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The urban fantasy market seems awfully stagnant

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
Sorry. I'm still prone to apoplexy whenever I see someone claiming World of Darkness is superior to Chronicles of Darkness.
I guess I did say "better," but it was in the interest of humor and sarcasm. I /did/ like the crazy way the M:tA Paradigm rubric let you mash genres (to say the least), and didn't find it in the little I saw of M:tA*** - but I'd really already lost interest in Storyteller by the time the nWoD came out, so everything that followed - including all your obvious trauma** - wasn't on my radar.

I also liked the idea, that the oWoD never really went for, of the non-supernatural world /seeming/ just like our own, that only once you get Embraced or Awakened or whatever, do you get to see behind the curtain. WWGS never quite went there, the oWoD was always "the Goth-Punk World," a darker reality with fictional evil corporations and whatnot that were just not-up-for-debate evil. And, y'know, flying buttresses on the local McDonalds.*


I have my work cut out for me. I'll try to post some world building later when I get more time.
I suppose it's clear enough where you're coming from, but still I don't quite see where you're going. If D&D's support for different settings (which are, ultimately, not all that different, since D&D mechanics just don't cover a huge range) is what you're aiming for, I honestly think you should aim higher.














* that's an in-joke. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one in on it.

** I've got the old Post Traumatic Edition-war Syndrome, m'self, just a different war between different editions of a different game. So I get being triggered by "better."

*** (and, no, I'm not letting the 'A' thing go, it's like they wanted the confusion... or should I say Ambiguity?)
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Mage is bonkers. I don't hate the basic system though.
Our group described Mage: The Ascension as the best game when in the right hands, and the absolute worst game when in the wrong hands.

It's probably easier to just use Fate or something.
Given that FATE has The Dresden Files right there for you to manipulate to your whims, yeah, that'd be a good alternative.
 

dbm

Explorer
In a moment of serendipity, this just dropped into my inbox: Ngen Mapu

It’s a new urban fantasy worldbook for Fate based on South American folk lore.
 

Aldarc

Explorer
I'm with [MENTION=5142]Aldarc[/MENTION] here.

I don't think the answer is a single general use Urban Fantasy TTRPGing system with theme/premise-neutral mechanics to rule them all (this almost always leads to an overwhelming GM presence in play trajectory to manufacture an experience...typically putting players in a significantly more passive position than in a game like Blades in the Dark). This is precisely why I brought up Blades in the Dark.

I think the answer is MORE niche Urban Fantasy TTRPGing systems with encoded theme/premise and a holisitic approach to system (all mechanics, reward cycles, ethos, participant authority) that relentlessly focuses on producing an emergent fiction and participant experience around those things.
Here is where I would advocate the use of Urban Shadows. Urban Shadows (and its use of the PbtA system) leans heavily into exploring through play the implications, complications, and satisfactions of "being" the supernatural (or the aware mundane). The playbook is meant to embrace the archetypes and such. From what I recall, there is a Sorcerer-esque aspect to this where you are deciding between power and your "humanity." If you go to far down the track, then I believe you retire your character and become the monster people think you are. If [MENTION=6686357]BoxCrayonTales[/MENTION] wants to explore different types of werewolves and such, then it would not be too difficult to create custom playbooks.

I also recommend Dresden Files Accelerated. I'm not a fan of Dresden Files as a franchise, but I have found its system good for creating a fairly generic urban fantasy setting. Similar to PbtA playbooks, you select Mantles for your character. These mantles are at different power levels and it does not pretend that these are balanced. But (1) it's Fate which tends to have less focus on balance, and (2) a mundane person will probably not naturally be on the same level as a fae, vampire, or wizard anyway.

I had planned on using Dresden Files Accelerated for running an urban fantasy campaign set in 1847 Vienna - an imperial city amidst revolutionary unrest that will erupt across Europe within a year - but centered around an amateur paranormal investigation society. The major benefit of setting it in Vienna was that my players - as inhabitants of 2019 Vienna - had a grasp of its location, culture, and history.
 

Jer

Explorer
I also recommend Dresden Files Accelerated. I'm not a fan of Dresden Files as a franchise, but I have found its system good for creating a fairly generic urban fantasy setting.
I suspect that's because the Dresden Files franchise is as close to "generic urban fantasy setting" as you can get. And I don't meant that as a knock - I personally love the Dresden Files - but that Butcher has basically created a series that is as close to "D&D fantasy" as a genre as the urban fantasy genre gets. His world is basically a "kitchen-sink" world of fantasy and horror tropes - much like the assumptions of a "core" D&D setting is a kitchen-sink of fantasy tropes. He doesn't come up with cutesy-clever names for his creatures, letting vampires be vampires, werewolves be werewolves, wizards be wizards, and faeries be faeries, and mostly doesn't play the "everything you know about X is wrong" game with the monsters either. (The one example I can think of off the top of my head is the various vampire courts, and even there there is specifically the Black Court who have it as a specific plot point that they are 100% Draculas as per Stoker's novel. And it isn't like Red Court and White Court vampires are some unique thing that hasn't appeared before - the psychic vampire and the monstrous creature pretending to be human are both also vampire tropes, just maybe not as well-known). And where he does have setting specific things they tend to be extrapolations of existing fantasy tropes/myth/fairy tales/etc. - like the structure of the Fae Courts, or the Knights of the Cross (who are pretty clearly D&D paladins dropped into a modern setting). All of that not only makes for a setting that is very "gameable" - it also makes for a setting that is very recognizable for anyone who knows the tropes of the D&D fantasy genre.
 

gepetto

Villager
I disagree with the OP. I've used NWoD basic ruleset for a bunch of different settings. Everything from an American revolution era game about taming the west and dealing with native creatures that eat settlers while fighting off the natives to star wars and a Firefly type of setting.

That basic ruleset is very simple, fast to teach, intuitive and flexible. Its really easy to bring to just about any idea. I'm not even a fan of the core setting lore much but I've used the rules for everything for years.

I agree it would be nice to see some variety in urban settings because those are my favorite and I would like to have some more material to mine for ideas. But I dont see a need for any more basic rule sets. The various games out there already more then cover the need for hard rules IMO.
 
That basic ruleset is very simple, fast to teach, intuitive and flexible. Its really easy to bring to just about any idea. I'm not even a fan of the core setting lore much but I've used the rules for everything for years.
This has been my experience, as well. Even the old WoD, which was much more scattershot in its rules, was simple and intuitive enough to turn into almost anything. This was evidenced in the numberless netbooks that fans made in that era using that system for whatever their favorite setting was, from Highlander, to Speed Racer to Mutant, and so on.
 

LuisCarlos17f

Registered User
We can't forget the urban fantasy has been very popular in the television from decades ago. For example comedies as "Bewitched", "Genie in a bottle" or "Sabrina the teen witch", but also "monster of the week(/season)" like "Charmed", "Buffy vampire slayer", "Grimm", "Supernatural", "True Blood".

Some players don't want urban fantasy because is too close to our real life, and they would rather to imagine they are in a different world, with other culture. If you live in a big city, the buildings are boring for you, but the forestal zones are enough "exotic".

* WoD is more fluff than crunch, and the metaplot in the RPGs can't be like before internet.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
We can't forget the urban fantasy has been very popular in the television from decades ago. For example comedies as "Bewitched", "Genie in a bottle" or "Sabrina the teen witch", but also "monster of the week(/season)" like "Charmed", "Buffy vampire slayer", "Grimm", "Supernatural", "True Blood".

Some players don't want urban fantasy because is too close to our real life, and they would rather to imagine they are in a different world, with other culture. If you live in a big city, the buildings are boring for you, but the forestal zones are enough "exotic".

* WoD is more fluff than crunch, and the metaplot in the RPGs can't be like before internet.
See also Forever Knight, Friday the 13th: the Series, the aforementioned Kolchak, Dark Shadows and so many more.
 
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I suspect that's because the Dresden Files franchise is as close to "generic urban fantasy setting" as you can get. And I don't meant that as a knock - I personally love the Dresden Files - but that Butcher has basically created a series that is as close to "D&D fantasy" as a genre as the urban fantasy genre gets. His world is basically a "kitchen-sink" world of fantasy and horror tropes - much like the assumptions of a "core" D&D setting is a kitchen-sink of fantasy tropes. He doesn't come up with cutesy-clever names for his creatures, letting vampires be vampires, werewolves be werewolves, wizards be wizards, and faeries be faeries, and mostly doesn't play the "everything you know about X is wrong" game with the monsters either. (The one example I can think of off the top of my head is the various vampire courts, and even there there is specifically the Black Court who have it as a specific plot point that they are 100% Draculas as per Stoker's novel. And it isn't like Red Court and White Court vampires are some unique thing that hasn't appeared before - the psychic vampire and the monstrous creature pretending to be human are both also vampire tropes, just maybe not as well-known). And where he does have setting specific things they tend to be extrapolations of existing fantasy tropes/myth/fairy tales/etc. - like the structure of the Fae Courts, or the Knights of the Cross (who are pretty clearly D&D paladins dropped into a modern setting). All of that not only makes for a setting that is very "gameable" - it also makes for a setting that is very recognizable for anyone who knows the tropes of the D&D fantasy genre.
That's interesting. Given that it seems to be a fairly popular or well-received game, it seems to also be evidence that having a less focused, more "generic" modern fantasy setting can work well and not be bland.

It makes me want to take a look at it, except for Fate. I just can't handle Fate. Why, oh why, did it have to be Fate?
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
That's interesting. Given that it seems to be a fairly popular or well-received game, it seems to also be evidence that having a less focused, more "generic" modern fantasy setting can work well and not be bland.

It makes me want to take a look at it, except for Fate. I just can't handle Fate. Why, oh why, did it have to be Fate?
Because...it was Fate.
 

Aldarc

Explorer
That's interesting. Given that it seems to be a fairly popular or well-received game, it seems to also be evidence that having a less focused, more "generic" modern fantasy setting can work well and not be bland.

It makes me want to take a look at it, except for Fate. I just can't handle Fate. Why, oh why, did it have to be Fate?
Fred Hicks (Evil Hat Productions) is good friends (and longtime gaming buddy) with Jim Butcher and the owner of Jim Butcher's official forums. ;)
 

dbm

Explorer
More than that, Fred is on record that Fate was specifically created to emulate the ups and downs of a Dresden adventure. Spirit of the Century was just a test-run for the system.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
More than that, Fred is on record that Fate was specifically created to emulate the ups and downs of a Dresden adventure. Spirit of the Century was just a test-run for the system.
And this makes me like it even more. The Dresden books are some of my favorites.
 

Jer

Explorer
That's interesting. Given that it seems to be a fairly popular or well-received game, it seems to also be evidence that having a less focused, more "generic" modern fantasy setting can work well and not be bland.

It makes me want to take a look at it, except for Fate. I just can't handle Fate. Why, oh why, did it have to be Fate?
I hear you - I'm fine with Fate but the rest of my group really isn't. That said, the Fate Accelerated rules are lightweight enough that I think the Dresden Accelerated book would be easy enough to port to another system (I've toyed with using Icons actually - for some reason my group is fine with Icons where they aren't with Fate and I can't figure out why because the two games share so much similar DNA. I can't believe it's just the Fate dice that makes the difference but maybe - or maybe it's just the presentation?)
 
I suppose it's clear enough where you're coming from, but still I don't quite see where you're going. If D&D's support for different settings (which are, ultimately, not all that different, since D&D mechanics just don't cover a huge range) is what you're aiming for, I honestly think you should aim higher.
While out of the box D&D over covers a specific set of archetypes, there's a bazillion 3pp that hacks the system to make new classes. Although it's currently only compatible with Pathfinder 1e, Spheres of Power and Spheres of Might goes to show how far you can go using the D&D class formula.

Although World of Darkness never opened itself up with the OGL (not counting the forgotten Opening the Dark retroclone), it has enough competitors past and present to get a feel for what players and publishers were looking for in contemporary fantasy games. Nightlife (1990), Nephilim (1992), Immortal: The Invisible War (1993), Nightbane (1995), C.J. Carella's WitchCraft (1996), The Everlasting (1997), In Nomine (1997), Unknown Armies (1998), Nobilis (1999), Sorcerer (2002), Scion (2007), Dresden Files (2010), Monsterhearts (2012), Feed (2013), Urban Shadows (2015), etc.

We can note a number of trends in the development of contemporary fantasy games, starting in the 90s. By "contemporary" I mean they superficially resemble the real world at the time of writing, so Shadowrun and Rifts don't count when strictly speaking. What distinguishes the 90s is that this is when monsters started being offered as PCs, rather than antagonists for investigator PCs to fight. Although 80s contemporary fantasy/horror games like Call of Cthulhu, Beyond the Supernatural and Chill may have offered psychics and occultists as PCs, they did not offer literal monsters like vampires or werewolves.
  1. The first generation includes Nightlife, World of Darkness, Nephilim and Immortal. They tended to be focused on factionalism and a sort of oppressive bleak conspiracy theory, echoing the horror roots of their predecessors. Nephilim and Immortal are sometimes derided as clones of World of Darkness, but there's no evidence they were directly inspired and they don't resemble each other much at all.
  2. The latter half of the 90s is when the clones started showing up. The second generation sometimes lightened the horror or conspiracy aspects in favor of lighter fantasy, but that was by no means a rule. WitchCraft and Everlasting were created specifically in response to World of Darkness. They tried to address what they perceived as shortcomings of their opponent, such as poor support for mixed groups. As such, these used universal guidelines for developing super powers and magic. Everlasting got particularly creative and weird, including options for fantasy races like elves, dwarves and orcs, as well as mythical heroes a la Exalted or Scion.
  3. At this time the tabletop market in general was shrinking due to various business and economic factors, which ultimately led to (among other things) TSR being bought by WotC, World of Darkness being rebooted, and many publishers going out of business. The rise of the internet and e-retail resulted in an explosion of indie games. The third generation starts in the 2000s and continues to the present: this generation is more diverse and refined compared to its predecessors.

There's no shortage of rules systems to choose from. As I said earlier, I do like mechanics that support the intended theme of the game in question. So what's the theme? The reason why people keep coming back to the common archetypes of vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts, and fairies is because these resonate with people. Fantasy is often about escapism, while urban fantasy is more metaphor because it shares our world superficially. World of Darkness tried to use abhumans as metaphors, although Monsterhearts was much more obvious about this. What I would like to discuss is world building and how non-generic rules can be used to support that.


Karma meters

There is often a sanity meter, karma meter, corruption or light/dark side mechanic of some sort, like a humanity meter, which were implemented most uniformly in Nightlife's humanity mechanic, The Everlasting's torment mechanics and Chronicles of Darkness's morality mechanics. Feed's humanity mechanic was probably the peak of this sort of mechanic: the PCs would lose human traits and replace them with vampire traits. Other humanity mechanics were much more unwieldy in terms of what theme they were intended to espouse and how they worked in practice.

Both of The Everlasting and Chronicles of Darkness made the mistake of inventing a different meter for every playable splat and going out of their way to make them all feel distinct, which grew increasingly forced as the character options expanded. A number of these mechanics resulted in states of temporary or permanent insanity (or other unpleasant side effects), a concept that was recycled in Exalted as "limit break" and Monsterhearts as "darkest self."

The Everlasting had personality mechanics, way more convoluted than anything in Exalted, that tied into the torment mechanics and which I couldn't make heads or tails of so I can't offer much critique of that except to say that it was clearly unwieldy.

World/Chronicles of Darkness quickly fell into the trap of writing the mechanic as a stick that arbitrary inflicted Call of Cthulhu-style sanity loss for playing a typical RPG character (i.e. a psychopathic serial killer), which resulted in much wailing and gnashing of teeth from players, then later introducing various ways to get around it... as opposed to rewriting it to not be a stick mechanic or trying to promote styles of play other than "ragtag team of psychopathic serial killers." But I digress, so just refer to that other topic about violence in RPGs for that tangent.

Ultimately, a karma meter is a karma meter. As Nightlife and Feed go to show, it is very easy to write most abhumans as essentially vampires struggling to retain their humanity in an overarching addiction metaphor. The lesson to be learned here is that if you are going to use a corruption mechanic to reinforce your themes and distinguish the character options, then you need to know exactly what you are doing and you need to plan ahead rather than devise new torments ad hoc. While karma meters and similar mechanics are not strictly necessary for urban fantasy, in my opinion having them can help to emulate aspects of the genre. Being Human, both US and UK versions, is my go-to example for how abhuman protagonists can struggle with their inhuman side.



Character options

Urban fantasy games have often offered their own equivalent of character classes, and sometimes further subdivisions, while otherwise being skill-based or the equivalent. World of Darkness has "splats," Monsterhearts has "skins," Urban Shadows has "archetypes," The Everlasting has "gentes," etc. Most of these can essentially be reduced to some variation on a vampire, werewolf, wizard, ghost, fairy or some other basic archetype. In most cases these determine the PC's personality, superpowers, etc. These splats distinguish the games from purely toolkit systems, even though if we're being technical these are specific examples created by an imaginary toolkit system. The important bit is that, ideally, the archetypes are a fluff concept independent of rules. Everybody can generally describe a vampire, werewolf, wizard, ghost or fairy, even if these distinctions are ultimately arbitrary.

My recurring critique of such mechanics ties back to the "our monsters are different" and "vampire variety pack" tvtropes. You can say these implementations exist on a continuum of sorts. My go-to example for how such things are typically structured, as least for vampires, would be Feed: it structures vampires into "strains" that define their overarching rules and "sub-strains" that make minor changes to the parent strain. An example of a two distinct strains would be the difference between the vampires in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and the vampires in Guillermo Del Toro's The Strain. An example of sub-strains would be the clans and bloodlines of the vampires in World/Chronicles of Darkness.

You can probably see where I'm going here. I haven't been able to find a system that is built around a high level of customization for all of its options. For example:

  • World of Darkness uses a syntactic magic system for its wizards (e.g. Ascension's arete/spheres, Awakening's gnosis/arcana, Dark Ages' foundation/pillars, Opening the Dark's art/praxis), but provides magical traditions so that characters can feel very different. Even mad science and "hacking the Matrix" are covered by this. On the other hand: the vampires all follow the same basic quasi-Ricean rules with clans/bloodlines added to provide a cost break to certain superpowers and an additional vampire weakness, and the werewolves all follow the same hereditary scheme. Obscure supplements may try to provide rules for options that don't fall into these, but these are one-offs that never receive further attention.
  • Dresden Files doesn't lack variety in terms of vampires and werewolves, although it provides only a few examples, but its wizards all use the same magical tradition.
  • The Everlasting seemingly tries to be more diverse in its treatment of vampires, but they still follow most of the same rules regardless of their "consanguinity" (bloodline). The werewolves are limited to the pathogenic variety seen in horror movies. Spiritual warriors bound to nature spirits or "manitou" are a different splat. The same magic rules are used for every splat if they have access to it, but the "osirian" splat has unique access to a form of meta-magic.

Maybe my googlefu is just weak, but I don't recall finding an urban fantasy game that has all of the same groundwork laid for magical traditions, vampire strains and werewolf strains. They've appeared at least a few times in isolation, so I'm stumped that I haven't found them used together. And that's just for the most popular trio of vampires, werewolves and wizards. Ghosts seemingly rarely receive as much attention as PCs, despite being the general populace being way more interested in them. Fairies are a whole other can of worms.


Ghosts' incongruous invisibility

For whatever reason, ghosts seem to be less popular as PCs compared to vampires and such despite ghost stories making up a much larger volume of history and popular culture. (Possibly because, as one critic claims, ghosts lack "teh sexy.") There are numerous stories and urban legends of hauntings, possessions, vanishing hitchhikers, ghostly animals, vanishing houses, ghost ships, ghost towns, etc. Off the top of my head, tabletop RPGs that offer ghosts as PCs out of the box include Lost Souls, Nightlife, World of Darkness (especially Wraith and Orpheus), WitchCraft, The Everlasting, Ghostwalk, Monsterhearts, Urban Shadows, and Spookshow. They all have wildly different conceptions of ghosts, and some of the time the ghosts are just one option of a monster mash. There may be a set of ghost-flavored options like ghosts, mediums, necromancers, reapers, flatliners, etc.

Although the basic concept of a ghost is recognizable (i.e. haunting your past life and either resolving your issues or stubbornly hanging on, which one observer likened to a metaphor for the grieving process), some of these games added additional elements that were sometimes at odds with the basic concept. Games like Orpheus and Spookshow rather reasonably introduced the idea of competing ghost fumigating organizations, ghosts being employed in espionage, or astral projectors using similar mechanics. Games like Wraith and The Everlasting introduced ridiculously bleak and oppressive otherworld politics that drew attention far away from the unfinished business that defines what it means to be a ghost; while I have no problem with giving ghosts their own flourishes like pocket universes, politics, etc, being a ghost is already depressing enough and doesn't need to be made worse.

Perhaps most importantly: playing an invisible intangible ghost, while extremely handy for espionage, is extremely frustrating if you ever feel the desire to interact with the living. Not every game featuring ghosts tried to ameliorate this, and some made it worse. Some games decided to make some flavor of mediums the PCs and relegate ghosts to NPC roles, probably because the designer thought that would be more fun and not without justification. I've got nothing against that: a game like Reaper Madness combining the premises of Dead Like Me, Final Destination and Tru Calling (among others) sounds absolutely amazing.


Werewolves' lack of superpowers

Our monsters traditionally have all sorts of reality warping powers. Wizards can build magic castles like Hogwarts. Ghosts call pull off all the crazy SFX seen in Poltergeist, The Ring, The Shining, The Grudge, Grave Encounters and more. Vampires can control animals, control the weather, levitate, control minds, change shape, etc. Werewolves can turn into wolfish beasts with enhanced physical abilities and... not much else?

There's a big disconnect between how werewolves and, say, vampires are treated in terms of superpowers. Vampires can range from generic mooks for the heroes to stake all the way to having laundry lists of superpowers like levitation and mind control and whatever, which can be traced back to Bram Stoker's Dracula. By contrast, werewolves almost never receive powers beyond shape shifting, presumably because authors are not creative? World of Darkness marks the first time, that I've aware of, that werewolves received the same level of laundry list powers that vampires did (and keep in mind that World of Darkness exaggerated this trend by giving vampires arbitrary powers over stone, time, illusion, etc). It's only within the last decade that I've seen this attitude trickle into popular culture depictions of werewolves (e.g. Teen Wolf, The Order).

Even something as simple as the concept of alpha and beta werewolves can be traced to the 1990s adventure game series Gabriel Knight.

But when you go back to pre-Hollywood folklore... there's very little distinction between werewolves, wizards and vampires. It's almost like the modern distinction is an arbitrary invention. Which reminds me of another point...


Cliques

Previously I mentioned that the popular set of vampires, werewolves, wizards, ghosts and fairies are recognizable archetypes. I may have lied. What we imagine as vampires and werewolves specifically is much more recent, as they weren't well distinguished prior to the 20th century. This has some ramifications for the design of contemporary fantasy games.

The first generation 1990s+ contemporary fantasy games got a lot of steam from their clique structure. Nightlife had two majors factions based on whether they pretended to be human or embraced their monstrosity, and various "races" of monster like vampire, wight, ghost, werewolf, etc. Nephilim had five elements and twenty major arcana. Immortal had twelve tribes. The clique structure loosened in the second generation and appears largely absent in the third generation, although that may just be due to those games not printing splatbooks like popcorn.

World of Darkness had vampire clans, werewolf tribes, mage traditions, etc. These weren't based on archetypes in fiction or folklore, but seemed to have been largely invented by the developers based on specific inspirations (e.g. each vampire clan is obviously based on a specific vampire story like Dracula for ventrue, Interview with the Vampire for toreador, Lost Boys for brujah, Near Dark for gangrel, Nosferatu for nosferatu, Vampire's Kiss for malkavian, Necroscope for tzimisce, Lair of the White Worm for setite, or 3×3 Eyes for salubri). In other words, they're blatantly arbitrary. One critic called them "stereotypes," as opposed to "archetypes." There can easily be a bazillion splats, as B.J. Zanzibar's archive shows.

Chronicles of Darkness tried to replace the previous clique structure with one more evocative of archetypal roles, and made a cleaner distinction between splats chosen by the player and those chosen by their character. The problem is that such archetypes don't actually exist, so the developers were pretty much making up their own archetypes with questionable foundation. This worked for Changeling: The Lost because it drew on humanity's extensive fairy tales across the globe and I imagine pretty much everyone can agree that the wildly diverse fairies of folklore can be placed into roughly six archetypes of "beasts", "fairest", "darklings", "ogres", "wizened" and "elementals". Not so for vampires, werewolves and wizards.

Can any of us describe archetypal roles into which vampires, werewolves and wizards may be uniquely subdivided? I certainly can't. For example, Chronicles tried to divide vampires into archetypes of "lord", "savage", "haunt", "succubus" (or "serpent") and "shadow." Would you say that represents the archetypes of vampires in fiction and folklore, or is this a case of pareidolia and forcing square pegs into round holes? By contrast, The Mary Sue lists ten archetypes. Trying to divide werewolves into archetypes, as in this essay, similarly leads to a completely different result than what is seen in Chronicles. The artifice of the archetype structure becomes increasingly obvious when applied to the following games, and the second edition has largely abandoned it.

Most other contemporary fantasy games don't spend that much effort, or leave it up the the players. I can easily understand why. But if you're building a campaign setting, rather than a generic foundation, it seems inevitable to me that the world building would include cliques once it reaches a certain amount of detail.


My time is running out. I'm signing off right here.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Werewolves' lack of superpowers

Our monsters traditionally have all sorts of reality warping powers. Wizards can build magic castles like Hogwarts. Ghosts call pull off all the crazy SFX seen in Poltergeist, The Ring, The Shining, The Grudge, Grave Encounters and more. Vampires can control animals, control the weather, levitate, control minds, change shape, etc. Werewolves can turn into wolfish beasts with enhanced physical abilities and... not much else?

There's a big disconnect between how werewolves and, say, vampires are treated in terms of superpowers. Vampires can range from generic mooks for the heroes to stake all the way to having laundry lists of superpowers like levitation and mind control and whatever, which can be traced back to Bram Stoker's Dracula. By contrast, werewolves almost never receive powers beyond shape shifting, presumably because authors are not creative? World of Darkness marks the first time, that I've aware of, that werewolves received the same level of laundry list powers that vampires did (and keep in mind that World of Darkness exaggerated this trend by giving vampires arbitrary powers over stone, time, illusion, etc). It's only within the last decade that I've seen this attitude trickle into popular culture depictions of werewolves (e.g. Teen Wolf, The Order).

Even something as simple as the concept of alpha and beta werewolves can be traced to the 1990s adventure game series Gabriel Knight.

But when you go back to pre-Hollywood folklore... there's very little distinction between werewolves, wizards and vampires. It's almost like the modern distinction is an arbitrary invention. Which reminds me of another point...
I was just looking at werewolf lore, and the closing paragraph in the section I just quoted isn’t quite...accurate.

While werewolves were indeed associated with other creatures like witches, vampires, and revenants, they weren’t interchangeable. There are distinctions, especially with the first two. Those could often assume the form and abilities of werewolves, or even occasionally call on them as allies or thralls. They were not werewolves in the strictest sense, any more than a D&D spellcaster using spells to do likewise.

But werewolves proper were not ascribed much in the way of special abilities beyond the shapechange itself and a supernatural resistance to damage. Some might lead a pack of actual wolves.

Not that it needed much in the way of more powers: an oversized, intelligent wolf (or the modern anthropomorphic wolf-man) you can’t kill without special (expensive) materials or actual (outlawed) magic would be terrifying to the most people. That’s before you add in their contagion aspect.

I think movies like 2002’s Dog Soldiers echo that point.
[video=youtube;E08zwlGeJiA]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E08zwlGeJiA[/video]
 
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Tony Vargas

Adventurer
OK, that's getting pretty constructive.

While out of the box D&D over covers a specific set of archetypes, there's a bazillion 3pp that hacks the system to make new classes.
Sure. It's the oldest RPG, and people have been trying to force it to do more since the very beginning - Murlynd, was an old-west wizard, Metamorphosis Alpha was written with D&D-ish rules. d20 was gasoline on that fire. But that's like, 45 years of chaos. The game, itself, if you go pick up 5e off the shelf, really hasn't changed or expanded all that much (to be fair, 5e is a bit of a re-boot).
I skipping tons, I'll just pipe up when I think of something constructive to contribute.


Ghosts' incongruous invisibility

For whatever reason, ghosts seem to be less popular as PCs compared to vampires and such despite ghost stories making up a much larger volume of history and popular culture.
Possibly it's because ghosts are, well, dead, not un-dead in a physically active way like Vampires, but dead, sometimes they're depicted as little more than psychic holograms, just re-living some traumatic moment. If there's a point or character development to the ghost in the ghost story, it's typically laying the ghost to rest, which mean, if it's a PC, you don't get to play it anymore. That's an issue.

The other thing about ghosts is that our pop culture concept of them is built on a 19th century fad quasi-religion called Theosophy - spiritualism, mediums, spirit photography, ectoplasm - it's not really rooted in ancient beliefs/organized religion or anything like that.

Werewolves' lack of superpowers
Our monsters traditionally have all sorts of reality warping powers. Wizards can build magic castles like Hogwarts. Ghosts call pull off all the crazy SFX ... Vampires can control animals, control the weather, levitate, control minds, change shape, etc. Werewolves can turn into wolfish beasts with enhanced physical abilities and... not much else?
Yep, and it's oddly nothing much to do with the source material. In myth/legend, werewolves were sorcerers who gained an ability to shapechange through some magical means (or 'deal with the devil' once Chrisianized). Vampires were essentially evil spirits that preyed on families, slowly draining one person at a time - a folk explanation of certain diseases, like tuberculosis.

For whatever reason, pop culture took the Vampire myth and ran with it, making them into these weird super-beings. When the werewolf hit the silver screen they decided to make it a bite-transmitted curse to be more like the very successful Dracula. That's probably why WWGS went with the race-apart animist werewolves with gnosis-super-powers, to bring them up to suff relative to Vampires that had gotten the Brahm Stoker, Hollywood, and Anne Rice upgrades.


But when you go back to pre-Hollywood folklore... there's very little distinction between werewolves, wizards and vampires. It's almost like the modern distinction is an arbitrary invention
Yep. On one level they were all just superstitious explanations of the dangerous world people lived in but didn't really understand. Disease, in particular.


There can easily be a bazillion splats, as B.J. Zanzibar's archive shows.
Ooh. I liked that site back in the day. I think I contributed a few bits of silliness to it. (Blake 1001)


Can any of us describe archetypal roles into which vampires, werewolves and wizards may be uniquely subdivided?
Like, classical conceptions of them? Werewolves were mostly, as I said, sorcerers who shapechanged. Vampires were evil spirits of disease, essentially. And wizards were hardly a thing - sorcerers (power from evil spirits), magi, goetio, philosophers, astronomers, herbalists, anyone with a bit of knowledge outside the norm or a penchant for chicanery could spawn a concept of a magic-using individual. The modern wizard archetype mostly derives from Hermeticism - much effdup by D&D and it's Vancian-memorization use-limited but absurdly-powerful spells.

But, thinking about it, there are iconic examples, that may or may not rise to the level of archetypes. Carmilla, the needy, manipulative almost-psychic-vampire. Dracula, the isolated Vampire noble, urbane and creepily sexualized in the Belle Lugosi Hollwood take... ...and, well, it gets weird after that. Reluctant Vampires. Conspiracy Vampires. Emo Vampires. Sparkly Vampires ... OK, the shark has been well and truly jumped.

Werewolves: There's the classic evil-sorcerer werewolf. The Cursed werewolf driven to kill. And the Controlled Werewolf whose shapechaning can be a gift more than a curse...
...and then it gets WoD influenced and weird.

Wizards. There are actually so many, and none of them like the now-dominant-in-RPG-circles, D&D wish-grenade. /Many/ of them are really about divination, though. That's what that suffix -mancy actually mean, y'know. Pyromancers, or instance, don't throw fire around, they stare into fires to divine the future - RL practice. Necromancers didn't raise the dead, they talked to dead. &c.
Some, like Sorcerers, Shamans, witches ("warlocks" arguably not really a thing), Goetio, and others would be classes as practicing "Thaumaturgy" - miracle-working or magic with practical results. Then there were philosophers, healers and alchemists who were arguably messing around with real things, rather than magic, just real things they understood very differently than we do, and that people outside their disciplines considered magic. Like, Archimedes would have been considered a magic-user of sorts in his day.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
That's interesting. Given that it seems to be a fairly popular or well-received game, it seems to also be evidence that having a less focused, more "generic" modern fantasy setting can work well and not be bland.

It makes me want to take a look at it, except for Fate. I just can't handle Fate. Why, oh why, did it have to be Fate?
Why did it have to be Fate? Because Fate happens to be better at narrative-focused genre emulation than most tactical-task-resolution based systems (like d20, for example) are.

The success of the system is, imho, based on how it manages to produce gameplay that has the drama, pacing, and pulpy goodness of the books. If you are deeply engaged during play, and the resulting narrative is cool, the fact that the whole setting looks like a messy kitchen sink really doesn't matter.
 

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