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Real Life Parallels in the World of Darkness

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  • Real Life Parallels in the World of Darkness

    Hello everyone!

    Apologies if this thread has been done before, but I did look to see if there was anything recently written on the topic that I could "bump" instead.

    As a bit of an explanation for how we got here, I have been learning more about the Umbra recently in order to work out some background material for my local setting. Which led me to Blights, Hellholes, etc., which led me to considering potential sources of local Blights, Hellholes, etc. Which led me to considering the lines between the Real World and the World of Darkness.

    I have read some discussions where this topic has come up in the past, regarding sensitivity around real historical trauma, the idea that certain historical events should not be mined for cheap thrills, particularly those where people who experienced those horrors are still living. In a lot of cases, the guidelines I picked up from reading those threads are pretty straightforward. But I have found myself pondering a few issues where I think I would appreciate some outside opinions.

    The first pertains to Real Life Events and their potential parallels in the World of Darkness. Without going into too much detail, for reasons, my "setting" in Reality was home to a serial killer who was arrested around twenty years ago. And I found myself wondering about how to handle that particular piece of history in relation to the wider history of the area. After an initial impulse to remove this individual from the history of my setting entirely, I decided that simply keeping their story completely removed from the supernatural elements of the setting was the most respectful take. Characters in-setting could find out about them if they were so inclined, but there will never be any plot thread that links that Real Life atrocity with my game. But I did find myself thinking that the more "grimdark" World of Darkness version should have several more made-up serial killers, some caught, others not; I don't think it's inappropriate to "draw inspiration" in the vague sense of knowing that history and "amplifying" it, but I'd like to hear other thoughts.

    The second issue has to do with the distinction between historical "events" and "trends." To use one of the examples that is applicable to my case, the Opiod Crisis. This is something that is still ongoing, with people still suffering and losing people that they care about. Do you think it is inappropriate to refer to the effects of the Opiod Crisis when discussing the potential spiritual corruption by the Wyrm in a neighbourhood suffering extensively from that event/trend, along with other factors?

    The third question was one I was reminded of as I was writing this, and is a bit lighter fare than the first two. It has to do with Real Life historical and public figures. Politicians, local celebrities, people who have had real impact on the history of a region. Do you keep these people in your World of Darkness, or do you replace them with Expys? I wonder about the implications of choosing which Real Life figures are the pawns and stooges of vampires, demonic cults, etc.? And if you do replace those people, how far back in time would you go? To use a Real Life example, the President of the United States (or Prime Minister of Canada, I'm Canadian): is your current President in-game the Real Life President? If you replace the current President, how many elections back in time do you go "replacing" Real Life figures with WoD alternates? This one more than the rest, I'm just idly curious about different people's takes on the subject

  • #2
    About the first comment, I’d agree that for a real world serial killer, especially one who’s atrocities are in living memory, having them exist in a world based on the real world is fine as long as they remain an instance of human monstrosity. Modern serial killers should probably be handled in that light and even historical killers need to be treated with some delicacy.

    For contemporary issues, I’d say that the first thing to do is to sit down with your players for a session 0 and make everyone has access to safety tools. A selling point of the World of Darkness has always been its willingness to address serious topics and so I think covering these things in-game can be a very powerful way of exploring those issues in the real world. If you’re table is comfortable with the Opiod Epidemic being harvested for plot hooks, go for it I say. There are powerful stories to tell there and important statements to make.

    This is just my personal take but here’s what I do: for more direct characters that the players may interact with like a cities mayor or local police chief, I create expies. For large public figures I use the real world figures, unless they might appear on-screen for extended periods, in which case I’d be tempted to make an expy. While I’m also some times tempted to make up figures for alternate history vibes and to create a feeling of distinction from the real world, but I’ve never sat down and written anything major up in that vein.

    Hope this is helpful.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Gryffon15 View Post
      About the first comment, I’d agree that for a real world serial killer, especially one who’s atrocities are in living memory, having them exist in a world based on the real world is fine as long as they remain an instance of human monstrosity. Modern serial killers should probably be handled in that light and even historical killers need to be treated with some delicacy.

      For contemporary issues, I’d say that the first thing to do is to sit down with your players for a session 0 and make everyone has access to safety tools. A selling point of the World of Darkness has always been its willingness to address serious topics and so I think covering these things in-game can be a very powerful way of exploring those issues in the real world. If you’re table is comfortable with the Opiod Epidemic being harvested for plot hooks, go for it I say. There are powerful stories to tell there and important statements to make.

      This is just my personal take but here’s what I do: for more direct characters that the players may interact with like a cities mayor or local police chief, I create expies. For large public figures I use the real world figures, unless they might appear on-screen for extended periods, in which case I’d be tempted to make an expy. While I’m also some times tempted to make up figures for alternate history vibes and to create a feeling of distinction from the real world, but I’ve never sat down and written anything major up in that vein.

      Hope this is helpful.
      Regarding the second point, the importance of discussing boundaries with players during Session 0 is good! But unfortunately, I'm not really working on this for a specific group of players, it's more writing my own background material to build from. Based on what you've said, it seems like the safest course to start with is to initially approach it like the first issue; it's there, but we're not really going to go into it. But unlike the first issue, having some potential plot threads in mind depending on how Session 0 goes, might still be appropriate?

      I think your ideas on the third point are pretty solid too; the odds of your group of players having a sit-down with a world leader is pretty unlikely, but here I am going "but what if!" in my head xD And yeah, it seems kind of inevitable that lots of little bits of the World of Darkness history would actually differ from ours, just based on the inevitable consequences of little tweaks made here and there in the canon, official or personal. Change the mayor of a city, maybe their landmark policy never comes into play, the city is radically different.

      Thanks for your input!

      Comment


      • #4
        Whether it is appropriate to include certain real world topics in your games is much like comedians telling jokes about real world tragedies. It depends on the audience. Some things can be done too soon for some people. There is no right or wrong answer. It's what your group prefers.

        As for references to real world people, that's another decision based on real world traits. My personal rule is that anyone the PCs could interact with or affect, or if that person has relevance somehow to the supernatural is done with an expy for that person. If the PCs can't interact with the person, if their contact is limited, or if they have no involvement with the supernatural elements of the WoD then I'll use or reference the real people. I call it the "Johnny Fontaine Rule" out of the character in the Godfather book/movies who was an expy of Frank Sinatra. My main rule is to try to never associate a real world person with something they did not actually do. Their fictional counterparts pretty much do what their real world person does, but can include any supernatural elements I want as ST, and the PCs can do whatever they want with that NPC.

        There are certain choices I've made in my game settings that violate that just out of preference, typically by having fictional counterparts to people. The farther back in time we go and the more obscure the figure, the more likely I am to be OK to have that historical figure have some involvement with the supernatural if it is a cool element. I am a big fan of the works of James Clavell, so I just outright steal many of his fictional equivalents of real world people used in his books as background elements. I also include some things that are "obviously wrong" to push home the point that the WoD setting is not the real world. Sometimes that is just using the PENTEX brand names in place of real world counterparts. Why have McDonald's when O'Tolleys exists in the setting? So I just have O'Tolleys. There is no McDonald's. I also include fictional elements from other media that I like because they stick in my head like the Big Kahuna Burger chain from Quentin Tarantino movies, or keep defunct or now obsolete brands as enterprises that are still ongoing. The A&P supermarket chain still exists in my WoD setting.

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