Day 4: Poking Fun: A Look at Book of the Wyrm

Onyx Path’s Month of Nightmares features games, stories, and more to celebrate the spirit of Halloween. Count down the days with us by reading our excerpts, participating in the discussion, or by taking advantage of our special offers leading up to a haunted Halloween.

138407Black Dog Game Factory has always been a chance for the folks at White Wolf to poke fun at themselves. So when the time came to do an updated version in Book of the Wyrm, I asked Stew if I could write it myself. I really enjoyed the chance to poke some fun at my friends (and myself) while updating the most nefarious game designers in fiction.

Black Dog Game Factory

Black Dog Game Factory spawned twenty years ago to produce violent, antisocial fantasy games for impressionable teenagers. Its flagship line, the World of Shadow, became a huge success, selling millions of copies all over the world. Revenant: The Ravishing, Lycanthrope: The Rapture, Warlock: The Pretension — these games and their successors went on to revolutionize the role-playing game industry, due in no small part to the rock star life the developers and artists led. Underage fans of the World of Shadow traded whispers and legends of their favorite Black Dog employees: from the mad, drug-addled rantings of Jason O’Kelly, to the whispered rumors of cannibalism around Evan Stump, to the barely substantiated existence of Jeff Henning. The rumors and speculations occupied the fans’ time almost as often as pretending to be psychopathic murderers casually snuffing out human life over polyhedrons and beer.

Competition was fierce and bloody, with untold hundreds of dollars at stake. Companies such as Apex Amusement Association, Stan Paxton Games, and Discordium were contenders for a time, but Black Dog beat them all (sometimes literally, although Rick Glumsky was found innocent of the “accident” that crippled Stan Paxton). They were even contenders with the RPG classic Labyrinths & Lamiae, which created its own legion of demon-worshiping “adventurers” in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The company madly churned out books during 120-hour workweeks, broken up only by bouts of depravity that made their own fevered imaginings look tame. The game Fiend: The Pacting was the biggest seller of all, especially after the arrest of developer Mickey Li for having sex with an underage goat. Black Dog was on the top of their game.

Then, Magicians of the Bay struck.

Years previously, they had quietly purchased LSD, Inc., the creators of Labyrinths & Lamiae. Afterward they released a new edition of the game, as well as their insidious Obligatory Icosahedron Licensing (or OIL), a scheme to allow third-party publishers to create their own L&L products. Black Dog had previously acquired Death Lord Games from Peter Clarkston and William Spinner (after Clarkston sold out his partner), and they used the brand to churn out their own OIL products like there was no tomorrow. However, after a few years, Magicians of the Bay revealed a hidden clause in the license: any publisher who released any OIL product owed Magicians of the Bay 90% of their total profits in one lump sum, effective immediately and backdated to the publication year of the original L&L book Boiled Leather — released in 1971.

Most companies promptly went out of business. The maneuver nearly gutted Black Dog as well, but Pentex’s deep pockets bailed the game company out. The bailout had two non-negotiable conditions however. First, the Computer Projects manager, Chas McDonald, was to be appointed acting President of Black Dog, and second, the company would merge with Pentex’s newest Icelandic acquisition, a videogame company called Politically Corrupt Productions (PCP for short). Desperate for a job with actual benefits, many of the original employees jumped ship to start working for PCP. Some remained behind to keep working on books, while McDonald hastily tried to hire new World of Shadow developers from whichever demented fans showed up to work. Edwin Phate, Rachel Barker, and James Coriander were the only ones to survive the interview process.

The injection of new blood, along with a donation of new computer systems, generously provided by Sunburst, naturally, prompted a surge in technological innovation. Social media sites became the new battleground for blistering debates between the hidebound artistic vision of the aging developers and their increasingly pathological fans. (One incident involved Coriander tracking a fan down at a convention and stabbing him with a pen full of Wyrm toxin because the fan questioned his use of the semicolon on a Revenant forum.) Books evolved into insidious files loaded onto laptops and tablets, complete with Destructive Rites of Malice to infect the computers of those who tried to pirate them with spiritual viruses and trojans. Investment in new print-on-demand technology prompted a move to tiny book printers strategically scattered all over the world to take advantage of a variety of toxic influences, so that new fans wouldn’t develop a resistance to the inks used in the original books. The World of Shadow had survived the attempted assault by Magicians of the Bay, and it continued to gain fans.

However, the output of the books declined. Fans and staff members both put forth wild and inaccurate theories for the reduction in output. The writers and artists were realizing that they didn’t have to work insane hours for very little pay when they could make videogames and work insane hours for slightly more pay; even when the DRM kept breaking loose in the office computers and deleting necessary files. The entire profits for a year of Black Dog products equaled what Space Accountant, PCP’s original videogame, made in about five nanoseconds. As focus on the World of Shadow books diminished, first editions became collectors’ items, especially as the print-on-demand versions didn’t contain the same occult formulae hidden within their pages.

In reality, none of the justifications was the real reason for the change. The acquisition of PCP came with a hidden asset: a cabal of writhing, twisting monstrosities trapped under the floating icebergs in Jökulsárlón, Iceland. The warming climate is beginning to release these chthonic horrors, and their spiritual force is slowly corrupting all Icelanders, especially the PCP CEO, Halldór Pálsson.

McDonald’s orders directly from the PCP Board of Directors were to put the company’s energy into creating World of Shadow Online, a massively multiplayer online construct comprised of a Wyrm-dominated hunting ground. This vision of hell is not only a virtual nirvana for the Wyrm, but is also a reflection of the hellish landscape the Jökulsárlón horrors desire for their eventual return. A variety of conflicting corporate needs, combined with continual assaults by supernatural hackers defending something known as the “Digital Web,” have delayed the production of the game. As a result, both fans and enemies of Black Dog wait impatiently to see what this dystopian realm will be.

W20 Book of the Wyrm is discounted 50% TODAY ONLY!

13 thoughts on “Day 4: Poking Fun: A Look at Book of the Wyrm”

  1. Can I riff on how the game was a non-starter? I know it was kind of a sore spot when this was written, but it does seem like a good way to parody Pentex’s infamous reputation for confusing Utter Evil with Stupid Evil.

  2. The Promo for 50% Sale on the book is misleading. It is only 50% for the PDF, not the print. The email that was sent out adds further confusion. It says that for Today only, it is 20% off. Which is it? Is this only the PDF?

    • The PDF is on sale at 50% off. If you have questions, if you click on the product page link you’ll see the accurate half-off price reflected there.

    • The email was automatically sent as soon as this page was posted. The percentage was wrong, so I fixed it shortly after it went public, but I unfortunately cannot edit an email once it has been sent.

    • It would be impossible to discount the POD by 50% as Onyx Path’s costs on a single POD copy of a book are greater than 50% of the POD price.

      POD pricing is naturally less efficient than doing a conventional print run due to economy of scale, but it saves costs elsewhere with regards to shipping (sometimes even customs as many things are printed overseas) and warehousing costs.

  3. Space Accountant?!?! You almost killed me man. There was chuckling and laughing throughout but when I hit Space Accountant it was the end.

  4. The Book of the Wyrm 20th, and all of the various Wyrm-associated books that came before it, are some of the best written, fantastic material to ever be produced by Onyx Path/White Wolf.

    Here’s hoping there’s some more Wyrm goodness in the near future.

    • Well, Exalted is about kicking ass for great justice, so I doubt Black Dog would be much interested. Unless they decided to make it into a game of tyrannical Bronze-Age God-Kings.

  5. I remember hearing about the pen-stabbing incident back in the day. Because of the body part that was stabbed, we always referred to it as the semicolonoscopy…


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