log in or register to remove this ad

 

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.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Aldarc

Legend
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.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
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.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
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.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Another vote for a toolkit RPG system. Cherrypick the elements you like from other games, ditch the rest.
 

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.
 

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.
 

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:

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
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.
 

I understand the OP's point. I'm surprised I haven't seen it made before. Sure, you can take bits and pieces of WoD (or a lot of things) and create a setting you want out of it. But, by default it presents one highly themed version of a modern fantasy world that won't support many (I'd say maybe even *most* if you don't want to have to squint to make it look right) of the sorts of modern fantasy stories you might want to play based on common takes on supernatural lore. A setting that was both flavorful (not just DIY with a universal system) and supportive of multiple takes (focusing on the most common ones) on supernatural elements, would be a great addition to the offerings.

I'm actually working on that very thing. What is it, Saturday now? Let's see...check back with me in about...2035.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Sure...but if the game strives to be all things to all people, you get the kind of RPG that- to some people- suffers from bloat and possibly even imbalances. See D&D.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I understand the OP's point. I'm surprised I haven't seen it made before. Sure, you can take bits and pieces of WoD (or a lot of things) and create a setting you want out of it. But, by default it presents one highly themed version of a modern fantasy world that won't support many (I'd say maybe even *most* if you don't want to have to squint to make it look right) of the sorts of modern fantasy stories you might want to play based on common takes on supernatural lore. A setting that was both flavorful (not just DIY with a universal system) and supportive of multiple takes (focusing on the most common ones) on supernatural elements, would be a great addition to the offerings.

I'm actually working on that very thing. What is it, Saturday now? Let's see...check back with me in about...2035.
I think it would be really difficult to write a game that supported even most of the current takes on urban fantasy. Reconciling, for example, the approach taken by the show Supernatural, with the Dresden Files, with Lev Grossman's Magicians with, say, the more dreamlike urban fantasy of Charles De Lint, seems an insurmountable task. Some of the broad strokes fit together, but the details? Not so much.

I think your comments on setting really hit the mark too. Having a rich sandbox to play in is great, and we don't all have the time and/or inclination to flesh out our own world. Plus the details of a generic system are often going to be just far enough wide of the mark to feel off.
 

I love the lore and the factions of WoD but not the rules, nor when the authors want to teach me about History but it is only annoying propaganda.

About rules I use my own mash-up, with some little changes of the d20 system, adding more abilities scores: astuteness (social manipulation, creativity to improvise), courage (bravery, but also resistance to mental stress), grace(fate/karma/luck) and technique (it is not like Destrexe but for pre-learnt actions (playing music, dance, maneuvers of martial arts), or actions what need more time, like crafting or art). And I use a fiction world, where Spanish empire can kick-ass Ottoman pirates, and mason lodges are controlled by vampire clans to conspire against Church and their crusader undead-slayers, but nobody is going to complain about that.

The urban fantasy set in real world, or a world like us, has a weak point, I call it Superman17 effect. In the comic #17 Superman stopped the second world capturing Hitler and sending him to the ONU to be judged. I mean too powerful characters can't be hidden but they alter the History. Really my setting is a mixture of noir-punk version of Ravenloft with the factions of WoD, some ideas from Kult: lost divinity and the nations from 7th Sea because using known things by the players is easier to create a lot of new names.
 

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.


You’re right. That’s why I mentioned fiction where there are multiple kinds of magic. Charmed (the reboot) featured both “witchcraft” and “Yoruban” magic. The Magicians has an entire multiverse with many different magic systems. Buffy has technopaganism. The Everlasting has a bunch of magical traditions.

Mage goes off the rails by making the main conflict of the setting (either one) into what one critic described as a “cosmic wikipedia edit war.” The tone is firmly in the realm of what many describe as “gonzo” taken to the most extreme. Heck, the 2e rulebook opens with a space battle in the orbit of Saturn. Which isn’t itself a bad thing, but it’s the only choice I’m given. What if I don’t want the setting to extend past Earth? Or past one city? Why play Mage at that point? It’s not made for me.

(When 3e tried to be more down-to-earth, the lead developer got hundreds of death threats in his email. He was literally afraid to open his inbox for a while. So that’s why I’m against World of Darkness on the basis of a “toxic community.”)

But I digress. You’re right about me arbitrarily discounting a setting. I failed to articulate myself and for that I apologize. I don’t like Mage because I only have a choice between “consensus reality” and “supernal realms.” If the M20 book was anything to go by, the “traditions” are lunatic radicals that hate modern civilization and the “technocracy” are lunatics that want to literally destroy the human spirit like a Saturday morning cartoon villain. The Awakening has a more obvious “not so different” theme for its heroes/villains, but is essentially the same conflict with different window dressing. It’s not as flexible as it claims to be. There is so much baggage in terms of setting and authorial intent. A toolkit it is not.

If I want something different, then I have to play a different game like Warlock or Dresden Files. Which have entirely different baggage. I haven’t found anything I liked consistently. There’s no game I could find with multiple different campaign settings that try to do different things like, say, All Flesh Must Be Eaten or Feed. Something like Urban Shadows is great for monster mash politics, but lacks campaign settings. Those are all on the GM.

World of Darkness has a stranglehold on the market. The creativity of other potential settings has no room to shine. Without competition, the genre stagnates.
 

Some additional thoughts on how I see the issues and what I'm trying to do to create a desirable outcome.

No system is truly "universal," because some settings would work better in other systems; sometimes they even need a unique system to really do what they do. I think some universal settings work better than others. While I'm not very familiar with the PbtA system, from the way people talk it does well supporting different settings, and is customized for each one. I think that's a commonality of the systems that work well for different settings--a reasonable degree of customization for that setting. Still, even there you aren't going to be able to support every setting and playstyle. A highly narrativist focused system won't work with some settings, just like a highly simulationist setting won't work well with others.

It is also quite a fine line to be able to encompass most of the common ideas people have about a genre/setting, while still having a richly distinct feel. Some of what I'm working on to attempt to create that involves:

A system that is internally flexible to support different playstyles. Specific meta-options can be chosen, either/or overall for a campaign, for an adventure, or for specific characters, skills, and powers. My system is on the light side, so these aren't adding a bunch of crunch. And example might be character creation and advancement. There is no default that says characters start weak. If you want to play archmagi from the get-go, you can. You could also have different levels of power between characters. This is all decided as a group. Also the primary or suggested way of handling character advancement is to do whatever makes sense. Do you want characters to get better between one story and the next? Then they do, by whatever amount you want them to. If not, they don't. My system isn't designed to function as a game. However, since I realize there might be people who really like my system overall, but are uncomfortable with that level of free-form character design, I'll provide some sort of point-buy system customized to work with the sorts of assumptions that people who want point buy want, while staying faithful to the setting I'm focusing on.

A setting that seeks to incorporate the general commonalities amongst lore (not the specifics). You can't easily mimic any particular franchise with these rules, because that isn't the point. What you can do is choose whether vampires have complex social structures or not (and even vary it in different parts of the world). There would be multiple examples of how you can do different things, some of which are compatible, and others of which are mutually exclusive. Brief examples are given for each element, and then at least two examples of how you could put those elements together for an overall world setting. Magi will not be limited with spell points nor a list of known spells. They will have something more akin to Mage: the Ascension, although it will be possible to exhaust oneself in magic, just like in physical exertion. Unlike the highly unique setting of Mage, with mages that feel totally different from common lore about mages, and with things like Paradox, this system will support more traditional feeling magi, including culturally distinct varieties as well as a common magical theme for them to interact under. You can't play everything with that, but if someone coming in with general fantasy experience wants to play a wizard in a modern fantasy setting, my setting should support the iconic ideas they most likely have.

Flavor distinctions that avoid violating common lore, and are as broadly applicable as reasonable, while still allowing for the flexibility I've mentioned. For instance, vampires will be undead. They have literally (even if only momentarily) died, and their bodies are animated by something different than a lifeforce. They aren't a species or a disease. There are some other commonalities all vampires will share. Beyond that, you can make different types of vampires, and you can include multiple types in your world if you so desire.

A lack of one true setting. While I'm shooting for more than a DIY toolset, elements of that are there, since you choose what to implement and how in the setting. I'm never going to publish a single example of anything, because then, regardless of what I say about making it your own, those single examples will become the default assumptions of what the official world looks like. I can however publish multiple highly flavorful examples, neither of which is how the world officially is, because you choose your own world.

None of that is easy. But that doesn't mean it is impossible. And no matter how well done it is, it cannot be a universal system, because there will always be settings (including highly focused modern fantasy) that aren't compatible with it, or will play much better with their own system. I'm actually a fan of both universal systems and unique, setting specific, settings. They each have their charm and function. While my system will be playstyle flexible, it can't be universal because it won't support certain extremes: having its own baseline leaning unavoidably (at least for me) limits its range of flex.

Of the techniques I'm using, one of the most useful ones, contrary to what I had expected, is to start with settings I kind of like, but don't like parts of (such as WoD), and identify what parts I don't like (or thing are highly unique), and what I think would be more traditional. I had originally attempted to start from a blank slate (and I still do in some cases), but after a lot of work eventually realized that it helps tremendously to look at it from a negative perspective (what parts would I take away from setting X), rather than only from a positive (what would I put into my setting). Both are necessary for me.

As I said, none of this is easy, and some parts are going to be easier or harder depending on setting. For instance, the same system also applies to my space opera setting, but the challenges are a bit different, since more things need to be clearly defined to make it functional, and those things may make it too distinctly unique if I'm not very careful.
 

MGibster

Hero
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.
Since Vampire isn't a generic game I think it's safe to say that most of the people playing it are more interested in the official setting than they are in a homebrew setting. And I'm not sure why you're under the impression that WoD fans are more interested in discussing the lore than they are in playing the game. I doubt there's much truth to that.


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.
The Dresden Files allows players to create pretty much any kind of supernatural critter they want and it really won't break the setting. Want to make a different type of werewolf from those presented in the novels? Knock yourself out.

I don't know what to do, so I come here to ask for advice.
Other than The Dresden Files your best bet might be something like GURPS, Champions, or Savage Worlds where you can create the kitchen sink world you're looking for.
 

I'm not sure why you're under the impression that WoD fans are more interested in discussing the lore than they are in playing the game.
rec.games.frp.storyteller and alt.games.white-wolf were very active back in the day, though discussion covered mechanics and PbP as well as more.

But what sorta made that claim ring a little true, to me, was the way oWoD books were written & Organized: they were generally pretty good cover-to-cover reads, but terrible in-game references. There was also an increasing emphasis on the meta-plot, the changes to and developing timeline of "the lore" of the oWoD as it worked it's way to the End Times.
 

MGibster

Hero
But what sorta made that claim ring a little true, to me, was the way oWoD books were written & Organized: they were generally pretty good cover-to-cover reads, but terrible in-game references. There was also an increasing emphasis on the meta-plot, the changes to and developing timeline of "the lore" of the oWoD as it worked it's way to the End Times.
I think a lot of gaming products from the 1990s were produced with the expectation that a significant number of people who purchased them would be reading those books rather than gaming with them. But you're right that they weren't well organized for finding the information you needed while playing. But then a lot of games published now aren't so good for finding the information you need quickly while playing.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
The Dresden Files is great, but it's not without issues. First, in runs on the Fate engine, which isn't everyone's cup of tea (although I quite like it for the right game). Second, the game has some internal balance issues around magic, but nothing deal breaking IMO. It would do a fine job with a hunter based game mimicking Supernatural or indeed most of the settings in question where the magic is pretty up the middle "spell casty" (as opposed to dream based, or something else funky).

To be fair, apparently the Accelerated release for DFRPG fixed some of the issues, but I haven't had a chance to look at it yet.
 

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top