I have always been amazed at how isolated tabletop gaming groups can be. Since I started role playing I have met people who have never played anything other than second edition D&D, likewise I’ve seen groups who play Vampire LARP exclusively. There is very little in the way of a unifying culture for gamers, whereas every sci-fi enthusiast has probably seen an episode of Star Trek there are gamers who have never played a game of Dungeons & Dragons. This, in and of itself, is not an issue, the problem is that, as with all isolated pockets of society, myths and stigmas begin to develop. The kids playing Paranoia think D&D is too simplistic, the kids playing D&D think the guys playing World of Darkness are pretentious, and nobody understands what the hell the Nobilis kids are doing. So in an effort to combat gamer bias I’d like to tell you about some of the games that are out there, waiting to take you to brand new experiences.
A World… of Darkness!
First a little background on the Old World of Darkness. The version predating the current WoD was not a game onto itself, but rather the combination of several game properties, all of which took place in the same universe. If you frequent comic and gaming stores you probably saw them around, usually having names that go (Universal Studios Monster): the (Cool sounding word). Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Creature of the Black Lagoon: The Hissing… OK, maybe not that last one. Each of these games existed in the same universe… sort of, and used the same system… mostly, and had a largely analogous end-of-the-world vibe to it, except for the ones that didn’t.
In 2004 Whitewolf Press unveiled its NEW! World of darkness in an effort to A) streamline the mechanics, B) make the games easier to cross over, C) Reboot a continuity that would make an editor at DC pass out and D) Of course, sell some books. This time The World of Darkness proper got its own book, detailing what it is like to be a regular human living in a world much like our own, except with deeper shadows and mysterious powers just behind a thin veneer of normality.
The World of Darkness core rulebook is worth buying on the merit of its setting alone. Just the bits of fiction between chapters are evocative enough to kickstart an ongoing chronicle all on their own. It also features an extensive storytelling chapter, detailing not just helpful tips on running the game but also advice about creating the dark, spooky atmosphere necessary to play in the World of Darkness. You will also find very interesting story seeds, plothooks and other aids to hook your PCs right into the action.
The book itself is beautiful. The illustrations inside vary between sensual, grotesque and mesmerizing, sometimes all at once. The color scheme of the cover is very evocative, unfortunately, the cover illustration itself is somewhat confusing. The book is thinner than most hardback core books, a feature that works for it. It feels succinct, well thought out, and most importantly, complete.
The storyteller system is the go-to mechanics engine for White Wolf Press’ games. In this system you have several tiers of stats, each of which are rated (except in special circumstances) from 1 to 5. When making a roll you combine the relevant stats by adding up their ratings, this gives you your â€œDice Poolâ€. So if you want to punch a guy and you have a Strength ofÂ 2 (or **), a brawl of ***, and some brass knuckles (+1 to attack) you would put six dice in your dice pool. You then roll that many ten-sided dice, anything that comes up 8 or higher is considered a success. Challenging tasks require only a single success to accomplish, but more difficult endeavors will fail unless multiple successes are scored.
The game is thoroughly geared toward roleplaying, and dicepools can be modified depending on the situation. The combat mechanics are, compared to most other â€œmainstreamâ€ RPGs, fairly light and made to simulate the fast, inaccurate and unforgiving nature of real-world combat and gun-play.
The World of Darkness core rulebook is required to play all other World of Darkness games, here’s a quick rundown of those games, along with my thoroughly biased take on them.
Vampire: The Requiem is the WoD’s flagship title, it is the one that changed the least from the previous edition and still the most popular gothic RPG kicking around. As vampires, the players navigate the baroque schemes of other vampires while simultaneously trying to hold on to their own humanity, lest their inner bloodlust overtake them.
Werewolf: The Forsaken makes me cry, because it retains the weird spirit-mythology premise of the old version. When it was first announced, I was hopeful that it would be a game about werewolves, but as it turns out, it’s still a game about spirit-people fighting spirit-monsters in the spirit-world. You know, just like Lon Chaney Jr. did.
Changeling: The Lost is a fantastic game, and my favorite by far out of the whole World of Darkness suite. In it players take on the roles of people who have returned to the real world after being abducted by faeries and kept as their personal playthings in their mad realms. They return to find that years have passed and that often, there is a dark creature who has taken their place.
Mage: The Awakening stirs the opposite reaction in me from Werewolf. Whereas I was desperately hoping that they would gut and retool Werewolf in the new edition, I wanted them to change as little of Mage as possible. Again, I was disappointed, although a lot of Mage’s flexibility and charm remained, the heart of the game was traded out. The core principle behind the old edition, that reality is based entirely upon the human consensus, was cast aside for a much narrower and, in my opinion, less interesting mythos.
Hunter: The Vigil is “World of Darkness +”. It’s a game about what happens when humans stop cowering and start fighting back. Often becoming as bad as the monsters they’re trying to destroy. A game with a lot of promise and a lot of potential hooks, but also a lot of holes and some weird mechanics. I’d say try it only after you’re comfortable with the core game.
Geist: The Sin Eaters is a game about ghosts, but I kind of wish that they had just kept the old name for it, “Wraith”. In it the players are people who have come back from the dead, and now have strange abilities, as well as a dark ‘passenger’ who hitched a ride back on their souls.
Promethean: The Created is a game about… well, honestly it’s kind of weird and complicated. Seriously, I’d need like three paragraphs and I’m running out of steam here.
So, in closing, Dear Spoilerite, take some time to thumb through the World of Darkness corebook. It’s what all the cool kids are doing. At the very least it looks very pretty on a coffee table or bookshelf, and who knows, you might be a into vampires and you don’t even know it.