that woman, which he claimed to be his lover (so, he fucked his own thought in that version, I guess), so there is a foundation for hubris and weird love stories.

Also, early Christians hated his guts, and the story of his death was about flying around on a carriage driven by demons when one (or two) of the apostles started praying for his death, which God delivered. There are other versions of this legend, but this one is the coolest.

That at least would explain why Inquisition: the bad blood is already here, and wizards believe in their own godhood.

The final point of interest is the section on Harry’s mother, which includes this:

“Since the Laws limit wizardly interference in the mortal world, all sorts of chaos and disaster would have ensued if they’d been changed.”


Murphy: Really, now.
Butters: Yes, really. The White Council would be forced to choose sides in mortal conflicts on whatever they felt the “just” or “right” side was, rather than standing apart. History would have been entirely different, and possibly not for the good. That’s if it just didn’t fraction into nationalistic little pieces, all at war with one another. The Laws are about constraining power as much as they’re about anything else.

Hey there, Unwind. We meet again.

So, because getting involved could potentially lead to bad things, instead you should do nothing at all. It’s your duty as a wizard. No wonder Harry’s the way he is. He was taught that doing nothing is moral.

By crippling their ability to do bad, they cripple their ability to do good and, in particular, prevent other monsters who don’t feel the need to keep away from mortal affairs to do as they please. Canonically, the setting presented in the fourth chapter was hell on Earth until recently (when, guess what, the Council actually did something about it), what with being under almost absolute control of the Red Court with blood flowing freely and nobody being safe from simply disappearing one night. According to the book itself, vampires were already ruling rural villages and the like openly as pseudo-feudal lords, so the potential danger Butters speak about is already in effect, just not where our heroes can see it.

The series make a huge point about how Black Court has fallen because of Dracula being published. The whole premise of DF RPG is that it’s an in-universe draft of a book meant to educate people under pretense of being fantasy. Now imagine the lessons here, all the weaknesses of monsters lurking in the night were to become a part of a standard school curriculum, with the police openly training to deal with the creatures of the night, budding sorcerers being fully aware of the Laws of Magic and what breaking them would do to you, people being able to report supernatural crime and actually get protection from it.

The book wants me to believe that full disclosure would result in witch hunts and reformation of the Inquisition, I argue that if the Council wasn’t a bunch of dicks doing nothing for common people and actually being integrated into society, there wouldn’t have been any witch hunts.

The book states that the history would have been different with wizards actively affecting it, and not necessary for the better. I agree with the first part and find it weird it’s not different already, but I argue that it wouldn’t necessary be different for the worse.

In conclusion, doing nothing just means you are nothing. Don’t be afraid to act, don’t be afraid to do what you think is right even when rich and powerful tell you it may make things worse and you should uphold the status quo instead.

That’s my New Year advice for you all: do stuff. Life is choices, so start living.

Now, to the conclusion about the book as a whole.

Well, that was a mixed bag. Lots of good ideas tarnished by really bad and stupid one. This book showed us that not all problems of the game can be traced back to canon. Some of it, a lot of it, is pure devs’ fault. That disappoints me greatly because I generally love Evil Hat Production. They have some cool properties under their hat, including some I’ve reviewed on this blog before. Most of them I even own in physical format, which is rare for me.

The most persistent flaw was the vagueness. The books seems to be deadly afraid of committing to one course of action, one version of events, so it leaves a lot up to the GM. That would be fine if it actually provided different possibilities with stat blocks as needed, but it simply stops instead, stating cryptically that something sure is happening.

As I’ve said many, many times before, I have no problem changing parts I don’t like and reimagining characters, places and conflicts as I see fit. I have trouble imagining any GM who would want a big neon sign saying “INSERT YOUR VERSION OF EVENTS HERE” rather than a coherent setting that can be used as is and changed only if desired. If I have to do half the work, what do I not pay you money for, devs?

The same flaw was present in the original volumes as well, but there it didn’t bother me as much because I figured it was unwillingness to contradict canon where it wasn’t clear enough for game purposes. This book demonstrates it’s more of a deliberate paradigm, and I don’t appreciate it one bit.

The good parts were pretty good, though. The devs tried to do their best with what they had and take the setting into new directions, creating colorful locations and utilizing DF elements in ways not found in canon (often to the point of nearly contradicting it).

So, overall, if you’re a fan of DF, you should check it out, there is enough interesting material to keep you reading. If you’re not, well, there are some ideas that can be borrowed for other games, but not really something you can’t get elsewhere.

So, you may check it out if you want an additional inspiration for urban fantasy and related things, but you may as easily pass it without losing on anything of importance.

That’s it as far as this book goes. Tune in next time for something else.

Happy New Year, everyone! This holiday I actually celebrate, so I may be out for the next week, depending on how it goes.

In conclusion, my cat under the tree:

 

Tree not shown because of space constraints.

LET THE CAT BATTLE BEGIN.

14 Comments

  1. SpoonyViking says:
    But then there is South and Central Americas plus Mexico from the fourth chapter, and they’re apparently not considered important by fae Courts,[…]

    *sigh*

    1. illhousen says:
      Pretty much. The area is actually described fine from game perspective: lots of conflicts, lots of ways to make a difference, but when it comes to implications… I feel that the devs felt more freedom in playing around there because they don’t expect the target auditory to know or care enough about these places to bother with maintaining a plausible facade and making them match reality at a first glance.

      With the Courts, I actually think the reason for their non-involvement is due to the devs wanting to introduce new types of fairies unique to these locations. An understandable desire, but with the Courts being portrayed as omnipresent otherwise, well…

      1. SpoonyViking says:
        An understandable desire, but with the Courts being portrayed as omnipresent otherwise, well…[…]

        Yeah. I mean, I find that very uninteresting (and more than a bit Eurocentric), but since it’s canon, I don’t see any good reason for them to just declare anything south of the United States isn’t important enough for the Fae.

        1. GeniusLemur says:
          There IS a good reason: Butcher is a lazy American, and the lore of central/South America can’t be learned by pop-culture osmosis.

          Although if he did James-Bond style opening teasers, he might have Jim Harry breaking up an evil Incan cult that was trying to make a human sacrifice to Quetzocoatl.

          1. Farla says:
            Which is exactly why we should all be grateful he decided to be lazy. If he’s handling the Native Americans of his own backyard this bad, can you imagine what’d happen if he started talking about Mayans?
            1. K says:
              We don’t have to imagine. He does it in Changes (the 12th book of the series). I won’t go into spoilers (unless I just did by mentioning which book; sorry), but it’s bad.
              Reply
              1. illhousen says:
                I’ve spoiled parts of Changes before in this review since the game set in the aftermath of it, so no big deal.

                And Changes are glorious in its problems. I can’t wait for Farla to get there, her suffering shall be delicious.

              2. K says:
                Okay, cool.

                And yeah, Changes was so bad. Like, “so bad even the fans noticed” kind of bad. (I-think-you-know-who deserved so much better, especially in Changes. And there were ways Butcher could have done things differently, too! But I’ll get to those when we get to that.)

                Also looking forward to seeing what Farla thinks of Proven Guilty (I hate that book) and the series’ as a whole’s treatment of Molly, because my god is it bad.

                Good luck!

          2. illhousen says:
            In this book, there is a crazy Incan cult sacrificing people to Supay. Does it count?
            1. GeniusLemur says:
              Don’t think so, Supay is the right pantheon.
              Reply
  2. Socordya says:
    Butcher is already a full wizard with a bunch of Refinements, has soulfire, pact with that magic island and is the Winter Knight, and I’m probably forgetting something.
    Was that on purpose?
    1. illhousen says:
      Goddammit. No, honestly mixed up the names.

      Meh, I’ll leave it as is, it’s amusing enough.

      1
      1. GeniusLemur says:
        Well, it’s not like the classic Mary-Sue is anything but the author imagining themselves as everything they ever wanted to be and more, plus a lot of narcissism.
  3. GeniusLemur says:
    “the current Merlin (which is a title for the head of the White Council)”
    There’s that amazing Butcher creativity in full bloom.

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