White Wolf’s 2011-2012 Schedule Unveiled

White Wolf’s 2011-2012 schedule is now out (thanks to Tenandys for the link), and there’s a lot of interesting stuff on there. Namely, the return to Old World of Darkness, possibly as a tie-in to the WoD MMO (already confirmed to be using the OWoD Vampire: The Masquerade rules), less possibly because irate fans have been clamoring for Old WoD for years.

In all honesty the Old World of Darkness had some serious flaws. With each new game, and each new edition, things began to suffer from not only a bad case of bloat, but also a bad case of power scaling. Oh, the lines didn’t always gel together  mechanically or story-wise. Like how everybody but mages could enter the Umbra fine in Revised. This wouldn’t have been as much of an issue if White Wolf had stuck to its “the games are totally separate” guns, but 2e and Revised had such an over-abundance of crossovers as to make things silly. (Look up Sam Haight if you think I’m wrong.) OWoD was also very much a product of the ’90s, particularly visible in Mage and Werewolf’s Captain Planet, “save the whales!”-esque settings.

New WoD fixed these issues, balanced the game lines, made the games all adhere to the fixed World of Darkness setting, and streamlined the rules (namely by not having every player’s guide/companion feature six dozen worthless new skills). It also managed to piss off most WoD fans; amongst other things, the lines were heavily modified. For example, instead of the bloat of each game having 10-12 playable clans/traditions/tribes, there are a mere five each. And the rules were also “dumbed down:” a little harsh, but true, like how Mage relied more on premade spells (rotes) than ad-hoc freeforming your own. The general consensus is that while NWoD has the better rules, OWoD has the better setting. I buy into that argument and can thus make such biased statements.

Anyways, White Wolf’s moving to reprint its OWoD books… via Drive-Thru‘s print on demand (PoD) services. Having conversion books (“translation guides”) is an interesting idea, since the two lines share roughly the same system (dice pools of “attribute + skill”), but have divergent backstories and settings. Also interesting: Mummy returns, but as a player-developed game and plot line. Given that the last physical NWoD release is already out, Mummy will be PoD/.pdf only… or, perhaps, the first in a return to OWoD. Which would be a bit ironic, since Mummy was almost the last OWoD line released, coming out right before Demon: The Fallen.

The new PoD stuff is great for those of us who still like/want to play OWoD instead of NWoD, but wake me up when they start coming out with new OWoD releases. Not just putting the old lines on PoD, and making conversions between WoDs possible; I’m talking about new material. Yes, the line was jam-packed with bloat to begin with, but:

  • a.) the fact that it’s coming back for PoD and is the line for the MMO reveal the level of fan support, and a new edition of OWoD has a lot of potential as a marketing tie-in for the MMO
  • b.) it’ll be a while before they get around to doing all the weird OWoD releases in PoD
  • c.) to be honest, OWoD needs some cleaning out, revising, and updating so that it all works properly together, so a third (fourth?) edition would work wounders
  • d.) what the hell else is White Wolf going to publish? If anything?

Exalted!

Moving on to the White Wolf game line I care most about.

A glance down at the bottom and you’ll see that most of the Exalted .pdf-only releases, including Thousand Correct Actions and Broken-Winged Crane, are heading into the Now In Print part of DriveThru. Thousand Correct Actions tops in at $10, which isn’t bad, since it’s interesting but only really half a sourcebook; my guess is Broken Winged Crane and the other .pdf releases will go for the same. (Waiting for the Scroll of Errata, dammit.) Also, being able to PoD a copy of Autocthonia rules.

There are also three new releases: an update of Manacle & Coin (yay!), more martial arts (double yay!), and Shards of the Exalted Dream, the Exalted version of NWoD: Mirrors. Mirrors was one of the most interesting books in recent memory, and of course, it’s already out of print. (Hey, White Wolf, about that new Print On Demand service…) To be honest, I already thought I’d bought Exalted Modern when I got Scion, but if this one’s half as good as Mirrors, Shards/Exalted will be fantastic. Still, what sells Exalted is the depth of its setting, not the rules—otherwise Scion could have become a longer line, like Changeling did—and I’m not sure that Shards can carry the game without that setting. Wait and see.

On The Move

For such a large publisher to jump into the PoD market is an interesting change of pace. PoD has long been the stomping ground of small-press and indie markets; now, we have a major publisher moving into the mix. Still, the DriveThruRPG Now In Print share is opening up to a number of other large publishers, so it looks to be a cost-cotting move by game companies across the board.  The World of Darkness has such able neighbors as AEG’s L5R and 7th Sea, Catalyst’s Shadowrun (including some old FASA releases), and Monte Cook’s Ptolus.

Having the option to buy hard-copies of out-of-print games—especially AEG’s Swordsman’s Guild for 7th Sea, which goes for a hundred or more on eBay—is pure awesome. The same thing goes for most of White Wolf’s Revised books, which have been demanding some serious scratch online for the past decade. (Well, serious if you want new copies; used ones can be found at or below retail with some work.) And the prices have so far been pretty low: low as in original MSRP, which feels pretty damn low for today’s age of high-gloss, high-price softcovers ($20 for a 96-page Pathfinder Adventure Path module; $20 for the 60-page CthulhuTech: Dark Passions; $35 for all those 160-page L5R 3rd softsplats).

On the flipside, this downsizing of their print lines and move to PoD could be another step of White Wolf turning into nothing more than a content developer for CCP. Truth be told, CCP is probably the best choice for a WoD MMO developer, if it turns out to be a player-driven game like EVE. (EVE doesn’t have developer-written quests or storylines, so it’s totally up to the players to derive fun from its galaxy of pixels and spreadsheets.) EVE’s heists and fuckery is legend, deriving from CCP’s hands-off approach to things like griefing and scamming. Also legendary is EVE’s intense learning curve and hostility to newbs. All of this fits the traditional mold of the World of Darkness, particularly the LARP side, in terms of player-driven paranoia and backstabbing.

But it’s a little disconcerting to see the second largest roleplaying publisher in the country erode as badly as it has. (Yes, there was a long period of time where White Wolf ate up the largest chunk of market after TSR/WotC. Now, that second-tier slot is under some pressure from Fantasy Flight Games, Paizo, Pinnacle, and a few others.) My guess is that White Wolf is gearing up for a major release event to tie in with the WoD MMO, or otherwise is building steam for some new release.

If they did end up cutting their ties to the print RPG industry to focus on the MMO, I wouldn’t be surprised; White Wolf’s had its time in the sun, and while it had a major impact on 1990s roleplaying trends, things have changed. The Storyteller system is a crunch-tastic behemoth compared to the new indie gaming trend. The slower output of the NWoD game lines, last years’ underwhelming Gen Con booth, the ending of the Exalted and NWod product lines, and the CCP buyout… yeah, White Wolf is a mere shadow of its self from a decade ago.


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