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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So, like many pop-culture settings, the World of Darkness got rebooted. "The Time of Judgment," a 2004 set of four hardcover scenario collections, described multiple ways to end the sprawling metaplot. None explicitly listed the Ravnos-werewolves-Euthanatos Bangladesh battle; that appeared in a tie-in novel trilogy. The novels, like the scenarios, toiled so hard just wrapping up the mess, they achieved little dramatic effect. Few players recall them fondly. White Wolf's official site for the End Times books has lots of dead links, which seems appropriate. Perhaps the most memorable result of the Time of Judgment was Scott Leaton's review of its promotional shot glass.

Gumbo vs. Applebee's
Launched in summer and fall 2004, the new World of Darkness games - Vampire: The Requiem, Werewolf: The Forsaken and Mage: The Awakening, plus later "satellite" games like Promethean and a revised Changeling - feature a new, simpler, more consistent "Storytelling System." The setting, completely re-imagined and streamlined with (note well!) no metaplot, emphasizes personal horror.

Supernatural beings don't run the world any more; in fact, many are hard pressed just to survive. Player characters tend to move in a circumscribed area, a city or even a single neighborhood, surrounded by adversaries. It's all very, umm, dark. "The old WoD got to be like the setting of Chaos! Comics," Brucato says. "The new one is more like The X-Files."

The back story sounds the same in both original and new games: "In the old days when magic was everywhere, somebody screwed up, ruined everything, and therefore your life sucks." But where the old games blamed bad guys - sorry, antagonists - and whined that everything was about to end, the new versions (particularly Werewolf) take a more constructive view: "Our forerunners messed up, so we must fix it."

Reflecting this maturation, the setting's new antagonists "fit the far more localized experience," says Requiem line developer Justin Achilli. "Things like Nexus Crawlers and rampaging Antediluvians don't fit the xenophobic, isolated moods of the games, so we scale down their power or otherwise configure their stories so that defeating one isn't a matter of 'Save the world!' It's more, 'We saved our own asses.' I think there's a lot more grayscale morality in the new World of Darkness, and a lot less room for the players' characters to be overt heroes. The antagonists reflect that. Check out Promethean's qashmallim, for example. They're incarnate pillars of flame that embody the utterly amoral Divine Spark. How do you even deal with something like that, let alone cast it in the light of right or wrong?

"I think the spiritual enemies made the transition best. They became even more alien and esoteric, less knowable, and more like forces of nature, riddles in themselves. Spirits aren't inherently friends or enemies. You have to figure out how to deal with them on an individual basis. That's the stuff that makes great stories and challenges the gaming group. There's no sense of, 'Oh, that's creature type "X," weak against fire magic but resistant to bullets.'

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