Good to be Bad, Again

Good to be Bad, Again
World of New Darkness

Allen Varney | 28 Aug 2007 07:45
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Remember where you were when the dark world ended, that fateful day in 2004? You know, when Ravanna - the Antediluvian vampire who founded Clan Ravnos, right? - fought Changing Breeds and Euthanatoi in Bangladesh? An Elder Kindred of the East summoned a hurricane, and the Technocracy launched neutron bombs that killed a million people. Meanwhile, in the Deadlands (the afterlife), the traitorous Smiling Lord detonated the relic version of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, which created a Maelstrom that consumed Stygia and, by mistake, himself. The explosion shredded thousands of Avatars, starting a permanent storm that walled off the Umbra. The Technocracy finally bumped off Ravanna with three orbital solar mirrors. Remember?

Grandiose, grand opera, Grand Guignol! In that conflagration, the "Week of Nightmares," countless world-beating antagonists met a suitably overwrought end in White Wolf Game Studio's tabletop roleplaying setting, the World of Darkness. And the calamity heralded not only a remade world, but a new cast of adversaries who - like their designers - put aside childish things.

Beautiful Madness
Even non-roleplayers know the World of Darkness, whether from the quickly-staked 1996 TV series Kindred: The Embraced, Troika's 2004 PC game Vampire: Bloodlines or the forthcoming MMOG. Or maybe the non-roleplayers just saw countless pudgy Goth-wannabes at 1990s game conventions. From the debut of Mark Rein-Hagen's Vampire: The Masquerade in 1991, White Wolf made a huge impact. In Vampire, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension and other "play the monster" games using its Storyteller rules system, the World of Darkness embodied Gothic-Punk angst just as it became fashionable. "A beast I am lest a beast I become!" lamented thousands of player characters, who had been unwillingly Embraced or Awakened or endured the First Change. Now these characters were grappling with newfound powers and possibilities, wondering how to fit in with their Clan or Sept or Cabal and perceiving the existence of long-standing yet shadowy conspiracies of superannuated elders.

In other words, these characters, like their players, were coping with puberty.

White Wolf's games derived immense power and huge sales from their adolescent concerns, as well as their crazed originality - incoherent, sprawling, uneven yet infused with energy. The company emphasized a more personal, artistic approach than in the majority of earlier RPG lines; each support line bore the strong personal stamp of its line developer. Pretensions soared, shown by the books' litter of epigraphs, Incorrectly Capitalized Words and exhortations to the Storyteller to throw aside rules when they interfered with drama. For employees at Gen Con 1994, the company made buttons: F--- YOU, MORTAL, I'M WITH WHITE WOLF.

Designers couldn't use the term "villains," and never, ever "bad guys." Not even embodiments of pure cosmic evil were "bad guys." No, the term was "antagonists." The Storyteller antagonists, as much as anything else, showed the lines' originality.

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