Published on November 14th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen4
Guide to the World of Darkness, Part Zero
(Update 1/1/16): White Wolf Publishing and all of its assets have been recently purchased by Paradox Interactive, a computer game company. Onyx Path, who has been writing and publishing White Wolf properties for the last several years has come to a deal with Paradox over the rights to the games.
From this time forward the title “World of Darkness” will only refer to the “old” or “classic” WoD, and Paradox claims all rights to those properties. What was once known as the “new” World of Darkness (the term I use in these articles) is now fully owned by Onyx Path and its new 2nd Edition (the one with the God Machine rules baked into them) will now be called the “Chronicles of Darkness” and drop all association with the World of Darkness.
What was old is new again! With the recent publications of the 20th Anniversary Editions of the classic World of Darkness setting, I’ve been getting a lot of people asking what the differences are between the original/classic WoD, and the 10-years-“new” World of Darkness. This several part guide should be pretty comprehensive for the main lines of each of the World of Darkness titles, but if I miss one let me know in the comment section below.
The Classic World of Darkness
Originally started in the early 90s, White Wolf made a name for itself in the Role Playing Game industry by bringing a whole new type of game (and with it a whole new kind of gamer) to the table. When White Wolf published Vampire the Masquerade in 1991 it captured the imagination of many in communities that hadn’t been interested in Dungeons & Dragons, introducing a lot of people who had never heard of the roleplaying hobby to something new and exciting. Vampire had an enormous influence over the growth of nerd culture in the 90s, just as Anne Rice and the Cure influenced Vampire.
Vampire and the games that would follow it formed what became known as the World of Darkness setting. Each game line was theoretically self-contained- you could get the base mechanics from buying the Vampire core book or the Werewolf core book, there wasn’t a core rule book that united the mechanics. In addition, the game lines all had separate developers who didn’t seem to work very hard at integrating the themes or even cosmology of their lines.
Ultimately what happened is that as the setting and rules grew and the number of supplements increased along with the number of game lines that White Wolf produced, everything spiraled out of control. From a consumer perspective, during Revised edition (which began in 1998 with Vampire Revised Edition, that game’s 3rd iteration) there were the three iconic game lines: Vampire, Werewolf and Mage.
There were also other major game lines: Changeling and Wraith, as well as some other lines with their own core books: Kindred of the East, Hunter, Demon, Mummy and Orpheus. On top of that there were several medieval versions of these games, some of which had just been rebooted into Revised in the form of Dark Ages: Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Fae and Inquisitor.
All of these games had huge, over-the-top conspiracy theories and supernatural entities that were responsible for all the bad things that ever happened in the history of everything, apparently. It became too much to justify how all of these creatures lived in the same World without the muggles getting wind of it.
On top of that, every game line had at least a couple of monolithic, omnipotent forces that secretly controlled the world. Apart from that being improbable when talking about one group, to have so many conflicting groups clandestinely working over society was pretty silly. It was all so complex and the supplement bloat was so much that it was hard to just pick up a supplement and understand what was going on. So they decided to hit the reboot button.
New World of Darkness
In 2004 White Wolf launched a series of hardcover books that promised to bring Armageddon to the world they had created. The books themselves had been calling these the “End Times” for years, and White Wolf decided to call the myth’s bluff. The “old” or “classic” World of Darkness died, but a “new” World of Darkness was about to be reborn.
Later that same year (2004), a new set of books launched the fresh take on modern fantastical horror. The new World of Darkness made some core changes. There was a single core book that explained the common rules of the game, including everything you needed to know to play normal humans in the setting. Stats and powers were largely balanced against each other, and the way that mechanics were presented between different types of supernatural creatures was unified.
The tone of the series was reeled back quite a bit- the older material had been over-the-top while the newer material strived to be more subtle. Old World of Darkness was “superheroes with fangs” while the new World of Darkness was more grounded.
The new publishing style also created a new way to use the books. Previously, the setting had been caught up in large over-arching metaplot events (like you find every summer in superhero comic books) with characters from the tie-in novels. These changes were made canon and affected later editions of the game in ways some players didn’t like (see Mage 2nd Edition vs Revised Edition fans) but the new game changed how it approached supplements.
Instead of having a continuity to worry about, the developers decided that they would flesh out the game worlds, but each book would be both canon/not-canon in equal amounts. That is to say, every supplemental book was made such that you could play it with the others, but the authors never assumed you would have anything other than that line’s core book and the core WoD book. This approach is called “toolbox” because it lets the group decide which tools (books/ideas) they will incorporate in their games, without saying that one version is “more correct” than another.
Core World of Darkness
There wasn’t ever a core WoD line for the classic setting, which makes comparing the new Core line to an old one difficult. While there were books printed under the WoD imprint, they were mostly catch-all titles that didn’t fit into any of the main lines well, there weren’t many of them, there was no “default” setting and none of the books were very good.
Also of note, while this covers the World of Darkness line released in 2004, there has been a rules update (the 2nd Edition update) released with the God Machine Chronicle. The rules updates for the core rules are free and can be found HERE.
Main Conflict: Humanity against the Unknowable
The Pitch: This world is darker than the one you know, the shadows are longer and deeper. Creatures unknown to modern science or rational thought lurk just beyond your sight, waiting for you.
The toolbox approach to the setting and mechanics was the greatest thing to come out of the reboot. Having all the set pieces be modular and exchangeable really helped people running games because there wasn’t the assumption that every book was in play all the time.
The default character in the classic WoD was a monster, now the default character is a human. Just changing the perspective of things, re-focusing on a genre of horror unpopulated by definable boogeymen like vampires changes the way you look at the entire setting.
The mechanics are really slick. While a lot of the mechanics feel similar to classic WoD, the rules are in fact streamlined and the math works more than it did before. Combat rules are simplified, reducing the number of rolls needed for each attack from 4 to 1 (including damage). It is a great system overhaul.
If you really like the flavor of classic and want to use new rules, there are conversion guides for most of the major lines that White Wolf made. This simple step did a lot to bridge the gaps made when White Wolf divided its player base.
While the whole WoD is its sub-line, there are specific books that came out under the imprint that give a “minor template” of supernatural powers, as opposed to the “major template” of the core lines (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, etc).
Changing Breeds– Finally, a book for shape-shifters that aren’t seven foot tall wolf-men. This books brings back the changing breeds from classic werewolf in a form that doesn’t require the purchase of the Werewolf core book because it’s not based on their rules.
Second Sight– A book about that is mostly about psychic phenomena, Carrie-esque powers and selling your soul to Elder Gods. The psychic template is like the Numina and Hedge Magic powers from classic WoD, but now with a defined place in the setting, with enough mechanics to make it worth playing.
Immortals– Built for playing not-Vampires in the same way that Changing Breeds and Second Sight were not-Werewolf and not-Mage, respectively. Immortals details people willing to do depraved things like kill innocents to bathe in their blood in order to achieve immortality. Immortals doesn’t stop there and it doesn’t rely on vampire tropes to keep it going, a great addition to the core set.
Innocents– When it came out, Innocents was a cool surprise. It is a totally stand alone book that doesn’t require other books to play, and it helps you play as children in the World of Darkness. Innocents isn’t for kids, but it is for playing kids- which makes sense for the horror genre, the fears we had as children often follow us into adulthood. This new approach to the setting was refreshing and neat.
Characters are a little underpowered going by character generation in the core book. I’d add about 35 XP to any starting character right out of the gate. The God Machine Chronicle rules fix takes care of this.
There honestly isn’t much of a down side to this setting. If you like horror games set in modern times, you will like this game. If you want to run Supernatural, The Craft, Constantine, Resident Evil, True Blood, Buffy, Silent Hill, Anne Rice, Lovecraft, X-Files, Neverwhere, Torchwood, Amityville Horror, the Haunting, Poltergeist, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street or anything at all like any of these… then buy the World of Darkness RPG.
God-Machine Chronicle– Bringing cosmic horror back into the World of Darkness, without the Cthulhu shoe-in that seems inevitable everywhere else. It also has some updated rules for a World of Darkness 2.0, which are available separately for free as well.
Second Sight– Of the minor templates (or “mini-splats”) this one is my favorite. The psychic powers are subtle enough that they don’t seem like a huge advantage and the setting is gritty enough that you don’t feel like a superhero. In fact, most of the time it does seem much more like a curse. The powers in this book are great things to saddle your characters with- like Sam’s powers in Supernatural.
Tales from the 13th Precinct– Law and Order gets freaky with the police supplement. In addition to giving you tools for adding police work to your chronicle, it gives you a fully staffed police office with pre-made characters and story hooks to just drop into your city. It’s a lot like the RIPT squad in the Anita Blake series.
Mirrors– This book gives you three new setting premises for the World of Darkness as well as some optional rules you can use. Things like social/mental combat, rules for adding miniatures, etc. The alt-settings include one where the world sees all the monsters revealed, one where the apocalypse begins (much like the last WoD setting) and one that is a fantastical version of the WoD. Even if you don’t use everything here, a lot of it is very idea inspiring.
20th Anniversary Editions
Recently there have been even newer additions to the game lines. White Wolf sold their company to the Icelandic video game developers CCP, in what was originally a buy-out intended to secure the IP for a WoD MMO. The MMO is currently vaporware, but some former White Wolf employees and contracted writers have established the company Onyx Path Publishing to continue to make White Wolf products. In 2011 they released Vampire the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition– a hardcover, full color experience with updated rules and setting info for modern times.
The Kickstarter Deluxe editions are hard cover and full color. They are bound in leatherette and are usually embossed on the cover and spine, and have gold or silver edges on the paper. If you’re familiar with the Encylcopaedia Vampirica from VtM Revised Edition, you at least have an idea of what to expect (except the 20th Anniversary Editions weigh in at around 600 pages). You can only get these from their Kickstarter project or from someone who backed it. Deluxe Editions ask for a $100 pledge on Kickstarter to get them.
There are Print On Demand books of the 20th Anniversary games and they are available in multiple qualities, and in both B&W and Color. The POD books are a lower print quality than the Deluxe- these are your typical RPG books with no frills. That said, the Kickstarter versions usually have things like metal bound covers and fancy ornamentation that I really don’t want, so I like the POD copies. These go for $100 for the Premium Hardcover Color (which does not have the leatherette or embossing), all the way down to $50 for a B&W Softcover copy.
The God Machine Era
To make things complicated, Onyx Path has continued to publish new material for the new World of Darkness. This new material DOES mean a second edition for the new World of Darkness, but they didn’t start calling it that until after calling it the God Machine Chronicle first. It seems as if there was resistance to the idea of a second edition from CCP, but once the “totally not a new edition” came out, they green-lit the project to be sold as a new edition.
So to be clear, there is the World of Darkness book that came out in 2004. There is a World of Darkness book called The God Machine Chronicle, which requires the 2004 book, which gives setting and rules updates. You can get the rules updates for free, without the setting material here. Eventually you will see a World of Darkness 2nd Edition book with all of these new setting and rules additions baked in.
The God Machine Chronicle is a setting book that thematically ties directly into the new Demon setting, but references to it have been in the core World of Darkness book since 2004. The GMC adds some elements of cosmic horror to your WoD without it being especially Lovecraftian or Cthulhu based. Onyx Path are calling it a “game of techgnostic espionage” which has a nice ring to it. Check out my thoughts in Part Seven of this Guide, about both versions of Demon.