Paying homage where homage is due

I just realized something that has been entirely missed in this whole Dark Phoenix Publishing trainwreck, and I think it’s something important.

White Wolf, for all intents and purposes, fully realized and popularized the genre of “personal horror” where the player plays the monster. Prior to Vampire, there was one rpg I know of dedicated to the players being the monsters – Nightlife – and that game came out a scant year or two before Vampire: the Masquerade did. In every other contemporary rpg at the time, the types of monsters seen in White Wolf games were not playable options. They were monsters to be defeated for XP or treasure. It was one of the reasons that, for example, AD&D used the term “monster” even for benign creatures. Some games may have had a structure or rules to allow for monsters to be played as PCs, but it still wasn’t the focus of the game, it was an add-on. I recall game designers at the time actively scoffing at the idea of monsters being playable. PCs are, after all, “the heroes”, and the advice in the original Dungeon Master’s Guide was along the lines of  “player character races are the best choices, and we won’t help you if you want to allow other races”.

Does this mean any game where the characters are vampires is automatically a White Wolf ripoff? Nope. But does it mean that such a game likely owes a big debt to White Wolf for popularizing the genre? The answer there is “Yes.” The same way that most roleplaying games owe a debt to Dungeons and Dragons, for at least popularizing roleplaying, if nothing else. Any game publisher that chooses to put out games that line up almost exactly to White Wolf’s product lines owes White Wolf that debt in spades.

8 thoughts on “Paying homage where homage is due

  1. Monsters! Monsters! was published by Metagaming in 1976, written by Ken St Andre, creator of Tunnels & Trolls. It was created specifically to allow monsters as PCs, raiding human villages and towns, and gaining XP for monstrous activities (and gathering loot, of course).I'm not familiar with this current fracas, but found this via G+ and thought I'd help out with a bit of history.

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  2. Thanks, I had looked it up earlier. Maybe your memory runs longer than mine, is it my imagination that some game designers (possibly from TSR, because I'm thinking Dragon Magazine) regularly discarded the idea of playing monsters as “doing it wrong”?

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  3. The AD&D 1e DMG went on at length about how the game was “humanocentric” and how wanting to play a monstrous race was, in short, wrong. The longer passage is best summed up best by this sentence: “The considered opinion of this writer is that such characters are not beneficial to the game and should be excluded.”

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  4. That's about what I remembered without having a reference, but I also thought there was some seminal opinion piece or response to a letter or something in Dragon Magazine. It's hard to place though because 1) it's been a very long time, 2) I read a whole hell of a lot of Dragon magazines back in the day, and 3) it may have been one of the older guys that we played with at the hobby shop when I was in junior high who went on that rant.

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  5. Also look up a company called “Pacesetter.” It no longer exists, but one of the games they put out was a fairly stylish horror game called Chill. It was about human PCs fighting a large variety of monsters, but there was a supplement for it called Creature Feature that turned the tables: the PCs could be vampires, werewolves, mummies, or ghosts. It was published in 1986.

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  6. I played Pacesetter, but more Star Ace than Chill, so I never knew about that one. It doesn't surprise me. Whether through luck of being released at the beginning of the 90s, or positioning, or both most similar games these days trace their lineage to White Wolf, for better or worse. That just speaks to a separate discussion of primary versus secondary sources. If a designer starts with White Wolf as their primary source, the result will be derivative of White Wolf. If they go to these older games, they may find something – a concept, an idea for a mechanic, game play – that is relatively new. There's always good to be found in researching a genre's roots.

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