Tuesday, January 11, 2011

World of Darkness: Mirrors / Time of Judgement 2?

It has taken me ages to get my hands on this book. I missed the original release (which was around my birthday, which is doubly annoying) and it pretty much sold out world wide instantly. Now, some six months later, I have a musty smelling copy and am flicking through it.

The first page I read was the last page, which has coloured my understanding and appreciation of this book.
I'd not seen it explicitly stated anywhere else, which is surprising, but according to the afterword written by Rich Thomas, the World of Darkness RPG line is effectively discontinued, with 'Mirrors' being the last actual physical book that White Wolf, or more correctly CCP, intend on publishing.
In fact, I believe they have ceased the production of all gaming books. Looks like they're in the MMO business now.

Which made me look at the book differently.
World of Darkness: Mirrors is an 'option' book, focussing on alternative systems, settings and play options so gaming groups can 'open up' their enjoyment of the game and try different things. It presents alternative character creation, experience, character and general play options (or 'Hacks', as they are now commonly known), a whole chapter on different combat options - from diceless to miniatures, second by second expanded combat to streamlined fudging - a chapter on alternative settings and several essays on ways to alter your playing experience with house rules and different modes of play.
It's a legacy book. The line is ending, so let's produce a document that may empower the fan base to keep trying new things and keep the game fresh, so hopefully the system and setting will remain in use and in play despite the lack of new material.

It's a good book. It has real merit and should provide inspiration and/or depth to any World of Darkness game. It just makes me sad. I would class White Wolf and the World of Darkness as fairly high profile casualties of the recession and implosion of the RPG publishing market (for which I am currently blaming D&D, because i'm bitter).

I'm mostly enjoying the Setting Hacks chapter, which has three distinct parts:

  1. The World of Darkness Revealed - discussions on how the supernatural might go public, and how the world would react
  2. The World of Darkness Destroyed - ways to blow up the world
  3. The World of Darkness Dark Fantasy - ways to adapt the setting to different fantasy genres - high fantasy, sword & sorcery, modern fantasy, weird fantasy etc, and also includes three playable 'races' (sub races inspired by the 3 core game lines, so Dhampires, Wargaz [beast men] and Atlanteans), a new supernatural template - Heroic Mortals (for those Conan moments) and a named setting that can be used in a modern game: Woundgate.
The first two parts are, to me, very reminiscent of the game end options presented as part of the 'old' World of Darkness Time of Judgement. Again I am reminded that this is the last book they're putting out - it makes sense. It's just not a mandated end to the campaign.

The third part, Fantasy and Woundgate, could make a whole new game in itself. I think it needs a fair amount of further polishing, but there's definitely something there. It's very Gaiman - Neverwhere, Stardust, Mirrormask etc. The Woundgate setting introduces the idea of pocket realms of fantasy weirdness into the game. Lost worlds and secret parallels. 
I'm in two minds about it. Whilst I can definitely see how these remnants of the shattered Pangea could be used in the World of Darkness, it feels very 'old' WoD to me. Back when Mages could travel between alternate universes, pocket realms, spirit plains and alien worlds in a lunch time, when any mad idea could be shoe-horned into the setting because reality is malleable and multi-faceted.
I'd wanted a 'New' WoD Dark Ages game for some time, so I had high hopes for this setting. What they've given us is World of Darkness D&D, which is very different.

Included in the first chapter is the option to play 'Extraordinary Mortals', your Holmes', Bond's and House's. Otherwise normal people who possess a rare and exceptional skill focus. The system presents a selection of enhancements that can be taken to augment and support each skill, which allow a near superhuman level of achievement when certain criteria apply.
Extraordinary Mortals get to select three enhancements, and that's it. They do not develop any more unless through extreme and life changing challenges.

All in all, I can see World of Darkness: Mirrors adding depth and fresh twists to games that have gone on for awhile, or for groups that have played their normal game to death. At the moment I would say that I don't have an amazing amount of use for it. Yes, I'd happily use the Fantasy Shard occasionally, and may use some ideas from the character creation section the next time I run a WoD game. No, I wouldn't draw heavily on this  book for a new campaign or group. I see it as a tool box for seasoned players and storytellers.

The developer, Chuck Wendig, posted a long dissection of the book on his blog, which I feel is well worth the read. Several of the contributing writers have commented and added to the discussion, and Chuck has taken the time to answer various questions from readers and writers alike. Check it out...