An Interview with Chill and Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary Developer Matthew McFarland

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According to the Onyx Path development Blog the Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary edition is nearing completion, and rumors about that the Monsters Sourcebook for Chill 3rd edition is nearing completion.  Given these exciting developments it only made sense for Victor Kinzer and Simon Eichhörnchen to ask Matthew McFarland who is leading development on both of these projects to talk a little bit about these projects and he graciously agreed.

Victor: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.  For anyone who isn’t familiar, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your history developing games?

Sure! I started writing games professionally in 1997. White Wolf Game Studio had an all-call for writers, and I sent in the first bit of a novella I was working on. That novella is thankfully lost to time, but it did get me a job writing on Giovanni Chronicles IV, and then I slowly infiltrated the rest of the World of Darkness lines and eventually got a full-time job as Dark Ages developer.

I left White Wolf in 2004, and went to grad school to become a speech-language pathologist, because while you can have steady work in the RPG industry, it was a little too unstable for me as a new dad. In 2012, my wife Michelle Lyons-McFarland and I started our own small press games company, Growling Door Games, Inc. We published two single-book story games (curse the darkness and A Tragedy in Five Acts), and then 2014 we obtained the license to publish a new edition of the classic horror RPG Chill.

Simon: What was it that attracted you to the projects you’re working on now?

Right now, I’m working on a couple of freelance projects for Onyx Path Publishing (which licenses the World of Darkness from the new owners at Paradox)[Editor’s Note, The World of Darkness is a property of White Wolf, AB a subsidiary of Paradox Entertainment Inc.], including the Beast Player’s Guide for Beast: The Primordial and the second edition of Hunter: The Vigil. Can’t talk much about Hunter; that’s Monica Valentinelli’s show, and I’m just a writer. Beast is very much my show; the game was mine pretty much from the ground up (though of course I had a really awesome team of people helping to put it all together), and I’m excited about the Player’s Guide. It’s a chance to flesh out the areas of Beast that I don’t think came through as well as we wanted in the core book, and also follow the time-honored tradition of adding new cool powers, new “splats”, and new toys for players to use.

Outside of Onyx Path, I just finished up writing a sourcebook for Chil called Monsters. It’s a bestiary book, in a way, but it’s also a look into the world of Chill and how the organization dedicated to fighting the Unknown, SAVE, approaches creatures that don’t fall into easily understandable categories (vampires, ghosts, werewolves, etc.). Monsters is the first book in a good long while that I’ve written entirely myself, and it was fun flexing those muscles again. (Monsters should be available for sale in August, by the way.)

Victor: The Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary is the first new edition of the game since 1997.  Can you talk about what your approach was to updating Changeling to the world of the 20teens?

The 20th Anniversary Edition games were meant to keep the feel of the old games, but to update the world around them and (in the case of Changeling) become the revised edition they never got. As such, our approach was to look at what made Changeling awesome. We tried to keep the whimsy, but also the tragedy. One of the greatest explanations of Changeling I ever heard (from a friend and player in Atlanta many years ago) was that it’s like someone pointing a gun at your head and saying “be happy.” We tried to keep that notion, that dreams are hard to maintain in the face of the crushing pressure of the “real world,” but they’re all the more important because of that.

The other thing we wanted to do give changelings a little more magical “oomph.” I’m not a believer in “game balance” as it’s usually defined (that is, given a featureless white room, could two characters stand an equal chance of killing each other), but I do think that changelings in previous editions were a bit too fragile. We changed magical mechanics a bit, and brought in the notion of Unleashing (originally from Dark Ages: Fae) so that changelings have the chance to court disaster with the power of Glamour.  

Victor: One of the major focuses of Keep is inclusivity in gaming, so we have a few questions about the Gallain.  In a blog post about your early playtests for Changeling, you said the theme for the edition is  “powerful nobles hiding in freeholds and staying young while the changelings outside freeze”.  In previous editions the various groups of Gallain were presented with either less oppressive nobles or no specifically noble kith.  Since C20 includes all the Fae how are you including the non European kiths in the theme of this edition?

That’s one theme of the edition, and it definitely resonates more with the European Kithain than the Gallain. The Gallain are in the book, but they’re not the focus of the game (they’re in the Appendix and while there’s enough to play them, it’s severely truncated due to space constraints). I know that’s a roundabout way to answer the question, but the answer is that Gallain don’t get included in the same way, except perhaps insofar as to note that even the “commoner” Kithain, who are the bottom class of that particular system, still get to participate in that system. Gallain don’t, necessarily (which might not matter, depending on where they are).

Simon: Part of any good story is compelling antagonists. Changeling’s ultimate enemies, the autumn people, the people who disbelieve the fae out of existence, are a powerful metaphor for the destruction of culture. With that in mind, how do you go about creating autumn people that speak to that kind of horror while at the same time being sensitive to real world colonization experienced by the cultures reflected by the Gallain?

What’s scary about the autumn people, to me, is that they don’t have to confront the fae to destroy them. They’re not aggressive (necessarily), they’re confirmation bias made manifest. They’re a form of privilege, if you will, because they don’t see what they don’t need to see. I think that’s pretty relevant for the Gallain and their cultures, too (though of course, not all Gallain use dreams and Glamour the same way as Kithain).

Simon: Given that the Inanimae can reflect how different cultures perceive their environments how do you see the Inanimae fitting into the 20th Anniversary of Changeling?

One of the notions that the book brings up is that during the Mythic Age, everything dreamed, including the world. Bearing in mind that, like the other Gallain, the Inanimae don’t get a lot of space in Changeling 20th, I think the takeaway is that part of ignoring dreams and Glamour is ignoring the natural world. That’s something that people (both in the World of Darkness and in the real world) do at their peril, but it’s hard, and again, what makes autumn people scary and frustrating isn’t that they go out of their way to ruin the world (a la Pentex) but that they can blithely ignore the problems.

It’s easy to imagine an Inanimae looking at a changeling and saying, “well, sure, whine all you want, but people still write books, using paper that they make from the mulched-up bodies of my family.”

Womb of the Earth by Lydia Burris


Victor: When I first started playing the World of Darkness I was in a community of gamers where Changeling was incredibly popular, but in more recent years I’ve discovered that a lot of White Wolf fans feel Changeling doesn’t fit into the broader World of Darkness.  Where do you think this sentiment comes from, and did you make any changes in C20 you can tell us about that help the fae interact literally and thematically with the broader World of Darkness?

So, personally, I never had any trouble making Changeling fit into the greater World of Darkness. I used to do a lot of crossover (still do, for my Chronicles of Darkness games, where it’s much easier), and what it boils down to is that themes unique to one game might not work for all the others, but there are themes that are intrinsic to the World of Darkness as a whole. The death of creativity and passion is strongest for Changeling, of course, but tell me you couldn’t make that work for Vampire, too. Hell, “our way of life is dying” is perfect for Werewolf as well as Changeling. “Discovery and passion are intoxicating but dangerous:” Changeling and Mage.

Mechanically, of course there are some things you have to work around (not everyone has the same Traits, for instance), and if you’re doing crossover, you can’t just throw any old characters together and think they’ll work. I happen to think that’s true no matter what game you’re playing, though.

Simon: Throughout the CtD line the three major Gallain groups, the Nunnehi, the Menehune and the Hsien, are either excluded from or not a part of the Dreaming. Has this dynamic changed at all in C20?

We don’t get into the cosmology of it very much, due to space. Nunnehi and Menehune still deal more with spiritual expressions of Glamour than Dreaming-based expressions, though.

Victor: I’d like to talk briefly about another one of your upcoming projects, the Monsters sourcebook for the Chill Role Playing game published by your company Growling Door Games.  Can you tell us a little bit about Chill, and the Monster book specifically for anyone who isn’t familiar with the game?

Chill is an investigate horror RPG in which players take on the roles of members of SAVE (the Eternal Society of the Silver Way). SAVE is an organization dedicated to protecting people from the Unknown (the supernatural in general), which feeds on humanity’s fear, misery, pain, and sometimes just flesh and blood. Our first sourcebook, called SAVE: The Eternal Society, delved into the history and current state of the organization.

Monsters, like I mentioned earlier, is a bestiary book, but it’s also mostly written in-character, from the perspective of a SAVE researcher working on a classification system for monsters. It was a lot of fun to delve into how SAVE saw these creatures when she was writing it (in the 1980s) and then add commentary from a more contemporary agent. There are a lot of fun “Easter eggs” in the book that refer back to the Chill core book and to SAVE, and I think it will be fun for readers to see these characters’ stories as they read about these monsters.

The second edition of Chill presented adversary books in this format (Lycanthropes, Vampires, Apparitions), and I was always impressed with how skillfully the in-character information evoked the horror of the setting. I’m trying for something like that: Fun to read, evocative for players and Chill Masters.


Victor: I saw you comment online a few months ago about tweaks you were making to the Monsters in the book to remove some of the invisible bias that was present in previous editions of the game.  Can you talk a little bit about how you approached this and in general how you approach making those kinds of revisions to RPGs with established fan bases who may be resistant to any changes in their favorite games?

As far as making changes to games with loyal fanbases, I’ve always found that if you try to please everyone, you please no one. I love the 2nd Edition of Chill, and our edition draws very heavily on that one. I’ve always been very clear about that, and while I do get fans of the first edition sometimes who complain that our version isn’t enough like that one (the first edition drew more inspiration from pulp-horror and Hammer films), for the most part folks grasp what we’re doing and are with us.


I think the comment you’re referring to was in noting that there were quite a few creatures in previous editions that presented as female, and were said to “tempt” or “deceive” men. If you look at how female-presenting creatures appear in horror generally, you see a lot of that, so it’s by no means unique to
Chill or to RPGs, but since one of the big themes of Chill is that fear becomes manifest in the Unknown, I wanted to address that. I play a lot with the notion of unreliable narrators in Monsters, talking about SAVE making assumptions that it really has no business making, and members letting their own biases creep in. The kind of meta effect of that is that we wind up hanging a lantern on some of the sexist implications of previous work; Dr. Garrett, the narrator of Monsters, notes that female-presenting creatures are consistently described in certain ways that male-presenting or genderless creatures are not.

*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

Lore of the Bloodlines – Review

I was a backer of Lore of the Clans, a supplement for V20 and one of the stretch goals was Lore of the Bloodlines. I must admit I was not very excited for this book. Yes, there were various writers I liked that were going to write for it, but I found myself underwhelmed by a rehash of various bloodlines that had lots of information already in various books. How wrong I was.

First, the art done by Mark Kelly, Sam Araya, Felipe Gaona, Michael Gaydos, Key Meyer Jr. and Glen Osterberger, is freaking amazing. Seriously, I think this art compares to if not surpasses the iconic art of Tim Bradstreet. I know… that is a bold statement. See the image below.

By Mark Kelly Instagram @grimventures

Who’s here?

Lore of the Bloodlines looks at 9 bloodlines from Vampire: The Masquerade. Those 9, in the order they are presented: Baali, Daughters of Cacophony, Gargoyles, Harbingers of Skulls, Kiasyd, Nagaraja, Salubri, Samedi, and True Brujah. As noted, most of these bloodlines have had a lot written about them in the past. I wasn’t anticipating much that was new or exciting. From the Baali onward though, there were new plotlines, story hooks, and mechanics that changed my mind. The history of each bloodline is presented by new unreliable narrators. The Kiasyd are presented with a new history that ties them more powerfully to the Abyss (an element that has received significant investment in V20 materials, in particular V20 Dark Ages and Tomb of Secrets), as well as presenting a different story about their Fey connection.

You shouldn’t take these stories as definitive, nothing in the WoD is a definitive history. This is another view point that you can use to add to your stories. That is the fascinating thing about the V20 books, they look at material fans are familiar with, turn it on its head, and present a view that doesn’t discount anything previously written but it does adjust it in a way that makes you question The Truth.

Mechanics

Each bloodline has new merits and flaws that fit with their storylines. These bloodlines also have a new combination discipline or two, and potentially new versions of Elder powers. Each of these new mechanical elements is directly tied into the story hooks provided in the ‘fluff’ elements of each section. I particularly enjoyed the Salubri chapter because it tied in directly with some of the material from V20 Dark Ages. In fact, the way the Salubri are described in Lore of the Bloodlines is probably one of the best presentations of the modern iteration of the clan I’ve ever seen.

Part of me wants to give you a bloodline by bloodline breakdown, but I honestly feel like I would be taking something away from the book by laying out too many reasons you should purchase it. Lore of the Clans is a great book, and a fantastic complement to V20. Lore of the Bloodlines takes that model and does it one step better. It you’ve read everything on these bloodlines (as I have) you’ll still gain a lot here. Seriously, this is my favorite supplement for V20 so far.

From an author

I asked Matthew Dawkins, known by many as The Gentleman Gamer, for a quote. He is the author of the Harbinger and Kiasyd sections. If you had one element of what you wrote you’d tell readers to look for, what would it be?

I try to seed plot hooks into every paragraph of my RPG content. Whether I mention an interesting character you can add to a chronicle, an event you can reference or take part on, obscure knowledge to cite, fables to make your in-character observations more authentic, or myths and treasures for your characters to pursue. Both my chapters will have plentiful options for you to take up, ignore, or just enjoy the reading of, as you make your way through the book. More than anything, I want people to read about Harbingers of Skulls and Kiasyd and want their next characters to be from those bloodlines, or want to set their next chronicles with a heavy involvement from one, or both odd lineages.

This book is now out in pdf and POD formats from Drivethrurpg.

Credits

Authors: Matthew Dawkins, Eloy Lasanta, Andy Peregrine, Neall Price, Eddy Webb, and Rob Weiland

Developer and V20 Line Developer: Eddy Webb

Editor: Jess Hartley

Art Director: Michael Chaney

Layout and Typesetting: Becky McGarity

Interior Art: Sam Araya, Felipe Gaona, Michael Gaydos, Mark Kelly, Ken Meyer Jr., Glen Osterberger

Cover Art: Mark Kelly

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*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

Game Mastering Through Stress

Here you are running an amazing series of sessions in your favorite role-playing game… and then work calls. Then you get an email from a project that isn’t going to get funded. Classes start, the laundry needs to be done, your kid decided throwing up is the best bedtime plan. STRESS happens, we all know it. The question becomes, how do we deal with it and keep enjoying our hobby? It’s not easy, particularly as we get older and pick up more responsibilities. I don’t consider myself a grognard in personality, but I’ve certainly been playing RPGs for quite a few years.

In the old days, it was easy to play 2-3 games per week because that was all I had going on. This is a lie, the more I think about it. In truth? I was working 70-80 hour weeks when I was in my early 20’s and gaming was my outlet; it was the thing that kept me going. Stress was present then just as it is now. So, in my experience, stress is something that we’ll deal with while we are running games. Sometimes, this stress is directly related to the games we are running. More often than not though, its external stress that bleeds into our sessions.

1 – Tell Your Players

If you are experiencing stress, tell your players. “Hey everyone, I had a pretty rough day at work today, do you mind if we focus on some cathartic combat tonight?” “I’m sorry its taking so long for me to get my head in the game tonight, my son kept me running around today and getting him to bed before our session just didn’t happen. Give me a bit to really get going.” I’ve heard things like this and said them. Statements like these are helpful to helping me know how to pace things as a GM, and I personally think it helps my players understand where I’m at while running the game. Sometimes they will want a heavy RP session, but if I can’t handle that? It might be a good night to run a side session/mission or even switch up games to something that fits the mood better.

2- Take A Break

The worst decision I ever made was trying to run a full campaign during Grad School. Off and on I had run some Pathfinder during my undergraduate degree and didn’t have a lot of issues. Keep in mind, I went from the Army, to undergrad and then straight into my graduate degree as an adult in my late 20’s early 30’s. That game was over Skype though, and to be honest, I was not as focused as I wanted to be and it hurt the campaign. I should have taken a break from running and just played in a few games. Then, in Grad School, I tried to run a Changing Breeds game, and play in a D&D campaign. I couldn’t do it. There were too many things going and my brain was overloading. I tried to introduce a few new players, and I think I spoiled their experience with role-playing games. That’s not what you want, and I was clearly not in the head-space to keep going. It won’t hurt to take a break, focus on one-shots, and just chill if you have a ton of stuff going on. No one will blame you.

3- Unwind Through The Game

One of my favorite ways to reduce external stress is to find ways to incorporate what is stressing me out into the games I’m running. For example, I once worked for a person I detested. I create a character that was them in my mind, and gleefully watched my party destroy the stand-in monster. I have no idea if this is psychologically healthy… it might not be. In the end though? It really helped me deal with that person. Every time I saw them, I’d chuckle in my mind as I imagined the player characters hacking and slashing them in game. When I’m having other stress points, I try and devise ways to consider approaches to dealing with them through game play. One character, described in this blog post, really helped me break out of a serious bout of depression. They were confident, capable, and had a solid relationship life. That helped me to imagine what I would need to transform into that type of person. I think it worked.

4 – Play, Don’t Run

This advice is a little different from taking a break, but it has some similar functions. Have one of your players take over for a little while. A night, a campaign, whatever. I think it can be fun to ask a player to take over running for a single session, give them some basic ideas that fit your meta-plot and see what they roll out with. This can be stressful for some GMs, so it can’t hurt to just let someone else run something for a few weeks. This can help you get your brain back in a place that is healthy and ready to help construct the role-playing challenge you like to create.

I’m sure this will seem like basic advice. Nothing I’m saying here is revolutionary, but I’ve found its helpful to remind myself on a regular basis. A lot of this is useful to keep in the back of your mind to address the stress before it destroys your game and your love of the hobby.

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*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.

The Ferryman: An Introduction to Curse of Strahd

I recently started DMing Curse of Strahd, the 5th edition re-introduction to Ravenloft, based on the classic Castle Ravenloft module by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis. To say I’m a huge Ravenloft fan is a slight understatement. The AD&D Ravenloft books were some of the few I have ever owned, I purchased nearly every 3.0 and 3.5 Ravenloft book that was produced and I ran 2 fairly long campaigns in the world.

Images used are owned by Wizards of the Coast: Buy Curse of Strahd from your local gaming store, buy WOTC products, and support their artists and writers. The written work in this piece is covered under the Open Gaming License, as I understand it.

5th Edition is cool, and I wrote about Advantage/Disadvantage a few weeks ago. That being said, I haven’t played or run many games yet. I actually purchased Curse of Strahd well before I knew I’d even run it. Heck, when it came out, I was in my last year of Grad School, and there was zero chance I was running or playing any role-playing game. It didn’t matter, I wanted to own a copy of this game. Ravenloft was my jam, man…

Well, last week I finally got the chance to introduce a few friends to Ravenloft and 5th Edition. I wanted to create a short introduction that was deeper than the “Mists Take You” option, but slightly less in-depth than some of the other opening options in the book.

 

What follows is an introduction to Curse of Strahd which I welcome you to incorporate into your own game if you’d like.

 

The Ferryman: An Introduction to Curse of Strahd

For 3-5 1st Level Characters

5th Edition D&D

 

Background

 

You are settled in for the night at the Wizard’s Wand, a tavern on the edges of Lake Galifar in Aundair, near what used to be the city of Arcanix. The mood in the tavern is muted, a few other patrons are sitting drinking their ale speaking rarely to one another. Since Arcanix disappeared, things have been looking more and more like war. No one has proven that the disappearance of Arcanix was performed by Brelish agents, but more and more hawks in the nation are pushing to attack SOMEONE for the event.

Six months ago, a great fog, much like the mists that surround the Mournland of former Cyre flowed off of Lake Galifar and surrounded Arcanix. That night it seemed to choke out the city, and when the sun rose the next day, the city had vanished with the misty fog.

 

The party has known one another for some time, either having done some minor adventuring with one another, or as children growing up in the area. You trust one another, and that trust is important. War is coming, and you need someone to trust when war is on the horizon. It has been a pleasantly warm summer.

 

Scene 1

 

As you drink your ale, the door to the tavern swings open. A man, dressed in thick winter cloak, boots, and hood strides in. As he does so, a thick fog accompanies him. The mists seem to creep toward the other patrons of the tavern, stopping short and then receding as if they were hands scraping the floor. There is not a drop of sweat on the man as he steps up to the bar, in fact, he looks frigid. He takes off a frost coated glove and slides an odd looking silver piece across to the innkeeper.

 

Any party member that looks out the window will see the streets are filled with fog, so thick they can no longer see to the other side of the street. Some of the mist curls around and for a moment, a spectral face will appear and loom toward the player character. A character with the ability to sense undead or see into the ethereal realm will see the streets filled with ghosts and skeletal spectres.

Not Yuri

If the players do not initiate contact with the strange man, he will turn to them and begin to stare. Eventually, he will stride toward them with purpose.

The man is Yuri Iljavanovich. Yuri speaks with a thick accent, clearly not from any of the Kingdoms of Khorvaire. He will ask the characters questions about their lives, what do they do for work, if they are looking for jobs, where they grew up. If a player is a Cyran refugee, he will pay particular attention to them. If the players turn his questions on to him, he will respond with the below.

 

“I am from a place called Barovia, which has been conquered by a demon. We are seeking those who would help us. You all had something, perhaps a look, about you that made me think you would be interested in helping. We are slowly being hobbled by the devil, and need some fresh blood who can fight against him. The devil keeps us from leaving Barovia, only a select few have been able to escape, and even then, not for long.”

 

Yuri will admit to being a Cleric of Ezra. “Ezra is our Guide of the Mists. She allows those of us who worship her to briefly escape the clutches of the Devil Strahd. With this lantern (which he’ll hold up and appears to be a normal gas lamp) we are able to use the Mists to travel to other places. The devil forces our return though, and we can only bring people in, we ourselves cannot escape, though of course, I would be able to return you here if you choose.”

If the players choose to accompany Yuri, have him instruct the players to put warmer clothing on, as Barovia is in the middle of a harsh winter. If the players choose not to follow Yuri, you may of course ensnare them with Mists when they leave the Wizard’s Wand, or not, the choice is yours.

 

Scene 2

 

When the players leave the tavern with Yuri, the mists seem to part only slightly from himself and the party. He turns the lantern on, and the fog recedes a few feet. If asked, Yuri will tell them the journey will take a minimum of three days in the mists. If pressed, Yuri will tell the party very little about Barovia, except that the Devil Strahd is a great beast that feasts and hunts his people. They have tried to fight him themselves, but have always failed.

 

The Mists wrap around the characters and they are quickly far away from Arcanix, Aundair, and even Eberron. The thick fog wraps around them, masking their journey, and they cannot even see if they are on a road, and it appears they are simply walking within dark clouds. Eventually, they will come to a clearing, after almost a day’s walk. Before them will be a few large boulders and a makeshift lean-to. A fire pit has been used recently, and the Mark of Ezra is painted on a boulder facing the party as they arrive.

 

Either before bedding down, or in the morning, run the first encounter.

 

Encounter 1

Though the mists are not quite as close as they were while you were walking, they are still close and it is hard to see far from your resting place. The fire isn’t really warm, but it gives you something to crowd around. Everything around you seems to devour your body heat, and you find yourselves shivering with little provocation. Sleep helps, but standing watch is a thankless job. Yuri ignores any request to join a watch rotation, he goes immediately to sleep.

 

As you gaze into the fog, you smell the thick scent of pine and then you hear an odd sound. Scrape, thump, scraaaapppeeee, thump, scrape, thump. The sound seems to both echo and be muted. It becomes louder, and stronger, and finally, the mists peel back farther. You can seen pines all around you, and 10 – 15 feet away, are 3 Skeletons. These skeletons are wrapped in the remains of Cyran armor, holding rusty swords and tattered shields. One skeleton has on a thick iron boot, which appears to be some form of prison gear.

 

Any magic used against the skeleton with the boot only causes half damage. The boot is immune to all magic, but it incredibly heavy and largely useless to the players. If hit with any spell that is force related, like lighting or eldritch blasts, the boot will glow with runes describing its use to restrain magic using prisoners. The skeletons laugh every other turn in which they are hit for damage. This laughter sounds like dried bones hitting against each other.

 

During the fight, Yuri will be praying in incomprehensible gibberish. He will not attack the skeletons. They will generally avoid him, unless one of the players intentionally pushes him into their path.

 

After this encounter, Yuri will finish praying and will ask if the characters wish to continue along their journey. If asked, he will say that he knows that there are many undead in the area wearing similar clothes to these skeletons, and he believes they are related to the a group of refugees that entered Barovia a few years ago. They call themselves Cyrans, and a few have integrated into the local population.

Scene 3

On the second day, have the party reach a river. Yuri seems shocked and concerned when you reach the river. You can see a rope has been cut that used to cross the raging river. There are no mists around the river area, which is odd, as the mists hang thick not 500 feet or so on either side of the river.

 

“There used to be a ferry here, it looks like someone cut the rope.” If pushed, he will suggest heading north, as there is the possibility of another way to ford the river in that direction. He will refuse to try and wade or ford the river without a rope and boat. If the party constructs a way across at this point, hold the next encounter until they reach the other side. If the party heads north, or south, run the following encounter there.

 

Encounter 2

Please take your time….

Whichever way the party chooses to go, they will hear the same horrid skeletal laughing from their last fight. This warning will allow them to attempt to sneak up on the enemies. They will crest a small hill, and then be able to see through the trees, that there are 3 figures crowded around one another, swaying, making an eerie creaking laugh. When the players get within sight of them, they will notice 3 zombies, wearing the same outfits as the skeletons, with similar weapons. If the players have not crossed the river, the zombies will be guarding a boat which is attached to another ferry line across the river.

 

Once the players have defeated the zombies, they will be able to commandeer their boat, or, if they found another way to cross the river, they will find a small pouch of silver coins. There are 7 pieces of silver in the pouch. This pouch will be in the boat, and can be found by attentive characters or by Yuri at the least opportune time. If Yuri finds the pouch, he will inadvertently scare the characters who will have to make a strength check to keep hold of the ferry rope.

 

Scene 4

My favorite vampire meme

Night will fall, and players will be able to rest again at another similar way station to before. In the morning, Yuri will wake the party and push them to continue on. As they crest a high hill, they will see the valley of Barovia spread out before them. A dark shape takes flight from Castle Ravenloft in the distance, and a thunderstorm can be heard from far away.

 

“Welcome to Barovia, my friends. The Devil Strahd awaits you, I hope you do not make the same mistake I did, all those years ago. Go to the village below the mountain, it is a good place to begin your journey to hell”

 

The characters turn, and see Yuri become a spectral form before them, he smiles horrifically and lets out the same laugh which the zombies and skeletons made. Then, he vanishes.
From there, have your players follow the road into the village of Barovia.

LARPers of Color -Tevin Williams

 

Thank you for your interest in doing this interview with us.

Can you tell us how you got into the hobby? Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.) What LARPs are you currently involved with? How long have you been LARPing?

 

Well I had always been interested LARPing since I found out it was a thing. I just couldn’t find anyone who was interested in it. That all changed when I got to college and found out there were people who larped. So I walked up to Racheal Cofeild and Frank Ortiz and asked them to take me with them to go LARPing. Right now I’m only really involved in After the End and a werewolf game run by the Underground Theatre. I have been LARPing for five years.

  

Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?

Well not currently on March 4th it will be my first time running a LARP as I start running Garden of Destinies.

What is your overall experience as a person of color in the LARP community?

It’s been an overall good experience with the main problem being that while people are pleasant to me directly. It’s when I have to express outside of game that things in the black community are bad or that I go protest regularly. That just makes everything rough in general as I have to explain the real black condition. It’s always like pulling teeth.

In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?

It would be to be more understanding of different peoples backgrounds. Like I understand that most people I meet in the community didn’t grow up in a predominantly black and poor neighborhood and just don’t have the frame of reference to understand it. That the bad streets and dealing with that lifestyle was a real thing that I had to deal with and it isn’t as easy as just not getting involved. I was lucky to have the opportunity to get out of there most people just aren’t so blessed.

 

Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?

Pandering to black people by having an African culture that is dominant. I’m a black american not an African american. I know the words get mixed,but I have to associate myself more with being an american than being from Africa since it’s a continent of many cultures. I’m not getting my culture back because of slavery and that’s just how it is. So waving around African culture in my face would be like walking up to an Asian person and just waving a katana in their face and expecting them to like it.

If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?


Honestly experimenting with black culture. Like you can have a character who is a jazz singer and be white as long as you don’t rip our culture away from our race. It takes a bit more work but in the end the finished product could be way more interesting because it was done.

How Not To Be *That* Gamer: Five Easy Tips

Remember back in the mists of time when you were just learning to play a game, hunched over a table at your Friendly Local Game Store? Trying to absorb the reams of information your friend was pouring into your brain? When you didn’t know what a con save was, or a bluff check, or a dump stat? Maybe this is the first time you had ever learned that dice came with more than six sides, or that there was more than one LOTR-type elf.


Remember when the know-it-all world-weary grognard ambled by and told you everything your friend was telling you was wrong and there is Only One True Way/Edition/Faction? Remember the crushing look of defeat on your friend’s face, and how that one person soured your affection towards the game?

Remember when you really, really wished you could jump in the TARDIS, distract yourself with a phone call, take your own place at the table, and tell that person to take a flying leap into the Pit of Despair?

That happened to some people near and dear to me this week – and someone needs to bring this up, so we as a community can stop this travesty from happening. New players are the lifeblood of our culture, and we have GOT to stop inflicting our own pet peeves and biases on new people, so they can enjoy developing their own.


Here’s a brief checklist of how not to be *That* Gamer:

 

Point the First: If you see someone explaining a game to someone else, and the party of the second part looks confused – mind your own damn business. Let the person doing the explaining do the talking, unless you know them. In that case, ASK IF YOU CAN HELP. Do not, repeat, do not, just assume that everyone wants to hear your opinions.


The one caveat to this follows: If it is a game you love, if there is a natural break in the conversation (Point the Second will address this), you can politely say “Oh, you’re talking about Warbling Mongooses! I love that game! It’s really fun. Welcome to the community. I’m *Name*. Let me know if you’d like a game or if you have any questions.” Then walk away unless invited to comment more – but wait for the invitation.

And for the love of spice, remember to introduce yourself. There’s nothing worse than being approached by a random person that you will likely run into again, but you can only remember them as “that guy in the Metroid T-shirt” or “that lady with the purple hair”.

If you mention this game, and I can hear you… I’ll probably say how much I love it. It’s an awesome game.

Point the Second: Do not interrupt someone explaining a game to a new person, particularly if your interruption involves some obscure bit of trivia that is not relevant. This creates a lot of confusion and, frankly, makes you look like an ass.

Example: “Oh, Warbling Mongooses? You know, in the second errata of the third edition, they ruled that female mongooses can only warble in the contralto register on the second Thursday of a month without an R in it.”

 

If there is a natural lull in the conversation, you can politely (that word again, I know) ask if you can contribute something to the explanation. Be prepared to accept “no” as an answer.

 

“Hey, I heard you guys talking about Warbling Mongooses. New player? That’s great. You’re lucky to be starting now, the rules are so much simpler after the second edition – no more twelve hour game sessions! After you’ve learned the basics, let me know if you’d like to play a game or two. Always glad to meet new people.”

Be positive or be silent.

Take Notes Folks

Point the Third: So, the grizzled veteran (GV) and the eager young convert (EYC) are sitting at the FLGS table, playing a hand of Warbling Mongooses – and the new person looks like they are getting the hang of it. DO NOT walk up to the table and start pointing out how the new person (or the veteran, for that matter) are playing it wrong.

 

WRONG:

GV: Plays a contralto Warbler during a half-moon phase.

EYC: Plays a contratenor Warbler during the same half-moon phase (illegal move).

You: (as GV is opening their mouth to correct their student) Oh hey, you can’t play that, it’s the wrong phase. Contratenors can only be played during waxing crescent. You shouldn’t be playing contratenors anyway. Mezzosopranos are so much better! I’ve got a wicked Mezzosoprano deck that just beats faces all day long. Oh, by the way, if you play that baritone in the next move and follow it up with a second tenor, you’ll win in the next turn.

RIGHT:
GV: Plays a contralto Warbler during a half-moon phase.

EYC: Plays a contratenor Warbler during the same half-moon phase (illegal move).

You: *silence*

GV: No, wait, you can’t play that during this phase. See the moon phase icon on the card? You have to match that to the indicator on the table.

EYC: Oh, right. Yeah. My bad.

*Game continues*

 

Most people learn best from one source at a time. If you aren’t that source, wait until you are asked for assistance or a natural break in the game to add a comment. No one likes to be told how to win – part of the joy of gaming is figuring out your own win conditions.

 

Point the Fourth: So the EYC has become a convert to Warbling Mongooses, and you see them playing with their GV mentor. They are doing okay but still making some mistakes, maybe not playing with an optimal deck. You are at your FLGS and see them playing. You approach the table, and:

 

“Dude, that deck sucks, and contratenors are always weak against basses and contraltos. You should be playing mezzosopranos and second bass against that match up. Have you seen my deck? I’ve put like $1,000 and ten years into my deck! It kicks so much ass! Make this play and this play and this play and you’ll win right now.” *

 

*Change the subject of the sentence (sub a particular faction of minis in a popular war game in for the Mongooses) and this is a faithful transcription of what I heard. I wish I was exaggerating.

 

Shut up. Shut up right now. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, and do not use your love for a hobby as a brandishing weapon about how much disposable income and free time you have. Go home and rethink your life if you think this kind of behavior is even marginally acceptable.

 

Repeat after me: Everyone was new once. Everyone was new once. Everyone was new once.

 

Instead, after the game is over, you can walk up to the table, introduce yourself, and offer to help.

 

“Hey, I’m *Name*. Saw you were playing Mongooses and having a little bit of trouble – that was a tough match. I’ve been playing for forever and I might have some extra cards that could help you out. Interested?”

 

Again, be prepared to accept “no, thank you” as an answer. Sometimes people don’t want help. It’s not your place to ram it down their throats. That being said, I have never seen a sincere offer turned down. Often, the new player will ask the person making the offer for advice or suggestions. Voila, there’s a bit of camaraderie to add to the community. Good for you. You get a gold star and/or a cookie.

 

For new players that tend to be a bit on the defensive side (like me): This is the time where you get to mind your manners as well. If someone is legitimately offering to help you, not trying to wave their more-gamer-than-thou card in your face, the least you can do is give them a polite answer.

Unrelated Clouds

Point the Fifth: Thou shalt not condemn anyone’s choice of faction – or means of choosing a faction – especially when they are just getting started! There’s no faster way to crush a tendril of interest than to be told everything they find intriguing is bad or stupid.

 

We’ve all heard of the, poorly named, “girlfriend method” – where the person picks their faction (or equivalent, say, their Commander for M:tG) based on what they think is pretty.

 

There’s not a damn thing wrong with this. In fact, my gaming mentor specifically mentions this method to all people he introduces to his gaming drug of choice. It’s simple logic: you’re going to have to be looking at them while you are playing them, so you might as well choose something you find aesthetically pleasing.

 

Most people get into a game by choosing a faction they loved (or one that was handed to them), using it to learn the game, and then upgrading to a “stronger” faction when/if they decide to become a more competitive player. For example, I learned to play Commander using a prebuilt 2013 Commander deck that I would never willingly choose to play again. Now I’ve built my own and I love it, despite its flaws.  

 

They may never progress beyond a casual player, but they at least will enjoy looking at the models/cards they have chosen. If they ask for advice, and they might, especially if their mentor/teacher shows that your opinion is worth listening to – then you can provide your opinions in a constructive way. “I really love playing contraltos/sopranos, because I love tricksy combos, but if you want a more aggressive, straightforward deck, you might want to look at…”

 

No one, and I mean no one, decides to walk into a game store and become a world-champion player of anything the first time they play it. Let the neophytes choose their doom in whatever manner they choose. It’s no skin off your nose.

 

Bonus Point the Sixth: Compliment a game well played, or a clever play, or a well-painted miniature, or a cool playmat. Say something nice to a new player; don’t cross the creeper line. When you are meeting a new player for the first time, be friendly, offer a compliment, but nothing you wouldn’t say to a stranger on the street.

Also Unrelated, but a cool picture

For those of you in the socially awkward demographic, an example:

 

“That’s an awesome *insert fandom* T-shirt/hat/lanyard/patch!” “That’s a really pretty playmat!” “I haven’t seen that variant of that model before – that’s cool!”

 

These are okay. Any comments on a gamer’s appearance that you wouldn’t say in front of a judge are NOT okay.  Just keep that simple rule in mind and you’ll likely stay out of trouble.

 

Also, as a side note: remember and respect personal space. You’re at a FLGS, not squeezed on a Tokyo subway. Give people room to breathe and to not feel like you are cornering them or pinning them against a table. Be aware of your presence.  

 

I know this sounds like a lot of “mind your own business”, and that sounds antisocial. It’s not, really. You want new players to feel comfortable in your gaming locale of choice, and it can be intimidating as hell to be in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers. If that new player walks into a store to laughter and people having fun, gets greeted by smiles and open acceptance – well, a good first impression works wonders, as they say.

 

Remember, everyone was new once. We should always be open to inviting new people into our hobbies and our gaming dens – and we need to police our own. If an LGS isn’t welcoming to new players, or tolerates behavior that ostracizes players, vote with your feet and your dollars and go somewhere else. We are all responsible for our community and the members within it.

 

May all your 20’s be natural,

 

Georgia

 

Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a courier and personal cook while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.

Mage: Refuge a Prequel

Keep on the Heathlands recently published a review of the new Vampire the Masquerade mobile game from White Wolf Publishing, Vampire: We Eat Blood  All Our Friends Are Dead. After reading his review I was anxious to see what White Wolf did with Mage in Mage: Refuge. For anyone familiar with choose your own adventure books these games will be familiar. The game is fundamentally a piece of short fiction, but at various points during the story you are prompted to make choices about the protagonist’s actions, or decide on aspects of her personality, and those choices impact the outcome of the narrative.

Mage: Refuge is a solid example of a branching narrative game. The story feels urgent, and fairly claustrophobic, which is an appropriate feeling for the World of Darkness. The art and aesthetic does an excellent job of making the game feel immersive, and gives you a sense of just how disconcerting true magick can be. While an engaging experience, some of the design choices introduced accessibility concerns.

During the narrative, there are a few scenes where you find yourself in an altered state of consciousness. The nature of this experience is left intentionally vague but clues are dropped over the course of the game about what is happening. While you’re in this state the text goes from black on a white background to white on a black background, with a blue and yellow shift that moves constantly just behind the white text. I often had difficulty reading these scenes. I cannot imagine how difficult these scenes would be for someone with vision problems or data processing issues. Given the eye strain I experienced during these scenes I sincerely hope that future releases from White Wolf give more consideration to accessible design.

Sigil from Mage: Refuge

In general, despite some shortcomings, Mage: Refugee is a solid branching narrative game, and if you don’t have a history with Mage: The Ascension I think most players will find it very enjoyable. I am much less sold on Refuge as an introduction to the world of the awakened within the World of Darkness. In an early interview about the direction White Wolf would be taking the World of Darkness, Martin Ericsson said the central theme of Mage is the tension between safety and human potential (This is paraphrased, unfortunately worldofdarknessnews.com is no longer online and this interview was not archived in the WayBackMachine). The introduction to the Mage 20th Anniversary edition frames the central themes of Mage around personal responsibility and the fanaticism that comes from believing something so profoundly that you’re able to channel that belief into a magickal act. The horror of Mage often lives in the mirror, and at its core is about the road to hell being paved with good intentions, and the power to act on those intentions.

Through the lens presented in the introduction of M20, the conflict between potential and safety is merely one of many that emerge out of the more complicated soup of zealous belief and power. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I was sincerely hoping that when we began to see Mage products from the new White Wolf the quote from Ericsson would turn out to be a one off thing, as opposed to an indication of his fundamental understanding of Mage. Mage: Refuge does not focus on the corrupting nature of power at all, and instead focuses on the tension Ericsson emphasized in this early interview. Between the quote, and the narrative expressed in this game, it seems reasonable to expect this focus to be central to future White Wolf Mage releases.

The main character awakens in the story while in a nightclub, after coming to the realization that we are all one, and separation is a lie. It’s a wild awakening with no instruments or action on her part involved in the chaotic correspondence effects that take place during her avatar’s emergence. There is also no pre-existing belief system presented to frame her awakening, just some deep techno beats and a description of correspondence from Mage 1st Edition. This is also the only use of correspondence Julia expresses during the game. Julia spends the rest of the story in an existential dilemma, repeating the refrain of “Is this really happening”. Her awakening feels much less like a dawning understanding of her ability to change the world, and much more like the trauma metaphor commonly used during a werewolf’s first change or a changeling’s chrysalis.

In Mage 20th, it is made very clear that the act of manifesting magick is focused will through the lens of belief. In the game this is called paradigm. This lens is completely absent from Mage: Refuge, as Julia jumps effortlessly from paradigmatic practice to paradigmatic practice during the course of the game. Julia shares several traits with Katniss Everdeen that are commonly critiqued. She never actually manifests any personal inspiration. She is always choosing between which of the other Mages’ takes on reality she wants to support. While the format of choose your own adventure requires a limited set of choices, those choices could have been written as Julia recognizing changes she could make to the world. Instead they are all framed around other character’s visions she could attach herself to. Since the game basically opens with a wild awakening, as opposed to a faction controlled awakening, she needs to have some belief or revelation of her own that her avatar has guided her to, but that is unfortunately nowhere to be found. I have absolutely no idea what her paradigm is, and that’s fundamentally problematic for a Mage story.

The character’s relationship with her avatar is expressed through blog posts “she makes in her sleep”. With the exception of 1 story branch where you sell out the mystics to the Technocracy, all of your working manifests as wild/mystic magic. So, the technological relationship with your avatar feels incredibly out of place. Julia is also never pushed by what her avatar shares with her in these blog posts. They point towards a certain story branch being “correct”, but the description of your character’s state of mind after she reads her avatar’s blog posts never comes back to what her avatar is driving her to do. This is especially frustrating when you follow paths that are obviously in opposition to your avatar’s urging.

If all of these problems weren’t fundamentally concerning enough, the game directly associates the Technocracy with the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigrant political party. The game presents  arguments made by the Technocracy as “keeping those people with their superstitious ideas out of Sweden”. In game, this reads very much like a thinly veiled cover for xenophobia. When I did some basic reading on the real world Sweden Democrats, it became obvious that while they are not the most extreme xenophobic group in modern politics, the game still softened their message to preserve the aesthetic of “either side of the ascension war COULD be right”. While there are probably people who will disagree, I am uncomfortable using that equal playing field narrative with nationalist xenophobia. If you want to cast the Technocracy as nationalist xenophobes to inspect that theme in our culture, don’t pull any punches. Make a statement. If you choose to aid this group, the game’s epilogue is considerably more compassionate towards refugees than what many members of the Sweden Democrats have called for in real life. While I am a big fan of a more relatable Technocracy, softening xenophobia isn’t a reasonable approach to accomplish that goal, and if the Union is meant to be the unquestionable villain of this story, the choice is even more confusing.

When Mage came out in the early 90’s, the Technocracy were the bad guys. That changed when the 2nd edition Guide to the Technocracy came out. The game line has moved consistently towards a view of the Union as corrupted by hubris and power, but arguably no more than the Traditions who have their own bloody history. Large swaths of the player base considers the Technocracy to be the unsung heroes of the World of Darkness. Even in their darkest interpretations the Union is multicultural, and included the descendants of the Mokteshaf Al Nour, and the Dalou’laoshi. I unfortunately found no trace of that Union in this piece.

(warning: spoilers ahead) Beyond the accessibility issues, and the problematic relationship to the themes of more recent Mage releases, Mage: Refugee did something else that is a more fundamental red flag for me. Shortly after your character awakens you are approached by another Mage who in your most vulnerable moment pulls you into a private place and takes advantage of you sexually. This act plays a delicate game of skating dangerously close to rape while avoiding making it a clean cut example. The emotional violation is unquestionable though. A brief nod is given to asking for consent, well past the point in the scene where consent was called for. In order to go down the path where actual sex happens, the text implies you are all for what’s going on, but at the end of the branch you have the opportunity to undo what happened as you realize “What happened was wrong. What if you could rewind . . .”. If you make this choice you are taken back to an earlier point in the decision tree by Time Magick, so you have the exquisite joy of getting to read how you wanted it, but nope we’re going to go ahead and make it rape anyway, but you know it never really happened so it’s fine or something.

Vice by Lydia Burris (http://http://www.lydiaburris.com)

The most troublesome thing is you are allowed to think that the character Julia is interacting with during these scenes is an Ecstatic, and these scenes reinforce the most unfortunate player stereotypes about the tradition. Then mid game you find out, SURPRISE, he was a Nephandus the whole time. Ultimately the entire engagement with him is in no way related to the actual plot of the game. He comes up once as an example of “well he was a bad guy and he’s not Syrian”, but aside from that one exchange the entire Nephandus sub-plot could be excised and no damage would be done to the main narrative.

I’m not opposed to inspecting sexual assault through narrative, especially a horror narrative. I am a big fan of Jessica Jones, and works like Bluebeard’s Bride that present the societal horror of sexual assault, while also critiquing the aspects of our culture that it emerges from. Mage: Refuge doesn’t do that. It throws sexual assault into a secondary storyline that isn’t needed for the core plot, it doesn’t inspect the sexual assault as a cultural phenomenon, or critique it’s causes, and it does it all while putting the “player” of the game in a first person framing for the experience.

The problem is if the Nephandus storyline was removed, there wouldn’t be any traditional horror anywhere in the game. There is some unsettling political commentary, but that’s all. I have said on several occasions that the core horror of Mage lives in the mirror. As the introduction to M20 discusses, the primary theme of Mage is the horror that grows from believing something with the zeal necessary to change reality with will alone, and then having the hubris to act on that power. That theme was missing from this game almost entirely, and so, something had to fill the void. The fact that the writers chose to fill the void with sexual assault is more than a little concerning, both in terms of what it reveals about their views on narrative integrity, and their understanding of the fundamental horror intrinsic to the experience of being a Mage.

Mage: Refuge is a solid choose your own adventure game.  It’s well written, and shows an attention to quality and detail.  However, it also provides a lens into the potential future of the Mage property that some will probably enjoy, but for fans of the current edition, represents a fundamental change in thematic focus.  It is worth noting that this is a small example of what White Wolf might do with Mage, and even combined with previous statements,  White Wolf’s vision for future Mage  products may be very different.  I am still in the wait and see what manifests camp, but I have to admit that after playing Mage: Refuge I relate to the concerned fans a bit more.

Mage the Ascension: Refuge

iTunes, Play Store, Steam

$4.99

Author: Karin Tidblad

Co-Authors: Martin Elricsson

Art Direction: Eric Thunfors

Music: Kajsa Lindgren

 

Producer: Jon Svenonius

Programming & VFK: Stefan Svebeck

Scripting: Karim Muammar

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  Victor is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*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.

 

Vampire The Masquerade Prelude


Yesterday we saw the first releases of content from the new White Wolf. Like expected, they tackle some heavy themes. Though I’m only a chapter into the Mage The Ascension: Refuge, I’m enjoying the setting of modern day Sweden and the refugee crisis that is impacting that country. We’ll do a full review of that piece of interactive fiction soon, and I’m already impressed. Both of these games are called preludes, and the style of story should be familiar to many RPG fans. These are introductory stories for new characters being brought into the World of Darkness. White Wolf is  slowly peeling back the shadow curtain, giving us a glimpse into their vision for the One World of Darkness.

All images used are from the game and are the property of White Wolf and our use of them here is simply to help those on the fence decide if they will purchase the product, or not.

Vampires

This is a review of Vampire The Masquerade: We Eat Blood or All Our Friends are Dead. The first thing that hit me was the art style. I’m not art critic, but the image style helped sell this game to me. There is an ambiance it provides a subtle sense of depth and horror, you seem to get a sense of the distorted perception of reality that the narrator, Case, is experiencing.

From the start, the interface for the story is a series of text messages boxes. You have choices of specific responses, much like more advanced RPG dialogue trees. Some of these responses are truncated, but many of the options are pretty clear or fully developed. This creates a surprisingly deep immersive story. You’ll interact with several different individuals throughout, but you’ll mostly talk with Izzy, your close friend, possibly lover (if I read some of the sub-text correctly). The texts back and forth between Izzy and Case set the the scene. You start riding a run-down bus headed from somewhere to somewhere else. There was an event that led to your embrace, but this truth is only slowly revealed through play.

My first death happened during one of the first choice sections of the story. You can choose who you will feed from, and choosing the ‘goose-faced bus driver’ was a terrible decision and I saw the cracked screen and blood droplets that would begin to signal a common sight for me while I was working through the story. In fact, near the end, I was dying much more frequently than not. It might have been interesting to have a few more ‘fail-forward’ story arcs. Of course, that requires more content as well, so there will always be limits in this format.

Themes and Story Elements

There are a lot of subtle horror elements in the story line. There are elements of body horror, images are  slightly askew, hunger and a desire to feed are described vividly, pictures on screen alter with blood during feeding, and there is a bit of splatter horror. If you make it through your first feeding, if you are successful, the story really starts. My goal is to avoid spoilers from here, but I will talk about certain elements I thought were interesting or impactful.

 

The setting is the United States, particularly Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles, though, at times, this feels slightly forced. This may have been due to the decisions I made, but I could easily see this story being set anywhere and it might have been interesting to leave the exact locations a bit more obscure. Some of the NPCs in the story may appear in earlier White Wolf books, I’m not sure, but there appears to be at least one Anarch character from the original LA By Night book. I’ll let you determine who that is yourself.(Editor’s note… I was wrong about Alonzo, not the same character.)

 

You Are What You Eat

White Wolf has gone on record saying they would like to elaborate on some elements of Vampire that focus more on what the Kindred get from mortals. One way they have chosen to focus on this is to have the conditions of feeding impact the disciplines a vampire will have access to. The characters in the story reference this, and this reference is something I find intriguing. See the image below.

 

Elders dismiss the “You Are What You Eat,” concept, which makes me wonder if there will be some form of mechanic in the 5th edition rules based on generation or on length of time as a vampire that will allow for some impact? Perhaps you’ll be able to retain the ability for certain disciplines longer the older you are? This is complete conjecture, but it is an interesting idea and I’m looking forward to how it might be implemented. At the very least, it gives me some plot hooks to build into games.

 

The Beckoning

This is referenced very briefly, and may be a plot line only applicable to a specific clan. That being said… this sounds cool. Something is pulling elder vampires away from their territory leaving a power vacuum. Whatever sort of story element this offers in game, I’m excited to hear more about it. The brief reference in this story is a great hook. It’s got me interested.

 

Masquerade Meta-Plot

 

Most of the early story takes place focused around Case, Izzy, and their transition into vampirism. As you dive deeper into the story, elements of the Vampire meta-plot begin filtering in. We are granted a few references to the Book of Nod, mentions of a few of the great clans, one magical one in particular, and references are made to the Anarchs. All in all, this is a prelude and we are not force fed information on the World of Darkness and this is great. This is a hint at some of the awesome story elements that we will see in 5th edition Vampire and the other new products in the One World of Darkness.

 

This Prelude and the Mage prelude are a great way to get reacquainted with the World of Darkness. Are you ready for it?

 

Vampire the Masquerade: We Eat Blood And All Our Friends Are Dead

iTunes, Play Store, Steam

$4.99

Author: Zak Sabbath

Co-Authors: Sarah Horrocks

Martin Elricsson

Music: Lola Zaza

Audio: Björn Iverson

Game Design: Martin Elricsson

Editor: Karim Muammar

Producer: Jon Svenonius

Programming: Stefan Svebeck

Art Direction: Anders Davén

Technical Artist: Staffan Norling

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*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.

Narrative Dissonance and Humanity in the World of Darkness

World of Darkness

Who is the true, underlying villain in the original “big five” games of the World of Darkness?  I can’t really think of a more loaded question related to White Wolf’s flagship IP.  At first glance, it seems as though every game has its own villain: Werewolf has the Wyrm; Mage has the Nephandi, and in some editions the Technocracy; Wraith has, well, everyone; and Changeling has humanity itself.  Some editions of Changeling shied away from the Humanity-as-villain narrative, but whether the enemy was the Shadow Court or uncaring nobles, those foes can be traced back to what humanity’s abuses have done to the Fae.

If you look closely, the theme of humanity-as-villain is central to most of the game lines, with Vampire being the one exception.  In Wraith, Oblivion historically is a more productive force than it is today.  Every description of harrowings talks about how they were once a critical part of attaining transcendence, but over the centuries have become increasingly dark and twisted.  When you look at how Oblivion has manifested in the other dark kingdoms, such as the Dark Kingdom of Ivory, where there is no great human administrative infrastructure, the “sins” of Oblivion seem less cosmological and more the result of humanity’s relationship with their darker impulses.  This is hardly the only game where we see these tropes.

Mage is an even more acute example.  As the Technocracy-as-villain narrative has been intentionally subverted over time, we have seen the horror of Mage shift, holding up a dark mirror.  Mage is a game about a human being displaying enough hubris to believe they have the power to change reality and the wisdom to do it properly, and then act on that belief.  In many ways, the greatest enemy in Mage are the main characters, and every time you spend experience you are giving that villain more power.  While some view mages as a class of “others” like vampires or werewolves, they are arguably the most distilled expression of human existence in White Wolf’s canon of work.

When the villain lives in the mirror, the villain is humanity.

PentexartIt’s a little harder to see this theme in Werewolf. When you trace the Wyrm’s story, it doesn’t take  long to see the paragon of destruction as a victim, and that leaves the Weaver as the real villain. No matter how much emphasis you put on pattern spiders, or the Weaver’s other spirit minions, her greatest avatars are humans.  Pentex is seen as doing the Wyrm’s work, but they function as a strictly controlled and organized corporation.  I can’t think of anything more Weaver-like or symbolic of modern human advancement than the corporation.

That leaves Vampire, the largest and most financially successful game in the World of Darkness.  This is where these themes fall apart.  Humanity isn’t the primary villain in Vampire; Humanity is idealized in the system as its primary morality trait.  The hierarchy of sins for Humanity, which acts as an in-game guide to which actions will send a character into a crisis of morality, reveals a collection of scolds that elevate Christian moralism more than they reflect anything true about innate humanity.

The humanity dynamic is obviously inspired in part or whole by the challenges faced by Louis in Interview With the Vampire. The Embrace, the struggle with shame and guilt, and many of the social/political themes of Masquerade draw heavily on Anne Rice’s early work, and as a standalone piece inspired by and inspecting some of the questions Rice posed in her books, Masquerade holds up very well.  The problem is that White Wolf then published 4 more games that present a much less flattering view of humanity, and the new White Wolf has publicly stated they want to engage more fully with events from the real world.  In a world where Duterte not only exists but has a non-antagonistic relationship with America’s President, I have a hard time envisioning White Wolf engaging with real world events and political themes while presenting Humanity as a glorified ideal to which Vampires cling.

Are Paths the answer?

Vampire provides an alternative to Humanity in the form of the Paths of Enlightenment, which serve as alternate moralities a vampire can use to hold their beastly hunger in check.  In my personal experience, the Paths of Enlightenment become a way to get around tracking morality far more often than they prompt players to meaningfully inspect themes of self justification, which is how they were originally framed.  The burden of calling for morality checks falls on the ST, and in a Sabbat or Independent game where five players each have a different path of Enlightenment, knowing when a given player has violated their path is cumbersome enough that it is often ignored.

It is also wortTuskegee_University_sealh noting that the current relationship between speculative fiction and the idea of “The Other” is very different than it was in the early 90’s when the first edition of Vampire the Masquerade came out.  Vampire swept several issues related to humanity’s less savory tendencies under the rug.  Vampires aren’t sexist, because why would you care about gender when you are an immortal entity with no sex drive?  Young vampires wouldn’t enter the early days of their unlife with that perspective, though they might shift their views on gender after their first run in with a 500 year old female Tremere – assuming they survived the encounter.  

Additionally, our conversations around prejudice have become more nuanced. Claiming vampires become nothing more than ravaging beasts if they victimize people, regardless of their races, genders, sexual orientations, etc., while allowing humans to take similar actions with no repercussions creates some messy narrative dynamics.  A Kindred held to the sins of the path of humanity would fall to their Beast long before they got around to internalizing the “more enlightened” philosophies that allow them to resist that fall if you allow vampires to demonstrate the kind of monstrosity mortals have perpetrated during the Tuskeegee Syphilis Trials, or the Trail of Tears. As many players have pointed out, we shouldn’t minimize these horrors by pretending that only supernaturals are responsible for such acts in the World of Darkness.  In 2017 it’s hard to ignore these reflections of humanity and if we try to play Vampire without them the game ends up being reduced to little more than the urban fantasy escapism that the new White Wolf has said they want to avoid.

The Future

downloadWhite Wolf has announced that Vampire 5th Edition is slated for 2018, and they are planning on making some pretty dramatic changes to the systems, including changes to what the Beast represents.  If the Beast changes, then the relationship between the Kindred and their morality could change as well.  Personally, I’d like to see a core morality mechanic that emphasizes the creeping alien nature of immortality.  I would like to see a mechanic that accommodates what happens when a genocidal despot or a mass murderer styled after the likes of Dylan Roof is embraced without invoking a Path of Enlightenment that exists only in Vampiric society.  I want to see an edition of Vampire that joins the rest of the World of Darkness in forcing us to stare into the mirror to find our horror instead of allowing us to pretend that some alien other is the true monster in the night.

This may be a tall order, and I know that, like all changes to an established and loved product, a large swath of fans would protest a change to Vampire this drastic.  However, Twenty years of thematic development in the rest of the line and the goals laid out by the new White Wolf necessitate some shifts.  I can’t pretend to know exactly what this change would need to look like, but I think while Vampire 5th ed is in development it’s important to talk about our future hopes for the line, because White Wolf has reached out to their fans and by all indications is really listening to what we have to say.  Instead of just posing a solution, I would like to ask the question: “What morality dynamics would you like to see for Vampire 5th ed, and how can the game more acutely focus on the horror of the human condition instead of the evil of the alien vampire other?”

 

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  He is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*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.

Bennies/Inspiration Points

Bennies in action

Selection from: ‘An Orange Juice Chaser,’ By Joshua Heath

Bobby screamed to his mooks and I focused on running. I tore through a side alley, but like I said, Lady Luck had it in for me that Tuesday morning. There was the damn garbage truck, pulled back and collecting from the alley at that very moment. I looked up… and well, I wasn’t the least lucky I’ve ever been because one of the fire escapes was hanging low. I jumped, grabbed it, and probably looked like a damn rat scurrying away. Rats seemed to be a thing that day.

The gang was right behind me. I scrabbled to the top of the building and looked around. If I was dumb, I might be able to make it to the next building, I could see their roof door was propped open a little. Well, I ran, I jumped, and somehow, I made it, barely…

Bennies

In Savage World, a Benny is a mechanical benefit that allows players to alter the narrative or save themselves from a terrible roll. Now, this sort of mechanic is hardly new to Savage Worlds. The 3.5 edition Eberron setting introduced Action Points, Adventure! also had Action Points, Paizo’s Pathfinder has Hero Points, and D&D 5th Edition has Inspiration. These points are often used in pulp action games, because they represent the ability of heroes to succeed at tasks that appear to be impossible or highly improbable. The traditional method of representing this effect is to give a numerical increase to a roll, either as an additional die or a straight +X bonus.

savage

Savage

For the Savage system, Bennies allow players to also choose to edit how a story progresses. This sort of narrative editing is one of the hallmarks collaborative RPGs. So, I might be in a fight and instead of being restricted to the items I wrote down on my sheet, I could spend a benny to pull out a gun that I hid earlier. I didn’t really have the gun planned, I alter the narrative to say I did. Or, we are in a crowded bar looking for clues to solve a mysterious murder. I spend a benny to say, “there is a shifty guy in one of the back booths that has some information on the murder.” The GM takes that benny and adds in this character.

Talking Gentlemen

Style Matters

Bennies, Action Points, Hero Points, whatever we call them, these are little ways we encourage our players to assist us in crafting the narrative. Now, some game masters hate this sort of mechanic, because they view it as impinging upon their ability to effectively structure and design their worlds and narratives. I think that is fair, these sort of tools do not always work in every style of game. I like the idea, but I’m also a lot more flexible in my personal story design. I can often incorporate outside ideas fairly fluidly. Both styles have potential to be great games and it is important for everyone involved to discuss their preferences when choosing a game system.

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*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.