Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Road to Gencon 2010: New New World of Darkness?

As the second part in our Road to Gencon 2010 series, I decided to touch on what could be considered a hot topic. It's more speculative than our first part (in which I discussed D&D's new setting that will be announced at Gencon, find it here). Along with Dungeons & Dragons, there's perhaps no other game more pervasive and popular than White Wolf's World of Darkness. A long-time topic here on The Hopeless Gamer, my first big feature on the blog was my extensive chapter-by-chapter review of Geist: The Sin-Eaters which I picked up as my first purchase at Gencon 2009. Every year we've gotten a new game focusing on a different corner of the revised World of Darkness universe. Every year we've gotten hints at what's coming next year. Every year except this past one. So what can we expect to hear about this year from White Wolf? Read on to see my speculation!

The Fallout from Geist: The Sin-Eaters

Last year, everyone was stoked to see the infamous spoiler page in the back of the Geist rulebook, but there were already detractors before the book was released. It was known that Geist wouldn't be getting the full line treatment, not even as many books at Promethean: The Created received. Instead, Geist would be a game where you only had to own the fatsplat (main book) and could potentially pick up the general World of Darkness Book of the Dead. That's it, two books and you're set for the line!

Of course this also meant that there was blood in the water. Why would White Wolf limit their new product in such a way? It was an early sign that, in the months to come, White Wolf would cease practically all dead tree (i.e. physical copies versus pdf digital versions) books. Mum was the word from White Wolf on the issue, and rumors began to spread. Rumors that, to this day, are largely unaddressed by the company.

The End of Mage?

Fast forward to the release of last official Mage: The Awakening and World of Darkness general products: The Chronicler's Guide and Mirrors. I have to say that I haven't picked up the Chronicler's Guide (although it sounds very, very cool for Mage players and storytellers alike), but thanks to this thread on, it's been made public that there's an odd letter in the back of the book:

"And so, once more, we come to the end. A sort of well-deserved sleep after being Awake for a time, perchance to dream anew. As a certain fictional archmaster of Time said, “Nothing ever ends.” This Mage is ending, but your Mage can go on. That’s the wonder of roleplaying games – unfettered imagination to a degree unknown in traditional forms of storytelling. Okay, it sounds silly and pretentious, but roleplaying is a form of will-working. Every participant can change the story, mold what happens, and so shape time. Sure, it’s not too different from what an author does when he sits down to write, but in an rpg, anyone can do it in collaboration with others and on the fly. There’s no time for revisions and second drafts – in the heat of the game, what happens happens. An rpg session is a spontaneous group spell.

While I haven’t personally guided Mage’s line of game books for a while now, I’m damn pleased with the quality and imagination of every book in the line. Every book has made me want to play a new character – even a Seer of the Throne or a Banisher. Mage: the Awakening was launched as a step away from its Ascended predecessor, as a more purposefully occult setting, one that fit better into the murkier and more mysterious World of Darkness of its new siblings. It also aimed to provide a magic system that was less daunting to new players but still retained a wide-open malleability, one that both represented that hoary old trope of the “laws” of magic and the sheer, unbridled creativity of a will-worker. I like to think it succeeded in these goals, these purposes, these teloi. But don’t take my word for it – judging from sales figures, it was quite well received, despite some grumblings about Atlantis.

Ah, Atlantis. I’m pleased that the exegesis on that fabled isle’s legendry throughout history, as presented in Secrets of the Ruined Temple, better established its place in the setting not so much as the literal, historical realm of some New Age crystal gazers, but as a primordial archetype of the Magical City on the Hill, a Supernal idea casting many distorted reflections into the Fallen World. A memory of what was lost. A legend of the Fall.

Excuse me as I get this out of my system: Certain Forces have worked to bring us to this moment, but Mage is Primed to continue in the Minds of its players. While I can’t reveal what Time holds for Mage, I suspect Fate will conspire to revisit the Spaces it chartered. Think of this not as a Death but a new form of Life, in the hands of those who love it most. Its Spirit lives on with its players, and that’s what Matters.

All right, enough with the analogies. I’m supposed to be writing a farewell here, and this is becoming an elegy for something that’s not really going away. The books will still be here, even if in the years to come they’ll be primarily accessible to new players as PDF downloads — digital traces rather than ink on paper. In a sense, Mage is becoming more Supernal. Its truths will continue to emanate from its world of ideas into the games of its players.

I hope you continue to peel back the Veil of the Mysteries.

Stay Awake,
Bill Bridges
August 2009"

This all sounds awfully final to me. It's one thing to be writing in past tense (which by the way, noting that this was written last year in August, is a telling sign that the end was in sight before Geist was first released), but it really reads as though Mage, not this edition, but the game line in general, is done for new releases. As in, even if we get a World of Darkness, 3rd Edition, we're not getting a new Mage.

A Dark Future for The World of Darkness?

All of this is a simple digression from the real question though: what does White Wolf have planned next for the World of Darkness? We've seen that they plan on printing up some of their pdf releases into collected volumes such as fan-favorites New Wave Requiem, Block by Bloody Block, and collections like The Harvesters, but other than this, the upcoming year's release schedule looks about as bleak (or worse) than this past year's. Of course we can't answer the big question: is the release schedule complete, or is White Wolf holding back?

My pessimistic guess is that it's complete. I'll be honest here and admit that I'm a late comer when it comes to the World of Darkness. I couldn't tell you if White Wolf has a history of communication this poor with its fan base, but I feel that Gencon is going to be do or die for the World of Darkness.

If we hear word of a new edition, rather than launching a new wave of edition wars (which are inevitable) covering the internet, I honestly think there'll be some relief from White Wolf fans. Whether this new edition will be Print-on-Demand (PoD) or a simultaneous pdf/retail release will have unique impacts on the reaction of the fan base.

PoD /pdf only means that White Wolf, possibly under orders from their parent company, the video game producer CCP, has pretty much doomed the possibility to organically grow the brand. While true that the tabletop gaming industry is in rough shape, people do still browse their local Borders or Barnes & Noble or even make their way into their local comics/gaming/nerdery shop and pick up a new game. Further, shiney new editions are usually great money makers if handled correctly since a lot of your existing players will buy in and they tend to attract new players as an easy access point (I started collecting D&D 4th Edition, Star Wars Saga Edition, and Legends of the 5 Rings all as a result of their new edition releases). If their products and games aren't in the physical stores, there will be no new blood to infuse the game with. Unfortunately this seems like the most likely route any new World of Darkness line would go down since White Wolf has been pushing for pdf/PoD releases since before Geist was released.

What if White Wolf announces a new game to be available this Fall in your local gaming store? What if they defied all expectations and tried to innovate in their print format rather than digital? I can tell you that there will be more than one Hopeless blogger out there with a shocked, and more importantly hopeful look on his face. Let's face it: everyone knows that the new World of Darkness couldn't go on forever. Advances are always being made and the hobby is always moving forward and maturing. Older systems become clunky with too many choices and complexities in the rules, and product lines run out of steam. Do I expect White Wolf to announce a new game along the lines of Hunter, Changeling, or Geist? No, I think the new World of Darkness in its current incarnation is full-up of different supernatural beings. I do think we're going to have to hear something new from White Wolf at Gencon, and we'll be there to do our best to find out what it is and get the news to you!

EDIT: Checking out White Wolf's home page it appears all this speculation might be moot since it looks like White Wolf has decided to pass up trying to bring new players and excitement outside of their existing fans into the fold by holding off any big announcement until their "Grand Masquerade." I guess my questions have already been answered in a way - they really don't care if they bring in new players. If they did, they'd be making the announcement at Gencon, the biggest show in North America and a con not dominated by the most hardcore of their fans. It's like they're trying so hard to make people go "meh" to their entire game line.


  1. It took me a while to jump from oWoD to nWod and it will take me even longer to jump to WoD3 if it happens.

    I'd be much happier if they made something like DDI with a searchable rules wiki and slick character generator.

  2. I know they've been kicking something like this around since last Fall, but the company being White Wolf, we haven't heard anything since then. My understanding was that they were trying for a whole suite of tools from customizable SAS templates to character creators to whatever. With how many different lines they have, a character builder would be something I would snatch up in a minute.

    Who knows? Maybe they're gearing up for a 2.5 approach to the whole thing - a new World of Darkness revised? God knows Mage could use a makeover (although the afterword specifically says this wouldn't happen).

  3. I have been playing WoD since the original games came out in the early 1990s. My favorites were the Mage: the Ascension, Wraith, and Changeling: the Dreaming.

    The nWod seemed nice, especially the modular rules system, but I never could get back into the world. Vamp and Werewolf never really held my attention; the new Mage and Changeling were total turn-offs. The only line that interested me in the nWod was Promethean as well as Innocents. The lack of novels also made it clear how White Wolf felt about the nWoD compared to the oWoD IMO.

    I hate to say it, but if White Wolf closed their doors tomorrow I won't care. I already have a Promethean set and I can get any other pdfs (Mage: the Ascension) from drivethrurpg.

    It looks like the writing is on the wall. CCP bought WW merely for the intellectual property. Most of the original crew have long left the company and Rein Heigen has completely left gaming. What is left? I turned my back on WOTC when they did not renew Star Wars this spring, and other than Promethean and Innocents, I did the same to WW's new line.

    White Wolf's absolute lackluster support and extremely limited print run of BESM 3rd Edition also pushed me away from WW (I am happy to say I purchased three books early on!).

    Good bye White Wolf. I don't think I will miss you that much.

  4. I can tell you that as a GM/player/buyer/ect. of White Wolf products for a long time that I doubt they are trying to alienate new fans. However, Eddy Webb has stated that the changes that are happening to the company are of wide consequence to where he even doubts all changes will be complete by the time the new year rolls around.

    In regards the Grand Masquerade, they are testing the waters with their most dedicated fans. In a way, thanking them for the support over the years as well as the confidence in their efforts as both writers and game designers. Its a nod; a tip of the hat to them first. While not necessarily the best move, in my opinion, I can understand why they went that route.

    Another note I would like to mention in regards to the fiction. White-wolf is not showing favoritism towards their old world just by not releasing fiction. They even addressed this countless times. They HAD to cease the fiction line due to the costs for hiring writers and the like. When they made that decision, many game companies were either going under or doing major revisions to their staff. Guardians of Order, a company that WW had close ties to, went under and all their beloved licenses as well (including BESM3rd) If WW had the money to do so, I'm sure they would integrate a new fiction line, but of course, money isn't the overall issue.

    WW is restructuring, as have pointed out a little bit, CCP has changed the field a bit. A misconception, however, is that CCP bought White-Wolf. They have merged, in fact. With that merger comes new blood into the business on both sides of the water. White-wolf went from a company of a couple dozen guys to one with over a hundred, and with that, a certain level or reorganizing had to take place. It sucks that we as the fans had to wait and such for our new games, but imagine the developers plight. These are their babies they are working on, property and all.

    That brings me to my final point. I think we should have faith in them. They have always brought out a good product filled with rich ideas and stories. While maybe not filling everyone's fill for one reason or another, they still rocked the industry with some awesome products. I, for one, have faith and will hold a candle-light vigil for hope's sake that WW will amaze/entertain me as they have over my developmental teen years and into my adult life.

  5. I really do appreciate your input Alexander. I put a lot of value into White Wolf as a company and the new World of Darkness as a game line - they're stuff is just good reading and good product. Reading your response was nice to see that there are still people who are positive out there.

    I admit that I'm an extremely late-bloomer when it comes to nWoD, but the stuff's got me hooked. I just want to see good things continue for the game line. I think I may just be a little bitter about the Masquerade thing since I will be at Gencon and was hoping to have some big news to share. Hopefully I'll still be able to snag an interview and find something else out. :)


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