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  • General Headcanons

    Hey y'all, hope that everyone out there is doing well and staying safe. I know that I for one am staying sane by using WoD for reading, writing, and playing during all this; so I figured I'd reach out with an open ended topic for people to discuss if they'd like.

    I've started threads like this on the WtA and MtAs forums, inspired by one that CTPhipps made in the VtM forum a few months back that I really enjoyed.

    So in the spirit of talking about this thing which we all must love (presumably if you're frequenting these forums) I figured I'd open another thread to discuss headcanons, theories, concepts and ideas for the World of Darkness.

    I'm down for discussing whatever in this, whether keeping to those subjects that we don't have specific forum for (HtR, DtF, HH, General) or just making this a grab-bag, so chase your bliss y'all.

    To get the ball rolling...

    •As my general rule of thumb, when in doubt, I make the World of Darkness 10% worse then the real world due to monsters, corruption, and just a general cosmic entropy.

    •Urban decay continues to be prominent in North American cities, even with gentrification. In fact gentrification has placed the decay into even more noticeable a position given the sharp contrast it creates, as salons and yuppie housing rises up blocks from blasted out slums and drug choked communities.

    •Political corruption is more prevalent at every level. Historical Progressive and Reform movements were not quite as successful in regulation, enforcement, or closing loopholes. Everyone knows that politics is graft, that police and reporters are on the take, and that a non insignificant portion of political war-chests comes from corporations and the street rather then average citizens.

    •Similarly, crime, both amateur and organized is better then it was in the 70s but not as decent as today. The Mafia continued to be prominent, with RICO having fewer teeth and mob busts being less successful and with shorter mandatory sentences on drug charges. Similarly the Russia Mob, Central & Southern American Cartels, Tongs, and Yakuza maintain their presence on the criminal landscape alongside Jewish, Irish, and Nativist mobs that were never as fully swept away as in our reality. This alongside more general corruption means that these figures, alongside street gangs, are far more active and publicly known then irl.

    •Gothic architecture never truly died. It's seen fusions with everything from Art Deco to Post Modernism but the fact remains that the average city street would look naked with out at least one set of flying buttresses and a handful of gargoyles scattered alongside a variety of religious iconography. While Christian symbols remain the most prominent, almost everyone gets in on the act, as the divide between the zealous on either side of the debate over religion grows deeper and ever more filled with the tired, apathetic, and world-weary masses without purpose...

    (Hope y'all enjoy and I'm excited to see other people's work!)

  • #2
    As I've mentioned in the various other threads:

    I use the CofD Attribute spread, with its Physical/Social/Mental X Power/Finesse/Durability set up. I like this set up for a number of reasons, including the fact that it gives a way for characters to resist the three types of effects/attacks, and because I always ended up finding Appearance a stat that was either irrelevant to my characters or a major focus. Making that sort of thing a Merit/Advantage like Striking Looks just ended up working a lot better for me. I cap all of these at five dots, so as to help avoid the "buckets of dice" issue that sometimes slowed stuff down. However, I have what I refer to as the Legendary Attribute level, which beyond the human limits of five dots, and only occurs with things like elder vampires, legendary were-beasts, non-human monsters/constructs, and certain other special types. This is slightly akin to Storypath's Scale system, where anyone going in a head to head contest against someone who has that Attribute at Legendary is almost certainly going to lose, baring a handful of special circumstances.

    Regarding Abilities, I ended up paring them down into three sets of eight each for Talents, Skills and Knowledge. I find this helps eliminate the problem of "skill creep" (making characters less capable because they have to spend their limited points on more and more abilities), and because I ask players to define what that fairly broad Ability means specifically to their character (A medical doctor and a traditional healer are going to approach Medicine differently, for example), I found it helped a lot with character development. I also found that because of this, starting characters didn't need as many Ability points, so I go with an 11/7/4 spread.
    In addition, I use an adaption of the CofD and Exalted take on Specialties. Rather than getting them for a skill with four dots, I give three dots worth of specialty to spend at character creation, adding dice to ability rolls involving that specialty. Again, this helps the PCs better define their character and what the abilities mean to them, In my experience. Like Attributes, I cap Abilities at five dots. And also like Abilities, there is an Ability Mastery tier that represents said character being one of the absolute best people in the world at that ability.
    Talents: Animal Ken, Athletics, Awareness, Enigmas, Expression, Melee, Presence, Subterfuge
    Skills: Crafts, Drive, Firearms, Larceny, Performance, Socialize, Survival, Weaponry
    Knowledge: Academics, Bureaucracy, Investigation, Lore, Medicine, Occult, Science, Technology
    (Melee is hand to hand combat; Bureaucracy is one's organizational and managerial ability, as well as knowing how to deal with such things; Lore is one's understanding of her own supernatural subculture and how it works.)

    I try to keep Backgrounds as simple as I can, usually at only ten. These are generally Allies, Contacts, Influence (in the mundane world), Followers, Mentor, Resources, Status (rank in one's subculture organization), Stronghold, Magic Object, and "Special Thing". Exactly what some of these are vary from game to game. Magic Object, obviously, is things like Fetish, Talisman, Relic, etc. Stronghold is things like Haven, Sanctum, and the like. Special Thing is Herd for Vampire, Library for Mages, etc. Again, these all stop at five dots, but have paragon versions that are a tier above that. In Charge for Influence, Artifact for magic objects, and Wealth Beyond Avarice (or Balance: Unlimited) for Resources, for example.

    My overall sense of Theme and Mood for all of my World of Darkness games is very much in keeping with the Gothic Punk origins. Again, repeating myself from other threads:
    The Gothic part refers to the Gothic literary genre of the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as its various decedents and spin offs (Southern Gothic, German "Shudder Novels", Pulp Horror, Hammer horror films, etc.), as well as to the late medieval architecture, especially symbols of authority such as castles and cathedrals, which played a big part in it. This combination of age, size, and power over people gives off a mood of oppression and of the protagonist's inherent weakness in the greater scheme of the world. Likewise, the literature has a recurring theme of the protagonist being at a severe disadvantage against various oppressive forces from both the past and the present.
    The Punk part has less to do with the broad (and rather disorganized and widely varied) music scene of the 1970s (or with its stylistic look) and more with a lot of the attitudes that drove it. Namely, Be yourself and fuck anyone who has a problem with it. It's about being a person and an individual rather than just a number or a cog. You - yes, you - are important and your voice is worth being heard, provided you are willing to speak up and accept the consequences that come with not going along with the crowd. It's not a particularly new phenomenon, existing in some way, shape, or form for much of human history. "Punk" is just a convenient label to put on it.
    So when you combine the two, you have a setting where the primary theme is of the weight of the past and the vast impersonal powers of the present are constantly bearing down oppressively on the world and those in it, contrasted with the primary mood of the protagonists rebelling against the status quo of banality, surrender, and ignorance. The dignity and dreams of the individual must constantly strive against the uncaring and corrupt forces that want to crush such things.

    If you're a vampire, you're struggling to hold on to your humanity against the undeserved tyranny of the Beast, while also trying to be your own person amidst the machinations of the Jyhad (or whatever we are calling it now), oppressive elders and untrustworthy fellow kindred. If you're a werewolf, you're suddenly thrust into a millennia old holy war that your side is losing, usually because of the long list of screw ups by countless long dead generations, trying to balance these two radically different parts of your self (wolf vs human; flesh vs spirit) and keeping your Rage under control. If a mage, you're now part of the underground resistance movement in a struggle for reality itself up against an enemy that has you vastly outgunned and out-resourced, trying to leave your mark on the world while also trying to find your own individual path to Ascension. And so on. Even with mortal games, be they witch hunters or just members of the police, media, or what have you, I try to stick to that overall base Theme and Mood.

    It also extends to the way I tread pop culture in the World of Darkness. Mainstream music, films, tv, books, etc. tend to be a lot of shallow spectacle and flavor of the minute type affairs, while the counterculture is a lot more underground (at least until getting co-opted) is a lot rawer, more personal, and striving to say something important (even if its failing to). I have sometimes joked that in the WoD, Prince never got a recording contract and instead became this musician known only to the greater Midwest underground club scene and for his eventual private studio that he used to help others get their music out there.

    ​I also tend to play things as a lot more xenophobic than the real world. Partially, this is just an outgrowth of the Gothic genre and its themes I use, but it's also a natural human response to the presence of violent and predatory monsters among us. Any stranger could be a potential threat and going outside your own territory exposes you to danger. This is the same for various ethnic enclaves, exclusive gated communities, small towns, tribal peoples, religious minorities, the LGBT+ community, and everyone else. This includes the various supernatural forces, all of whom are usually under threat from some outside force (Lupines, witch hunters, elders, the Wyrm, the Technocracy, Banality, etc.).

    Metaphysically, I've pondered that certain aspects of the weather lend themselves to more overcast skies and frequent rain in certain areas as a result of the spiritual landscape.

    What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
    Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)


    • #3
      I don't associate Gothic Horror with “everything is more horrible.” I think this makes me different than a lot of the posters on this site who usually describe a mind-numbing world of suck. Some thing are more horrible of course. There are terrible monsters who prey on humanity out there. But Gothic Horror has never been about how awful things are. Romance is a big part of Gothic Horror. And there is beauty in some of that darkness. There is mystery and excitement, and a sense of the sublime and wonder. In certain ways, the World of Darkness is much more beautiful and interesting than our own. It's just that those pleasures have their own perils. Not all encounters with the supernatural should end badly. It's also a place of miracles – with the good guys (often NPC antagonists in my chronicles since the PCs are usually monsters of some kind) often inexplicably surviving or benefiting from lucky breaks, if not outright miraculous survivals. My World of Darkness does not so much “suck” as much as being dangerous, but there's also places of safety among the terror. It's a world of predators, but it is also a world with heroes in the Gothic tradition.

      I think overall the World of Darkness as published canon has way too many supernatural creatures. The business needs of the publisher keep pushing more and more sourcebooks and new ideas, and things get crowded as a result. So very soon there are simply way too many supernatural creatures. So I am not actively pruning those numbers in any chronicles I run. One reason I have come to this conclusion is that I am much more willing now to include elements from the original five game lines so it became very apparent to me that there's just too much out there. To compensate, I sometimes expand the chronicle setting to include more than just the immediate area so that nearby cities or regions are part of the game.

      For any historical or real world figures I include in the game, I tend to create roman-a-clef characters in their place, so that if anything divulges from reality, the integrity of real people are kept intact. Real world figures that are referenced tend to be for people they PCs can't interact with.

      Except for the specific plots I run in my chronicles, I try to make my setting reflect the real world in general. So when things get better in real life, they also get better in the World of Darkness. It just means that different factions and individuals benefit than others. So for example while in canon the Sabbat had a great revival in the late nineties as reflected in various Crusades that took Camarilla cities, in my own chronicles they suffered from a series of reverses to reflect the growing prosperity and urban renewal of much of the nineties and early 2000s. As Mexico grew much rich, but increasingly more violent, it meant that much of Sabbat held Mexico became contested territory – especially in regards to the Anarchs moving in.

      I don't do Gothic-Punk. I want my chronicles to be more like Gothic-Noir. While I am not a fan of punk aesthetics, I don't mind having it in my games. But I find the Noir style more in keeping with my preferences. There's corruption, violence, conspiracy, and intrigue, but a lot more style. For inspirations, I go to classic noir like The Maltese Falcon, Laura & Kiss of Death, and modern neo-noir movies like Chinatown, the Godfather trilogy, LA Confidential, The Insider, and Fight Club. I like the old Universal Horror movies, Val Lewton, and Alfred Hitchcock along with modern horror. For books I like Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, HP Lovecraft, Laird Barron, and Whitley Streiber; and the comics of Mike Mignola, Howard Chaykin, and Neil Gaiman. I adore the Jon J Muth graphic novel of Dracula, and Marvel's Tomb of Dracula.

      When I run my games, I try to hit the PCs with stories on multiple levels. I have a sandbox where they can run into various things, a chronicle metaplot or tentpole designed to be the major story/event of the chronicle, and personal stories that ground them in the mundane world generally using their backstory and Backgrounds.
      Last edited by Black Fox; 04-26-2020, 05:37 AM.


      • #4
        Well, the forums ate my first response, so I'll keep this second one brief.

        Thank you both for sharing your thoughts, I'm always interested in seeing other people's interpretations on things and thoughts. Me, I've always been a big fan of the Gothic-Punk style, but I'm also a big fan of everything to do with Halloween and punk culture in general, so I suppose that goes somewhat without saying.

        Regardless, y'all both make interesting points and I'm glad to hear them!

        A quick head canon as well:

        •The concept of momento mori and antiquing is more commonplace in the World of Darkness then our own, with many traditional families passing artifacts and even remains such as bones through the generations, while others have modernized into a rejection of such intimate connection with death.


        • #5
          Originally posted by Gryffon15 View Post

          •The concept of momento mori and antiquing is more commonplace in the World of Darkness then our own, with many traditional families passing artifacts and even remains such as bones through the generations, while others have modernized into a rejection of such intimate connection with death.
          Given the existence of Fetters and their importance to wraiths, this probably is very much a thing in the WoD. If the Monitors Guild had ever gotten a full book, you'd probably have seen this explicitly spelled out.

          What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
          Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)


          • #6
            That's a fair point actually and one that I hadn't considered.

            The idea that people, particularly common people, were once closely tied to the mystical world and have since moved away from it (both a gothic idea and very much a statement of the 90s), is an interesting recurring trend or theme in the world of darkness.

            In numerous places it describes that certain people: those from rural communities, underdeveloped portions of the third world, or migrant communities from the old world often carry superstitions and mystical traditions with them. Like the classic trope of the Wallachian peasants who live in fear under the shadow of Dracula's castle, they understand that they live amongst horrors.

            This is contrasted with the more mainstream status quo, what I suppose I'll call middle class surbanan mainstream cultures or some such. People have abandoned traditions as superstition and old wives tales in favor of a mundane world defined by rationality. In the gothic period it was the Victorian gentleman like Johnathan Harker while in the World of Darkness it was average joe from the 'burbs.

            The idea that there is a mystical truth to reality, or at least an aspect, that goes unrecognized by the general public is a major theme in many gamelines, if not most. One that no doubt was poignant to spiritually inclined writers at the time and an idea that many would find still poignant today.

            I think that it's an interesting contrast to explore and to adopt for a moment the age old Tradition v Technocrat debate (just as labels, no need to get into specifics) I can see how either side could be meaningful and wonderfully interesting to explore.

            The notion of a mystical element of reality is both wonderous and comforting. It allows for meaning to exist in seemingly meaningless things and gives some element of control or at least understanding alongside the sheer wonder of the occult. However it also means the acknowledgement that you live in a world of terrors and that monsters and curses can hurt the ones that you love or yourself.

            Alternatively, while a young occultist or experienced spiritualist might roll their eyes at mainstream society and the mundanity of living by the status quo, it's undeniably comfortable. Many people are happy to be ordinary, to live simple lives and find fulfillment where they can. It provides a world of reassurance, even if the threat of random chaos and existential nihilism still looms. There's nothing wrong with desiring safety and the mystical world is by its nature frought with dangers both real and imagined.

            Taking these two contrasting ends of the spectrum is a very interesting way of looking at the World of Darkness I think. Both sides are valid, neither is inherently wrong-minded. Yet both perspectives view the world quite differently and open us up to different questions and explorations.

            All of which I feel is just generally neat.


            • #7
              My general rule for a home city for a campaign is to only bother with the most interesting parts of the geography/lore and fill the rest in with whatever will make the game most interesting.

              Example, for the vampire game I'm starting in Boston, I took note of the Boston Brahmins (the term for the elite families of the locale) and used those surnames for all my NPC Ventrue (because of course they're only going to embrace from the upper crust/old money), found some key artistic/cultural landmarks to be the Elysium, did a google search for night clubs to pick out where the Rack would be, and then took a look a look at the crime statistics and "worst neighborhoods" reports to figure out where to center the Anarchs and any hidden Sabbat in the city.

              * * * *

              As to personal head-canons, one I employed in nearly all of my Mage games is that Caine wasn't even a Vampire... What he undergoes with the three curses is actually a very botched Awakening forced on him by Lilith and the Vampire state is really an infectious permanent paradox flaw that's got massive inertia from having begun back when there were maybe 5,000 humans and a handful of mages total.*

              This is also why Caine could create disciplines seemingly on the fly. They were actually Awakened magic that only got codified into specific disciplines as Caine's paradigm (blood magic) got rooted in the collective consciousness of early humanity and has been rooted there ever since. Vampiric Disciplines are actually just static blood magic working on the mythic threads still present in man's subconscious.

              * I use the population bottleneck linked to the Toba catastrophe when the human population shrunk to just 3-10k as the mundane aspect of the "Adam & Eve are expelled from the Garden" point. The focus on Adam & Eve (and Lilith) recorded in the Bible isn't due to them being the actual only humans, but because Adam and Lilith were the first humans to ever Awaken, Eve was "created" from Adam because he guided her to Awaken, becoming the first human apprentice. Abel also awoke, but his brother Caine didn't and killed Abel out of jealousy. He came across Lilith who tried to forcibly awaken him, but it was botched and the rest is history.


              • #8
                I'm not a huge Mage fan, but I love the creative repurposing going on in that headcanon. It's a terrific example of how one can use crossover characters without worrying about how both games' mythologies can be objectively true, avoiding a lot of unnecessary head scratching in the process.


                • #9
                  Black Fox Gothic and romance go hand in hand

                  Chris24601 love your headcanon

                  “The Bonnie Prince is a clever, slippery snake with enough charm to convince good men (and women) that he’s God’s Chosen One. If we don’t stop him from raising this rebellion, we’re all going to be staring down into the abyss at Culloden Moor.”


                  • #10
                    That Caine thing is pretty rad Chris! I'll keep that in mind myself for any mage-focused chronicles I end up doing!


                    • #11
                      Just a general thing I use as far as historical stuff is certain over arcing eras.
                      Working backwards,

                      The Final Nights (The Present to WW2), the overall basic gothic punk setting of the modern administrative state, rebellion, and the possible pending end of the world.
                      The Twilight Era (The Great Depression to @1820), a world not fully engulfed in darkness but full of shadows and mystery.
                      The Burning Times (The Napoleonic Wars to @1200), the period of continuous upheaval and revolutions, beginning with the start of the Inquisition and including the Mongol invasions, the Anarch uprisings, the start of the Ascension War, two Great Maelstroms, the Shattering, plagues, the Reformation, the intellectual fires of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and the revolutions of the late 18th century.
                      The Long Night (@1200 - @400), when supernatural forces were clearly in a position of strength, but the first cracks in their power began to show, with vampires developing their feudal power structure, the Fair Folk seeing the first signs of the coming Winter, and a number of dominant mage fellowships in their uncontested summer period.
                      The Ancient World (@400 - @300BC), a classical world of gods and monsters.
                      The Dawning (@300BC - @2000BC), the dawn of recorded history and known human civilization.
                      The Before Times (@2000BC - ???), what came before, in the period of myth and legend, including the First City, the Impergium, the separation of the material world from the umbra and underworld, Atlantis, and all of that.

                      What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
                      Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)


                      • #12
                        That's cool stuff No One of Consequence and it's something that I hadn't particularly thought of but the idea that one could follow the timeline of the World of Darkness and its mystical development, perhaps akin to a geological survey does make sense.

                        If one takes the Consensual Reality of Mage and the Multi-Resonance Layered Reality of Demon alongside with Werewolf, Wraith, and Changeling the idea that the world has truly been metaphysically evolving does make sense.

                        From the absolute freedom and chaos of the earliest periods to slow classification and then throughout the slow calcification going up and towards the modern nights, a fascinating work could be done on optional rules for reality's nature through the centuries.


                        • #13
                          I have this general idea that everything prior to around 4000 or 5000 years ago is incredibly nebulous, with multiple layers of reality existing all at the same time, and some sort of event ending that. Said event being what Noddist Kindred refer to as the Flood, and part of the reason Antediluvians break so many rules. They are from a time when they probably contested with lesser angels, fairy lords, and great beasts on a regular basis. (Whether or not this looks anything like Exalted is entirely a matter of personal interpretation.)

                          What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
                          Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)


                          • #14
                            Aronofsky's "mother!" has a symbolic demarcation line where it crosses over from being an allegory about the age of myth to an allegory about the procession of recorded history. It's the moment when Mother flushes her remaining Azoth down the drain that magic leaves the world and history begins.


                            • #15
                              Someone, either Richard Dansky or Bruce Baugh I think, once joked that the hole that the Neverborn crawled out of and which Oblivion seeps in to reality is where Lucifer fell when cast out of Heaven. I sometimes ponder this as the event which broke the antediluvian world.

                              What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
                              Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)