Some more guys I had the good fortune to meet and chat with at Gencon UK though, to start with I had just thought they were some local goth group trying to recruit members, or a LARP society for White Wolf game (non Camarilla) and not a game at all, so I passed them by before finding out what they were actually about.Now… I’m probably going to come off sounding like a bit of a mean ol’ cuss through this review but, quite honestly, I like the people involved, I like the game. What Gothic Society is, is a diamond in the rough. An unpolished gem that really just needs a bit of spit and polish and properly cutting to reveal its inner beauty.
Any harsh words that I might have are really in the form of advice and in addressing ways in which this game, and its world, can really shine. I’ll try to be constructive but there are a few things that really do scratch my face, and are relatively unforgivable.
The makers of Gothic Society (Twisted Chronicles LLC) are clearly fans of White Wolf’s World of Darkness line, and by World of Darkness I mean the old World of Darkness, not the insipid, weak-arse, bishounen bodysnatcher that has taken its place. The whole game, the language, the word salad gaming terminology, the micro fiction scattered throughout the book, the themes… none of it would be out of place at all in a mid 90’s Vampire: The Masquerade book.
Where I took my frustrations and annoyances with White Wolf and The Camarilla out in Bloodsucker: The Angst, in a comedic and vitriolic way, the Gothic Society crew have, instead, made a sort of ‘alternative’ game, with what probably should have happened with the oWoD line – a post disaster, post Gehenna world where the vampires (vampyres here) rule with an iron fist and remake the world into a stark and horrible dystopia.
And it works. Despite all the flaws and problems such an approach could have the world is compelling, the game system works and really all it needs is a bit of polish to be a really appealing game.
The book is half-page (A5) format, which makes it unusual for a gaming book and helped confuse me into thinking it wasn’t an RPG at all to start with – along with the name. The cover is also a tattoo style graphic, rather than a nice pretty image, something else that fails to draw the eye to the book. The border inside follows the same theme, and looks good, but the selection of interior images ranges from the good-but-inappropriate (stock art mostly) to the awful with only a few pieces that are of professional(ish) quality that seem to be new.
Otherwise the layout is standard two column format and there isn’t a great deal to comment on. It’s simple but it gets the job done. In fact I think it might have been better off without a lot of the art! Preserving that for chapter sections. The game could be vastly improved by some setting images, showing the ruined world, demonstrating the sort of life that is to be had there and even a handful of pieces of this sort would bring the game to life very effectively.
I’ve banged on before about White Wolf’s cardinal sin of hiding important game information in fiction and Gothic Society does the same thing. The fiction is, on the whole, somewhat better than much of that within White Wolf’s books and truly essential information IS laid out more matter of factly in explanatory sections but to get a real feel for the social dynamic of the way the world works you do have to wade into the fiction.
Otherwise the writing is fine, fairly clear and easy enough to get into your skull despite a tendency to use unnecessarily Byzantine gaming terminology.
(Its a big but)
1. There are no page numbers.
2. There is no index.
3. The contents, while useful… well, refer to 1.
4. I make a lot of spelling mistakes, but there are mistakes here that should have turned up in spell check and there are substitution words (waist for waste and so on).
5. THERE IS NO INDEX! (I know, technically, this is the same problem as number 2, but it is such a doozy I felt it was worth mentioning a second time).
6. There’s a failure to use font, or italics, to separate the fiction from the non-fiction.
The background of Gothic Society is very much rooted in a combination of Judeo Christian mythology from origin all the way through to revelations, combined with a liberal sprinkling of conspiracy theory – more so than White Wolf’s Vampire and more consistently (since this is a pure vampire game). If I was feeling mean I’d call it a sort of Vampire ‘Left behind’ but that doesn’t really give the right impression.
Basically… Lucifer is the first vampire who creates a race of progeny through marriage to Lilith. Their children, embodiments of the seven deadly sins, form – along with Lucifer – the heads of the main vampiric houses, one for each sin. This theme works wonderfully and gives a very good hook into the vampiric mythology of the setting as well as setting the tone for the religious nature of many of the book’s themes.
Lucifer rose from slumber after many years and plucked at the strings of his worldwide conspiracy to bring about the fall of man through his human and vampyre agents and through a limited nuclear war, turning the world into a hellish pit where humanity is yoked by the vampires and exists solely as their pawns and food.
As I described before, it is almost how a post-gehenna setting would look for the old World of Darkness.
It works, it appeals, even to someone like me who is a) a radical atheist and b) hates conspiracy theories.
Other aspects and influences upon the background appear to be Blade, Terminator, The Omen and the general culture of tribulationism and paranoid conspiracy theory that seems to prevalent in the US at the moment. I could go into a long essay/lecture here about shaken faith and comparisons between American end-of-the-world fiction since 9/11 and Japanese post-atomic fiction, but I’ll spare you.
Being the perverse sort of person I am I want to play a rebel in this world, not a vampyre and I was chuffed to see that they made London, England, the heart of the resistance – as well as a huge charnal pit. If I want to do that I’ll have to wait for their Mortal Uprising planned supplement. Since most humans are drudge (blood-enslaved) soldiers, brood mares/studs or snack food playing such a roll appeals to me more than the machiavellian politics and blood war between Lucifer and one of his children (Asmodeus) which is the main thrust of the vampire side of the game.
Gothic Society uses a dicepool system, though it is, in effect, a double dicepool system, which may make it a little unwieldy in certain circumstances. Each roll is assigned a ‘parent’ and a ‘child’, such as an Attribute and a Skill rating. You roll a number of dice equal to the parent on one type of dice (typically a d10) and another set of dice (equal to the child rating – usually a d8) and you take the highest from one roll and the lowest from the other and take the child away from the parent.
EG: Lucius Darkblade, stereotypical vampyre lord extraordinaire, is attempting to dance the hokey-cokey to ingratiate himself with some rebel humans he is supposed to be spying on. He has a parent of 6 (Reflexes) and a child of 3 (Dancing). On his parent roll he gets 4, 9, 1, 8, 10, 1. A high score of 10. On his child roll he gets 4, 1, 5. A low roll of 1. The difference is 9 and so Lucius performs a faultless hokey-cokey, ingratiating himself with the local populace.
Everything else pretty much stems from this in a reasonably predictable manner, failure is when you don’t make the target number, catastrophic failures when you get a negative result, really good successes when you score double the target number and so forth. Combat is a little peculiar and while I thought I understood it when I read through it (set damage for firearms) I can’t really gauge how well it works because I can’t find the health rules again due to the lack of index.
Overall it seems like it would work reasonably well but seems a little biased in favour of success, not that that is necessarily a bad thing.
- Great game world that recaptures some old WOD enthusiasm and vigour.
- Consistent setting.
- Intended good online support (in progress).
- No, frigging, index or page numbers.
- Poor presentation.
- Influences and derivation worn on its sleeve.
All that I think Gothic Society really needs to garner the attention that it actually deserves is a bit of work, a revised edition, a bit more money spent on artwork, a really good editing sweep and I think they’ll be set. If you wish White Wolf had done things differently and respected their fanbase more, then I think this is still the game for you.