World Of Darkness
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Basic Information

The name World of Darkness is used by no less than three (and arguably many more) different RPG settings, united by some shared imagery and style, and by the notion that (nearly always) the player characters are monsters. Not necessarily bad people (though often in that sense as well), but literal monsters. The over-arching genre is generally urban fantasy, but each differing game in the various lines brought new things to the table.

The original publisher was White Wolf Publishing, and the first book was Vampire: The Masquerade by Mark Rein-Hagen.


The "Old World of Darkness" (aka Original WOD, Classic WOD, etc) game lines were originally published from 1991 to 2004. It consisted of several different game lines: Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, Wraith: The Oblivion, and Changeling: The Dreaming were the core five, later expanded to add Hunter: The Reckoning, Mummy: The Resurrection, Demon: The Fallen, and Orpheus. As the names imply, player characters in these games were either a vampire, werewolf, wizard, ghost, fey, mummy, demon, spirit, or (after Hunter came out) someone who hunted some or all of the above creature types. Then there were all sorts of spin-offs, like Kindred of the East, Changing Breeds, Vampire: The Dark Ages, Werewolf: The Wild West, etc, some of which obviously weren't set in the modern day but still somehow fell under the World of Darkness umbrella.

Originally, when the first few books were released, each game line was considered to be (and written as if) it's own universe. Meaning that if you were playing Vampire: The Masquerade, the "Lupine" NPC Antagonists mentioned in the GM's section had a differing backstory and ethos than the PCs in the Werewolf: The Apocalypse. They shared all shared a gothic-punk style, and involved secret truths hidden behind a stylized version of the modern world, so they were marketed as all "World of Darkness" games. This branding, thematic similarity, and the fact that the core mechanics (and stats for normal humans) were the same quickly lead to crossover campaigns. In early books and articles, this was mostly resisted by the publishers, but later they bowed to the economic incentive of making all the lines of interest to as many consumers as possible.

This crossover happened despite the fact that in many ways the original setting material was incompatible. For example, Vampire clearly exists in a Judaeo-Christian context. Cain (of Cain and Abel fame) is literally the first vampire. He was punished by God, his vampiric descendants are vulnerable to faith and crosses, and the ticking clock of biblical prophecies are embedded in the setting. Werewolf, by way of contrast, took a shamanic world view with a three-part power (the Weaver, Wyld and Wyrm) creating the universe, not some single God. Those three powers are out of balance and we are on the cusp of the apocalypse that imbalance is creating. It's not impossible to build a syncretic world view where both origin myths are equally and literally correct, but it takes some world-building gymnastics. The more sub-games you add on, each with their own version of reality and the past, the trickier it gets to keep it all straight and have answers for all the questions that will pop into the PCs heads.

Likewise, the power-levels of the various settings were not by default compatible. A starting werewolf could rip a starting vampire to shreds. The vampire was likely to be better at manipulating human society to their own ends, but starting vamp PCs weren't really entrenched too deeply in that by default. This was further complicated by the Masquerade and The Veil: Vampires had to be constantly on guard against accidentally revealing themselves to mortal society, lest the Inquisition return to power and start hunting them with all the benefits of modern technology. Werewolves, on the other paw, could count on a temporary delirium affecting any humans who saw them hulk out and enter their combat form. They'd be remembered and processed as madmen or wild dogs, not supernatural creatures that needed to be hunted down for the good of society. All of which could be a real issue if you're playing in a large LARP with the different character types interacting often outside earshot of the nearest GM. Werewolf LARPers would know they're likely to win an ambush against a Vampire LARPer, and that the in-universe societal fall-out of conducting a messy fight in public was almost entirely going land squarely on the hated vamps.1

Another thing all the Old WOD lines had in common was an impending global doom. The nature of the coming apocalypse was different in each line, but it was all pretty bleak. The final releases of each game series were designed to cover the end times and provide suitably epic wrap-ups to your campaign. The three biggest game lines (vampire, werewolf, and mage) each got their own send-off product, and a fourth book covered all the less popular games.


In 2004 the old World of Darkness line was retired, and a new series of core games was released to replace them. This reboot changed back stories, freshened up mechanics with a streamlined system, and made extensive alterations to the World of Darkness and all the constituent game lines. They were pretty controversial and the edition wars divided the player base significantly.

The new games were released from 2004 to 2016, and included Vampire: The Requiem, Werewolf: The Forsaken2, Mage: The Awakening, Promethean: The Created, Changeling: The Lost, Hunter: The Vigil, Geist: The Sin-Eaters, Mummy: The Curse, Demon: The Descent, Beast: The Primordial, and Deviant: The Renegades. So that adds Frankenstein's Monster, Sin-Eaters, to the classic movie-monster round up of the Old WOD, along with… honestly I'm not too clear on what those last couple of books are about.

If I remember correctly, the new version of Vampire downplayed the Judaeo-Christian origin story, shrouded the past in mystery by making older vampires lose some of their memories whenever they slept away the ages, and by encouraging the GM to make up more of their world rather than having the canonical secret truths all laid out in print. These are all reasonably cool ideas, but, alas, this arcanist was among those angered by the killing-off of a beloved old setting, so I never really gave it a fair shake and don't have a lot of familiarity with the ins-and-outs of the new WOD. I remember that there was at least one sourcebook for Requiem about one of the big baddie factions where instead of spelling it all out and setting it in stone where the players could spoil the secrets, the book was instead a smorgasbord of possibilities for the GM to pick-and-choose and build their own true secret backstory. That sounds pretty great, and a big step up from the labyrinthian cannon of the Old WOD. I probably would have loved that book if I hadn't taken such a hard stance on the edition wars.

At the same time that they were empowering the GM to take personal ownership over the setting, they also expressly designed this edition to be more cross-game compatible. There was a separate World Of Darkness corebook that covered the basic rules and humans, and serve as the second rulebook for all the game-lines. So if you wanted to cross all the streams, it was a little easier to do so, but if you'd rather carve out your own version of a specific game line you could do that as well. Man, I kinda wish I'd given this game a fair chance back in the day.

If you know more about New WOD, please expand this section. Thanks!

Monte Cook's WOD

In 2007 a third World of Darkness was published, this time created by Monte Cook. It was d20-based, and again rebooted everything. Apparently now extra-dimensional aliens are the origin story behind all the various forms of supernatural monster one could play.

If you know more about Monte Cook's WOD, please expand this section. I literally didn't know this existed until I went to look something up about New WOD today in the year 2020, so my entry is even briefer than what little I can say about New WOD. Thank you for your help!

Other Spinoffs

For a long time there was talk of the impending release of an MMORPG set in the World of Darkness, but I don't think it ever got past the demo stage into worldwide availability. There were also two cRPGs based on Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption and Bloodlines. One a solid but unremarkable example of the genre, the other a mess ejected by a dying company which was then fixed by community developers to become an all time classic. A sequel is anxiously awaited at present (Q4 2020) and there are a few … pseudo RPGs (more like interactive novels) on the market to help fill the gap. No-one appears to have attempted any of the other properties.

There were a couple of WOD CCGs, including Jyhad (later wisely retitled Vampire: The Eternal Struggle) and a werewolf game called Rage.

In 1996 there was a single season of a Vampire TV show set in the World of Darkness, called Kindred: The Embraced. It played pretty fast and loose with the setting. I remember shaking my fist at the screen whenever they broke the rules of the game, or screwed up the lore. :) Not all vampires have level-four Protean!

Again, if you know more than I do about any of this, please jump in. Thanks!

Old WOD Revisited

In 2011 a 20th-Anniversary edition of the original Vampire: The Masquerade was kickstartered and released. This was followed by similar Anniversary editions of Werewolf and Mage.

In 2018, a new Fifth Edition of Vampire was released, designed this time by Kenneth Hite. The Fifth Edition is set in the same Vampire: The Masquerade world of the first edition, just updated to the then-current year. Or so I've been told. I really should buy it. I can only imagine they ignored the setting-ending apocalyptic books from 2004.



Game and Story Use

  • There's a ton of great ideas in every edition. If you like moody world building, and gothic or punk sensibilities, at least one the World of Darkness games is bound to have several things that appeal to you.
    • Trying to use all those great ideas in a single campaign is tricky, but if you're willing to pick-and-choose and do some legwork, or just good at freewheeling syncretic bisociation, there's great stuff there.
    • The NWoD is a great help with that - it's purpose built to work as a buffet setting, and can even run with no supernatural elements (although no-one will believe the GM who claims to be doing that). Previously, as noted, you had to swallow a big chunk of lore with any given sub-game and then found that stuff from the other subs was only semi-compatible.
    • I bet these books would be useful for anyone running a kitchen sink urban fantasy setting, like the Dresden Files RPG, Monster of the Week or Buffiverse. You'd have to file a few serial numbers off, but there's tons of cool supernatural creatures, lore, and powers you could pilfer for your game.
  • One thing most of the games did really well was handle the notion of "a beast I am, lest a beast I become". That is to say, the slippery slope towards monstrosity that's likely to happen if your very existence is marked by an insatiable lust for human blood. I particularly liked some of the non-standard morality paths in later V:TM books (starting, I think with the various Sabbat sourcebooks), and how they encouraged specific character archetypes and role-play styles. I found them to be way more interesting than just a generic sanity point system, giving you guidance on how your character wrestles with their inner monster.

As noted above, this page is woefully incomplete. If you love any of the versions of the World of Darkness, especially the ones I just quickly glossed past out of my own ignorance, please take a minute or two to expand on your favorite parts. Thank you!

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