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.
I have known about WoD for years, I started getting interested in it just after Requiem came out, but I never had the opportunity to play it. Plus I simply don’t feel that confident or inspired to GM for it, so…
All these games had a great feel to them and they all somewhat got my mind working, but Changeling was also my favorite. Fairy tales are a great ground for horror.
One WoD book that I have bought and absolutely WANT to GM one day is Orpheus, but that comes from the old edition. Plus it’s more or less separate from the other titles (which I like).
Nice idea for a segment on the site, Rodrigo. I’m always glad to see more RPG content.
The WoD Corebook is, IMO, the best horror game ever. Fairly simple, clear mechanics that are designed not to get in the way of the story. Most of the supplements that are designed to supplement the WoD core rather than one of the fatsplats are very good as well.
Vampire: The Requiem disappointed me. It was so much like it’s predecessor Vampire: The Masquerade that I really couldn’t see what the point of the reboot was. Also, without the threat of godlike elder vampires looming over everyone’s head, V:TR always seemed to suffer from ennui.
I disagree about Werewolf: The Forsaken. Yes, the spirit-mythology thing is kind of weird, but I don’t see how you can do an entire game line about people cursed with lycanthropy that would fit in with the larger WoD. And I think W:TF is much improved over Werewolf: The Apocalypse in which the setting requires most werewolves to be ecoterrorists, all corporations are intrinsically evil, and all the werewolf tribes were embarrassing ethnic and gender stereotypes (the Irish Fianna are all drunkards obsessed with Celtic fairies, the Get of Fenris are belligerent skinheaded Germans, the Black Furies are all butch lesbians from Greece). In W:TF, you wake up one day to discover that your werewolf lineage has shown through and you immediately get pressganged into a culture of self-appointed spirit police.
Changeling: The Lost is, I agree, an extraordinary game.
I loathe Mage: The Awakening viscerally. I hate the warmed over gnosticism that forms the basis for magical theory. I hate the mechanics which were poorly edited. I hate the setting which is obsessed with the most cliched rendition of Atlantis I’ve ever seen (To me, Stargate had a better take on Atlantis). I hate the boring, ridiculously named Orders (Adamantine Arrow?!?). I even hate the font — all the headings for spell rotes are in a 14-point cursive font with gold lettering that is impossible to read. Total failure, IMO.
Hunter: The Vigil and Geist are both pretty good, although G:SE is, IMO, overpowered.
Promethean: The Created is a compelling and thought provoking game about the quest for humanity, but it’s very obtuse and unapproachable for a lot of people. I enjoy reading it but I couldn’t imagine playing it for any length of time.
Awesome, great drop for the WoD RPG. IF you like WoD, check out the Darker Days Podcast, its about classic world of darkness and the current one. try them out, darkerdays(dot)tk
Thanks rodrigo, I started gaming after listining to critical hit and gave been wondering what other ones are good. I’m currently deployed and looking forward to new games…not a whole lot of tech options where I’m at. Again thanks for the great content.
There are kids playing Nobilis?
I personally play D&D and WoD. I like them both. I started with D&D and a friend of mine turned me on to WoD. I was very unsure about it at first because I don’t really like modern-style games and, but I tried it. I loved it. The more simplistic system was a breath of fresh air and I love all of the books just for their own sake. The content is great and really gets the creative juices moving. I play D&D and WoD about equally now. They both have their ups and down but the WoD books should really be on any RPG fans shelves…tables…chairs…or wherever you last played them :D
I’ve enjoy WoD for quite a few years, though I’ve recently made the transition back to D&D. The core WoD system is so flexible that my little group ended up doing a lot of really interesting games, including a gaming reenactment of Night of the Living Dead (we all got into it and had a lot of fun).
Vampire, quite simply, bores me. It’s the hardest book for me to come up with compelling stories/games for and so I usually just avoid it altogether. But then I’m not a fan of vampires–except the Nosferatu, which are great monsters (to run into and to play).
Werewolf has a lot of potential, and I think that the Spirit Police aspect is entirely optional game-wise. The problem my group has always had is that we couldn’t agree on how the totems are supposed to work (the book explains it fairly poorly) and so we’ve always left them out–which sucks because they could potentially grant some great powers.
Mage and Changeling are my favorites–though I always do a slight bit of editing with the mythos presented in the Mage book, alongside Changeling I find it to be a very ripe game/setting for a variety of settings and both blend really well with the core WoD book in my opinion.
I haven’t tried Hunter–a few glances through it and I just didn’t see enough to really entice me into wanting to play it.
Promethean hasn’t seen use as a full fledged game setting for my group (we got back into D&D before really cracking open that book) but I ran a pretty good Detective Game where the players were human and an unfortunate Promethean in the wrong place ended up getting harassed as their serial killer suspect (the real guy was actually possessed, but somehow that ended up not coming up in the game). I had a lot of fun with that game and think Prometheans could make fantastic characters, even if they just end up as NPCs. On a side note I’ve been working on a sequel to that game.
In the end, WoD allows for very creative, dramatic, almost literary-quality game experiences (you could essentially PLAY a Stephen King novel if you so wished) that are a great change of pace (at least now and then) from the High-Adventure experiences of games like D&D.
Sorry for the thread necromancy, but this is one topic that I can never stop myself from jumping in on.
In general, I think that the retooling of the WoD was a good thing. The old setting had begun to feel a little like playing Super Friends towards the end of the cannon storyline, with everyone putting aside their differences merely to try and beat up on the BBEG. Plus having the main book focusing more on the dark and sinister side of reality is always a plus.
Vampire: The Requiem – Mechanically I think the changes to Vampire are GREAT! The old system was one in which combat rounds could last for hours and at the end of them you’d realize that nobody had even taken damage. As far as the setting goes, I enjoy the fact that there is no longer this great and terrible threat of ancient vampires waking up to murderize everyone, everything else is not worth the time to read. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great ideas penned by some great writers at White Wolf, but nine times out of ten, the next book overturns them. The whole idea that world reaching politics can’t happen because every city is an island tends to break down when covenants are all structured the same from city to city (not to mention the first supplement was Nomads, the book about how not every city was an island.) In the end, it can still be a fun game, as long as the person running knows what he/she wants and is willing to remove everything else at the start.
Werewolf: The Forsaken – This was the biggest let down of any book that I’ve ever read (and I’m a guy in his 30’s who was talked into reading the Twilight Series, so that’s saying a lot.) I have attempted to play in two games of Forsaken since its release, only to walk away from the games after months of trying to have fun. If Vampire makes no since because the next book tends to override everything that the first said, Forsaken makes no sense from page 1. Every other supernatural book in the WoD talks about how werewolves will kill everyone in a fight, yet the systems are balanced to the point where its usually a fair fight. Werewolves are supposedly the only type of shape-shifter in WoD (according to a White Wolf press release) and all other shifter myths are based on a power they (can) have which allows them to change their animal, except for the whole Changing Breeds book that they released later. The end result is that the Werewolf team has put on their kiddie gloves, but that’s alright, those of us that played Apocalypse saw it coming when they began to remove all of the non-politically correct elements from that game (which is part of what makes that game seem like eco-terrorist Super Friends.)
Mage: The Awakening – Once again they have tossed out the majority of what made the setting unique to the WoD when shifting it over to the new system. However in Mage, it seems to set up the possibility for a much more thinking man’s/political manipulator’s style of play. While there are some (read many) ways that I think that this can take away from a setting, there are a few Mage books out there that I find very intriguing. It, more than any of the other settings, seems to be the most open ended/player driven game of White Wolf’s relaunch and in that regard it has held onto its niche in the White Wolf system.
Changeling: The Lost – This is the system that I was the most impressed with after the relaunch. The folks at White Wolf have taken what was once considered the most “happy, fluffy bunny” game of their line and turned it into perhaps the most horrific, all without losing that glimmer of hope that, maybe, someday, the happiness might come back. The horror elements of this one game combine in such a fantastic way as to force even the most stoic of individuals to shudder from reading the source fictions.