If I was to play a game set in some semblance of the now-classic “World of Darkness” – the setting for Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, and Hunter – I’d want to make two big changes. The first would be to completely not use the Storyteller System. The second would be to start with mundane, everyday characters and run a Prelude campaign.
Why a Prelude?
Firstly, what is a Prelude? All of the classic World of Darkness games published by White Wolf through the 1990s included the advice to start your chronicle (campaign) in this way:
Before your chronicle gets underway, it’s a good idea to have the Storyteller run a prelude for each character… As a general rule, set your prelude at some significant moment right before or right after your character’s Awakening.Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition (2015), p. 272
In this example, the Mage characters start out as mundane humans right before they Awaken to their powers. In Vampire, the prelude is the life before you get bitten. In Werewolf, well… you get the idea.
Why start here? Firstly, this is a great way to encourage the players to develop their characters into more-rounded beings through the medium of play. One of my goals with roleplaying games is to discover interesting characters and my preference is to do that through playing with them. This avoids the tedious creation of “backstories” and places the focus on play.
Secondly, a prelude allows a new player or someone unfamiliar with the setting to learn alongside their character. This bringing together of the perspective of the player and the perspective of the character leads to a deeper sense of connection between them. This is turn leads to a more rich sense of Character-immersion.
Thirdly, the player and character’s discovery of the “realities” of the fictional World means that your players don’t need to go read hundreds of pages of setting material before they can play. Instead, as a Mage awakens or a Vampire discovers their powers, your players will also be discovering the way things work in the world. This leads to deeper Otherworld-immersion and offers many rich tales as the players figure things out.
Why a Mundane?
Mundane means a regular human being from the World of Darkness. These are regular folks who are basically either tools of or prey for the creatures of the night. Starting with a regular mundane human means that players can calibrate to the baseline “realities” of the World. Once they become empowered, later in the Prelude, they will have a much clearer sense of the changes that have occurred.
From a practical standpoint, newer players learning to play with a mundane human will also have less to think about for those first few sessions. A run-in with a street gang or an encounter with a store robbery will give them interesting experiences but also help players to learn the basics of what to expect on the streets and also learn the rules they need to grasp.
In the end, playing a mundane who will eventually become empowered is a cool experience and a rewarding process to go through. When their character does enter the “real” world of the setting, seeing things as they truly are, the whole process will be more meaningful because the player will be transforming their understanding alongside their character’s awakening.
Why Not The Storyteller System?
This is the most personal choice I’m making here but it’s important to air my reasons. The Storyteller System is the core engine of all the World of Darkness games. It’s a d10-based dice pool resolution engine and, in principle, is just fine. To my mind, it’s just another game system that is both too cinematic and high-powered for my tastes.
GURPS has three world books for the World of Darkness games: Mage, Vampire, and Werewolf. As I own all three of the tomes, am familiar with GURPS Third Edition, and feel at home with the more grounded power-levels from that system it seems sensible to use them. Mundane characters will be very low-powered to begin with but GURPS scales well.
Bringing together recent thoughts about my own gaming, I am fed-up with learning new rules systems. My focus is on the World and characters, so it seems sensible to remove distractions from that focus – instead of learning new rules, I simply focus on building characters who fit that World with the tools already at hand.
In my mind, the “modern conspiracy-horror monster hunter” game I was contemplating could find a very good home in the World of Darkness. Furthermore, I can easily customise and mould that core Gothic-Punk setting to fit my own vision of the darker side of urban fantasy. All in all, GURPS Mage, GURPS Vampire, and GURPS Werewolf are all fabulous jumping-in points for some fresh gaming experiences.
And don’t forget the unreleased Highlander for World of Darkness. It was a free download!
I want to be classic OWoD Mage again.
If only for one reason-
Vampire Lawn Chairs and Margaritas.
When you get thrown out of your local LARP group because you turned all the annoying “creatures of the night” into lawn chairs and margaritas, to hit up the cute (at the time) chicks…yea.