>Having already discussed what I feel to be the overall “best” RPG on the market at the moment, let’s cover a few more from the Honorable Mentions list.
World of Darkness from White Wolf Publishing
Setting: A world very much like ours, only . . . darker. Monsters are real, and while this is generally not known by the populace it’s very clear to the players, who usually take on the role of the monsters themselves. Vampires, werewolves, mages and Frankenstein’s monster all find a place here, among many others. Also, the majority of the population will have some kind of personal tragedy that they’re hiding. Oh, and gothic architecture is much more commonplace than in the real world. The atmosphere is generally about as gloomy as London in your copy of Dracula. Basically, it’s gothic horror roleplaying where you take the role of the monsters.
While this can be fun, it’s not the most . . . uplifting theme, and this is definitely a teenagers and up kind of game. One thing is clear from reading the books, the authors enjoy the source material, and this is never more clear than when reading the flavor text. The illustrations, while usually line art, are also very fitting with the themes involved.
System: This is what’s called a “success based” system, where you roll a number of dice based on your overall ability with something; if enough of the dice are high, you succeed. If too many are low, you fail. More successes makes the results more spectacular, though it’s sometimes hard to define what that means. There are a number of different games available, including Mage: The Awakening, Vampire: The Requiem, and games for other supernatural beings such as werewolves, fey creatures (Changeling), monster hunters (Hunter: The Vigil), and so on. It’s a pretty big line of books. There’s also a few gems buried in the Old World of Darkness line that ended a few years back, and a version specifically written for LARP (Live Action Role Playing) called Mind’s Eye Theater.
Character Creation: Not too bad, really, if you want to play what’s in the book. Pick a clan, a faction, some emphasized traits, and start assigning points. The system DOES try and railroad you a little into making your concept fit what they’ve presented, but it’s not too rough that way. The real problem is that each book only contains rules for playing one type of supernatural – Vampire, Mage, Werewolf, all very well developed, but if you want to get into more than one of them it gets very expensive very quickly. Further, adding any additional customization options to the standard clans (there were about 5 in the books I read, and around 7 factions). Still, if you like gothic horror, you might like World of Darkness.
Barriers to Entry: Expense for one, though one book isn’t all that bad, and you can start playing with only one book. However, if you want options, you have to pay for them. You’ll also spend just a bit more on all the d10’s you’ll need, but you won’t need miniatures, so that’s a point in its favor. Overall, it’s fairly friendly to newcomers in that the core mechanic is relatively simple, but the atmosphere might turn some away at the door.
Who the book would be at your highschool: The mopey kid in the corner who wears black and writes obnoxious poetry. Actually pretty interesting, and fairly deep, but you have to get past the baggage first.