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For the month of April, High Level Games has decided to give a test for another themed month: The Creature Feature! This month is dedicated to monsters and minions of all kinds in this beloved hobby of ours. Though with a name like that, and 2018 being the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein being published, I felt there was an opportunity we’re missing.
So with that said, I’ve decided to take this time to bring some attention to my favorite line in the World of Darkness; that game about our modern world, fraught with all manner of otherworldly creatures, some of which you get to play as!
Let me tell you about Promethean: The Created!
(Note: This article was written in regards to the 1st Edition of Promethean published by White Wolf in 2006. As a result, some details may be different than what is reflected by its 2nd Edition.)
1) The Premise
Promethean is a game about humanity. It’s about what it means to be human and what it takes to create a human. It plays with the idea that there’s something more than just the physical makeup of our bodies that make us human, something more than just the psychological paradigms we possess and develop.
It takes that assumption that there’s something else needed, and puts the player in the position of being something that certainly could be a human. Something that technically has the quantifiable parts (Water 35L, carbon 20kg, ammonia 4L…) but might not have been put together right.
They’re not complete, and because of this, the whole of reality rejects them. People and animals are driven into a frenzy when they spend too much time around them, and even the very landscape withers at their presence. A promethean’s facsimile of life is one fraught with torment, but they’re one of the few creatures in the World of Darkness who can have a comparatively happy ending.
2) The Lineages
Prometheans can be classified based on how they were created, known as their Lineage. These Lineages are inspired by various real world myths regarding irregular creations of human life, such as the Tammuz, Golems of Hebrew lore, or the Frankensteins, borrowing from Mary Shelley’s novel of the same name, as well as myths of rebirth such as the ancient Egyptian tale of Osiris.
Being supernatural creatures, prometheans have some fantastic powers, some of which are determined by their lineage, such as a Frankenstein having immense physical strength, or how Golems never seem to grow tired.
Lineage also determines the shape of the various trials and tribulations a promethean will inevitably face on their journey to become human.
3) The Horrors
This wouldn’t be a World of Darkness game if there wasn’t some horrific downsides to the creature you were playing as. Prometheans arguably have it the worst; the bulk of their problems can be summed up as “they shouldn’t exist, and reality as a whole rejects them.”
The first such effect is Wasteland. The very environment around a promethean begins to decay around them if they hang around too long, usually within a matter of days. The results differ depending on what the promethean’s lineage is, since each lineage is associated with one of the four classical elements (and spirit.)
Tammuz are ruled by Earth, so as a result of their Wasteland effect, the land around them becomes blighted and unsuitable for vegetation. Plants wither and die, the ground itself becomes difficult to till, and buildings appear to be crumbling and ready to collapse at any moment.
Compounding this is the phenomenon of Disquiet, which affects the minds of the communities that the promethean interacts with, spreading derangement like a disease. It always starts small, affecting only a few people they interact with at a time. To the chagrin of prometheans, the more time they spend around these few people, the more likely those people will spread that mental illness with each other.
Much like Wasteland, the specific effects vary by lineage; Frankenstein’s will sow paranoia, pettiness, and desires for revenge among the populace they find themselves in. Once friendly neighbors become jealous of one another, constantly aiming to sabotage each other. Trust and cooperation become things of the past, at least until the mass revelation that everything was fine until THAT PERSON showed up.
This revelation predictably ends with an unruly mob convinced that the Frankenstein is the cause of their civil unrest, armed with the proverbial pitchforks and torches.
4) The Refinements
As all supernatural creatures in the world of Darkness are wont to do, ideologies form about the nature of their condition. For prometheans, whose end goal is to become human, such ideologies are part and parcel to their journey. These are known as Refinements, and they answer the question: “What is it that would make us human?” Each of the refinements has a different answer.
Aurum, the Refinement of Gold, believes that the best way to become human would be to blend in with humanity and to attempt to copy them. Meanwhile, Curprum, the Refinement of Copper, asserts that the answer lies not within human society, but rather the seclusion of being a promethean. Since change is a recurring theme throughout Promethean: The Created, the core rulebook describes that many prometheans eventually find that there isn’t any one particular answer to what would make a promethean human.
With that said, it isn’t uncommon for prometheans to change their refinement throughout their life. A promethean that encounters other supernatural creatures that were once human might adopt Argentum (Silver), a Refinement revolving around living with and studying supernatural creatures who were once human. Or a promethean that spends more time amongst their fellow created might adopt the philosophies of Aes (Bronze), which pertains to prometheans forming their own societies (but does not require having been in the Copper or Tin refinements first.).
5) The Subtext
Horror is often described as being a medium with more meaning than what is initially presented, with even Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein having numerous interpretations, some which still ring true today. With this in mind, interpreting literature or other works of fiction is a very subjective matter, and one interpretation doesn’t necessarily invalidate another.
What we have in Promethean is a bunch of people who certainly should be like anybody else, but something is off. Despite how swiftly prometheans learn, they never quite get what being a human is like; even if they can describe it in perfect detail, their execution is always just a little bit off.
Additionally, when things go wrong they tend to overreact, and even if things don’t go wrong, a promethean inevitably winds up being rejected by the communities they find themselves in. Which is a shame, since the ultimate goal of a promethean is to be a part of and accepted by the human world.
These are challenges that are similar to those faced by people on the autism spectrum; a place I find myself, complete with the same harrowing experiences. It’s rather upsetting to watch one of your peers be praised for something you were moments earlier just punished for. Or when fighting back against other demonstrably unfair treatments, being met with dismissive attitudes such as “it’s not that big of a deal” or “don’t be weird and this wouldn’t happen.”
Even with just this basic understanding of Promethean, there’s still plenty for you to work with if you’re the sort that enjoys making your own monsters for horror games that your player characters can brave mowing down. Assuming you can ignore the allegory that these socially disruptive monsters are people with autism, that is.
...but if you can’t, is it really horror if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable?
Aaron der Schaedel is on the autism spectrum, and this may or may not be related to why he refuses to use his real name on the internet. Or why he’s always changing his biography blurb. If you want to shame him for giving this article such a downer ending, you can find him on twitter @Zamubei.
Picture Reference: http://theonyxpath.com/category/worlds/chroniclesofdarkness/prometheanthecreated/
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.