World of Darkness is a setting hardcore tabletop RPG gamers of the 1990s know and love. It was a world that wasn't about orcs and elves or superheroes and spies, but a gothic place where you played as a monster in a darker version of our own world. Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse—these systems and more offer the fantasy of becoming a creature of the night, a part of a sinister community adjacent to the civilizations of man, complete with their own behind-the-scenes machinations, political agendas, shadow wars, and supernatural deviations.
But in the mainstream gaming community, World of Darkness has waned as a presence. Despite countless multimedia outlets in the form of comics, novels, and RPG supplements, the setting hasn't exactly stuck to people's imaginations. There have been plenty of areas of pop culture that have borrowed or re-imagined elements—the Underworld films spring to mind—but ask anyone off the street what World of Darkness is and they would be at a loss for words.
But it seems that the rights holders of the World of Darkness license understand that nostalgia goes in cycles, and with a re-examination of '90s culture swinging around, more and more games are claiming to take place in this bloodier, more sadistic universe. Enter Piotr Gnyp of Walkabout Games, a publishing studio that has helped produce several well-received titles bearing the World of Darkness name.
I was able to correspond with Gnyp about this quiet renaissance for the series, how to introduce it to new players, and his first exposure to this gothic-punk world.
"The pop-cultural wheel turned again and we are rediscovering the '90s," Gnyp said. "This is the best time to bring World of Darkness to the spotlight again. And what's not to love? You have an awesome mixture of conspiracy theories mixed with well-known legends and re-imagined to fit the modern paradigm with an interesting cosmology. All of the supernatural creatures have their archetypical sects, and you can instantly find the one that suits you the most.”
Gnyp was not wrong. Coming from the same era of kitchen-sink-style worldbuilding is that, much like Dungeons and Dragons, World of Darkness is an extremely dense world. Shadowy cabals of vampires control world leaders from the shadows; doomsday cults and werewolves act out as vengeful agents of Mother Nature against the urban expansion of humanity; practitioners of the arcane can accidentally break the fundamental forces of the universe; the list goes on and on.
Yet for someone who has loved the setting since 1994, it was like a dream come true. The very fantasy of officially working on a World of Darkness game was something on his personal bucket list, something he could now cross off.
Adding to this level of fan wish fulfillment was that the team behind Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York created a character based off of Gnyp: a Toreador named Qadrid who has a thing for baseball and beheading anyone who speaks ill of the ruling Prince. It was the most pleasant surprise during the interview, when I asked him if he wanted to be in World of Darkness; he was able to answer that he kind of already was.
The love wasn't just blind reverence for the material either. Gnyp and his team had ideas for distinct stories they wanted to tell. This is especially felt in their third upcoming World of Darkness title, Werewolf: The Apocalypse -- Heart of the Forest. Rather than being set in familiar locations, the story is set entirely in the forests of Poland, a perspective that is wholly unique for this world.
I even asked Gnyp if there was a perfect moment where he fell in love with this setting. To my pleasant surprise, he had quite a story.
"I perfectly remember when I first heard about Vampire: The Masquerade," he said. "The year was 1994, I was 16, and I went by the bus from my hometown Lublin to Łódź for the Wzrocon sci-fi convention. I brought my Warhammer book and ran a scenario in there. In the morning some guy approached me and started talking about this new revolutionary game where you play as a vampire in modern day.
"I knew I had to buy it. I did it at the next convention. I soon started the first fan society called PESM, and soon became the editor of the World of Darkness section of the print magazine Magia i MIecz. I think my first scenario was published around ‘97-’99.”
According to Gnyp, a visual novel approach is one of the better ways of expressing a tabletop session of Vampire or Werewolf in video-game form. Considering that World of Darkness' various systems have always been focused more on character interactions than pure numbers-driven calculation, it makes this particular genre fitting to tell more interesting stories.
Gnyp was quite optimistic about the future for Walkabout Games.
"We have Lovecraft fans in the studio, Star Trek fans, we can imagine similar games set in these universes," he said.
Lovecraftian cosmic horror or a moral dilemma handled by a Starfleet crew, both would be fun to see tackled by this team. Either way, it's clear that World of Darkness still has plenty of macabre tales to tell, and the ones telling it have nothing but adoration for the material.
And with Halloween around the corner, there's not a better time to get more acquainted with what dwells within the shadows.