Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Love Letter to White Wolf

I still remember exactly how I was introduced to White Wolf.  I was in high school, and my gaming group was sitting around the table when I was handed a dog-eared copy of the first edition of Werewolf: The Apocalypse.  It was already looking a bit beaten up, with the claw marks in the cover starting to tear, and the edges of the book starting to curl, like an old textbook.  I flipped through it idly, and asked, "So we're like, hippies?"  and my friend snatched it back, flipped through the pages until he came to a two page splash of two werewolves eviscerating each other, superimposed over text describing combat.  "Fuck that, we're PISSED OFF hippies," he replied.

You have to understand, prior to that, my group had only played AD&D 2nd Edition.  There was very little subtlety to our adventures - 14th level was our 1st level, we all started off with 2 magical items, and we rolled in a flying ship, battling tarrasques and nests of elder red dragons, and our final bosses were gods as often as not.  Our missions were all combat based, with a few traps and mostly given to us by mysterious hooded strangers in bars.  You know - we were that type of group.

Werewolf was something else entirely.

There was nothing heroic about it - the world had gone to shit and it was your own fault.  You fought, knowing that by fighting you were surrendering your own humanity in what would likely end up being a pointless battle - the enemy had already won by the time your troops ever hit the field.  The End Times Were Here, Baby, and you were damned if you did, damned if you didn't.

And yet, you fought - but did you fight because it was the right thing to do, because you didn't know what else to do, or because it was all you knew how to do?  So many questions, so much ambiguity, so completely unlike any of the games we'd been playing up until that point.

And the world - it combined the best aspects of comic books, sequential novels and role playing games - it was a fully realized world (or at least it seemed to be in those heady days), that still left enough unspoken that there was room to breathe.  My only other experience with world building on this level was the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance, but both of which had been paved over by the stories of others that it didn't feel as though there was any room for my characters - why were they hiring us when Elminster was right around the corner?  The World of Darkness, though, had nooks and crannies, darkened corners and shadowy alleyways with room enough for everyone.

At first, we played it true to what we knew - half the party were Ahroun Get of Fenris basic fighter types.  But as we went along, we started playing around with it - someone put their primary stats into Social, and decided his character owned a bar, and didn't appreciate it when the Gets went full Crinos during happy hour.  Another created a Scottish Fianna Bagpiper, and soon we had a wacky bunch of misfits, none of which were worth a shit in battle, and our GM had to start thinking of... y'know.... OTHER stuff for us to do besides kill formori.

I picked up Mage: The Ascension not long after, and then things got really crazy.  Playing characters who could literally do anything, we got into all kinds of mischief, constrained only by the limits of our imagination.  I picked up Wraith and Changeling, and while we were intrigued by the ideas presented, neither seemed to mesh with our style of play.  Strangely, although we had a copy of Vampire, without articulating it exactly, we could sense that the game was a bit too "scene" for us, and while one of our group talked about playing Wednesday Addams as a Tremere, we never found a good way to integrate her into what had become a MageWolf game.

These were the last games that my original gaming group ever played.  We went our separate ways, and while we got together briefly for a few months six or seven years ago, we never did recapture the same cohesiveness that we had in those halcyon days.

So I wasn't playing any longer, and while I picked up some of the novels here and there, I found them fairly bland, and not representative of the feel that I had gotten from reading the game books.  I drifted - I wasn't gaming, and had mostly forgotten about the World of Darkness.  Then in 1999, White Wolf released the first Vampire Clan Novel, Toreador.  I picked it up on a whim, and was sucked right back in.  It took them 262 pages to completely and utterly knock over the apple cart, totally disrupting the status quo of the World of Darkness, and I couldn't get enough.  To make matters worse, they started integrating their game books into the novels, with the two working in concert - the novels gave personal accounts of the events that took place, while the game books told you what actually happened, as opposed to what was experienced.  This had it's good points and bad (I understand why they didn't spell out the Technocracy dropping a "spirit nuke" on the warring antediluvians in India, but without it, most of the Ravnos novel made absolutely no sense), and in general while it made for excellent marketing, it made it a pain in the ass to keep up with the narrative.

But keep up with it I did, and followed along through the Dark Ages novels, then the Werewolf Tribe books, the Mage novels with the destruction of Doissetep, you name it, I was there.  To this day, I speak fluent Classic World of Darkness, as it's apparently known now.  Gangrel Antitribu, Gnosis, Deathmarks, the Autumn People, the Earthbound, I absorbed it all.

And then, it all went away.

They wrapped up the cWoD, wholesale.  The novels were fairly good, the closeout gamebooks offered some interesting ideas, even if they were frustratingly vague.  As was their wont, each novel was a personal tale, with little of the big picture that I craved, and while they provided the gamebooks as usual, this time they just gave suggestions on how each GM could end things, should they so choose.  Frustrating, but honestly, it was about as good of a sendoff as the line was going to get.

I remember standing in my FLGS, holding the New World of Darkness book in my hand, and thinking, "Do I really want to get back on this train?"  I had ridden the beast from it's inception to its apocalypse, what more did it have to offer me?  I put the book down, and haven't looked back since.

For ages, my bookshelves had groaned under the weight of the WoD books, but as more RPG books came in, they began to fight for space, and gradually the World of Darkness was edged off of my shelves, and into storage, until there was nothing left.  I still had the trade paperback versions of the clan novels on my shelves, but for the first time in ages, I had no White Wolf game books on my shelf.  It was around that time that I was swept up in the Old School Rennaisance, so I didn't miss it much.

Then last week, I was at my local Half Price Books browsing the clearance shelves, and lo and behold, there were two copies of the Second Edition of Werewolf.  You know, the one with the Tony DiTerlizzi comic book at the beginning of the book?  The spines were a bit loose, but they were otherwise in pristine condition.  Nonetheless, HPB had marked them at $5 each.  Impulsively, I grabbed them, not knowing what I would do with them, but just feeling as though they deserved better than the $5 bin at HPB.  They sat in my truck that day while I worked, but it was as though they had opened a floodgate, and I started thinking about the great times I'd had playing it, how much I loved the world, the charactes.

That night was my Traveller game, and I gave the books to the group, and basically browbeat them into agreeing to giving it a shot.  It's going to be a challenge - they're the type that see a wall, lower their heads and charge.

I'm not sure if it's going to work.  I'm prepared for it to fail utterly.  But I'm playing old World of Darkness again, and I can't wait to see what happens!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, James!

    We hope you'll keep an eye out for Werewolf: The Apocalypse's 20th Anniversary Edition when it drops.

    It's close to 600 pages, full-colour, with all sorts of classic Werewolf artists coming back to really make your jaw drop. A 2e-ish setting with Revised+ rules. It'll really be the ultimate Werewolf book.

    We've also got a solid handful of Werewolf products on our schedule coming up. I hope you check them out.


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