Review by Charles R. Bernard
I had the good fortune to speak to game designer and fellow occult literature enthusiast Wayne Robert recently, and the equally good fortune to get my dainty claws on a review copy of his forthcoming Old School Essentials setting Pan: His Majesty in Yellow. It’s an exquisitely and intricately crafted love letter to the high weirdness of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, not to mention the work of authors like Ambrose Bierce, Robert W. Chambers, and H.P. Lovecraft.
When we spoke, Wayne did me a huge favor. To paraphrase, he told me that if I hadn’t already checked out the early Peter Pan stories – specifically, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens – I should do so, as I would find them delightfully pagan and full of esoteric and occult references. He was right! I read Kensington Gardens before I perused Pan: His Majesty (on Indiegogo now), and both experiences were amazing. Wayne Robert has quite brilliantly drawn together the disparate mythoi of Hastur, Haïta the shepherd, the Hyades, Pan, the fae, and more into a synthesis that captures the atmospheric creepiness of non-Disneyfied stories of wildness, childhood, and pure, primal chaos.
Not that you have to be obsessed with this source material to enjoy the hell out of Pan: His Majesty. Through a combination of brief, quoted excerpts, historical and original imagery, and detailed character, setting, and mechanic descriptions, Wayne Roberts’ Neverborn Islands live and breathe on their own, even if you’ve never so much as heard of Peter Pan. And if the only acquaintance you have is the musical or the Disney cartoon? Let’s just say that Pan: His Majesty provides a stellar education in exactly how sinister the story is and how deep and eldritch its roots are.
I particularly enjoyed Robert’s treatment of the Aspects of Pan, which occultists and fans of high weirdness alike recognize as a vital element of understanding such archetypes. Peter Pan isn’t simply one capricious being: he’s several. Peter’s shadow, thanks to the machinations of Hastur (not to reveal too much), has taken on lives of its own. There’s the braggadocio of Captain Pan, the tyrannical caprice of Pan, His Majesty, and other segments of the character’s story-superstructure. Robert’s approach to this understanding of the eternal half-child (and eternal thief of childhood) is thesis-level good.
Did I say “half-child?” I did! Peter’s strange and off-putting origins are only one of the things I was aware of from Kensington Gardens when I picked up Pan: His Majesty, thanks to Wayne Robert. It’s a rare delight when I get to check out a tabletop game setting that this fervently ignites the occult and esoteric side of my brain. This book will prove a special treat for pans of Chambers, Bierce, Lovecraft, Barrie, et. al., but that knowledge isn’t essential to getting a lot out of it. Pick it up, and if you haven’t read Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, this might be the only nudge you need!
Pan: His Majesty in Yellow by Wayne Roberts, for Old School Essentials (Characters Lv. 7+)