Is there a sadder story in RPG history than the fall of White Wolf and The World of Darkness? I don’t think there is.

The World of Darkness (not New World of Darkness, I’m talking about the original and best version) was amazing. Few games at the time (and currently, if we can be real) matched the  scope and depth of the setting. Each game-line was filled to the brim with history and flavor, so much so that it dripped from the edges of the pages. You could open up any of the books in World of Darkness and be immersed in a world that could have very possibly been real (Mage: The Ascension does this very well). Each game had it’s own distinct story and conflicts: Vampires struggle against their bestial nature while trying to remain human, Mages fought against the crushing monolith known as the Technocracy, and Hunters attempt to save a world, that by all accounts, can’t be saved. Each book was roughly 70% flavor and world building and 40% rules, making it very much more distinct than a game like Dungeons and Dragons, where it’s all rules and very little flavor aside from a few pages for races and a couple paragraphs for classes.

Hunter: The Reckoning was the game of choice for our group. We played ourselves for the game (with some liberties taken to make the game playable). Don’t mistake this for a self-insert Mary Sue story: We were far from awesome people that did no wrong. I spent most of my time almost dead and in bed recovering, and our two friends accidentally gunned down a group of would be cultist who were just pretending to be demon summoners (The two players infiltrated the “cult” and as part of the initiation process, got tattoos done, though they didn’t realize at the time that they were tattoos from Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

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Perhaps one of our most notable stories was the one where we found ourselves in Canada (following a lead we had gotten from a fellow hunter) investigating werewolf sightings. We found a children’s hospital that had a spirit in it that was feeding off the kids and leaving some sort of sickness in them. Our group at the moment had three NPCs with us: Soldier, Boyd, and God45 (We met them through an in-game website, and they only went by their online handles). Soldier and Boyd had been through a lot together; Soldier was, well, a soldier, and Boyd was a compassionate man that wanted to save and redeem who he could. God45, on the other hand…well, he was a loose screw who we dealt with previously (he rigged a van with explosives and drove it into a police station so that he could get the police chief alone to have him clear my criminal record). We took care of the spirit, but still had the children to deal with: The taint was killing them. God45’s plan was to blow the whole place up and call it a wash; those kids were already infected with darkness and evil, they’re already dead in his eyes. That plan didn’t jive with the rest of the group too well, however. Boyd had a different plan: He had the capability to take the sickness left behind by the spirit into himself, and while it tore him up from the inside, the children would no longer be afflicted (It’s worth noting that Boyd’s ability to draw sickness into himself also allowed him to heal damage, making him our first and only healer).

We argued a bit with God about how to go about this, and he ultimately let Boyd do his thing. After a few days, the hospital was completely clear of taint. God45 was impressed with the results, and we were set to part ways at the train station. We started saying our goodbyes to our comrade, and he thanked us for showing him “a whole new way of doing things”. “Remember God, always aim for the head!” was Tony’s goodbye to God45, who was taken aback for a second, and then smiled. God45 boards the train, and as it pulls out, leans out the window and proceeds to take two shots at Boyd’s head, splattering it all over us. The table just sat there, shocked and fucked up by this unforeseen turn of events, and after composing ourselves, we swore to get revenge (that’s a story for later, however).

Fun times.

What sealed the deal for World of Darkness was that it got too big. Each game-line had it’s own metaplot, and that plot built up book after book. Many people felt that they had to buy every book that came out, or else they’d be left behind on the story. Couple this with the fact that later games didn’t mesh too well with previous games (Demon the Fallen was one in particular that flipped tables), and you begin to see how the setting began to fall apart. So much plot had built up that by time the final book in each game-line was released, several plot lines were either ignored or poorly integrated into the ending scenarios. The “lesser” game-lines (hunter, mummy, changling, kindred of the east, and demon)  were all thrown into one book, which meant that real shit like Hunter got shoved in with bullshit like Wuxia Vampires and the rest of the Monster in my Pocket rejects.

So White Wolf, in a attempt to please the peoples, remade their game. This time around in “New World of Darkness”, they re-flavored the main three games (vampire/mage/werewolf), and took away what made them unique and interesting: The Metaplot. Now, Vampires don’t know where they come from (Old World of Darkness stated that Cain was the first vampire), and it’s up to YOU to fill in the blanks! Or how about instead of being a mage that was fighting for the future of the world against a group of people trying to solidify reality into their vision of order, you can be a mage that has roots to Atlantis, and do a whole lot of fucking nothing because the game lacks substance. Did you think Frankenstein was a good story? Well, there’s a game they made where you and your friends can play as various golems and slow walk around the country and hate yourself at the same time. How about a striped down version of Wraith that lacks the flavor and world building that made the original game so interesting? No? Oh, well, a lot of people agreed with you, because they only released one splat book for the game in question (Geist). The only good things to come out of NWOD was Changling: The Lost (which followed the traditional changling lore a lot more closely than Changling: The Dreaming), Hunter: The Vigil (though not quite as good as Hunter: The Reckoning), and the blue books (the books that didn’t fit into any one particular game-line).

This new approach was highly unsuccessful, and eventually White-Wolf ceased producing print editions to their newer books. It’s sad to think that a giant in the industry has been reduced to it’s current state, one where they are hardly any sort of force to be reckoned with. We will never see another game setting as ambitious as World of Darkness again, and that saddens me. They are doing re-releases of the Old World of Darkness core books (vampire/mage/werewolf) though, and hopefully that’ll bump them back up some, but I doubt it will be enough to bring back the White Wolf that used to be.

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