A Fomorian Horror Among His Gentried Peers

The horror movie is innately conservative, even reactionary.” – Steven King

A World of Darkness dev introduced me to this quote on Facebook. He went on to explain the theory that the vast majority of horror is designed to make us afraid of the other, the thing that goes bump in the night, or stalks obscure corners of our world that we may one day be foolish enough to invade. This is not the conservatism of our modern politics, but a more fundamental use of the term rooted in the “maintenance of the status quo”. It is only by returning to normalcy that the beasts of the pit can be banished. There is a long history of these stories being used to reinforce societal norms, but there are as many examples of this small ‘c’ conservative format being used by creators who aren’t interested in maintaining any social status quo, but are fascinated by the human relationship to horror.

I’ve pondered this topic for a long time, and it strikes me, as role players, it’s worth understanding these themes in a meaningful way, because it helps us build the kinds of stories we want to tell at our tables. I’ve also found this model of horror illuminates why we are drawn to certain stories and not others. I think the best illustration of this dynamic is the relationship between Changeling: The Dreaming and Changeling: The Lost. I’m a long time fan of Changeling: The Dreaming, and when Changeling: The Lost came out for what is now known as the Chronicles of Darkness I went and dropped full MSRP on it without so much as cracking the cover. I had been jonesing for new Changeling content for years and it was with immeasurable excitement that I opened the book. After reading the text cover to cover I was in full blown Edition Warrior mode. I’ll spare you my barely more than a teenager histrionics, but suffice it to say, I was not a fan of the new game.

What really bothered me though is I WAS, kind of, a fan. There was so much in Changeling: The Lost that I loved and wanted in Dreaming. The kiths were flexible, the magic was more dynamic, the writing maintained a consistency of quality that unfortunately eluded Dreaming for most of the 90’s. I’ve talked with other Dreaming fans for years and hear this same sentiment over and over. The theme is consistently that Lost is a beautiful well done game but just . . . no and no one exactly knows why. Until recently I wasn’t able to find a satisfactory explanation for this feeling. I honestly believe the explanation lies in the Stephen King quote above.

Changeling: The Lost is a quintessential example of the kind of horror King describes above. You play a creature abducted into the Hedge by Chthonic Fae horrors called The Gentry who is subjected to one trauma after another. When you return to the world, either through heroic escape, or your master growing bored and releasing you, your family doesn’t recognize you, and your entire existence is now a perpetual PTSD trigger reminding you that you barely survived. This is systematized to the point where using your own magic can trigger your morality trait, because it reminds you “you are wrong”. This creates stories of desperately wanting to re-establish the status quo of your previous life, but never pulling it off.

Even in the deepest, most interconnected motley of Changelings, there is always a background of “Yeah, we’ve lived through hell and worse together, but if I could go back to normal I’d ditch you all in a hot second and run screaming back to my wife/husband/children/etc”. I don’t know about the supplements, but the core book passes up no opportunity to remind you of this creeping sense of isolation, or that you are always desperately afraid of losing even this shadow of a normalcy should The Gentry return for you. One of the core messages of Lost is, “cherish the phantom normalcy you’ve been gifted because at any moment it could be stolen away. The Gentry remember”.

In contrast, Changeling: The Dreaming is a game that casts the status quo as the greatest horror in the game. You play a primordial creature born of human dreams. As with all World of Darkness games, you do indeed play a monster feeding on humanity in one way or another, but you are a monster because humanity dreamt you into being as a monster. If you make the world a bloody and brutal place it is not because something awful lives in the darkness, it is merely because humans BELIEVE something awful lives in the darkness, and would they believe or care if there were no status quo to shatter in the first place?

Even where the game slips into more Chthonic territory its core premise subverts the conservative nature of more mainstream horror. This is clear when you look at the Fomorians, who walked a path of darkness across the world in the earliest days of creation. The Fomorians now threaten to return to the world, but the fear of “the other” is always subverted by the fact that the darkest of Fae are still summoned by the dreams and fears of humanity, not the other way around. The Evanescence of dark glamour described in the Changeling 20th Anniversary edition originated with the atrocities of humanity, and even the myths of ancient times speak to the fears of humans at the mercy of a capricious world they did not yet understand. They do not speak of the Fomorians coming before the fear of the unknown.

DriveThruRPG.com

Years after that first reading of Changeling: The Lost, the initial sense of “betrayal” I felt has passed and I see these games as possibly the perfect reflections of each other. In many ways this division assures that everyone has some corner of the Faerie they will love, which I deeply appreciate. If you approach these games with an awareness of these themes you can much more easily cast antagonists and scenarios that double down on, or explicitly subvert the core identities of the games.

Plot Seeds

ADHD Shaman by Lydia Burris

In The Dreaming, the toxicity of the status quo of humanity, and the status quo of the Seelie court is hinted at throughout the game line, but is not often how the court is played. A story emphasizing those themes, with players who are Seelie opens a lot of narrative potential. Perhaps the most powerful saining magics of the Dark Ages aren’t as lost as everyone thinks, and if your players see the need to tear down oppressive feudal structures, but don’t want to be caught in the role of “the court of nightmares” then you could tell a story of great quests, and complex magics means to redefine the core identities of the courts, or perhaps even sain a new court altogether. There is nothing that compromises the status quo like redefining the basis of identity for your entire species.

On the other side of the Faerie divide Changelings in the Chronicles of Darkness who find themselves allied with a Beast may come to see the Beast’s hunting and the scars it leaves as a lesser form of the sins committed by the Gentry.  Not all Beasts “teach their lessons” with equal elegance, and some make no attempt to teach lessons at all, seeking only to feed on the fear of mortals. The existence of Beasts, who exist to subvert the status quo, and Changelings, who are creatures uniquely driven to preserve it creates a dynamic where if you are aware of these themes you can tell truly brutal stories setting family member against family member. I would pity the poor Changeling who finds themselves allied with a Hero seeking to “purge the world of Horror”, but I could easily see how such an ill fated allegiance could emerge.

At the end of the day a solid foundation in genre awareness aids a storyteller running any game. When you find yourself guiding players through the darkest corners of humanity’s narrative canon look closely at what makes your players afraid, and tailor your setting to those fears. Knowing the deepest, broadest themes of any horror game makes it a lot easier to find exactly where those fears come from, and how to tap them.

Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition Alpha Release Review

Vampire V5 Alpha Playtest Overview

 

I attended GenCon 2017. This was the first time I’ve ever had the chance to attend and the convention was amazing on so many levels. I was invited to attend by The Wrecking Crew, a gaming demonstration group. They usually demo and playtest White Wolf and Onyx Path Publishing products. At their invitation, I got to run 5 play tests of Vampire 5th Edition’s Alpha release. Over these sessions I got very familiar with my particular take on the adventure, Rusted Veins, and very familiar with certain elements of the rules which I leaned on heavily. Upfront, this set of the rules and the adventure was a significant improvement to the pre-alpha slice which came out at World of Darkness Berlin.

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This Alpha product included a significant slice of rules, particularly focused around Hunger, Compulsions, combat, and some disciplines: particularly Potence, Presence, Fortitude, Celerity, and Obfuscate. These rules will be outlined more fully below. Mechanically, the game has some departures from previous Editions of Vampire. Particularly, as in the pre-alpha, the inclusion of Hunger dice is different. That said, this mechanic is a boon for adhering to the theme of Vampire: The Masquerade and ensured that the concept of The Beast and the need to Feed were incredibly present.

The module adventure, Rusted Veins, was written by Matthew Dawkins, with contributions and assistance from Kenneth Hite, Jason Andrew, Karim Muammar, Martin Ericsson, and Jason Carl with special thanks given to consultant Monica Valintinelli. The Alpha ruleset was written by Kenneth Hite, Jason Andrew, Matthew Dawkins, with guidance, editing, and contributions from Karim Muammar, Martin Ericsson, and Jason Carl.

Rusted Veins is a continuation of the Forged in Steel chronicle from the original Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition core book. It also continues the stories in Ashes to Ashes (1st Ed) and Dust to Dust (V20). Thematically, the story in Rusted Veins has the feel of Vampire 1st Edition. It’s gritty, street level, and the night to night need to survive felt incredibly present. Vampire at its finest offers a chance to explore dark themes, recognize them, and then work to find ways to conquer the darkness while staring deeply into the abyss. This story succeeds at that, there were a few elements I chose not to include while I was running, but Matthew (and other writers) did such a wonderful job creating multiple hooks that this wasn’t a problem.

Honestly, if this quality of work continues than I anticipate that Vampire 5th Edition will win awards. It’s gritty, honest, and it opens a door into the classic World of Darkness that needs to be opened and enjoyed. A shout-out to my players at GenCon 50! You were all awesome. I sincerely enjoyed running this game for you. To the players of Baggie, in particular, thank you for engaging with some of the adversarial aspects of this character, it was really awesome.

Below I’ll be diving more deeply into certain mechanics, and elements of the story, but above are my core thoughts in my post GenCon fugue.

Rusted Veins (sections in quotes are descriptions I used in my game)

“Gary, Indiana is a shit pit. It’s broken, run down, and industry has fled. This has left Gary a veritable ghost town, filled with crack houses and dilapidated buildings of all forms. It starts to rain; the rain is falling in heavy droplets that soak you to the bone. The rain in Gary is acidic, and you can hear it making slight burning hissing sounds every few drops, it hurts to stand in the rain for long. A whistling wind blows through the streets, and thunder shakes the windows of your haven”

Rusted Veins is a continuation of Forged in Steel, Ashes to Ashes, and Dust to Dust. This pedigree makes the adventure feel deep, nearly by default. There are layers upon layers present that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious to those who haven’t played those adventures. That said, you don’t need to have read them or know their content to enjoy this adventure. I’ve never previously run any of those chronicles, but I did read through them prior to running Rusted Veins. Having done so, I didn’t add any of their elements into the game at all, and that wasn’t a problem. That said, there are hooks that would allow you to do so if you were interested in trying it out.

We were provided character sheets, and detailed two-page backgrounds on each character. I gave my players a chance to read these backgrounds and most groups spent between 10-20 minutes reading through them. Dawkin’s stated goal of ‘a plot-hook in every paragraph’ is clearly present. Each character is really well detailed, and there is a story-hook and role-playing guidance in every paragraph. This creates a lot of depth, and I noticed that players focused on different elements for each run through. There were some key things that stood out for each, but I was surprised in my Sunday game when a player focused on an element of their character no-one had mentioned in any of the other playtests. That’s cool, that shows a lot of depth and a lot of options to explore. Honestly, these characters are deep enough to run a continuing chronicle, and Rusted Veins could easily be run over several gaming sessions if you wanted to run it with your home crew.

The core plot returns you to Gary, Indiana, the home of Modius and Juggler (two elders, one Camarilla, and one Anarch). Modius is the official Prince of Gary, but he’s nearly powerless at this point, flexing his muscles in small ways to try and impact events in the city and further. That said, he is personally capable in a fight (as written) and is heavily involved in the plot of Rusted Veins. Juggler is now the Baron of Gary, having been granted the title in the aftermath of Dust to Dust. Further, the feared vampire hunter, Sulivan Dane is present in this story and his character was the most fun for me to introduce to the players. In each run, I used a variation of this description.

“Lightning flashes, thunder rolls, and for a moment you can see clearly through the rain. Standing a distance away is an ancient Catholic priest. He’s still got strong, broad shoulders, and his face is hard. He’s holding an umbrella, and is wearing a long black trench coat. At his side is a sword, handle barely visible. As the light fades, a palpable feeling of dread crawls through your belly.”

Dane isn’t described as having a sword in the official materials, but I wanted to call back to the tropes of trenchcoat and katanas, and Dane offered a fantastic way to do so. Most of the players found his character particularly intimidating with how I described him. Goal achieved.

Running this 5 times gave me a few chances to approach the introduction of each of the core NPCs in various ways. I used different accents, voice inflection, and presentation for each of them every time. This helped me to differentiate the games in my mind. It also helped me to see various ways an adventure like this can be adjusted to create more tension, or allow the tension to fade, as thematically appropriate.

We started each session with feeding. The new You Are What You Eat mechanics were fun to play around with, and I often used my own judgement on what bonuses to provide the players. These sessions set the tone for the game. They also gave us a chance to investigate the Composure mechanic and use the new Hunger rules. Since you cannot get rid of Hunger without killing your victim, this created some serious tension at the start of the game. Every time, at least one character would fail to control themselves, and their feeding victim would die. Some players tried to hold off on Rousing the Blood as long as they could after making it to Hunger 0, some didn’t care and they were more than willing to try and use their Disciplines or increase their statistics whenever they got the chance.

We then moved into the main plot, which was a fetch-quest with lots of interesting complications and plot developments that adjusted the story as we went through it. Most of these complications were player driven too, and several sessions saw the players handing me and each other various slips of paper to represent text messages they were sending to the main NPCs and to one another. Hopping away from the table and talking in private was also incredibly common, and this created obvious and interesting tension as the players left at the table often speculated on what the others were planning.

In the end, Rusted Veins allows for an interesting exploration into what it means to feel an ever present vampiric Hunger. It offers choices, and the most frequent comment on my survey sheets was, “I felt like I had tons of choices, and this was awesome.” The choices that characters had gave them a sense of ownership over their characters, and to my knowledge not a single player felt uncomfortable investing themselves in roleplay. That said, if any of you folks read this, I’m happy to hear some negative feedback. Or even more positive feedback, I’m always interested in having that.

There is an epilogue in Rusted Veins. I chose not to use the Epilogue, since it took away from the cool sensations and ideas present in most of the core adventure. In the Epilogue the players would play other characters for a very short period of time. To be honest, this is an awesome mini-adventure, and I would encourage those that eventually see it to use it as a separate session at some point. It also has relevance for long-time vampire fans. For GenCon, it really didn’t work well, but the core concept is cool.

Mechanics

In most cases I’m a mechanics light kind of storyteller. I use them when I think they make the most sense and I generally find a way to use them that makes sense to me. This isn’t a great thing for a playtest though, and I tried to retain the new rules as much as possible. That said, there were a few times I went off the rails while I was running. I’m not upset with how I kept most of my games rolling along, but if there was a weakness of mine during the playtest it was my lack of a full grasp of all of the new mechanical elements of the game. Below is a description of the rules from the playtest, and how I ran them during my game.

Dice Pool and Successes

Vampire 5th Edition is going to be a dice pool game using D10s. You create your dice pool in the same way that you have always done for the World of Darkness, Attribute + Skill, in most cases. However, the largest difference is that the target number is now always 6. Then, you count the successes you get to determine if you complete a task. For example, to hit a person, you might need to roll 4 dice. If you roll a 6, 3, 6, and 7, you get three successes. This might be enough for a moderate success, or it might be one short. If you are one short, you may ask to Succeed at a Cost. In this case, the storyteller alters the success to add some elements that cost the player character something. For example, hitting a person, but then falling over after losing their balance at the same time.

It is possible to spend Willpower to reroll a partial dice pool, or the entire dice pool. To be honest, I didn’t catch that mechanic for the first four of my playtests. When it was used, it made a lot of sense. That said, I found that it tended to slow the story down, rather than keep it going. Hunger Dice are also a thing, but I’ll explain those under Hunger below.

Criticals can be achieved in two forms, two 10s on regular dice is considered a critical success. This allows for an increased success or narrative benefit. You can also get a messy critical, if you roll a 10 on a Hunger die (again explained below under Hunger). A messy critical allows for success, but in a way that is over the top, and potentially harmful to the player character’s intentions. This is indicative of the Beast rearing its head, and pushing the character farther than they would do so normally.

Criticals were incredibly fun to use, and messy criticals were awesome to help narrate interesting alterations. The rules include some other elements surrounding Composure, particularly that if a player could not think of a messy result, that they would lose composure. I think my groups and I found a good middle ground between my narrative control of these messes, and their overall control of their characters in most situations.

Virtue and Vice

Instead of a Nature and Demeanor, V5 Alpha playtest used Virtue and Vice. These are mechanics that allow you to regain Willpower when you act in accordance with your Vice. Since acting in accordance with your Virtue is harder, doing so refills all of your Willpower. Most players in my game used these as basic roleplaying hints and we did dip into the Willpower refill mechanic in a few of the games. In most, we didn’t spend a lot of Willpower. That was partly my fault, because I didn’t often suggest it as an option to the players and players unfamiliar with the WoD wouldn’t have thought to do so.

Initiative

Initiative is now determined by Wits+Combat Skill. This is the skill the Vampire uses in their first combat and determines the initiative order. Now, I did not catch this and continued to use the Wits + Dexterity rule from the old version of the rules.

Initiative now flows from lowest to highest, with the person with the highest initiative going last with the ability to react to other characters. Honestly, this is present in several versions of the rules, but I’ve rarely seen people use it, and it’s a shame. This allows for sensible dice pool management if you want to split dice pools, otherwise knowing when to plan to split a pool is nearly impossible to determine. I really enjoyed using this rule and I recommend it to every person playing any version of WoD rules.

Combat

Combat in the V5 Alpha is a contested action. Yes, this can mean a combatant gets hurt when they attack someone. This is why splitting pools can be so effective if used right. You can dodge an attack, and attack in the same round if you are willing to reduce your pools. Damage equals the amount over the contested result a player gets on the dice. Which is much easier than worrying about a mechanic for soaking damage etc. This made combat speed by, in most cases.

There are two types of Health damage, superficial and aggravated. You have Stamina +5 health levels, and superficial damage accumulates and becomes aggravated if enough is taken. Superficial damage is halved for Vampires. We ran these mostly correctly in my playtests, though there are some more in-depth rules that I didn’t use, particularly relating to the Critical Injury table.

Hunger and Hunger Dice

Hunger has a rating of 0-5 and represents a similar in-game concept to what blood points used to represent in earlier editions of Vampire. That said, Hunger feels different. Blood points often didn’t feel like they were important, because they were often fairly numerous (at least in my experience). A vampire with 0 hunger is sated, but the only way to have 0 Hunger is to have killed a feeding victim that night. Waking raises the Hunger of every Vampire to 1.

Hunger is an ever present effect, and every dot of Hunger a character has replaces one of their regular dice. These dice should be a different color to differentiate them, and I recommend red dice… cause, well, blood right? When you replace your die with this Hunger die, you need to look out for two things, if you roll a 1, and if you roll a 10.

A 10 create a messy critical situation, and (in the Alpha) two 1s would cause a Compulsion. This mechanic did not come up often, and there were quite a few discussions around how to adjust it so it would occur more frequently. A good goal for this is probably having it occur around 15-20% of the time, if you ask my completely un-mechanically minded brain.

When you use a Discipline, or do various things that only Vampires do, you have to roll 1 Hunger die. If you roll a 1-3, you raise your Hunger, if you roll a 4-10, you don’t. This encourages players to use their disciplines, but also creates a lot of tension when they do so. This is awesome. This makes using a discipline a dangerous activity, but one that most players feel comfortable using in moderation. In a regular chronicle this is going to decrease Discipline use, and I think this is fantastic.

If a player gets all the way up to Hunger 5, they need to make a Frenzy check. This never happened in my games at GenCon, though it was a constant fear that a character might get to that level.

Feeding

Feeding can reduce Hunger, 1, 2, even 3 points. However, Hunger can only be reduced to 0 if a player accidentally or willingly kills their victim. Most of my players ended up having at least one moment where they seriously considered draining someone. I made my players roll Composure every time they fed. If they failed, they would drain their victim. This doesn’t appear to be in the rules, so this wasn’t really required. That said, it did add tension, and it did make players cautious about feeding and using their disciplines. Every death from feeding resulted in a Humanity point loss.

Compulsions

These were present in the pre-Alpha playtest, but they have been adjusted to remove the elements that made this rule’s element controversial. Now the player can choose, or ask the storyteller to choose a compulsion. This is an interesting back and forth discussion, and usually is pretty quick. Tables for the Brujah no longer included the term ‘Triggered’ and that is refreshing, to say the least. These didn’t come up as much as I would have liked, but they did in a few of my games. When they did occur, it was interesting, and it added a layer of roleplaying and story to the game. So, I think they do exactly what they are intended to do, but they don’t currently happen enough to really be that impactful. I understand that White Wolf is going to be adjusting this mechanic in particular, as they want to get this right.

All in all, Vampire 5th Edition Pre-Alpha rules are really engaging and interesting. I didn’t get the chance to read them as much as I should have and I didn’t always run them exactly the way they were intended. Rusted Veins is an awesome module, and I really enjoyed running it. If this is indicative of what Mark Rein-Hagen, Kenneth Hite, Karim Muammar, and the rest of the team at White Wolf are creating, then I think Vampire 5th Edition will be a really exciting product.

DAV20 Dark Ages Companion Review

I’ve been struggling to do this review. Not because of the reason you might think either. Dark Ages Companion is probably one of the best books I’ve read from Onyx Path Publishing. I’ve had to stop every paragraph or two to sketch out notes while reading this book. In the 2 weeks that I’ve been actively trying to get through it, I’ve had, at minimum, 10 chronicle concepts come to mind based on elements presented in this book. This book was developed by Matthew Dawkins, and I can tell you he and his writing staff did nearly everything right.

Lords, Lieges, and Lackeys

Dark Ages Companion: for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Dark Ages is broken into eight chapters. The first six are various domains, most which have never been given a full treatment. The final two chapters are rules for building Domains and Dark Ages warfare. The final two chapters are an excellent resource for a storyteller that wants to dive deeply into these elements in their game. The Domain rules remind me of a more streamlined version of the AD&D supplement Birthright, and are effective if you’d like to include some elements of city/domain management in your games. These rules use Pooled Backgrounds as a baseline, and then go deeper. This is an excellent way of utilizing downtime and maturation rules in a way that doesn’t cause large breaks in the story.

Chapter Eight gives some deeper rules on warfare. If you want to be more accurate in your portrayal of various weapons and armor these are the rules for you. If you’d like to keep things cinematic, the core rules for the game still work fine, and you can pepper these details in as you see fit. I’m getting this stuff out of the way first. Great two chapters, but the first six are more exciting.

Plot Hooks Abound

Rome, Bath, Bjarkarey, Constantinople, Mogadishu, and Mangaluru: these are the domains presented in Dark Ages Companion. There are enough plot hooks to construct at least 100 chronicles here. Each chapter provides details on key Cainites, key elements of the domain, and key plots, disagreements, and ways to get your player characters involved. The domains are also connected in subtle ways, with plot hooks linking them to one another sprinkled throughout. This is masterfully done, very little of these connections seem forced, they are nuanced, smart, and really intriguing.

By Pat McEvoy

 

Each domain offers something different in the way of scope. Bjarkarey is small, intimate, and highly aggressive. As is Rome, which offers an interesting counterpoint to Bjarkarey. Constantinople and Bath, both drastically different in size, offer more expansive exploratory plotlines. I haven’t read enough of Mogadishu and Mangaluru yet to say what their full details will be like, but I can say from a quick look that they present a mix of large and small scale plot to throw your players into. Seriously, you’ll have to work hard not to come up with some great story concepts after reading these chapters, they are excellent.

Problems In the Text

There are very few things not to like in this book. One thing I’m not sure of though are the creatures at presented at the end of three chapters. The Black Dog, the Kallikantzaros, and the Pishacha are presented as supernatural opponents which you can utilize in your game. These are local legends related to Bath, Constantinople, and Mangaluru, respectively, but I’m not sure that makes me want to utilize them. For a Vampire game, I’ve always tried to focus on the internal darkness which plagues the Kindred, and I often shy away from ‘monsters’ which to have the PCs encounter and challenge. That isn’t how these are explicitly presented, but they do have a subtle hint of D&D encounters to them. They are there if you think they make sense for your chronicle, use them if you think it will add to your story.

I know a couple of things about Old Norse culture.

The second thing I was frustrated with is a relative historical quibble, and I’m going to explain what bothers me about it. In the chapter on Bjarkarey, there are a few mentions of blood purity and rugged individualism. Neither of these concepts is historically true to Norse culture, at all, and I find their presence here frustrating. The Norse were intensely communitarian, as you would have to be if you lived in some of the most hostile climates in Europe. The concepts of blood purity were developed by the Spanish during the Reconquista (1400’s) and would have been bizarrely strange to the Norse during the 1200’s. As a student of Norse history and a follower of Germanic religious traditions, these elements bother me. They speak to a narrative that far-right elements in society attempt to latch onto, and though they are fleeting in this text, their presence is annoying.

All in all, this is a good chapter on a culture that was still having some inter-cultural conflicts between Pagan cultural holdovers and Christian religious dominance, and it is not badly written. In fact, it’s really well developed and I immediately find myself excusing the things that bother me.

Final Takeaway on Dark Ages Companion

Buy this book. One of my favorite White Wolf books of all time is House of Tremere. I’d give that a 10/10 rating in a heartbeat. Dark Ages Companion is easily a 9/10 book. If you ever plan to play a Dark Ages game of any edition, you should own this book. The art is amazing, the writing is fantastic, and you’ll have a ton of great ideas come to mind while reading it.

A Review of Mind’s Eye Theater – Immersion Secrets

There comes a time in any hobby where, if you spend enough time involved, you reach a point where you have to either accept that you have reached the pinnacle of what you want/are able to achieve, or to continuously strive forward for an elusive perfection (I’m looking at you, Toreador). This struggle for elusive perfection can be maddening, and any help along the way is generally welcome.

 

MES: Immersion Secrets will undoubtedly help those who are beginning their journey towards perfection – its audience is clearly new-ish or uncertain storytellers, or advanced players who are leaning towards storytelling – but if you are a good way down the path towards your ideal, there’s a good chance you’re not going to find anything mind-blowing here. If you’ll indulge me –

You are making a dish you love for dinner. You’ve made it a hundred times, and you know just how to tweak it to your preferences. You’re idly scrolling through Facebook, and one of those recipe hack videos catches your eye. You watch, and you see something that makes you think, “huh, I never would have thought to try that”, and you try it. Either it works (great!) or it doesn’t (oh well, you tried something new).

 

There’s no earthshaking denouement or keys to the magical kingdom of The Perfect LARP here, but there’s a good deal of very solid material. If you don’t find a new pearl of wisdom, perhaps you will be reminded of some forgotten truths, or inspired to think about a situation in a new way.

 

Of the fourteen essays included here, I think my philosophical favorite is actually the first one, “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride”, by Jason Andrew. It contains what I find to be the truest and most valuable philosophical takeaway of the entire collection, and something that could easily be a meditation on the game theory of Mind’s Eye Theater as a whole, regardless of setting. Without spoiling it, let us say that it encourages storytellers and advanced players alike to reconsider their mental definition of the game itself, and in a very positive way.

I respectfully disagree with some of the points that are raised within this book, but as is pointed out in Andrew’s essay, “The subtle choices are nearly infinite, and they can be made to tailor the experience desired.” My choices are not your choices, and vice versa.

 

The essay that I think has the greatest utility, and in this case, I am using “utility” in the sense that it would be something that would be either seamlessly incorporated or frequently reached for, is the second essay, “Strategies for Improving Communication Between Players and Game Staff”, by Jessica Karels.

 

This one rings most true, because I’ve experienced the situations described therein from both sides of the fence. This is the essay that I would recommend ALL storytellers, of all levels, to read and re-read at least once a year. It has a brilliant subsection within the Creating a Safer Space section that will undoubtedly cause an appropriate amount of consternation and spark much-needed discussion.

The essay included that I found both helpful and distastefully clinical (a strange juxtaposition) is “Ritualizing the LARP Experience” by Dr. Sarah Lynne Bowman. It reads less like an essay and more like a scholarly paper – which is understandable given Dr. Bowman’s extensive research into the art and science of roleplaying games and game theory. This extensive research is made obvious by the bewildering addition of nearly a full page of Dr. Bowman’s bibliography at the end of her essay; a questionable design choice in a 56-page PDF.

 

While Dr. Bowman’s article contains some excellent information, particularly addressing the liminality process, its tone is vastly different from the more conversational style of the other essays. Some might find its scholarly formality frosty or difficult to assimilate, which could easily detract from the value of the information contained therein. In addition, it is far more geared, in my opinion, towards games and storytellers that are seeking a more Nordic-type LARP experience – a trend that I approve wholeheartedly, but is decidedly not for everyone.

 

My absolute favorite essay – and one that I think could be sadly overlooked if a reader is looking for easily actionable items to apply quickly – is “Silently Encouraging Immersion” by Michael Pucci, someone who I would like to buy several drinks for after reading this essay. (Don’t mind the split infinitive there – that should show you how excited I am about this essay.) The line that grabbed me by my perfectionist heartstrings is this: “If a participant needs to use a higher degree of suspension of disbelief in order to be invested in the setting and scenario, then there is a reduced sense of immersion level in the experience.”

My favorite Bradstreet Art – Check out his website

I served as a Logistics AST for a local Vampire troupe for a year or so, and I can’t tell you how often I ripped out my hair trying to find a site that would truly encourage immersion by the atmosphere it created (a process that was incredibly hard to achieve in public library meeting rooms). PLEASE, for the love of spice, READ THIS ESSAY.  It is worth the $10 purchase price on its own. There’s no earth-shaking revelations, but different eyes see clearly, and Pucci’s suggestions are solid ones.  

 

Simple does not always mean easy, nor does it always mean cheap. We ALL wish we could rent out a house in a swank neighborhood, require our players to dress to the nines, and have immediate and total immersion from the moment people get on site. That’s not going to happen, and it makes me sad, but this essay will give frustrated storytellers and their staff a glimmer of hope that, just once, the magic will work. Yes, you can get together and play Vampire or Werewolf or Changeling in a library meeting room, but simple site synergy, as Pucci terms it, adds a level of authenticity that most players won’t even realize is there, but they will respond to it in a positive way, deeping their immersion and improving the experience for all.

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In conclusion, allow me to reiterate: this is not a book aimed at average players. This is a book aimed at Storytellers and their staff, or advanced players looking to take on the mantle of Storyteller on their own (or those wanting to assist their ST in more concrete ways). Is it a worthy addition to your MET library? Possibly, especially if you are inclined to want insight into what goes into making Mind’s Eye Theater games what they are – but it would be out of place among the collection of someone who generally appreciates the flavor or splat books. At the very least, frustrated and singed-around-the-edges Storytellers and their staff will be reassured that they are not alone in their struggles, and they may find a little something extra within the pages to give their games a special pop.

 

Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as an ordinary office employee who holds vehement opinions about Oxford commas and extraneous hyphens. She is a regular columnist and editor for the High Level Games blog. 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.

Running a Facebook Fan Group for White Wolf Related Games


First, thank you to Chris for offering to do this interview many months ago when I first approached him. I wanted to understand more about what got someone to start a group on Facebook, and in particular why these games. I finally cleared my plate and sent him these questions.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into role-playing games?

I’m 39 years old, a husband and a father of three. Some of my hobbies other than RPGs are Brazilian Jujitsu, Mixed Martial Arts and reading book. I’m like ¾ knuckle dragger lol.

I actually got into RPGs in 1999 when I was in the US ARMY. I was on this detail where you have to spend 5 days, 15 hours each, walking through the desert picking up trash. A guy who was also on the detail started talking to me and I mentioned I was a fan of Anne Rice. He told me about Dark Ages: Vampire and a few weeks later he started running a game. We ended up getting deployed to Bosnia a few months later and right before we left I was at a bookstore and saw the Vampire: The Masquerade book.

I ended up picking it up and ran a game in Bosnia that was a straight up katana, trench coats, and Uzis for everyone type game. During all that though I was buying books online and having them shipped and I read one book that changed my perspective of Vampire: The Masquerade forever, Ghouls: Fatal Addiction.

After Bosnia I was stationed at another base and decided to run a grown up Vampire game, and ran Twin Cities by Night the first time. I soon though found myself taking on too many players and was starting to feel the dreaded burnout. Then one day I realized my 40 plus collection of books had been stolen. I was relived and never played a RPG again until 15 years later.

Fast forward to the spring of 2016 and I am cutting weight for a Brazilian Jujitsu and I am miserable. For those of you who don’t know, it’s pretty much eating like a rabbit and trying to ride the border between malnourished and lean for maximum weight/strength effect when competing. For some reason Vampire popped into my head and I ordered the horrible Vampire: Clan Novel Anthology there and ended up deciding I wanted to run Twin Cities by Night again and the rest is history. In summary, I am a RPG poser.

You run a few games on YouTube, and they are good. Tell us about why you decided to stream your games. What were you thinking there?

Why, thank you man, that honestly means a lot! At first I was just uploading it to YouTube so that the players and I had somewhere to rewatch our sessions, but eventually I really wanted to see if I could get some feedback, negative or positive, that could help me be a better storyteller. So, for the lack of a better term, I said F-it and started posting them on Reddit, Facebook, and the Onyx Path forums.

To be honest though, now it’s to the point here I want to share my stories, and if someone enjoys them that’s awesome, if someone has some constructive feedback that’s even more awesome, and if someone says no thank you and passes I can dig that. As I said earlier I have a knuckle dragger side to me, and before I was able to balance that out with working at getting my Master’s Degree but once I was done with school in 2016 I realized RPGing and the YouTube channel filled that hole. It is a healthy creative outlet and a blast to do it with some pals.

Ok, we know why you are playing RPGs, we know why you are streaming games, but tell us a little bit about why you decided to create a Facebook fan page.

Man, I love that Facebook page, seriously, it has a special place in my heart. As a content creator myself I have experienced firsthand how damn hard it is to get your stuff noticed. In forums and Facebook pages it is very easy for media to get drowned out by posts asking what Thaumaturgy Lure of Flames 7 and what dual bladed katanas could do against Caine (I jest, I jest…..kind of). So I started a Reddit post in the WhiteWolfRPG forum, but found that was so damn hard to do. I mean I was literally scouring the web and posting stuff I found.

I felt like a dang collector. So one day I shot Slavek, a player in games on our channel and the one poor soul who has to hear all my ideas and give me honest feedback, and tell him my idea for a Facebook group that would be like the Netflix for White Wolf RPGs. He said he was down to try it. At first I was sharing stuff I found on YouTube and other sites, but eventually my thick head thought “Why not invite these people to share themselves”. The rest, good sir, is history, and matter of fact you were one of the people I asked.

My favorite vampire meme

Do you find the group hard to manage? What are the good parts, and the bad parts?

Actually the group is rather easy to manage. It now seems to have a lot of content creators who share stuff and I am still scouring YouTube and inviting creators. The good part is to see how much content there is and seeing people connect with an audience and vice versa. Shit man, I see some big names in the scene are members of our group and are liking stuff posted. That’s rad! Bad parts, there aren’t really any but the one thing is when people don’t read the rules and get angry when I tell them the group is for sharing and viewing media.

Where do you see your group going?

I honestly don’t know, but I would say I am still surprised it is growing constantly. Who knows, but I am sure very awesome places! Positive thoughts!

Thanks again Chris for answering these questions for us. I really appreciate it, and I’m sure our readers appreciated it too.

Spring Again At Last: The Return of Changeling: The Dreaming

Now out for public consumption!


When most people describe the World of Darkness the first thing that tends to come up is gritty street wars fought between the undead and other horrors of the night. Sometimes that includes hyper violent Garou burning with deep bloody passions trying desperately to stop creeping death from consuming mother Earth, or Nephandi seeking to corrupt all they touch. However, for some, the World of Darkness is very different.  

Underlying the horrors of the first 4 WoD titles is the hidden chimerical world of Changeling: The Dreaming. When I started gaming in my mid-teens, I lived in a town where Changeling was so popular, our local LARP crew built home brew Mind’s Eye Theatre rules because they couldn’t wait for Shining Host to dive into the capricious machinations of the fae.  

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When I left my early gaming bubbles I was surprised to discover that Changeling is not the universally loved game I was familiar with. I have heard from more than a few people that Changeling is a fine game, but it doesn’t belong in the World of Darkness. So when the Changeling: The Dreaming 20th Anniversary Kickstarter succeeded with flying colors I was excited, not only that Changeling might have another life, but that with a 20th Anniversary edition the full scope of tragedy and horror Changeling represents might be brought into focus for a wider swath of players.

In many ways, the writers for C20 faced greater challenges than previous 20th Anniversary developers. Changeling never got a Revised edition, but unlike the other games in the World of Darkness, Changeling changed focus and central themes more than once during its life. There are several corners of the world that haven’t received any meaningful attention since 1st edition. The result was almost every Changeling book broke new ground, creating a much broader array of content than the line’s relatively modest word count would indicate, with several concepts and rules that were woefully out of date.

Themes

C20 tackled this challenge head on, and accomplished transforming one of the most diverse and honestly inconsistent games in the World of Darkness into a poignant, modern role playing experience. The greatest testament to this accomplishment is the sheer number of WoD fan posts I’ve seen talking about how they didn’t like CtD, but they are loving C20.

Changeling is 1 part politics, 1 part Cthonic horror, 3 parts psychological tragedy built on a pathological fear of death and loss, and some indeterminate amount of whimsy and wonder which serves more than anything to bring the first three elements into deep and painful contrast. C20 is the first Changeling book that captures every emanation of that often indescribable, unshaped mass and weaves it into a coherent whole.

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

Rules

While the thematic cohesion is a huge win, C20’s greatest accomplishment is tackling the often misunderstood rules system of Changeling. This is done, not only by tying it up into a much more balanced and manageable package, but actually expanding on the system with the concept of Unleashing. Changelings from previous editions were powerful, but deeply limited in how they could apply that power.

With the new magic rules, they now feel much more like the fae of myth and legend, able to wield the raw force of creation, but with often unpredictable and occasionally terrifying results. I have run and played in con games that used the early version of Unleashing shared during the Kickstarter and it adds a satisfying and mythic scale to the game. Beyond Unleashing, the Arts and Realms received an extensive cleanup. They were expanded in some areas, and minimized in others, resulting in a far more coherent and thematically engaging whole.

Storytelling Banality

C20 also borrows a page from modern narrative systems and builds explicit systems around your character’s emotional relationship to the world. This emphasizes the omnipresent threat of banality. In previous editions of the game, characters had a toxic (but often generic) relationship with banality. Now when you build a character, you select a variety of banality triggers, including a trigger that is unique to your character called your antithesis.  

This trigger is something the rest of your motley may find to be a minor nuisance, or in extreme cases may even garner glamour from. To you, it is the epitome of the creeping death of the coming winter. Some of the trigger dynamics could stand to be broader than they currently are, including the seeming triggers, which feel entirely too specific to me and are occasionally inappropriate for Thallain or Gallain characters, but the overall system adds a deeply personal relationship to banality that meaningfully enriches the game.   

Changes in the World

There are several other accomplishments in this edition including the expansion of the Thallain, the reworking of the Dauntain and the Autumn People, and actually wrangling Hsien Alchemy into what feels like a sleek approachable magic system. While I would love to expound on all of the edition’s strengths it would paint an unbalanced picture of the text as a whole. Much like the systems, C20 takes an often radical approach to the backstory of Changeling, and dramatically changes the canon in several areas. Some of those changes were sorely needed, such as the reframing of House Leanhaun, which changes them from arguably more evil than the Baali or Nephandi,to deeply parasitic, but playable. However, some of the changes to the canon feel unnecessary, and more problematically aren’t always well explained.

The flavor section reframes the Sidhe as being split between the Autumn Sidhe who stayed behind during the Shattering and undertook the Changeling Way, and the Arcadian Sidhe. The Arcadian Sidhe came back with the Resurgence and refused to soil their souls by fully bonding with humans. Effectively this was performed as a more violent and incomplete form of the Changeling Way where they displaced a human soul and took its place.

The Autumn Sidhe

Occasionally the text reads as though only House Scatthach and Liam took part in the Changeling Way, sometimes it frames the Autumn Sidhe in generic terminology that could  be read to imply Sidhe from any house might have gone through the Changeling Way. In the House section intro, Liam is listed as a returning House, and only Scatthach is listed as having stayed behind, and then in some of the house writeups there are subtle references to other Sidhe who stayed behind, but often in ambiguous language. The final result is honestly confusing.

During an exchange on Facebook, one of the C20 writers confirmed that any Sidhe that stayed behind became an Autumn Sidhe, which clarified things a bit, but ultimately those sorts of exchanges shouldn’t be necessary. A few explicit sentences in the Autumn Sidhe two page spread would go a long way towards providing clarity on this point. This change also wipes out broad swaths of story centering on the tragedy of the Sidhe who died in the years after the shattering because they were either trapped or chose to stay behind.

I love the addition of the Autumn Sidhe as a general concept, but less absolute framing about how all Sidhe who stayed behind became Autumn Sidhe, and all the Sidhe who returned refused to go through the Changeling Way would have cut off far less existing canon, and created messier, but more diverse plot hooks.

History Convoluted?

While the confusion about the Arcadian/Autumn Sidhe is definitely the most pronounced example of muddled narrative, there were several other smaller moments in the setting and history section that didn’t make a lot of sense, and occasionally even seemed to contradict material that appears elsewhere in the book. There is a lot to love in the C20 setting material. The conflict between the Tuatha and the Fomorians is far more dynamic than I remember in previous texts.

The role Christianity played in transforming the stories about the fae is included, which is something I’ve wanted to see in the game for a long time, but the history and setting content in C20 is best read with a strong eye towards the golden rule, especially if you have any investment in existing canon.

I’ve talked about the good and the bad of the edition’s treatment of Arcadian fae, but then there is my favorite and arguably the messiest part of Changeling, the Gallain. The Gallain are fae who are not a central part of Arcadian society. While there are a few European faeries who are considered Gallain, the term generally refers to non European faeries. Changeling has traditionally framed these spirits as either not being part of the Dreaming, such as the Asian Hsien, or in the case of the Nunnehi and Menehune, as being cut off from the Dreaming due to acts of genocide and violence committed against their dreamers. I’ve never been terribly comfortable with this framing, but I knew the writers wouldn’t have the leeway to dramatically change the way these groups functioned, but I was really hoping for a few more inclusive tweaks to the status quo.

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

Who is a part of Whom?

Occasionally the approach to non-European Changelings went above and beyond my expectations. The introduction of non-European Thallain gave the Nunnehi and Menehune a much more robust representation in the setting, but also occasionally drifted toward centering the Gallain around European stories more strongly than previous editions. The most pronounced instance of this is changing the Higher Hunting Grounds from being the Nunnehi Dreaming, which is invoked in the Changeling Player’s Guide as an equal but separate place from Arcadia, to being the Nunnehi’s home in Arcadia. On the surface this is a small change, but it recontextualizes the Nunnehi in a way that intentionally or not makes them a part of something fundamentally rooted in European mythology. The other examples of moving towards an even more European centering narrative are less blatant, but I honestly hope they are rectified in future texts.  

Overall, C20 brings Changeling into the 21st century. It is a deeply innovative take on the Storyteller System, and provides a more robust foundation to build a future line on than the game has ever enjoyed. It has done a huge service to the game by inspiring more fans to consider including Changeling in their personal World of Darkness. What C20 needs more than anything else is a full game line. It needs Gallain stories written by authors who have lived the truth of the myths being invoked, and full text expansion on the concepts that were completely reinvented for C20. This book is a monumental achievement, and it would be a tragedy of Arthurian proportions if this resurgence isn’t followed by a lasting and inspired spring of new material.

 

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Camp!? Guest Blog by THE Jason Hughes

I play in, and am a Storyteller for, the Underground Theater Vampire: the Masquerade LARP. For two years, I served as the Organizational Storyteller for the Camarilla, Anarch, Independent Alliance venue. During that time I ran a game that was heavy, dark, and brooding. Players were forced to make difficult choices at every turn and were in constant danger. Winning was surviving. The story was dark, but was it good? I had players burning out constantly.

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I stepped down from the position and spent some time thinking about how to run games that embraced the themes of Vampire and the World of Darkness, but didn’t drive players to burn out or Out of Character conflict. After a time, I realized that the great villains (which is essentially what we are all playing in Vampire) were a bit campy and weird. They all had character traits that drove them to make poor, but interesting and entertaining choices. The best of them had a touch of ridiculous about them. Victory was never enough, it had to be gained in a certain way or through certain actions. Ultimately, great villains were campy.

 

Camp can be zany or subtle. A primary complaint about injecting camp into serious games is that too many Storytellers are already doing it badly. Vampires are battling anthropomorphic snowmen with little story beyond, “Wouldn’t it be cool if?” I am not a fan of genre-breaking silliness. Stories must have depth and connection to the world that we choose to mutually inhabit. Always ask yourself, “Will the story my Players tell sound ridiculous?”

Sinister, isn’t he?

Subtle camp is the difference between executing the prisoners and creating a death trap. When I defeat someone, if I want the best outcome for my character, that defeat should be resounding and complete. However, we shouldn’t want the best outcome for our characters, we should want the best outcome for ourselves as players. Instead of a resounding defeat or complete victory, we want story – a death trap that the rival can possibly escape creates that. A Roll Squad is no fun, a Death Trap could be.

 

Camp is a difficult word. Words have meaning and power, especially in roleplaying games, especially in LARP. I choose camp because it describes the absurd, slightly tongue-in-cheek way that good LARP interaction begins with. We encourage players to be be larger than life and play fearlessly. That requires them to act in ways that are theatrical, not realistic. Subtlety does not need to be lost.

 

“Theatrically” is not a bad word for the style of play that I advocate. However, I want to draw a line between Hamlet, in which a character does some patently ridiculous things in pursuit of revenge, and Titus Andronicus, a play so violent that it makes modern slashers look tame. Both are very theatrical. The characters make big choices and extreme actions, however Hamlet has a subtlety to it that makes it more interesting. Hamlet is also a touch campy (the right kind of campy). He suffers and monologues and wallows. Hamlet acts, but indirectly and in ways that would be less than advantageous for his “player.” That’s what I seek.

 

Sir Laurence, as Hamlet, Tragedy Embodied

The unrelenting gloom and horror of the World of Darkness (and other such games) needs a tinge of the ridiculous to be great. Batman’s greatest villain should be Salvatore Maroni, the Boss of Gotham. He is deadly, smart, and has managed to keep operating, more or less, in a city protected by Batman. There are plenty of fans of Boss Maroni, but he is not the Joker. The Joker is terrifying, homicidal, and campy. In Vampire, do you want to be “Black Suit Person #27” or do you want to be “The Rabid Mongoose of the South?”

 

The purpose of camp in serious games is to increase the potential story and to not leave behind fun in the unrelenting darkness. A small amount of mustache twirling creates a rivalry instead of a enemy. A small amount of the absurd gives players that moment of relief that stands in stark contrast to the serious drama around them. Both create more, and better, story and that is the ultimate goal.

THE Jason Hughes thinks about Larp constantly. He probably has a problem. His wife is very understanding.

Interview with Nathan and Bob 25 Years of Vampire

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Nathan and Bob of the podcast, 25 Years of Vampire:The Masquerade A Retrospective were willing to do an interview with us about their show. If you are doing a WoD podcast and would like to do a similar interview, please let me know. I think it is interesting to get into the heads of those of us who are podcasting and writing about these games and why. Please click the link below to listen to the interview. You can find their podcast on their website and on iTunes.

Please click this Image or the link below to listen to the interview

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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

 

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