So today I cover both the Prologue story and Chapter 1: The Secret History in the World of Darkness core rulebook. I hope you enjoy it!
The prologue is a very good piece of storytelling. The story of someone getting drawn deeper and deeper into the world most people ignore is a good one, and the story as a whole does a good job of setting the tone for the book. I feel like this story also makes for a good example of the sort of adventures World of Darkness can do when used alone, separate from any of the supernatural creature game lines (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, etc.). The story of a mortal trying to deal with the darkness all around them, and only partially succeeding.
Chapter 1: The Secret History
A lot of first chapters in RPG books often feel a little shaky to me. They’re often used to give information about the world of the game, but that information sometimes isn’t presented in a compelling fashion. You can end up with what feels like the introduction to a textbook, an interesting world laid flat. While this might make for a good quick reference, it can also be a snooze fest.
Not so with World of Darkness.
I really, really enjoyed this section. It’s clear that someone, when putting this together, decided that the atmosphere and feel of the game had to come through above all other facets when putting this chapter together. And hoooo boy, does it work.
The majority of the chapter is dedicated to short stories. Some just a handful of paragraphs long, others taking up multiple full pages. In between these stories, the art of storytelling is discussed: why we tell stories, and some ways to go about them (with a special focus on horror stories). The storytelling advice is good. The stories themselves? Excellent. They set up a slow, creeping feeling of dread as you go through the chapter. Almost every protagonist, even those we meet only briefly, is relatable, and we share in their terror and dread as terrible things happen to them. I think almost every protagonist has disappeared by the end of their story, in some way or another. But a lot of them spend their time on the page standing up for what they think is right.
I think that sets a good tone for the book. Your character in WoD is going to have a hard time of it, regardless of how trained they are, how skilled in combat, how composed their mind. But they can at least go into it knowing that no matter if they lose against the tidal forces of darkness they’re going up against, that they went down doing what they thought was right. And who knows, they may even succeed.
The longest story here is “The Voice of the Angel,” which sets up the history of the World of Darkness, as well as alternate reasons for a number of historical events. It gives a great look into one way to approach setting games in the WoD, by re-interpreting historical events, and it helps establish how pervasive the supernatural is in WoD, as opposed to some other urban fantasy style games where the supernatural is a relative rarity. I do have to admit, it was a little weird reading this story after have heard a bit about The God Machine Chronicle. The God Machine is supposed to be completely mysterious here, and even having a little more knowledge about how it worked made it a different story than I feel like it would have been otherwise. Not a worse story, by any means, but different. (No more details because I want to avoid spoilers.)
After “The Voice of the Angel” are a bunch of two-page informational summaries. I found the Glossary very dense, but it’s useful to have it this early in the book, so that a reader can know it’s there and refer back to it whenever needed, instead of trying to find it for the first time when they have to look something up. The Roll and Trait summaries are super-confusing, given than we don’t have much context of the rules yet, but to be fair the authors point this out and say that it’s here as something to come back to. I found the character creation summary a little confusing, too, but at the same time I got that it was because I was trying to figure out the system from an incomplete picture. And getting a brief sketch of the system before diving into the in-depth explanation is good, because it gives me a framework for reading about the character creation process while still keeping the big picture in mind.
The Storytelling Rules Summary is my favorite thing in the entire chapter, though. Coming just after “The Voice of the Angel” and before the more specific summaries and glossary. In two pages, the authors manage to give a fantastic, coherent, and pretty easy to understand overview of the whole storytelling system. This aids in understanding the denser summaries to come, and gives you a big picture view of what all the more-specific chapters are talking about. Very few RPG books ever manage to boil down their system so nicely, and putting it before any of the more technical explanations, instead of at the end in an appendix, makes the whole game go down much easier for a relative newbie, such as myself. In summary: I love this, everyone should do it if they can.
And with that, we’ve reached the end of Chapter 1. Next week, Chapter 2: Attributes!