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Eric: Undead Inside:Why Vampire Doesn't Excite Me

guy.gif (Taken from Dead Inside, by Atomic Sock Monkey Press. No, this has nothing to do with webcomics. Did anything in the masthead say I'd only be snarky about webcomics?)

I pay a certain amount of attention to the world of Role Playing Games. I kind of have to -- I make money off of words contributed to those games. So, I'm interested in how the industry develops, and naturally I get excited about innovation.

Well, this was a big weekend for the RPG community. Not only was it Gencon weekend, but White Wolf was putting out is super-huge-big-ultra-event of the year. After destroying its collective Worlds of Darkness last year, in a huge event that took months to complete (ending Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension and bunches of other games that often were better but didn't get as much press), White Wolf spent much of this year developing the replacement games that would clear away the cruft and launch anew -- with the mistakes of their heavily plot-arc-dependent lines wiped clean and true innovation in storytelling stepping forward. Yadda yadda yadda. Subtextual in all this was the boatloads of money White Wolf stood to make in selling the "End of the World" supplements and then selling entirely new games now. In RPG terms, this is called "pulling a Wizards of the Coast 520 with a Mage Revised extension." And this was the weekend the first two new books: World of Darkness and Vampire: The Requiem were released.

I have friends writing on the new books, and I want to be supportive of them, but it's hard to be when I care so utterly little about the whole thing. See, White Wolf's brand of storytelling did get a monumental shot in the arm -- a tremendous lift, a massively innovative approach, a hugely cool thing in all ways -- over the last year. Only White Wolf didn't write it. Chad Underkoffler did, and published it through his Atomic Sock Monkey Press. It's called Dead Inside, and it so desperately kicks the ass of modern horror roleplaying that repackaging Vampire seems like limp celery next to steak in comparison.

I have no doubt that Vampire: The Requiem is good. Hell, it'll no doubt be a better entry level game than Vampire: The Masquerade has been for years. But it's not going to begin to touch the thematic beauty of Dead Inside. In Dead Inside, the main character has lost his soul. Perhaps he sold it, wittingly or unwittingly. Perhaps it was stolen. Perhaps it just got neglected. But one way or another, the character has become empty. A cracked shell with the yolk poured out. A nothing. The world is dimmer, food doesn't taste as good, sex doesn't feel as good, and minus his spiritual heart he's slowly declining into nothingness. But he figures this out, and has to work to either get his soul back or find some way to replace it... and having had his tough outer spiritual shell cracked, he's able to perceive a much broader world than ever before.

How do you get soul back if you can't find yours? Simple. You do good things. You affirm other people. You help. That's right -- a Role Playing Game where power comes from being decent. Someone call the Christian Right and the Secular Left-- their game has arrived.

This has all the angst that a good White Wolf game would have, only there's point to it. This has all the wonder of Mage or Changeling, but with simpler mechanics. The mechanics (Underkoffler's Prose Descriptive Qualities, or PDQ system) are sublime -- easy to grasp. Good roleplaying is rewarded. And intent is more important than big dice rolls.

But damn few people know about Dead Inside. It's small-press published, available electronically and through Print on Demand. There were no midnight parties at local game stores for its release. There were no massive (and expensive) events at Gen Con for it. All it has going for it is sheer quality and inexpensive cost. And people like me shouting about it from the roof of my building.

I don't think the Vampire/World of Darkness release was quite as epic as White Wolf hoped, truth be told. I happened to be in Pandemonium Books this weekend -- this is one of the best-positioned game stores... well, in the world, living in the heart of Harvard Square in Cambridge, with huge college age traffic. Vampire and WoD were sitting on the shelf in two places, with several copies of each. For the hour I was there (on Saturday, in the heart of the day), a grand total of one couple came in, looked over the books, and bought Vampire -- but not WoD. Contrasted with the frenzy for Gehenna, the rulebook that presented the end of the world for Vampire: The Masquerade (Gehenna sold out pretty much worldwide, almost immediately, when it was released), this seems to be... well, just another RPG release. But I'm sure it's selling well and that's not a bad thing. I do have friends working on it, as I said, and I want them to do well. And I want people to have fun playing games.

But while someday I'm sure I'll pick these books up, to keep current if nothing else, they don't excite me the way Dead Inside did and does. And I'm forced to wonder if the rank and file are ever going to pick up on what's really changing, out there, or if they're just going to let it pass them by.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 23, 2004 12:11 PM

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