I have been asked by a few fans just why we’re doing the God Machine Chronicle and the Strix: Blood and Smoke Chronicle books. The answer to that comes from two sets of ideas.
For the first, we have to go back to when WW launched the New World of Darkness, almost nine years ago. The intent was to create a new World of Darkness with streamlined rules that greatly enhanced storytelling by getting out of the way, and to present a zero-metaplot setting so that players weren’t overwhelmed by ongoing events that steamrolled over their personal chronicles. The idea was to present the “default” setting in our fiction products so that the rule books wouldn’t assume the players had all bought into that setting. Also, since our design staff were all experienced Storytellers and GMs, there was a desire to allow other Storytellers to mix and match the info in the rule books to suit their preferred styles — to present a toolkit or sandbox or toolbox, or whatever the kids are calling it.
These were admirable intentions, but we ran into a few roadbumps along the way, not the smallest of which was the fact that we couldn’t logistically support an ongoing Fiction arm. So the expected depth of backstory and setting we had planned to deliver wasn’t there. At the time, we had every confidence that our ongoing fans would be more than able to pull together their own worlds and chronicles based on what we were providing, and certainly this proved true for a certain kind of gamer. What it didn’t provide was a rich backdrop to engage those players who weren’t into the “creation” aspect of gaming but were more about immersing themselves in the background and pulling their character ideas and play from the setting. And, also, those fans who weren’t actively gaming and really wanted to still enjoy the cool ideas, characters, art, and stories WW had always been known for. And to be clear here, in no way am I trying to indict or condemn nWoD, or those creators and players who have supported the lines since nWoD came on the scene- what I am looking at here is a series of steps that led to my thinking that nWoD needed a “default background” as well as it’s current tool-box approach. Not a metaplot, but a rich background that would be interesting to read about, would be there if gamers wanted to explore it in their chronicles, but would still be usable in pieces for our fans who love to mix ‘n’ match setting elements. This was in the back of my mind for years, but only once Onyx Path came into being could I really step in and conceptualize a few projects that would try and address what I saw as a gap in how folks could enjoy nWoD.
Once I started talking about this idea with our awesome Devs, the second set of ideas came to the fore. After eight years of writing about nWoD, of creating all sorts of extra rules-bits and system add-ons, the Devs really felt like we needed to overhaul the system if we were going to step up with a comprehensive setting project. There wasn’t a desire to totally trash the system, quite the opposite as the Devs were adamant that they weren’t going to let me wreck their beloved lines; the desire was to use everything we had learned in those eight years- from nWoD play and from the advancements and ideas in the RPG industry that had seen print during that time. Plus, they would be able to make sure their rules changes and tweaks were appropriate for this setting we would be creating.
So then, what was going to be the focus of this cool new setting?
It seemed to me that whatever it was, the focus should be something that was both cool specifically, but also something “behind the scenes” in the sense that it could permeate every chronicle without directly messing up what folks were already playing. We wanted something that the Devs and creative teams would really get into. Plus, I wanted to make sure that the players who had expressed a love for the little bits of setting we had already presented would get a bit of a payoff with seeing something they already liked get expanded. Kind of a thanks to those folks. Now you might think that The God-Machine was the only choice considering those parameters, but we had some other contenders including something with “the Mothman”. Ultimately, I went with the concept that so many nWoD fans had been asking us for more information about. There was something very disturbing in the idea as presented in the core nWoD snippets of a machine-based Elder One whose machinations of cogs and wheels were just beyond our sight but which controlled the history of our world.
At the same time as we were discussing the core nWoD setting, we also needed to come up with the Vampire: the Requiem default setting if only because the original nWoD core book and the VtR core both came out together. Plus, having a specific supernatural to work on would help both projects as the Devs could bounce ideas back and forth from the general to specific instances. For Requiem, I felt like the Strix had the potential to be that background menace and still show up as specific horrors if the individual chronicles demanded it. Rose Bailey, as Requiem developer, did express a concern that the Strix weren’t as yet even acknowledged as around in the modern nights, as they were Requiem For Rome’s principle bogie-men, but she and I talked through the idea that they could be and that possibility would lead the modern vampires to lead a different sort of unlife than we were currently suggesting. Ancient owl spirits that are inimical to both humans and vampires, but intelligent and malign- and that vampire who has snatches of memory from his time in ancient Rome says he saw one the other night…. That difference- more paranoid, more looking for the shadows of the Strix behind the scenes and as the source of their troubles- would be the basis for Requiem‘s default background. Exactly how Rose and her creative team are presenting the setting is something you’ll need to discover in the months to come, as I’m not going to wreck their fun by spoiling it here.
There was one more piece of the Chronicles idea that should be mentioned, and that is how very important we felt it was to presage each game-book with a fiction anthology. The collections of fiction pull from previous occurrences of the God-Machine and the Strix respectively in the fiction in the game books, and add new stories that further expand the setting. Because they are collections of stories, readers can get engaged with the feel and mystery of the settings from a variety of different viewpoints, and can get some unique ideas for how to adopt them for their own groups. And, for long time fans, Onyx Path has brought WW back to creating actual fiction titles- we are even publishing them in ePub and Mobi formats although we’re not yet listed in the larger eBook venues. Yet. Here’s a link to the GMC Anthology: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/108003/God-Machine-Chronicle-Anthology?src=s_pi
Finally, let me say that all of the above is a pretty big-picture and publishing strategy minded bit of musing from me, but the real magic and the real work to take these plots and plans and turn them into something you love comes from the Devs and their fantastic and talented creative teams. If you like what the Chronicle projects do for your game, if you like sitting there and reading through the books, if you like arguing about the stuff in them online- that’s because these talented writers and artists poured their creative hearts and souls (and blood in Strix‘s case) into these books. Since God-Machine is out now and finished, let me give a shout out to Matt McFarland and his awesome team of writers: Dave Brookshaw, David A Hill, Jr, Danielle Lauzon, John Newman, John Snead, Stew Wilson, Filamena Young, and Eric Zawadzki. Michelle Lyons-McFarland on editing. Mirthful Mike Chaney art directed and designed the book with his crew of crazy artists: Andy Trabbold, Jeff Holt, Sam Araya, Andy Hepworth, Cathy Wilkins, Justin Norman, James Denton, Aaron Acevedo, Heather Kreiter, Vince Locke, and Marian Churchland. Awesome work, each and every one of you!