Good to be Bad, Again

Good to be Bad, Again
World of New Darkness

Allen Varney | 28 Aug 2007 11:45
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Phil Brucato, line developer for Mage's first two editions and now a freelancer for the Werewolf line, tells The Escapist, "For a World of Darkness antagonist, I want someone who embodies a theme and suits the setting. Tezghul the Insane (from Mage: The Sorcerers Crusade) represented bestial chaos. His hordes rumbled along the edges of the Sorcerers Crusade world and could unite the various warring factions against him if he showed his ugly face. I also want someone who makes my own skin crawl. The Centipede King from Infernalism: The Path of Screams creeps me out to this day." Brucato prefers the low-powered World of Darkness adversaries, though he says occasionally "it was nice to pull out the stops and feature a wild villain like Voormas, the rogue Euthanatos with his flying Umbral castle and cadre of magical killers."

One wild villain, though, still stands as the company's most notorious mistake: Samuel Haight, an invincible evil vampire-werewolf-mage whose story blighted three game lines.

"We were a very young company," Brucato recalls. "The oldest person on staff when I was hired fulltime in 1993 was 31. On many levels, we were still figuring out what we were doing, and the Sam Haight saga seemed like a good idea at the time. It certainly wasn't a unique concept - other gaming and comic companies had been using the 'continuing villain' idea for years. Had the WoD been D&D, it wouldn't have been a problem. The approach, however, clashed with the WoD atmosphere of the time, and ran counter to the whole appeal of the line. The lesson would be this: Tailor your marketing concepts toward the appeal of your product and the desires of your audience."

Reboot
But the audience also desired more power. Over time, White Wolf's systems grew rules-heavy, victims of grognard capture. The Storyteller games' growing emphasis on munchkin power-gaming led some to label them "AD&D with clove cigarettes." There were were-dinosaurs. By 2004, even Sam Haight would almost have fit in.

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The secret-conspiracies metaplot began to collapse under its own weight. Like software long maintained, every pop-culture world setting accumulates cruft. Think of shelves of Forgotten Realms novels, or the exhaustive corrigenda for every alien and object in every frame of Star Wars. A comics fan must grok 40 years of superhero continuity merely to read DC's Infinite Crisis or any Marvel X-Men title. Let's not talk about Star Trek.

Sustaining the World of Darkness metaplot required Jesuitical effort. Designers felt less like fleet-footed news reporters and more like librarians. In earlier years, writers had briskly ransacked history to describe their vampiric Primogens and Master mages; now, instead, they read dozens of previous supplements. No one but hardcore fanboys could track the incredible panoply of antagonists and conspiracies. White Wolf never compiled a comprehensive overview; even today, its World of Darkness wiki is fragmentary. Everything had bogged down.

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