[Meta Gaming] Whither White Wolf?

Thoughts on the new White Wolf, the latest round of Zak-related controversy, the political Gothic and Scandiwegian LARP.

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.}

[Read and Respond] Porky on Poseability – ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Grimdark’

Let it be known that once thy comment doth exceed in length the post upon which it is made, and demand illustration through example, thy comment be not a fitting comment, but a post in its own right, for thine own blog and not the comments section of thy peer.

Porky said some things about Oldhammer and Newhammer and the evolution or perhaps devolution of miniatures and the technology of miniatures, and I’d like to explore some of those ideas with illustrations.

Personally, I think it’s also about assembly, and the range of options in a kit. I think we could propose a simple rule: all else being equal, the more poseable a miniature, the more formless any given finished effect, and maybe the more gormless in appearance.

That’s a difficult rule to disagree with, not because I think it’s right but because of the ‘all else being equal’ qualifier and the obvious subjectivity of ‘formless’ and ‘gormless’. I’m going to take ‘form’ as having something to do with consistency, visual and tactile solidity, and implied weight or impact or presence. I’m going to take ‘gorm’ as implied presence of mind – this model is posed in some way that evokes an actual living thing rather than an inert piece of plastic, but it has to actually look like it’s doing something plausible rather than just standing around not doing very much or worse, looking actively awkward, vacant or stupid.

With that in mind, let’s do an analsis – I mean, look at some examples.

I’ll be charitable to these chaps. They have form. They occupy a space and they’re very definite in their presence. They are simple, they are solid, and they clearly denote the presence of a Chaos Warrior. That’s about all I have to say in their favour. They are also blocky, dull, and are just standing around holding their weapons nonchalantly. They’re like board game pieces; they don’t evoke a Chaos Warrior, they simply indicate where one is. Hell, if you weren’t prepared to cut new slots in their bases, they wouldn’t even face the right way (or rank up when they did unless you carefully alternated their placements). I find them formful but gormless.

Here we have their replacements, the multi-part late-nineties specimens. These chaps are more visually interesting and have a certain heft about them, though it’s true (I think) that the artificial stance of the previous Warriors lends them a bit more… solidity, I suppose? However, the mysteriously squatting legs (which seem to afflict a whole generation of GW multi-part plastics) rob them of a little dignity and it’s all too easy to overdo it on the mutations, or to notice the weird bloating when comparing bare heads and arms from the Mutation sprue to the size of the helmets and arms from the Warriors. What’s wrong with that? Were those parts originally designed for Chaos Space Marines and shoehorned in to a kit where they don’t belong? Are the Warriors themselves weirdly proportioned, with their hunches and their tiny heads and their turtle-like neck-thrusts? What do we think? Formless, gormless or both? I had a sense of certainty at the start, now I’m not so sure.

By way of a final example, let’s check out some of the current range.

They certainly have form. They occupy a lot of space and they have a sense of menace about them, a sense of weight and presence, which might be given the lie when you pick them up and realise they’re plastic. That said, they’re closed in on themselves. They march in step. They have to be if they’re going to fit into a unit. Despite the different weapons, heads, shields and other ironmongery, they’re not actually very… Chaotic. Plus, they’re just sort of holding their weapons, like the fourth edition ones. I suppose they at least look like they’re trudging grimly into battle, which is nice for display purposes and deployment, but strangely non-evocative – again, they denote rather than connote a Chaos Warrior. They show where one is without really showing how one is.

Let’s have a look at some stuff from a different range, which illustrates another dimension to this whole issue. Multi-part, in Workshopland at least, generally means ‘plastic’, and ‘plastic vs. metal’ is an ancient piece of false binary bullshit that I’d really rather not involve myself in, but I suppose I’ll have to at this point. I generally come down in favour of plastic – weight is a factor when one walks or cycles everywhere, as is the ornery nature of superglue and the crucial factor of modelling (of which more later). However, much as I like to sneer at vague feelings, there is something more satisfying about hefting a metal model than a plastic one. There is a palpable sense of solidity and presence and form there; I don’t know if it’s just the physical weight, or the idea that plastic is disposable and modern and fake while metal is honest and old-school and enduring. Let’s have a look at these lads.

http://derfeldmarschall.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/von-carstein-army-armored-skeletons.html
http://brownk29.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/army-focus-warhammer-vampire-counts.html

Metal and plastic Skeletons from the mid-Nineties. I cherish both of these for very different reasons.

Put down a unit of metal Armoured Skeletons with their coffin lid shields and there’s a sense of the static and the immobile about them that’s rendered interesting by the range of details on models which still share a pose. They all look the same (pose) and yet they look different (details). Put down a unit of Ghouls beside them and there’s a sense of the wild and primal which belies the fact that there’s only six different models in there – six different poses as opposed to one pose for a unit says a great deal. Those metal lads are much more to my liking IF I’m going to build a unit as it comes and accept the designer’s vision as definitive.

It is harder to achieve a sense of form with the plastic models. They never quite look consistent, they never quite look strong. However, I built an army out of them and not the metal ones because a) they were far more affordable and b) they encouraged and invited conversion in a way that the metals didn’t. This is the huge point which I think Porky’s missed.

Why? Because scope for poseability implies leftover freedom, space that to a degree someone other than the sculptor has to mitigate. This pragmatic blend in the name of choice conveys a less pure vision. If everything is possible, does anything carry weight?

I’d argue that leaving some freedom for the modeller and gamer to take ownership of their collection – sharing the vision, as it were – is one of the great strengths of the GW range. I’d also argue that posable plastics are much, much easier to take ownership of than single-pose metals. Poseability means you can choose which parts to add, combine kits with ease, and you seldom have to painstakingly whittle away chunky metal elements that are joined to one another in several detailed places; plastic is easy to cut and reposition and the glue moulds parts together. You seldom need to pin for load-bearing unless something’s very fragile.

This idea of design space that’s left implicit within a kit is crucial in creating a sense of agency and ownership. If anything is possible we have to decide what carries weight, we have to exert ourselves on our medium. I think the kitbashed armies I’ve done have weight and impact, albeit of a different kind to the single-piece models I’ve discussed above. I took the sculptor’s vision and saw the spaces that they’d left and found something to exploit and extend and make mine in a way that nothing out of the box would have done, and in a way that I wouldn’t have felt encouraged or invited to do had those models been solid pieces of definitive, defined, detailed white metal.

However, there’s definitely a kind of multi-part kit which actively frustrates the modeller. I’m thinking here of those kits where every possible weapon option for two unit types has to be worked in somehow. Those kits often feature separate arms and hands. Some of those arms have to work with a gun, or with a sword and board, or with a double-handed weapon, resulting in weirdly jointed and placed designs that work equally badly for any of them. Often, there’ll be a double-handed weapon that needs to join to arms that need to join to shoulders – that’s four joins to manage and which all need to fit and flow together for the model’s pose to look natural.

There’s also a kind of kit which might as well not be multi-part at all; I feel that way about the current Chaos Warriors. For all the good that choosing a helmet or a weapon or a shield does, it’s still essentially doing the same thing and it still looks crap with a halberd just slammed into the same wrists and held horizontally. I’ve done great things with those kits, in the past, and maybe one day I will do so again, but it was chuffing hard work – but it was work that I wouldn’t have felt able to do if they were single-part models.

If you were expecting some sort of conclusion, I’m sorry to disappoint you. This has been me thinking aloud, in more words than are appropriate for a blog post (roughly twice as many). You knew the risks when you joined up.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now? Concessions in Wargaming

I concede games quite often. More often, I suspect, than is widely considered proper, and perhaps more often than I should. It’s come to my attention of late that my motives in so doing are frequently unclear. If even the woman I love is sufficiently in the dark about said motives to be greatly confused and offended by my bowing out of a board game (and she is), it’s clear that some territory needs to be staked out and explored, and a case for concessions made.

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