fear by miranda adria

Investing In: A World of Darkness

Welcome back to Investing In! I wasn’t sure quite what to name my article series when I first started but the idea of showcasing or discussing things that make me excited, that I find new and interesting, or maybe I’m otherwise passionate about seemed to fit with the idea of Investing In something like the Pathfinder 2E mechanic. To use some magic items you have to give that little bit of yourself, which helps make these things even better. I like the metaphor of the community growing and being strengthened in the same way!

A World of Darkness

I started playing D&D before I knew I was playing D&D. Okay, not exactly D&D but I’d be a supervillain and my neighborhood friends would be heroes or adventurers fighting me as we roamed around outside, or wherever we were. Eventually, there were games like Dungeon and HeroQuest where I could orchestrate the monsters so my friends could be heroes. So, we were all playing and maybe I was more Game Mastering / Dungeon Mastering than anything else. I picked up some 1st Edition books at a yard sale, then eagerly sought 2nd Edition material even as printing was slowing. We played heavily at the high school and the release of D&D 3rd Edition brought on a wave of game sessions whenever we had the time.

But it was a brief foray – only 2 games – my freshman year at URI playing an angry grandmotherly Malkavian who threw cookies at unthankful miscreants that got me hooked.  The cookies may have actually been rocks or grenades, hard to remember. The game never continued but I got my taste and let me tell you that vitae was sweet. I wanted to be a Storyteller exploring the gothic and fantastic horror of the modern nights in a World of Darkness.

The Modern Monster

I might be singing to the choir here, and if so please share below your excitement for the World of Darkness (WoD) in the comments below. For those unaware, the WoD and the subsequent Chronicles of Darkness encompass more than the Vampire: the Masquerade game where my Malkavian was embraced. You might also know of Mage: the Ascension, Changeling: the Dreaming, Werewolf: the Apocalypse or the latter versions including Vampire: the Requiem, Changeling: the Lost, or Mage: the Awakening. There’s also Mummy, Geist, Wraith, Hunter, Demon, Beast, Promethean, and a myriad other supporting accessories, campaign ideas, historic options. The gist however is the same: you’re a monster. And you’re not a monster in some fantasy of daring paladins, bookish wizards, and sprawling dungeons but that of the real world. You’re the legend, the rumor, the reason people are actually afraid to go out at night or walk into the shadows. It is a World of Darkness after all and nothing’s quite so bright or safe as you’d know (or think it) to be.

It was that difference that truly excited me. Who doesn’t want to play a vampire or a mage, but the element of evil is a seductive pull especially to veteran gamers. Of course it’s not without its dangers. I know people sometimes try an evil campaign or allow an evil character or two, though I never quite hear of their success. Granted, with the right planning and people it can work. I’ll have to tell you why it’s worth investing in like the Wizards of High Sorcery Dragonlance game my friends and I shared, and I’m still tempted to run Hell’s Vengeance the Pathinder 1E path for my group too. This world is simply different. You weren’t a silly, obvious evil. The WoD character creation almost lent itself to deeper character with complex histories, personalities, and growth. What were you like before? How were you embraced to become a vampire? How were you stolen away? What mysteries of the universe drive you? What’s more, Vampire: the Masquerade had the very complexity of the game right there in the title. The Masquerade was the idea and oft-imposed rules of the Camarilla – vampiric organization of a few clan – dedicated to protecting the anonymity and existence of vampires. So how would you get along in those lonely nights, getting blood to survive, without bringing all mortal kind and vampire politicians down upon you? What’s more: why did you even care to continue on rather than face the dawn? What were you doing with your immortality?

I do love a complex moral and ethical dilemma in my gaming. I love to see the players think on their actions, the why. The characters immediately felt more real to me and not simply because they were running around the streets of New York City. I’m sure I could relate easier to someone who’d grown up in the modern world or was an ancient trying to reflect on it over a peasant gifted a book of magic, but that darker tone of a monster trying to survive in a world almost required more forethought. Murder hobo vampires, mages, or werewolves aren’t going to survive in the World of Darkness.

rise with me by mirandaadriaFig 1. “Just say tonight… You’ll die here with me…”

Theme and Mood

And that world is grim: usually the crime rates are higher, politicians even less trustworthy, and the evils of humanity truly apparent. Every game provides you the tools – and the newer books even explicitly call out – the theme likely to be explored and the mood likely to be evoked by it.. I ensure every game I run notes these in the starter material I pass the players as well as some key concepts often with a paradoxical element. That can include trusting friends and enemies even as you prepare to betray them. These are deadly games where the true winner isn’t the obvious one standing atop the mountain or in the more likely case a corporate skyscraper. You might also seem some Player vs. Player (PvP) should one wish to be the leader over another, or survival is keyed to the death of another. It’s a harsh, dark world after all.

Most D&D and Pathfinder games tell tales of heroic fantasy, good rising up against evil, and perhaps there’s a mystery involved. Pathfinder modules are enjoyable to me as they provide a device to frame a story of ancient exploration, cosmic horror, the dangers of war, or even the release of unspeakable evil. The World of Darkness games provide a similar framing but with characters, locations, and abilities that support such. Vampires must strive to live within and battle to keep their humanity lest they devolve into blood-thirsty monsters. Changelings lose sense of the real world as their clarity slips away even as they seek out another for support. And the mages learn of the truth behind the world, but will their reality altering magic and arrogance consume them for who truly knows what’s best? I admit I love the Mages for they try to be superheroes but their obsessions can often consume them and when mortals see things they can’t explain, well the mind doesn’t take kindly to such.

One of the key themes always seen in this grim universe and all its games is that there is monstrous evil in humanity. I think that’s another element that drew me as while I greatly appreciate the desperate want of my childhood friends seeking power and glory in saving the day, slewing the monster, and helping the innocent, I knew there was more to explore in these games, these stories. You might be a monster but so too is that mortal watching from across the bar. Some people simply aren’t good for whatever reason, but also what is good? And what if they had a terrible upbringing or they were desperate for food? Again those moral and ethical dilemmas intrigued me as I wanted to see how players would handle them.

Rated R for Mature Players

It’s possible in any game but it seems more likely in the World of Darkness, you need to be aware not only of the mature topics you’d cover but the comfort – or even desire to include – of your players with those topics. Few wrestle with the idea of slaughtering a tribe of marauding orcs (although your heroes might) but what murdering people even if through accidental overfeeding of their blood? What about gun violence in a public place? What about drugs, alcoholism, addiction, mental illness, racism, sexual violence, depression, and a nearly endless list of possibly difficult topics? We are all aware they exist in our world and the World of Darkness almost behooves them to be addressed, not because they sensationalize them but because there are truly monsters out there and there is tragedy that must be survived. Many have long used art, writing, or film as a lens to explore these topics difficult for us to openly discuss (and solve) but seemingly easier to reflect upon when slightly more theoretical or fictitious. I appreciate that the World of Darkness and its games have provided me a way to frame these difficult aspects of life, these evil (but true) concepts of humanity through a monster’s eyes.

I’ve a recent example. Ever few years or so I run a chronicle (a campaign) in the World of Darkness. My latest is a Mage: the Awakening 2.0 game entitled Arcane Providence where the Awakened of Rhode Island live in academic splendor, religious freedom, and tense political jostling with the surviving Boston mages who fled south. I never got to play Mage: the Ascension though I do look back often for inspiration. The Lie may have been retold many times, right? Anyway, our mages are a diverse lot including a police officer, a physicist, a bodyguard, a night club owner, a stage magician, a lawyer, and an academic. They learned of a gruesome series of murders in the woods of Rhode Island. Yes, it’s a small state here but we have some pretty open bits of wilderness; they say there’s werewolves in Acadia National Park for example. Upon investigating the scenes, the mages found a group celebrating a full harvest moon with food, drink, and dance. They also learned many were forced into over indulgence or self-inflicted wounds. 

Why? A so-called Holy Order of Hunters who forced sins back upon the people except for one severely beaten and another stabbed. The pagan ceremony clearly drew fanatic zealous witch-hunters, right? Well, apparently not. After a prolonged church visit and tense conversation they learned the hunters were after a demon and those who made a deal with him. Later, the mages went on to save the life of every one of these hunters. Have they turned in these people to the authorities? No, though the cop certainly isn’t happy about it… So it’s okay because these strangley-powered hunters said there was demon bargaining? Did they even try to stop it? When did they learn about the demon bargain? And from who? Why did they all have to die and so gruesomely? I could honestly spend hours watching the players think of how their characters feel about all this, discuss it in character, and how they choose to act now on what they know and have seen. Our games are decidedly R but they are still some topics I’d be hard-pressed to include or even hint at. I encourage you to think about your team of players, the story you wish to tell collectively, and even discuss openly about this with them.

blood on my handsFig 2. You’ve got blood on your hands.

Dark Offerings

If you read my recent article then you saw my love for world building with Pathfinder’s Golarion. The World of Darkness line lets you take the world we know and build within it our monstrous tales of power and survival. Onyx Path’s latest take are the Chronicle of Darkness and the machination of the God Machine and its Angels. They’ve got an active kickstarter right now for Mummy: the Curse Second Edition. You don’t have to use the God Machine chronicle of course, but craft your own. We’re now into my fourth major chronicle in fifteen years, and I’m so thankful for what we’ve built from the materials provided and the stories the players have told through their roleplaying and actions.

These books also point valuable inspiration material like other book lines (Vampire Chronicles, Dresden Files), movies (Dark City, John Wick, Pan’s Labryinth), as well as various websites, comics, and historical information you can use to craft your story. Real world events may inspire you to make a Hollywood star secretly a vampire or how creatures influenced conflicts between nations. If interested in the Vampiric genre, I highly recommend games like Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines or Geek & Sundry’s Vampire: the Masquerade – L.A. by Night hosted by Jason Carl. You can bet I already pre-ordered Paradox Interactive’s Bloodlines 2! Should you wish to explore any of what I’ve mentioned, the World of Darkness is certainly worth investing in!

Investing In:

And I also want to hear what you’re Investing In! Leave me a comment below about what games, modules, systems, products, people, live streams, etc you enjoy! You can also hit me up on social media as silentinfinity. I want to hear what excites you and what you’re passionate about. There’s so much wonderful content, people, groups (I could go on) in this community of ours that the more we invest in and share, the better it becomes!

Sources

Banner – Creative Commons Credit, Fear by mirandaadria

  1. Creative Commons Credit – Rise with Me by mirandaadria
  2. Untitled, media from Bloodlines2.com, Paradox Interactive

Rob Pontious

I’ve been gaming for over three decades mostly in the tabletop RPG space but also in video games, board games, card games, and even some LARPing! I’m a gamer and a GAYMER. You can find me online (including instagram and twitch) as silentinfinity.

3 Comments

  1. Rob Pontious Reply to Rob

    If you want to start with the Chronicles of Darkness, look to: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/168428 for the core book

    The latest Vampire: the Masquerade edition is V5 available here: https://www.modiphius.net/collections/vampire-the-masquerade

  2. Great article. Though I never played WoD games I did read most of the werewolf books. I transferred that concept to Pathfinder with werewolf tribes, not all were are automatically evil, some were NPCs, etc. We’re looking at a Serpent’s Skull AP soon with one PC as a werecrocodile (Mokole) and using a background where he’s seeking out knowledge on how he is a were and the ancestry/history of the Mokole. Another game I included a ‘Master of the City’ vampire that is a background element constantly on the mind of the paladin trying to bring law and order to Riddleport. Our paladin is learning this vampire has been master since “humans were huddling in mud huts on the riverbank learning about fire”. One of the game mechanics we tossed out is contagious lycanthropy. We made it extremely difficult to get and almost an intentional act to bring someone over rather than just a random bad roll on a bite or claw wound.

    • Rob Pontious Reply to Rob

      That’s awesome Quo! I really like when one game can inspire you to something you want to use in your story or even mechanics for another game. I love the concept of the spiritual protector werewolf and also those tribes. Also love the removal of the contagious lycanthropy. Suddenly those lycanthropes are a bit more organized, communal (i.e. the tribes) and less a monster of the week. Love it!

Leave a Reply