The Paranet Papers, Part 4 (Las Tierras Rojas)

“No one should be surprised that Harry was the guy responsible for maybe the largest single act of violence in supernatural history.”I’m just going to leave this quote without comment here. Marvel at it.

Also, double warning for Changes spoilers.

So, Las Tierras Rojas (which, the book informs me, translates as the Red Lands because evidently the book went psychic just to fuck with me) is the territory formerly controlled by the Red Court before it got genocide’d. It covers South and Central America, plus parts of Mexico.

Honestly, I’m feeling unqualified to talk about RL stuff here since my knowledge about this parts of the world is rather sketchy and mostly gained from osmosis. I do know that the territory is huge and covers quite a few of countries with their own distinct atmospheres and problems, so I question making a chapter about all of them rather than focusing on one city like the previous ones did. Yes, the conflict born out of the massive power vacuum affects them all, but the same can be said about Russian Revolution, and the devs had no problems focusing on Novgorod only. I’m also pretty sure the territory is generally less white than the illustrations suggest.

Anyway, in lieu of this, I’m mostly going to focus on supernatural side of things. Thankfully, that’s what the book focuses on, too, leaving RL side mostly sketchy aside from using some famous locations as backdrops. If you notice something offensive here that I’ve missed, point it out.

So, this chapter deals directly with the aftermath of Changes book. The Red Court, a powerful vampire organization, was wiped out, leaving behind a grandiose power vacuum waiting to be filled by those quick and powerful enough to use the opportunity.

On top of political side of things, the genocide ritual has also saturated its site with magical energy, creating a place of enormous power ripe for someone to claim it and bend to their whims.

As such, the book says you can introduce pretty much any kind of character from anywhere in the world as an antagonist, an ally or a PC. Everyone who’s anyone has a reason to be here, be it lust for power, mundane or supernatural, or desire to help common people caught in the crossfire.

It’s a nice setup for the game, so I approve.

Now, to the specific organizations entangled in the conflict.

The first is the PC organization, the Fellowship of St. Giles. They were half-turned Red Court vampires clinging to their humanity and fighting against their would-be peers. After the genocide, they turned human again and most of them died due to rapidly aging through decades they spent as vampires. Many left, finally being free from their curse and able to live normal lives, the rest stayed to protect common people. The remnants of the organization consist of relatively inexperienced field agents (at least by vampire standards, some of them have a decade or two of experience) and suddenly very aged members relegated to purely advisory work.

It’s a good PC organization: heroic, driven, knowledgeable enough to find issues in need of fixing, but lacking resources and characters more powerful than PCs. With them, it’s easy to justify why only three people do anything about this incredibly important problem: the rest either can’t walk, let alone fight, or are busy dealing with other incredibly important problems.

The only downside to them is that they’re essentially pure mortals, which is not as interesting as playing around with various powers, but I guess you can justify having a wizard or other magical practitioner around as vampires had magic too (which kinda goes against the idea magic embodies life Harry spouted in the first book). Plus, it could serve as a source of conflict: the narration notes many members of the organization feel lost without the vampiric powers because they came to rely on them even though they hated what they represented. As such, it should be easy to tempt characters into making dark deals with demon, fae or even more sinister powers like God to gain a measure of the old power.

We’re back to suggested PCs being the focal points for potential parties, by the way, so it’s a good time to introduce the first one: Alejandra Castillo. She’s a young-ish (in her thirties. She was 22 when she was turned, then gained a decade after the event) member of the Fellowship and the narrator for this chapter, supposedly sending these materials to Harry (not being aware he’s out of the picture) in hopes he would help or even convince the White Council to send help. Enjoy the information you bled for to gather being used in-universe for creating a nerdy game, Alejandra.

There is a moment in her backstory I have a problem with:

“She tried to run but the vampire caught her and, on Morales’ orders, turned her and left her in an alley. I guess the assumption was that she would wake up, find someone to feed on, kill them, and complete the transformation.

Luckily, Alejandra wasn’t the only one watching Morales. A member of the Fellowship of St. Giles, a British woman named Lisa Sterling, was investigating him and saw the whole encounter go down. She was there when Alejandra woke up. She helped Alejandra through the hardest parts of the change and brought Alejandra into the Fellowship.”

So, that doesn’t make much sense. Why leave her in an alley instead of locking in a room with an intended victim, ensuring smooth transformation?

It’s not like it’s even necessary for the backstory to work: you can easily say that Lisa has interfered in the encounter, killing or driving off the vampire, but was too late to prevent the infection. Would also help to avoid the whole “seen everything, did nothing” issue which isn’t really elaborated on at all.

Anyway, despite losing her vampire powers and suddenly gaining a decade of unexpected age on her, she’s still a badass with nearly maxed battle stats and appropriate aspects. Unfortunately, she falls into the old “how do I emotions” archetype. Specifically, she considers displaying emotions a weakness and tries to suppress them. Her case is somewhat better than the usual use of this trope, though, since until very recently she had to fight with her hunger and letting her emotions slip could have meant someone’s death (and, since she remained the half-vampire until the very end, we know she didn’t slip even once). Still, it’s a rather overused trope for female badasses and not one I appreciate seeing. At least she’s not in an actual story, so we can imagine her being handled reasonably well, like Rin or Shiki, rather than being closer to Katniss, and her hatred seems to be aimed in the right direction: to the Red Court and other vampires, fae toying with people, powerful warlocks practicing human sacrifice and the White Council.

Speaking of the White Council, they’re actually kinda sorta villainous here. Specifically, they had an organization in their ranks called the Keepers of Secrets. Basically, spies picked out of relatively young wizards with talents for subtlety and discretion who didn’t make names for themselves so they could operate without fear of being recognized.

I have a problem with that, by the way, since we later see that one of them is capable of changing his appearance with magic, so being recognized shouldn’t be a big issue. But OK, maybe the Red Court had enough info to notice when one of the major hitters suddenly couldn’t be located or something.

Anyway, these guys were spying on the Red Court during its war with the Council. Then:

“They were to observe and report back only; they did so for at least two years.

Eventually, though, they grew dissatisfied with their passive role. Whether this was because they could not bear to see the suffering of the people, or because they became inspired by the actions of the Fellowship, or because they simply saw an opportunity, the Keepers began to take a more active part in the war. They started planting misinformation, performing assassination and sabotage missions, and even confronting vampires directly. What they did was necessary and right.

The White Council did not agree, deeming the Keepers’ actions to be too risky. When the Blackstaff (who they supposedly reported to) found out what they were doing, he severed all ties between the Keepers and the Council, disavowing them entirely.”

OK, so normally I’m in favor of the White Council being the bad guys. Firstly, they deserve it with their “kill anyone who learns about us” policy from the first book and the whole Native Americans genocide enabling. Secondly, it’s just more interesting that way when the protagonists can’t rely on any major organizations having their backs or providing any support that doesn’t come with a terrible price. By Cthulhu below, this series need all noir it can get.

This, however, makes no sense. The Council was at war to extinction with ancient powerful blood-sucking monsters who weren’t averse to summoning Cthulhu to fight for them. They’ve passed “too risky” so far behind, it’s time to ask instead “is it risky enough?” Especially considering the Red Court could easily boost its numbers by biting people, while the supply of wizards is very limited. I mean, what’s the worst outcome here? The Keepers get killed. Is it really worse than having them turn on the Council itself out of sense of betrayal?

Seriously, who the fuck turns their back on an organization that’s still loyal to them, still working towards party-approved goal and is way outside their reach?

It seems to me the devs wanted to play the old “secret agents suddenly find themselves without government support and are forced to go rogue, relying only on their skills” trope without understanding why it works. Normally, the government drops their agents either because they’ve already gone rogue and do their own thing which can cause all sorts of problems if someone were to discover it and connect the agent to the government, or because helping the agent would be too costly and not worth whatever benefits the agent can provide.

Neither seem to be in place here. The Council apparently losing control over the Keepers is a concern, yes, but a more sane course of action would be to recall them and send to more active duty as Wardens or whatever. Then the Keepers could refuse and go rogue on their own accord.

I always say I have no problems altering stuff I don’t like, so let me present to you a few alternative scenarios for how the Keepers could have been separated from the Council that I consider better than what the book tells us.

1) The Keepers did everything they did with Council’s approval because misinformation, assassinations and sabotage is what spies are for, and the Council really couldn’t afford the battle of attrition here. The problem was, the Keepers went after other monsters as well eventually, in particular Winter fae eating people. The Council was in an alliance with Winter at the time, as I recall, and they wouldn’t have risked that alliance just because some people died. So, they ordered the Keepers to stop, the Keepers refused, the Council dropped them and made sure everyone important knew they were acting on their own from then on.

2) The Keepers broke a bunch of Laws of Magic during the war, in particular the ones about mind magic because it’s just so, so useful for information gathering and infiltration. The Council officially didn’t know about it, but tacitly approved because the war to extinction. After the war, however, the Keepers got labeled warlocks and were met by a squad of Wardens on their way back home. Some escaped, getting back to their established power base, far away from the Council’s seat of power. Their fate depends on how much stock you put in the corruptive influence of breaking the Laws: they could be villains by now, consumed by dark magic without realizing it and still thinking they’re doing the right thing even as they rip to shreds minds of people they think deserve it. They could be tragic heroes, struggling against the corruption and trying to separate wrong from right, even as their sanity slips through their fingers. Or they could be mostly OK, just having their natural flaws more pronounced.

3) The Keepers got into criminal business. From what I understand, it’s not exactly uncommon for spies to expand their horizons as far as shady dealings are concerned. With the help from the center being inadequate, smuggling, racket and other fun things provide a great opportunity to raise funds for your operations as well as useful contacts. Doesn’t even need to be too evil: I’ve heard there were good money in marijuana business, and, for more heroic characters, drug smuggling involves medical drugs approved by the authorities that are simply not available or are insanely expensive in some countries. So, anyway, after the war either the Council disapproved of this and kicked the Keepers out of their ranks, or the Keepers decided they have it all already, they have a name for themselves here, so why go back to being errant boys in service of some old fuckers who just refuse to die and free their positions?

4) A big mission has gone wrong, a lot of Keepers got captured. The remaining ones requested help from the Council and were denied. The orders were to return home. Either way, they refused, went after their comrades (probably with little success) and afterwards cut ties with the Council.

Try to come up with your own scenarios, it’s fun!

Anyway, with the Council cutting ties with them, the Keepers are on their own. Their old enemy is gone, but there are still plenty of monsters around, and it’s a safe bet the Keepers would go after them.

The suggested Keeper PC is Mitchel Blanchard, a master of illusions who isn’t that good at direct combat and prefers to confuse his enemies and make them attack each other. He also has a remarkably unremarkable face, easy to lose in a crowd. He’s rather blank when it comes to personality, though, the only definite trait being “driven.” Driven to what remains up to the player to decide.

As such, I don’t care much about him as a character since, well, he’s not much of one, but as a suggested PC he works: he ties you with a conflict and suggests a playstyle (spy stuff), but leaves it up to you how to role-play him.

I think it’s actually a better option than what we had so far. I like some of the suggested PCs well enough, but I also know I won’t play many of them because their personalities is not something I would enjoy emulating, or their personal conflicts don’t interest me as a player. With him, I have more room to customize the character.

That seems to be a fluke rather than a deliberate thing, though, as other characters are generally more defined.

The next faction is the White Court, which is strangely quiet in the context. Their presence is pretty small, they don’t make any moves and don’t even attempt to solidify their position, though the ones that are present in the area seem to wait for something big. The book doesn’t tell us what they’re waiting for because of course. So I’m going to assume it’s Weirdmageddon. Harry just finished a grand ritual which saturated the area with magical energy, with the help of his mother’s work no less, and under the mental influence of a certain person who was in cahoots with subHarry, so of course it’s the culmination of Bill’s plan.

We’re also introduced to a new White Court family that feeds on anger. They’re apparently not affiliated with the leader of the White Court and mostly do their own thing, though they seem to be in the middle of that big something.

They also give us another suggested PC, Eva Marino.

“When I met her, Eva was kneeling over the body of a man in the street. I knew what she was, but apparently she hadn’t known until that moment. My intention was to kill her but…I could not. The dead man had clearly beaten her badly and she had fed on his wrath. The rage of his beating had only strengthened her, fueled the demon within her. In the end, the man’s fury had killed him. Eva had no idea what had happened; she was hurt, terrified, and nearly paralyzed with confusion. I took pity on her.”

Not sure what to think about it. Her story hits way too close to “she asked for it” for my comfort since her power is what caused the man to beat her, but at least her portrayal is sympathetic and it’s not treated as her fault since she didn’t really control it?

Either way, I would prefer the despair vampires. Antidepressant team, go!

Anyway, she’s a vigilante, striking against the powerful to protect the powerless. The book advises to raise big moral question should you focus the game on her and her allies, with emphasis on them sometimes going too far and doing bad things because DF is weirdly obsessed with vigilantism being bad for a setting with supernatural creatures not beholden to any law but their own lurking around. It’s even noted in-universe that the Laws of the Council are flawed and the Accords binding major supernatural organizations are cruel and care not for any kind of morality, so you’d think the book would be more open to the idea of people taking justice in their own hands since there is no one else to protect them.

I mean, exploring moral questions and where you draw the line between justice and vengeance is generally good, but I don’t see much difference between Eva and the Keepers in that context. The Keepers are actually at a higher risk to go bad, I would say, what with being professional spies with everything that implies.

The fourth and last suggested PC is officer Eduardo Galleti, a clued-in cop who tried to report supernatural stuff to his superiors only to be suspended from his job indefinitely. He transferred to military police (which is apparently the crime prevention unit rather than investigation) and continued the good fight.

I would note that it’s the second clued-in pure mortal cop in four setting chapters. Third cop overall, though Betty was sufficiently different in concept that I don’t hold it against her. While the concept does work fine and has its place in the game, repeating it really seems to be redundant. It would be easy to copy the Las Vegas officer and her squad here, and, likewise, it would be easy to transfer Eduardo to Las Vegas if someone’s really enamored with him. As such, I would have preferred to see someone else in his place. Maybe someone attracted to the area by the recent events for a change, here to claim the power left behind by the Red Court, political or supernatural. The book talks a lot about such characters, but doesn’t actually provide examples.

Otherwise, Eduardo is fine if a bit blank as well.

Next, we move on to the antagonistic factions.

The first is the Old Gods. Apparently, the Red Court has defeated and captured old Inca gods to drink their blood and gain their powers. I’m actually OK with this because if you’re a vampire, drinking a god is a logical next step to drinking humans.

Now that the Red Court is no more, they’re returning. The book is pretty vague on them and doesn’t describe any of them at all, except for Supay, who’s apparently a god of death and demons, who are treated as regular demons because DF demons aren’t even necessary Christian ones (though Christianity does have a history of proclaiming anything mythological they don’t like demons, so maybe it actually has a spiritual impact here).

Supay has a small cult led by a crazed prophet skilled in necromancy and demonology, a pretty straightforward villain.

Next is Manco Capac, a founder of Inca empire, apparently returned back to life and planning to take over the world because OF COURSE.

So, Manco Capac is an actual historical and mythological character, a leader of the tribe that eventually became the Inca empire who led them to a place where they built their first city. By all accounts, he was a pretty typical warlord: good for his people, but ruthless in dealing with other tribes, conquering some and defending his city against others. In myths, he also did some shady things like turning his brothers to stone to ascend to the throne, but that’s not uncommon in founder myths as well.

Here, however, he’s presented as an outright villain, which is kinda weird when you consider that the Senior Council members would have started with a mindset not too different from his.

There are also a couple of other problems with him. Firstly, the guy himself claims to be a reincarnation of the original Manco Capac, but the narration insists that he must be the original one, laying low until now out of fear of the Red Court. Pretty sure that would make him older than anyone on the Senior Council (how old is the oldest member? Four hundreds years? Manco Capac would be reaching eight hundreds). Also, just why? It’s more logical to assume he’s an opportunist using an old legend to attract some following. It’s not exactly unheard of to claim to be the rightful ruler of the land to gain an aura of legitimacy when you have none. Russia had three false royal heirs at one point, coming one after another to usurp the throne after the boy died under suspicious circumstances leaving open the possibility of his survival. They were all in one lifespan, but that’s because nothing supernatural was involved.

Game-wise, it’s supposedly done to have the guy be on the level of the Senior Council, but his stats actually aren’t that great. He’s dangerous mostly because he’s totally willing to sacrifice people (which greatly simplifies preparation for big rituals) and generally break the Laws of Magic (which gives you bonuses when you’re breaking them again), and that’s something your regular warlock can do just fine without being a Heroic Spirit.

Oh, and then we have this little gem:

“I do not think Manco Capac was the son of a god. I believe he was a wizard meddling in mortal affairs.”

Murphy: Harry always says that Council members— especially the powerful ones —aren’t supposed to do this.
Billy: Yeah. And this wasn’t just meddling. If Alejandra’s right, Capac used his power and  knowledge to found an entire kingdom that lasted nearly three hundred years. That’s pretty major.

Yes, indeed it is. In fact, I can recall of the top of my head only one other wizard who did something like that. His name starts with ‘M’ and ends with ‘erlin’. Seriously, is the book going to address this? Fucking Merlin stands for non-interference. Merlin, whose whole thing was meddling in mortal affairs with gusto. I mean, I’m willing to believe he’s stopped after the whole Mordred thing and what followed, but some acknowledgment of it would be nice, you know.

It’s very clear that Butcher used Merlin as the founder of the Council because everyone knows Merlin, not because he would actually fit the role (especially considering Merlin was either a half-demon or a changeling, depending on who you ask).

You know who would fit as the founder of the Council? Especially the more noir corrupt version of it? Koschei. He’s all about holding on to the status quo, and in stories he’s consistently portrayed as a greedy hoarder interested only in accumulating and protecting his wealth rather than actually doing anything with it, which fits nicely with the idea of the White Council caring only about securing their interests and spitting on common people.

(Also, of course Harry would say he’s not supposed to do anything to help people. It hurts him to stand aside with his thumbs up his ass. Hurts, I tell you, but he’s going to be strong and do what’s necessary: nothing.)

Anyway, I don’t object to Manco Capac being a villain here since the conqueror mindset is pretty villainous in modern times, though it really seems like he should have a better reason to not do anything in hundreds of years than being afraid of the Red Court. He could have moved somewhere else, gather followers, then try to attack or something. It’s a long time. Besides, I’m pretty sure there is a legend about him returning one day to lead his empire to a new glory, the usual king under the hill stuff, and the aftermath of a major ritual saturating everything with mana seems like the right time for that to happen.

The next factions are fae. Winter and Summer Courts don’t do anything big and mostly just block each other from making any significant moves. Some individual fairies hunt humans in remote areas and such, but they have little support from their superiors.

There are, however, two new fae factions: Apu and Anjana. Apu are apparently mountain gods local to Andes who were worshiped by people there back in the day. I’m not sure why they count as fairies, honestly. DF generally has no problems with introducing various supernatural creatures across the world and make them belong to their own categories. Typical fae trappings, like glamours, seelie/unseelie magic and the weakness to cold iron also don’t make much sense for Apu. I get the desire for simplification of cosmology and categorization, but I think it’s misplaced in a setting founded as a big messy fantasy kitchen sink.

Well, anyway, they’re back now that the Red Court doesn’t suppress them, and people start worshiping them again in exchange for protection. Some are friendly, others are capricious.

Anjana were apparently unwittingly brought to the land by Spanish, so that’s it for the idea supernatural creatures aren’t divided by region. Back in Spain, they were benevolent protector spirits. Under the Red Court, they became hardened and vengeful, looking for people in need of killing even when there aren’t any. So, I guess they basically embody the book’s issues with vigilantism.

Another power around is the White Council. They maintain a small presence in Chichen Itza, here to study the effects of the genocide ritual on the local ley lines. They don’t have the necessary resources to make any big moves, but presumably they’re planning to claim the ritual site eventually, once the main forces of the Council are ready to act, and for now just watch and bid their time.

They’re led by a researcher who’s into diabolism. Doesn’t seem to do sacrifices or anything, just likes to summon demons for information.

They’re portrayed as semi-antagonists. They aren’t actively hostile, but they have their own agenda and aren’t interested in helping local people with various monsters around. I’m OK with it, the White Council being self-absorbed and uncaring about anyone but their own fits my mental picture of them.

The last major power in the territory is Ordo Torca. Torca is a funny word. Torca, torca, torca… OK, I’m stopping now. Anyway, they’re a special squad employed by the Church (presumably Catholic), founded when some Church members decided Ordo Malleus wasn’t doing enough, and…

Wait, Ordo Malleus? As in, Malleus Maleficarum? Really? And, looking at their description in another chapter, they were, in fact, behind the Inquisition.

OK, so I’ve stated more than once before my problems with involving the Inquisition in urban fantasy settings, so I’m not going to detail them here. To summarize:

– How did things even get to the point of mortals starting to hunt down wizards? In real life, magic doesn’t exist, so it makes for an excellent enemy you can blame for anything, but in a world where magic exists, you’d expect wizards to be an integral part of the society by the time of Renaissance.

– Related, why isn’t the history different? The Church’s official opinion on the witchcraft through most of history was “what, no, it doesn’t exist, stop killing innocent people already.” You’d think it would be a bit different in DF.

– The dynamic is all wrong. Witches were tortured and executed, they weren’t fought. You’d expect more burned villages and cursed people as a result of going against DF wizards.

– It’s pretty disrespectful to the victims of witch trials since it gives their prosecutors a valid point.

So, let’s add another one: I’ve actually read Malleus Maleficarum, and let me tell you, it has nothing in common with DF magic. For once, it divides the magic into male and female: men could gain temporary invulnerability by desecrating crucifixes and improve their aim with a bow, while women could cause miscarriage, make man’s dick rot off, call lightning from the skies, cause crops to die…

Basically, any random tragedy or misfortune could be blamed on a woman, and you can also accuse men of witchcraft if you’re jealous of their badassery.

Now, here’s a thing: while DF magic allows to recreate many of these effects*, it’s much, much more broad. Malleus Maleficarum just doesn’t have anything like evocation, and you’d think the ability of your enemies to hurl fireballs at you would be important to mention in an advice for would-be witch hunters.

*And before you ask, yes, you can make a dick rot off in the game. How hard it would be and how long the preparation would take depends on consequences of it. If you make a clean cut that doesn’t affect the character’s capabilities beyond the obvious and the need to pee through a tube, it actually would be pretty easy, just a contest action. If you want to get nasty and leave some necrosis behind, the spell would need to deal some form of consequence: minor, moderate, severe or extreme, depending on how painful and how lasting the wound would be. Extreme consequence is also good when you’re dealing with alpha men since it forces a character to change one of their aspects, and stuff like Harry’s Chivalry Is Not Dead, Dammit is an obvious target. And you can always aim for taking out the character in a conflict, which basically allows you to dictate any fate for them reasonable in context.

Then there is the gender division, which makes zero sense when you actually want to warn people about something real rather than provide an excuse to act on your misogyny.

On top of all of it, the Inquisition actually didn’t use the book and was generally against it.

Now, to be fair to Ordo Malleus, the stupid started to short-circuit around them. The involvement of the Inquisition against real supernatural threats is pretty stupid, and the Church’s denial of supernatural reality is stupid as well, but apparently the Inquisition got away from the order and became much bigger and more vicious than they intended, so in this context becoming a secret order and not sharing what they know with mortal authorities actually kinda makes sense.

Now, back to Ordo Torca. They’re basically this guy:

Both in attitude and when it comes to redeeming qualities. They’re here to purge any and all supernatural threats to the common people, and they’re very… enthusiastic about it, killing minor practitioners who don’t do anything wrong and generally behaving like you would expect an Inquisition expy to act.

They do want peace in the area and they do help the common people, on the other hand, so the book suggest they may act as a PC faction, though they’re more comfortable as antagonists.

My issues with the Inquisition aside, I’m generally OK with Church people coming to town to chew gum and kick ass. The aesthetic is cool, and the combination of noble ideals, blind devotion to them and utter ruthlessness makes them nice antagonists, if rather cliche.

Well, that’s it as far as factions go. There is also a scattering of individuals present, like the Green Lady, a Summer fae ruling over some Amazon forests and such, but I’m not going to focus on them. Nothing particularly jumps out at me as notable or offensive.

One guy I would talk about is Juan Ramirez, a cartel psychomanser. He’s a criminal using his magical talent to make other people do as he wants and buy overpriced drugs, which strikes me as odd since he can just take money instead of pretending to do business. Well, maybe his talents are limited and it’s easier to stretch what people want to do rather than make them do something completely out there.

Anyway, I bring him up because his portrayal is one of these points where reality is actually crazier than fiction. Allow me to introduce you to a charming fellow by the name of Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo. He was a warlock for hire operating in Mexico back in 80s and selling his blessings to various cartels who feared his magical power. They also feared his little cult which was kidnapping and killing people to use as ingredients in his potions. Eventually, he was found and shot in place because the police decided not to take chances against a warlock, I guess.

He’s everything evil DF sorcerers want to be, and he did it all without actual magical talent (as far as we know, anyway), just on pure madness and human cruelty.

With that, our public service announcement about fiction villains escaping into real world ends.

So, overall this chapter wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The fact it combines a lot of diverse countries into one big territory still bothers me, but at least it focuses on the supernatural side of things, which leaves less room to do something stupid.

I appreciate the attempt to paint the White Council as potential antagonists, even if it was done pretty clumsily, and I guess I can’t blame the devs entirely for the Spanish Inquisition since it’s from the DF canon.

Game-wise, it’s an interesting setting with massive conflict allowing for many potential scenarios ranging from dealing with a local warlord trying to carve a piece of territory for themselves all the way to a massive battle against Bill Cipher and his frat buddies coming to town.

So, overall, I did enjoy this chapter. If nothing else, there are some things to steal for a different game.

Tune in next time for the Wyld Umbra Sea of the Unconsciousness Dark Side Astral Plane Arcadia Supernal Realms Nevernever.


  1. K says:

    I don’t know much about the Inquisition, but are there any other notable books or people you could use to make what the DF is trying to do better? Or just a sort of primer for using the Inquisition in fiction in general.

    1. illhousen says:

      That depends on what you mean by “what DF is trying to do”? If it’s using the historical Inquisition to explain why wizards are hiding now, then no, this trope should just die already. The dynamic is all wrong for it and ultimately it creates more world-building problems than it solves. I can sometimes tolerate it because explaining why there is a masquerade to begin with is difficult, so I’m using to tolerating stuff like that in urban fantasy, but outside of heavy alternative history it doesn’t really work.

      If you mean “modern priests at war with the supernatural,” that’s easy to do. Just go with a crazy cult.

      So, you have good people of New Hope Village or something being attacked by a vampire. They pull together, they investigate and they manage to kill the creature. At this point they realize that holy s… spirit, supernatural exists and wants to kill them! Being good people, they naturally try to tell people about it but are ignored.

      But they know what they saw and know people need to know, so they again pull together, investigate and manage to find another supernatural creature after some time. Another vampire, or a fae, whatever. This one, they capture to show it to others.

      At this point, they start making far too much noise for the powers that be to ignore, and so they’re silenced. The remnants of the community manage to escape and get more radicalized as a consequence of brutal massacre. Now, they’re at war.

      From there, you have them training in fighting and survival, have them pick up people with similar experience to grow and strike against the supernatural. And, of course, they only have scattered knowledge about the supernatural, and what they do know didn’t endear them to it. So quite often they go against creatures that don’t actually harm humans.

      Depending on what you’re going for, it could be a small mobile group of dedicated people or a big organization that managed to absorb a lot of people into its ranks.

      1. DarthYan says:

        I’m surprised you like the RPG given that you hated storm front and fool moon.

        In any case, Harry IS proven wrong repeatedly in Summer Knight and he DOES actually mellow out (I won’t spoil anything in detail but he does finally start trusting Murphy as an equal rather than simply keeping her in the dark, and Murphy is in a situation ANYONE would be traumatized by). One of the side characters, Meryl is not only badass but sympathetic (she’s hostile to Harry but her reasons were portrayed as understandable. The victim was her foster father and Harry’s acting on behalf of the faction she thinks had him killed.)

        Butcher’s been pretty open that he wasn’t that mature (he was in his mid twenties, and storm front, fool moon, and a large chunk of grave peril were written in 96-98. Summer Knight was written around 2001, by which time he had grown more mature.)

        1. DarthYan says:

          Another thing is that the council is more outdated. They’re a relic clinging to the old ways in an infinitely changing world. What worked say…..600 years ago doesn’t really work today. The problem is that since many of the council members are dinosaurs (the leader of the council today is old enough to remember when america was a colony) they have trouble changing

          1. DarthYan says:

            Morgan’s problem is that he’s been fighting darkness for years and has become a jaded soldier.

            1. illhousen says:

              Morgan’s problem as a character in the first book is that instead of a jaded and cynical warrior broken by the dark world around him (the way he should be by authorial intent) he comes across more as an understandably angry but actually pretty reasonable guy dealing with an asshole dark wizard who uses technicalities to get away with crimes.

              1. DarthYan says:

                Harry’s hardly “dark wizard”. A jerk but given his fuckes up life (due to the heavily implied murder of both parents he never really had the family experiences most had, his father figure betrayed and tried to kill him and he wrongly believed the woman he loved betrayed him) he’s kinda understandable. Harry’s a deeply damaged man with massive issues. He gets better in some ways but he’s got deep scars.

                Harry acknowledges he has issues, and more importantly I’ve seen other people who hated the first books say later ones were better. In aftermath things like women’s bodies aren’t on display, and in book 10 Harry being able to resist acting on his chivalrous impulses and not blindly heeding it is shown to be good.

                Even in the first books things usually go wrong when Harry is a sexist asshole, he refuses to trust and give info and people die or are hurt. He treats them as equals and with respect they live. Murphy’s actions are shown to be anger from being on the recieving end of sexism.

                In perspective; whenever mom and dad had an absurdly difficult time at work or were going through a stressful time (like moving) they were hornery and irritable. Murphy is in a position where one misstep and failure could mean loosing her career, and the guy who could help is aware but still being an unhelpful jackass (and he doesn’t even explain why or explain how his own past issues are a massive reason why.)

              2. illhousen says:

                “Harry’s hardly “dark wizard”.”

                Sure, but he does come across as one in his encounter with Morgan, what with using mind magic on a sapient creature and then shrugging it off with “technically not illegal.”

                As a result, Morgan doesn’t come across being anywhere near as unreasonable as he’s supposed to be, he really feels like a guy trying his best to do good job but being held back by loophole abuse.

                The rest of your points in this post should probably wait until we actually get there. The discussion of books’ issues would require looking at them in detail, and I would rather leave the pleasure to Farla. She did say she’s going to approach them with an open mind and would note stuff they do right, so who knows? Maybe your opinion would be validated.

                I would say that the books do get better plot-wise.

                Though Harry’s sexism resulting in death of other people was addressed in the readthrough of the chapter with Kim’s fridging. We can move there if you want to discuss it.

              3. actonthat says:

                and in book 10 Harry being able to resist acting on his chivalrous impulses and not blindly heeding it is shown to be good.

                This is a bit tangential, but… the way you phrased this doesn’t leave me confident in the books. That Harry (and by extension, Butcher) still sees his utter dickery as “chivalrous impulses” any man would need to “resist” as opposed to, you know, unmitigated dickery, is exactly the problem. ‘Chivalry’ is an outdated concept based on the idea of women as inferior. Men are not born with the ~impulse~ to view women as lesser. It doesn’t surprise me that the series culminates in Harry barely restraining himself from raping every woman he meets, because it’s abundantly clear that Butcher thinks this is the natural order of things, and that core problem evidently never changes.

                Why more men aren’t offended by this series is a mystery to me.

              4. Roarke says:

                Being constantly reminded of your own privilege is only a hassle if you’re aware/sympathetic to the damage it causes others.

              5. actonthat says:

                It’s just weird to me that guys like this are willing to be like, “Yes I am a completely psychotic rape machine with no sense of control,” with a straight face. There must be some line in the sand where they’ll finally go, “Whoa, whoa, wait a sec, I am definitely a better person than this, that’s insulting.”

                It’s the illogic that bothers me most tbh.

              6. Roarke says:

                I mean, you and Farla have examined the issue at length on the blog (I wasn’t even here when you did Fate route, how time flies). When the writer couches the misogyny in the superficial, popular concept of ‘treating women right’, the bulk of the male audience eats it up. It doesn’t matter if a villain (e.g. Gilgamesh) comes out and says what the hero has been implying, the audience still won’t make that connection because he doesn’t have the ‘chivalry’ to sell it.

              7. DarthYan says:

                Again, I think a large part of Harry’s issues stem from his quite frankly fucked up past. The only woman he knew his entire life was Elaine, and until Summer Knight he wrongfully believed she betrayed him. Again, the dude’s got deep mental scars.

                Another thing is that men are passionate. We’re horny, and we like sex. The winter mantle just amplified THAT to an absolutely absurd degree.

              8. actonthat says:

                I’m not really a buyer of the whole “he only hits her because he had a sad childhood” thing. Harry is ostensibly an adult, he does not get to excuse treating all women like shit because ~omggg poor bb soooo sad~.

                Incidentally, I thought it was women who were passionate and emotional? But it’s men, eh? You should stop running for office, you clearly can’t be trusted.

              9. Roarke says:

                Incidentally, I thought it was women who were passionate and emotional? But it’s men, eh?

                Does that mean I’m allowed to be openly emotional/passionate? That would have been useful to know like 15 years ago, when I started bottling shit up. Now it’s too late.

              10. actonthat says:

                You can let it out, but tap the top a few times with your finger first. thatswhatshesaid

              11. DarthYan says:

                1.) Harry’s a jerk but he was never like a domestic abuser
                2.) people can actually be shaped by childhood scars and traumas. Harry is one of them and his scars run deeper (Elaine was literally the only woman he spent a lot of time with. Michael tells him to his face that he’s letting what happened hurt his other relations. His relation with Susan is one of those effected. His other father figure is a 300 year old man who probably has outdated views on women to a degree).

                What’s more the fact he starts being more open and trusting of them is seen as a good thing. Things only work for him when he trusts them and treats them like equals.

              12. SpoonyViking says:

                Indeed. That’s why in “Storm Front” he’s poisoned by a magical scorpion, because he couldn’t trust Murphy. Oh, wait, Murphy was the one who got poisoned. But hey, in “Fool Moon”, that’s why he’s killed by a berserk McFinn, because he couldn’t trust Kim! No, wait, Kim was the one who died.

                Huh. Funny how these trust issues never harm anyone other than Harry and don’t get in the way of him entering a relationship with Susan.

              13. DarthYan says:

                Others getting hurt can lead to growth. Also he gets gangrapad in book 3 is forced to go on the run in the first two books gets beaten up w few times……

              14. illhousen says:

                “Others getting hurt can lead to growth.”

                Yeah, so, that’s the definition of fridging: women getting killed to facilitate character development of a male character.

                It’s generally regarded as a bad thing because it reduces women to plot devices rather than characters in their own right (which is bad writing even leaving sexism aside) and reinforces the narrative of women being important only in how they affect men.

                Trying to say that female characters being killed due to Harry’s sexism is here to show how sexism is bad… is really not the wise move.

              15. SpoonyViking says:

                Really, even if it were male characters suffering because of Harry’s supposed flaws it would still be bad writing. That it only happens to women is what makes it really shitty.

              16. SpoonyViking says:

                There’s a difference between “things happening because of the plot” and “things happening because of a character flaw”. Harry suffering sexual assault* in one of the books (let’s try to avoid spoilers, by the way) happens because of the plot, not because of a character flaw. In fact, Harry’s supposed flaws almost always (I’m tempted to say “always”, but better to err on the side of caution) only cause problems for characters around him, not himself.

                * Which, by the way, is handled much more tastefully than any sexual violence against female characters in the series.

              17. DarthYan says:

                he got beaten up and injured in fool moon because he kept the thing about kim secret. If he had been more honest he’d been in a lot less trouble.

              18. SpoonyViking says:

                The berserkers didn’t beat him up because of Kim. What are you referring to?

              19. DarthYan says:

                The entire thing about him going on the run, getting attacked by Denton and his crew (I think he even gets hit with a bullet once), the death of murphy’s partner carmichael and ultimately getting trapped in that hole. Basically, all of the hardship harry goes through was because he refused to be honest about kim

              20. Roarke says:

                Basically, all of the hardship harry goes through was because he refused to be honest about kim

                No, all of the hardship Harry goes through was because he refused to be honest to Kim. Remember, Chapter 1, how he was all like “Damn, this chick is kind of hot, and oh yeah, I got her killed”? He knew she needed his help with something that he knew was out of her league, but he still sends her off without help or any explanation.

                Seriously, go read through the book and/or Farla’s Let’s Read again. We’ll wait.

                In fact, just the first chapter should do, because the entire conversation takes place there. Then you can maybe skip ahead to the chapter wherein Murphy shows Harry Kim’s (naked, because reasons) dead body.

                So ask yourself who put who in trouble, yeah?

              21. SpoonyViking says:

                In addition to what Roarke already said, notice how even in your summary a lot of people other than Harry suffer the consequences of his mistake – no, rather, his arrogance and stupidity, and yet the book still tries to paint him as a beleaguered good guy?

                EDIT: Also, Denton and company attacked him regardless of Kim!

              22. DarthYan says:

                he was on the run because he didn’t tell murphy. Also, he does grow as a result. He fully trusts Murphy and the others and outright acknowledges his issues are wrong (when he gets irrationally jealous of murphy and kincaid he realizes that he’s got a problem)

              23. SpoonyViking says:

                He fully trusts Murphy and the others[…]

                It’s amazing how you can say that when even after his “epiphany” in Fool Moon itself he DOESN’T trust Susan, DOESN’T trust Tera, and can’t even trust Murphy to not put a bullet in his brain.
                …Wait, that last one is understandable, never mind – anyone with any shred of human decency would be tempted to shoot Harry Dresden.

              24. Roarke says:

                Pretty sure even people without any shred of human decency would be tempted to shoot Harry Dresden. His life is just so, so hard.

              25. DarthYan says:

                In Summer Knight he does. In Grave Peril he knows that Susan could rip his throat out yet he trusts her to give him CPR. That requires a fauckton of trust. He tells Murphy everything about his past and the case when she asks him in Summer Knight and ultimately it works out BECAUSE he did that. He improves somewhat during grave peril and improves massively in summer knight

              26. actonthat says:

                Look, let’s literarily analyze for a second. This isn’t a real situation with real people. There was a set of conscious decisions made here. The only reason Harry wasn’t around a lot of women is because Butcher doesn’t like women and didn’t put any in his story, so the series is a sausagefest. There’s no deeper meaning to it. Trying to procure one is just fanwank.

                And no matter how much ~childhood trauma~ you grimdarkly lay claim to, you don’t get to use it as an excuse for treating half the human population like shit. Period. If someone punches me in the face, I still get a nosebleed to matter how sad their childhood. And frankly, at that point, fuck their childhood.

              27. DarthYan says:

                There are more women characters like Lucia and for the most part are three d)

              28. Farla says:

                Harry’s a jerk but he was never like a domestic abuser


                He only physically assaults one women in the first book in a way that has way too many parallels, but he takes utter glee in tormenting terrified people throughout. And not just women – consider how he glories in the photographer’s fear.

          2. illhousen says:

            My main problem with them is the policy of total non-interference in mundane politics and secrecy, which wouldn’t have worked 600 years ago any better than it does now. Probably would have worked worse, actually. At least now they can check the news across the globe to see if anything looks like an aspiring warlock on the move.

        2. illhousen says:

          Just for the sake of clarity, since it can be confusing with how this blog is organized, I only did the RPG reviews. Farla did the books.

          I do have issues with the setting as presented by the game and talked about them in these posts, but I like the rules, I like some ideas, and in TRPGs it’s much easier to get rid of the stuff you don’t like and adapt stuff you like for other purposes. I used city creation rules for great effect in a completely unrelated game, for example.

          As for your argument that the books get better… It was made by fans before, yes. We’ll see how it matches Farla’s experience once we get to them, though personally I think the problems aren’t really fixed, they just become more subtle and less in-your-face. The treatment of Molly, the very specific way Winter Mantle affects Harry’s psyche, the driving conflict in Changes… All of this doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

          Either way, even if the books do improve over time, it doesn’t invalidate problems present in the first ones and doesn’t make it futile to talk about them. People still read them, people still like them, people still gloss over their faults.

          1. DarthYan says:

            The mantle is explained as something that amplifies emotions and passions to the nth degree. Harry mentions that Gilles de rais (a companion of Joan of arc and the man who probably trained her) was winter night as were fritz harmann Andre chikatillo and john Haigh. Gilles was a hero at one point and it’s implied the mantle is why the other 3 were monsters. The mantle corrupts EVERYONE.

            1. illhousen says:

              Sure, but the specific way it manifests leading to lovely descriptions of how much Harry wants to rape every female character he comes across is still pretty gross and problematic. This is not something I wanted to read, and it’s hardly the only way to show corruption.

              The mantle was invented by Butcher, he was the one who decided what specific effects it would have, and, well, it was a poor decision.

          2. DarthYan says:

            Most fans and even butcher himself are pretty open about the flaws

            1. illhousen says:

              Well then, no harm in discussing them here, either.

            2. SpoonyViking says:

              I wouldn’t consider constantly saying “it started out flawed but it got a lot better” equivalent to being “open” about the early novels’ flaws; rather, I see it as glossing over said flaws in favour of the supposedly better books.


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