Sunday, May 15, 2011

Judge a man by his enemies / The quality of antagonists in the World of Darkness

I've recently been thinking about Mage: the Ascension, and how, in my opinion, the setting is stronger than the more recent Mage: the Awakening.

I believe that the system for Awakening is better, with one or two exceptions (like not providing rules for using magic to give mundane actions a little 'push'), but I find the setting a bit... directionless.

Yeah, there's plenty to do, but only if you want to do it. There's not really a driving impetus to do anything.
Sure, you can fight Tremere Liches, or The Seers of the Throne, or get involved in Awakened politics and intrigues, or amass great power, or stand against the Abyss.
But you don't have to.

In Mage: the Ascension, you were in the middle of a war for reality, for the hearts and minds of future generations, a battle of philosophies and ideals, of vision and Passion.
You didn't really have a choice. That was the setting, that was the 'canon' metaplot, right there.

It was an exciting and dangerous idea for a game. You're not fighting to 'save' the world, you're fighting to keep it interesting.
Maybe too interesting, but that's not the point.

I feel that Awakening lacks this immediacy, this drive, this call to action.
It's a big gap.

Then I got to thinking about the Technocracy, the big bad guys of Ascension.
They were well developed, interesting, possibly (probably) right, human and sympathetic.
They were also completely playable, with several supplements published that presented them as legitimate character options.
And people played them. People enjoyed playing them, and not just as villains, or anti-heroes, but as idealist and noble heroes.
You can't really see anybody playing a Seer.

This led me to thinking about the other 'old' World of Darkness games, Vampire: the Masquerade especially.
All of the oWoD games positioned the players on the edge of a battlefront, a dangerous enemy poised to attack a wreck terrible havoc at any moment: the Sabbat, the Wyrm/Black Spiral Dancers, the Technocracy, Autumn People etc.
The metaplot for each of these games moved inexorably closer to a final battle that could destroy the world as we know it.

And the thing was, most of these antagonistic factions were entirely playable.
Like the Sabbat. Like the Technocracy. Like Fomori.
Some people preferred playing these groups, because at least they stood for something.

I think the current World of Darkness is a little too tolerant, and could do with some really aggressive conflict and opposition.