Posted on May 16, 2011 by davidahilljr
We have a new design essay from David Hill Jr. In this essay David tells us about developing the Forsaken Chronicler’s Guide, which is the latest supplement for the Werewolf: the Forsaken RPG from White Wolf.
A Storytelling Game of Savage Fury
A couple of years ago, I pitched the idea of a Chronicler’s Guide for Werewolf: the Forsaken to Eddy Webb. I knew Forsaken was a bit more of a niche game, so the Alternative Publishing model might fit a bit better than a traditional, full release. In my pitch, I wanted to give the most bang for the customer’s possible buck, so I kept the chronicle sizes smaller, and focused on trying to provide as much inspiration and as many ideas as possible. Eddy got back to me, and instead of having me write the product in the way I did the previous Invite Only, he asked me to develop it and choose a crew of writers. I wasn’t a stranger to development work after production of my own Maschine Zeit, so I accepted the offer.
In selecting writers, I chose to go with the same initial idea; bang for the customer’s buck. So I chose writers I knew could pack a ton of content into a small amount of wordcount. Chuck Wendig is just about the punchiest writer I’ve ever read, and he has a great track record with Forsaken. Stew Wilson, Filamena Young, and Matt McFarland also each had some really great previous Forsaken material that I thought pushed the boundaries of the game and made people think in different ways about what Forsaken meant. John Kennedy and Will Rotenberry were both writers new to writing for Forsaken, but ones I’d worked with in some capacity in the past, and I knew they each had a penchant for bringing fun ideas to the table. I pitched about ten ideas to the group, and let them pitch back. Ultimately, we chose the top thirteen selections from the pool. The initial goal was twelve, but Stew Wilson’s system hack was so interesting, I had to find space for it.
The other big difference between this product and your traditional Forsaken book is that the setup is a four-volume series, instead of just a single, cohesive book. When determining how to split up the volumes, I looked to the basic nature of the game (a Storytelling Game of Savage Fury.)
Our first volume was all about ripping out chunks of what we knew as Forsaken. We stripped out the structure and self-control by presenting coming of age stories, stories where werewolves had no control of their changes, and asked how Forsaken would reconcile being without packs.
Then, we moved to fill the void and shove new things in. We added systems for emphasizing the animism and the hunt inherent in the setting. We added a method for resolving conflicts with nonlethal challenges. Then we added a new duty to the Forsaken by making them freedom fighting underdogs.
For volume three, we twisted the reader’s perceptions of what Werewolf is supposed to be. We set stories in ancient Sumer. We turned the game into one less focused on a literal hunt, and more on the hunt for love and lust. Then, we explored what worldwide structure might mean for the Uratha.
In the final volume, we focused on shredding the rules systems and using the game mechanics to offer whole new play styles. Here, we offer a new system where almost every single trait in the game is replaced by Renown, to emphasize the social dynamic of the Forsaken. We introduce a whole new type of pseudo-werewolf called the Wild Children, which are people full of intensity, that live to fuck and fight whenever possible. We explore removing the spirit world and replacing that focus of the game with a heightened attention to pack loyalty. Then lastly, we completely restructure the Gift system, into something more fluid and customizable.
The whole process was inspiring. When I heard pitches for these various chronicles, my first question was, “how can we make this more ambitious?” My primary goal was to challenge my writers to fit more and more content into a small space. I feel this led to thirteen very tight chronicle ideas, where not a word was wasted. My second main goal was to emphasize every single chronicle idea with some sort of mechanic or another. I’m of a mind that game mechanics inform play style, so I wanted to exhibit how a mechanical tweak could better emphasize the concepts we were expressing. Those were more conceptual goals, compared to the biggest challenge I gave myself.
The third and most difficult major goal I wanted to achieve was giving new reasons to enjoy Forsaken. This was twofold; Forsaken fans deserve new material and new ideas, but the harder side of that goal was making a product that could make someone think twice about a wavering or non-existent interest in the game. I wanted to offer people that wouldn’t have given Forsaken a chance, something they could cling to. This is a big part of why some of the chronicles listed take a completely left-field approach. Urban fantasy and romance have never really been addressed by Forsaken. We wanted to change that, for the player that might give it a try. Forsaken is a very gritty, street-style game. We wanted to offer some appeal to the player more interested in bigger, epic-style play.
So far, we’ve gotten some outstanding feedback. I think we’ve done our job in helping people to think differently about Werewolf the Forsaken. As far as I’m concerned, a Chronicler’s Guide should really be about empowering the players to take ownership of their game, and cater it to their specific wants and needs. Since the roleplaying hobby first started, hacking your game and designing house rules was essential to personal enjoyment. Forsaken Chronicler’s Guide offers a number of ways we’ve done that at our tables, and hopefully helps you do the same at your tables.
We’d love to hear what you think, and how Forsaken Chronicler’s Guide has helped shape your games.
David A Hill Jr – 2011
You can find more of David A Hill Jr’s work, including his new release, Amaranthine, at Machine Age Productions.