Candle in the shadows: A multi-part Chronicles of Darkness Primer Part 1
The sweltering heat of your classroom is nearly lulling you to sleep and your potbellied professor isn’t helping matters. As you fidget in your seat to at the very least stay awake, you notice that the clock at the front of the room is broken. The hand that counts each second appears to be stuck, clicking with stubborn effort yet unable to move forward.
Wearily, you focus on the broken clock almost straining yourself to inspect the broken thing. You think you can hear the strained clicking of the second hand in your ears, until you realize that the clicking is all to real and has drowned out all other sounds around you, and its growing louder. Strange panic begins to overtake you as each deafening click pounds in your head, bringing a sharp flash of pain.
Unable to look away, you see the internal working of the clock with each small flash, with the small bundle of gears and cogs that will the machine to life. Every second that passes brings more visions and pain. The walls that enclose you are held up by strange piping and servos all feeding into a giant set of cogs where the ceiling should have been. Looking down to where your professor stood, you recoil in silent mouthed dread as a man made of wire and stained glass turns his gaze to you with gold and cold eyes.
The ticking is thunderous now as you return your gaze to the clock. It appears so small in comparison to the massive machinery the now encircles you. It seems small, insignificant and meaningless when one gazes at the big picture…..just like you.
The stained glass man is next to you now, you see him reach with claws made of sharp wires and yet cannot move or resist his attack. Afterall, why should you resist……you’re nothing but a cog in the great machine.
Tick…..Tick….. “ Jason?? Jay, are you OK?”
You open your eyes to see your professor shake your shoulder gently. The machinery and the stained glass monster are gone as if they never existed at all. You shake your head in acknowledgement and mutter an apology as you stand up and hurriedly grab your belongings. You look up at the clock as you stand to exit the room and put this nightmare behind you. The clock is working seamlessly.
You exit the room and laugh, just a strange nightmare…nothing else.
Welcome, to the first in an ongoing series of articles detailing the games and setting of the Chronicles of Darkness. Through this series, I would like to introduce or reinforce to veteran players of the value and storytelling potential of this often overlooked game line. Before all that though we need a brief history lesson.
1) Darkness Reborn
In the year 2003, White Wolf Publishing ended it all. Through their Time of Judgement storyline, the publisher brought the end of the world to their immensely popular World of Darkness(WoD) game line. Such a move was bold, as the World of Darkness consists of amazing and thought-provoking games such as Vampire the Masquerade, Werewolf the Apocalypse and Mage the Ascension, just to name a few. Players were aghast at the idea of their beloved games ending; however, White Wolf had a plan.
A spiritual successor to the original World of Darkness was announced and was met with excitement and skepticism. Promising a ruleset that would allow easier gameplay and crossover potential, this initially branded World of Darkness line was released in 2004 and has chugged along ever since, taking horror into new and unexpected places. The Chronicles of Darkness feature a base book that contains all the basic rules and setting for mortals in the Chronicles of Darkness, while the various game lines expand the players options for supernatural creatures and story hooks, all retaining the majority of rules making the whole setting easier for players and storytellers alike.
2) What’s in a name?
With the return of the original World of Darkness game lines, White Wolf Publishing has rebranded their successor games into a setting named the Chronicles of Darkness. To avoid obvious confusion, any of the games or books listen in this series will be referred to as such.
While the Chronicles of Darkness performed (and still does) well and has a legion of fans, comparisons to the World of Darkness game lines exist and are perfectly understandable. The differences between the two settings can often appear vague from outside eyes, but take it from me, the Chronicles of Darkness is a bold and experimental game line that brings an endless variety of horror to gaming tables everywhere. This is also not a criticism of the WoD, I am a fan and player of those games as well. Moving forward, this primer will compare and contrast the various settings in a way to showcase the depth that the Chronicles of Darkness contains.
3) We need to talk about Metaplot
One of the most obvious changes from the WoD, was a distinct lack of metaplot. While the WoD was famous for the beautiful and rich stories it told, it was also hampered at times by a large ever shifting mythology that was often intimidating and almost inaccessible to new and old players. The Chronicles of Darkness was created with a very flavorful base setting, that allows any storyteller to add anything and everything they want to their stories.
In this new world, the prejudices and rivalries between their various supernatural groups were erased, the cosmology defined across the various games in an effort to showcase a more modern and darkly eclectic reflection of our world. The focus shifts from global conflicts to a much more personal and local setting dripping with plot hooks...hell on of my favorite stories I've ever told started with a taco run.
4) Through a broken mirror
The world featured in the Chronicles of Darkness was made as a darker reflection of our own modern world. This world is a scary place full of mysteries and monsters, creeping closer to the thin semblance of reality that its unknowing people endure under. Horror exists in a kaleidoscope of multitudes and that is one of the Chronicles of Darkness's greatest assets.
Want to tell a ghost story? Easy!
How about a surreal modern fairy tale? Done, next.
Ever want to peek behind the curtain and see how the gears of the world really works?......be aware, these gears are very real.
Any story can be told with this system, all that is required is your imagination, and a willingness to explore the shadows.
Next time, we will be looking at subjective and personal horror in the base setting of the Chronicles of Darkness and how storytellers and players can get the most out of them.
Michael Jacobson is a freelance writer and an Active Duty US Sailor. His work has been featured in products like Snowhaven 2nd Ed, Night Horrors: Shunned by the Moon and many upcoming projects. He is currently ankle deep with running 1 D&D game, Werewolf the Forsaken game and attempting to understand how to edit a podcast.....it's harder than it looks.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games