World of darkness: Facets and alternatives

I'd recently had a discussion with some folks about political brawling in Vamp: the Masq and was given a renewed hankering for playing something in the vein of WoD. Thinking about it, though, I realized that I have the same old problem I did back when I played: the WoD doesn't actually have great mechanics for accomplishing its thematic goals.

I thought I'd ask you wonderful folks for some suggestions for games that do succeed in that vein, and had realization-the-second: part of the reason that WoD doesn't work is that it ultimately engages so many themes, settings, and types of conflict. MonsterHearts definitely covers paranormal teen romance, but it doesn't cover, say, political wrangling, or mythic journeys (something that came up a few times in our WtA games, though one can argue about whether that was really an emergent property of the game or just our implementation.)

So, I guess I have two questions in one: what do you think is one of the most salient themes or conflicts of the old WoD games, and what are story games that you think deliver on them well?

Comments

  • Urban Shadows is absolutely the new hotness when it comes to WoD-style urban fantasy. It does that by making the city a centerpiece for intrigue, by using factions mechanically (many of the basic moves interact directly with the factions, and you advance by interacting with all factions). It also folds in a swanky new take on the Morality scale, in the form of Corruption. You mark Corruption when you do something specific to your supernatural archetype. For the Vamp, it's "feed on someone unwilling", for example. As you mark Corruption, you unlock "Corruption Advances" which give you access to power at the price of more corruption.

    In terms of the base moves, the basic mechanics of the game, they're all centered around creating and unraveling intrigue: hitting the street for contacts and info, garnering information about people by figuring them out, distracting and tricking people to create opportunities in the moment, and a "get the frell outta here" move.

    Oh, and then there's Debt. It works like Strings in Monsterhearts, and that's a pretty essential part of the genre to me. You get Debt on someone when you do them a significant favor. You can do stuff like cash it in (there's a move that lets you cash in a Debt), refuse to honor someone's Debt, and even "drop a name" by mentioning a Debt that you hold over someone else, in order to impress a third party.

    So it does cover a narrow slice of the pie, but I think it's closer to what you might be used to: a game where a diverse blend of supernatural creatures have it out and get entangled in myriad plots that all keep intersecting.

    Also, I'm not as familiar with it, but there was a game called Undying that was around lately, very strongly keyed to Vampire-specific conflict.
  • I second Undying, a very interesting game.
  • Definitely both Undying and Urban Shadows offer a satisfying game experience that covers some (many) of the core elements of Vampire the Masquerade.

    Another, non PbtA, alternative is my very own FateLess especially with the BloodLess supplement.
    It does not have specifically political mechanics, but it focuses on handling stories of strong protagonist characters, exploring their goals, they actions and their motivations (and the world around them). As a group of allies, or they might never meet, or even be enemies.
    Oh, and it's GM-Less but geared for campaign play.

    Another suggestion that comes to mind is Prime Time Adventures, especially if you think back to the old Kindred: The Embraced tv series, or (muuuch better) House of Cards but with vampires :D

    I also remember, but never played, Houses of the Blooded... maybe you can dig up some info. It was a voluminous and complex game, with lots of material to dig through.
  • Some people have also had good experiences with Annalise, although that takes a bit of a left turn from WoD, in a similar way to how Monsterhearts does.
  • I have Urban Shadows, and I find it interesting. I enjoyed AW, and I can see how that engine could drive interesting conflicts - especially with character advancement tied to interactions and horse-trading across factions. On the other hand, I have - at least in plays to date - found that AW favors direct personal character interactions, and not so much manipulating larger impersonal forces. Has anyone here played Urban Shadows yet, that can reflect on how it works out in practice?

    (Tangentially, it seems like PbtA seems to be all the rage. What is it about that engine that draws people en masse?)

    Undying certainly looks interesting; it has a strong feel of Vampire stripped down to its bones.

    I'm going to be playing Mars Colony this weekend, and I actually think that it might have potential to be adapted for a Vampire-like political game. Has anyone had experience with MC/39 Dark?
  • (Tangentially, it seems like PbtA seems to be all the rage. What is it about that engine that draws people en masse?)
    Just my $.02: it's not that it's an engine, it's that it's a template. If you can articulate your agendas and principles, you're a good way toward explaining what the point of play is, and how MCs can shape play towards those ends. And if you're looking to call out critical moments in the fiction and build structure around those moments, the various existing moves suggest a straightforward way to start doing that.

    No one piece of it is that revolutionary! But if what you're writing has an MC handling world-emulation, focuses around specific moments in a genre or setting, and doesn't need much to fiddle with mechanically, it's a great framework to build on.
  • You should try World of Darkness again but this time do what the instructions say and pick a theme. The reason it seems themeless is because the first thing the GM is told to do is to create a theme.
  • How does one do that - what does it look like? (You probably have written this up before and can just link to it, I'd imagine!)
  • large impersonal forces
    Mars Colony

    Then maybe King of the City could be a good fit.

    But also... I'm starting to think... maybe you could use Misspent Youth, where the oppressive power is some council of ancient vampires or the Camarilla in general... and the protagonists are young Ancillae ?

  • JD,

    I've come to appreciate games where the mechanics fit the theme and vice-versa fairly closely. While I was always fond of the WoD games, I was never put off by them so much by their inability to support a theme (I think that if players stuck to a theme, the mechanics didn't go out of their way to derail it), so much as the theme wasn't integral to the mechanics. I've given the newer versions a once-through - I admit to not having played them - and nothing really jumped out at me as having significantly changed on that front.

    Are there specific changes in the new WoD that you feel make my old feelings on the topic no longer accurate?

    Hasimir,

    thanks for the tip. I'll look into it now.
  • I have a friend that attempted re-playing the original Masquerade with a modern attitude.
    Thus, by the book.
    It turn out that THERE ARE almost clear mechanics for the GM about how to select a specific theme for the chronicles, how to flesh it out WITH player input, how to set things up and kind of run them... starting with the Prelude (a very specific scene that in my experience no one ever actually played)(but turns out IS integral to the good kickstart of the chronicle).

    The end result is enjoyable and, for me, way better than what I was used to, back in the '90s.
    But the rest of the rules is still a tactical wargame incoherently slapped over this highly thematic kernel, AND it all relies on wild GM fiat, AND many critical elements are left for the table (thus, implicitly, the GM) to be decided.
    So yeah... the old problems are all still there... only, turns out that the rules DID something useful, here and there.
  • edited November 2015
    Yeah, it's not a new thing. The game, across all editions, actually really hammers home that you should pick a theme, share it with the players, and set up all NPCs and situations to play to it. The fact that very few people did this is one of the real head scratchers for me. I don't want to reach the conclusion that gamers can't or don't want to read, but once you start looking around for evidence, there's a lot more than you'd think.

    How you pick it...well, I don't have a procedure or anything. But I will say that the more specific your theme is, the better you will be able to get it across.
  • Annalise is very suitable as a game about one vampire, not as a WoD replacement: its premise is playing normal people in a horror situation.
    Vampires in Annalise are monsters; having more than one would be overkill and having rules about their politics would be higher-order overkill.
  • I wrote Svart av kval, vit av lust to make a tighter, mechanically non-intrusive vampire game focusing on intrigue and the moral horror of living with the Beast. It's been very popular in the Swedish indie crowd. There's a thread on Story Games where I explain the game here, and the full game itself is availible for free here. It's in Swedish, but you could probably use Google Translate to read it, in combination with the thread above (and I'd be happy to clear up any ambiguities). Check it out if you're interested, either as inspiration or to play it.
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