Friday, December 14, 2012

Night Horrors: Grim Fears: Thorny Bad Guys for Changeling

BAD INFORMATION
I skipped reading Night Horrors: Grim Fears originally because I’d heard a really bad review of it. The player described it as an attempt to milk the line for a few extra bucks. Plus, once a player has picked up and read an antagonist book before I have, it kind of defeats the purpose. Recently, poking around one of the Changeling the Lost wikis I saw that the book contained a couple of new mechanical options- kiths and Goblin Contracts. I decided I ought to get around to reading it since I was putting a new CtL campaign in order.

Night Horrors is a linked set of antagonist books across several World of Darkness lines. This isn’t a model WW have undertaken very often with nWoD. It’s a little like the old “Year of…” linked books from oWoD. The general connection seems to be to provide adversaries and plot ideas within one setting which could be used in one of the other lines. So for example, Night Horrors: The Unbidden for Mage offers summoned dangerous entities. The other link seems to be to offer more direct “horror” elements to their respective games. However that’s more implied than actually carried through, at least with Grim Fears.


Night Horrors: Grim Fears on RPGNow

CONCEPTUAL DISCONNECT
One moment in the book bugged me right away. It’s an odd thing but I think it bears mentioning. One of the problems with a developing game line is that material has to expand, has to develop. Changeling generally had fewer problems arising from this because it is a limited run line. But even within it, I’ve found moments and details which rang false to me because of the way I see the setting- how I’ve come to read the ideas there.

The opening game well-written fiction has a character fall into the Hedge. He returns, takes care of his fetch and slips back into his family. A couple of sticking points remain, but generally the tone of the piece suggest that going home again has a couple of moderate structural obstacles. That’s not the way I’ve ever seen that. Changelings can’t go home again. Or rather only a small number of them can manage to fake it, a tiny fraction. Changelings have been changed. They’ve been held and forced to do and be awful things- a change far more mental and emotional than physical. They have PSTD. Watch a couple of episodes of the show Prisoners of War for a good gauge of the way I see that. They’re not who they were, though they long to be and desperately believe they can be- a detail which makes them even more dangerous to be around. That’s pretty crucial to the way I see the CtL set up- so the starting fiction failed not on a stylistic level, but conceptually for me.

But it wouldn’t for someone else. I think there’s a parallel with the actual monsters and adversaries presented in the book. Some of them really click for me- I can see how they could play out and they work with my sense of the setting. Others though don’t. They violate some of the rules I have in my head. That makes judging these ideas harder, because over years of running CtL I’ve internalized some concepts.

To give a concrete example, I was describing an idea to the upcoming G+ CtL group. One of the players stopped me and said, “Wait, you’re saying Hobs can leave the Hedge?” I came up short. I’d always assumed they could- that’s how I’d run them in my earlier campaign. They were hidden and hiding, skulking in corners. But I might be wrong about that- honestly I haven’t gone back to check the books to see. My Hobs are still going to sneak out into the real world, but I know that in other games that’s a dealbreaker…

PRESENTATION
Grim Fears clocks in at 128 pages. The original hardcover appears OOP, but the pdf or POD hard/soft-covers can be purchased online. The page payout’s simple and clear with two-columns and clearly defined sidebars. The book establishes an entry format and sticks to it throughout. The page borders images press a little close at times- they looked fine on my PC, but on a tablet they showed some odd artifacting. The color image is odd and certainly more gruesome than other books in the Changeling line. Each entry gets an image, with some quite striking but a number of them merely meh. The set-up game fiction has my favorite two pieces. The writing’s solid, with some changes in tone and approach between entries. Nothing feels inconsistent with the approach.


MATERIAL
After the intro game fiction, Grim Fears sets up the basic premise in a couple of pages. There’s some discussion of how these beings could be used more broadly in other World of Darkness campaigns. That’s one of the contradictions of this book. There’s the sense that the series has be created with that idea in mind- presenting concepts from one ‘setting’ to be useful in others. However many of the actual entries don’t really fit with that- they’re fairly specifically antagonists for Changelings. Four example, Auntie Ally, who desperately want approval from other members of the Freehold. The other suggestion is that the books are more about the horror elements of the setting- hinted at by the title, cover, and blurbs. Yet that doesn’t seem particularly consistent in the actual characters presented. I don’t think that’s a bad thing- just inconsistent. GMs coming into the book expecting either material fully useful for other WoD campaigns or full-on horror beasts may be a little disappointed.

BEST & WORST
There’s a decent two-page overview with a paragraph summary for each antagonist presented in the book. I actually really liked the minimal write-ups given here. I’d like to see more of that- short idea sparks in great volume, perhaps with a plot hook or two attached. Grim Fears covers 26 different and varied characters. Each entries presents background, description, secrets, rumors (with comments on those rumors), stats & mechanics, and story hooks. Entries vary in depth for each of these- some have extensive new system details, while others have fairly detailed story hooks. Given that each character gets four+ pages, there’s a lot of material here. Any single NPC could provide many sessions of play.

This is definitely a Storyteller-facing book, so I don’t want to go into details too much. Grim Fears offers a nice variety of ideas and concepts. None feel like clones of one another.

The most interesting to me? Gentleman John, the Thistle Thief. I like the presentation here and his secrets offer depth to what could have been a simple character. He’s not a conventional antagonist and certainly not a horror character. Jack o’ the Lantern works for me, despite a couple of the ideas clashing with my vision of Changelings. I like the art and the writing in his entry quite a bit. He represents the best kind of ambiguity for the CtL setting. Maya Sharptongue offers a good archetype- as a figure who creates discord within a Freehold. It’s worth noting that the entries I find strongest in the book are the ambiguous and slightly broken Changelings, rather than the bigger monsters. I also liked most of the new mechanical ideas given in the book- they’re nicely tied to the entries. The kiths, tokens, and goblin contracts give added value to a standard bad-guy book.

The weakest for me? Argemone is a Hedge Beast with a set-up didn’t grab me at all. Baron Fairweather, the corporate Keeper, felt more like a cute idea that came up in brainstorming rather than anything I’d use at the table. Still it manages to present a couple of story hooks which could make it work…maybe. The Hook ends up being pretty much what you’d expect for an urban legend bad guy.
 

OVERALL
Night Horrors: Grim Fears is a decent supplement- with a good hit to miss ratio. Every entry has at least one cool idea. Even if I don’t plan on using the material as written, I can easily rework it. I like the focus on story elements for the GM- both the rumors and story hooks sections suggest adventures. It is definitely a GM-only book, but that’s relief after several books which mix player and storyteller-facing material. I think most Changeling the Lost GMs will find this worth buying. Storytellers for other WoD games will find less to work with here.