[Meta Gaming] Whither White Wolf?

I’ve had this one in the can for a while, waiting for a moment in the content schedule to let it out. One of the downsides of trying to be more pro and organised is thinking “I could post this today but it’s not on the schedule and it’ll crowd out the regular content and argh.” This one has rather blown up – every couple of days something arrives to make it more convoluted – and now I imagine the teal deers are already bounding through the woods. Better to let it loose than wait for breathing room that never comes.

Anyway. White Wolf.

The newer, more Swedish White Wolf

Some years ago I took them to task for repeated botches of their Intelligence + Sound Business Practice rolls, and then I rather lost track of who owned what in the wonderful World of Darkness. I had my Revised books and lucked into a stash of 2e, I could still play my game, the world could go hang.

Since then, Paradox Interactive – the computer game people who were going to make the World of Darkness MMO –    {ETA: I am now aware that it was CCP, not Paradox, who oversaw development of the WoD MMO – thanks to Julius and Charles for the correction} have overseen the rise of a newer, more Swedish White Wolf. These Scandiwegian types seem to be on the ball.

For one thing, they grasp that trying to make a living as publishers of tabletop RPG books is fucking idiotic. It’s a shallow well, and it leads to the promulgation of cruft and splatbooks and shit that’s coming out because you have to try and and sell something rather than because it’s good for the game.

They also recognise that previous White Wolf rulebooks have, for all their charm and impact, aged badly – they are overwrought, poorly laid out, clunky and represent a ponderous too-many-rules style of roleplaying that needs to fucking die.

Finally, they appear to have a sense of social responsibility – a game set in the here and now is obliged to answer the here and now on some level. Oh, and the new head guy who diablerised Achilli or whatever admits the new WoD is a better setting than the old, and he’s rolling with the old one purely because it has greater clout and he can do metaplot stuff without ruining it, because it’s always been metaplot driven. Martin Ericsson is not stupid. May he be blessed with whatever it is that Swedish people like. Now get a shift on and release the Dark Pack guidelines.

Scandi LARP

Ericsson and friends are LARPers. Specifically, they’re Scandiwegian LARPers, which means a particular approach and philosophy is coming with them. This might be a bit different from the “goth scene with combat rules” that this rank outsider has always suspected Vampire LARP to be. (I make no apologies for this: I do not make a convincing vampire in my own person, nor do I do well when confined to a single character for the whole evening. Also, if the DJ drops a Sisters song I reserve the right to job off and wave my limbs around, no matter who says they’re Prince.)

These high-profile mass LARP events are the future for Vampire et al, and despite my personal disinterest in the arena, I think they’re fundamentally a good thing. They create something which can be shown, rather than told about; they are content, and in my day job I have learned that content is king. They rest on a foundation of negotiation, trust and consent – care, rather than justice – which is ultimately quite healthy. If everyone’s in the trust tree, the game can be pushed to its full potential rather than having to circle at the lower tiers because someone doesn’t think it’s fair.

(I might have a ‘wrongheaded’ approach to these things. In my book, everyone involved in a given session of play needs to be more or less on the same level. That means adjusting the group to fit the desired level of play as much as adjusting the level of play to fit the desired group. Know your players, and their boundaries, and don’t be afraid to say “look mate, I don’t think my Thursday night game of elegantly restrained erotic politicism is really the right place for someone who has custom futanari art on all his accessories and a gun catalogue in his rucksack, but how about you come to the all-out Sabbat game on Tuesday and your Lasombra can tentacle-fuck all the goons he likes.” I believe in managing expectations and selecting players so that the X-card is seldom necessary, and if it is necessary, I’ve de facto fucked up somehow.)

Video Games

Instead of being fucking idiotic, the new White Wolf is essentially going to be a video game company. That’ll keep the lights on, and the tabletop stuff will be produced out of the setting bibles that the games will need anyway. Tabletop will be the soul rather than the heart of the beast. This is good business and I’m not just saying that because it means more WoD computer games.

They’ve already released two interactive-storytelling bits, with the third (for Wraith of all things, be still my spectral heart) on the way, and announced a proper computer game… for Werewolf. Well, it’s probably about time. I’ve never been that into Werewolf but I’m willing to be persuaded by a well-tuned, party-based, richly-characterised party-level RPG that illustrates why werewolves are worth giving a damn about.

Notably, Ericsson is picking a side in the kultur wars. This is sure to provoke some delightfully tiresome discourse, but here’s the thing. White Wolf has always been anti-authoritarian, punk rock as fuck, and only just right of Trotsky. If you weren’t expecting the new White Wolf to weigh in as a device for asking questions like “what is the price of achieving one’s political ends through violence” you were tone-deaf from the start. This is what they’ve always done.

Individual storytellers may have tuned that down in favour of scaring the bollocks off their players or seducing goth princesses round candelit tables, but the monsters White Wolf uses have always functioned as political metaphors. Vampires are about class and aristocracy and privilege. Werewolves are about civilisation and the primal imperative and the attempt to control ourselves. Mages are about control of their environment, the imposition of will on the world. Faeries are about the forgotten past and the refusal of beliefs to sit down and die. Wraiths are about loss, and conscience, and our relationship with ourselves – when all’s said and done, can you look yourself in the mirror every morning?

Yeah, they’re about other stuff as well, and they have to function as fun game experiences and all that, but you’re only turning the “Gothic genre as political” slider down – you’re not turning it off.

Preludes – Vampire and Mage

I’ve bought the Preludes and I’ll be giving them a review on the YouTube channel once I’ve had a chance to actually play them. Spending this weekend sorting out a collaboration with another small channel, though, so it’ll be during the week. Early reports suggest it’s atmospheric. It is alleged to make a statement about where White Wolf wants to be in ref. current events, the Discourse, and the great false binary that defines gamerkultur in this foul year called 2017. It may not be a very good computer game though. “Interactive novel” is apparently a better word for it. I suppose we’ll see.

{ETA: Either the PC version doesn’t work very well or I’m stupid. It took two attempts to get the thing running, and the first instruction betrays its ported-from-mobile origins and doesn’t implement well through mouse clicks. I’m not buying the Android version as well, dudes.}

I also gather that Zak Sabbath has been involved in some capacity. Oh dear. Why oh dear? Read on.

Zak S and the Death of the Author

Zak’s involvement makes sense. He’s an award-winning dark talent, a thought leader in the gaming discourse, in contact with the kind of talent and the kind of politics White Wolf wants to be associated with (edgy, confrontational, get-shit-done, Left-leaning art-as-politics – the likes of China Mieville and Molly Crabapple). Getting him on board has a certain “we’re back and we’re so damn good we got this big name D&D guy” flair to it. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see his name attached to the White Wolf revival, since in all respects other than not being D&D it’s very much his jam and I seem to recall he spoke well of Martin’s intentions for White Wolf when the revival began.

His involvement is also an inevitable maypole of controversy, because where he goes, his combative style of discourse goes, and his online persona goes. Said persona is what it is. Zak makes a living by creating content, and therefore his public persona should think itself and what it does are brilliant, and spend a lot of time protecting its reputation from allegations of BadWrong or crime, because that’s how the business has to work. I don’t get on well with Zak’s e-persona, I find him difficult at best to deal with, but I understand why the persona acts the way it does.

However, partly because of the serious allegations made and partly because of the way Zak’s persona operates when responding to allegations, the discussion has become about him and what he’s said and done and what people have said and done to/with/about him. He didn’t start this round, as far as I can tell – this is raking of old muck by people who don’t want to see an alleged/debunked/suspected harasser with a large and vocal ‘fandom’ and ‘hatedom’ given a platform by White Wolf. Nonetheless, muck was raked, and the fellow is professionally and personally obliged to enter the fray and address it, and here we go again.

As ever with arguments on the Internet, it has become a disparate thing taking place on multiple social mediaplatforms, with disparate persons and levels of bias arguing the same thing with different levels of information and input. As ever with arguments on the Internet, it has become a morass of sock puppets, deleted comments, impersonations and obliterations of the paper trail. If you’re half an hour late to the party it’s bloody difficult to establish who said or did what to whom and on what grounds, which also makes proving or disproving the charge of harassment into a right pain in the arse.

{ETA: Moderators on the VtM Facebook Page have deleted the thread to which I linked previously, and issued justification. Now, it’s their page and they can do what they like with it, but I would have welcomed notice so that the discussion – which to my mind was constructive, albeit tense, and nothing like my idea of a ‘flamewar’ – could have been archived for reference. Once a thing has been said it should remain said.}

I know what people are like. Screenshots can be faked, accounts can be created and uncreated with a flick of the wrist, cliques can be mobilised and the facts can be obscured. I hate it. It’s the worst fucking thing about the Internet, and I hate having to expect ill intent on everyone’s part (because presuming good intent has brought me into these shitstorms before, playing a significant role in that nervous breakdown I had recently).

White Wolf claim they’ve investigated and found no evidence of harassment. {ETA: One of the previous victims, David Hill, another White Wolf employee, casts doubt on this claim. Zak’s take on things seems most up to date here.} I have no way of proving a damn thing to my own satisfaction, or knowing who’s doing what and in whose name to who, so… I await to see how this shitstorm turns out. There is no such thing as bad publicity, but there are a lot of j’accuses in the air – not the best start for the new White Wolf.

{ETA: White Wolf issues statement of regret. Read it and make up your own mind. For what it’s worth, this is still mostly muck-raking. White Wolf claim they did the diligence and decided they had more to gain than lose by associating with Zak. From a cultural/political legitimacy point of view they’re right.}

Thank gawd for the Death of the Author, eh? At least it’s intellectually legitimate to talk about the work as detached from its creator, even if Camille Paglia would disapprove. I gather that more hyperactive channels already have their Let’s Plays coming out, but I have a consistent schedule to maintain. Maybe I’ll do Preludes on Thursdays, before the elegantly restrained political eroticism.

{ETA: Either I’m thick as shit or Preludes is badly ported to PC. Possibly both. Either way, clicking on the simulated mobile phone in the PC port (which strikes me as a lazy-ass way to do a PC port) doesn’t seem to do owt. Unimpressed.}

More on this as details emerge.

{ETA: The multiple edits this morning are attempts to fix the formatting of the post – the final paragraphs keep clustering together instead of carriage returning like a good wall of text.}

9 thoughts on “[Meta Gaming] Whither White Wolf?

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  1. Oh Vampire was a big part of growing up in the 90s. I haven’t looked in the books for ages but I can imagine that they aged badly.

    The way WW advanced the storyline which ultimately led to the collapse of the game is probably the strongest reason that I do not want 40k to more forward.

    I saw the new game in the App Store, but haven’t picked it up. Worth it?

    1. White Wolf and GW as was both had the same problem: people wanted the shoe to drop, and people feared the consequences of the shoe dropping. Gehenna, or the End Times, mean the end of the world, but once you’ve started THREATENING the end of the world in any serious sense people expect you to deliver.

      I think Gehenna was the right choice, though. Make no mistake: it was a choice, set in motion with the publication of VtM: Revised Edition and executed over several years. The old World of Darkness could not carry on forever, not as a ‘living’ game anyway. There are only so many new editions and new splatbooks that can be published before you’re just farting out stuff for the whales who’ll buy anything with your logo on it. It’s not creatively fulfilling, I’d hazard, and it’s not necessary for play either. GW have managed to eke out a decade or so of new life by hard-resetting the entire rules system but it’s not sustainable – eventually, you run out of design space, and you either have to start over or call it a day.

      I’m glad to see White Wolf back in business, and the commercial reality of the matter is clear: they have to make profitable stuff, which means computer games based on the classic WoD setting, ’cause that’s what’ll sell best. Sadly, I still can’t tell you if the new game is any good. I haven’t had time to try and negotiate with the Steam version and I’m not buying it twice just to play it on a mobile phone.

      From what people are telling me, it sounds like an interactive version of the overwrought, edgy fiction you find at the beginning of White Wolf books, with some slightly dubious “you have to do this sequence of five things EXACTLY RIGHT or you die” design choices, reminiscent of early PC adventure gaming and not boding too well for White Wolf’s escape from the Eternal Nineties. BUT I haven’t played it yet. That’s just what I’ve been able to derive from the reviews of others.

      1. 40k have never been a living story but a setting; given that the galaxy is a mighty big place there is no need to focus the actions of a few characters or advance the storyline. That’s what Horus Heresy is all about. I would rather have books fleshing out war zones and subsector than a final march on Terra.

        When White Wolf awoke the Antediluvian they ended up in a position where the only way forward was to kill the game and reboot it all. To me there was no need to do that really. They could have focused on new cities and new campaigns.

        End Times is the Siren’s song for designers.

        Do everything right or die game mechanic sounds alot like the Solo adventure books like Lone Wolf and far from free form or open end things of today.

        1. 40K is a living story if GW want to make it a living story. It only stops being a living story at your table if you choose to make it so.

          The Heresy was engineered from the start as a narrative with a beginning and an end. That’s how it makes sense. Horus has to complete his fall at some stage.

          I feel like you’ve missed a point somewhere, or perhaps you’re trying to contest this and I’m not reading you right. It may be time for me to revise and re-release the essay ‘On Closure’, where I talked about this at greater length… the point I tried to make there, and restate now, is that there’s only so much product you can put out before the setting is saturated and people have had enough. That point is usually reached long after more product became necessary for enjoyable, quality play. White Wolf couldn’t keep doing shitty railroady campaign supplements and varyingly-useful By Night books and theme-distorting splats forever. They realised that two editions in and shifted to the ‘living story’ approach so they could create a product line which would END at some point, achieve some sense of closure rather than chasing the fallacy of infinite growth.

          I admire the effort to bring the old WoD material back into print for people who didn’t want to pay collector’s prices for it – that was nobly done – but it’s ultimately just another edition cycle of something that’s done and dusted and better for it. Dead games are the best games. They’re not being fucked with for the sake of putting some product out and paying the developers’ mortgages. That gamers balk at a ‘dead’ product without active releases is one of the saddest quirks of our kultur, and gives weight to the painful argument that we’re all defining ourselves by our consumption habits and not by what we create though play.

    1. I haven’t had the time or inclination to get them working on my PC. Most of last week was spent writing/playing tabletop games/relearning how to WoW semi-decently for an exhibition video I’m making. To be honest, I’ve heard they’re not that great as games, in a way that actively frustrates me as a player, so I might write off the fiver or so I spent on them and chalk it up to experience.

      1. Ah, I see. Just been curious.
        I played both of them and do think the Mage one is okay and the Vampire one actually good (just imo). Though I can see why they might not be enjoyable to all players.

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