Beloved of the Dead (Book 2 of the Trilogy of the Second Age)
Beloved of the Dead (Book 2 of the Trilogy of the Second Age) Playtest Review by Stephen Joseph Ellis on 29/09/02
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 2 (Sparse)
An amusing enough book if given free at a convention. Exalted fans might want to save for a sourcebook instead of buying this.
Product: Beloved of the Dead (Book 2 of the Trilogy of the Second Age)
Author: Richard Dansky
Company/Publisher: White Wolf
Page count: 288
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: yes
Playtest Review by Stephen Joseph Ellis on 29/09/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Anime Asian/Far East
[b]Beloved of the Dead Playtest Review
Gaming Fiction for WW’s Exalted line [/b]
First up, allow me to list my biases. I’m currently ambivalent about Exalted, enjoying its more mythic elements, but being turned off by the constant anime action and art.
As for gaming fiction I’ve yet to read anything that would count as literature, so instead regard it as a source of information on the game world and an example of typical characters and adventures for that system. The best example of such being the Deadlands Dime Novel paradigm, or the Battletech Stackpole novels which filled in the personal reactions and deails that the ‘history text’ sourcebooks missed.
Since I’m not expecting good writing, advanced character development or an interesting plot. merely some entertainment and game information I wont mention any literary criticisms. Instead I will tell you exactly what is in the book and what interested me, so beware huge spoilers if you are following the series.
Beloved of the Dead is the 2nd book of the Second Age trilogy and concerns the actions of 7 main protagonists. Dace is an older Dawn caste Exalted acting as Mentor to the recently Exalted and younger Yushuv, your standard annoying [i]‘Teenager of Prophecy/Destiny’[/i] who is exploring his powers and finding out that he’s going to either save or destroy the world.
Eliezer Wren is a former Immaculate Order priest, turned Zenith caste Solar who has fallen into the Underworld after fighting the Prince of Shadows minions. The Prince of Shadow is a languid, decadent Bad Guy who serves entropy, when his apathetic ass can be bothered. Think the most pointless and preening Toreador vampire filled with angst at not having committed an artistically beautiful torture and you’ve got him.
Holok is a Sidereal Exalt and kick-ass kung fu Immaculate Monk. He’s hunting the boy Yushuv on the orders of the Sidereal leader and arch-conspirator Chejop Kejak. At the moment he’s a bit lost and deciding how to pick up the trail again.
Unforgiven Blossom is one of the Prince of Shadows’ ex-minions, an astrologer and sorceror in a prematurely wizened and aged body, she has recently left the Princes castle on a sabbatical, stealing with her a Solar Exalted dagger. She has a penchant for stabbing people in the eye with steel pins and acting as a general agent of destiny/unknown forces.
Ratcatcher is a psychopathic zombie, and ex-minion of the Prince who was killed by Unforgiven Blossom for unknown reasons in the first book. He seeks vengeance on Blossom and is aided by various malign spirits.
Basically Dace and Yushuv travel through some generic wilderness, get stuck in some Swamp of Horrendous Doom, then come across a Lost City while harried by Fair Folk. They release the McGuffin That Has Been Trapped Ten Thousand Years, and the city blows up in a suitably pyrotechnic display with lots of Fair Folk deaths. The most interesting part comes at the end when an Elf-Lord comes out of his way to surrender to the two of them. As their prisoner he taunts and teases Yushuv and Dace with the news that Yushuz will one day kill Creation and allow in the chaotic Wyld. One can just imagine the quivering lips of the two anime characters as they desperately try to emote, before with a cry of [b][i]“Tetsuooooooooo!”[/i][/b] Dace slices the elf in two, restoring the usual balance of action over dialogue. (OK, I made up the bit about Tetsuo, but that scene from Akira entered my imagination as I read it)
Elizier has a slightly more interesting time, waking up broken, bruised and blinded in the eternally dark Underworld, taunted by two sibilant serpents, sent to escort him to a Malfean God of the Underwold. After some misadventures and attempts to prove his freedom of choice, he winds up in the Dead Gawds Temple and is offered a deal to become an Abyssal Exalted by an uber-NPC WHO SPEAKS NOT ONLY IN CAPITALS (like Terry Pratchett’s Death) [i] BUT ITALICISED CAPITALS FOR EXTRA EFECT! (DUM- DUM- DUUUM!) [/i]
Pulling a Samson, he foreswears the Dark God, brings light to the underworld (nice mythological twist) and then runs away very quickly, having managed to get a free gift of the full knowledge of an thousand year old Zenith caste downloaded into his mind. (One can just imagine a host of power-gaming players rubbing their hands in glee, scheming for a way to get the same game balance busting reward for their characters). Then he gets to draw Excalibur, on the promise he takes it to the boy king, Yushuv, further cementing his Most Favoured Character status. (and again the munchkins run their hands at the thought of all that extra power for free ‘because its for some one else!’)
Unforgiven Blossom basically travels around, casts a few divination spells, pokes out some eyes, and winds up meeting Holok. While something of a passive character, she is engagingly written and has a certain amoral charm, never feeling too sorry for herself.
The Prince Shadows on the other hand generally mopes around for most of the book, not doing anything more than order various tortures. The most amusing bit is when his accountant tries to cheer him up by asking him to ride out once again [I] “making your enemies fear you, and your allies glad of their allegiance” [/I], desecrate temples, reaffirm strength and generally cheer up through unleashing unbridled violence. Presumably he’ll do this in book 3 and meet up with Yushuv and Dace in so doing.
Ratcatcher kills various things, rampages about, meets some smart-alec talking ravens (why are there always smart-ass talking animals in fantasy books these days? Gaiman has a lot to answer for.), get a new body from a dumb cultist and then launches a suicidal attack on Unforgiven Blossom and Holok and loses.
Holok despite his apparent bad-guy status revels in his two-dimensional status of King-Fu monk. He beats up dockside thugs, he casts out usurers and moneylenders from temples, he gets into great, rollicking tavern fights, crippling mooks left right and centre. He seeks wisdom in the mouths of babes (buying some 10 year old girl street-thief a milkshake and asking where she would run away to), complaining about tea and then quoteing scripture to shopkeepers. And then hes back in another great mook fight, enjoying the sheer thrill of breaking bones, throwing sand in eyes, toppling tables, kicking burning logs and people with chairs. In short Holok is another fun character, whose reached the point in his thousand year old life where he is looking for a purpose and finds it in glorious wuxia violence. That and the fact that he seems to be the only character that doesn’t use his super-powers every five minutes to cast divinations, ‘Call the Light’ or fire a hundred arrows in under 10 seconds. As the most earthy and cynical character, he sets aside the whole Sidereal angst issue and just kicks ass in a pleasantly delightful way. (And so gives a whole lot of stunt inspiration for both players and GM’s to pep up their fight scenes). As Kejak thinks reading the reports of a mysterious Monk of Humble Anger inspiring Port Callin citizens to take the law into their own hands [I] “You always produce the most interesting stories, Holok”. I]
Whats good about Beloved? Well there is some appropriately over the top dramatic scenes that could be used in your game- cities set alight by mile high fire elementals, Underworld temples falling on the titanic bodies of dead gods and ravening Wolf spirits crushing all in their path. Definitely some wide-screen action.
For character inspiration, you have a fair selection of non-normal humans- be they Exalts, sorcerors, or undead revenants, but none are too orginal. (Chosen one & mentor, priest who has lost faith, sorceress who has sold youth for power, avenging Crow, and old man looking for purpose).
For game detail, you get an idea of how to present the Underworld (which has similarities to the Wraith Labyrinth book), what the Malfeans want (Abyssal Exalted to take back Creation for them- coming full circle on the Unconquered Suns tactic now He is obsessed with the Games of Divinty), a proper Malfean (Malhavosh, Father of Snakes and Lord of Murder) and some Fair Folk critter ideas.
Whats bad? Well there are a number of uber-powerful NPC’s which irritate the main characters but are invulnerable save for acts of [I] deus ex machina [/I] or GM railroading, but you get that with most high level games. There also seem to be a few things that don’t correspond to the rulebook (some spirit and charm things) but I could be wrong there.
Plus, I had never realised this before, but the non-Exalted have the most annoying and stupid names- like Raggedy Fox, or Jade Waters (sounding like a porn star). At one point someone turns up and says with a straight face [i] “My name is Faithful Hound” [/i] to which the zombie replies [i] “That’s a joke, right?” [/i] which basically says it all.
Beloved of the Dead is an somewhat inoffensive example of game fiction which gives some examples of Exalted character types, situations and stunt uses. Some mythological grandeur is present with some strong imagery (a light in the Underworld, the drawing of Excalibur) but this is equally matched a chapter later with Wuxia fights, some good, some bad.
Is it worth getting? Well, as someone who isn’t a huge fan of game fiction I wouldn’t part with money for it, but if included in a convention Welcome bag, or found in the library then its 3 hours of entertaining enough reading. As a supplement to Exalted, its fairly non-critical (unlike say the Stackpole novels where to Battletech) but has some interesting examples of play, and at last a clear example of the Malfeans in action.
Style- gets a 3 for some significantly stylish moments but also loses points for silly names and gratuitious anime emoting.
Substance- gets a 2 as it gives some detail on the world of Exalted, particularly the Underworld, but fails as it also invents and quickly destroys new stuff rather than deal with the consequences of it, like lost cities rediscovered and Solar ghosts with memories of the 1st Age.