How White Wolf's "Murderer's Row" Carved Its Mark on Genre Fiction

How White Wolf's "Murderer's Row" Carved Its Mark on Genre Fiction

White Wolf Games focused on story. That has led to many White Wolf writers becoming successful authors in their own right.

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As happy as I am to see OP carrying the torch, I still had a moment of sadness when I realized that White Wolf was dead. I never much cared for nWoD, but I remember buying a lot of their oWoD gaming books just for the flavor text and storytelling. Alas.

Yeah but thanks to Onyx Path, Kickstarter and all the White Wolf fans out there we've seen the continuation of the New World of Darkness, the upcoming Third Edition of Exalted, the missing Convention Books of Mage: the Ascension and the overall revival of the Old World of Darkness in the 20th Anniversary Editions. White Wolf may be dead but its legacy endures and thrives.

White Wolf was popular back in the day, but I wonder how much of that was because of the vacuum created by the floundering of TSR and WotC (who were responsible for D&D). A lot of their products were good, but felt just as complicated as the competition (perhaps not 3.5, but I remember troubles and paging through the books aplenty, especially with stacking powers in combat).

They had a good sort of kitschy horror that could be a lot of fun, provided you weren't playing with the right group (i.e. people who didn't keep copies of Interview with a Vampire around their neck, which sadly seems to be the majority of WoD holdouts these days). I still remember seeing that picture from the Montreal sourcebook (if you've seen it, you know), and being grossed out by it, but a bit glad that they weren't hiding the nastier elements of being a monster in both body and soul.

Also, glad to see Lafferty is doing well; I picked up the Shambling Guide a while back and I was wondering when the sequel was going to be ready. Guess I need to get out to a bookstore soon.

Heartsib:
As happy as I am to see OP carrying the torch, I still had a moment of sadness when I realized that White Wolf was dead. I never much cared for nWoD, but I remember buying a lot of their oWoD gaming books just for the flavor text and storytelling. Alas.

Don't be sad. White Wolf is definitely not what it once was. It deserved to be put in the ground a long time ago.

Warning: The link is to a critique of a newer Exalted book with graphic pictures and general blood-boiling awfulness. Don't look at it in public. .

Honestly, as much as I love many of the World of Darkness games, Onyx Path has gone above and beyond them. Mummy: The Curse, which my group just started playing recently, is probably the single most interesting RPG I have ever run. I still can't believe someone managed to make an engaging and even somewhat subversive game about playing as bandage-wrapped corpses from Ancient Egypt.

Yeah I've never been much of a New World of Darkness fan but MtC is one of the three NWoD lines I find really interesting and would love to play one of these days. But just the Old World of Darkness stuff they've been doing is really solid. Thanks to them finishing the Convention Books I was finally able to convince my RP group to play a Technocrat game for MageL the Ascension. And I'm also hoping that with Wraith: the Oblivion's 20th Anniversary Edition I'll be able to play that game once and for all.

Wait, if WW is dead, who's publishing all of the cool stuff they had in the works?

thehorror2:
Wait, if WW is dead, who's publishing all of the cool stuff they had in the works?

Onyx Path Publishing, founded by Rich Thomas the former Creative Director of White Wolf. They hold the license to both Worlds of Darkness, Exalted, Scion and the Trinity Universe while Mind's Eye Theater went to another company, By Night Studios.

And OPP itself has brought back many old White Wolf veterans to work on their projects. For instance Richard Dansky who was the Developer of Wraith: the Oblivion Second Edition Rulebook and was heavily involved with the WtO's 2nd Edition and ultimate end has come back as the Developer for Wraith's 20th Edition.

Of course OPP is much smaller than White Wolf was and much of the people who work on their projects are freelancers who many only work on a couple projects for them.

I think years and years ago, well before I started posting here, I read some column about how to make a good D&D campaign, and the writer was very critical of WoD's storytelling system and I've come to agree with him. I went from being a big fan of the SS system to feeling quite unsatisfied by it, and he (unfortunately I can't remember his name or column) pointed out very clearly why- The SS is all about gamemasters storytellers telling a story. They put all these hooks out there, but in the end the story doesn't emerge from the players' actions, it's pre-planned by the leader. And this is exactly what my experience with the company ended up being. We even had one guy in our group who would literally just have some unassailable power show up and bully the group whenever we didn't follow his pre-planned path- at one point when we were feeling particularly rebellious Cain and then the Biblical God Himself showed up to beat us up until we followed his directions.

Now most of the rest of us weren't obnoxiously childish to quite that same extent, but our games did tend to be very similar to today's AAA games in a "run down this narrow plot corridor, kill some bad guys, and then marvel at this big set-piece we created for you. But please don't try anything too unexpected." That's not immersive. That's only minimally a game, because the players' choices don't really have consequences. Now D&D can absolutely be run in the same way, but its reliance on random generators and so on provide an easy way to avoid the railroading that the SS doesn't strictly speaking force, but indirectly encourages by its constant emphasis on "telling a story" over playing a game.

So in that respect it doesn't surprise me that so many WW alumni are moving into fiction writing- that's where their strength lies. Good on them for using the experience to advance their career in a meaningful way, but I'm not going to shed any tears for the loss of White Wolf or the WoD.

Being perfectly honest, when they rebooted WoD, they killed the series for me. I just wasn't happy with the new iteration, having been a faithful player since '93/'94 starting with Werewolf and Vampire. Later I had every damn book that was published since their 2nd editions up to 1999/2000, attended DragonCon in '99 and met Chris McDonough and played a demo of AEON/Trinity with him not having a clue he was the designer... Also met Rob Hatch, again no clue it was him. I should have figured the guys at the WW booth were, you know, guys from WW...

Heartsib:
...I still had a moment of sadness when I realized that White Wolf was dead. I never much cared for nWoD, but I remember buying a lot of their oWoD gaming books just for the flavor text and storytelling. Alas.

Me too! I remember many a trip to the bookstore where I sat mesmerized reading the Clanobooks or Tribebooks just for the writing and atmosphere (even still have some of the "Changing Breed" books).

I also loved their anthology books where short stories about a particular WoD series were submitted by various authors.

Good times...

Zen Bard:

Me too! I remember many a trip to the bookstore where I sat mesmerized reading the Clanobooks or Tribebooks just for the writing and atmosphere (even still have some of the "Changing Breed" books).

I also loved their anthology books where short stories about a particular WoD series were submitted by various authors.

Good times...

Onyx Path has a couple of new anthologies out. I've only read the Changing Breeds collection so far. Mixed bag, but the Rokea story alone was worth the price of the e-book.

Thunderous Cacophony:

Don't be sad. White Wolf is definitely not what it once was. It deserved to be put in the ground a long time ago.

Warning: The link is to a critique of a newer Exalted book with graphic pictures and general blood-boiling awfulness. Don't look at it in public. .

That is beyond simply being in poor taste, and it does make it a lot easier to go "Oh, well nevermind" when it comes to mourning White Wolf. But isn't it an Onyx Path product, not just WW?

Heartsib:

Zen Bard:

Me too! I remember many a trip to the bookstore where I sat mesmerized reading the Clanobooks or Tribebooks just for the writing and atmosphere (even still have some of the "Changing Breed" books).

I also loved their anthology books where short stories about a particular WoD series were submitted by various authors.

Good times...

Onyx Path has a couple of new anthologies out. I've only read the Changing Breeds collection so far. Mixed bag, but the Rokea story alone was worth the price of the e-book.

Thanks for the tip. I'll check it out.

Heartsib:

Thunderous Cacophony:

Don't be sad. White Wolf is definitely not what it once was. It deserved to be put in the ground a long time ago.

Warning: The link is to a critique of a newer Exalted book with graphic pictures and general blood-boiling awfulness. Don't look at it in public. .

That is beyond simply being in poor taste, and it does make it a lot easier to go "Oh, well nevermind" when it comes to mourning White Wolf. But isn't it an Onyx Path product, not just WW?

Well take that article with a grain of salt. While some of the issues they raise are true and worth talking about. In fact one of things they talk, the phylactery-womb, was intensely disliked by fans and writers is getting tossed out in Exalted Third Edition. As for the Abyssal Charms, to begin with that's a few Charms out of what is a lot of Charms spread across multiple trees. Also Abyssal are not exactly the heroes of the setting, they're undead champions that are bound to Edritch horrors that are trapped in a state of living dead and seek to destroy the entire world so they can fall into Oblivion and cease to exist. And they've since redone them because of fan reactions to the previews they released. Of course we won't really know until Exalted 3E and the 3E Abyssal Exalted books is released.

However some of things they talk about are either A)part of a poorly conceived April Fool's joke book* about sex and has no bearing whatsoever on Exalted itself or B)something that plenty of other RPGs suffer from as well and is more a problem of multiple medias than just Exalted or RPGs. Beyond that the tone of the article is just really mean-spirited and seems more interested in taking shots at Exalted and its fans because of the massively successful Exalted Third Edition Kickstarter that was going on at the time. In fact Exalted 3E was the most successful RPG KS back then and aside from a very close race with the recent Mage 20th Edition, another OPP product, I believe it still holds the record.

*Oh and that book wasn't an Onyx Path book, it was from White Wolf's final years. Technically it does now belong to them along with every other book in the Exalted, Trinity, Scion, NWoD and OWoD lines.

As for Onyx Path itself and its products well so far they've been pretty damn solid. While they have released a few books that hover in the okay to mediocre range much of their books have been well received. Their Kickstarters, even for non-Rulebooks, have become increasingly successful over the last couple of years. And the writers engage with fans, often releasing parts or even near complete copies of the drafts to get feedback from the fans. Some regularly visit the OPP forums and observe what the fans are talking about in relation to the projects they're working and some join in the conversation. Hell one of the reasons Exalted Third Edition is taking so long is OPP doesn't want a repeat of Exalted 2E where the mechanics were sloppy and in some areas a complete mess, forcing them to release additional material to try to fix the issues which wasn't a complete success either.

Thunderous Cacophony:

Heartsib:
As happy as I am to see OP carrying the torch, I still had a moment of sadness when I realized that White Wolf was dead. I never much cared for nWoD, but I remember buying a lot of their oWoD gaming books just for the flavor text and storytelling. Alas.

Don't be sad. White Wolf is definitely not what it once was. It deserved to be put in the ground a long time ago.

Warning: The link is to a critique of a newer Exalted book with graphic pictures and general blood-boiling awfulness. Don't look at it in public. .

... how the fuck is it, that I managed to pick up a Warhammer splatbook about fucking Slaanesh, and it managed to be more mature than this fucking thing?

This isn't even "funny-bad", this is just "bad-bad".

Imperioratorex Caprae:
Being perfectly honest, when they rebooted WoD, they killed the series for me. I just wasn't happy with the new iteration, having been a faithful player since '93/'94 starting with Werewolf and Vampire.

I'd argue for giving Werewolf: The Forsaken another chance. (And not just because I wrote a tiny bit of it.) It wasn't Apocalypse, and that's what I liked about it. It felt new and different, and I think it's a much more primal, savage game than Apocalypse while still leaving room for stories to be better told in Apocalypse than Forsaken.

(Also, Changeling: The Lost was amazing. Like, seriously goddamn amazing.)

BlindChance:

Imperioratorex Caprae:
Being perfectly honest, when they rebooted WoD, they killed the series for me. I just wasn't happy with the new iteration, having been a faithful player since '93/'94 starting with Werewolf and Vampire.

I'd argue for giving Werewolf: The Forsaken another chance. (And not just because I wrote a tiny bit of it.) It wasn't Apocalypse, and that's what I liked about it. It felt new and different, and I think it's a much more primal, savage game than Apocalypse while still leaving room for stories to be better told in Apocalypse than Forsaken.

(Also, Changeling: The Lost was amazing. Like, seriously goddamn amazing.)

I appreciate the recommendation and kudos for being part of that world, if even a sliver. However I must say that I've retired that area of table-top roleplaying. There are certain types of stories I feel can be told within the White-Wolf sphere of gaming, and its very hard for me to find suitable players. I'm possibly ruined on further stories because the last group I was in told two amazing and heart-wrenching stories that forever remain between us, the players and the Storyteller because they were so personal. After that I retired my White-Wolf gear, knowing I'd never have a story like that again. I now am just a D&D DM because I just can't sit still as a player, too little to do.
I would write those stories but we agreed as a group not to, it felt wrong to tell them to anyone else for some reason.

DANGER- MUST SILENCE:
I think years and years ago, well before I started posting here, I read some column about how to make a good D&D campaign, and the writer was very critical of WoD's storytelling system and I've come to agree with him. I went from being a big fan of the SS system to feeling quite unsatisfied by it, and he (unfortunately I can't remember his name or column) pointed out very clearly why- The SS is all about gamemasters storytellers telling a story. They put all these hooks out there, but in the end the story doesn't emerge from the players' actions, it's pre-planned by the leader. And this is exactly what my experience with the company ended up being. We even had one guy in our group who would literally just have some unassailable power show up and bully the group whenever we didn't follow his pre-planned path- at one point when we were feeling particularly rebellious Cain and then the Biblical God Himself showed up to beat us up until we followed his directions.

Now most of the rest of us weren't obnoxiously childish to quite that same extent, but our games did tend to be very similar to today's AAA games in a "run down this narrow plot corridor, kill some bad guys, and then marvel at this big set-piece we created for you. But please don't try anything too unexpected." That's not immersive. That's only minimally a game, because the players' choices don't really have consequences. Now D&D can absolutely be run in the same way, but its reliance on random generators and so on provide an easy way to avoid the railroading that the SS doesn't strictly speaking force, but indirectly encourages by its constant emphasis on "telling a story" over playing a game.

So in that respect it doesn't surprise me that so many WW alumni are moving into fiction writing- that's where their strength lies. Good on them for using the experience to advance their career in a meaningful way, but I'm not going to shed any tears for the loss of White Wolf or the WoD.

If I remember right, that was an excellent series called Check for Traps. I also believe it was extremely critical of the advice given in the D&D Dungeon Master's Guide for precisely the same reasons. I love Check for Traps, I still believe it contains some absolute gems of wisdom, but I don't think it ever made the mistake for blaming the game for the advice it gives to GMs.

I spent the last year running a Changeling: The Lost game. I just started running a Mummy: The Curse game. Two fantastic New World of Darkness products that I will champion forever. Both of those games I run, or ran, in a sandbox style, with a large setting that operates on fundamental principles remarkably similar to those outlined in the Check for Traps articles. You can have a dynamic, changing, player-driven world regardless of the system you use. There is nothing inherent to the World of Darkness mechanics that forces you to railroad the players. Just as D&D can be run as a railroad, World of Darkness can be a brilliant sandbox. In fact, with the emphasis on politics and social interactions that many WoD games have, they actually feel like they're outright advocating a sandbox style play.

White Wolf and Onyx Path even published books in this respect. Damnation City, for example, is a brilliant book on how to construct a gameplay environment. It's intended as a Vampire: The Requiem supplement, but as someone with no interest in Vampire I still found it immensely interesting and useful.

My point is that the experience you had isn't any fault of the system or game line. It might be the fault of a GM taking the Storyteller advice too seriously, but really it just boils down to GMing style. The best World of Darkness games I've heard of, and the ones I strive to emulate, are sprawling, open-ended experiences wherein the players and the NPCs all simultaneously try to manipulate one another into doing their bidding. One giant web of duplicity and political maneuvering that no GM could possibly predict from the start. You'd be a fool to even try.

Azahul:
If I remember right, that was an excellent series called Check for Traps.

Yup, that was it. Thanks for jogging the memory!

There is nothing inherent to the World of Darkness mechanics that forces you to railroad the players.

I agree, it's not the mechanics that encourage the railroading, I think it's the attitude toward storytelling. And it's not that anything in the game made us move to that style, but the tone of the books gradually made us gravitate to it by constantly trying to set themselves up as an alternative to D&D.

Keep in mind, my experience is exclusively with the old WoD. I got out pretty much just as they were bringing out the Hunter stuff.

I think there was some really neat stuff in there. Mage: The Ascension and Changeling: The Dreaming were two of the games that pushed probably some of the most interesting ideas I've ever encountered in table top RPGs. I just think between finding a group mature enough to handle the vague complications of those games and and finding a "Storyteller" who could engage the group without it being a hand-holding tour of the WoD, they're just hard to play without becoming a mess.

Just as D&D can be run as a railroad, World of Darkness can be a brilliant sandbox. In fact, with the emphasis on politics and social interactions that many WoD games have, they actually feel like they're outright advocating a sandbox style play.

Not the way our group did it. We politiced and socialed up the wazoo, to the point that guests visiting for a game would later complain that we were spending 40 minutes talking before anyone got to hit anything. But it still didn't feel like a sandbox. I dunno, it felt like, bitchy teenage drama really.

White Wolf and Onyx Path even published books in this respect. Damnation City, for example, is a brilliant book on how to construct a gameplay environment. It's intended as a Vampire: The Requiem supplement, but as someone with no interest in Vampire I still found it immensely interesting and useful.

Sounds interesting. If I ever see it in an import game shop I'll give it a leaf-through.

DANGER- MUST SILENCE:
Sounds interesting. If I ever see it in an import game shop I'll give it a leaf-through.

That can be a bit on the hard side as Onyx Path has moved to digital copies and Print on Demand through DriveThruRPG rather than the more traditional publishing. It is still possible to find older unsold material that was released under White Wolf in gaming stores, the newer stuff you can't.

DANGER- MUST SILENCE:

I think there was some really neat stuff in there. Mage: The Ascension and Changeling: The Dreaming were two of the games that pushed probably some of the most interesting ideas I've ever encountered in table top RPGs. I just think between finding a group mature enough to handle the vague complications of those games and and finding a "Storyteller" who could engage the group without it being a hand-holding tour of the WoD, they're just hard to play without becoming a mess.

Mage was my test run for new players, to gauge maturity level and critical thinking. Also because if I started with Vampire or Werewolf, I always seemed to run into Anne Rice fans, or power hungry oh-so-obvious virgins who wanted the Vampire/Werewolf power fantasy (and this was before Twilight). Thats not how I ran my games, nor did I accept players who couldn't play mature characters. Mage was the easiest because it involved being responsible with powers and coming up with ways of using them without major guidelines telling them how to use them or giving them a list of spells. It was easy in that the concept was so much different than other RPG's I'd played that it gave me something to judge the character of each player and their abilities. Usually if we could get through a good Mage story, then any of the other WoD games would usually play well also.
But man was it tough to find a group who fit the criteria... I was storyteller 90% of the time, just because I knew the system almost well enough to not need the books.

 

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