Day 6 of #RPGaDAY
6. Favourite RPG (You) Never Get to Play
There’s one stand-out choice here for me. Promethean: the Created, often cited in my friendship group as “the best RPG that no-one plays”.
I’ve had a fondness for Promethean since it came out. It was White Wolf’s first move away from updating the classic World of Darkness game lines and into creating something entirely new. It’s a game about reanimated people coming to terms with their new monstrous condition, piecing together memories of their old lives, and trying to survive a world that hates their existence on a fundamental level. Needless to say, it owes more than a little to Mary Shelley, and one of the Lineages of Prometheans are even called Frankensteins.
But that isn’t to say that its scope is limited to just that archetype. The other lineages cover a range of other reanimation myths (touching on Egyptian, Hebrew, Roman, Greek and Siberian mythology) with its supplements straying into even more exotic territory (the mechanical Unfleshed and radioactive Zeka).
There’s a strong theme of hubris to the game, as every lineage originates from a (usually) human progenitor. This progenitor imbued a body with the Divine Fire, a mysterious force of creation linked to humanity (and often assumed to be what Prometheus stole from the gods, hence the name of game and its protagonists). This Divine Fire or Azoth burns brightly within the Prometheans, giving them remarkable strengths, recuperative powers, supernatural abilities and even the power to come back from the dead once more. However, it also marks them as fundamentally unnatural, creating distrust and hatred in those they encounter, and mystically polluting the land they live on if they stay in one place for too long.
Once a Promethean has understood the fundamentals of their new condition, they will, through instinct or tuition, take on a Refinement – an alchemical philosophy and practice to help them achieve the magnum opus of transmuting the gross matter of their animated bodies back into its mortal form and the sublime nature of the human soul. Or, to put it more simply, self-alchemy to become a real body again. Most of the Refinements align to elemental metals, but a few choose the darker path of studying Flux, the destructive, chaotic aspect of the Divine Fire.
At the core of any Promethean story is the Pilgrimage, the path a Promethean walks as they attempt to become mortal once more. It’s both an IC and an OoC concept, and means that most Promethean chronicles will be quite closely focused around the individual stories of the characters involved. There’s a lot I like about this idea (including the mechanical incentive of Vitriol, which is essentially an XP reward for following your character’s path) and it does give a strong direction to the narrative of the game, but it’s quite poorly implemented in places. Not least of these implementation issues is the fact that the ST section tells the ST to write all of the Milestones for the players and not tell them what they are. Yes, I understand the idea of them being a surprise, but this whole concept would work far, far better if done collaboratively with the players. I imagine (or at least strongly hope) this is one of the changes we’re likely to see if they get around to doing a God Machine era update…
The themes of hubris and unintended consequences continue in other parts of the game. As a part of their Pilgrimage, every Promethean must undertake the generative act of imbuing the Divine Fire into a corpse, and so create another of their kind, effectively cursing someone else to the half-life in exchange for their own salvation. Of course, the act of creation doesn’t always go smoothly, and there’s a fair chance that this attempt will instead result in a Pandoran, a Flux-fuelled mockery of the Promethean form. Pandorans are where the game lets itself get really weird and gruesome, and they make for a good range of antagonists from mindless monsters through to fully sentient and cunning creations to scheme against the Created.
So, why does no-one play it? The core themes of the game can be difficult to handle well, and the world literally hates all of the PCs on a fundamental level. This isn’t for everyone, as even if you do great deeds or save lives, the people you’ve fought for will still be knocking down your door with pitchforks and torches a few days later. While I’d class it as ultimately the most optimistic of the World of Darkness games in its way (its an expected part of the game that at least some PCs will succeed in their goal of becoming human again), there are a lot of really bleak times to get through first. The alchemical pseudo-science body horror aesthetic is also quite a specific niche to work with, and the artwork, while beautifully well done, is moderately disturbing in places.
And, of course, there’s the simple fact that the game doesn’t tie back to the classic World of Darkness, so it had to create its player base from scratch rather than inheriting a substantial number from its predecessor line. I’m sure that played no small part in the early success of the other new World of Darkness games.
There you have it – Promethean: the Created, a storytelling game of stolen lives. It’s an interesting, thoughtful game about hope, rejection, self-betterment and hubris, wrapped in some imaginative and gruesome packaging. If you’ve never read it, it’s well worth a look, and if you end up running a game, let me know…
Unfortunately there’s a bit of a lack of Web resources for this game, so there’s not much to go here.
Like pretty much everything White Wolf/Onyx Path have produced, the whole line is in PDF and print on demand via DriveThruRPG. There’s a free introductory adventure, and although its one of the weaker ones that’s been produced for the new World of Darkness, it does give a decent introduction to the mechanics and some of the themes of the game.