Chronicles of Convenience

So, I picked up the new Chronicles of Darkness core rulebook. This is the new core book for what was once the new World of Darkness line, until the new Paradox-helmed White Wolf decided that having two active game lines with the same name was irritating and confusing and hurt their chances of getting a sweet transmedia franchise going so mandated that the classic World of Darkness would forever after be just the World of Darkness and the new World of Darkness line would be now called the Chronicles of Darkness. This is an eminently sensible decision because whilst the likes of Vampire: the Masquerade and so on were more about presenting a centrally designed game world with a strong central metaplot, Vampire: the Requiem and that whole other strand presented a much more adaptable game relying less on central canon and more or less demanding to be reshaped for the needs of individual tables. One World of Darkness mandated by White Wolf, many Chronicles of Darkness cooked up by home groups – works well, right?

The core book presents the core rules reorganised, expanded (in particular, a better range of supernatural antagonists for mortal characters to tackle is provided), and with the rules update first provided in The God-Machine Chronicle baked in. That in itself is a godsend, because it saves interminable flipping between the two books if you want to use the new system, and the new system itself nicely makes some creative space between the old-school World of Darkness and the more modern Chronicles style. Plus you get the prebaked campaign concept and adventure ideas provided in the chronicle portion of The God-Machine Chronicle. In short, unless you are absolutely adamantly opposed to the system changes, it’s a no-brainer.

The Owls Are Not What They Seem: Redeeming the Requiem

I’ve previously talked on here about how I think many of the innovations of Vampire: the Requiem represent improvements over Vampire: the Masquerade – and yet, I’ve tended to find myself more interested in the older game’s 20th Anniversary Edition and its supplements than in the Requiem line. The problem is that Requiem, in its original presentation, manages to be just different enough from Masquerade to excite you with the possibilities of a different vision of vampires and vampiric society whilst not quite being different enough to avoid reminding you of Masquerade and feeling like a slightly fanfic-y remix of the more archetypal presentation of the concepts there.

This is probably an artifact of the way Requiem was originally published as an outright replacement for Vampire: the Masquerade, rather than as an interesting and novel alternative for it. This really put the original designers in an impossible bind; on the one hand, they had to make Requiem recognisably different from Masquerade to stop it feeling like a cynical cash grab, whilst at the same time they had to make it similar enough to the original so that those who liked Masquerade didn’t end up completely out in the cold.

Of course, these issues have been exacerbated of late by the publication of the V20 line, bringing the Classic World of Darkness back into the picture. Now that those who dig Masquerade have ongoing support for the line from Onyx Path, there’s no need for them to look to Requiem unless it’s for its unique selling points – which were not as strongly played up as they could have been in the original version. A second edition of Requiem, liberated from any need to pander to the Masquerade crowd to soothe their hurt at the old line’s termination, has been necessary for a while now, particularly in the light of the God-Machine Chronicle rules update which established some interesting and distinctive mechanical differences between the Classic and New World of Darkness systems.

However, matters were complicated by Onyx Path’s relationship with CCP, who were of the opinion that putting out official second editions of the New World of Darkness stuff would confuse consumers in the lead-up to the launch of their World of Darkness MMO. Frankly, I think CCP were kidding themselves there – most videogamers would not and would never be aware of Requiem in the first place, and those who were would understand the distinction between the MMO’s Classic World of Darkness-derived background and the New World of Darkness. Either way, they refused permission to put out new editions until after the MMO project was cancelled, which is why the God-Machine Chronicle exists in the form it does in the first place, and why Vampire: the Requiem 2nd Edition first hit the market as Blood & Smoke: the Strix Chronicle.

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The Referee’s Bookshelf: Vampire: the Requiem

Hot on the heels of the core World of Darkness rulebook, I took in the core Vampire: the Requiem tome. I genuinely like the tweaks White Wolf have made to Vampire and think Requiem is a better game than Masquerade because of them, but I also think the book is quite alienating to people who just want to play Vampire with minimum fuss.

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More Thoughts On White Wolf Giving Up

In my previous post I opined that the World of Darkness core rulebook was a sign of White Wolf giving up on the idea of their products being people’s entry point into the hobby. I’ve been thinking more about that and come to more general conclusions.

Examples of play and “What is roleplaying?” sections in tabletop RPGs are, I think, important. If you include them, do a good job on them, and don’t bury them (like The World of Darkness does with its explanation of roleplaying) then in a way that’s a declaration of your aspirations: you are intending to include enough in your core rulebook not just the tools for playing the game, but the tools for understanding it.

In principle, beginners can be introduced to tabletop RPGs via any game if they have a referee with prior experience willing to run a game for them; yes, some games are very complex, but a) beginners are inexperienced but not necessarily stupid and b) in my view a good referee will offer to take on more of the burden of operating the game system if they realise a player is overwhelmed. But that means it isn’t really the game or publisher in question which is bringing new people into the hobby – it’s novices being initiated into the hobby by old hands, like it’s some oral tradition. The only really sensible metric by which you can judge a game’s approachability for complete beginners is whether it is viable for new people to pick up your core rules, read them, and then run a game for a group of fellow first-timers. It doesn’t have to be a brilliant, scintillating game – it doesn’t even need to apply most or any of the rules properly – but at the very least it should be a game which we’d recognise as resembling the general format of the RPG in question. (So, for instance, if the beginners ended up with a Fiasco game where one player doesn’t make a player character and takes the primary responsibility for establishing the scenario, or a Dungeons & Dragons game where everyone communally creates one character and shares the duties of setting the scenario in an egalitarian fashion, you can say that that group has failed to understand the basic, fundamental model the game is based on – and if numerous beginners find they have that problem, then you can accuse the game of failing to properly communicate its core premises in a way that inexperienced readers will understand.)

In this respect, the “What is roleplaying?” section and example of play, where present, is crucial. I’d actually say the example of play is, in some respects, even more important – a novice can fairly quickly get the idea of “what is roleplaying?”, but may have little clue as to “how is roleplaying?”, and a good example of play is a really good way to convey that. The World of Darkness talks a lot about how White Wolf would like the roleplaying hobby to be, and promotes their “Storytelling” style as the epitome of good taste in gaming, but doesn’t offer a single example of play to demonstrate what they are talking about. And come to think of it, it’s the lack of an example of play even more than a botched “What is roleplaying?” section which really makes me think White Wolf gave up on the idea that they had any role in recruiting new people into the hobby.

I am toying with the idea of glancing over the books on my shelves and doing mini-reviews of each of their “what is roleplaying?” sections and examples of play. Would people be interested in reading such a project?

Referee’s Bookshelf: The World of Darkness

What with The World of Darkness and Vampire: the Requiem being under consideration for my beginner’s game, I though it was past time I caught up with the New World of Darkness line and take a look at the core book.

I genuinely like it, but I also think it is an enormous mess.

The streamlining that’s been applied to the Storyteller system to yield the Storytelling system (or “Storyteller system 2nd Edition” for those who don’t believe in changing the name of a system just because it has had a thorough makeover that leaves its fundamentals mostly intact) makes a lot of sense, and I like where the system currently stands. It might have some probabilistic wrinkles, though thanks to the changes to the way 1s work (they don’t subtract from your successes now and they only cause a botch if you’re making a Chance Roll) I think it is much less wonky than previously, and perhaps more importantly for a game which purports to want to put the story above rules the rules seem to make a sort of intuitive sense and seem capable of fading into the background for the most part.

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