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On the Problematic Nature of Beast (And Why I Think That's a Good Thing)

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  • #16
    (On a sidenote, there also looks to have been some failure in development on Matt's part during C20, which had its KS six months later than Beast; it's notable that the actual writeup of the Unseelie Court is more positive than what's written about it elsewhere in the book.)


    Scion 2E: What We Know - A wiki compiling info on second edition Scion.

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    • #17
      I kind of wish we could see more material in all the gamelines by Olivia :c

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      • #18
        If you want to support Olivia, buy her games.


        Dave Brookshaw

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        • #19
          Of course!

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          • #20
            Originally posted by marin View Post
            (On a sidenote, there also looks to have been some failure in development on Matt's part during C20, which had its KS six months later than Beast; it's notable that the actual writeup of the Unseelie Court is more positive than what's written about it elsewhere in the book.)
            I noticed. Wondered what had been up with the Unseelie being portrayed as evil-er in the rest of the book. Coupled with how offensively odd the Shadow Court write-up is, artifacts of older mechanics being left in...ugh.

            Although I do wonder at the oddity of Matt mentioning his art notes being ignored (for instance the C20 Eshu looking...very very white-passing when they're not supposed to).

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            • #21
              It is... unfortunately again... not much of an oddity. I have seen a lot of game designers say things to that extent (Exalted 3e comes to mind where a lot of the first round of art came back way whiter than it was supposed to be). I feel that there's some very different pressures on RPG designers, and freelance visual artists, but it's probably not worth expounding on here.

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              • #22
                First, I want to thank espritdecalmar for writing this. It means a lot, and hits very close to home in a few places.

                Second, I'm not generally a big proponent of the "Death of the Author" method of literary criticism. I like to know the context in which something is written. But I also don't really care to dismiss Beast because the lead developer was scum, or because he also apparently did a really, really terrible job. I love this game, the game I found in the book(s), and I don't feel like it is in any way condoning or supporting that man's actions to say so.

                I don't feel that liking Beast means that someone likes abuse, or subscribes to a worldview that condones it. So many Chronicles of Darkness games, and the World of Darkness before it, are about terrible monsters that have to do terrible things to survive. To me, that's part of the appeal of the game. How do you live with yourself? But the trick is that those monsters also are people. And I think the point that espritdecalmar laid out, and that I believe, is that there is a power in embracing what you are, even if it makes "normal" people uncomfortable. Not as a justification for abuse, or a "bullying the bully" thing, but simply recognizing the power to define yourself, for yourself.

                I understand why Beast makes so many people uncomfortable. The themes and subject matter are raw in a way that others aren't, perhaps because we are so used to things like vampires that their evils are abstracted and obscured by familiar tropes. They're comfortable, while Beast lays things out like a raw nerve, without the soft padding that makes it easier to digest. And I would never, ever suggest that there's anything wrong with people's genuine aversion to that.

                Perhaps the game that I see when I think of Beast is not the ones others see. Maybe I made it in my head as I read, creating subtext and making connections that never were there. That could be why it so different than the book other people seem to have bought. It's certainly not some abuse blueprint from the mind of a rapist, and it's not an irredeemably broken hodge-podge of half-baked "edgy" ideas from a bunch of unconnected, untested writers. When I think of Beast, I see something of value.

                Maybe it's not real, and never was. But, I think I prefer it to the alternative.

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                • #23
                  There are a lot of things Beast could have done better. Most of what comes to mind immediately is instances of tonal whiplash. Those didn't bother me as much as maybe they should have because I always read the core book as being written from the perspective of a lot of different Beasts, each with different takes on what it meant to be one. Try to read it as one cohesive entity and yeah, it's a disjointed, contradictory, hypocritical mess. I thought it was an intentional choice to write it that way. I see why that causes problems for a lot of people, why it's not good design philosophy, or at least why it should be implemented intentionally and thoughtfully. I honestly liked the hundred voices effect though, because it left the door open for me to disagree with parts of the book. And I did! There are lots of voices in there that I don't want to associate with! But some of them I did, and still do.

                  Beast, for me, was and is a powerful game about choosing which voices to listen to. Which family to claim. The whole supernatural world in all it's varied splendor is potentially your long lost cousin! That's a cool premise! But you can't realistically expect to be friends with True Fae and also Changelings. There are a lot of lines in the sand that demand you pick a side to stand on if you don't want to be trampled in the middle. I think not having skin in the game by default makes the decision to throw in with one side or the other more powerful. Beast offers so many of those choices, and Morality speaking it's a game without a lot in the way of guardrails. There's no mechanical punishment for following your worst impulses. There's actually an incentive. So if you choose not to do that? To work to be something better? It's because you wanted to. Because that meant more to you than the easy road.

                  That's a narrative that's really important for me to be able to tell, because I have a sadistic streak and I'm prone to violent intrusive thoughts when upset. Those are, to put it bluntly, not heroic characteristics. Those are things that make you a villain. Maybe an antihero, or at best it's something a hero will struggle with and eventually overcome through inner peace. And I hated that about myself. I tried to go the last route, and I was losing that fight. I was going to die before I let myself lose control and hurt somebody else, but I was really hoping that I died sooner rather than later because I didn't want to live with it any more. I didn't even have words for what was happening, but when I found them, when I learned that I wasn't uniquely broken and wrong, that there were people I could talk to that didn't hate me for being what I was? That's why Homecoming resonates more with me than Devouring. That's why stories about finding a family that can help you find a healthy outlet matter. I need stories about trying your damndest not to be the monster people say you are and knowing some of them are never going to be satisfied. I was one of those people, and I still see them occasionally when these threads about how only abusers could like Beast crop up. I get where that perspective comes from. There are certainly enough examples (both in real life and the game fiction) who share those traits and are genuinely terrible people that I'm tarred by association. I can choose to be better anyway. Beast is the game where that struggle feels most authentic to my experience.

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                  • #24
                    Forgive my ineloquent ranting, but I feel compelled to write this thanks to the OP's incredibly inspiring tale. Here goes.

                    I started reading, playing and running World of Darkness games in the early 2000's; long after most had already been neck-deep in the setting and its moods and themes. Like many who came before me, the more modern settings, themes and moods just worked for me and felt new and fresh after decades of roleplaying in medieval fantasy worlds. I jumped in full-force, and eventually found a favorite amongst the World of Darkness games, that being Mage: The Ascension. Mage was, and remains, one of my favorite games of all time. It made magic magical. Finally there was a reason, a framework, a methodology behind how these cool fantasy superpowers worked. It hooked me in and didn't let go for over a decade and a half; i ran and played Mage (both Ascension and Awakening) to death, from every angle.

                    Then a few years ago, when my love affair with Mage had become like a longstanding and comfortable marriage - still strong, but not quite as new and intense and passionate as it had once been, i chanced to read a snippet about the new Chronicles of Darkness game called Beast: The Primordial. The little bit i read intrigued me, so i read more. Then i bought the corebook, and before i finished reading the opening fiction I was hooked. This game was a representation of what i'd always wanted out of my personal horror, what i'd always been trying to do with other games for as long as i've been roleplaying. Like other WoD/CofD games that came before it, I could choose to be the monster. But unlike the others, i got to choose exactly what *kind* of monster, and I was not tied down to any overarching racial duty or ancient supernatural conspiracy unless i chose to be. As I read through this magnificent book more and more ideas and explosions of character inspiration rained down into my creative well, filling it with ideas that I drank very deeply from immediately and i have yet to even come close to drinking that well dry.

                    To make a long, rambling and very personal story short - Beast speaks to me in a way no other game, and certainly no other CofD game, ever has. The times i've gotten to play as a Beast over the past few years, few and brief as they've been, have been some of my most enjoyable ones in a life that has included a hell of a lot of playing elfgames because as a black man, a veteran, a bisexual person and many other types of things some people consider to be minorities or disadvantaged I looked at the struggles and conflicts Beasts deal with - especially their conflicts with the 'Heroes' who by and large want to hunt them down and kill them - and absolutely empathize with the monsters. The story that Beast tells to me is this - you can't always choose how you're made, but you can choose what you do with what you're given for good or ill. And nobody has the right to arbitrarily decide you don't deserve to live just for being what you are, for surviving, or even for grabbing at a little power or taking some petty revenge. You don't get to tell me that living the way I do is wrong; I decide that.

                    So, rambling over. That's what I personally love about Beast. It's the game that to me, above all others, gives you the power, control, and agency to do whatever you please without an unbeatable and omniscient watchdog over your shoulder and deal with the consequences in the way of your choosing. That's why it's become my favorite gameline of all time.

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                    • #25
                      So now that I'm sober, I wanted to add a coda to my original post, with some additional thoughts and maybe qualifiers.

                      When I learned about the horrible things MacFarland had done, I did in fact consider distancing myself from Beast. It's hard not to see some of the writing in the game as an excuse for the kinds of behavior its developer committed, and, considering many of the other valid criticisms of Beast, I feel no ill-will toward anyone for whom this was the straw that broke the camel's back (or, to be fairer, the revelation of years of sexual abuse which is a constant, sickening reminder that there are still grave issues within our community at-large that need addressing, proverbial dromedaries notwithstanding).

                      As others have pointed out, though, Beast was in fact created a large team of writers (I count 12 in the credits to the book, and that's if no one is being left out, which, in the life of a freelancer, unfortunately happens). So, that's at least somewhat of a mitigating factor. I had actually never seen those two statements by Dave Brookshaw and Olivia Hill posted from Something Awful; this is interesting information, and also good to know.

                      I think that, as with many people who like Beast, I read the text with some filter of cognitive dissonance. I see what I like about it, and ignore or find ways to twist the parts that I find unpalatable. I suppose this is how most people read most texts, actually, but with Beast, the phenomenon feels particularly salient, since 1) there's a lot going on that makes examining the totality difficult, and 2) it kind of plays into some of the themes of Beast itself (ie, seeing only what you want to see). For instance, I find it very interesting that when it comes to other supernatural beings, the Begotten are essentially enablers (see that one story in the fiction anthology especially, where a Beast is encouraging a Promethean to stall out on her Pilgrimage), but a the same time, associating with other monsters is a viable way for a Beast to both not starve to death and not feel like they're a completely immoral person: Help a mage chase down Mysteries, watch a changeling make out with someone (creep), and you're good to go. There are interesting ethical implications that would make for good drama, but, admittedly, the text doesn't seem very interested in exploring them.

                      I also find the game as a whole somewhat puzzling, because its central conceit is essentially a microcosm of the concept for the World of Darkness: Here's a monster story from the monster's point of view. But I guess that's why the crossover element receives the focus it does (and the revelation in the Player's Guide regarding the Mother's Land ties things together and paints an interesting picture).

                      I'm realizing now that I don't have more to add to this. I'd like to apologize for the clickbaity title of my post (I'll blame the vodka sodas), and extend a thank you to everyone who has contributed here.

                      Actually, now that I've written that, I do realize that there is one more thing I'd like to add, regarding appropriation and reclamation.

                      In trying to pick through the pieces and figure out what the game is actually supposed to be about, the Beast community has created a startling amount of original content for a line still so young. New Atavisms, Nightmares, Families, Hungers, settings, Lair traits, antagonists, essays about the game, alternate takes. . . It's obvious that there's something here that resonates with people, and, frankly, even if the game is filled with problematic elements and things that occasionally just don't line up, I believe we can take all this and make it into something greater ourselves. We're the ones playing the game, after all.

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                      • #26
                        Look, since everyone's seems to have gone through similar stuff here: I get you.

                        The Beast core hurt people. I can't say I understand it, I can't say I agree, because this game made me feel as others in this thread have said, but that book hurt people. There are stories of people disgusted by it, people throwing away their RPG books because of it, people who thought of leaving the industry...

                        Those are legitimate reactions it's hard to ignore. For a variety of reasons that range from learning what went wrong to sacrosanct human decency, it would be bad to dismiss then, no matter how tough is to read them.

                        I'd lie if I said those stories don't haunt me. I think about them frequently and each time I read a new one I rethink what I feel about Beast and wonder if I'm an awful person after all.

                        Then the truth about Matt came to the surface and, boy, talk about broken pedestals, terrible feelings and doubts. About both Beast and myself. It's the first time I talk about it because it's an awful story that made me think and reconsider a lot of things, be thankful for others and angry for several more.

                        Really, I can't even begin to argue with anyone who wanted to distance themselves from Beast, either back then or now. It's not wrong nor something I'd ever dare to criticize. Come punch me in the face if I ever do that.

                        But then I look at this broken, flawed game and I still feel like I understand what it says. What it could say, even. I look about the stories we're sharing here, about our own impressions and tales of how Beast means something for us and why. I look at the content and discussions that happen here (mine don't count, I swear, I'm not that narcissistic) and think we have the potential to make this game our own and someday it will grow into something that can be enjoyed by even more people.

                        I don't hope to erase Beast past or flaws, nor the ugly events some people associated with it are involved in. Those are, forgive me, damn good lessons we better keep in mind to make both games and our community better. Nor do I hope to make all people reconsider their feelings about Beast. Many will never change their mind and that's ok.

                        But I still trust the writers, both several of those who already worked on Beast and those who'll come in later, to improve this gameline with each supplement and show everyone why this monster of a game deserves its own Legend.

                        Conquering Heroes and the Player's Guide were soooooo good, people
                        Last edited by Cinder; 03-26-2019, 03:42 PM.


                        Cinder's Comprehensive Collection of Creations - Homebrew Hub

                        I write about Beast: The Primordial a lot

                        This is what I'm working on

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                        • #27
                          Originally posted by Cinder View Post
                          Look, since everyone's seems to have gone through similar stuff here: I get you.

                          The Beast core hurt people. I can't say I understand it, I can't say I agree, because this game made me feel as others in this thread have said, but that book hurt people. There are stories of people disgusted by it, people throwing away their RPG books because of it, people who thought of leaving the industry...

                          Those are legitimate reactions it's hard to ignore. For a variety of reasons that range from learning what went wrong to sacrosanct human decency, it would be bad to dismiss then, no matter how tough is to read them.

                          I'd lie if I said those stories don't haunt me. I think about them frequently and each time I read a new one I rethink what I feel about Beast and wonder if I'm an awful person after all.

                          Then the truth about Matt came to the surface and, boy, talk about broken pedestals, terrible feelings and doubts. About both Beast and myself. It's the first time I talk about it because it's an awful story that made me think and reconsider a lot of things, be thankful for others and angry for several more.

                          Really, I can't even begin to argue with anyone who wanted to distance themselves from Beast, either back then or now. It's not wrong nor something I'd ever dare to criticize. Come punch me in the face if I ever do that.

                          But then I look at this broken, flawed game and I still feel like I understand what it says. What it could say, even. I look about the stories we're sharing here, about our own impressions and tales of how Beast means something for us and why. I look at the content and discussions that happen here (mine don't count, I swear, I'm not that narcissistic) and think we have the potential to make this game our own and someday it will grow into something that can be enjoyed by even more people.

                          I don't hope to erase Beast past or flaws, nor the ugly events some people associated with it are involved in. Those are, forgive me, damn good lessons we better keep in mind to make both games and our community better. Nor do I hope to make all people reconsider their feelings about Beast. Many will never change their mind and that's ok.

                          But I still trust the writers, both several of those who already worked on Beast and those who'll come in later, to improve this gameline with each supplement and show everyone why this monster of a game deserves its own Legend.

                          Conquering Heroes and the Player's Guide were soooooo good, people

                          I'm going to upset some people with this, but i just...don't care about any of that, about any of the horrible stuff Matt Macfarland did or didn't do, about any of the visceral, awful, terrible feelings it made people have. It doesn't haunt me every time i open a book touched by the awful, bad man who wrote part of it. It doesn't even come to mind. This is partly because as a person i've grown emotionally tired of caring about everyone who has suffered or had absolutely anything bad happen to them and the never-ending parade of miseries that is victim culture, and partly because i don't look for hidden messages and agendas in my RPG's and tend to take what's presented at face value. As such, i have a fear of my own: that any second edition of Beast will very likely obliterate all the things i love about it in the first place to make it palatable for all the people who find it objectionable and as is typical for total reworks of that sort, end up ruining it for those like me who love it while simultaneously failing to bring over the haters; just another bog-standard 'we are monsters but not really' Of Darkness game with x, y and z splats that all fit into neat little boxes and has a morality meter. And yes i know - nothing stops me from running it the way i always have at my table, etc. But when you add stuff like that in an official release, especially as a major part of a gameline in a corebook, you make it hard to excise without some people being immediately turned off from a game that's already niche and hard to find players for.

                          Now having said all this, let me be clear: I do care about people, as individuals and human beings deserving of empathy, care and justice who have had awful things happen to them or who know others that have had those things happen to them. But that doesn't mean i'm going to throw out every good thing ever done or created by a person who did bad things just because of association. I don't take issue with anyone else who chooses to do so, though I will most assuredly silently judge them for that inability to separate a creation from the creator. I think, perhaps, a better lesson we could all learn from beast and its one unfortunate contributor is that not everything worth reading or giving consideration will necessarily be to our liking, and it won't make you an awful person to play Devil's Advocate, to step into the shoes of the bad guy or even just the other guy who's very different from you for a while and try to see things from somewhere outside your perspective. You might even learn something or, heavens forbid, have a good time doing it. Catharsis is a thing, after all.
                          Last edited by Eternal Darkness; 03-26-2019, 05:11 PM. Reason: I'm a typo masheen

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                          • #28
                            Originally posted by Eternal Darkness View Post
                            Forgive my ineloquent ranting, but I feel compelled to write this thanks to the OP's incredibly inspiring tale. Here goes.

                            I started reading, playing and running World of Darkness games in the early 2000's; long after most had already been neck-deep in the setting and its moods and themes. Like many who came before me, the more modern settings, themes and moods just worked for me and felt new and fresh after decades of roleplaying in medieval fantasy worlds. I jumped in full-force, and eventually found a favorite amongst the World of Darkness games, that being Mage: The Ascension. Mage was, and remains, one of my favorite games of all time. It made magic magical. Finally there was a reason, a framework, a methodology behind how these cool fantasy superpowers worked. It hooked me in and didn't let go for over a decade and a half; i ran and played Mage (both Ascension and Awakening) to death, from every angle.

                            Then a few years ago, when my love affair with Mage had become like a longstanding and comfortable marriage - still strong, but not quite as new and intense and passionate as it had once been, i chanced to read a snippet about the new Chronicles of Darkness game called Beast: The Primordial. The little bit i read intrigued me, so i read more. Then i bought the corebook, and before i finished reading the opening fiction I was hooked. This game was a representation of what i'd always wanted out of my personal horror, what i'd always been trying to do with other games for as long as i've been roleplaying. Like other WoD/CofD games that came before it, I could choose to be the monster. But unlike the others, i got to choose exactly what *kind* of monster, and I was not tied down to any overarching racial duty or ancient supernatural conspiracy unless i chose to be. As I read through this magnificent book more and more ideas and explosions of character inspiration rained down into my creative well, filling it with ideas that I drank very deeply from immediately and i have yet to even come close to drinking that well dry.

                            To make a long, rambling and very personal story short - Beast speaks to me in a way no other game, and certainly no other CofD game, ever has. The times i've gotten to play as a Beast over the past few years, few and brief as they've been, have been some of my most enjoyable ones in a life that has included a hell of a lot of playing elfgames because as a black man, a veteran, a bisexual person and many other types of things some people consider to be minorities or disadvantaged I looked at the struggles and conflicts Beasts deal with - especially their conflicts with the 'Heroes' who by and large want to hunt them down and kill them - and absolutely empathize with the monsters. The story that Beast tells to me is this - you can't always choose how you're made, but you can choose what you do with what you're given for good or ill. And nobody has the right to arbitrarily decide you don't deserve to live just for being what you are, for surviving, or even for grabbing at a little power or taking some petty revenge. You don't get to tell me that living the way I do is wrong; I decide that.

                            So, rambling over. That's what I personally love about Beast. It's the game that to me, above all others, gives you the power, control, and agency to do whatever you please without an unbeatable and omniscient watchdog over your shoulder and deal with the consequences in the way of your choosing. That's why it's become my favorite gameline of all time.
                            That’s why I love it to!

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                            • #29
                              Man, the shit you wish you could take back.

                              I was one of those enthusiastic newbies, and feeling devastated about the reaction to Beast is a gross understatement. Fun fact: Reading some rando on the Internet dissect and mock the minutiae of your first published writing in graphic detail is an experience I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Part of that, of course, came with developing a thicker skin and getting over myself, and accepting that sometimes one screws up in spite of the best intentions. But still.

                              And then it turns out the guy who came up with it, the game people said was about horrible abusers, is a horrible abuser? If you wrote that up I'd call you a hack. Dealing with the revelations about Matt McFarland is a whole 'nother nightmare I'm still reeling from.

                              The thing I remember about the writing process on Beast was feeling like I didn't quite know how it was all supposed to fit together. I was long under the impression Beasts were supposed to give off a Promethean-esque "disquiet" that affected humans; this was only ever alluded to in vague terms during brainstorming, but a lot of my material assumed that humans treat them like crap because of that. I don't remember where this idea came from (it might've just been poor communication), or when and where it was discarded, but obviously it wasn't a thing, and it makes certain sympathetic passages about Beasts totally incoherent and tonally off.

                              Like, I'll put it pretty bluntly: I knew I was writing about monsters who do shitty things. That was my intent. I never for a moment thought of Beasts as good guys--protagonists, yes, but that's not the same thing. I even mentioned in playtesting notes that it was interesting to have a game where you explicitly played the villains. Many of my players said as much.

                              But looking back on some of what I wrote? It's so easy to see how that doesn't come off, and I really wonder how I didn't realize it. Put that down to bad writing or youthful folly or whatever, but there are parts of that material I'd desperately like a do-over on. For what it's worth, in hindsight a lot of what I wrote in the Player's Guide was probably an attempt at a mulligan, but I don't want to psychoanalyze myself more than I already am.

                              I should have asked more questions when I didn't know what I was doing, but it's easy to get lost in the excitement and assume the developer knows the score (and most of the time that's true!) In all honesty, I shouldn't have been writing on the setting chapter; I was too green, and too up my own ass about getting to work on a World of Darkness game.

                              Is Beast a total write off? I don't know.* I'm too close to it, and it's impossible for me to disentangle a lot of the feelings I have about it. It delights me when people tell me they like it, just as much as it provokes guilt and heartbreak when people say they hate it, or that they were hurt by it. There is writing in it I'm proud of, and I'd be lying if I said I agreed with every criticism lobbed at it. I think it's less of a disaster than some seem to think, but a lot less awesome than others do. Again, I'm way too emotionally tied up in it being my first pro writing to have an objective opinion. It came at a very unhappy crossroads in my life, and working on that book probably spared me a lot of misery that year. It also opened a door for me into an industry I really didn't see myself in. People like Stew Wilson and Danielle Lauzon took a chance on me, and I'm immensely glad to have continued working with OPP.

                              Anyway, so there's that. I don't know if that adds any to the conversation, but...I kinda needed to vent about this, apparently? Carry on.

                              *Edit: On second thought (and after a much needed sleep), no, I don’t think it is a write off. The PG did a lot to course correct, and I think there’s still potential, especially with Dark Eras 2 and the Contagion Chronicle coming out, which both have the benefit of a fresh set of eyes. All the stuff I said about not having an objective or emotionally unbiased opinion still stands, though.
                              Last edited by Yossarian; 03-27-2019, 10:32 AM. Reason: An addendum



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                              • #30
                                Beast may have had a bad start, that much is true (unless you dont consider an understatement true). but with only 2 supplements already fixing the many issues into something better, there is also much hope in this gameline.

                                Yossarian, your brutal honesty with yourself is very admirable. you are right in saying the book is unclear on beasts being the bad guys, but this is an aspect that can be saved from the depths. Beasts certainly DO feel like bad guys in many aspects, from their very nature to their enthusiasm in being a monsters and having their kin join the ride. everyone can grow attached to a tragic monster trying to fight off his worst impulses, but as everyone says, people LOVE a good villain. so wherever beast is headed, let's hope it's to new heights (or depths) in the primordial dream to see what is really is to be a monster

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