Vampire and other worlds of darkness

A different thread has me thinking about Vampire the Masquerade and the other World of Darkness games (this is…not the thread @Manbearcat requested I make…). To be honest, I haven’t played those games since I was a teenager, and my memories are fuzzy, and therefore warm and hazy and perhaps sepia toned. I remember loving the writing, the setting, and the aesthetic. I think Mage was my favorite, though I remember trying to play it with its free form magic system being…not successful. As a 14 year old goth kid, I saw myself as oh-so-“mature,” and dnd wasn’t cool anymore. So these games were a whole world.

So fans of World of Darkness games: what do/did you enjoy about these games? The writing, the aesthetic, the setting, the system? Speaking of, is the system any good? I didn’t keep up with the later editions, having fallen out of ttrpgs at that point in my life. What edition would you recommend? If you were to use the setting with a different system, what would you choose?
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The best tabletop campaign I ever played in was a Mage: the Ascension game. We played with 1st, and then 2nd edition rules. We looked at the Revised edition, but didn't see much reason to adopt it for our games. I have not looked extensively at the 20th Anniversary rules.

I am not a fan of Mage: the Awakening (from the "Chronicles of Darkness" line of games). There's some interesting setting work in there, but the rules design has serious flaws.

One of our Mages had Werewolf allies. Another PC was a Werewolf, so we worked extensively with those rules as well, without much of a bump over the seams between them. In helping to support the GM's attempt to broaden out his game world, I also had a secondary character, a Vampire, that came into play occasionally, so I have some familiarity with those rules as well.

The freeform magic system was a big positive for us - what is required to make it work is a common understanding of how the mechanics work, a GM who is consistent with their implementation, and players who are not interested in trying to ignore the intent of the rules or setting to gain mechanical advantage. Within those boundaries, it was the best magic system I've seen that made a character's magic particularly personal. Without those boundaries, it leans to attempts to turn vampires into lawn chairs and other nonsense.

We enjoyed the setting, in large part for its breadth that allowed the GM to always be able to create conflicts that meant something to the PCs. Doing this meant there was no useful adventure support, but at the time, the GM didn't mind the extra prep work involved.
 

The best tabletop campaign I ever played in was a Mage: the Ascension game. We played with 1st, and then 2nd edition rules. We looked at the Revised edition, but didn't see much reason to adopt it for our games. I have not looked extensively at the 20th Anniversary rules.

I am not a fan of Mage: the Awakening (from the "Chronicles of Darkness" line of games). There's some interesting setting work in there, but the rules design has serious flaws.

One of our Mages had Werewolf allies. Another PC was a Werewolf, so we worked extensively with those rules as well, without much of a bump over the seams between them. In helping to support the GM's attempt to broaden out his game world, I also had a secondary character, a Vampire, that came into play occasionally, so I have some familiarity with those rules as well.

The freeform magic system was a big positive for us - what is required to make it work is a common understanding of how the mechanics work, a GM who is consistent with their implementation, and players who are not interested in trying to ignore the intent of the rules or setting to gain mechanical advantage. Within those boundaries, it was the best magic system I've seen that made a character's magic particularly personal. Without those boundaries, it leans to attempts to turn vampires into lawn chairs and other nonsense.

We enjoyed the setting, in large part for its breadth that allowed the GM to always be able to create conflicts that meant something to the PCs. Doing this meant there was no useful adventure support, but at the time, the GM didn't mind the extra prep work involved.
I think the magic system would have worked better had we not been 14 at the time. The current OSR system I use has a very freeform magic system that isn’t a problem.
 

MGibster

Legend
So fans of World of Darkness games: what do/did you enjoy about these games? The writing, the aesthetic, the setting, the system? Speaking of, is the system any good? I didn’t keep up with the later editions, having fallen out of ttrpgs at that point in my life. What edition would you recommend? If you were to use the setting with a different system, what would you choose?
When Vampire the Masqurade was released in 1991, it was way different from the majority of other games I had played. There were different political factions, there was a mythology that tied into Christian theology, and the artwork was just fantastic. So I guess I liked the writing and the aesthetic the most, and that really hasn't changed. Personally, I like 5th edition a lot, but I skipped over all the Vampire products after 2nd edition so can't speak about those very much. One of my favorite things about 5th edition are the Hunger mechanics and the advice that PCs never roll more than three times for any event (such a physical fight, seduction, or rap battle).
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
I played V:tM, my girlfriend at the time wanted to play it, it was fine, as someone later on described it: supers with fangs. I mean, yeah, I did also find D&D to be in the more kids type game with the orange backs, maybe just the awful color? Something, I don't know. I do like a lot of the art, and layout; the more mature themes, it was ok.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
So fans of World of Darkness games: what do/did you enjoy about these games? The writing, the aesthetic, the setting, the system?
I loved the gothic-punk aesthetic. I was more of a punk than a goth. But I loved that vibe. Modern urban horror. A lot of the aesthetics matched the urban decay that me and my friends lived in. That was not something we were used to. Goth kids and punk kids reflected in the books was great to us. The more mature, grown up, and more powerful version of those looks, of course.

I bounced off the writing, hard. I grew to hate the fiction at the start. Just skipped it every time. The setting was where it was at for me. The system wasn't D&D, so that was good...but the system itself wasn't good, so that was bad. But we dealt with it. Seemed straightforward enough. Dots and dice pools. We definitely played the superheroes with fangs variant most times...or all the time, really.

Of the five main lines, Vampire, Werewolf, and Changeling were my favorites. Of those, we played Vampire the most (by far), but my favorite of the three was Changeling (by far). Love the dual-world view. Gives a decidedly peculiar vibe.
Speaking of, is the system any good? I didn’t keep up with the later editions, having fallen out of ttrpgs at that point in my life.
I don't think so. But there are a lot of fans who love it. I'm a big fan of light and ultra-light games. Always have been and it's only got worse with age. I have neither the time nor the attention span to fret over if something's a +1 or a +2. Difficulty 6 or 7. Throw some dice, you want to roll high. We can sort it out from there.
What edition would you recommend?
I'll always be more a fan of the original World of Darkness versions of the games. I was already over it by the time Chronicles of Darkness rolled around, or whatever it's called. I think the 20th Anniversary Editions are the best. Cleaned up things here and there, kept the lore, smashed as much as they could into one big book, and presto...instant nostalgia.
If you were to use the setting with a different system, what would you choose?
Anything rules light. Free Kriegsspiel Renaissance. Over the Edge 3rd Edition. Fate. TinyD6.

FKR can fit in your head. When the outcome isn't obvious from the fiction and the results (success or failure) would be interesting, roll opposed 2d6. High roll wins. Negotiate ties. Three strikes and you're out. That's the entire game. One version, at least.

Over the Edge can fit on either an index card or one side of a sheet of paper. I really like the twists. Player-facing rolls. You roll 2d6. Succeed on a 7+ if you're actively doing something. Succeed on an 8+ if you're passively resisting something. Three strikes and you're out. Good twists on 4s. Bad twists on 3s. That's 80% of the system right there.
 

willrali

Explorer
I never really got into the old world of darkness games from the 90s. I always found the writing ridiculous and the ‘we’re role players, not roll players’ stuff to be tiresome. The only thing rolling was my eyes. There was even a sidebar in Dark Ages Mage called ‘ye olde twinkery’ that told the reader that WoD players aren’t stinky nerds like those dnd players, so they shouldn’t min max and kick ass. Instead they should explore Deepness and Sadness like the cool kids they are. Gave me a laugh.

It was with the nWoD (later chronicles of darkness) that I got into it all. Vampire the Requiem was simply excellent, and it’s second edition is even better. It’s probably the smoothest game experience I’ve ever had. It shrugged off all the cruft about global clan shenanigans and delivered the perfect dark urban fantasy experience, backed by a well-tooled and intuitive system.

My favorite game of all time is Mage the Aeakening 2nd edition. MtAw 1st Ed shrugged off all the silliness and sophomoric pseudo philosophy that made Ascension such a bore, focusing instead on an interesting gnostic/hermetic occult setting rife with cosmic horror, and the development of a truly brilliant and usable improvised magic system. Those things were greatly refined and improved with the second edition, which is a deeply interesting game to play and a whole lot of fun.

Throw in the nWoD’s expansions on weapons and tactical miniatures and you’ve got yourself an excellent time.
 

Ondath

Adventurer
So fans of World of Darkness games: what do/did you enjoy about these games? The writing, the aesthetic, the setting, the system? Speaking of, is the system any good? I didn’t keep up with the later editions, having fallen out of ttrpgs at that point in my life. What edition would you recommend? If you were to use the setting with a different system, what would you choose?
My brush with WoD is fairly limited, but I'd consider myself a fan of the setting. I played a few games in a friend's Vampire the Masquerade 20th Annivesary Edition game (that never went beyond 3-4 games, despite two different groups but alas), I tried STing a Mage the Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition game (that game also didn't go anywhere after 2-3 games) and I read a few sourcebooks from earlier oWoD editions and Changeling: the Dreaming. I find the writing to be counterproductive to what the games are trying to do, it's too much purple prose and really unclear (especially Mage's rules). Unlike the poster above, what dragged me to oWoD first (and what I still like) was the high-concept, postmodernist "clashing metanarratives define the world" aspect of Mage 20. I like any game of "philosophers with clubs" where people try to enforce their ideology of the world to each other (also why I love Planescape), and I think all of the Traditions (and most of the Technocracy) presented their own worldview in really interesting ways (the Disparate Crafts are... a different story. Then again, WoD never did cultural representation of different ethnicities well). I think there is a lot of potential for interesting stories, from small-scale tales of living in a world where magic is dying to large-scale metaplots that can be thinly-veiled metaphors for the monolithic ideology we currently live in devouring everything else.

The system itself, on the other hand, is a mess. The freeform magic system is pretty good, and I still wish there were more systems that adopted a similar system of spheres and dots for increasing difficulty. The rest of the system, from its combat rules to needlessly complicated casting difficulty adjustments to the completely inane layout of the books (I still don't know where the weapons and armour are in the M20 book), as well as the min-max encouragement Quirks and Flaws inadvertantly provide, make it really difficult to run a game well. The setting would definitely be better suited with a modern narrativist system such as Cortex Prime or Powered by the Apocalypse (which isn't surprising since narrativist games were spurned by discussions on why WoD failed to deliver its premise).

As for the edition to recommend, I'd say the 20th anniversary editions are the gold standard if you want the pure WoD experience. Vampire's 20th anniversary edition is especially well edited, and even if you were running other splats (such as Mage), I'd recommend referring to Vampire's rules for common things like basic action resolution, combat and weapons, since Mage is just terrible in where it places things (Satyros Brucato having a needlessly verbose style in how he writes and edits probably doesn't help). Otherwise, I've seen famous streamers in my country run pretty succesful Vampire games on FATE, and like I said, making a PbtA or Cortex Prime conversion shouldn't be too difficult.
 

A different thread has me thinking about Vampire the Masquerade and the other World of Darkness games (this is…not the thread @Manbearcat requested I make…). To be honest, I haven’t played those games since I was a teenager, and my memories are fuzzy, and therefore warm and hazy and perhaps sepia toned. I remember loving the writing, the setting, and the aesthetic. I think Mage was my favorite, though I remember trying to play it with its free form magic system being…not successful. As a 14 year old goth kid, I saw myself as oh-so-“mature,” and dnd wasn’t cool anymore. So these games were a whole world.

So fans of World of Darkness games: what do/did you enjoy about these games? The writing, the aesthetic, the setting, the system? Speaking of, is the system any good? I didn’t keep up with the later editions, having fallen out of ttrpgs at that point in my life. What edition would you recommend? If you were to use the setting with a different system, what would you choose?
I played a fair bit of Vampire and Werewolf, played a little Mage, and collected and read a lot of Mage, Wraith and Changeling. Even at the time, I recognized at least a half-dozen or so variations on what the games 'were' -- the games found in the fiction and theme and style of the published books; the games the rulebooks actually produced; the games the fandom (/authors) insisted it was; plus 2-3 main flavors of the games people ended up actually playing. Also, alongside all this was what I think was what kept me buying the books: -- the potential that I thought could come out of the composite of those different forms of the game, the one I really wanted the games to be.

The game fiction was, IMO, imaginative and evocative. Whether it was good is an open question and I was 50/50 on it even then. I know a lot of people who find the world and the fiction and the factions (particularly of the 90s original editions) really engaging, and others who consider it someone's college writing assignment best left unseen by future eyes. However, I think there were definitely kernels of good ideas inside that middling execution. Vampires as secret organizations which value keeping their existence secret over all else; Wizards who fight over the nature of reality (and science works as it does only because they people who favor that kind of magic are winning); Fae and ghosts raging against the dying of the light (personal passion for ghosts, creativity in the modern world for faeries) -- these are all interesting ideas the deserve to be explored more thoroughly.

About the only thing I think was truly bad was the foreign exoticism, and there (sort of in its' defense) I think it was only a little worse than the rest of the culture at the time. Every non-Western society or non-Christian religion was an exotic place full of exciting and interesting and oh-so exotic things that are cool and unique and different and have I mentioned exotic? All of which fawningly written with what I will call 'a very enthusiastic undergrad on a deadline's understanding of said cultures/religions. All of which done lovingly, but often unintentionally insultingly. However, as said, they were not alone in this in the 90s. D&D was still putting out pajama ninja style supplements at the time, movies were still cringingly bad about this, and you (if you were the target audience) probably had a friend who was exploring Wicca or just took a course on ______ culture and was really enthusiastic (but not wholly knowledgeable) on the subject.

The game rules were... well, there's a reason why lots of people played the game as 'superheroes with fangs' (and a reason why places like the Forge sprang up for another pass at narrative-driven games*). The games presented themselves as 'about' the stories and personal journeys of the characters created, but then went to great lengths to make that really hard to do. Lots of rules for making these personal explorations challenging, and not many social rules at all. Plenty of (actually still fairly complex, and maybe not that enjoyable either) combat and direct physical contest rules, though. So it was easy to just turn the game into D&D/Cyberpunk, but with modern-day Vampires/Werewolves/etc. instead of elves, wizards, or street samurai.

Having Vampires do political posturing while having to manage complete secrecy and keep yourself supplied with blood would be a game-playtime timekeeping nightmare even if the entire group went about it in the same fashion (unlikely given individual power sets). Doing so when the assumptions are that you are all on the absolute bottom of the political heap, and when the party is made up of members of different sub-groups who kinda don't play nice together, and with a relatively lethal combat system where there can be a huge turnover. Changeling was even more dangerous, with walking by a boring place of business a life-threatening ordeal. While I loved the concept of Wraith, that one was perhaps the ur-example: everything was trying to kill you; what passed for a 'society' amongst ghostkind was an unfriendly, vaguely fascist bureaucracy that saw people as literally fungible resources; nearly everything you ran into probably had more use for you dead than alive (and nearly everything did aggravated damage); your own inner demons were trying to lead you into capital-O Oblivion (not to mention actual evil ghosts scouring the countryside trying to kill you into oblivion); but throughout that you were supposed to both hang onto the passions you had in life and resolve your personal hang-ups.
*super simplification.

I never really got into the old world of darkness games from the 90s. I always found the writing ridiculous and the ‘we’re role players, not roll players’ stuff to be tiresome. The only thing rolling was my eyes. There was even a sidebar in Dark Ages Mage called ‘ye olde twinkery’ that told the reader that WoD players aren’t stinky nerds like those dnd players, so they shouldn’t min max and kick ass. Instead they should explore Deepness and Sadness like the cool kids they are. Gave me a laugh.

On Condescension: this was a real issue. In the books, but also in the gaming community at the time. There were people that treated this as RPGs 'growing up' or the like. People are still grinding axes over this (and then over the Forgites afterwards). The only thing I will say about it is: this (posturing, and the fight over whose game/gameplay is cool, mature, or enlightened) is not new. When Chainmail was introduced, there were people in the community ready to call it pedestrian for including a fantasy supplement. D&D was a frivolty compared to 'mature' war games. Gygax had some eye-rolling commentary about the right way to play his games (counter to the way people wanted to play them). Certainly by the time BBSes and Usenet groups got involved (and I think a lot of the White Wolf games cultural communication took place in this environment), anonymity let people become truly awful to each other when trying to declare one selves the in-group. This seems to be a universal quality in gaming (and fandoms in general), and White Wolf was perhaps a notable peek simply because of time and place (and maybe because it sought audience outside the traditional gaming community), but I'm not sure it was really all that much worse than any of the other proverbial pissing matches in gaming.

On edginess: There was a lot of 'I'm a tortured soul and no one really gets me,' vibe that one can make fun of, but honestly is a pretty universal feeling among the teens and young adults who were undoubtedly the primary target audience. There was also a lot of fishnet/razor blades/leather 'edginess' that can be laughed at, but also really made sense given to whom they were trying to market the game. It's the equivalent of sweaty barbarians next to chainmail bikinis and pajama ninjas with katanas and heavy metal cyber-bikers with futuristic uzis and a such and such other tropes that other games were using to capture their market (just for people that consider eyeliner and skinny black jeans to be cooler than massive muscles or shiny cars).

Summary: White Wolf games were an interesting experiment. There's some good, some bad, and a lot of potential locked away in the games (or at least the concepts of the games). I'd gladly play them again, but I'd probably not use the game systems included, and I'd definitely not be beholden to the official canon, letting an experienced ST cull and supplement the official world to curate an experience more resembling what part of me wants the game to be than what it is there on the pages.
 
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FKR can fit in your head. When the outcome isn't obvious from the fiction and the results (success or failure) would be interesting, roll opposed 2d6. High roll wins. Negotiate ties. Three strikes and you're out. That's the entire game. One version, at least.

Over the Edge can fit on either an index card or one side of a sheet of paper. I really like the twists. Player-facing rolls. You roll 2d6. Succeed on a 7+ if you're actively doing something. Succeed on an 8+ if you're passively resisting something. Three strikes and you're out. Good twists on 4s. Bad twists on 3s. That's 80% of the system right there.

this is what I was thinking too. “Worlds not rules” seems like a good fit for a set of products where people liked the setting but did not necessarily enjoy the mechanics


Unlike the poster above, what dragged me to oWoD first (and what I still like) was the high-concept, postmodernist "clashing metanarratives define the world" aspect of Mage 20. I like any game of "philosophers with clubs" where people try to enforce their ideology of the world to each other (also why I love Planescape), and I think all of the Traditions (and most of the Technocracy) presented their own worldview in really interesting ways (the Disparate Crafts are... a different story.
Yeah I think there is a reason I went from Planescape to Mage as well


The setting would definitely be better suited with a modern narrativist system such as Cortex Prime or Powered by the Apocalypse (which isn't surprising since narrativist games were spurned by discussions on why WoD failed to deliver its premise).
Has anyone tried making a pbta-style system for WOD?

All of which fawningly written with what I will call 'a very enthusiastic undergrad on a deadline's understanding of said cultures/religions

On Condescension: this was a real issue. In the books, but also in the gaming community at the time. There were people that treated this as RPGs 'growing up' or the like.

Yeah, that sucks. And of course White Wolf would later have issues with the politics of some of its designers, if I understand correctly. Like I said, it appealed to 14-year-old me for these reasons, but if I encountered them when I was older, I would probably be turned off
 

Rogerd1

Explorer
Hunter the Vigil with Second Sight, Immortals, and then both Book of the Dead, Book of Spirits, Changing Breeds all together just makes a better urban fantasy game.

It just makes a better combined setting, as no one can literally snap the setting in half.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Hated the pretentions of Vampire and the alt-shtick of Wetewolf
loved Mage the Acension and its Freeform magic,

liked the ideas of Changeling and Promethean too, but couldnt find anyone actually playing them
 


Rogerd1

Explorer
Has anyone tried making a pbta-style system for WOD?
There is also Defiant which I believe uses that system too.


Dark Streets, Fallen, etc

 

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