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Close to the Edit

Not Gone, Just Forsaken...

by Ross Winn
Apr 25,2005

 

Not Gone, Just Forsaken...

I was finishing my read of Werewolf last week and also reading through the super-secret new playtest from Dead Inside creator Chad Underkoffler (frequent Livejournal readers may know this as "Sekrit Projekt Ampersand"), as well as reviewing comments on my last column and I got to thinking. Are we really just playing to type? Should we be?

Now last month I talked about some kinds of gamer personalities, and talked a bit about breaking your players out of their types somewhat to enhance the roleplaying experience. Getting into the meat and bones of the topics isn't something I normally do, but it is something I am going to do a bit more of here. This has to do with all of these ideas coming together in my head, so stay with me on this one.

If you have read my reviews of the new World of Darkness and Vampire: The Requiem, you know that while I am generally a fan of the World of Darkness, I am not blind to the possibility that White Wolf occasionally makes mistakes. One of the mistakes was having a game whose initials (and inevitable shorthand for the title) spell WTF. That may have been a mistake. Of course, it could mean that someone there just has a wicked sense of humor.

I was roaming the boards here on rpg.net and read that the real point of WTF is not exactly the Werewolves. At that point I was half way through the text, and had done a few models of the combat and the magic I had seen so far. I wasn't sure, but it seemed to make sense to me.

So it turns out that Thomas T. was correct. Werewolf is all about dichotomy, and really about the struggle between the physical and the spiritual, more so than even Vampire: The Requiem. As a matter of fact I think that Werewolf: The Forsaken is the best White Wolf product in quite some time, aside from the WOD Core Book. Yes, I said that it is better than Requiem, and I think I know why.

Deciding to "reboot" the World of Darkness was a brave move. Rumors to the contrary, it had nothing to do with either (a) a blood-feud cage-match to the death between Stewart Wieck and Mark Rein Hagen, or (b) getting 'pwned' by Aaron Spelling; because that would be silly. The World of Darkness needed an overhaul. The game was stumbling around like a gorilla with intestinal problems. It kept producing things, but no one wanted to take it home. There was too much to handle.

The WOD core book was and is brilliant, and finally allowed normal humans a place in the world other than as simply herd. Vampire missed in a few places, and here is why. When you launch something as big and iconic as a flagship game there are huge pressures involved. There are pressures from the core audience, and pressures from the new audience; there are pressures from management to make the game as salable as it can be, and pressures from other contributors. Everyone wants to be part of the fun, and everyone wants their name in the book. All of these pressures combine to put tremendous strain on the creative team, and I am sure there were some sleepless nights for many in Stone Mountain.

For Werewolf the pressure was off. Everyone was tired from the stresses and strains of the first two successful releases: those successes meant that the expectations, while high, were attainable. I think this allowed for the Werewolf team to be a bit more creative and a bit less forced. Because of this, and a few hundred other decisions this may be the best WOD game ever. Of course Mage comes out in August, so we should reserve judgment until then, for now we can go over the reasons why Werewolf rocks.

Clear

While Vampire focused on being murky and mysterious, Werewolf is very clear. Werewolves know where they came from. They know who their enemies are, and their allies. Too much mystery is a bad thing, and I think Werewolf is a nice balance.

Straightforward

While this may only be due to my increasing familiarity with the newer White Wolf formats, Werewolf seems easier to comprehend and better organized than either the WOD core book or Vampire. I think the Clans, Auspices, lodges, and such are much easier to understand in Werewolf. The relationship between them is also much more straightforward.

One thing that could have been more straightforward; White Wolf had the opportunity to just make the three games simply called Vampire, Werewolf, and Mage. They didn't and I think they missed the boat. I know an IP lawyer somewhere felt that the company couldn't trademark those titles, and they couldn't. However they would have had a ubiquity that I think would have trumped the relative differences. They could have even called the games World of Darkness: Vampire, World of Darkness: Werewolf, and World of Darkness: Mage if they needed a trademark.

Concise

One of the big issues with any of the WOD games is the complexity. This is a new start, and we all know that there will be a lot of different supplements. The WOD core book and Werewolf feel like complete games that can be played on their own. This was an impression I did not get from Vampire; the game felt incomplete in comparison.

Deep

Werewolf has replaced the relatively limited cosmology of The Worm with a much richer shamanistic tradition of the 'spirit world'. The dramatic tension between the spirits, the werewolves, and the humanity that both hides and constrains them is much more palpable and visceral.

Now all of this being said, Werewolf had a lot to make up for. Werewolf the Apocalypse is the game that broke the original World of Darkness. Krinos-form werewolves were the most powerful characters in terms of raw physical power and ability to inflict damage on the other denizens therein. At first blush, the game seems to have taken all of these things into account. The creative team had the weakest as well as the strongest characters and powers well in mind when they built the new World of Darkness. Seeing the Mage power levels will make this even clearer, Mages being the most spiritually powerful in the World of Darkness.

The art is better than that in either the WOD core book or Vampire: The Requiem. Whether because of fewer artists, a similarity in styles by chance, or a deliberate act by the Art Director I do not know, but it is much appreciated I assure you. Too many art directors only look at each piece individually and do not consider the larger whole. White Wolf, long known for its aesthetics, should. Finally, the book is well made with good paper and binding. Something many companies skimp on to save short-term costs, and aggravate long-term customers.

So the system seems to fit in the overall WOD, the rules are clear, concise, and complete. They also offer a much deeper set of possibilities for roleplaying. The art defines the product well, and the book appears to be well constructed. I think this is a slam dunk for White Wolf and an even greater success for the players in the World of Darkness.

The reason that this is all relevant has to do with players and player styles. I think that White Wolf markets to the different styles as I see them, and I also think that they are trying to 'mix it up' in terms of play styles and goals. This is why the duality of Werewolf makes so much sense. Give a bunch of anti-social gamers the ability to throw cars at each other and do egregious physical harm, and then slap them into situations that require they use nuance and social pressures to solve a great deal of their difficulties. Similarly the hypersocial vampires are constantly dealing with an inhuman beast asserting itself in their psyche.

Here is the real issue. The reason a lot of WOD games fail on a group level is that the GM and the players do not want to socially reinforce behaviors. No one is willing to ostracize a player whose character commits heinous acts in the game. These types of social pressures are necessary to make games with social mechanics like those in Werewolf and other White Wolf games work.

Without them we are just a bunch of animals...

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What do you think?

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