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I have noticed that there seems to be a pattern at work in most oWod/WoD products, which when followed results in settings with the following properties:

  • Each new PC starts with many possible conflicts deriving from it's affiliation, lineage, species, ideology, etc.
  • The PCs need not to be friends nor share an ideal to work as a cohesive group; they ally with each other for necessity or convenience.
  • There are many pre-defined goals that a PC can follow (i.e Golconda, power, Diablerie, etc), and PC actions in pursuit of those goals produce many more conflicts for the GM to work with.
  • Combat is only one option. It may not be the best, and when it is, you better have a plan (please reconsider any overpower freak).

Does anyone knows if White Wolf has any game/setting design process, or at least some guidelines, that aim to design a setting like this? I'm more interested in modern horror settings, which is more in tune with what White Wolf have shined upon.

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Please discuss question validity on Meta: meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/3331/… –  mxyzplk Feb 25 at 18:12
    
You could do worse than talking to Eddy Webb, who's been writing & developing World of Darkness books for a long time and has a good online presence. eddyfate.com –  Yoda Mar 5 at 16:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 20 down vote accepted

UPDATE (2014-07-25): He confirmed!!!

Mark Rein·Hagen himself confirmed that this is a "pretty cool summary" of his strategies. Thanks Mark!

Nothing unusual (which is good!)

From The Gentleman Gamer interview with Mark Rein·Hagen and The Gentleman Gamer Interviews Justin Achilli, developer of Vampire: The Masquerade, it is clear that White Wolf have always used a really standard game design cycle:

  1. Create a prototype
  2. Play it, and let it fail
  3. Learn with the prototype failure
  4. Go back to step 1

Jesse Schell, who worked not only in video/computer games, but also in thematic park games, argues in his amazing book that a game designer in whatever medium should always work in a process like that. I don't know if Mark Rein·Hagen followed this on purpose or by gut feeling. Either way, he followed a process that many huge studios failed to see in the past. Even nowadays, these things aren't regarded as common sense. And Achilli hinted that they still use this process, citing The Art of Game Design as a great reference.

The Tools

Although this process is regarded as standard by successful game designers, it is by no means complete. Schell argues that it is by using the right tools (the so called lenses in his book title) that the designer creates a great game. He shows and discuss many tools, and each one of them has a use for any kind of game. So if there is something like a "White Wolf Secret", then here it is: it's tools selection.

From my research, I could find some tools that were used in one way or another by White Wolf. Some of these tools may be really hard to use in other kinds of games, simply because they are not as generic as the ones that Schells lists in his book.

Archetypes

Mark Rein·Hagen stated that he spends a lot of time designing the archetypes which the players will assume with their characters. These archetypes are fun to follow and are also fun to contradict -- so the player is not constrained by the archetype. The archetype is a guide, and the players should choose if they will follow it or not.

Without the archetypes, the players have a hard time finding goals in the game. Their characters become detached from the setting and have unclear behaviour, giving the players a hard time. With archetypes, the roleplay becomes easier.

Politics

Mark Rein·Hagen also stated that politics is a major feature in his games. It may seem obvious, but what he defines as politics need not be so openly politician as in Vampire: The Masquerade. He defines politics as a three step process:

  1. Give people something to believe
  2. Now give them the means to fight for their vision
  3. Let them figure out the rest for themselves

Culture

Finally, the culture is also really important. Mark Rein·Hagen again stated that he is obsessed with myths and that his first inspiration source is the work of researchers such as Joseph Campbell, who wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces. So he employs old and new jargon, folklore, legends and gossip to create a mythical atmosphere.

Final Remarks

White Wolf uses an iterative process that is gaining recognition day by day as THE process. It's simple and even obvious, and can be applied to all game types: computer games, RPGs, board games and even sport games.

The tools that White Wolf chooses to emphasize are what give its games their characteristic flavour, and so it is with any other game studio. BioWare also distinguishes itself from its competition by the tools that they choose to emphasize. As does Wizards of the Coast. And Evil Hat Productions. And so on.

By the videos linked to in this answer, I found out three tools that White Wolf emphasizes: archetypes, politics and culture. This list is by no means exhaustive. There may be many other tools that White Wolf employs, and that I could not find out. Yet, I believe that these three cover most of their works.

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I see that you had to find your answer by yourself. The thing I find admirable is that you have written all shared with us. Thanks, it is very interesting. –  Mu_ Mar 6 at 20:02
    
@Mu_ Oh, of course I have. People have bothered to help me enhancing my question, upvoting it, and you even answered it! How could I keep these thing just for myself? –  Metalcoder Mar 6 at 20:53

I don't know if even those guidelines exist. I have played WoD games for a long, long, long time. I have even made my own homebrew games. But I don't think there is step-by-step procedure to make a game. I think each game was made with different design goals and procedures in mind. Some traits can be found in most games, but not in all games. For example:

  • Each character belong to a clan/tribe/tradition/etc: Not true in Wraith: the Oblivion, where few characters are part of a guild (in fact, they are officially extint).

  • The main antagonists are from your own species: Not true in Werewolf: the Apocalypse nor Hunter: the Reckoning.

The only common trait I can think is citizenship. That is, your species is not just a collection of powers and conditions. You belong to a society with rules, government and so on. In most games, it is the politics inside this monster society which makes the events run. I recommend to adhere to this idea if you are designing your own monster race.


Maybe the issue you have is that you are focusing the on problem from the opposite end. I think the design process of World of Darkness games is not to think how the new game will be similar to the other, but how it will be different.

Each game has a main theme and a collection of other less relevant themes. For example, Vampire's main theme is Humanity, and the other themes are politics, occultism, freedom, etc.

It is very important you chose the themes for your games, and try to relate them to the ideas of your setting. The themes must even be present when you design the rules. In example: In Wraith the main theme is the Oblivion, so the character's "hitpoints" decrease with time, and his angst always goes up, because the idea is that your character will eventually disappear. In Vampire you have Humanity, in Mage, Paradox, in Changeling Banality, in Werewolf Renown, etc. All those traits are related to the main themes of the games.

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Probably there isn't a process where one can put a supernatural creature on the back and then get a cool setting at the front. Guidelines are just that: guides, not procedures. You kind of drafted a valid solution here. Supposing that WW used something like that, they possibly just ignored the advice that says "there should be many player factions" on Wraith. –  Metalcoder Feb 25 at 18:44
    
+1 Awesome advice! –  Metalcoder Feb 25 at 18:44
    
To be fair, Apocalypse has Spirals as an important facet of the big bad... –  Yoda Mar 5 at 16:32

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