20 Years of World of Darkness! 20!
It's easy to forget these days, when pin-up models regularly sport N.E.S. tattoos and cosplaying is more synonymous with cheesecake than living in basements, but there was a time when being a geek was a social stigma. This stigma was especially strong with table top gamers, who were known for obsessively collecting dice, confusing real life with epic campaigns, and putting everything on graph paper. Or, as my Senior Advisor said in my High School Yearbook , "Dave you are a cool guy, you should ditch that D&D stuff and get some chicks".
However, back in the 90s, Nine Inch Nails, Anne Rice's vampire chronicles, and D&D all had a bastard child named Vampire: the Masquerade, and suddenly everything changed. Goth clubs started hosting live action roleplays (LARPs to us gamer nerds). People played RPGs at coffeehouses while smoking clove cigarettes. For the first and only time the local RPG convention became overrun with goth girls wearing vampire fangs and/or fox tails. It was a strange, confusing time to be an RPG geek for sure.
This new generation of RPGs was intended to concentrate on stories and moral decisions rather than smiting enemies and gathering treasure. The books were splendid at invoking their gothic-punk atmosphere with art, writing, and bits of song lyrics. However, their mechanics could be a bit slippery and the books became infamous for meta plots involving sometimes ridiculous characters, weird cosmic events, and vampires wearing trench coats carrying katanas and/or paired desert eagles.
Concept and mechanics slippage led to multiple reboots of White Wolf's core lines over the years (particularly Mage, their book about modern occult practitioners) and eventually led to a book that ended the game universe followed by a new, more subtle line called the New World of Darkness. The New World of Darkness (now published by Onyx Path) tried hard to curb the excesses of the old editions, maybe a little too hard as many believed a bit of the joy was gone from the old game. That, coupled with the decay of table top popularity in general led to a successful game line that had far less cultural impact than the old one.
That was 2004 - 2012. But, this year, we are seeing a new version of the New World of Darkness. And this is why you should care:
1. We Aren't Tired of Vampires Yet
There's a new Dracula television series on the way, all full of darkness and hot girls and a bit of metro-sexuality and science wherein Dracula pretends to be Tesla, or something. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is in it, and he also was in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, which came out this year... and has more vampires! Also, as you know, that pensive pale girl and the sparkly guy over in Twilight land.
100% Sparkle Free!
Vampires seem bigger than ever, which is funny since it has been true most of my life. This starts to give me the impression that vampires will grow ever more famous as I live on until all the TV shows have vampires. Which I heartily endorse by the way as vampires basically make everything better.
World of Darkness games let you play these characters, and not in the sense of 'a vampire can fly 6 inches above the ground and drink your blood in ten minutes', I mean, that is part of the game, but more important is all of the angsty bits. Angsty bits are fun because if vampires don't have angst they're basically zombies, and we're all sick of zombies. To be a World of Darkness vampire, you still have to drink blood, but if you aren't really nice about it or lose your vampire temper (which is a constant danger) you end up degenerating to a serial killer, and then a dribbling idiot fast. You have your powers but you hate them, too. It's sort of like me and my terrifyingly powerful charisma.
2. World of Darkness is Staying in Touch with Its Fans
The RPG publishing industry is shrinking. The only company around who manages much of a corporate front these days is Dungeons & Dragons (owned by Hasbro). This is, in some ways, a good thing. Unlike comics where the people in charge seem to hate their audience for not being kids, the RPG industry has generally adjusted well to serving adults and people who have expectations. They have a playtest blog, where they post new stuff from the games and ask for feedback. They interact more with their customers and generally give a feeling that they care.
Tickets are still available! There will be hot goth girls there. I swear.
Nonetheless, World of Darkness is still big enough to have its own convention, LA By Night, as well as a Grand Masquerade. (It's in L.A. this year, and I'm going! Huzzah!) The publisher, Onyx Path, also has a strong Facebook presence, and have even been good about freebies lately, releasing a preview of the new Vampire for free as well as all rules changes for the new books on PDF. Communication is really important these days (or so I keep hearing in marketing meetings) and World of Darkness has it pretty well covered. I doubt @WWpublishing is going to crush Twitter any time soon, unless they take up twerking, but you can find them if you need them.
3. The Goths Are Getting Old
Now Vampire is the RPG of the Goth generation, which is widely understood to have started up along with The Smiths and The Cure, which was kind of a long time ago. And while though those of us with Goth leanings like vampires and all that eternal beauty and youth stuff, the fact is that Robert Smith looks a bit bedraggled these days. Don't get me wrong, he looks great for being above half a century, but none of us are getting any younger. For example, Bar Sinister is one of my favorite places to be on the rare nights the wife and I can get sitting for the daughter and doggy, then sneak up to Hollywood. But the fact is... it involves a lot of dancing and climbing stairs. These things aren't great for old folks necessarily.
Wikimedia Creative Commons Well, he certainly looks undread now.
What's my point? Well, the great thing about roleplaying is that you can do it while sitting down. Heck, it's not like rolling dice is so exerting. And how much easier is it to say "my character goes to the club and dances for hours, her perfect body moving in time to the bass as all around her are entranced" than to actually, you know, get in shape and go to a club and entrance anyone? It's MUCH easier if you have other obstacles than fitness and spare time such as being overweight, hairy, a man, or an overweight hairy man. Although if you keep doing things like that, Steve, no one will want to sit next to you at the next convention.
4. More Modern Rules
Fate is a rival roleplaying system that just had a kick-ass Kickstarter. They invented a new kind of roleplaying game that uses far less detail to keep track of. Say you want to hack a computer. Now, and I'm simplifying, but basically there is a spectrum between having a ten page chapter in the book related to hacking that involves charts, times, and consequences to failure, and having a game where you say 'I hack it' and the person running the game says 'ok.' I would call the really detailed stuff simulationist and the really loosey-goosey stuff narrative. (I'm wincing a bit when I write this because it is a terrible over simplification, and I imagine the site coming under the angry fire of people who take this stuff more seriously than I do. But I think it works).
So, Fate is all about the narrative side, where you roll dice and you succeed or fail, and everything else you fill in with neat story bits. Now, the World of Darkness setting has always been much crunchier than that. However, the new books are more of a fusion, adding more loosey-goosey character stuff, like personal goals and rewards for failure on top of the more straightforward "be a vampire and don't die" stuff. I think this is good because though I like FATE, I think at times it can be too simplified. My brain likes things such as different guns doing different damages while FATE might just say "your weapon is just window dressing, its attacking someone that matters". I am, as mentioned, a classic geek. I've only fired a gun once in my life, but I know a fair amount them because details in RPGs add those nice bits of semi-realism that can help you get past the vampires and the fire breathing robots and junk that litter your average RPG.
Vampires have guns now. It's a thing.
Trivia Note! The makers of Underworld were sued by White Wolf Publishing for being too similar to their World of Darkness setting! True Story!