Dark Eras: Part One

The Dark Eras Kickstarter was a really ambitious project that sort of ballooned out of control. It grew so big, in fact, that it had to be split into two different books. In an earlier post I went through all of the published historical settings for the World of… Sorry, so sorry: the Chronicles of Darkness. Now that the Dark Eras Companion is out to backers, I’m going to go through all of these settings in chronological order to help out any GMs considering them.

The historical settings of the Chronicles of Darkness are many and varied but I’m going to start with just the 19th and 20th century ones. There’s still a lot of ground to cover, of course, but it’s a manageable bite to begin with.

New Wave Requiem

Time Period and Setting: United States, 1980s
Game Line: Vampire: The Requiem
Source: The New Wave Requiem Sourcebook (WW 25320)

Chronicles of Darkness - Vampire the Requiem
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

Good Parts: This sourcebook might be the most well-hidden gem in the bunch. In many ways, it’s easy to write-off the 1980s but there are many things to recommend it. The Cold War is still in swing, there are fewer ways for vampires to be exposed so plans can be bigger and badder, and it’s a setting that all the players are probably somewhat familiar with. You don’t have to set the stage with any historical infodump, just say “Remember President Reagan? Yeah, he’s in charge and the Berlin Wall is still up. Let’s work from there.”

There’s information on how the clans and covenants fare in this time of transition and sidebars on various bloodlines throughout V:tR products, as well as some discussion on how to capture that “80s Feel.” In many ways, that “80s Feel” is the feel of the classic World of Darkness so this is also a great way to couch a game that includes new players and Vampire: the Masquerade veterans.

Bad Parts: There isn’t much in the way of mechanics here, at least not whole lineages and such. In the character chapter (Chapter 3: Lean and Hungry Types) there are some sidebars scattered through with new devotions (combined applications of disciplines) and there are some notes about adjustments to core rules (reflections in chrome can be suppressed for Daeva, how to handle older vampires unfamiliar with new technology, etc) but if you’re looking for really different characters you’ll be a little disappointed. This makes sense, of course: if you play a game set in the 2000s (when this was first published), there’s a good chance a lot of your characters will have been Embraced in this period or jst after. They aren’t that much different than “standard” Vampire: the Requiem characters so this book focuses on the setting.

Bowery Dogs

Time Period and Setting: New York City, 1970s
Game Line: Werewolf: The Forsaken
Source: Dark Eras

Chronicles of Darkness - Werewolf the Forsaken
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

Good Parts: It might seem strange to think about but this setting is really awesome for a Werewolf game. New York in the 1970s is awash in drugs and gang violence, making it more like the violent, tribal world you associate with the Forsaken. On top of that there’s Vietnam and counter-culture riots that are great cover for Pure plots and raids.

To cap it all, living in a city means that the Azlu and Beshilu, not to mention obscurer hosts from the various W:tF products, are in full force. The Hisil of New York at this time is described as a chaotic and violent place, mirroring the physical world, and just before the start of this decade (on July 20th, 1969) the Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon and brought back the feared idigam. A lot’s happening on both sides of the Gauntlet and rules for addiction and betrayal will definitely make you feel like you’re in a 1970s story.

Bad Parts: Like New Wave Requiem above, there aren’t any real mechanical expansions here. There are no 1970s lodges or even Gifts and all of the setting-specific information packed (and I mean packed) into these 26 pages doesn’t leave much room for discussions of the Uratha themselves or the specific concerns of tribes or lodges. In many ways, this is not really a chapter about a setting for werewolves so much as it is about a setting for spirits and drug culture which necessitates discussion of werewolves. There’s plenty to work into a campaign here but I find myself needing to supply more background information than I expected.

Into the Cold

Time Period and Setting: Berlin, Germany in December, 1961
Game Line: Demon: the Descent
Source: Dark Eras

Chronicles of Darkness - Demon the Descent
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

Good Parts: The theme and mood of this setting are brilliant and go a lot way towards capturing the feel of this place. The theme is Walls, obviously inspired by the Berlin wall, and GMs are recommended to work up the divided nature of the city and the isolation of the Agendas from each other. The mood is Cold, which extends the isolation to individuals who are separated from each other by distrust and the grinding bleakness of their surroundings.

One reason this setting seems really fun is the aftermath of World War II which allows a GM interested in historical settings to bring the 1940s into this period as Demons struggle to find and destroy the cancerous seeds left by the God-Machine during the war before they grow too powerful to stop. Each Agenda is described in detail and their efforts in both West Berlin and East Berlin are outlined and a section on What Is to Come outlines the entire decade for a long-running campaign. If you can’t find inspiration in here, you aren’t trying very hard.

Bad Parts: There are many historical settings on this list that fit a little too well. There are things that are immensely helpful to running a campaign in the middle of the Cold War (and if you were to wing it on your own you’d need to do weeks and weeks of research to get up to speed here) but taking a game that’s all about espionage and finding secrets and setting that game in Berlin in 1961 isn’t exactly pushing the envelope.

That aside, the main thing is the same as other recent-past settings. Into the Cold is all about the setting without much crunch. There are awesome hooks for the Agendas and, since that’s the main source of design for a Demon character, the differences in those groups’ politics will definitely lead to uniquely Cold War characters. The powers of Demon are also somewhat freeform (as far as the Ciphers) but a few guidelines on making period-appropriate powers would be good. I guess they aren’t as necessary for the reasons outlined in the last paragraph but… I’d like them still.

God’s Country

Time Period and Setting: 1950s in New Zealand
Game Line: Geist: The Sin-Eaters
Source:
 Dark Eras

Chronicles of Darkness - Geist the Sin-Eaters
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

Good Parts: The history of this setting is awesome and should answer any questions of “why 1950s?” and “why New Zealand?” in the first paragraph of the chapter. Following World War II, the colonial deconstruction of indigenous Maori culture comes to a powerful crescendo and takes with it all of the rituals and protections that the Maori had created against the Underworld. The result is a proliferation of cenotes and gates throughout the islands and a plague of ghosts. Having lived in New Zealand for a period, I love seeing the skillful integration of the ancestor- and afterlife-focused culture of the Maori mixed together with the details of the Bound and their efforts.

The chapter outlines the islands and history pretty well (don’t worry) and the supernatural side should definitely catch the attention of Wraith: the Oblivion fans, particularly the Maelstrom that buffets New Zealand’s Twilight playing out the destruction of so many tropical cyclones from the past. There are also plenty of mechanical treasures in here including new Ceremonies, rules for sacred tapu, discussions of thresholds and keys, revised modifiers for Anachrotech, and really great sections on character archetypes. My favorite, though, are the Patupaiarehe and Ponaturi. These creatures from Maori mythology are presented as further spirit-creatures that that players can combat, mixing up the constant onslaught of ghostly threats.

Bad Parts: I don’t have a lot of criticism for this chapter. I think it’s just what it says on the tin, so that’s something to keep in mind. Not everyone likes the Geist story and mechanics and this isn’t a radical re-working of that or anything. There’s the usual sidebar on other game lines, though, so you can use this with other chronicles. I also think there’s so much information for running a game in this specific period and specific location that you won’t run out but if the idea of being so hemmed in doesn’t work for you then consider yourself forewarned.

Mage Noir

Time Period and Setting: World War II (1940s) in Europe and the United States
Game Line: Mage: the Awakening
Source: The Mage Noir Sourcebook (WW 55106)

Chronicles of Darkness - Mage the Awakening
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

Good Parts: There is so much in here, even considering the breadth of World War II, and it does a good job of pointing you to other resources, including other RPGs like Call of Cthulhu and The Edge of Midnight. There is extensive discussion of the Awakened in America in the 1940s as well as a whole chapter of story hooks (and a ready-made scenario with pregenerated cabal). More generally, the focus in this book is on the hardboiled detective stories of 1940s America so this is a great resource for Awakened detectives in any era.

Bad Parts: This is the one setting that takes place in World War II and it never deals with people serving in the military during World War II. That’s a bit of a disappointment but you could use the rules in Dogs of War to fix a lot of that and there’s mentions of what the war itself meant to each of the Paths and the Orders. But there’s only about 3 pages total on the Seers of the Throne and Banishers during this time period and only one mention of the Scelesti (literally, the word appears exactly once with no broader context). This is a great sourcebook for just the kind of game the writers are envisioning (hardboiled mage detectives scarred by the war) but to expand it to other gamelines and other sorts of stories (including active soldiers) you need to pull from many other sourcebooks and possible other WWII games entirely like Achtung! Cthulhu or Godlike.

Handful of Dust

Time Period and Setting: Depression Era (1933-1940) in the United States
Game Line: Promethean
Source: Dark Eras

Chronicles of Darkness - Promethean the Created
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

Good Parts: The Dust Bowl is a great place for Prometheans since much of the U.S. is already a wasteland so a few more don’t really attract as much attention. On the other hand, there are no ready sources to electricity and the harsh environment also make it a challenge. Promethean: the Created is a challenging game in general but the new options presented here are really interesting. The different aspects of the period come with new Milestones and there are so many great plot hooks and Pandoran Transmutations to spice your game up with.

Probably the most intriguing part of this chapter is a brand new lineage, The Hollow. These beings, created from the victims of deprivation, are products of the Dust Bowl and believe they will disappear when that phenomenon does. The progenitor is provided as an NPC which is pretty awesome as it allows Prometheans to literally meet their maker. They’ve got a wasteland and Pandoran (Dust Devils) to round things out.

Bad Parts: Again, there aren’t many problems with this setting and it’s even got a huge area in it. The acquired taste of P:tC applies but if you’re a fan of Prometheans you ought to be a fan of this setting. The biggest issue I can come up with is that you might not want to go back to modern-day Prometheans after this.

The Master’s Tools

Time Period and Setting: 1917 Russia
Game Line: Demon: the Descent
Source: Dark Eras Companion

Chronicles of Darkness - Demon the Descent
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

Good Parts: I kind of expected this to be a bloodbath of demons tearing down infrastructure in Russia like supernatural rioters but this was surprisingly nuanced. Actually, the chaos allows both demons and angels to operate freely and there’s a lot of information to make things interesting on both sides of the screen. The Agendas are given lots of attention and all of the NPCs are excellent with some obvious uses. This is also the first demon setting in this list that necessitates a mention of the non-digital world and the suggestions there are good. Basically, you can do all the stuff that you can in the modern world but it involves using the God-Machine’s nightmarish infrastructure rather than pre-existing security cameras.

Bad Parts: You’ll need to read up elsewhere about what the revolution involved and who was part of it, but that’s manageable. There are a lot of discussions of big events and how the demons could become involved but I think what this chapter really needs is a solid map of Russia with reference points as it all becomes a little fuzzy to those of us not that familiar with Russian geography.

Goodbye to All That

Time Period and Setting: World War I (1914-1918)
Game Line: Vampire: the Requiem
Source:
 Ancient Mysteries ( WW 25311) and Ancient Bloodlines (WW 25312)

Chronicles of Darkness - Vampire the Requiem
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

Good Parts: The image of vampires trying one “game” after another only to lose control as revolutions rock Europe is a great one. Ancient Mysteries discusses the various theaters of World War I really well and provides plot hooks across Europe and Northern Africa. It actually provides some great intros to the Master’s Tools as it sets the stage for the revolution and it also sets things in motion that will come to fruition in World War II with Mage Noir.

Ancient Bloodlines comes with three bloodlines: the Caporetti are Nosferatu from the Italian Alps woken by shelling and the Brothers of Ypres are Mekhet who carry poison in their veins. The Devotions of the Caporetti are awesome as well, burrowing into the ground and freezing their enemies with cold. The bloodline Discipline for the Brothers, Asphyx, didn’t excite me at first but it’s pretty deadly (even if it isn’t quite as evocative of the setting).

Probably the best part of this setting, though, is the shadow cult of Narodnaia Volia. Part of the Russian revolution, this isn’t a true covenant but more of a group like a Sin-Eater krewe. With a new merit called Initiation, you increase your involvement with the group through dots and can belong to a covenant on top of that.

Bad Parts: This is a really strong setting with a lot to recommend it. The only real issue I have is that Ancient Bloodlines and Ancient Mysteries were written way before any of the other settings so while there are obvious connections to be had with The Master’s Tools, Mage Noir, and Handful of Dust these are up to the Storyteller to create and it’s sure to be a chore. Still, there should be more than enough to keep you going for a full chronicle

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5 thoughts on “Dark Eras: Part One

  1. Hey James! I’m so glad you liked God’s Own Country. As a Kiwi I felt it was really important to paint a picture of New Zealand that was different from what is usually presented in RPGs, which is to say, “that island country over by Australia” or “where they filmed the Lord of the Rings.”

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    1. Yeah, I’d say you definitely succeeded! I actually lived on the South Island (Christchurch) for a semester in college and I also feel like it gets glossed over sometimes. Like my native New England, there’s so much packed into a relatively small space that once you actually see what’s there you never think of it as a “little island” again!

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