Episode 132 – Rebalanced

The latest episode of the Strange Assembly podcast is now available for download. The crew talks about the recently announced Doomtown Reloaded and Warhammer 40K Conquest. On the existing LCG front, Chris talks about leaving Netrunner and laments the lack of recent Star Wars LCG product (yes, we know that the new Force Pack dropped right after we recorded this). Plus, Chris somehow manages to talk about Vampire and the classic World of Darkness for a while.

Strange Assembly – Episode 132 – Rebalanced

9 thoughts on “Episode 132 – Rebalanced

  1. Based on the most recent episode, it sounds like there’s room for folks to be a little more filled-in on the whole White Wolf/Onyx Path thing. I offered, via Twitter, to help with that as I’ve been a regular listener and also more or less pretty clued-in to the situation. And at the urging of Chris (or whomever runs the Twitter account), here I am.

    I normally post under the name ‘Kitsune Hyosuke’ on L5R-related sites, including this one, but for the sake of knowing who we’re dealing with I’m posting this under my real name because I’m one of Onyx Path’s freelancers. I’m not privy to deep, dark, business secrets of Onyx Path or anything, but just trying to establish some credentials here. I’ve worked on a couple of books so far (‘Night Horrors: The Unbidden’ and ‘Rage Across the World’) and am contributing to some more coming down the pike, and as a result I’m pretty well up-to-date on things. So I do have a personal interest here, but I’m not trying to shill or anything. Just offering that disclaimer.

    As we all should know, once upon a time there was White Wolf. White Wolf made tabletop RPGs, card games, etc. One day, White Wolf merged with Crowd Control Productions (CCP), the company that produces EVE Online. Plans immediately began for a World of Darkness MMO and an EVE Online tabletop game. I don’t know anything about the current state of the WoD MMO other than what’s been officially announced, and I don’t want to speculate or make some glib comment that might be taken the wrong way and get me in trouble.

    At the time, this gave the White Wolf side of things a bit more of a financial cushion so they could slow down the supplement releases and wouldn’t be as dependent on cranking out a half-dozen books every month, letting them stretch things out without having to scrape the barrel for ideas. Having a North American division gave CCP some business/financial benefits that I can’t strictly recall because that’s just not my area of expertise.

    As time went on, between changes in the market and issues at CCP, the tabletop gaming end of things just wasn’t working out. The White Wolf guys, despite their best efforts, had difficulty getting a new print-on-demand initiative off the ground and things just kind of went dark for a while.

    So this is where the ‘Onyx Path’ thing comes in.

    Rich Thomas split off from CCP North America to create Onyx Path Productions. Onyx Path is a separate company that has acquired the licenses to produce World of Darkness (both current and ‘Classic’) and Exalted books. They also have the full rights for the Trinity Universe and Scion with reboots for both on the way. There are also plans for Onyx Path to produce its own stuff, like Rose Bailey’s upcoming ‘Cavaliers of Mars.’ Rich is the only full-time employee and everyone else is a freelancer. Most of the people writing/developing/editing/etc. for Onyx Path are the same people who’ve been working on White Wolf stuff for years, with some fresh faces added in to the mix, but creatively it’s still fundamentally the same company.

    ‘White Wolf,’ for all intents and purposes, is simply a brand name of sorts now. CCPNA still has final approval of WoD and Exalted books, while Trinity and Scion can be produced completely free and clear. The one major White Wolf imprint/property that Onyx Path didn’t get is the Mind’s Eye Theatre license. ‘By Night Studios’ has the MET license, which means they’ll be producing any LARP books tied to White Wolf properties. In addition, Onyx Path doesn’t have any rights for WoD-based CCGs. If someone would want to put out a new Vampire: The Eternal Struggle or Rage, they’d have to go to CCP for that one. (VTES ceased production in 2010 but there’s still a very active fan network out there.)

    Onyx Path is known for the Kickstarters, but they’re more than that. Onyx Path produces books primarily through PDF and print-on-demand in association with DriveThruRPG these days. Since they don’t have to invest in massive print runs ahead of time and don’t have to store and ship all that stock themselves, PoD and a reliance on freelancers makes the company a lot leaner and meaner financially. It’s a common myth that every book is funded through the Kickstarters, but those make up a pretty small percentage of everything that’s currently out and being worked on.

    So why are there so many Kickstarters?

    Because the PoD books, while rather high quality (easily on par with the Revised CWoD books), have somewhat bland covers compared to some of the stuff that White Wolf had been producing previously with the beautiful matte covers and such. So Kickstarter gives players the opportunity to get a really fancy limited edition version of stuff like the anniversary books and the new World of Darkness game lines. It also serves as a means to get a feel for customer demand. Lots of their stretch goals lead to production of future supplements and fiction and provide ideas for future books down the line and how many things to commit to. (And then you get stuff like the Werewolf 20th Anniversary Cookbook, which has been very popular.)

    (Incidentally, yes. Everyone knows the Mage20 book is really expensive. This is because shipping prices have gone through the roof in the last couple of years and because the book is freakin’ huge, it’s even more expensive to physically produce and ship. But if you really want the book but don’t want to pay $135 for the fancy leathery one, you can just wait and get one that looks like the old Revised books when it comes out in PoD — which will be before the leather ones ship in any case.)

    But even without the Kickstarters, Onyx Path is still producing a good bit of material. Not quite at the same clip as they were doing back in White Wolf’s prime, but they’re shooting more for quality than quantity. In addition to reviving the Classic World of Darkness lines, they’ve also been releasing system revisions for the current World of Darkness books as well. ‘The God-Machine Chronicle’ has a lot of setting material for the ‘generic mortal’ games and a basic rules update (which can be found separately for free on DriveThruRPG) and ‘Blood and Smoke’ is a second edition of Vampire: The Requiem in all but name, and it is fantastic.

    (The aforementioned ‘CCP approval’ thing is the reason why these books aren’t called/treated as full-blown new editions. CCP doesn’t want them labeled as ‘World of Darkness 2nd Edition’ or ‘Requiem 2nd Edition’ for reasons I can only speculate on.)

    But that’s the situation. I know it sounds like a bit of a sales pitch, but that’s pretty much the state of White Wolf and Onyx Path as a whole. If anyone’s got any specific questions I can do my best to answer them but for the basics you’d probably get more bang for your metaphorical buck over at the Onyx Path website: http://theonyxpath.com/

    (And yes, I’m aware I could have just offered a link to the page from the start. But I thought a more personal touch would be appreciated.)

    1. It’s not that you’ve said it too much, it’s just that one of the first things out of everyone’s mouth about the Mage Kickstarter is a complaint about how much the book costs. And even the Onyx Path folks have been like “Yes, yes, we’re aware it’s more than the earlier books.” And then they explained why.

      1. I had no idea that Onyx Path was doing new World of Darkness material. Is Blood and Smoke a super-size core book like the classic WoD 20th core books? Maybe I’m just missing it, but I’m not seeing a page count in the official description.

        1. Blood and Smoke is only a little over 300 pages. It’s not supposed to be an uber-comprehensive edition updating everything at once but more an alternate Requiem core. Again, it’s a second edition core book in all but name, presenting more of a cohesive setting than the original Requiem core. They’ve quietly done away with ‘elder vampires are all amnesiac and crazy so nobody knows anything about vampire history’ thing and now the clans have origin myths and the covenants have been subtly updated and tweaked (the Invictus actually have a reason to exist other than ‘power for its own sake’). A lot of the vampires’ abilities have been reworked. You can now say with a straight face that Requiem is no longer just ‘Masquerade, only slightly different.’

          And yes, Onyx Path is still coming out with new material for both WoDs (there’s a new SAS module for Werewolf: The Apocalypse about the legend of Sam Haight and his possible return from the dead). The current WoD, in addition to the God Machine Chronicle and Blood and Smoke (and upcoming Forsaken and Awakening reboots as well), they’ve come out with a lot of new stuff and even two new game lines: Mummy: The Curse and Demon: The Descent. (And while there’s nothing explicitly in the works, they haven’t ruled out a new Classic WoD game line if the right idea comes along).

          1. Glad to hear there’s more of a backstory now. It may or may not have a tremendous impact on day-to-day play, but all of the mythology and ‘canon world’ and ongoing metaplot IMHO makes the books better as reading material. And let’s face it, a lot of us buy way more RPG books than we could ever use in actual play (or if you use them in actual play, it’s for this one prestige class or that one advantage/merit you like).

          2. Yes, one of the big things about the new books is they’re definitely presenting more of a backstory. Blood and Smoke really presents a vampiric society born of their bestial natures and urges. It also takes the Strix from Requiem for Rome (which had also gotten fleshed out a bit in Night Horrors: The Wicked Dead) and makes them sort of a ‘default’ antagonist that most vampires should be worrying about because they themselves more or less embody the worst traits of vampires.

            The God Machine Chronicle does something similar. The original WoD core book had a section in its IC material recounting the stories of “The Pain-Prophet” where he discussed the existence of a terrifying cosmic machine that controls society. And it’s a note they’ve come back to over the years here and there (Promethean references it a bit, for instance) but GMC really adds a lot to it and presents a cosmic horror any of the supernaturals can encounter. It also masterfully manages the fine art of showing you exactly what sorts of things the God Machine does and how it works while still leaving its exact nature and origins open to individual Storyteller interpretation.
            (Demon: The Descent also draws from this mythology, as the player characters are rogue operatives of the God Machine. The whole thing plays out sort of like a blend of Burn Notice, the Matrix, and Fringe.)

  2. Sorry for the zombie thread revival thingie, but I’m just getting around to listening to a few of the podcast episodes for the first time.

    I mostly wanted to say how sad I am that the Richard Garfield rumor about a revival of Vampire: the Eternal Struggle turned out to be untrue. And I also wanted to take exception with your guest’s characterization of the game as somehow a “poor design” or something that Garfield didn’t like. I’m pretty sure he considered it a cleaner, more evolved design in many ways, and it remains probably the best multiplayer CCG (and maybe one of the best five-player games, period) ever.

    Love the show. Hopefully you can do more soon.

    1. I personally do not know what Garfield has said about VTES. Mark Rosewater recently mentioned on the Drive to Work podcast that Garfield does not think VTES was as good as his other CCGs. Although not from what I could tell because anything was “wrong” with the game, but because they feel that the format is not well-suited for longer multi-player only games (as compared to shorter duel games, like almost every other CCG).

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