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The Humanity of Beast: the Primordial

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  • The Humanity of Beast: the Primordial

    "Such a small world 'till it's on your shoulders."
    -Run by The Birthday Massacre


    All right, how about this for something to talk about: the shameless ripping off of a Dan Olson video?

    Okay, to be fair, this subject has been on my mind for a while. People who seen my essays over the year are probably familiar with the trend to breaking down a splat to emphasize how they are monsters, and while How Beasts are Monsters is super damn obvious, discussing their potential for humanity was both long overdue and an interesting challenge to consider. As it evolved, it also became clear that one of the things that needed to happen, at least in the meta (no denying it has a place in the books, though), was how Beast functioned in terms of the larger picture of the Chronicles of Darkness's larger dialogue and how, when framed that way, some of what Beast does and is is essential for the role that it fills. THis has gotten further exacerbated by recent conversations regarding things like Z-Splats and philosophical directions for Beast, and every time I sit down to write what is effectively To Kneel Before the Maw Part 2: Primordial Boogaloo, I found myself getting stopped by the fact that I needed to explain what Family does to this game in relation to the larger dialogue and the correlating effect on conversations regarding game direction and options.

    But here's the real heart of why: I frequently make the dual-claims that a) Beast is not a complicated game to figure out, and b) everything Beast needs to make it a great game is there and just has to be presented correctly. Now I stand by those claims, but what I have not addressed and have to admit might be a large part of my frustrations with the dialogue around Beast is that, while those points may be true, Beast approaches the conversation of Chronicles from an angle that is very different from the way readers and players are trained by the rest of the gamelines to understand that conversation, and part of what trips people up is having to switch those gears with this one game in particular. A big of that is that the goals and interests of Beast as a crossover and how that means it exists in context to the rest of the Chronicles of Darkness, that it has a sideways angle to the big picture. This is not a weakness, per se, but by laying it out, it makes it clearer for me regarding discussions and possible projects for the line.

    So here we are: Chronicles of Darkness, and how Beast fits into it.

    This Human Heart in a Monster's Hand-Chronicles on Humanity and Monstrosity

    So we can keep our bearings: Chronicles of Darkness is a 2004 urban horror tabletop game, updated to a second edition with a fairly sharp re-shifting of mechanics and the focus of it's themes in 2013, with eleven gamelines featuring iconic monsters with their own thematic beats that work in harmony to it's own core themes and unique look at "Our World, but with Monsters in it." While the elements of stylish horror, dark mystery, dread and personal horror, threatening symbolism, and the concurrence with our everyday lives are at present within Chronicles and it's other gamelines, for our purposes we are most interested in the collected theme of humanism as expressed through the conflict of "humanity vs monstrosity" and the many ways that can be expressed and, more importantly, muddled about with and made complex for the purposes of producing clarity and depth.

    Okay, on the same page? Cool. Let's drop the formality and get gut-deep into this fucker.

    That conflict of "humanity vs monstrosity" is present in every single gameline on every level and is often baked into the mechanics, even where it's not obvious-and it occurs to me right now that for those you who might have hung-ups thinking of your hero-of-the-masses storm mage as a monster, just do me a favor and go read Skeletons Poised in the Bedrock, come back when you're done. I'm also gonna handwave the big question of "What do we mean by 'humanity' and 'monstrosity'?" because I've talked up a lot about it, By What Measure is a Monster Found? is probably still good enough for covering that in brief despite showing the wear and tear of the times and subsequent perspective, if that doesn't work, an idle search of my liked comments'll probably do, and if worse comes to worst, there's a fun conversation for the comments.

    Anyways, We could be here for fucking ever if I went through all the elements present in every gameline ever, but fortunately for a salient conversation, I don't have to-I can point to the Integrity-alikes.

    For some, the analogy is pretty open-Humanity and Pilgrimage explicitly spell out their relationship to the humanity/monstrosity conflict on their sleeves. Other's bury the lead a little more so-no, Wisdom's angle on self-possession and controlled expression of self to the dictates of will is not immediately a human argument, but a High Wisdom mage, whether saint or a l'enfant diabolique, keeps their semblance of of humanity more keenly than a Low Wisdom mage whose obsessions and magics drive them as surely as a vampire's hunger. Cover is easy to read as, well, just that, cover with little human/demonic push/pull present, but a Demon with a higher cover is incentivized to lean more into human behavior and thinking in order to maintain and build that Cover (through the soft, lived experience way of doing such), where as a Demon with a low Cover (so long as they have others) is more incentivized to go ahead and go nuts on the monstrous behavior because the cover is more easily burned, and demon who only has a low Cover can't quite keep the seems of their monstrosity from showing, and is probably in a desperate spiral to recover that Cover in contrast that also means they still need to take riskier monstrous behavior to get the yields they need because, you know, they need Cover Now. But either way, there's a general rule that High Integrity-Alikes (or undamaged Clarity/Stability, for the purposes of Changeling and Deviant) allows a creature to assert a human reasoning or motivation over their monstrous urges and necessitated actions, and by contrast a Low Integrity-Alike (Or highly damaged Clarity/Stability) is a a basis for more feral and darkling cravings, and frightful and predacious behavior more free to slip from a character's actions. Humanity lies at one end, Monstrosity lies at the other.

    There are two main things to keep in mind with this understanding. The first is that those two forces are intended to treat and act upon a character, in a loosely twilit meta/subtle metaphysical way*, as a tug-of-war, twin forces pulling on a character this way or another. Frequently it's player involvement and discretion that provokes the human element of this (the game uses the loose relation of the monstrous and the impulsive/natural/instinctual, and thus reason and choice tend to thusly drive the character in humanity-one must make the decision to be human**), but from the narrative point of views, these game's derive their sense of dramatic conflict on the individual character by thusly pulling this way or that.

    The second big one is that all Integrity-alikes posit a perfected state for their game, as far as that argument as expressed by the Integrity-alikes. And with saying that, I have two caveats to get out of the way, because I can hear you-1) These perfected states do not necessarily have to be aimed at Humanity, per se, so much as they are perfected for the creature-so yes, your Werewolf has an explicit number they aim for and strive to sit on, in a perfect world, but they feel the push and pull of humanity against monstrosity all the same even if their ideal state is "Smack dab in the middle of these forces", 2) There's a difference between Perfected States within this argument and Acceptable States to the characters, because trying to be running hot on an Integrity-alike (or empty on Clarity/Stability) is a lot of work for a fairly easily lost paradise, and it's often easier to find a more comfortable state of misery down the line, leading to characters who comfortably sit around 5 to 3 on most scales. THAT SAID, as a general rule, there is a specific number deemed as the ideal to chase after on these lines.

    Honestly, the weirdest one of these, outside of Satiety, is Synergy, where in low synergy often keeps a personal humanity at the exchange of basically one of the most haunted fuckers out there and all of the splats drawbacks being the most hard-baked into that lower strata, wherein a high Synergy brings in all of those hauntings and generally means the Sin-Eater has practiced the skills for human behavior in order to arrive there-but on the other hand has the increased capacity to express themselves monstrously and none of the barriers to prevent them. The gist is still there, but it's...muddier than any of the others.

    Anyways, that's the humanity/monstrosity conflict on the personal scale, but it spirals out in the formation and look at the world, which leads us to...

    Everyone Hail to the Pumpkin Song-Monstrous Societies and the Dark Gray Line

    First, clarifying some language just to make it easy- I'm going to talk about what we consider the "tell you who to be and what to do" Y-Splats as Monstrous Societies even though things like Refinements, Agendas, Tribes, and such are more like philosophies than actual organizations just to keep things easy for myself. That basically covers everyone but Beast and Deviant, and we'll talk about Deviant in context....probably in another thread.

    Okay, so the big thing to wrap our head around when discussing Monstrous Societies, the organization of monsters, is that their first role is to reconcile monstrosity. I bring this up because the opposite is just as true and important to understand-monstrous societies are not interested in leading their constituents, as a rule, back to humanity. No, they are primarily here to help a young monster find their feet in their condition and give them a direction to go, preferably one that advantages the group (and in particular, those at the top of that group, which invariably happens even among the more democratic societies).

    And while we're here, we should address one of the main reasons why Monstrous Societies are an appealing answer to one of the recurring questions about Beast even though this isn't quite the thread for it-Monstrous societies usually the place readers go to for formulating their ideas of what a character is and, more importantly does. It's the answer for most people to "So what do I do as X?" And honestly, that's not just an meta thing, it's very much a part of the reason why the characters will go with a group, among the other factors that come into play (insert social manipulation of all sorts here). characters are inherently drawn into a world where they find out where they are to be what they now are, where they can retreat back into humanity, to what ends they can do and be a monster-and most importantly, judge what's entirely too much.

    Now this is gonna get finicky and interesting, so let's do some laying out. Playable protagonist factions are generally in this gray area on the human/monster spectrum of conflict, indulging in monstrosity while still making an appeal to reasonable human interests or presentations (Whether or not it's actually gray in execution is dependent on the gameline, but while most actually do a decent job of playing that game, Mage, Mummy, and Demon exist). Some of the fractured elements hew closer to being overtly monstrous without crossing the line-the Guardians of the Veil and the Autumn Court are classic examples, though I'd argue a lot more of them subtly exist.

    All of that said, for the...let's say First Edition primarily-for the First Edition of Chronicles, there was a lot of incentive make it clear that, by contrast, antagonists were distinctly in the black as this argument goes, highly monstrous and quite as often really bad people (for a quick point of context, here's a post from Dave Brookshaw discussing the presentation of the Pure and Seers in contrast, say, World of Darkness's Technocracy and some of the thinking in development at the time). To contextualize it, if the protagonist faction explored reasonable realms to be a monster, a gray area of operation, then antagonists were to represent when monsters had crossed a line, where it was "too much".

    There are still elements of this in the Second Edition, to be be sure-Belial's Brood are monsters who have gone so far as to give themselves over to the Beast, the Seers ARE shitbags covered in an asshole sauce, however bad the Lost can be, at least they aren't exchanging people over to the Strangers like the Loyalists, Sin-Eaters aren't as bad as Tyrants, Arisen as to the Deceived and Shuankhsen, Renegades as to Devoted, etc. etc. However, I mention it getting finicky and interesting, particularly with some forward looking for Beast in particular, because the design principle for the Pure (and the Forsaken) has actually been given a lot of flex room as explained by Bunyip here and it at work in Night Horrors: Shunned by the Moon. I'll probably get more into that after this essay, but I wanted to mention it here.

    Nevertheless, you have the gist- you have humanity as a personal end that characters can chase at, a general middle ground of gray monstrosity with various definitions, directions, and restraints, with some being darker than other, but then a general dark coalition of monstrosity that took things too far for the discussion. It's a neat and pretty usable model that can work out decently for any theme that you care to break down. It's a fairly strong set of guidelines.

    And then White Wolf released a game that blew all of that up, and it's important we understand that.

    Contrast by Candlelight-You Thought It Was Beast, but It Was Me, Hunter, All Along

    Hunter: the Vigil is a horror urban gameline within the Chronicles of Darkness, first released in 2008 and then released in a Second Edition form in 2019, and it is the first proper crossover game in the entire franchise of Chronicles. Oh sure, not so much in terms of being a game that brings multiple splats into the same game at the table in the way Beast and later the Contagion Chronicle would, but it was the first gameline to basically look at the Chronicles franchise as a whole with a unified perspective that worked directly into the franchise's main goals. Oh sure, various bluebooks took a look at the available gamelines at the time thoroughly, but it was to the tune of that game's general themes and objectives first, and never really unified in the way that Hunter did.

    Hunter: the Vigil is a game wherein you play as one of the many victims of monstrous activity and decided to do something about it, to take to some kind of action the help prevent such victimization again and possibly end it permanently. You are, well, a hunter, and you hunted monsters***.

    The timing of the release of this game, at both points in time, was actually really perfect. At the time of the first edition's release, it came off the heels of Changeling and Promethean before that, and with that and the first editions of Werewolf and Mage starting to find their feet well and truly, there was a real disposition to view the monsters of the other gamelines through Protagonist-Centered Morality colored glasses in forum conversation. The Second Edition came out after all Second Edition releases of the monsters had come out, and the games were at the most risk of losing sight of other pictures.

    Hunter took the player characters of the other gamelines by stripping them of their context and grouping the lot of them in the same box (mostly, we'll get to that in bit), destroying the dark gray line between protagonists and antagonists and looking at them all as a whole, and letting the actions and behaviors of the monsters speak for themselves, and that picture was ultimately one of monsters still being a significant cause of strife for humanity-people weaker, more scared, and more at a loss of knowledge than the monsters themselves were. It was a cutting indictment of the monsters at both times, and if that's all they did, Hunter would still be a hell of a gem for having done that...but Hunter got a little trickier and more incisive than just that.

    The first thing that Hunter did that makes it more interesting than just than that is that it actually ignored the conventional logistics of what should gather their interest in favor of doubling down on that accountability to monster's actions. See, barring supernatural senses, the typical targets of hunters should be the mosnters who are excessive and more bizarre in their actions and leftovers, where monsters leave a more noticeable impression of their presence-in expectation, the antagonists of most of the other splats are more likely to leave a damnedably noticeable wake for hunters to follow than the player types, because basically every monster group hews to a level of caution is that is not similarly present in their antagonists. Instead, Hunter seems to delight in making a roast of monsters who we as readers of the other gamelines can recognize as the "better guys" but, reasonably to a hunter's eyes, are damnedable and worthy of, well, hunting. Mechanically, the incentive is that since the antagonists of the other gamelines are intended to take on empowered protagonists, it would be too much to take on with the under-powered hunters-but thematically, it additionally wrenches the conventional player view into an even more uncertain place, as even their "heroic" actions are made clearly and undeniably monstrous.

    The second thing takes that principle and really jams it up and makes the entire "humanity vs monstrosity" argument complicated as fuck through the Conspiracies and a handful of the Compacts. In one of my more infamous posts on Hunter, I've pointed out how there's a lot of monsters with their fingers in the pies of Hunter Organizations (and have still missed a few)-and not just monsters, George, but often the antagonists of the other gamelines, to one degree or another.

    Now while this makes a lot of Hunter fans uncomfortable, I find it a really damn interesting angle of presentation. Most people will be used to my optimistic read of these operations, but for this conversation, what I want to point out is how this factor puts a human face on what are otherwise entities and organizations that were otherwise deemed to alien or malicious to give credit to, and provided a empathetic angle and twist of consideration-which quite frankly is fucking phenomenal for the overall discussion, creating nuance demonstrating complexities that allow for greater empathy-and even better, empathy that doesn't deny that judgments should still be made. It's just kind of a masterpiece.

    And this neatly dovetails into the third thing-how hunters are also wrong, and often monstrous. Yes, hunters were victims and speak and act on behalf of the victims and contextualize the inhuman action of monsters-but by the very virtue that lets them do that (namely, decontextualization), hunters often fail to-or outright choose not to-see the monsters as the people they are, with their own victimizations and righteousness's and foes who must be stopped for the good of everyone. Hunters do a lot to bring in humanity to the conversation, yes, but they aren't inherently the good guys, and struggle just as much with the conflict of humanity vs monstrosity as any other gameline. They can fall and be fallible, and that's awesome.

    A lot of my dialogue on the matter is the result of having my longest run game be a Hunter: the Vigil game, and that way of looking at the broader themes of Chronicles is just damn powerful and thought provoking.

    And it also really helps to make a lot of things about the second crossover game come into focus.

    Yes, at long last, I am actually talking about Beast.

    Hunger and Satiation are One Eternal Round-How Beast Resolves the Humanity/Monstrosity Conflict, and the Fallout

    With that setup, it would be easy to explain simply what Beast does-after all, what Hunter comments on through contrast, Beast does through comparison, easy enough. And there's a lot of truth to that.

    But I feel like leaving it at that misses how Beasts takes that simple base, and gets wildly inventive with it. Namely, the big thing that Beast does is consolidate and simplify in interesting ways that do just as much as the explosion of decontextualization from Hunter does-and a big way it does that is that it welds concepts together and then grinds it down into a seamless integration.

    I've talked a lot before about how the Devouring is an actualization for Beasts on the subject of humanity vs monstrosity, and it's worth going into that again, so:

    Beasts begin their descent into monstrosity as their first victim, as the Horror that acts as the id-shadow to the future ego-self Beast begins to feast on the soul that will be the superego-persona. The Beast-incumbent suffers nightmares that strip them of the security blankets they rely on for hiding from realities, and as they go through these devourings, they come to realizations about the way the world works and come to terms with the crutches and misconceptions they relied on and how to be and see and act without them, even finding ways to transform those old reliances into healthier understandings and behaviors. As they do, they begin to realize, having had to deal with their fears and find their own strengths, how very much they begin to identify with the monster that took them in the night. All the while, they get to experience both the physical and psychological effects of those aggressions and develop a sense of empathy and understanding for those going through them, so they intimately understand the pains of such growth and revelation, the initial reluctance to face those grievances, and the results, good and bad, of digging into them, and thus have a knowledge of how thresholds work for people. At the end, when they become identical to one another, a beast completes the circle and becomes the monster that bedeviled them, wiser and stronger for the result-and in so have also assumed a mantle of power that allows them to better care for people who deal with these conflicts and trials, even as they are now those conflicts and trials.

    The Devouring is a commitment to monstrosity that is nonetheless directly welded into the very human experience that it took to get there, in this way. And for a further demonstration, nothing communicates that better than Satiety.

    I mentioned earlier that no better example exists for the humanity vs monstrosity argument than the Integrity-alikes, and here's the thing-Satiety isn't exempt from that. While unconventional in presentation, High Satiety still translates more easily into more human behavior, since a Beast is now well fed enough to not warrant feeding for a long time (comparatively, depending on Lair, and barring expenditures) and strongly ties them to humanity through the strengthening of Nightmares and the increased ease of connecting to Lair, both factors that are emblematic of their increased connection to humanity. Likewise, Low Satiety translates into more feeding, ie monstrous behavior, and the increased emphasis on Atavisms and Power when merged with a Horror incentivizes feral and darkling action. The forces of humanity vs monstrosity are still present, and even maintain the work...with two critical differences.

    First, a Beast has no Perfected State, as it were. No Extreme that reads as a very good thing-in fact, Satiety 10 and 0 are both very dangerous states for them to be in. No Harmonious balancing point-Satiety 5 is an open bit of flesh for Heroes, and is otherwise just kind of a place to be. No damage or freedom thereof, as with Changelings and Deviants. A Beast can prefer a state of Satiety to be in, like anyone, but at the end of the day, the wandering up and down of the Satiety track is whole of the ideal-free to change for a lack of over punishment. It's not so much that being more in tune with humanity or monstrosity is desirable, as they are a continual flow between one and the other, and that the whole is the Perfection, the actualization that other monsters will spend a lot of times coming to as they struggle against both monstrosity and, at times, humanity.

    Second is the method of travel. Sure, humanity and monstrosity pull at a Beast in a way that causes them to wander up and down the track-but the methods of push and pull are reversed from their conventions. As a broad overlook of the other Integrity-alikes, to pursue the more human end of things, you commit yourself to being more human-like in the context of your given gameline, in so far as you do not completely betray your monstrous side as the bare necessities of monstrous life demand, and visa versa with monstrosity. Beast is motivated by human-like and monster-like activity to travel you-but in reverse. In order to attain High Satiety, you have to be willing to commit to acts of Monstrosity to fill yourself up to it. By contrast, committing to a Humanity driven way of being drops you down into Low Satiety****.

    These two factors transform the tug-of-war in the humanity vs monstrosity conflict of Chronicles....and instead ties those two concepts together in a mobius strip, an eternal round where each flows into the other and back again, that makes permissible any spot on the spectrum for the entity. Barring the most egregious of dives in either direction, and with only some investment to not sit happily in the middle all the time, Beast comes to terms with it's conflicts, accepting both monstrosity and humanity as aspects of their selves that may take face at a moment but is no eternal condemnation. Details and specific cases are to be dealt with as they come, but the broad principle accepts both elements and puts them to the use of the ego-self driving a Beast.

    And that's really cool!

    And also is kind of problematic!

    See, take all of that and mix it in with my fourth footnote below, and as a general rule you may have a person who is at peace with the franchises most central struggle, but as such is much more free and loose with their monstrosity on the whole, who accepts it where there are occasions, if humanity is to be desired, it should be challenged. It's not so much as they don't so much as they roll with it and accept where it conflicts with the terms they came to. if other monster's central axis is in the grey of the divide, a Beast's nature is likely to incline to towards the dark grey-in fact, they pretty much sit on the Dark Gray Line.

    Of course, you'd have to convince them (and yourself) of that.

    Ohana Means Uncertanity-Family and the Death of Monstrous Societies in Beast

    THIS, by the way, is the section I wanted to write regarding the larger organization principle arguments.

    Okay, so as we just established, Beast's complex take on the central conflict of the game means that between conventionally gray and black arguments, their inclination and reconciliations leave them right smack dab in the middle of it. And that would be tough enough, but Beast isn't done making things interesting-and tough-on you yet. Because those fancy little boxes you use to understand monstrosity all dissolve where Beast is concerned. Beast takes that nifty little divide and smudges and smears and blends the fuck out it with one of it's core themes and primary ways of viewing the world-Kinship.

    Family complicates every argument and every fight.

    The short and simple answer for why that is comes down to the idea that family just isn't other people-you can't just get into anything with kin the way you can with a disassociated stranger, or even a friend. This isn't to say things can get heated, vicious, personal, brutal or bloody-in fact, in the case of family, you can more often than with others-but that the relationship means it's at an odd tilt wit everything else. There are things a stranger could get away with you'd never let family let go of, and there are things you'd do with a stranger that you'd never do with a family member. Fights that might be academic in other that turn into shouting matches, crimes that might be called out left ignored.

    I, personally, give my brother a break where I would not otherwise be kind regarding libertarians, because I still have to meet up with him for holidays and weekends and any time my mother is involved, and also kind of have some leeway in some ways because, you know, he's my brother, I got to let some stuff go-and yet there are also times I take him right to fucking task with anger and vitriol and want to murder because he is my brother. You want to see a confused ball of knots, look at the relationship between me and him. I simultaneous can have fun unlike any other and fury unlike any other regarding him.

    And this is actually a source of a lot of the conflict for Beast, as much as it is also a source of the great humanity at work in the game-because yeah, this girl may be a Predator King bitch, but she's also my sister. Oh, sure, that guy may be a fucking valiant Adamantine Arrow, but I've got kick his ass for what he did because he's also my brother.

    The main thing that can be said about Family is that, even if it doesn't come first for you, it has this all pervasive power to recolor and re-contextualize everything you look at.

    TO make matters worse is condensing that down into the two other world views of any Beast-Nightmares(as seen through Families) and Hungers. Almost any argument can be stripped down to an emotional level that Beast's are primed to recognize-and since they feel that kinship, are often willing to speak with, because families have an easier time digging into how a person feels and how that motivates their actions and sense of being. Sure, any Beast can be interested in the political standpoint of a conservative American-but what speaks more clearly to them is the feeling of fear at having been forgotten in the advance of a strange new developing world that they don't quite understand because they somehow missed how we got here, the hunger to feel stable and secure, free to enjoy life as they once did before everything got complex and weird and so counter to the way they understood things before. And that feeling of kinship means that even if they don't share those feelings, they can empathize with it, and some connection to this person demands some sort of recognition that is bound to be more intense because it's not motivated by the justifications and high-minded argument, but strikes right to the heart of it all. And since these are things a beast has reconciled with to some degree, they often have a perspective on those feelings that are useful, comforting at the very least in terms of commiseration, but might actually allow them to know more of what they can do with those feeling, and leave it to them to reconcile it with their rhetoric. Beasts are primally driven to understand on a deeper, psychological and emotional level because that was the journey they had to take to get where they are.

    Going back to the line before destroying it, the use of Family as a crossover element creates the action that allows for the comparison and contrast- a Beast is incentivized to be with you and help you out (because you're family), but that closeness allows you to see versions of yourself that take things just a hair too far, who are comfortable with things you might not be. The familiarity with Beasts, the way they can be comforting to be around, so like you, is the same element that makes it so damn uncomfortable. By similar token, a Beast can cozy up to those antagonists and, through still being lighter in the gray that simple black, can embody empathy for the devil, making cases that were previously off the map because of the divide-and therefore just as easily demonstrate how the temptation to that side of the argument happens all the same. And the best part is that it can just as easily work other other ways too through their own contradictions existing at peace-a Beast can help the protagonist monsters realize something about their humanity in the way a Beast takes their terrible side and builds it into something beautiful, and at the same time use that same turn to double down on where an antagonist has fucked up.They provide a human face to monstrosity and a monstrous face to humanity, a way to see yourself in any different light and have it be home-These conflicts, in fact, come to rest and are home with the Beast's reconciliation.

    And here's the thing-when lines are removed, or at least smudged and lightened up because you basically have the perfect devil's advocate for anything, someone who can find a little bit of themselves in every, the factions that define the rest of Chronicles divide begin to fade away and allow for blurrier arguments. For a Beast, you're not a Free Councillor and he's not a Seer-you both are the asshole college brothers that she gets frustrated to hell and back because your both wrong, but stands up and helps you both out and helps you both understand each other a little better. The Family matter blurs and becomes complex because there's always a friendly face who gets, on at least a primal level, what's going and and can convey it, someone who strips down the dressing and can actually communicate the fears and the bids for security of the other, someone who speaks the language that is under all other motivations and actions-and they can do it because they are those things, and have gone through them on a fundamental level and speak to both their pains and their profits, their struggles and their revelations.

    And this is the big reason why broad scale factionalism/philosophy doesn't work in Beast-because it destroys the way the theme of Family muddles and makes complex all the other arguments, by removing the friendly-but-terrifying face that dives under everything and gets to the primal fears, bids for security, and ultimately belonging that intensify, mute, and twist sideways all other arguments. It would destroy the way that it makes the arguments of other games, largely academic things to debate with words and gun, and instead translates them into personal, human attachments and factors-not high minded philosophy, but pure want and fear and connection. To factionalize is to raise barriers, arguments that do not allow a familial connection to do the talking, the driving, the reconciling and the fighting. Beast is enriched by the way it simplifies these arguments, ties them up, and then fuels it with emotion and place. Factions depersonalize where Family personalizes, and that's a big part of what makes conflict in/with Beast so damn great-it bring characters together in such a way that allows them to conflict and resolve things on a level that so easily translates both into humanity and monstrosity.

    So, with that said, where does that leave a Beast to go?

    Be Your Own Monster-To Curse and Love As Thou Should Want

    So I feel like we've hit a dovetailing of two big questions-the grand one being that, if this is the grand position of Beast the Primordial in relation to Chronicles, then what does that say about the Humanity of Beast, and Where does a Beast go when the conventional directions are muddled, interlinked, and simplified.

    The title of this section and previous discussions give away my answer, but it is still never the less where it creates the answer-so let's come to terms with it.

    The thing about a Beast having their monstrosity and humanity tied together so intimately and reinforced by their conception of reality that intimately deconstructs the larger argument down into personal motivations, connections, and feelings, that not only sees self as human and monster as one at once but as the humanity and monstrosity of other as equally freeflowing and circular means that almost anything a Beast does can be retranslated into one or the other. The dark gray monstrosity of Beast just as easily becomes a dark-gray humanity with a flipping of perspective and action. One the one hand, the fear a Beast instills can be used to spite and terrorize. On the other hand, it can allow a person to finally reach out and connect to others, to finally allow a person to ask for help and get feelings of weakness addressed. On the one hand, satiating Hunger can be used to rob a person of power, ability to act, a malicious bite that impairs, wounds, maybe even kills. On the other hand, it can be used to remove a crutch from someone long ready to run, to allow them tap into their true strength, to transform a reliance into a stronger and fuller form. On the one hand, kinship can be used to demoralize and fatalize a person, taking their flaws and casting into a long maze of dark reflections. On the other hand, kinship can give people a place to be, shoulders to cry on, assurances in the face of conflict. Beast's humanity is fundamentally in the freedom to roll their monstrosity around into whatever they want for whoever they want for whatever reason they want, their ability to observe context from any angle from such a fundamental position of emotional basis allowing them to love or curse anyone they want, to take the selfish and apply it to the selfless, and back again.

    And it's in that power of an eternal rounding of perspective and action that it thus falls on a Beast to make the tough decisions of who they act for, how they act for them, and why they act for them. It's not an answer anyone can give them because every answer blurs into the personal, higher-scaled argumentation and logic not quite finding purchase in a person who knows more about themselves than most of their peers do in likewise cases. A Beast makes themselves out of the family that surrounds them, and draws distinctions by the masses by making a choice about it.

    Which is one of the most fundamentally human things there is-that while we are subject to our environments, our families, the schools of thought around us that teach in many ways, upon discovering ourselves, our ability to act in ways that both self-define and shape the world is a thing that may be shared, but is fundamentally ours-a core principle to reconcile the conflict between self and community, darkness and light.

    Beasts are monsters-and in their monstrosity, they are painfully, personally human.*****

    *Which I here mean that there's often a flow between "it operates this way because game mechanics and we've no need to undress the stage" and that the characters in these games are often subject to forces beyond the physical and mere psychological that can affect behavior/disposition/nature/whatever.
    **Which is why frequently say, when people want heroes or good guys in the game , that they exist, but it falls on the characters to BE those good guys-no organization is going to compel you to be human, or good.
    ***Okay, so, idly fun tangent: prior to the game's release, there was actually a lot of overt speculation as to what Hunters were going to be and what they were hunting, with a lot of really wild guesses that ranged from Hunter: the Reckoning but Chronicles to revived shades of the dead combating Cthulian entities in extra dimensional spaces and weirder and far afield things than that. One person had the gall to suggest it was going to be about humans hunting monsters, and like, that was it, and then developer Chuck Wendig went "DING DING DING, we've got a winner!", which was then followed up by three forum pages of the rough equivalent of people slapping their heads and going "Oh, duh." "Forums never change" is the moral of the story.
    ****Okay, and it must be merited that any time where a Beast spends Satiety also rapidly descends a Beast back to lower Satiety, which is often itself an expression of monstrous action, but there's a reason this section is going to end with Beast sitting pretty on that Dark Gray Line.
    *****Okay, not the strongest ending-gimme a break, I wanna go to bed.
    Last edited by ArcaneArts; 06-10-2020, 01:53 AM.


    Sean K.I.W./Kelly R.A. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Sean, Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
    The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
    Feminine pronouns, please.

  • #2
    I don't even have the brain capacity to unpack this piece of literary brilliance this late at night, but i swear i'll make my brain work and put together two or three good thoughts later. But brilliant work; please tell me you are writing something for this game some time in the future, because you get it. And if you are I am buying it, no question.

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    • #3
      As I read your essay, several questions occured to me. You may have already addressed these matters in writing, but if you put them in different words, it may help your ideas really "click" for me. I'd appreciate if you devoted some time to answering them:

      I'm a big proponent of concrete examples. I believe they can communicate ideas in ways that more abstract writing can't. This is why I value the fragment from Beast Player's Guide where a Begotten interferes with a lovers' spat, only to be forced to do some soul-searching in a trunk of a car. What do you think could be archetypical character arcs for Beast characters - from before Devouring to after their death or transformation? I know it's a demanding question, since it requires no less than an outline of a game campaign. However, if you describe a story that engages with your endorsed themes properly, it would be really helpful in getting your point across - for me, and possibly others.

      You praise Beast and Hunter for approaching the CofD franchise from new angles, prompting a critical look at previously established concepts. However that only seems possible for readers well versed in other CofD books. Am I wrong, and these themes are clear in those two corebooks? If not, is this knowledge necessary to make Beast and Hunter thematically complete, allowing a new reader satisfying comprehension of their themes and moods?

      Next, there was a thread I wasn't part of, where you promised to address a certain matter, once you weren't tired. Does Devouring, as you understand it, constitute self-actualization in its entirety, or is it merely a breakthrough that begins a path to self-actualization, with its struggles and backslides? If it's the former, doesn't it limit the amount of conflict one can put in the game, to the game's detriment?


      ~

      Comment


      • #4
        I don't really buy it and the reason I don't is because of this line here.

        Originally posted by ArcaneArts View Post
        The main thing that can be said about Family is that, even if it doesn't come first for you, it has this all pervasive power to recolor and re-contextualize everything you look at.
        The metaphorical peanuts flung when the kinship mechanics were revealed aside (Family Dinner was rightfully criticised), the understanding that Beasts have that all supernaturals (except Demons) come from the Dark Mother is one-sided. There is no inherent kinship felt from the other side. I have a sister and my sister has me. A woman I've never met before might come up to me and claim she is my sister, and might see me as her own, but if I have no idea who she is, I'm not going to be inclined to agree.

        But further than that, I don't understand why you seem to be assigning a particular strength to "family" as someone's secondary sphere of influence. The story about your libertarian brother is understandable, but would the dynamic of you tolerating him more than normal really change that much if he were a workmate, a classmate, or a neighbour, or a piano teacher? There are plenty of ways a person can have more than one intersecting social bubble, and family is not really unique in this regard. You might say that you have no choice who your family is, but you often have no choice who your neighbour or your classmates are, either, and if you have the personal freedom necessary, you can also choose to distance or sever your connection to your family as you can with these other relations. Many do.

        Which leads to me to my big question. Why is it Beasts specifically who have this "family" dynamic? Unless I am gravely misunderstanding the first paragraph, it seems the connection is that Beasts don't have a typical morality meter and thus can relate to the given struggle of any other splat which allows them to move relatively freely between humanity and monstrocity, but I lose you when you say that Demons don't do this. I think your point about high Cover tending towards humanity and low Cover tending towards monstrocity is something of a simplification to make your point more consistent, because there are no real prohibitions towards a monstrous high Cover and a humane low Cover as there are with the other splats, nor is a 0 Cover Demon lost as with most other splats.

        Then, what is stopping the Kinship/Family mechanic to be ripped from Beast and given to another splat, like Demon? If the only real requirement is that their morality meter doesn't have an easily sliding humanity-monstrocity scale, what is so special about the feeding on fear, the atavisms, the Lair, the Heroes, etc that only Beast has the focus on the Family mechanic?

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        • #5
          Originally posted by MalkSam View Post
          I don't really buy it and the reason I don't is because of this line here.



          The metaphorical peanuts flung when the kinship mechanics were revealed aside (Family Dinner was rightfully criticised), the understanding that Beasts have that all supernaturals (except Demons) come from the Dark Mother is one-sided. There is no inherent kinship felt from the other side. I have a sister and my sister has me. A woman I've never met before might come up to me and claim she is my sister, and might see me as her own, but if I have no idea who she is, I'm not going to be inclined to agree.

          But further than that, I don't understand why you seem to be assigning a particular strength to "family" as someone's secondary sphere of influence. The story about your libertarian brother is understandable, but would the dynamic of you tolerating him more than normal really change that much if he were a workmate, a classmate, or a neighbour, or a piano teacher? There are plenty of ways a person can have more than one intersecting social bubble, and family is not really unique in this regard. You might say that you have no choice who your family is, but you often have no choice who your neighbour or your classmates are, either, and if you have the personal freedom necessary, you can also choose to distance or sever your connection to your family as you can with these other relations. Many do.

          Which leads to me to my big question. Why is it Beasts specifically who have this "family" dynamic? Unless I am gravely misunderstanding the first paragraph, it seems the connection is that Beasts don't have a typical morality meter and thus can relate to the given struggle of any other splat which allows them to move relatively freely between humanity and monstrocity, but I lose you when you say that Demons don't do this. I think your point about high Cover tending towards humanity and low Cover tending towards monstrocity is something of a simplification to make your point more consistent, because there are no real prohibitions towards a monstrous high Cover and a humane low Cover as there are with the other splats, nor is a 0 Cover Demon lost as with most other splats.

          Then, what is stopping the Kinship/Family mechanic to be ripped from Beast and given to another splat, like Demon? If the only real requirement is that their morality meter doesn't have an easily sliding humanity-monstrocity scale, what is so special about the feeding on fear, the atavisms, the Lair, the Heroes, etc that only Beast has the focus on the Family mechanic?

          Not the author, obviously. But i want to take a stab at this regardless.

          You ask 'Why is it Beasts specifically who have this "family" dynamic?' and i ask 'why not?'

          Why is it so questionable that Beast specifically has family dynamics as a focus of its themes? It works beautifully for the monsters that truly have no morality meter like most others do to have a built-in reason to seek out others to give their actions context and contrast, both. Mechanics like Family Dinner, Thicker Than Water and Mother's Kiss promote this - both the Beast and the other supernatural have something to gain from association. One of those (Thicker Than Water) makes it far more likely that you'll be inclined to believe at least some of what this random stranger walking up to you says.

          As for what's stopping the kinship/family mechanic from being ripped out of Beast and given to another splat....why? Do you think Beast would be better served by ditching family as a major theme? What would that accomplish, aside from dumping on the redheaded stepchild of CofD games a little more and making them even more outright evil antagonist ubermonsters everyone can easily hate? Beast has it because Beast was built from the ground up to have it and it's a theme largely unexplored in other lines, save Werewolf, where 'family' is replaced by 'pack' and filtered through what is arguably an even more inhuman lens than Beast.

          Now this part is less important, but necessary to explain my tone: I'm being a little defensive here, because I have over the years seen so, so so many people gripe and complain about all the things Beasts get that would be 'better' in another splat; usually people who don't care to actually read the damn books or even give it a chance because they read that vitriolic Fatal and Friends review or one of the many, many other hit pieces about the game. If none of that is you then disregard this part; i'm explaining why i come off so defensive and it's because i'm tired of having to justify not wanting my all-time favorite RPG to get ripped to shreds and have its pieces fed to other games i have no interest in. Beast is a unique animal and like all things isn't to everyone's liking; that's fine. I want more people to 'get' this game i love, but it's also okay if they just don't like it and decide to leave me in peace. I want a game where i can be the kind of monster i want to be and play with other monsters in crossover like a big 'ol group of Supernatural Superfriends and have mechanics that not only support it, but make it easier. I don't want to play just another Vampire, Werewolf or Mage with pre-defined behavioral standards that i cannot deviate from without getting punished by an arbitrary morality meter or being forced to transform into an unplayable psychotic monster. I don't want to play a trauma victim who escaped from a supernatural gulag and spends their entire life running from their old masters or an alien machine-monster trying to blend in with humanity and find my own paradise. I wanna be a goddamn dragon, or a kraken, or a rainbow-farting murder unicorn that impales people with its magnificent horn and has a lair filled with rivers of molten candy. And i want to be able to hang with all of the monsters above because it's freaking cool. That's all the reason needed to give Beasts the family theme and Kinship mechanics - because nobody else is doing it, because it gives them a cool niche and (my opinion) it facilitates what we're all here for if you don't fight it tooth and nail: Cool stories about monsters in a dark world struggling to find their balance.

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          • #6
            Eternal Darkness I don't have a particularly strong opinion about Beast and I'll probably never play it given how no one ever seems to be interested in running it, but just asking the inverse of my proposals doesn't really make me question why I put forth those proposals to begin with.

            I really think that, if you were so inclined, it would be possible to find something that every splat has in common with each of the others, and give them the identity of "kinship splat". I just restricted myself to Demon because it doesn't have a traditional morality meter alongside Beast.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by MalkSam View Post
              Eternal Darkness I don't have a particularly strong opinion about Beast and I'll probably never play it given how no one ever seems to be interested in running it, but just asking the inverse of my proposals doesn't really make me question why I put forth those proposals to begin with.

              I really think that, if you were so inclined, it would be possible to find something that every splat has in common with each of the others, and give them the identity of "kinship splat". I just restricted myself to Demon because it doesn't have a traditional morality meter alongside Beast.

              I run Beast all the time, haha. Lots of people do. Anyone interested in an online venue by which to play is welcome to message me. Which brings up a relevant point - Beast is not a game you read and know how it works. You have to play it. Its execution is magnificent if you let it be and that is why i've been playing it since shortly after its release in one form or another.

              As to the rest - You are correct, any splat could put family as a central theme, but Beast did and as a Beast fanboy i love that. It feels so right for the omni-monster splat to have that; it fit the implied lore Beast sets forth, it fits the feel and mechanics, it just works. One of the most enjoyable parts of playing Beast to me is forming Kinships when it's hard - Changelings are usually a tough sell, for example (but funny enough, not always). Demon aside i'd argue that no other splat has the built-in narrative room to focus much on kinships; they all have ingrained reasons to instantly mistrust anything not their own kind. Beasts have none of that societal baggage or mechanically-enforced behavioral requirements to restrict them and that's why it works.

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              • #8
                The short answers for why Beasts have this Kinship dynamic are, Watsonially and then Doylistically, "Because Beasts have this massive Astral symbol for monsterhood where their soul used to be that is connected to the supreme Astral icon for Monstrosity that connects to all monsters (barring the God-Machine's weird sacred apartness) because in this setting the Law of Sympathy is King, and how else would you describe this intimate psycho spiritual connection except as Kinship?" and "Because during development, someone had the bright idea of Kinship as one of the two major themes for this crossover game about mythic monsters, and it had a lot of really cool quirks that emerged from that conception, particularly when the suggestion to base Beasts in the Astral was added into the mix. It was an angle that doesn't quite work with the other gamelines goals."

                THat was not a hard question.
                Last edited by ArcaneArts; 06-06-2020, 03:58 PM.


                Sean K.I.W./Kelly R.A. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Sean, Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
                The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
                Feminine pronouns, please.

                Comment


                • #9
                  To add on to the above point, Beasts are the inhabitants of the Astral, the place that is the mass human conscious. The astral reflects all that humans contextualize, including monsters. Due to the Beasts inherent connection to this place, there is a subconscious understanding between two monstrous beings. An understanding that is "that's a monster. like me". It may not be an instant understanding, but its enough that they just feel that the beast is someone who can relate to them.

                  At least, that's my understanding. Could be dead wrong.

                  Anyway, loved the essay, I pray to the dark mother everyday that you get to write for Beast. I'm actually in a Beast playthrough with a dynamic between a devotee of the Dark Mother and a Paternoster Seer, so this was very timely.

                  I do have one question though. I'm surprised that some aspects were not used for this argument. Such as the individualistic approach beasts have to building their Legends, the outright ease a Hero could have with perverting the narrative of a Beast society, and the society (well, ecosystem really) of Hives. Were they just not necessary to the argument (since it deals with why the lack of society strengthens gameline, not why they wouldnt work/are already filled in) or did you simply want to keep it streamlined?

                  EDIT: Sorry Arcane I meant above point as in what Eternal Darkness said earlier. I'm slow at typing
                  Last edited by Primordial newcomer; 06-06-2020, 04:13 PM.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Primordial newcomer View Post
                    To add on to the above point, Beasts are the inhabitants of the Astral, the place that is the mass human conscious. The astral reflects all that humans contextualize, including monsters. Due to the Beasts inherent connection to this place, there is a subconscious understanding between two monstrous beings. An understanding that is "that's a monster. like me". It may not be an instant understanding, but its enough that they just feel that the beast is someone who can relate to them.

                    At least, that's my understanding. Could be dead wrong.

                    Anyway, loved the essay, I pray to the dark mother everyday that you get to write for Beast. I'm actually in a Beast playthrough with a dynamic between a devotee of the Dark Mother and a Paternoster Seer, so this was very timely.

                    I do have one question though. I'm surprised that some aspects were not used for this argument. Such as the individualistic approach beasts have to building their Legends, the outright ease a Hero could have with perverting the narrative of a Beast society, and the society (well, ecosystem really) of Hives. Were they just not necessary to the argument (since it deals with why the lack of society strengthens gameline, not why they wouldnt work/are already filled in) or did you simply want to keep it streamlined?

                    EDIT: Sorry Arcane I meant above point as in what Eternal Darkness said earlier. I'm slow at typing
                    Streamlined. Regarding the individual nature of beast, I covered that in the first Kneel Before the Maw, and regarding the way the Astral plays into beast societies (including Hives), that's gonna be Kneel Before the Maw Part 2: The Mawsome Possum.

                    Originally this post became was about the moral position of Beast and why it is the way it is in relation to the rest of the Chronicles franchise by virtue of being the Crossover Game, and I last minute sort of turned it into humanity because that's slightly easier to argue than morality or ethical consideration. Recent conversations also tweaked the look at Family because it's one of those hyper-big reasons why trying to assert philosophies and factions into Beast beyond the Brood system (which can and does still incorporate things like Primordial Cults, Obcasus Rites as Religion, complex family trees, etc. etc.) doesn't work too well. But for the most part, it was taking a look at the monstrosity of Beast.

                    The reason the ending is weak is because I got Beast's reasoning for where it is down (between how they actualize and resolve the humanity/monstrosity argument and what that means and how the viewpoint on family and the integration of Fear and Hunger into that viewpoint breaks down the usual arguments made in factional ways and shifts the focus over to more tightly knit and personal reasoning and connection) but I never really got around to properly full circling it to the humanity of Beast-I kind of stopped because I was damn tired and didn't want to have to go link hunting again. (One of the problems with having talked so much about....EVERYTHING is that I have a lot of things I can just point to, nevermind incorporating comments from other sources).
                    Last edited by ArcaneArts; 06-07-2020, 01:46 AM.


                    Sean K.I.W./Kelly R.A. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Sean, Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
                    The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
                    Feminine pronouns, please.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by ArcaneArts View Post
                      Streamlined. Regarding the individual nature of beast, I covered that in the first Kneel Before the Maw, and regarding the way the Astral plays into beast societies (including Hives), that's gonna be Kneel Before the Maw Part 2: The Mawsome Possum.
                      Nice. Will read part one and await part 2.

                      EDIT: noticed the edit you made, explains everything nicely.

                      And when the hopeful storyteller guide shows up (not unlikely? Players guide actually did well critically), I am hoping for a ton on crossover and astral/primordial dream.
                      Last edited by Primordial newcomer; 06-06-2020, 11:20 PM.

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                      • #12
                        Oh, well. This is a nice thing.

                        I think this helps me see better what you meant by Family in regards to factions before. Thank you for that.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I finally understand now your point of view about Beast as a whole, why you don't think it needs a regular Y-Splat.

                          You think Kinship as a theme works.

                          But people don't buy it, I don't buy it, in fact, it's the cringiest part of Beast, it's the one part of the book that I find particularly painful to read, not the controversial themes, not Heroes, it's the fucking "we are family" thingy. It was the worst possible way to introduce crossover sans Fallen retconning other lines and they did it.

                          Sorry that you wrote all this essay explaining Families, trying so hard to defend a system that probably just randomly popped during a brainstorm and they went "oh this is cool" without thinking about it too much, it's all useless if people read Beast and cringe at the notion that Beasts considers the other splats their "family".

                          Either you find a better way to present this system or scrap it completely. I'm just saying, it's the way the system was presented that is just a huge turn-off.

                          Why not have Beasts feel connected to the other gamelines for a different reason? let the Primordial Dream be some sort of primordial sub-consciousness of humanity, and say the monstrous acts the other gamelines commit feed it and make new Horrors spawn, and since the Horrors spawn because of the other monsters the Beasts have this inherent connection to them.

                          That in my opinion is so much better than simply saying "we have a common descendant" when the very book proceeds to say it's just a bogus story the Beasts created to explain their reality.
                          Last edited by DreadQueen; 06-07-2020, 10:29 PM.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by DreadQueen View Post
                            Either you find a better way to present this system or scrap it completely.
                            It's been done. Beasts treat other monsters as "family" conceptually, because the specific way that they are monsters is by having a spiritual descendent of the idea of a monster taking up the space where humans keep their soul. Putting it in terms of a human line of descent because most of the other splats engage from a humanlike perspective doesn't undo the fact that cladistics comes into play when dealing with the spawn of the Mother of Monsters whose common name means "dangerous animal."

                            This has been hashed out repeatedly in the five-ish years since the game came out without people making pointless ultimatums like this. There is no point in talking about cringe in this context.



                            Resident Lore-Hound
                            Currently Consuming: Hunter: the Vigil 1e

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Satchel View Post
                              It's been done. Beasts treat other monsters as "family" conceptually, because the specific way that they are monsters is by having a spiritual descendent of the idea of a monster taking up the space where humans keep their soul. Putting it in terms of a human line of descent because most of the other splats engage from a humanlike perspective doesn't undo the fact that cladistics comes into play when dealing with the spawn of the Mother of Monsters whose common name means "dangerous animal."

                              This has been hashed out repeatedly in the five-ish years since the game came out without people making pointless ultimatums like this. There is no point in talking about cringe in this context.

                              Hashed for five-ish years because that's not how the books presents it.

                              Don't pretend this interpretation of Kinship is not just the fans having their own headcanon because it's way better than what is in the corebook.

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