On your saddest day
you behold the King In Red
in your looking glass.
This is one of the books I've wanted White Wolf to publish since I committed to playing their new World of Darkness system. This is the Unearthed Arcana of the Storyteller mechanics, the optional & revised rules, the tweaks & reinterpretations, the what-if & the why-how. In short, it is a tool kit & a dissection of the game's numbers, a bag of tricks to explore the game's statistics & rules. Big ideas & little ideas. I pre-ordered this back in December of last year & have been looking forward to it ever since. I'm awfully fond of it! I personally didn't get that much out of it; or at least, nothing big that made me re-evaluate my current series of house rules, but the book is good enough to not make me mind that. Like The Requiem Chronicler's Guide, a lot of it doesn't apply to my current situation, but that doesn't mean it isn't added to the soup. All those rules get dumped in the pot, percolating, waiting till it is time to rise to the surface. There are plenty of spices for the dish in here, right from the get-go. & you know what? The introductory fiction by Howard Wood Ingham is very good. Considering that the concept for the short story if both high concept & anchored by tie-ins, that is fairly tricky to pull off, but he did. It showcases the various lines of the World of Darkness-- "What if the protagonist was killed by a vampire? What if she was the vampire! What if she was the werewolf or was killed by a werewolf! What if..." With that as the given, I think it is really admirable that Howard Wood Ingham pulled it off with such flair-- the vignettes are not trite but also evoke the specific mood, flavor, & detail of the setting. Walking that line between cliche & homage is hard to pull off, but it worked for me.
The first thing I flipped to when I opened the book was the section of Virtues & Vices. See, I want to hone the Virtue & Vice system for my campaign. I use "Humanity" instead of "Morality" for everybody-- I think it works better as a term, since. Well, I have an easier time recognizing a deviation from a psychological baseline than I do a system of good & evil. Since I have different species of panhumans in my game, I wanted to represent a slight alteration in their paradigm of thinking, without providing alternate "Humanity" systems. For some, this is easy & elegant, like how I flipped the Karnaks to receive all their Willpower back from their Vice & get an immediate point back from their Virtue. They aren't evil any more than Humans are "good"; just different. I have other ideas, & other rules I'm currently using, but I'm on the prowl for more. I didn't find any here, but I wasn't mad about it. Using Nature & Demeanor? Well, I'd already thought of that, but I like the idea anyhow? I think it is worth thinking about it for some campaigns. As for personalizing Virtues & Vices-- I thought that was already how the rules worked? Well; so here I found some good stuff, but nothing for me to really use. Still, more food for thought.
There were rules that caught my eye. The rules for Social & Mental combat are interesting. I am still digesting them, but they are fine ideas. I think sometimes about the Physical, Social, & Magical combat system in Earthdawn, which had elements I liked & didn't like. The rules on buying extra Health interest me. That is a curious idea. The 8 points per is a little cheap, but putting it at x5 might work; sure it is prohibitive but I do like a lethal game, & wouldn't be adverse to players wanting a little more survivability. There are pretty intensive rules for miniatures combat; I didn't see a lot I was inclined to use, even though I do run my Oubliette game with the World of Darkness & minis. My quick & dirty rule is to subtract five from everybody's speed (the human base speed modifier) & then boom. It works fine. You don't need more tweaking than that, if you are able to play fast & loose with ad hoc Narrator calls, which I am. One thing I saw that really did get my wheels spinning was the Collective Combat rules, & for more than just combat. It sort of reminded me of Burning Wheel, where character's bid on their successes. I like the idea that you might determine partial wins; you win with two successes to the villains' one, bid your first success as "save the kid," & then the antagonist bid's his success to escape, then you bid another to plant a bug on him. Something like that.
The bit on the back on new campaign styles is fun, & does address where I'm coming from, or at least gets closest to it, hits nearest the mark. First you get a range of "What if the world knew!" Which, well; True Blood is successful & cool. Otherwise; well, if Prometheans were exposed, they'd make great astronauts, is all I'm saying. If Mages were revealed...that could be interesting. There is plenty of stuff on apocalypse; in those segments, the sidebars of useful rules are the best part, & could come in handy for anybody. I always thought "Post-Gehenna" would be a good Vampire: the Masquerade setting: something rose up & destroyed civilization & consumed most vampires-- whether it was the Antediluvians, or some Methuselahs or Caine or whatever is immaterial; now it is 1000 years later, & the world is in a new dark age...& so on & so forth. Then we get some talk about Dark Fantasy; which is my area of expertise. Or well, you could call Oubliette Dark Fantasy, or Weird Fantasy. I don't like the races? The Atlanteans & the Dhampir are interesting, but I don't think giving them a clump of various merits & various flaws is very elegant. It is an easy way to go, though. The shattered world of Woundgate is an interesting World of Darkness Urban Fantasy setting-- but not what I would go for. Still; this is interesting, the campaign building section. The Storyteller engine is such a workhorse, so intuitive, that it has always seemed weird to me that it was shackled to the World of Darkness. I mean-- why isn't crazy stuff like this par for the course?
The sad end-cap on this book is the afterword, where the Creative Director of White Wolf, Richard Thomas, basically says that the current publishing model, which he implies means print with "the book you hold in your hands is the last of the line that we'll be publishing using traditional methods," is coming to an end. Now, that doesn't make me happy at all. I'm a pen & paper player. I don't use .pdfs. I don't begrudge those who do, but it doesn't suit me. I need to be able to stick my fingers in-between pages, to tab around, & well-- to own the thing. I want a book. This has been clarified on their blog to say that they meant they were done with "a fixed schedule of regular releases of hardcover books," which sounds more or less the same to me, in the end run. Now, if they publish .pdfs & collect the "best of" into books, that is fine with me? I am just a little misty eyed, since the World of Darkness system is the one I use. That said, there have been some awfully loud rumblings in this direction, not least when Ryan Dancey, the chief marketing officer of White Wolf's parent company CCP said White Wolf was "just an imprint...a legacy business." Now, alright. CCP bought White Wolf out of bankruptcy & people get excitable about "the future of publishing" when they work for electronic businesses, like video game companies. & this is Ryan Dancey, the guy who brought us the OGL for Dungeons & Dragons 3e, which I still regard as a landmark in the community, so I'll cut him some slack. His statements, anyhow, generated a lot of grumbles & rumblings. Well, I have to agree that is a sad day when White Wolf, who was the second biggest game publisher after TSR, is slipping ground. That said, TSR was bought by Wizards of the Coast, who were bought by Hasbro. Big guns. White Wolf...didn't make that same leap. CCP isn't small potatoes but they aren't Hasbro. Anyhow; I don't really have a point to my musing, other than to try & make sense of things, & hope that this isn't the end of the line. As people are fond of pointing out, I already own the books. I can run the game system however I want, forever. I just value professional input, you know? I like that there are people's job it is to make up new powers for me to use, to play test new rules, to brainstorm new ideas in the milieu. & I don't want that to go away, that is worth something to me. I'm not really into pursuing the electronic options, though maybe that will change. I just hope that their hardcovers-- which are beautiful & durable-- continue, in some capacity. I'll keep getting them, if they do.