Reviews: Beast The Primordial

A Game Let Down By Its Fluff

Beast the Primordial is, conceptually, an amalgam of ideas from several different game lines. Mechanically it is solid with Beasts being powerful but not overly so compared to other Chronicle of Darkness supernaturals. The game has a solid foundation to build on and it's theme evokes a "mythic" feel. Overall it has the makings of an enjoyable game.

So why does it have the reputation of a tire fire?

Simply put, it is let down by its fluff and its meta. The writing for much of the fluff, especially story vignettes, tends to paint Beasts as violent, petty and often cruel people. The narration tries to assert that, in theory, Beasts are supposed to be the good guys although some do not live up to this.

There is only a small problem with this for long time fans of White Wolf, Onyx Path and their associated studios.

The only people who have ever thought of themselves as "the good guys" were almost invariably the bad guys. The game's tone can be improved simply by removing this conceit; it then shifts towards the personal conscience of the individual Beast and how they react to becoming something of myth and nightmare.

The greatest weakness of Beast's mythos is the lack of conflict. Their natural enemies are not each other like in many splats or some powerful supernatural entities like the True Fae. For Beasts they fight largely bog standard humans created largely through the consequences of their own actions. It takes a very crafty Storyteller to make these Heroes a real threat to a canny Beast; most Beasts can wreck a Hero in a straight up fight so the Heroes have to rely on tactics and smarts to win... are we sure the Beasts aren't the bad guys? That is the narrative of the bad guys. What have you done writing team!?

A recent book has added "evil" forms of Beasts to be adversaries which for practically every other splat is in the corebook itself. Why did it take an expansion book for something so fundamental to come into the world of Beast? Heroes, mechanically, are Hunters that usually exclusively hunt Beasts with a few special tricks. Why not just use Hunters? Make a special Conspiracy that dedicates themselves to policing Beasts. Isn't Beast the "crossover friendly" splat?

Speaking of which, as Beast is the first "crossover friendly" splats it has mechanics to reflect that. For example a Beast can "feed" by watching other supernaturals feeding. Theoretically a Beast with a friendly supernatural never needs to hurt anyone unless they want to. Even the best intentioned of all the other supernaturals is typically an intrinsic risk to the people around them. By removing Beasts from this equation, it breaks one of the central conceits of the Chronicles of Darkness.

Playing Beast the Primordial is not unlike playing Infernal Exalted in Exalted 2E. It is mechanically sound, has great flavour but it is better to ignore a lot of the fluff around it. It has great ideas but sometimes fails to realize or convey them well.

A rather unfairly maligned game

I admit, when I first heard about Beast, I was apprehending. I felt like the concept was a bit too vague, too all over the place compared to previous gamelines. The opinions I read weren't really encouraging either, as a lot of people described it as too mean-spirited, among other things. A friend of mine, however, absolutely loved it, and convinced me to at least check it. Now, after reading both the preview and the finished rulebook, I am glad to say that while the game isn't without his problem, it doesn't deserve the hate it gets.

While it is true that the premise of a creature who has to hurt people in order to survive is too far even for the World of Darkness, it's not quite as bad as people make it out to be; Beasts are actually capable of minimizing the harm they cause by feeding only on bad people, or even better, by using Kinship with other supernaturals.

Speaking of which, Kinship was, for me, one of the major highlight of the book; I am a sucker for crossover stuff, and the potential offered here is amazing, both for mechanics (Beasts can essentially form a symbiotic relationship with other supernaturals) and lore (the idea of Beasts sharing life with other creatures, or disguising as one of them). Adding a Beast to your campaign, either as a player, npc or antagonist, offer tons of possibilities.

Sadly, this is also at the source of the book's biggest weakness. Because it is so focused on crossovers, Beast has very little to stand on its own merit, and seems rather weak when taken alone. Most books in the WoD have several different antagonists and possibilities of stories. Werewolves have the Pure, the Spirits, and the Balehounds. Vampires have Belial's Brood, VII and the Strix. Hunters have... well, pretty much all the other gamelines. Even fan-made Princess has the Darkness, the Amanojaku and the Twilight Princesses. Beasts, on the other hand, have... just Heroes. Worse, the preview despicted them as awfully one-dimensional, Unintentionally Sympathetic strawmen. The final book thanksfully fixes this by giving them more nuance, making them less victims and more Worthy Opponents to Beasts and clarifying that yes, there are such things as good Heroes, which does make them more compelling and offer more possibilities. But still, there's only so many type of stories you can make with the premise "some racist jackass wants you dead just because you are a monster".

Overall, with good customizing mechanics, interesting ideas and neat concepts, Beast makes for a great book if combined with another gameline, but is a bit too limited when taken of its own. I think it would REALLY benefit from a few supplements to add new stories, characters and antagonists. A book about these briefly mentionned Good Heroes, in particular, would be nice.