Trans Representation and the Changing Face of Werewolf

Trans Representation and the Changing Face of Werewolf

by Lang Schmitt

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Early on in the new Werewolf: the Apocalypse BNS book we meet Verity Argyris.  Verity is a young Black Fury historian who’s working to record the oral histories of the Garou, and her observations are scattered throughout the book.

verity

Page 62

After many pages of meeting Verity through her observations, we learn on page 62 that Verity’s mothers in the Tribe were one of the first to keep male-born children, and that at her Rite of Passage she was proclaimed “not just their daughter, but a sister of the tribe”.  In other words, the text is obliquely saying that Verity is what we’d identify as a trans(*) woman.

 

A Societal Shift

 

I haven’t seen a lot of online discussion of Verity.  (Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.)  While I was searching, though, I found a lot of discussion from several years ago about if a character like Verity could exist among the Black Furies.

A lot of gamers came to the conclusion that she couldn’t.  The Black Furies, they argued, placed too much value on a person’s biology – and Garou would view sex-reassignment hormones or surgery as a tool of the Weaver.  (More on this in a minute.)

Let me be clear:  the first edition of the Black Furies book came out in the early ’90s, when including a radical second-wave feminist group in your fantasy world seemed progressive and forward-thinking.  The Black Furies were based on real-life trans-exclusive Wiccan groups, which emphasize the sacredness of female-bodied biology and experience and reject male-bodied people as equal members.

But the BNS book states:

black-furies-tribe-image

Black Fury Tribebook Revised Cover

“[The Black Furies’] viewpoints have evolved, due to their new leadership.

The Age of Apocalypse has shown them that the equality

they seek so viciously is a complex issue, involving more

than just women and children. They realized that their

exclusivity would damn them … Those who

identify as having the hearts women [sic] also received the

blessing of Artemis and have been welcomed to the tribe.

… Despite their newly opened mindset,

there are rumors of a rift between modern and traditional

Furies regarding how lenient and accepting present-day

Black Furies are perceived by other werewolves.” (p. 70-71)

 

Trans-exclusive radical feminist (TERF) groups still exist in real life.  They inspire harsh feelings from trans activists and their allies, who argue that excluding trans women from cis women’s spaces is pointless, and further marginalizes an already marginal population.  Some TERFs and their groups have not moved past their trans-excusionary worldviews – but many are evolving, like the Black Furies are.

Some gamers will cry foul, arguing that it’s a political act to write a world where the Black Furies are beginning to welcome trans women.  But this in-game change is tied to a real-world change, and it would be equally political to not include trans people in an era when we are becoming more visible and accepted.

 

How to Write a Trans Character

I am young and trans.  I am … blessed? … to have come of age at a time when trans people are newly visible in popular culture.

angel-rentSome people would tell you visibility is an unambiguous good.  I’m less certain.  There are a lot of lazily-written trans characters out there.  The Lazily-Written Trans Character is often a conventionally feminine trans woman.  She is non-threatening and non-sexual, although she may be a sex worker.

She is usually tragic in some way.  Often, she dies before the end of the story, to teach our cis protagonists some kind of lesson.  Think of Angel from RENT, or Rayon from Dallas Buyers Club.

To be completely fair, this type of character is far preferable to unsympathetic trans caricatures, who are grotesque, hypersexual, and dangerous.  (Think Buffalo Bill, or the attack ads that air about transphobic bathroom legislation.)  But lazily-written trans characters are toothless, and ancillary to cis characters’ stories.  They’re objects of pity (or vapid inspiration), rather than figures of genuine strength.  They are no one anyone would want to be, or could ever be.

There is tragedy in much of the trans experience – but we are still the heroes of our own stories.  But you wouldn’t know that from looking at these characters.

We are slowly seeing a broadening of the range of trans narratives that exists in mass media, but problematic characterizations remain.  And even as we see more progressive types appear, mass media portrayals of trans still have something pernicious to them:  the most interesting thing about us, in these stories, is that we are trans.  Our narrative arc is our transition.  Without our gender, we would be no one.

We don’t see a whole lot of Verity in the BNS book, past two vigniettes and her own observations.  But she shows herself to be strong, observant, curious, intelligent, and active.  She’s head and shoulders above the passive, pitiable trans “type” who furthers cis narratives.

Critically, she is more than her transition.  There’s plenty of hay to be made about Verity’s gender, in thinkpieces like this, but ultimately her trans-ness is a footnote.  It only comes up obliquely in the previously-mentioned quote, and in passing when she fears rejection from Black Fury elder in the second vignietteIt’s far more vital that she’s gathering information, and serves as our viewpoint character.

gaia

Gaia

I can think of very few trans viewpoint characters in mass media, and even fewer who aren’t shown through the light of their transition.  Verity feels like something genuinely novel.

 

The Real-World Politics of Werewolf

Why does this matter?  Why does W:tA need trans representation?

When I was looking for discussions about trans in W:tA, I found that many anti-trans fans of the game have (or had) a medicalized and pathological view of trans people.  We are out-of-balance, the argument goes.  We are a product of modern medicine, not nature.  No Garou would ever have us (except for maybe Glasswalkers).

I reject this argument out of hand.  The medicalization and pathologicalization of trans is comparatively modern.  Pre-modern cultures often made (and make) a place for trans people:  Romans had galli; Indian society still has hijra; many American Indian cultures have third or fourth genders.  Our position has varied from place to place, and we have often been the first to be marginalized and scapegoated in times of trouble, but we most definitely existed and we were often accepted.

It is we, in our Weaver-ridden society, who want all genders (and all bodies, in the case of intersex people) in two boxes.  In fact, the BNS book gives a clear route for a non-medical transition for trans characters:  the first level Ajaba gift in this system, Mask of Night, which lets characters transform their body to that of the “opposite sex”.  Shun the Weaver’s medicalized works, and embrace the transformation nature offers you!

We are in fact very in-balance.  Thematically, we mesh perfectly with a game about shapeshifting and balance – even as societies, real and fictional, find dynamic points of balance around us as we re-take our place at the table.

This brings me to the biggest reason why I think W:tA needs trans representation.

Many of the gamers I’ve spoken with are a little leery of this game – and to be completely fair, that’s a feeling I share.  W:tA has a troubled legacy, in a lot of ways.  I found that a lot of female and trans gamers perceive W:tA as a “game for bros”.  Despite the game’s best intentions, they argue, W:tA players often create toxically masculine characters, who enact stereotypically masculine power fantasies without consequence.  (This is completely separate from the in-universe transphobia, or “noble savage” stereotyping of Indigenous peoples.)

werewolf-ban

Werewolf 20th Anniversary Edition

Obviously, this is a generalization.  For any W:tA group I could point to that’s ridden with hyper-masculine power fantasies, I’m sure my readers could find several more that are thoughtful and well-balanced, that draw plenty of female and queer players.

But that’s not really my point:  fairly or not, this is the baggage the game carries with it.  A signature character like Verity isn’t a surefire medicine against W:tA‘s machismo, and I imagine a lot of gaming groups will choose to ignore the changes made to the Black Furies.  But I imagine Verity might take the air out of the sails of a few of the hardcore bros out there, and make Storytellers rethink the feel of the setting.

It takes all kinds to save the world – ranging from the classically masculine fearless and strong, to the classically feminine sensitive and nurturing.  It takes all kinds to build a healthy gaming community, too.

It remains to be seen what Storytellers and players do with BNS’ WerewolfBut I think BNS has taken a potentially polarizing, but critical step toward broadening the game’s world – and making it one female-bodied people and queers are more likely to find friendly to play in.

(*)  For the purposes of this article, I’m using “trans” as an umbrella term that includes anyone who is not cisgender.  “Cisgender” or “cis” means having a gender identity that corresponds with one’s biological sex.  Trans, here, includes people who have taken medical steps to bring their body closer in line with their identity, those who want to take medical steps but have not done so yet, and those who feel no need to do so.  I also mean it to include people who fall outside the gender binary.

 

Lang Schmitt is a transmasculine genderqueer person.  He lives in Madison, WI and makes his living writing.  He currently plays in Underground Theater.  Find him on Facebook, or email him at langschmitt@gmail.com.

SOCIAL JUSTICE BARD WANTED

Project Opportunity

Conflict Resolution – Content Developer

Reach-Out Roleplaying Games is looking for a team of people to help develop our products. We are specifically looking for individuals interested in role-playing games with diverse backgrounds willing to invest their time and talent in a project that will help integrate creative problem solving techniques and conflict resolution principles. You will be working with the Editor-In-Chief to develop a handbook that provides guidance on how to integrate creative problem solving and non-violent conflict resolution techniques into role-playing games. The handbook will also detail a method of dialogue using role-playing games.

Qualifications

Current Student focused on Conflict Resolution or Conflict Resolution specialist
Writing/Content Development Experience must include the summary of complex concepts and making them easier to understand for a wider audience
Experience with formal Dialogue procedures


Background Desired

Experience with table-top role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, FATE, Savage Worlds etc.
Women and people of color are particularly encouraged to submit their resume and letter of interest


Pay

We are looking for investors interested in supporting this project with their time and writing skill. I’m looking for a team willing to embrace this concept and help develop it by taking a risk. Once the handbook is developed we will be looking at crowd-funding options to print and distribute. Funds raised will go toward the printing of the books and paying the writers and artists that provide content.
Interested?
Please send resume and a short letter of interest to admin@keepontheheathlands.com If you would like to know more about the project and other related projects you can visit our website at www.keepontheheathlands.com

Pimenov Bloodline

prisma-grigori

Grigori seen in Maine circa 2001

Pimenov

I finally remember that peculiar smell that wafted into my nose as I was burned alive. It’s not something you expect to forget… but when you’ve lost your mind, and at least one body like I have… things are a little different.

We should never have left Siberia, or at least, we shouldn’t have tried to find the homeland of our grand-sires. Tatiana… Nicolai… Henri… gods, even that fool Kirov, all of them dead because of my fool need to know where we came from. The truth is, even if our blood did descend from Carpathian madness… we were nothing like them and nor are my new childer.

Grigori Pimenov took over an inn by devouring the blood and soul of Andrei, but worse, he became Andrei instead of staying Grigori. At the same time, Grigori became Vassily, an old beggar that would only slip through the streets late at night. It is hard to use I when remembering these things… my mind was shattered into these different bodies. Vassily forgot who Grigori was, Andrei was content that his inn was the best, no one could challenge him and all of them forgot they were one.

I’ve been thinking on this for a few years now. Do I call myself Grigori again, now that my mind has been brought together? Or do I choose a new name? Vassily was never a name I wished to keep, but it’s been with me the longest. It was the first I retrieved from Sofia. I don’t even remember all the different names any longer. Adam, or Mattescu, or Cecelia… names just fade away to reveal a scattering of simultaneous memory. Like a land of dreams, they all sit like a fog until I peel back the layers. The stories I know; the tales I could tell. When those around you see you as safe, as one of them… they tell you everything.

Pimenov Bloodline:

The Pimenov Bloodline are likely descended from the Tzimisce. Stories from Vildergohm (deep in the Carpathian Mountains) assign that clan to Grigori and his brood. However, they have been tainted by madness in a way that no other Tzimisce (other than perhaps the Eldest) are known to be afflicted. This madness comes from their mixture of the Dementation discipline, Auspex, and Vicissitude. The question comes up, who taught them Dementation? In the end, it doesn’t matter. Their particular mix of these three disciplines gave rise to some interesting usages. The Bloodline tends to stick together, with sires often embracing at least 3 companions… or perhaps splitting themselves into 3 personalities. There appears to be some similarities between the Blood Brothers and the Pimenov and it’s unclear if they are related in any way. Modern sightings of the bloodline place them in Washington, DC, Seoul, and southern Germany.

Disciplines:

Auspex, Dementation, Vicissitude

Bloodline Weakness: Pimenov are all afflicted with a Derangement that functions similarly to the Malkavian clan weakness. Due to their particular power set, forms of dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple-personality disorder), fugue, or other memory related Derangements tend to be the most appropriate.

Combination Disciplines:

Multiply the Mind:  Auspex 4, Vicissitude 4, Dementation 2: Multiply the Mind allows a Pimenov to create separate bodies for their various personalities. These bodies exist as completely separate beings from the time of their separation. Each personality continues to carry the Curse of Caine. A would-be diablerist cannot lower their generation without finding and devouring every personality.

System:

Creating a new body requires the expenditure of a permanent point of willpower, this willpower may not be repurchased through XP until the personality is reabsorbed. The new body must be fed within 5 minutes or experience frenzy. Each personality is considered 1 generation higher than the primary and this increases by 1 for every personality. For example: primary is 7th gen, first split is 8th, second is 9th, third is 10th. The new body has only the memories imparted by its particular personality and fabricates memories to fill out an entire life. Separated personalities may learn different disciplines apart from one another, but upon recombining the reformed Cainite will retain average rating of any discipline, rounded down. If any portion of the Pimenov is diablerized the primary Pimenov may still reacquire their knowledge through the subsequent diablerie of the diablerist. Each recombination requires a decision by the player to determine what path the various personalities will follow. This should be a storytelling moment. All Pimenov personalities may ghoul, and embrace. Any bonded beings are bonded only to their distinct personality, if that personality is reabsorbed, the bond dissolves as if their domitor had perished. The Pimenov can reabsorb any of their personalities at any time by being in direct physical contact and spending a point of blood. The merger takes at least 3 rounds. If a personality is sent to final death, it’s memories can also be reabsorbed if a significant portion of that body’s ash can be recovered and eaten.

This power costs 28 XP to learn.

GUEST REVIEW MET WEREWOLF 2016


So a quick history: White Wolf published a LARP (Live Action Role Play) variant of their Old World of Darkness (oWoD) series in the early and mid-90s dubbed Mind’s Eye Theater (MET). By Night Studios (BNS) recently acquired the right to make new LARP materials from oWoD and have set out to create newly revamped systems that are based today  incorporate more recent societal themes. This is a review  of their newest book in this reimagining, Werewolf:The Apocalypse.

                                                                   The Story

werewolf-cover

All Images Used are the Property of By Night Studios, White Wolf, and their Respective Owners, they are used here under fair use, any concerns please alert us ASAP

In the original setting, the world ended around 2000. To allow for the game to be more modern, BNS had to work from the point where the world would have ended, forward, and continue to build the world. This was a monumental job that could have fallen flat if they had gone in the wrong direction. Instead, they hit it out of the ballpark.

The story moving in to the current era is plausible, interesting, and makes for a large amount of story hooks for any storyteller. The feeling of something akin to an Apocalypse happening was preserved. At the same time, the authors moved both the game and the setting forward. I feel the most impressive thing they did was characterizing the cyber generation, especially in a game historically defined by hatred of technology (and sometimes progress). The inclusion of two political factions (The Concordat of Stars and the Sanctum of Gaia) working both together and against one another while fighting the same war also adds a new angle that storytellers can use if heavy meta-politics are their players’ jam.

Most importantly to me, some of the tribes have moved forward to become fully fleshed out, living groups of people. Black Furies accept all women and cubs of both genders born to the tribe, the Wendigo aren’t solely just angry native people, and in general, the setting incorporates globalization of our culture in a very appropriate and respectful way. I’m not saying that if you hadn’t dug deeper in to those tribes I mentioned before you wouldn’t have found life and spark, but this is an area where I feel the previous LARP books did a disservice. I feel like BNS went above and beyond to truly give new players a glance in to a living, breathing cultural organization of people, especially ones with more sensitive themes.

Mechanics

If you are familiar with rock-paper-scissors, you can play this game. Mechanically not much is changed from BNS’s MET: Vampire: the Masquerade (VtM). You have test pools determined by your sheet, you throw rock-paper-scissors, you compare your results and then things happen. Some elements are new, but if you are familiar with the other book, this book is an almost seamless transition. It’s also obvious that this is BNS’s second book, because concerns with MET: VtM have either been corrected or elaborated upon (backgrounds, etc.).

The only mechanic that is truly new, and I feel makes the game stand out from its companion, is the Quest System. Players develop a Quest, work together to determine requirements, and then, regardless of success or failure, collectively create a shared narrative. This emphasizes player cooperation and agency, while reducing storyteller stress. It’s a great example of a system promoting positive play and I am very impressed with it. I have heard a lot of Vampire storytellers that want to incorporate it in to their game and I look forward to that.

Relevance to New and Old Playersrokea

I would like to preface this section with the fact that BNS talked with the community at large about what they liked and disliked about Werewolf, and it’s pretty obvious that they took those suggestions to heart in their development of the new book. They made a lot of changes to make the game more palatable, easier to run, and easier to play.

My old group of players has an adage. “Forget what you knew before, read through the book and that’s what you have.” There is a lot of difference between the original Werewolf and this one. But these changes aren’t bad, especially considering the backstory of the book. If you like Werewolf, you’ll definitely find the old Werewolf you love deep inside the heart of this book, as well as a whole new world to explore

For newer players, this book is a great introduction to the genre. With the inclusion of definite mechanics and story hooks that allow for inexperienced players to play as Kinfolk (the human relatives of werewolves), and Cubs (newly changed werewolves), and also to become actively involved in the story, even as low powered creatures (I’m looking at you Den Mother), even the greenest oWoD player can truly become involved and captured by the system and story. Don’t try and read the whole thing in one sitting though.

Storytellers are given a lot of information and a lot of meat to sink their fangs in to. The Umbra section alone could be an entire 5 year chronicles. This makes the book great for someone trying to run a game, especially if paired with its sister book, Vampire the Masquerade. There are 750+ pages of pure information to sink your teeth into and you have all the time in the world to get to know it.

Art:

This needed its own section. The art is amazing, representative, evocative, and while the style may be slightly strange at first, it meshes well. There are depictions of strength and serenity in both genders. It’s some great stuff.

skin-dancerBut… it’s not perfect.

My major gripe is that there are firmly more depictions of men than women (by a factor of maybe ¼ from a quick count through the book) and there are a few ‘sexy poses’ that women are in that you don’t see the men paralleling (I’m looking at you page 735). There’s nothing wrong with sexy, but similar poses could have been employed in some of the male images. Also the bewildered and bored look that the two women in the Pentex scene respectively have (page 610) hurt my soul a little bit compared to the businesslike and serious look the men have.

These seem like petty gripes, but I hold BNS to high standards in regards to being open and accommodating to the community, and art is one of the major ways that the gaming community has majorly failed to do this in the past.

Overall, the art is stunning, and despite these issues the full color renderings of them make me want an art book with more.

Portability:

So there is one Were-Elephant in the room I’d like to address. The original LARP books were small and portable. This book is not. While the 750+ pages are absolutely glorious and give you all the information you could ever need, it’s also a monster of a book. There are ways around this (printing and creating subsection binders, e-readers, etc.), but those are hoops that the consumer has to jump through themselves. Also, the size does seem to mess with certain e-readers and PDF readers, so a B&W option of the pdf at some point in the future would be appreciated.mourning

Final Verdict

This is an amazing book. It’s a great re-imagining of Werewolf that addresses and deals with a large amount of the issues that the community was vocal about. It’s obvious that the two years of work that both BNS and the community put in to it have paid off and I feel like this is definitely going to revitalize a once dying subset of the LARP community. They have taken a part of oWoD that I loved but was always hesitant to suggest due to problematic issues in the original source material and morphed it in to something I would suggest to most, if not all, of my LARPing friends to try out at least once.

 

 

Will Martin has been LARPing since college and has found no reason to stop yet and is quite fond of being able to watch the age where the art of gaming has become more self-aware and critical of itself. This is accented by his job working in Public Health with a focus on underprivileged communities. Currently he is the head Storyteller for a yet to be named Werewolf LARP out of Washington DC, run through Underground Theater.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

SUPPORTING INCLUSIVITY IN GAMING

werewolf-coverLast Thursday I received my advance PDF of Mind’s Eye Theatre Werewolf: The Apocalypse, this post was informed by some preliminary reading of that book which made me happy with some of what the writers addressed. The rest of this post will not exclusively be about By Night Studios, but I want to call them out for moving things in the right direction and striving to be one of the more inclusive gaming companies on the market. I think this comes from the form of gaming in question. In some ways, LARP is an atmosphere where inclusivity, and safety, are much more present. You have larger groups, and often groups engaged in physical storytelling.

I got asked the other day what inclusivity in gaming means to me.

Inclusivity means having a game world that reflects reality in its diversity. Inclusivity means an openness to thought, to writing, to characters that walk a spectrum of identities. Inclusivity means a game culture that welcomes players and encourages them to engage in world building in a self-reflective way, but also in a way that acknowledges a plurality of vision about the purpose of gaming. Inclusivity means trying to find a way to engage, support, and empower any player that walks through the door, if their goal is to support the collaborative process.

inclusivity

Borrowed from Dreadful Games

Storytelling and gaming are essential elements of our being. When I engage in stories that challenge my perceptions, that encourage me to think, to expand, to reflect, that is what I search for. I want everyone to have that chance, to be included if they want to be included. I want anyone that picks up a book I write, or a plays a game I play, to feel like they could make that their core pastime. Collaboration requires maneuvering with, and for people. Inclusivity embraces that challenge with the goal of trying to open the door so that all people, voices, and thoughts are heard, considered, and added to the collective memory, the shared myth.

Inclusivity in gaming is a process that can start from the ground up, or, from the top down. What, in this case, do I mean by top down? I’m talking about from the game company themselves. From choosing writers, to tapping artists, all the way up to developers, a desire for and a strong commitment to inclusivity impacts their games in ways that ripple throughout their fan communities. That isn’t to say the job of inclusivity is only on the developer side, but they have a role to play. (hah, no pun was intended but I’m going to keep it now I’ve noticed it)

Actions both subtle and obvious help to encourage an atmosphere of inclusion in a game. Let’s run through a few of them.

PRONOUN USAGE: White Wolf was one of the first companies to use the female pronoun in their books. This is one of those subtle decisions that can have a huge impact. Having she sets the tone that women, just as much as men, can be the standard gender for roles in the World of Darkness. That was 1991, and a pretty big deal in that day and age. Today using she is less trendsetting, and is still powerful. At the same time, using gender neutral and gender ambiguous pronouns can indicate an attitude of acceptance of all gender identities, both for players and for characters. If reading through a book and a signature character is a 3-dimensional figure who happens to be gender queer as part of their identity, it represents some of the diversity within our world.

SAFETY AND CONSENT RULES/STANDARDS: Consent is an important part of the social contract of gaming. Players consent to sit around your table, or embody characters in LARP, and they need to continually be provided the option to opt-in or out of story elements that could hurt them as players. By Night Studios is doing well in this department, in the MET Vampire book this concept is treated with respect and given decent coverage. In Werewolf? They’ve done even better, pages 19-20 cover several concepts that are essential to supporting player safety and encouraging behavior that ensures it. They discuss Bleed, Personal Responsibility, Sportsmanship, and techniques of storytelling that support player comfort like Fade to Black and Time Stops. For those of us who have been around the LARP world for a while we’ve seen a lot of discussion on these things, and it is essential to have them front in center in a game book.

kadira

Kadira by Bryan Sime: From Ki Khanga

REPRESENTATIVE IMAGES: Recently Wizards of the Coast received some soft praise for having one of their signature characters be a black woman. This is good, and needs to continue. What is also praise worthy is that the character is wearing, basically, sensible armor. There is also the awesome new game, Ki Khanga which is set in a fantasy world based on Africa. Games like this, and games that incorporate honest representation are part of the process to make games more inclusive. Representation matters, just as with gender, characters with similar looks and ethnic identities to players help to give them role models. They also give players with different identities a chance to see awesome characters that do not look like them, which I believe has an impact on how people are seen in one’s day to day life as well.

SUPPORT FOR PLAYERS WITH DISABILITIES: This I feel, is at times the area that we have the most opportunity for growth and development of new strategies for support. One of the concerns I’ve had with the newer White Wolf books is their size. These books are 500, 600, 700 pages long in one volume. I struggle to hold him in my hands and this is due to a very moderate problem with grip, probably caused from my military service. Thankfully I have pdfs and other electronic versions of these books I can read as well, but it would be amazing to have some other technology to support our gamers with other disability concerns. Some of this is built into our new devices, but that only goes so far. I’d like to hear some feedback on what sort of devices, support, or ideas could help in this area.

Here is my take-away. We are doing better as a community, partly due to the benefit of Kickstarter and other forms of crowd-funding that allow for smaller projects to get off the ground. We can do better, though. That should not be taken as a critique, just a fact, we can always do better, we can always work to be compassionate and supportive and inclusive and we should always strive to be so. What games do you think are the most inclusive? How do you ensure a sense of inclusivity in the games you create or the games you play?

Josh is the Admin@KeepontheHeathlands

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of  any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

HOW THE DARKNESS CAN LEAD US TO THE LIGHT

Preface to this article. I started this in the hours after I left The Grand Masquerade, and finished working on it after reading extensive responses in the community discussing our interview with White Wolf and the Keynote and Q&A at The Grand Masquerade.

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What is the value of darkness? Darkness teaches us to value the light.

 What is the value of difficult literature? It teaches us things about ourselves, as human beings.

What is the value of media that addresses dark themes? It can teach us about a side of life we do not witness. It can teach us about lives unlike our own at every level.

These questions and answers are at the core of what the World of Darkness can teach us, if we let it. I want to preface this article with this, we need to be sensitive to everyone involved in discussions surrounding themes in WoD games. Player comfort and safety, and consent to address dark, mature themes are essential. That being said, I might pose more questions than answers here and I want to help encourage a healthy dialogue.

I would hesitantly say the goal of role-playing in the World of Darkness is to generate an understanding of the dark things that occur in our world, and to find ways to address that darkness and ways to change our world. Vampire is essentially a game of immortal parasites that dominate and leech off humanity. By playing one of these monsters we can see the dark aspects of our society reflected back to us. If I play a woman in these games, if those games are run by a sensitive storyteller, I can hopefully begin to understand some of the layers of systemic sexism inherent in the real world. I will never be an expert on that experience, and such a thing should not be played for *shock* factor, but it can have deeper impacts. These games may be one stage in understanding, perhaps a strong first step into embracing feminism and striving to make the world a more gender equal place. By addressing gender inequality, in a place that is safe (with fellow gamers that I trust to respect my consent) I can find tools to identify actions or thoughts I take that tacitly support the sexist world we live in.

self-reflection

Some players don’t want to play games that address societal faults. They enjoy other aspects of Vampire’s mythology, they like the clan politics, or monster’s hiding in the darkness of society. Whatever it is about Vampire, they like the game, they enjoy spending time in the World of Darkness. This style of play is totally understandable. Not everyone looks to games as literature. Like enjoyable fiction, sometimes you read something because the story is fun, it makes you smile, perhaps it makes you excited. The World of Darkness can be played in both ways.

white_wolf_publishingWhite Wolf’s new leadership says they want to create books that address the first style, they want to write books that address the darkness in the World of Darkness. They also want to support players that choose either style of play. Are these goals incompatible? I, for one, don’t think so. White Wolf wants to create books that can be used to run games that are fun, or self-reflective, or both. They want to engage writers that are looking to explore elements of the world that they know intimately. By doing so, they can hopefully create a true reflection of the power of their experiences. At the same time, for those gamers who wish to play for fun, they will have materials that are truer to life, alive with those experiences and that will reflect in the games played. By providing the best material, all of us gain.

I personally think we, as people, have to challenge ourselves if we wish to grow. We can use a lot of various media to work this growth. We can read works by great authors, we can watch great movies, and we can play great games. Great games allow us to learn skills we can apply to our world. There is academic evidence to suggest that gamers either have more or gain empathy skills from gaming. At the same time, I believe gaming can be used as an effective method to perform inter-cultural dialogue. Gaming, in my humble opinion, can be a force of individual and cultural benefit. Sometimes the method to that growth is through the darkness of the world. Yet, darkness is not the only element of the World of Darkness.

Iconoclasm, Punk, and Anarchist mentality are also themes in Vampire the Masquerade. Why? Because they are methods of challenging the status-quo. In the World of Darkness, we see a world run by the patriarchy (in this case immortal or with powerful magic), entrenched in systemic racism, mired in conflict on every side, we have a world beset by severe income inequality, and a devastated ecology. At the same time, many Vampires have tossed mortal concerns around gender roles, Avatars choose Mages regardless of social status, Werewolves exist of every race. These characters have the ability to challenge the systemic problems of the world.the_players_guide_to_the_sabbat

These themes, though changed to some degree, have not left our world since 1991, when Vampire first addressed them. I would argue, as others have, that White Wolf games were essentially subversive at heart. They sought to dismantle the constructs of the world we live in, by making some of the worst aspects of our world stark. I wouldn’t say these elements were eliminated in later editions, but they were tempered, they were certainly more nuanced. Understanding the underlying reality of those themes is important in our modern world, we need to understand how to challenge the status-quo, how to stand up against oppression, and how to advocate for positive change. The World of Darkness can help teach us effective methods of doing so.

At the same time as investigating darkness to understand light, we need to be cognizant of individual player buy-in and acceptance of the topics being addressed. How do we work with darkness, even playing elements of the darkness with respect to real player backgrounds? Consent. Consent is integral to running White Wolf games. If your players want to play a game that only peripherally touches on the darkest themes in the World of Darkness, LISTEN to them. If a woman at your table says stop, stop. If a man in your LARP asks not to run a scene with rape involved, listen to them, fade-to-black, ask for feedback and adjust where appropriate. If you have a player that wants to explore their gender identity, find ways to do so with respect and with their investment.

One way to do this well is to ask for feedback ahead of time before you run plots. For example, I recently asked my players if they wanted to move our Dark Ages game a few years in time in between sessions. I did this to get a feel for what they wanted. They didn’t want a time jump, they still have things they want their characters to learn and do. This helped me to develop the next 5-10 game sessions (give or take). This wasn’t an issue of dealing with dark elements, but it is a good example of how to work with your players to give them an experience you enjoy facilitating and that reflects their gaming interests.

castle_keep_1

I will do this with other aspects of the game, as well. If I wanted to run a plot where the characters have to kill an entire family (a possibility in the Medieval era), or a plot where children were killed, I would check with the players to ensure that such a plot would not be a surprise and would not cause any trauma related triggers. I ended up running a side scene with one player where I had initially planned to have his ghoul betray him. Both characters are young, both around 12, one a vampire and the other his childhood friend who he had ghouled. The ghoul felt his friend was putting himself in danger, and though he was betraying him, it was for his best friend’s safety. However, the emotional intensity of the scene between player character and NPC changed my mind. There was too much power in keeping their bond strong, in ensuring that no betrayal occurred. I knew some of the needs of this player, and I know a bit of his personal history and I’m glad we chose the route we did. This scene created a powerful resonance for my player, who thanked me for the scene later. There were still very dark elements of this scene, horror, danger for friends loved and loved deeply, but it didn’t cross over into a territory that would have hurt my friend.

vtm-banner

During Grand Masquerade, fans made it clear that they want more representation in White Wolf game products. They want sensitivity in dealing with dark storylines and themes, and they want players to feel welcome playing games in the World of Darkness. Particularly in LARP, because of concerns for player safety in the LARP community. From my perspective, White Wolf is listening, but I think we are in a sensitive era in the gaming hobby, and this has caused some strong emotion to boil to the surface. This emotion is not a negative thing. This emotion is a call for us all to take these concerns seriously and ensure that darkness is not simply inserted for some misunderstood shock attempt.

wod-gypsiesIn our recent interview with White Wolf, Martin Ericsson, Lead Storyteller of the new White Wolf, stated his interest in re-investigating one of the most controversial of books ever produced by White Wolf, World of Darkness: Gypsies. However, Martin’s comments about wanting writers to write about topics they know should illuminate some of his deeper thinking. He mentions perhaps calling the new book, Opre Roma. This is an alternative name for the Romani anthem Gelem, Gelem and has been used as a rallying call by Roma movements for equality and representation in Europe. Some have expressed concern about rewriting a book that has a lot of negative implications and has been fairly accused of othering a people that have experienced severe and consistent discrimination.
That being said, if White Wolf can investigate the history of the Roma in Europe, using the lens of the World of Darkness to show their common humanity and to help understand how they have been persecuted over the years, isn’t this something that could be beneficial? I think we can see that there is value about writing what one knows, and if White Wolf can engage a writer or writers of Roma descent who are interested in producing a book that encourages understanding of the Roma, I’m all for giving it a try.

The World of Darkness has had 25 years to make an impact on role-playing. I think it has done so. I won’t say that White Wolf is the only reason that we now have deeper themes in gaming, but their emergence into the world of gaming 25 years ago helped to create the gaming landscape we have today. White Wolf is waking up from torpor, there are a lot of great ideas hiding in the darkness still and we have much to learn before we can step into a world that is more light than dark. For now, let’s strive together to learn about ourselves, our world, and each other by looking at the darkest element of our lives. Let us examine the darkness and find it within ourselves, and root it out.

Josh is the Admin@KeepontheHeathlands

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of  any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

INTERVIEW WITH NEALL RAEMON PRICE: SCION 2nd EDITION

scionorigins

Click the Image to go to the Kickstarter!


Thank you for doing this interview. Those of us here at Keep on The Heathlands are pretty big fans of what Onyx Path Publishing have been putting together and Scion 2nd Edition looks amazing so far.

Neall: Thank you very much for taking the time to write out a few questions and for honoring me with some the interview!

Can you tell us a little bit of your history in the gaming world? What was your first game that you played, and what are you currently playing?

Absolutely. I’ve freelanced for Paizo, Green Ronin, and written fiction for Growling Door Games, but the bulk of my freelance career has been spent with White Wolf and Onyx Path. I worked on Exalted Second Edition, especially the latter half of the game line: I really cut my teeth on Abyssals, Infernals, and Alchemicals. After the second edition ended, I switched over to writing for Mummy: the Curse, Demon: the Descent, Mage: the Awakening Second Edition, and Vampire: the Masquerade.

The first game I ever played was a homebrew game by my long-time friend, after watching games of d6 West End Star Wars and Battletech all summer long at camp. The first actual game I played was Demon: the Fallen. I’d been a fan of White Wolf games ever since picking up Wraith in a second-hand store. That Demon game lasted maybe all of three sessions before the players caused a hurricane to destroy Miami, so we shifted to Exalted and played that for years.

Currently, I’m running a lot of Scion playtests…but I really want to run the Night’s Black AgentsDracula Dossier after my own games come out!

Scion is a game that touches on the mythological cycle, for those that are fans of Campbell we could say it emulates the Hero’s Journey. How does Scion allow for stories that are told using that journey? Would you say that Scion is a universe like our own, but with a closer relationship to illio tempore ( Eliade’s sacred time)? [This second question here is my religion and culture geek side showing]

We acknowledge Campbell as having a hero’s journey, but we avoid The Hero’s Journey totally for a number of reasons. Campbell tended to be a little reductionist, and definitely scanted stories involving women. So our Storyguide sections walk you through the earliest parts of origin myths, in Western, Japanese, and certain African styles (as examples). We tried very hard to detail different variants of a hero’s journey through various cultures and provide heavily detailed insight and guidance for SGs, so players can take their Scions through a story that seems and feels like a true myth (but with more explosions). This also ties into the character’s goals, destinies, and advancement in-game. The basic move is from innocence to experience (Origin to Hero), whether it begins with an error or with the loss of tranquility. Along the way, there are helpers, challenges, conflicts, and returns.

As to your Eliade question, to abuse a quote from my writer Geoffrey McVey, I’d say yes, in that Scion is a universe into which hierophanies irrupt in material form on occasion. (Alternately, “Yes.”) The World is a place where the sacred is immanent and almost tangible.

pantheons

Can you talk about how the Pantheons have changed a bit from 1st edition to 2nd edition?

Pantheons were one of the big things we wanted to fiddle a bit with. They’re no longer purely divine bloodlines, but socio-magical constructs within Fate that are bound to cultures across the World (our setting). Gods may belong to one (or more!) pantheons.

If there are cultural magics wielded by the Gods, and/or if the mythologies have distinct powers their gods frequently use, those go into a Pantheon Signature Purview, or PSP. In First Edition, this was a custom Purview, but in Second Edition they’re far more broad, encompassing a lot of the “magics” wielded by the Gods and by others in that pantheon’s mythos. Ideally, this is under a unifying theme that relates to the pantheons. This is why the Greeks are superior shapeshifters, for example, or why the Irish Gods revolve around having a geas.

Lots of pantheons have specifically-named groupings of three with mythical significance, or sub-pantheons and groupings contained within them. The Theoi up there contain two Triads, the (Greek names ahead) Olympioi, the Halioi, the Khthonioi, and associated sub-groupings. That’s not even mentioning the Dodekatheon, the twelve most powerful and important gods of Olympus. So all of these pantheons have groups that relate to Paths, which players and Storyguides can further flesh out.

We definitely tried to broaden out the pantheons from First Edition. Several pantheons were renamed to reflect their broadened scope. The core list of pantheons includes: Aesir (Norse), Devas (Vedic), Kami (Japanese), Manitou (Algonquian), Netjer (Egyptian, formerly Pesedjet), Orisha (Yoruban), Shen (Chinese, formerly the Celestial Bureaucracy), Teotl (Aztec formerly Atzlanti), Theoi (Greco-Roman, formerly Dodekatheon), and the Tuatha de Dannen (Irish).

I wanted to cover every single pantheon that’d been done in First Edition, and we’ve done so and then some. The Nemetondevos and the Manitou (although that was a pan-Indian pantheon rather than a specifically Anishinaabeg pantheon) were both demi-canonical pantheons done by White Wolf’s French translation company, but they’ll both be in the Companion book that’s been funded already by the Kickstarter. And, of course, a revamped Yazata and an Atlantean Pantheon that’s used as an example of how to make your own fictional pantheons for use in home games.

The Kickstarter is funding 2 books, Origin and Hero. Tell us what the different books provide players, why do I need both of them?

Origin details the Storypath System, the narrative-yet-traditional rules that power the game, along with the “base setting”: the World, where the old religions of pantheism never vanished, where people are rumored to be Scions of divinity, where creatures of Legend are hidden from the mortal eye in plain sight. It’s akin to the wuxia concept of the Rivers and Lakes, where the two worlds of kung-fu and the peasants, nobles, and politics coexist in the same space yet remain very separate. We give you some pretty explicit guidance and some rules modifications for dialing your experience of the World up and down.

Hero details the full rules for Scion characters, but now they’re fully-fledged heroes. Here, we fully introduce the pantheons, and all of the powers, divine weapons , and blessings that Scions can wield. We detail the golden, poisonous vitriol that flows through the veins of Scions once they’ve been Visited and their journey to apotheosis begins. Lastly, Hero’s ST section (Director/Mythguide section, what-have-you) is greatly expanded, detailing different variants of a hero’s journey.

We wanted to do expanded pantheons and greatly expanded rules, but we also wanted to cover lots of elements from First Edition (such as Terra Incognita) properly. Altogether, the combined book would be massive, so we decided to split for a number of reasons. This has a lot of benefits – if your players just want to pick up the system and read about the setting, they can buy Origin instead of buying both books (or they can buy Hero instead of Origin if they want lots of Scion character options!). Additionally, I really want to expand the World of Scion in future supplements, and not necessarily focusing on the Scions themselves. Creatures of Legend like satyrs and Valkyries and kitsune are playable right out of Origin.

trinity

I’m excited for Scion, but I’m also excited for the Trinity Universe (Aberrant is still one of my favorite games). Anything you can tell us about that game?

Absolutely. Ian Watson and John Snead have done a fantastic job of making Aeon and Trinity really exciting and vibrant, and making that continuum exciting to play in no matter what the time period. Ian’s unified the disparate elements of all three prior games and created a modern-day setting (it reminds me a lot of Fringe or Person of Interest) to play in that’s equal parts optimistic and dramatic, making you feel like a big hero in an even bigger world. The most ingenious setting element they’ve solved is the constricting idea of predestination – that the Aberrant War is inevitable, for example – and the way they’ve tied that setting solution into mechanics like super-science and dramatic editing is just fabulous.

Like we had to on Scion, Ian had to make some hard decisions on Trinity, like pulling Daredevils out of Adventure! and putting them in as Talents, a hero type in Continuum core book. From everything I’ve seen of what they’re doing, though, it’s going to be a fabulous game.

We did a review of the Storypath System Preview, but obviously that is not the full system. Tell us a bit about the development of the new system. What elements have you particularly excited?

That’d be an essay and an interview in and of itself! It took nearly three years and several iterations. But I’m definitely excited about how the core system allows players to partially choose the outcome of both positive and negative rolls, how failure in dice rolls translates into bonuses later. And I definitely love the Paths – a system topic we use to replace the old set of Merits and Backgrounds and holistically describe your character in a way that ties them into the setting while still allowing you to bring in personal character details reactively and sometimes retroactively.

One of the core concepts of this blog is supporting inclusivity and diversity in gaming. Can you tell me how you see Scion and Onyx Path supporting those two elements? xochipilli

We try to approach this in both our writing team – by hiring writers of color, writers of various faiths and creeds, writers with differing gender and sexual identities – and in our games, as well.  The other way is through the game itself: the art, for one, but absolutely and especially the content. For example: the Teōtl pantheon in Scion 2e, the Aztecs, are going to include Xochipilli, the Flower Prince: God of beauty, dance, flowers, and patron of gay people and male prostitutes.

For the record, there are Gods (in the game and outside it) without gender, gods with multiple genders, gods who change genders according to how they feel. There are figures in myth who beg to be another gender (and who are occasionally granted that wish). Gods who are men who lust for and sleep with men. Goddesses who lust for and sleep with women. Gods who do both. Gods who are asexual. Gods who impregnate via inclement weather. If there are queer people, there are queer gods.

These myths are thousands of years old. They reflect the societies and the peoples from whence they came. That’s what myths are – they express the story of a people. My team and I are proud to feature every one of them in game.

Is there anything else cool that you’d like to leak/share with Keep On The Heathlands?

What we’ve done with Fate is especially cool. In First Edition, Fate was tied to humanity. Humans were bound to Fate and couldn’t contest the ebb and flow of the connections through their lives, save for some divinely-aided heroism, but humanity itself provided the necessary web for connections to form in the cultural consciousness. In Second Edition, Fate isn’t something that “applies” to a Scion or a god, at least not truly. A Scion’s actions ripple throughout the world, causing people to become bound to her destiny. Those ripples of her actions are Fate at work. These ripples are referred to as Fatebindings, and they’re why Gods refrain from overt action, because doing so shakes up the ordered destiny of the cosmos in a way that begets problems bigger than the one the God was trying to solve in the first place. It’s no longer “mind control” on a mortal.

So, when we looked at Purviews to use with this new conception of Fate, we cannibalized a lot of the old Magic Purview into a new General Purview called Fortune, used by Gods of luck and prophecy. I’ll share the innate power and a Boon right here!

Fortune

The Purview of Fortune exerts its power through blessings and curses, manipulating that which mortals call chance and the Gods know as destiny. It exerts the subtle power of coincidence and synchronicity, contriving events and changing the World. It is not prophecy, but it can tug at the threads of fate to arrange improbable scenarios and enable deeds that defy belief.

Innate Power: You can sense the presence of Fatebindings when you interact with someone. If you later meet the other “half” of a binding that you have already sensed, you can tell the two characters are bound together. You can also sense when an Oracle or Sorcerer (p. XX) manipulates Fate with their Knacks or other powers, identifying them as the one responsible even if the effect cannot normally be perceived.

Fateful Connection

Cost: Spend 1 Legend

Duration: Instant

Subject: One character Fatebound to you

Range: Infinite

Action: Simple

You invoke the Fatebinding of a character tied to you to cause them to appear in the narrative and provide a benefit based on their Fatebinding role without it counting against the usual once per Episode limit (p. XX). Synchronicity arranges for that character to be near enough to arrive rapidly with a completely plausible explanation—maybe they’re visiting their family, or stalking you, or their plane crashed.  If the Storyguide agrees, this can even bring characters into Terra Incognitae and other realms of existence (maybe they tripped through a portal).

Join us in thanking Neall for this great interview by checking out Scion’s Kickstarter 

THE FUTURE OF DARKNESS: AN INTERVIEW WITH WHITE WOLF PUBLISHING

white_wolf_publishingThe staff at White Wolf were willing to do an interview with the staff of columnists here at Keep On The Heathlands. Some of the following questions reference discussions had at The 25th Anniversary Grand Masquerade event in New Orleans over the Labor Day Weekend. Videos to the Keynote and the Q&A are now available to give context for anyone reading this interview. We want to thank White Wolf for taking the time to do this interview. Our staff are huge fans of the World of Darkness and other games created by White Wolf over the years. 

We’ve seen a lot of commentary regarding the White Wolf Keynote at The Grand Masquerade – specifically around the statements made regarding the content presented within the World of Darkness and the call for games and communities to not censor various topics with a broad brush. Would you be willing to share exactly what was said, as well as the follow-up statements that were made during the beginning of the Q&A session at The Grand Masquerade?


dhaunaeDhaunae De Vir (Manager of Availability – Business Development):
Of course. We have just released the full-length video for the keynote and the Q&A at The Grand Masquerade. Additionally, I would like to reiterate once more that no clubs were targeted at the keynote, that we do not intend to meddle in fan clubs management, and that we fully support the idea that game spaces should be safe for everyone.

With the One World of Darkness, it seems like cross genre play will be integrated from the beginning. How do you anticipate having this work?


martinMartin Ericsson (Lead Storyteller and Brand Architect):
 We’re imagining a world where the shadows are shrinking. The awakened monsters have always brushed shoulders, but the vastly different art direction and surface tonality (not to mention the slightly messy rules) of the different game lines have made crossovers run a risk of being a bit campy. This time we try to place them all in our own world, in dangerous and fascinating places where their rising conflicts makes WoD’s mysteries, political themes and menacing horror come to the forefront. For example, we are developing Werewolf in close parallel to Vampire, hoping to make the most of the tension between the cold corporate predation of the Camarilla elite and the just but oh-so uncontrollable just war of the Garou Nation. The games will be perfectly standalone, but still manage to link up in specific ways. We’re not imagining a game made for multi-creature parties, rather set them up as perfect antagonists and philosophical counterpoints, as well as rivals for the fate of humanity in desperate times.

What, if any, less explored books, supplements, or ideas from the original game lines are you planning to bring back or explore deeper in the One World of Darkness?

Martin: There are many early books that deserve to be updated to contemporary times and get hooked into the development of the metaplot, a lot of great but underused ideas that popped up in fiction anthologies have also caught my eye. To name some personal impulses: ”Shoah: Charnel Houses of Europe” and ”Gypsies” (Should be called something like “Opre Roma!”) could use new editions in our age, as the horrors of the fear of the Other is again on the rise in Europe. I read a lot about the Ashirra and Middle Eastern WoD for obvious reasons. I think a lot of greatness is found in books like ”Love Beyond Death” and ”Ghouls – Fatal Addiction” and you’ll probably see us inspired by stories where the supernatural meets the mortal world a lot more. Also, Dark Ages of all kinds! Holy shit, there’s a lot of treasures there. I also love the first and second edition of Mummy…

One World of Darkness

White Wolf has talked about increasing and supporting diversity of thought, and identity, at the same time, you are not shying away from using role-playing to explore the darkness in the One World of Darkness. Can you tell us how you are planning to address both of these?

Dhaunae: We are going to give voice to groups that did not have a voice before. This means some topics might be revisited from a different point of view, and some new topics that were never considered before that are relevant to these new voices will be brought up. I personally think it will be thought-provoking to see what darkness means for these new voices, and what dark topics they consider interesting and appropriate to talk about. It might be something that we never thought about before, it might be an eye-opener, and it might even be helpful to understand other human beings better by walking on someone else’s shoes.

At the same time, when exploring dark topics, everyone should be free to choose what experiences and what level of intensity they want to be exposed to and participate in. If some topics are not interesting or if the subject matter is too harsh, there should always be the possibility to opt-out. I want to clarify when I say “too harsh”, I don’t necessarily mean rape. We are role-players, and our imagination is vast and ever-growing.

Martin: Write about what you know! We will continue to represent all ethnicities and the legends of the whole world as basis for our creatures and we will make sure to do it with less rose-tinted goggles and prejudice than maybe done before and really do our best to have people with relevant experiences writing about it.
lore-of-the-clans

Martin mentioned at Grand Masquerade that he sees the World of Darkness in a similar light to important literature. This may tie into the previous question as well, how do you see the World of Darkness having a literature like impact on players, storytellers, and other consumers of WoD related media?

Martin: WoD has always dealt with the most difficult questions in life, from the unflinching exploration of addiction, loss of self-control, transgressive and inhuman morality in Vampire, the price of violent activism and the lure of heroic fascism in Werewolf, lost vulnerable souls on the brink in Changeling, dealing with our fear of death in Wraith as well as constantly challenging and smartly transgressive expressions of sex, love, death, toxic relationships, depression, class and gender inequalities, monsters as metaphors for personal insecurities, exploration of insanity and all the other worthy themes of great culture. Personally, I think these issues were handled best in early supplements, but the desire to mean something to players and readers, with loaded themes and moods is a core part of the setting. We want WoD to be the thinking person’s fictional universe, where the questions ”what is this is real” and ”what important questions can we ask” constantly guide us. With an eye to social justice issues we shine a light in the darkest places and assume monstrous perspectives on the real world to learn more about it and ourselves. In practice it also means working with excellent writers and be obsessive about artistic quality.

 

sfwa

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America organization recently changed their membership rules to include game writers. As this gap between game writers and speculative fiction writers shrinks (around the world), what value do you see in integrating game writing into the broader writing/publishing industry?


tobias
Tobias (CEO White Wolf): Isn’t it about time that cultures around larps, RPGs and similar forms of entertainment finally get the credit they deserve? Look at the impact World of Darkness had on the modern vampire and werewolf myth today established in numerous film, television and other forms of entertainment. This is serious work by great authors and we do appreciate and applaud the recognition of it.

White Wolf has talked about moving the emphasis of the World of Darkness to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia due to the previous focus being in North America. Has there been any discussion about what process you’ll use to determine who to provide a license to write content for other underrepresented parts of the world, such as Central and South America, or Australia?

Tobias: About moving the emphasis, there is an unfortunate misunderstanding there, so I am very happy to elaborate and clarify that. What we have said is that we will now include stories and perspectives from the rest of the world, which means adding more but definitely does not mean to lessen then number or importance of products or stories taking place in North America. We are not slicing the pie differently, we are making a new much bigger pie. At The Grand Masquerade we announced that our distributor in South Korea have written a Seoul By Night book* which they will publish, and I think that is a great example of how to create content that is relevant to the specific audiences. Have people who knows about the actual place and cultures to write about it.

We are constantly searching for and being approached by talented people from all over the world who want to do amazing things with our IPs including Russia, the Middle East, and Africa to the places you mention in your question. We are working actively to increase our number of content creators all over the world as well as keeping the strong core markets filled with new, relevant and exciting content.

*Random Editor Burst of Excitement: THIS SOUNDS AMAZING!

The World of Darkness setting was brought to video games with mixed results. Do you have any ideas on how to successfully bring the WoD setting to this medium, and what sort of games are you considering developing?

bloodlines

We’ll wait while you reinstall it.

Tobias: Bloodlines from Activision is still played and patched 12 years after its release, which I think is pretty amazing. Personally, I have spent well over 20 years in the computer games industry so what I bring to the table is the network and profound understanding of that industry. By presenting the IP and our vision for World of Darkness at various game industry trade shows and events around the world, in addition to travelling and visiting game developers and publishers, we have already received  unbelievably positive and enthusiastic responses.

Our goal is to find computer game developers and publishers who can do fantastic games for various genres and platforms. Our goal in the next few years is to eventually release games on a yearly basis. I see no limit to what kind of games might be produced, the World of Darkness lends itself too many genres and cross promotional opportunities. For example, at The Grand Masquerade one of our partners EarPlay showcased a voice controlled choose-your-own-adventure game based on the Orpheus property. Isn’t that cool?

How can we, as fans, support and encourage White Wolf moving forward?

Dhaunae: We share a common goal, we can work together, and I think that is beautiful. I am a long-time World of Darkness fan myself, and I know what it feels like not to know what White Wolf’s next move will be. If it will be something that I will applaud, or if it will be something that will hurt me. So I would say trust is crucial here. We would ask you to trust that we at White Wolf really want the best for World of Darkness and its fans. We might make mistakes down the road, because we are human, but we are working like crazy and very enthusiastically to take World of Darkness to the place it very much deserves. In order for trust to happen, good communication is essential, so please feel free to contact us: write us e-mails, talk to us at events… We do want to know what you think.

jp

Admin Josh Heath as Jean-Pierre at The Grand Masquerade

In some rare occasions, the path forward to get to this fantastic place with

World of Darkness might not seem logical from the outside, and we might not be in a position to disclose all the information just yet. We hope that, by then, we will have gained your trust.

Other than that, keep doing what you are doing. We trust you and think you are also doing your best to make World of Darkness a great hobby.

Martin: Let your black flag fly. With so many exciting things around the corner, this is a good time to talk to people
about why we need a smart and grown-up horror universe as a part of the geek-cultural landscape next to lighter adventure-style fare like Star Wars and Marvel. Come meet us at cons, run that game you’ve been thinking about for years and send us the very best thing you’ve written, drawn, etched, carved or sung about the dark world. Army of the Abandoned; the time has come to rise! Blood and Souls!

Considering the joint statement from US based LARP fan groups, would you like to address how you will be working with those groups on the issue of player safety? 

Tobias: Player safety is naturally absolute key to any business, no one should have to feel unsafe at an events. We don’t organize events ourselves but in our contracts we do our best to set the level for what we consider is required by our partners in terms of quality.  But contracts aside, we always talk with our partners about how they can ensure the best possible experience at their events.

What we did our best to message at The Grand Masquerade was that even though our world is dark and mirrors all kinds of really heavy topics it is important that when larping or participating in any our products, that people do it on the level they think is ok and safe for them. We are also absolutely behind the fan groups playing our games in a way that fits their individual preferences. I mean, how could you possibly have it any other way?

We do our very best to work closely with our event licensees, and we will as originally planned from the start eleven months ago get into the nitty gritty with our fan clubs very soon. We had great initial meetings with the fan clubs at The Grand Masquerade and look forward to working with them in the future as we now have the resources available to focus on that.

But in specific as to what we can do, I think the best use of White Wolf as a licensor (except setting a clear level in our contracts as to what is acceptable and what is not) is as a coordinator between the different LARP licensees and the fan clubs to make sure they share their experiences and best practices regarding safety and consent and all other aspects of participatory entertainment. In the end it is them who deal with the players on a daily basis, and it’s our responsibility is to support them as much as possible and to help make what they do easier. The goal is to have the best possible and enjoyable events set in the World of Darkness.

 

Final Editor Comments
We believe White Wolf takes a positive stance here. They are dedicated to shining a reflective light on our reality to ensure that we recognize the darkness in our own lives and create methods to change or eliminate that darkness. Safety of players is supported, at the same time as encouraging a deep investigation into human behavior, identity, and action that is as beneficial as great literature. Please reach out to us or White Wolf if you have any questions or concerns. 

 

 

 

ONE METHOD TO USE GAMING AS A FORM OF DIALOGUE

One of the goals of Reach-Out Roleplaying Games is to encourage cross-cultural dialogue using gaming as a venue. What exactly do I mean by that though?

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WHAT IS DIALOGUE?

Dialogue is a method of semi-formal to formal discussion surrounding difficult topics. Dialogue is often facilitated by a neutral or semi-neutral party to help the participants in dialogue understand and respect one another. Dialogue is not debate, the goal of the discussion is not for anyone to win or lose, though understanding and perhaps acceptance of another viewpoint is a potential benefit of dialogue. In a lot of ways, dialogue is very similar to table-top gaming already. You have a Game Master who facilitates a world-building discussion and shared story. Dialogue is about understanding each other’s stories, lives, and circumstances.

I was hired to host a dialogue at American University during my first semester of Graduate School, and part of my sales pitch was that I had run so many games over the years. Game Mastering or Storytelling is a really similar skill-set. You have to arbitrate the discussion, you have to give everyone a chance to contribute, and you have to be able to ask follow-up questions to get to the heart of what a person is looking to say. This is part of why I think gaming can be used in a dialogue to deepen that process.

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Dialogue as a process is usually used to deal with heavy issues. For example, dialogue is used to bring Jewish and Muslim families together to discuss the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Most games are not overtly designed to talk about heavy ideas, but they can. Imagine getting a group of people from the same conflict above together in a gaming session. Instead of having them discuss the conflict over land that they are familiar with, you could develop a story that shows two groups of fantasy creatures fighting over shared space. You don’t want to be too ham-fisted about that, but if you mirror some elements of the shared experience participants are familiar with, you may be able to open eyes that didn’t see such parallels before.

HOW TO DESIGN A CHRONICLE FOR DIALOGUE PURPOSES

Normally dialogue happens over a series of discussions. Sometimes these are in chunks over a few short days or a weekend, and sometimes they are split over a series of weeks. For example, the dialogue I ran occurred over 7 weeks. This is a good time frame for a 7 game storyline; imagine sessions running for 4-5 hours each week. During a dialogue session, you would create a theme or series of specific questions to ask during that session. For our gaming method, you are replicating a similar process by outlining what sort of events you’d like to have occur in each episode/session/game.

Create 80% complete pre-generated characters. As the game master this gives you some more control over what sort of skills, powers, abilities, or interests each character will have. That allows you to plan the story more effectively. At the same time, you want the players to invest some of themselves into the characters. Depending on the game you are creating this 80/20 rule will look a bit different, but you want to ensure you give the players just enough customization to matter and you don’t want to overwhelm them with a GURPS level character creation either.

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Set a topic, and recruit players that are interested in addressing the topic you are going to use. You want to design your story to address some of the real-world elements you are working into the dialogue. For example, you want to host a dialogue session on racial tension in the United States? Cool, first thing you want to do is recruit players willing to dialogue over this issue, try and create a diverse group, and then incorporate concepts of race relations into your chronicle design. There are a lot of ways to do this. If you are playing a fantasy game, having two actually different game races in conflict may seem a bit too heavy handed. At the same time, discussing tensions between Dwarves and Elves might work perfectly for the story you want to tell. Balance it; find the right elements that fit your goals. The Eberron setting for D&D has some effective interpretations of Goblins as an underprivileged group. Games like Urban Shadows allow for modern fantasy investigations into concepts that would be good to dialogue with as well. The goal here is to address a topic your players want to investigate and weave it into your story.

At the same time as you are designing your chronicle, you would want to plan for and develop a short ground rules and debrief before and after each gaming session. The ground rules let you as the game master/facilitator establish what the group understands about dialogue, gaming, and lets you set some ground rules for how you will interact with one another. No swearing, no shouting, are good examples, as well as dice should be rolled on the table, and perhaps no chips at the table. (That is a mix of dialogue and gaming rules I’ve instituted over the years at different times) From the rules, you have a framework to hold your players accountable during the game and after during the debrief sessions. You may want to either hold the debrief at a different time, or set-aside an hour or two at the end of every game to work through it. This debrief will help the players internalize the concepts they dealt with in-character, it may help them either notice or eliminate negative bleed, or it might help them identify positive bleed. Bleed is a concept normally discussed in LARP, but also can be experienced at the table. Using role-playing as a dialogue method, you’ll likely see more bleed than usual.

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From a gaming perspective you want the sessions to be interesting, engaging, and fun. From the dialogue perspective you want the sessions to be deep, and dive into topics that might be sensitive. This requires you actively engage your players for feedback and approval throughout the session. Every player should know what they are getting into. Trigger warnings are beneficial prior to sessions, as are methods of leaving a scene. There are some methods that are used in Nordic LARPS that could be useful to adopt. Around a table, with smaller groups, it should be easier to do verbal check-ins to ensure that players are comfortable with the game. If not, stop. Consent and collaboration are important to the process.

Sample Questions to Ask During Debrief

How is the game going so far? Do you have any questions?
Do you have questions about how your character is acting in relation to others?
Are you comfortable with the items the story is addressing?

Do you want to discuss any actions taken by a player that occurred in-character?

Is anyone concerned with IC or OOC action taken by anyone?

Are there aspects of the game you want to play more of?

This is an early model of this type of gaming as dialogue model. If you have questions, ideas, suggestions, or would like to provide feedback I am more than open to discussing this idea further.

Josh is the Admin@KeepontheHeathlands, he’s got a degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University. 

THE STORYPATH SYSTEM IS AWESOME: BACK SCION’S KICKSTARTER!

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Image by Onyx Path Publishing

KICKSTARTER LIVE NOW

Scion is a game that puts the players in the role of descendants of Gods. This is a game of cinematic story, fast moving and epic.  From ‘lowly’ heroes, to demi-gods, and eventually reaching godhood, characters in Scion strive for apotheosis while battling the reawakened Titans. In the original game, there were 6 Pantheons, and in the 2nd edition there will be 10. There is potential for further options as well in later books.

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Thor

Aesir – The Norse Gods

Deva – The Hindu Gods, Kami – The Japanese Gods

Manitouk – The Algonquian Gods

Netjer – The Egyptian Gods

Orisha – The Yoruban Gods

Shen – The Chinese Gods

Teotl – The Aztec Gods

Theoi – The Greek and Roman Gods

Tuatha de Dannan – The Irish Gods

 

Each of these Pantheons is connected through the power of a shared Story, a Fate that connects them with one another. Their offspring, the Scions, are not all direct descendants in the 2nd Edition, but they will be connected through this supernatural Fate that binds them. Some of you who are familiar with the Proto Indo-European diasporic root nature of some of these pantheons may wonder why they aren’t the same beings? (PIE or GTFO). The game defines them as Incarnations that exist separately from one another, they have a different existence, perhaps your characters might rise to become a different Incarnation of a similar god? So how does is this going to work?

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About a month ago, the Storypath System Preview was released by Onyx Path Publishing and I’ve been perusing the PDF for a few weeks. I then got a copy of the preview in beautiful printed form while I was at Grand Masquerade. This new system is going to be used for both Trinity Aeon and Scion, and though I am way more excited for the return of the Trinity Universe… Scion looks amazing as well.  For anyone that was previously familiar with Scion, the Storypath system makes some adjustments that seem like they seriously enhance and evoke the style and themes of Scion. The first thing to notice in the System Preview is the Core Mechanic.

core-mechanic

Borrowed from the Storypath System Preview

The Core Mechanic should be familiar to anyone that has played a White Wolf game, but it has changed a bit. That bit of change makes for a very cinematic dice mechanic. You roll a dice pool of d10’s, Attribute + Skill (familiar so far), 8’s and higher are successes (7’s for Novas and Demigods). Now, here is the adjustment: you have a target amount of successes for your action. The preview shows 3, if you fail, but don’t botch you receive a consolation which is an action that drives the story even if it wasn’t what you intended. If you succeed by getting the exact amount of successes, then you do what you wanted to, and if you get more you get to add Stunts to what you were trying to do. Very cinematic, very story driven, very modern game design that encourages failing forward and cinematic success.

200px-docsavageThis Core Mechanic has waves throughout the rest of the basic system. If you fail, but don’t botch, you collect Momentum, which you can save up to use Skill Tricks. These are cool cinematic effects that a character can add to their action. The diving two-footed kick while shooting down a row of bad guys? That’s probably a Skill Trick that cost some Momentum to pull off. The Storypath system is designed to be flexible for scale though, if you want to play Superman 4-color style Super’s you can do that, or you can play gritty detective tales that evoke The Shadow, or Doc Savage.

Here is something about the Storypath System that actually I might be more excited about than I should be. Initiative. Initiative is something I’ve struggled with in most games. It feels clunky no matter how you do it, but I think the Storypath System has something fun that will make it stand out. First, your Initiative is based on the Attribute + Skill pool you plan to use in that first round. This stops the dumping of stats into Wits and Dexterity that we’ve seen in earlier systems based on similar rules. Then it gets fun, the player that goes first, chooses the next player in initiative order, that player chooses the next person, and so on down the line. This encourages some collaboration, and talking about what each person will be doing. The last person to go, is the first person to go in the next round, and so on until the combat is over. Pretty cool, I’d have to play this a few times to see if it is better than what I’m used to, but it sounds better on the surface.

There are a few other neat mechanics presented in the Storypath System Preview, and I recommend checking it out, it’s free. Now, what isn’t free, but you should be excited about anyway, is that Scion 2nd Edition is having a Kickstarter that is LIVE NOW. So, you might be asking why that is exciting? You read to this point, so I’m assuming you at least have some interest in role-playing games… if you don’t… welcome to the site?

It is exciting because Scion is a great game, and the Storypath System is going to breathe new life into great games that I don’t think have got their due from the gaming community at large. Scion is well designed and interesting, and Trinity Aeon is one of the greatest worlds I’ve ever had the opportunity to tell stories within. Are you ready to begin an epic journey? Will you make your story last? Will you become a Legend, a new great Myth?

Josh runs this site and would love to talk to you about games. Email him at admin@keepontheheathlands.com