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World of Darkness

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World of Darkness
The series logo shows the text "World of Darkness" in a black, all-caps font, with the "K" in "Darkness" stylized to descend below the baseline.
Series logo
TypeTabletop role-playing games
GenreHorror
Creator(s)Mark Rein-Hagen
Publisher(s)
Owner(s)
  • White Wolf Publishing (1991–2006)
  • CCP Games (2006–2015)
  • Paradox Interactive (2015–)
First releaseVampire: The Masquerade
July 1991[1]
Latest releaseBeast: The Primordial
March 30, 2016[2]
Sub-seriesChronicles of Darkness
Related media

World of Darkness is a series of tabletop role-playing games, originally created by Mark Rein-Hagen for White Wolf Publishing. It began as an annual line of five games in 1991–1995, with Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, Wraith: The Oblivion, and Changeling: The Dreaming, along with off-shoots based on these. The series ended in 2004, and was rebooted with a new line of games; in 2011, the original series was brought back, and has since been published concurrently with the Chronicles of Darkness reboot.

The games in the series have a shared setting, also named the World of Darkness, which is a dark, gothic-punk interpretation of the real world, where supernatural beings such as vampires and werewolves exist in secrecy. The original series' setting has a large focus on its lore and overarching narrative, whereas Chronicles of Darkness's setting has no such narrative and presents the details of its setting as optional.

The series has been well received critically for its setting, writing, and art direction, and has won or been nominated for awards. It has also been commercially successful, with millions of game books sold; by 2001, Vampire: The Masquerade was the second highest selling tabletop role-playing game after TSR, Inc.'s Dungeons & Dragons. The series has been adapted into other media, including the television series Kindred: The Embraced, web series, novels and anthologies, comic books, card games, and a line of video games.

Games[edit]

Logo for Vampire: The Masquerade
The series began in 1991 with Vampire: The Masquerade.

The original World of Darkness series consists of seven core lines of role-playing games which were originally released from 1991 to 2002 – Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, Wraith: The Oblivion, Changeling: The Dreaming, Hunter: The Reckoning, and Demon: The Fallen – as well as off-shoots based on these, such as the Asia-themed Kindred of the East and the historical Vampire: The Dark Ages.[3]

The 2004 reboot series, Chronicles of Darkness, consists of ten game lines – Vampire: The Requiem, Werewolf: The Forsaken, Mage: The Awakening, Promethean: The Created, Changeling: The Lost, Hunter: The Vigil, Geist: The Sin-Eaters, Mummy: The Curse, Demon: The Descent,[3] and Beast: The Primordial[4] – and the upcoming Deviant: The Renegades.[5] Most of these are based on concepts from the original series, either directly as with Vampire: The Requiem and Vampire: The Masquerade, or indirectly as with Geist and Wraith, both of which deal with spirits.[3]

Both series are supported with supplementary sourcebooks detailing backgrounds and character types, which can be used when creating adventures for one's players; pre-made adventure modules have also occasionally been published.[6][7] The Chronicles of Darkness sourcebooks in particular present the information as optional and something one may choose whether to include in one's game.[7] The books often take the form of a book describing a location as it is portrayed in the setting, such as Vampire: The Masquerade's series of By Night books and Werewolf: The Apocalypse's Rage Across series.[8][9] Several splatbooks – sourcebooks detailing character classes or organizations – have also been published, such as the Clanbook series, describing vampire clans, and the Kithbook line, covering types of fae.[3][9]

Common elements[edit]

The games in the original series are set in a shared universe, also named the World of Darkness.[10][11] The setting is a dark, gothic-punk interpretation of the real world, rife with corruption. In it, supernatural beings such as vampires, mages, and werewolves exist in secrecy, influencing humanity and clashing against each other; players take the roles of these beings. The series as a whole is themed around personal horror, while individual games also have their own themes, such as redemption and humanity in Vampire: The Masquerade, and hubris in Mage: The Ascension.[12] Player characters in World of Darkness belong to various classes, such as Vampire: The Masquerade's vampire clans, and Werewolf: The Apocalypse's werewolf tribes.[7] The series is known for its focus on metaplot – an overarching story for the setting that advances as new game books are released, introducing change.[3][7]

Whereas the original series has a large focus on lore and background information for its setting,[12] the urban horror Chronicles of Darkness setting is less so;[7][12][13] it does not have a metaplot, and it presents any setting information as strictly optional to include in campaigns. With its lesser focus on lore and less defined world, Chronicles of Darkness also streamlines the character types, taking the many vampire clans and werewolf tribes from the original series and stripping them down to five each.[7]

The person leading campaigns – a role called a gamemaster or dungeon master in other games – is called a storyteller in World of Darkness, highlighting how the series is more focused on collaborative storytelling than on battling enemy characters or on players overcoming the game leader's challenges; the rules exist to give players a framework for telling stories, and players are rewarded by being part of the setting rather than by escalating power levels.[12] The reboot series, with its lesser focus on lore, has a larger focus on making the gameplay systems work together, enabling easier cross-over play between the different Chronicles of Darkness games.[12]

History[edit]

1990–2006: White Wolf Publishing[edit]

A 2015 photograph of Mark Rein-Hagen.
The series was originally created by game designer Mark Rein-Hagen.

The World of Darkness series began development in 1990 by game designer Mark Rein-Hagen at White Wolf Publishing, as his next major role-playing game project after 1987's Ars Magica. Designed as the first in a planned series of five annual games, Vampire: The Masquerade was released in 1991, and was followed by Werewolf: The Apocalypse (1992), Mage: The Ascension (1993), Wraith: The Oblivion (1994), and Changeling: The Dreaming (1995), all set in the same world and using the Storyteller rule system. This rapid expansion with new games, although successful and capturing players' and the industry's interest, led to often flawed first editions, prompting several revised, new editions of the core rulebooks between 1992–2000, resulting in Mage: The Ascension morphing a lot between its editions as its themes changed. Ars Magica was initially tied to World of Darkness and used as a historical backdrop, and Ken Cliffe assigned to develop its third edition (1992).[3] Mythic Europe was used as a background for the World of Darkness: Tremere house reused as a vampire clan in Vampire: The Masquerade and the Order of Hermes as a tradition in Mage: The Ascension. However, the rights to Ars Magica were sold to Wizards of the Coast in 1994, and the histories of the games diverged.[3]

Rein-Hagen constantly moved on to designing new games after finishing one,[3] designing all the original five games except Mage: The Ascension, which was designed by White Wolf Publishing's founders, brothers Stewart and Steve Wieck, and Chris Earley;[3][14] as such, new staff were brought in to manage the game lines, including Andrew Greenberg for Vampire and Bill Bridges for Werewolf, who came to define the look and feel of the series. An economic downturn for White Wolf Publishing in 1995–1996, caused in part by bookstore returns for World of Darkness novelizations, led to a falling out between Rein-Hagen and the Wieck brothers, after which Rein-Hagen left the company. As the original planned five annual games had already been published, White Wolf Publishing next devised a new model of role-playing games with a historical setting based on previous games, resulting in Vampire: The Dark Ages (1996), Werewolf: The Wild West (1997), and Mage: The Sorcerers Crusade (1998), of which only Vampire: The Dark Ages sold well; this led to the cancellation of the underperforming Wraith line, with the release of the historical-setting Wraith: The Great War and the 1999 supplement Ends of Empire, which functioned as a finale to the game's metaplot.[3]

In 1997, White Wolf Publishing developed another model, where they would release a game that required another World of Darkness rule book to play, which thereby would get the same attention as a new stand-alone core game without requiring them to further support it with supplements; this was used for 1997's Mummy Second Edition and 1998's Kindred of the East, and the 2001 Mummy re-release Mummy: The Resurrection. The two final major modern-day-setting World of Darkness role-playing games, Hunter: The Reckoning and Demon: The Fallen, followed in 1999 and 2002, after which White Wolf Publishing returned to historical-setting games with Victorian Age: Vampire and Dark Ages: Vampire, a new edition of Vampire: The Dark Ages, and a line of Dark Ages games based on other World of Darkness games that, like Kindred of the East and Mummy, required a main game's rule book to be played. A final game, Orpheus, was released in 2003 as a sequel to Wraith.[3]

In 2004, following dwindling sales, White Wolf Publishing ended the series with the major event Time of Judgment, with a line of books that brought the overarching narratives of Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, Changeling: The Dreaming, Demon: The Fallen, Hunter: The Reckoning, Kindred of the East, and Mummy: The Resurrection to an end. Following this, Ken Cliffe rebooted the World of Darkness series with the 2004 rulebook The World of Darkness and released new game lines with updated Storytelling System gameplay rules and a new setting, beginning with Vampire: The Requiem in 2004 and Werewolf: The Forsaken and Mage: The Awakening in 2005.[3]

2006–2015: CCP Games[edit]

The logo of CCP Games
CCP Games acquired White Wolf Publishing and World of Darkness in 2006.

In 2006, the Icelandic video game developer CCP Games acquired White Wolf Publishing and their intellectual properties, with the intention of adapting World of Darkness into a massively multiplayer online role-playing video game (MMORPG); business continued as usual for a while, until CCP Games started moving White Wolf Publishing staff over to MMORPG production in 2009, halting tabletop role-playing game production.[3]

The CCP Games incarnation of White Wolf Publishing published their last print products for distribution in 2011, with Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition, an update of the pre-reboot game; when CCP Games laid off large amounts of their staff the same year, leaving few resources to produce tabletop games, White Wolf Publishing's creative director Rich Thomas formed a new company, Onyx Path Publishing, which licensed both World of Darkness series, continuing support for them and producing new content. This included further 20th Anniversary editions of games, and new games like 2013's Mummy: The Curse and 2014's Demon: The Descent;[3] these projects frequently used crowdfunding for financing.[15]

2015–present: Paradox Interactive[edit]

White Wolf Publishing and its intellectual properties were sold again in 2015, to the Swedish video game publisher Paradox Interactive.[16] Following this, the rebooted World of Darkness series was renamed Chronicles of Darkness, while the original series remained as World of Darkness, to prevent confusion among players over there being two series and settings with the same name;[17] prior to this, the two had been distinguished from each other by being referred to as the Old or Classic World of Darkness and the New World of Darkness.[3][18] Onyx Path's planned Vampire: The Masquerade 4th Edition, which had been announced only a few months earlier,[15] was cancelled following this, as Paradox Interactive planned to publish their own fifth edition.[19][a]

The Paradox Interactive incarnation of White Wolf Publishing released the fifth edition of Vampire: The Masquerade in 2018, which included references to neo-nazis and a character interpreted as being a pedophile, leading to accusations that they were catering to neo-nazi groups. White Wolf Publishing denied that this was their intention, and apologized for the content.[20] Following the use of the real-world anti-gay purges in Chechnya as the backdrop for fictional events in Vampire: The Masquerade sourcebooks in what Paradox Interactive's vice president of business development described as a "crude and disrespectful" way, Paradox Interactive restructured White Wolf Publishing to be integrated directly into Paradox Interactive, made changes to White Wolf's leadership, suspended sales and printings of the books, and decided to no longer let White Wolf Publishing themselves develop and publish World of Darkness games.[21] The material in question was removed from the books, and Vampire: The Masquerade development was moved to the licensee Modiphius Entertainment and its collaborators including Onyx Path Publishing.[22][23]

In 2020, Paradox Interactive announced new changes: starting with the 2020 book Vampire: The Masquerade Companion, they would themselves, headed by creative lead Justin Achilli, develop new core game books going forward, while collaborator Renegade Game Studios would develop games and books outside of the core. Along with this reorganization, Paradox Interactive also announced that all World of Darkness material from then on would be developed together with sensitivity reviewers to ensure that they portray themes and topics respectfully.[24] In addition to tabletop game development, the World of Darkness team at Paradox Interactive plans the setting's overarching narrative, and coordinates with outside developers, such as those of World of Darkness video game adaptations, to ensure cohesion.[25]

Related media[edit]

In addition to the tabletop role-playing games, the series has expanded into other media, with video games, card and board games, the Mind's Eye Theatre series of live action role-playing games, novels,[3][26] fiction anthologies,[27] comics,[28] the 1996 television series Kindred: The Embraced,[29] the web series L.A. by Night, Vein Pursuit, Seattle by Night, and The Nightlife,[30][31] and an in-development film and television franchise.[32] Although World of Darkness multimedia projects stopped for some time, production began anew after Paradox Interactive acquired the series.[30]

A top-down view of a two-player game of Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, with cards laid out on a table.
A two-player game of Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

A collectible card game based on Vampire: The Masquerade was released by Wizards of the Coast in 1994 as Jyhad, before being re-launched a year later as Vampire: The Eternal Struggle;[3][33] Wizards of the Coast continued publishing until 1996, and then White Wolf took over, publishing it in 2000–2010.[3] In 2018, Black Chantry Productions licensed The Eternal Struggle, reprinting old cards and continuing production of the game.[33][34] Following The Eternal Struggle, White Wolf also published a collectible card game on their own, Rage, based on Werewolf: The Apocalypse, from 1995 to 1996, which was even more successful than The Eternal Struggle; Five Rings Publishing licensed it, and continued producing it in 1998–1999.[3] Two other Vampire: The Masquerade card games, Vendetta and Rivals, are planned for release in 2021 by Horrible Guild and Renegade Game Studios, respectively.[35][36] A story-based board game, Vampire: The Masquerade – Chapters, is in development by Flyos Games.[37]

A large number of World of Darkness novels and anthologies have been published,[27][38] starting with the Werewolf: The Apocalypse anthology Drums Around the Fire in 1993,[3] and were described by What Do I Read Next? A Reader's Guide to Current Genre Fiction as "old-fashioned adventures" in the style of pulp fiction.[27] The books were popular and helped White Wolf grow,[3][38][39] and were described as leading among horror novelizations by The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror in 1996,[40] but were in the end not financially successful, due to book chains closing mall stores in 1995–1996 and returning a large amount of unsold books to the publisher.[3] By 1998, What Do I Read Next? considered the novelizations to have improved in quality, citing White Wolf's move to commissioning established horror and fantasy writers;[27] in 2002, Black Gate considered Andrew Bates's Year of the Scarab Trilogy a standout compared to previous "lackluster" World of Darkness novels.[41] New World of Darkness novelizations started to disappear around 2006,[3] but have since resumed.[42]

The series has been adapted into comics, sometimes published in the World of Darkness tabletop game books,[43] but also as comic books, including Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse lines published by Moonstone Books in the early 2000s,[44] and a Vampire: The Masquerade series published by Vault Comics since 2020.[28]

Video game adaptations of the series have been developed, based on Vampire: The Masquerade, Hunter: The Reckoning,[45] Mage: The Ascension,[46] Werewolf: The Apocalypse,[47] and Wraith: The Oblivion.[48] Critical reception of the games has varied, ranging from average to positive,[b] with 2004's Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines standing out, being described by video game publications as a cult classic[53][54][55] and a "flawed masterpiece";[56][57][58] when Paradox Interactive acquired the series, they had considered Bloodlines the "crown jewel" among the World of Darkness intellectual properties, and something they knew from the start that they wanted to bring back with a sequel.[59]

Reception[edit]

World of Darkness has been critically well received, with several of its games having won or been nominated for awards,[c] and with Vampire: The Masquerade having been inducted into the Origins Award hall of fame.[67] The series has also been highly successful financially, primarily in the United States, with over three million game books sold by the late 1990s;[11][68][69] around 1995, new World of Darkness releases were frequently top sellers, making White Wolf the second biggest publisher of tabletop role-playing games at the time after TSR, Inc.,[3] and by 2001, Vampire: The Masquerade was the second best selling tabletop role-playing game after TSR, Inc.'s Dungeons & Dragons.[70] Onyx Path Publishing's crowdfunding campaigns for World of Darkness games and material have also been very successful, particularly those for the original series, such as the 20th Anniversary editions of Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Mage: The Ascension.[3]

The series' setting, plot, and art direction have been well received,[d] with Rue Morgue describing the series' "fabulous artwork" as one of its major strengths,[71] Fenix praising the series' mood and the quality of the writing,[72] and Realms of Fantasy appreciating the broad scope and the familiarity to players due to being based on the real world.[73][76] Some publications found the setting too crowded or defined, however;[7][74] Diehard GameFan thought this took away from opportunities for horror,[74] and Tor.com thought it left little room to tell new stories, often choosing to ignore the metaplot when running games.[7] In his book series Designers & Dragons, Shannon Appelcline considered the series' focus on metaplot to likely be what had caused sales to dwindle prior to the reboot, as players would have stopped playing the games when feeling they could not keep up with the story. Reactions to the Chronicles of Darkness setting have been divided, with some preferring the original series' setting for being more fantastical and grand in scale, and some the reboot's more realistic setting.[3]

The original series' rules were criticized by Arcane as, although generally easy to understand, often having confusing and unclear combat rules,[77] while Tor.com described them as having a recurring problem with statistical anomalies.[13] The updated gameplay rules of Chronicles of Darkness were however generally seen as a big improvement,[e] and seen by critics as fluid, elegant and open-ended, to the point where Tor.com and Backstab recommended using them even when running non-Chronicles of Darkness games.[f] Fenix appreciated the speed of creating characters and of playing, comparing the system of dice pools and dots favorably to number-based role-playing game systems.[79]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The difference in numbering comes from how Onyx Path had planned their 4th Edition as a follow-up to the third Vampire: The Masquerade version, Revised Edition,[15] seeing the 20th Anniversary release as a compilation rather than its own edition, whereas Paradox Interactive counts 20th Anniversary Edition as version 4.[19]
  2. ^ [49][50][51][52]
  3. ^ [60][61][62][63][64][65][66]
  4. ^ [7][71][72][73][74][75]
  5. ^ [3][7][13][78]
  6. ^ [7][13][78][79]
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