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

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.

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.

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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

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.