Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's Getting Mighty Crowded: World of Darkness

The World of Darkness setting contains large groups of vampires, mages, changelings, and other supernatural oddities. Many others in fact. When I first starting playing Vampire: The Requiem there were no other specific supernatural core books released, and our vampires lived in isolation. They didn't just have the whole city of Chicago to themselves, but the entire World of Darkness*. 

Now there's many core books out featuring various supernatural beings - as well as supernatural antagonists (Demons in the new Hunter book) - and it feels like every other house contains a supernatural of some kind, and every other shady downtown building is the clubhouse for some grand secret society of monsters. 

Personally, I like playing more isolated games: games where the other supernatural don't exist, per se. There might be glowing eyes that stare out at you from the darkness, but I like to leave it at that. I've found player's too often will fill in details in ways that pigeon hold story characters: A player's character investigates the glowing eyes that stare at him from the woods. They learn it's a werewolf, and after this the player (not character) states that it's a New Moon, Boneshadow. 

This as a GM (Storyteller) frustrates me. 1. I probably am not using the Werewolf book, and 2. I very much believe that the unknown is scary. Even if players are wrong about specifics, the fact that they're forming images in their heads using specifics takes some of the fright away (and also misleads them). 

Having secret societies of monsters works well towards running long chronicles, but taking knowledge of these societies into other games depletes the level of horror. Players of Vampire who know (whether it's true or not in your specific chronicle) that Werewolves are guardians of the Shadow and its borders makes them come across more noble, or altruistic and less savage beasts. 

Other than Hunter, which depends on there being supernaturals to take down, I'm at the point where I want to discard all of the World of Darkness that doesn't pertain to the specific game I'm running. I might make up monsters that aren't part of that group, but I'll try to make them seem too much like other supernaturals that are already detailed in other books so player's can be kept somewhat in the dark about these beings, and thus (hopefully) run a more frightening World of Darkness game. 

Has anyone had similar issues arise? How have you dealt with them? 

Oh, and fellow RPG Blogger Stargazer put up a post recently full of advice on how to promote better horror atmosphere in games. Check it out if this interests you. 

*Not entirely true. There are ghosts detailed in the WoD core book, but we largely ignored ghosts in our Vampire chronicle. 

postscript: Also I want to thank typhinius for making me the awesome header that's now at the top of the blog. He also gave me an avatar and banner. Thanks again. 


Ishmayl said...

I agree - Buffy the Vampire Slayer has done this more correctly, I believe, in that though there are demons, vampires, lycanthropes, faeries, etc, etc, they are all "underground." Meaning, they choose to live a separate life from the humans, and only when you go searching for them can you find them. WoD has been getting very weird lately with the whole "owning entire cities" thins.

Dave The Game said...

Totally agree with you. In the old World of Darkness, I jokingly had the "12 mortal" theory, which stated that there were so many supernatural beings out there disguised as humans, each large enough to support their own societies and sub-cultures, that there were actually only 12 mortals in existence, and they were the true reason behind all the various schemes of each one.

Mage was my favorite game, and I had a lot of trouble justifying its worldview with the existence of any other supernatural-power using creatures in the game.

I had hoped that the nWoD was going to separate the game systems more, but they've done the opposite and brought them more integrated.

Jack Phillips said...

I kinda like the owning whole cities thing. In a way, I think that prevents too many different supernaturals existing in the same place. Also, the appendixes in the core books (or supplement books) detail those cities out really well so you have a rich setting already made. The game doesn't have to be played with these cities and that way, but at least for a few chronicles I've found it useful to go with what they provided.

dave the game,
Your 12 mortal theory is hilarious. That's an excellent satire of this issue in WoD.

I was thinking about this a little further, and the more supernaturals that exist like this in the WoD universe makes it more like a dark fantasy game than a horror game. Fantasy games tend to have more mythological beings in them, so at least many of the WoD games I've run are better classified as 'dark fantasy' and not 'horror'. I still think the WoD has great horror potential, but I do worry that to evoke this in many chronicles you do need to disregard the existence of other supernaturals.

olethros said...

i can't agrre with you. To me, the new wod is about giving tools to your work, you can play a vampire or a mage alone in te world, there no need of others in any game (ok, maybe hunter), its a huge improvement from the old wod.

Stargazer said...

You already had that problem with the old WoD. Especially in some cities every second guy you met was either a Vampire, a powerful Mage, a Werewolf, an ancient mummy, you name it. In the groups I was playing WoD was more scheming and intrigue than horror. I ran a game of Inquisition once that had some great horror moments but I agree with Jack that the WoD is more Dark Fantasy than horror in many respects.
I had some ideas on how to run a different kind of WoD campaign but I never found people interested in playing WoD again because they were fed up with Vampires.
But I think that WoD could be very interesting if you a) reduce the number of supernatural being and b) focus on one group. My favorite was MAGE - The Ascension by the way. I always wanted to run a Mage campaign that ignores the existence of all the other supernatural beings.

Typhinius said...

I don't think the problem is the variety of the supernaturals. Sure there is a huge variety, and that's fine. The problem is that for every variety there is this mini-society in most major cities.

Rather than these groups being unusual they are the norm. I like the fact that all of the different supers live in the same "world". What I don't like is that if you take each book at it's word, there is a good chance you'll run into the other types of supernaturals just based on sheer numbers. I don't think the variety needs to be cut, just the frequency of them.

Jack Phillips said...


yeah, you're right - this issue also existed with oWoD as well. I didn't play any oWoD games though so I just focused on the current generation.

I think the issue you bring up - not variety but the fact that they each have mini-societies - was already covered in my initial post. At least I refer to grand secret societies of monsters.

Zach L said...

Absolutely agree.

There is, however, a huge difference between the way the old system portrayed this and the way the way the new system portrays it.

In the old system, you had all these disparate supernatural beings, and they all lived together in a happy froo-froo land of joy. Well, not really, but the emphasis in the games was the real world, and cities, and interconnection between everything. You couldn't help but run into supernatural beasties because they had nowhere else to be.

Whereas in the new system, most of the creatures have their special places to go. You'll notice there's a much greater emphasis on the spirit world, the underworld, the hedge, so on and so forth in the new system. Yes, vampires, mages, werewolves and changelings all exist in the same place. Except that the mages are spending their time in the astral plane, the werewolves are battling spirits, and the changelings are traipsing around in the hedge, and the vampires are only around at nighttime anyways.

And this is why I think you can get away with it in New WoD. There are more things, but there's more space for those things to occupy. We haven't quite yet reached critical mass; I'm really glad they chose to do Hunter most recently as opposed to something else.

And I guess that's what bugs me about Promethean. When you look at the way the characters are set up and their abilities/penalities for being Promethean, they basically occupy the same "space" as Vampires. They're nightmarish beings who frighten others with limited social interactability except amongst others of their own kind. Having Prometheans and Vampires in the same game is kind of a waste.

Another thing is to play with the numbers; perhaps there are only 100 Mages in the world. Perhaps only 2000 or so Werewolves. By making all the other supernatural beings more rare, a clever GM will give the player a feeling of "okay, maybe it's a Bone Shadow... but it might just be a nightmarish wolf spirit bent on rending my flesh. hmmm."

The worst part, and the thing that you can't unfortunately combat, is the influence of player knowledge on the game. A player knows what a werewolf is in World of Darkness terms, and a player knows what a Vampire is. If you introduce either, the player can reconstruct the facts from the book and end up tainting their characters with that knowledge. Unfortunately, without changing fundamentally what the books describe, you can't really counteract that.

Daniel Yokomizo said...

I never use the other core books when I'm STing, other than as source of inspiration. I designed a couple of settings including crossover supernatural societies but it got almost impossible to come up with coherent and plausible explanations for all the conflicting interests. Even in one setting that I managed to work things out I never used it in more than one kind of game.

In the oWoD I used the antagonists using the rules of the book used in the game, so in a Vampire game the werewolves had disciplines and blood pool, in Mage games Mummies used spheres and Arete, but I did this to deal with the mechanics problem. In the nWoD as the mechanics are much better unified I tend to use some variation of the mechanics of each book (mostly mages and vampires as I don't like to mix werewolves with other creatures) but I disregard the setting in almost every detail, to keep players off guard and to better deal with conflict of interests (e.g. in a Vampire game mages are much rarer than vampires).

Jack Phillips said...

zach l,

I agree with much of what you said, but I actually like the idea behind promethean (though i've yet to play it). Underlying promethean is the question: What does it mean to be human? As a promethean you must explore that in your quest to become one yourself. I don't see that same theme in vampire. Vampires might take a similar quest when seeking golcanda, but this isn't necessarily the case. Also, vampires are not necessarily nightmarish beings - some like the daeva might be more pleasurable - mortals who interact with them might never feel fright by the contact they have with them.

As I said though, I agree with the larger points you made. Many of the supernaturals do have their own spaces, so this can be seen to separate them to a degree.

Anonymous said...

"12 Mortals Theory"

Really? We thought that there was only *one* mortal and joked that it would be fun to have a game where you tried to find the one normal human.