The urban fantasy market seems awfully stagnant
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  1. #1
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    The urban fantasy market seems awfully stagnant

    Of the urban fantasy games that have come out in the last three decades or so, the one that seems to dominate the market is World of Darkness. Well, that and Shadowrun. I could be wrong, that's the impression I get. What sets World of Darkness apart from something like Dungeons & Dragons, All Flesh Must be Eaten, Urban Shadows, Monsterhearts, or Feed is that it isn't a "generic" game which supports a variety of settings. It has a three decade old convoluted comic-book style continuity baked in. There are two other continuities, Chronicles of Darkness and Monte Cook's World of Darkness, but those are also baked into their own set of rules and seem to inexplicably court edition wars.

    World of Darkness had a number of competitors like Nightlife, C.J. Carella's WitchCraft, The Everlasting, Nephilim, Immortal: The Invisible War and so forth. Those are all out of print now, maybe available at e-retail if the publisher cared to upload them years ago. All of them had their own takes on the paranormal, their own settings and creative ideas. World of Darkness doesn't reflect any of that variety of thought and doesn't support playing outside of its idiosyncratic sandbox, all three or so of them.

    The less said about the mechanics the better. Especially the superpowers. It you want my opinion at its most succinct, then I believe a mechanic like Godbound's words is vastly superior to the mess that is World/Chronicles of Darkness.

    I find all that rather grating. I don't like World/Chronicles of Darkness because I don't like being restricted to play in someone else's arbitrarily narrow sandbox. I don't like playing a game that is firmly stuck in an early 90s zeitgeist when the urban fantasy genre is so much more diverse than that and roleplaying games have expanded so far in that time. I like having loads of options, like how Dungeons & Dragons has a bazillion campaign settings both official and third-party. I don't a have a problem with extensive lore in the abstract sense, but the World of Darkness fandom seems more interested in discussing the lore than actually playing the game or creating homebrew settings. The vitriolic edition wars pretty much destroyed any interest I had years ago and sent me running into the arms of Dungeons & Dragons.


    Maybe it would make sense to use a concrete example. Take Werewolf. In horror movies and paranormal fiction at large, werewolves have typically been pigeonholed as a viral curse with uncommon exceptions. In either of Darkness setting, the standard character is a lycanthrope. Lycanthropy is hereditary and tied to a deity like Gaia or Father Wolf. There aren't other options, except maybe in a obscure sourcebook for a specific edition like Hengeyokai or Skinchangers. You definitely can't play anything like the lunars from the sister game Exalted. (I'm not touching the tribes with a ten-foot pole. Suffice to say, White Wolf/Onyx Path/whoever has never been able to write believable political parties.)

    Meanwhile: Nephilim had selenim (emotion-eating shapeshifting immortal necromancers), WitchCraft had ferals (who could be hereditary, cursed, possessed, etc and flowed like water rather than assuming fixed forms), The Everlasting had manitou (spiritual warriors who bound themselves to spirits, including plant or mineral) and wer (horror movie-style viral werewolves), and Dresden Files had five or so different kinds of "werewolves" as a starting point. Recent Netflix original series The Order has werewolves as people bonded with magical sentient wolf pelts passed down through an order.



    There simply doesn't seem be any game approximating Dungeons & Dragons's diversity for the urban fantasy genre, or at least none that have achieved anywhere near as much success as World of Darkness. Somebody once tried to make a retroclone under the OGL called Opening the Dark, but that never made any impression. Urban Shadows, Monsterhearts and Feed were the most interesting to me because they devised unique mechanics to better support their intended themes. Urban Shadows focused on politics, Monsterhearts focused on monsters as metaphor, and Feed focused on humanity versus vampirism. In my opinion this was implemented in a superior manner to World of Darkness.

    So I find myself stuck between a rock a hard place. World/Chronicles of Darkness dominates the market, but the awful rules, restrictive setting and toxic community absolutely repulses me. The indie games are a breath of fresh air but remain stuck in obscurity.

    I don't know what to do, so I come here to ask for advice.
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  2. #2
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    Dresden Files also has been updated several years ago as Dresden Files Accelerated, using Fate Accelerated but PbtA-like playbooks called "Mantles".

    There is also Modern AGE by Green Ronin, which uses a modified version of the AGE system from their other games (e.g., Dragon Age, Titansgrave, Fantasy Age, Blue Rose, etc.), but set in a modern setting. I believe that fantasy add-ons are also available for it.

    There is also The Strange by Monte Cook Games, which focuses on agents dealing with quasi-dimensional realms: some sci-fi, some fantasy, some fictional worlds come to life, etc.

    Savage Worlds I believe also has a number of urban fantasy settings.
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  3. #3
    Esoterrorists is one I don't see mentioned. Others that riff off modern horror include modern age Cthulhu like Delta Green or The Laundry.

    I typically used a generic system (Hero if it matters which one) when I've wanted to run modern day fantasy. That gave me complete control to design the world to explore the themes, genres, and tropes while allowing the players access to many forms of inspiration for character formation.

    Currently, I running a heavily setting-modified Conspiracy-X game with elements added from other Unisystem games like AFMBE and Witchcraft. It seemed to fit well with what I wanted this time.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BoxCrayonTales View Post
    I don't like playing a game that is firmly stuck in an early 90s zeitgeist . . .

    So I find myself stuck between a rock a hard place. World/Chronicles of Darkness dominates the market, but the awful rules, restrictive setting and toxic community absolutely repulses me. The indie games are a breath of fresh air but remain stuck in obscurity.

    I don't know what to do, so I come here to ask for advice.
    I can't say that I would complain about a '90s anything. Heck, the closely-related '80s zeitgeist is working nicely for Stranger Things...but anyway.

    You might scare away other communities by referring to the WoD community as "toxic," but I'm sure you're just making a point.

    An indie game is no longer stuck in obscurity once you pick it up, so that's not a problem. I do, however, see a problem in getting other people to accept the same indie game that you have accepted. However, an insurmountable problem (for you personally) is raising your preferred indie game to the status of WoD or D&D . . . unless you're on the Hasbro board of directors or your middle name is "The Rock." Then you could probably make your game popular.

    The best I can do is offer to help you devise some unique mechanics for Modos RPG (handy link in signature). It's setting-agnostic, so you can step out of the '90s, and the blueprint leaves some good space for werewolf varieties, god-words, etc.
    Modular, open source, free role-playing rules: Modos RPG
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    Another vote for a toolkit RPG system. Cherrypick the elements you like from other games, ditch the rest.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by BoxCrayonTales View Post
    World of Darkness doesn't reflect any of that variety of thought and doesn't support playing outside of its idiosyncratic sandbox, all three or so of them.
    It peaked at 5 or 6, in the oWoD as I recall.

    And one of them, Mage, you could take careening off into almost any genre. Virtual Adepts & Akashic Brothers vs Iteration X & Syndicate: Cyberpunk. Void Engineers vs Nephandi: Space Opera. NWO vs Sons of Ether: James Bond. Traditions + Technocracy vs Marauders: superheroes. Marauders vs Nephandi: Tokusatsu. Syndicate vs Euthanotos: Corporate Espionage. NWO vs Al-I Batini: 24. Akashic Brothers vs Eutanotoi: Kung-fu movies. Cult of X vs NWO: surrealism.

    I don't like playing a game that is firmly stuck in an early 90s zeitgeist when the urban fantasy genre is so much more diverse than that and roleplaying games have expanded so far in that time.
    RPGs are still dominated by D&D - they haven't expanded all that much since the mid-80s. ;(


    The vitriolic edition wars pretty much destroyed any interest I had years ago and sent me running into the arms of Dungeons & Dragons.
    D&D had it's own vitriolic edition wars for about 6 years, there.

    There simply doesn't seem be any game approximating Dungeons & Dragons's diversity for the urban fantasy genre, or at least none that have achieved anywhere near as much success as World of Darkness.
    D&D's diversity ranges all the way from crawling around in dungeons killing monsters and taking their stuff, to wandering around the wilderness killing monsters and taking their stuff, all the way to, at it's most sophisticated, getting settled in a city or noble court, killing people, and taking their stuff.

    I'm amazed with a bar that low, anything can fail to at least trip over it.


    World/Chronicles of Darkness dominates the market, but the awful rules, restrictive setting and toxic community absolutely repulses me. The indie games are a breath of fresh air but remain stuck in obscurity.
    So, exactly like D&D then. ;P

    Actually, WoD/Storyteller and D&D/d20 are very similar stories: both were '1st' at something and have (or have had) market and/or head-space dominance in their niche (with D&D's niche being the Megaladon in the wading pool of the whole hobby), both have thoroughly embraced a philosophy of sticking to bad rules because they, through some sort of alchemy or reverse psychology or Nietzschean Selection, create excellent GMs who run great games.

    I don't know what to do, so I come here to ask for advice.
    Indie games may be stuck in obscurity, but that doesn't stop a talented, determined GM from gathering a group together and running one for as long as he can. FATE would be a great place to start for what you're looking for, IMHO. Night's Dark Agents also sounds like it could fit the bill quite well. I'm not sure which PbtA game would be best, but the system seems like it could be a step up.

    Good luck.
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    It peaked at 5 or 6, in the oWoD as I recall.

    And one of them, Mage, you could take careening off into almost any genre. Virtual Adepts & Akashic Brothers vs Iteration X & Syndicate: Cyberpunk. Void Engineers vs Nephandi: Space Opera. NWO vs Sons of Ether: James Bond. Traditions + Technocracy vs Marauders: superheroes. Marauders vs Nephandi: Tokusatsu. Syndicate vs Euthanotos: Corporate Espionage. NWO vs Al-I Batini: 24. Akashic Brothers vs Eutanotoi: Kung-fu movies. Cult of X vs NWO: surrealism.

    RPGs are still dominated by D&D - they haven't expanded all that much since the mid-80s. ;(


    D&D had it's own vitriolic edition wars for about 6 years, there.

    D&D's diversity ranges all the way from crawling around in dungeons killing monsters and taking their stuff, to wandering around the wilderness killing monsters and taking their stuff, all the way to, at it's most sophisticated, getting settled in a city or noble court, killing people, and taking their stuff.

    I'm amazed with a bar that low, anything can fail to at least trip over it.


    So, exactly like D&D then. ;P

    Actually, WoD/Storyteller and D&D/d20 are very similar stories: both were '1st' at something and have (or have had) market and/or head-space dominance in their niche (with D&D's niche being the Megaladon in the wading pool of the whole hobby), both have thoroughly embraced a philosophy of sticking to bad rules because they, through some sort of alchemy or reverse psychology or Nietzschean Selection, create excellent GMs who run great games.

    Indie games may be stuck in obscurity, but that doesn't stop a talented, determined GM from gathering a group together and running one for as long as he can. FATE would be a great place to start for what you're looking for, IMHO. Night's Dark Agents also sounds like it could fit the bill quite well. I'm not sure which PbtA game would be best, but the system seems like it could be a step up.

    Good luck.


    Your description of Mage perfectly encapsulates one of the problems I have. When I think about wizards, I think Harry Potter, Merlin, Dresden Files, Fullmetal Alchemist, The Magicians, The Order, and Charmed... not whatever Mage is trying to be. It’s simply too ridiculous and makes more sense as a Rifts setting. Plus, the radical leftism baked into the books makes it read as extremely obnoxious.

    I feel like I’m better off writing my own urban fantasy novels and then trying to secure an RPG deal if gets popular enough.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BoxCrayonTales View Post
    Your description of Mage perfectly encapsulates one of the problems I have. When I think about wizards, I think Harry Potter, Merlin, Dresden Files, Fullmetal Alchemist, The Magicians, The Order, and Charmed... ...
    Strictly Order Of Hermes, then. Arbitrarily narrow, but doable - an Horizon Realm or just some little college town the Ascension War doesn't quite reach, with Bygones instead of other supernaturals.
    Last edited by Tony Vargas; Saturday, 22nd June, 2019 at 02:38 AM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by BoxCrayonTales View Post
    Your description of Mage perfectly encapsulates one of the problems I have. When I think about wizards, I think Harry Potter, Merlin, Dresden Files, Fullmetal Alchemist, The Magicians, The Order, and Charmed... not whatever Mage is trying to be.
    Okay, there's a fundamental logical issue here.

    You spend a long post complaining about how WoD is fixed in one particular version of the supernatural, and then when someone points out that one corner of it isn't like that... that it can manage many different kinds of supernatural, you say it doesn't fit your fairly narrow image of what these supernatural people should be!

    Pick a complaint and stick with it, I say.
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  10. #10
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    I would love to run a game based on something like Imajica, Weaveworld, Great & Secret Show, Neverwhere, Koontz’s Odd Thomas books or any number of modern fantasy/horror works. But few dedicated urban fantasy RPGs would support most of those settings.

    That doesn’t even get into my own personal ideas...

    Hence my preference for using a toolbox system.

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