Welcome Back to the World of Darkness

Back in the early 90s, White Wolf games burst onto the scene with “Vampire: the Masquerade”. It was a wildly successful role-playing game, giving players the chance to be the monsters for a change. Vampires in this games were “tragically hip”; dark, brooding, conniving, violent, all the adjectives you could want (except sparkly – that came later). The game was so successful, in fact, that it led to several other games; “Werewolf: the Apocalypse”, “Mage: the Ascension”, and a few others. While none were as popular as Vampire, all had their following (well, maybe not Changeling; they kind of dropped the ball on that one).

The games were so popular in fact that they spawned a veritable library of supplements, including historical versions and live action rules, as well as novels, card games, at least one video game (which I highly recommend), and at one point a TV show (which if I recall correctly my sister loved; NO, I am not kidding). Despite this ridiculous level of success that most companies would ride into the ground, in 2004 White Wolf chose to discontinue the entire setting, ending it all in a spectacular but (in true White Wolf fashion) indeterminate Apocalypse. They then “reset” the entire mythos, releasing a new line of games under the same banner, with a new (tweaked) system.

Here’s the thing: as far as I can tell from the reaction of both myself and every gamer I know White Wolf essentially traded a license to print money for… well… nothing? Artistic integrity? “Gee, I was bored and it seemed like the thing to do at the time?” The new game system never really took off like the old one did, and last year White Wolf decided to revive the original “Vampire: the Masquerade” with a 20th anniversary edition. This was particularly nice for several reasons: they updated the setting, tightened up the original rule set, and included a lot of the extra goodies that had been developed over the years in the aforementioned supplemental materials. Even better, they sell it as “print on demand”, so you can get a PDF, B&W, or full color copy (if you’re feeling especially generous to yourself).

The pricing on the physical books feels a little hefty, but you get a LOT for your money (I’ve seen them, and unless you really love color art the B&W print is just fine and worth the cost). The quality is on par with any game book I’ve seen, and depending on how you treat your books you may want to go the extra $10 for hardcover (I would suggest it). Personally I never got the hang of PDF, but considering it’s half the cost of a hardcover of any kind, you may want to go that route.

What has me even more excited (and has my wallet cringing in fear) is that they have already announced 20th anniversary editions of “Werewolf” and “Mage”. Both of these felt like systems that needed a lot of work to me, even after the revised editions came out. I also didn’t spend as much on the supplemental materials for these games as I did for “Vampire”, so I expect I will see a lot more new-to-me material is these editions when they are published. What’s more, developments in the world over the last twenty years have had vastly more impact on the setting relative to these two groups (which is as it should be I suppose, considering the literary space they occupy) so I hope for great things. I particular I look forward to the “New World Order” sourcebook for “Mage”, the branch of the villainous Technocracy that focuses on world domination through economic control. About that financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street…

While some might see this as simply a desperate attempt to generate money by tapping into gamer nostalgia or sucking more money out of people’s pockets by repackaging old ideas, speaking as one of those gamers, this is a fantastic service. I know plenty of gamers who have shelves of books that are twenty years old, held together with duct tape and wishes, who will embrace these editions. Not just to have new copies to replace the old, but will reconcile conflicting rules and “soft” information, as well as bringing these fantastic (in every sense) settings into the modern world.

UPDATE AND CORRECTION: A friend pointed out that my memory is fault (hey, it’s been twenty years). In “Mage: the Ascension” it was the Syndicate that controlled the money. The New World Order focuses on governments, educational systems, and information. Which, considering there was barely an internet when “Mage” first came out, charter schools were hardly a thing, and people still laughed if you even suggested “someday we could have a black president!” means there’s plenty to look forward to here. But I still want to see that Syndicate book.


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