Dark Eras: Part Three

In my previous posts I’ve been chipping away at the historical settings for the Chronicles of Darkness and today I’m continuing with that series by covering the next few centuries. We’re through the twentieth and nineteenth setting so today we’re moving through the next three centuries in one post. Buckle in!

Feeding the Fire

Time Period and Setting: The Haitian Revolution (1791)
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.

The Good: This is an interesting and exciting period with a lot to offer, not least vampires with voodoo powers. As the Haitian Revolution created a (short-lived) state for ex-slaves to live free and prosper. Like all states in chaos, this provides some opportunities for the Kindred to move in and forge new territories. Some of them are fighting on behalf of the Haitians while others are trying to undermine them. There are several different bloodlines inspired by the loa as well as a Voudoun ritual that any vampire can use. While this setting covers just one year it’s actually one of the chapters in Ancient Bloodlines with the most that you could reuse in a modern setting. That means there’s some of the greatest amount of material that you could connect to a modern chronicle as well.

The Bad: While the setting lends itself to the themes and moods of a Vampire: The Requiem game, there aren’t clear goals for a vampire chronicle. You could formulate a story around trying to aid or stop the Haitian Revolution but if you don’t want to get that big you’ll be on your own in coming up with your coterie’s goals. That’s not a bad thing but a few story hooks would be nice.

Lily, Sabre and Thorn

Time Period and Setting: France during the Thirty Years’ War (1600s – early 1700s)
Game Line: Changeling: The Lost
Source: Dark Eras

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

The Good: I see this chapter as the more interesting alternative to the Grimm Dark Era setting I discussed last time. It’s the same area (Germany and France), it also features daring sword fights and dark countryside, and it features the conflict between a growing understanding of the natural world and the fantasy existence of the Lost. However, instead of being focused literally on fairy tales, this setting has a lot more in the way of cultural context and political intrigue.

Swashbuckling changelings just fit the feel of the game line and the themes make this abundantly clear: Decadence and Romance, Honor and Glory, Vengeance and Betrayal, and Identity and Redemption. The court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, is a place of drama and adventure and the additional settings of the high seas, the Holy Roman Empire, Great Britain, and the New World offer much in the way of expansion. This is only half the story, of course, and the information on the seasonal courts of the Lost is excellent. There’s even a section on intrigues which provides you with a solid framework for a chronicle right out of the gate. The character creation material is also helpful and the new Contracts are excellent options for sword-fighting changelings in any era.

The Bad: The only dark spot in this excellent setting is the entitlement, The Knights of St. Collen. Well, that’s not entirely fair since the entitlement (a band of knights struggling to maintain the honor of the past amidst the backstabbing of the present) is actually pretty well-written. The dark spot is the entitlements that aren’t here. In a chapter all about swashbuckling and court life you might expect some entitlements about, I don’t know, swashbuckling or court life. There are plenty of modern examples of courtiers that you can reuse, of course, and some warrior entitlements that you could forge into musketeers but a list of existing entitlements that fit the setting is probably the least I could hope for and we don’t have that. I pretty striking omission.

Doubting Souls

Time Period and Setting: New England in 1690-1695
Game Line: Hunter: The Vigil
Source: Dark Eras

Chronicle of Darkness - Hunter the Vigil
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: At first glance, this seems like a setting in the same boat as A Grimm Dark Era and Into the Cold: settings that are so in line with their game lines already that they seem a bit superfluous. However, there are some interesting angles brought up here that makes Doubting Souls a great addition to the Hunter line. For one thing, the historical setting isn’t the isolated colony dominated by blind faith that many dramas portray it as. There are many different cultures intersecting here, North American and European, and this is also expressed by the different compacts and conspiracies of hunters. The Lucifuge and Malleus Maleficarium are both at the forefront of this setting but there some awesome original compacts as well.

The Knights of Saint George (from Witch Finders) feature prominently in the setting and there are four others to pick from. The Scarlet Watch is a sworn compact of vampire hunting noble families that came to the Salem area to escape blood hunts in Europe. Les Voyageurs are a loose collection of fur trappers and hunters who battle the inhuman werewolves of the frontier. The Keepers of the Weave are a native group of wise scholars that pass knowledge between the nations of the region. Lastly, the Protectors of the Light are native warriors who stalk monsters rather than the other way around.

The Bad: This chapter has some amazing resources and provides both geographic details and a few supernatural enemies. If you also have a good collection of Hunter: The Vigil sourcebooks you can create so many different stories, but if not you’ll find yourself needing to invent a lot on your own to find the right monsters and threats for your game. In my opinion, though, this chapter covers all the details it should and more and expanding it with other compacts (including the Knights of Saint George) are really on you.

Fallen Blossoms

Time Period and Setting: Japan during the Tokugawa/Edo period (1640-1660)
Game Line: Hunter: The Vigil
Source: Dark Eras

Chronicle of Darkness - Hunter the Vigil
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: As this chapter states in its introduction, it really has it’s work cut out for it. “We can’t hope to provide that kind of education in 20 or so pages, particularly when we’re also talking about monster hunters.” That said, they do a bang-up job with various sidebars and explanations in order to give you tools to make this setting come to life.

The background info and supernatural threats are awesome and I actually learned some interesting things about Edo Period Japan. The thing that will probably be most interesting to players will be the new compacts and conspiracies from this era. The Ama-San are traditionally matriarchal pearl divers who also hunt underwater monsters on the side. The Azusa Miko are Shinto priestesses who are struggling with the new restrictions on temple life from the Shogunate. The Bijin are professional artists patronized by the growing merchant class and who encounter some serious stuff in their business. The Hototogisu are in that very merchant class, a network of folk remedy sellers who are sort of a mix between the Cheiron Group and the Ascending Ones. The Otodo are tainted hunters like the Lucifuge, half-oni who are trying to take the fight to full monsters.

The Bad: One thing this chapter talks about a lot are the various hunters in Edo Japan, some of them folk heroes and some of them serving the daimyos of Japan. However, they really only talk about the folk hunters. I expected a few compacts about samurai and the daimyos’ soldiers but it’s all pearl divers and merchants. You could make a few, of course, potentially reskinning Task Force: VALKYRIE or something. Still, it’s a glaring sort of omission.

The Lost Generation

Time Period and Setting: Western Europe during the Thirty Year’s War (1618-1648)
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.

The Good: We’re back at the Thirty Years’ War! This time with vampires! The World of Darkness blames this period of unrest on the rise and fall of an Invictus Empire which left in its wake a power vacuum that turned vampire against vampire. This is also a period of clashing between Christianity and paganism (i.e. the decimation of the Circle of the Crone) and between Catholicism and Protestantism (i.e. the undermining of the Lancea Sanctum). This is the opening of the isolationism that characterizes modern vampire culture so it’s interesting to see the beginning of the more familiar setting, the same way that Dark Ages established the social hierarchies the shaped the modern world in Vampire: The Masquerade.

The Bad: There are three bloodlines listed for this setting and they are… alright. I mean, they’re solid with solid mechanics and histories but they’re just a little too specific. The Geheim bloodline are rich Austrian nobles in the aftermath of the Holy Roman Empire, which is probably the first thing you thought of when you read the synopsis of the setting. The Septemi are more interesting, vampires who aren’t ashamed of their existence and who revel against the judgement of the Lancea Sanctum. This is a great concept but it’s been done with the Cainites and the previous Vampire: The Dark Ages setting. Both of these are alright but they aren’t really breaking new ground here.

When the Horseman Rode

Time Period and Setting: Western Europe in 1618-1648
Game Line: Promethean: The Created
Source: Dark Eras Companion

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

The Good: More Thirty Years’ War goodness with a heavy dose of Biblical drama as well. What else would you expect from the Promethean line? The Thirty Years’ War is the longest religious war in European history so it makes sense that there are many settings focused on it and there’s certainly plenty for the Created as well. The Amirani are here (replacing the Frankenstein lineage, though they’re actual write-up is given in the Soulless and the Dead which we’ll get to next time) and there is a new Refinement of Gold, an alternative to the Aurum that focuses on the Christian sacraments instead of feigning humanity. The Edenites, as those following the Pneuma Refinement are called, are a great adaptation of the Pilgrimage to this religiously-frought time period and even though it is “in its death throes” here it would be a great addition to a modern Promethean game as well.

The structure of the setting here is four different mini-scenarios, each thematically based around one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, figures very prominent in the doomsday homilies of the day. “The Red Horse” (the slaughter one) is set in Bamberg when religious mania has led a local noble to round up suspected witches and warlocks including a Promethean, and fellow pilgrims need to rush to his aid. “The White Horse” (conquest) is featured in Martin Luther’s city of Magdeburg where Luther’s cathedral features an Athanor which needs protecting from approaching Catholic soldiers. “The Black Horse” (good old famine) is set in Nuremberg, fading trade hub of the Protestant Reformation, currently being starved out by a Catholic army and with a hunting pack of Pandorans looking to destroy any Prometheans they find. Lastly, “The Pale Horse” (none other than death) is back in the area of Bamberg at the Convent of the Holy Sepulchre where an Edenite nun’s stalled Pilgrimage has led a qashmal to inflict plague on the other sisters to push her from her comfort zone.

I would call this chapter “imminently playable” and I hope that conveys my great excitement. It adequately establishes the setting and provides you with four amazing stories to get started. Like Handful of Dust (described in Part One), this setting might just be the way to get your friends who have turned their noses up at Promethean in the past to give it another try.

The Bad: Um, too much awesomeness? Not suitable for those with pacemakers? Seriously, though, the only big criticism I have is that the mini-scenarios can be a bit myopic: each is focused in on one city and time and you’ll need to research to expand from there. Normally this would be a much bigger problem for me but with Lily, Sabre, and Thorn in Dark Eras and The Lost Generation in Ancient Mysteries, there is already a ton out there on the World of Darkness during the Thirty Years’ War. If you don’t have those books it might be a bigger problem but then the question becomes “why the Hell don’t you have those books?”

Requiem for Regina

Time Period and Setting: London in 1593
Game Lines: Vampire: The Requiem and Changeling: The Lost
Source: Dark Eras

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

The Good: This is the first dual setting covered in these lists so that definitely deserves a mention. Combining vampires and changelings might not seem like a good match but by playing up the romantic aspects of vampires and the creepy witchcraft aspects of changelings the result is actually something pretty well-meshed. As for the setting itself, the suspicious attitude of England during the back-and-forth between Catholicism and Protestantism works well with both game lines. As mortals watch for secret Catholics, the Invictus and Lancea et Sanctum watch for schemes from the pagan covenants, and the changeling courts are still recovering from a civil war.

The vampire material is interesting and rich, and I especially love the Weihan Cynn who carry the banner of old Pagan Britain. When I first started reading this setting I thought that this covenant was just a way to join together the Ordo Dracul and Circle of the Crone but it is not. The angle for the Weihan Cynn is embodied by their Merit called Contact with the Uncanny: they have secret ties to all sorts of other supernatural baddies. The Merit allows them to call in favors which means the Weihan Cynn are a way to incorporate other game lines into your Requiem for Regina game and, if you bring them into a more recent era, to bridge game lines in all periods.

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

The changeling stuff is also really awesome, possibly more awesome than the vampire material and that’s really saying something. The central conflict of the changelings is not building power as the vampire courts have done during Elizabeth’s reign, but rebuilding trust and protection. During the War of the Roses, the seasonal courts of the London Freehold fell to infighting as the Lost took political sides with York or Lancaster. The historical section is fascinating but the upshot is that the seasonal system came crashing down and was replaced with the Unseelie-Seelie system of the Blood Court and Snow Court, with the somewhat-neutral Court of Ash remaining as a balance between them (all of these have new contracts and mantles, by the way). Now its a century later and the fragile peace is starting to fray into either full cooperation or renewed war. Distrust is rampant and this tenuous situation is sure to facilitate the sort of political stories that you expect from shows like The Tudors. 

The Bad: This is a joint setting and there are elements and themes found on both sides of Requiem for Regina. They are not, strictly speaking, united into a single setting, though. The Weihan Cynn offer a point of contact between vampire and changeling and both populations maintain shadow courts next to the queen’s mortal court, but that’s it. These are both excellent settings, don’t get me wrong, with the potential for long and powerful chronicles, but as a joint chapter the seams show just a little too much.

Foreboding Lands

Time Period and Setting: The Roanoke colony in 1585-1590
Game Line: Geist: The Sin-Eaters
Source: Dark Eras Companion

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

The Good: If you want to find a bunch of dead people with a story to tell, you could do a whole lot worse than the colony of Roanoke. This setting offers the chance to pit European Sin-Eaters and Native American “Ghost-Talkers” who are dealing with the crazy spectral mystery that remains after whatever happened at Roanoke. This is a dicey period because it deals with a lot of death, suffering, and (it cannot be overstated) the start of genocidal colonization. It’s also a great period for drama, though, with danger and cultural flux that should generate lots of character ideas.

The Bad: The focus of this setting is a little narrow here (five years on a specific island in a particular part of the world) but that’s alright because it’s part of something so much bigger. The real lack here for me is the missing mechanics for non-European Bound. There’s a good amount of information about the Croatan, Monacan, and other nations in the area (as much as you can boil down complex, centuries-old cultures into bite-sized pieces) and an emphasis not to downplay the differences between European and Native Sin-Eaters. However, without mechanics to set them apart (at the very least an alternative to Anachrotech for Native Ghost-Talkers) then it’s a little hard to manage that.

Iberian Nights

Time Period and Setting: Iberia and North Africa in the 16th century (1415-1580)
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.

The Good: This setting focuses on the expansion of the Portuguese Empire during the 15th and 16th century: “the earliest,” as the chapter points out, “and longest lived of all the modern European colonial empires.” They conquered colonies throughout Africa and the Middle East, as well as southern Asia and South America, and all of this wealth and resources flowed back to Iberia. In the center of all of this, lurking in the shadows, is a grémio of vampiric elders trying to reap the riches while they keep out foreign rivals. To help with this, players have access to the Corajoso bloodline which uses blood ties to maintain the grémio‘s authority, and an insidious African bloodline called the Adroanzi with power over wilderness areas. The Ancient Bloodlines book also includes a trio of characters (one vampire and two ghouls) with ties to this era that you can use in the modern era to connect this historical setting.

The Bad: The Portuguese Empire spanned multiple continents, although Africa was a big part of their trade empire. That’s a great place to connect to the wider world (especially with the information in Princes of the Conquered Land described below) but I’d like to see information on Portuguese interests in South America, India, the Middle East, and beyond in this chapter. The Adroanzi are a source of trouble for the established Portuguese vampire elders (the Corajoso and others) but certainly there are others. Storytellers are going to have to hunt these down or make them up on their own.

Princes of the Conquered Land

Time Period and Setting:  The Mutapa Empire in 1501-1568
Game Lines: Mage: The Awakening and Mummy: The Curse
Source: Dark Eras Companion

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

The Good: There is a lot of good in this dual setting. It is, in fact, how I have approached historical settings myself and how I hope every setting in this series goes. There is a lot of cultural information in a very interesting setting but there’s also a lot of information on how the game line mythologies are adjusted for the setting’s details. There aren’t any legacies or even new utterances (although there is a series of Merits for mediums) but I don’t even care. Instead, there are reinterpretations the Mages’ five Paths into ancestor lineages and the Orders into groups of patronage, in both cases to better line up with the Shona culture. It’s great and even the cult structure of the Arisen is framed through this cultural lens.

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

This isn’t a cursory treatment either. It’s hard to sum up the intricacies of the cultural setting from this chapter but suffice it to say that the new options are detailed. The Mhondoros (equivalent to Paths) have mythological roots and a unique elemental system, while the Mutupos (equivalent to Orders) are a completely different set of philosophies, even the Nameless. Likewise, the Mummies still have their Guilds (including the Deceived) but they are also presented in the culture and religion of the Shona.

On top of all of this (!) there are five pages of information on meshing Mage and Mummy mythologies and mechanics (that’s a lot of Ms). Interaction between spells and Utterances is covered, having Neter-khertet and Stygia in the same game, and other important topics. There are four story seeds that all seem really awesome and, as a great and totally unexpected bonus there is a weighty section on using Sin-Eaters in the setting. This means there are a few different options for characters in Princes of the Conquered Land: Mages, Mummies, Svikiro mediums (using new Merits), other Second Sight options, and Sin-Eaters. Crossover bonanza!

The Bad: I can’t think of much but if you’re into historical settings and not crossover settings then this one is harder to tease apart than, say, Requiem for Regina. The culture of the Mutapa Empire explicitly includes Mages and Mummies in equal measure and Sin-Eaters are brought up frequently as well. You can certainly run a single-game-line chronicle but it’s harder so take that into account when you consider this chapter.

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4 thoughts on “Dark Eras: Part Three

  1. My problem with some of these eras is the gratuitous Catholic bashing. Doubting Souls credits the methods of the Salem Witch Trials as derived from the Inquisition, which doesn’t make sense since Salem banned Catholics (they actually came from Protestant Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, which WW used as the basis for Infernalism Investments). When the Horseman Rode refers to the Inquisition as doing the witch trials, when it was a local nobleman as you said. A prominent Jesuit scholar even condemned them. (There’s also plot seeds involving abortion and transgenderism that don’t really fit with the 17th century.) Lily, Sabre, and Thorn has some Changelings condemned by their Courts for being Catholic because of the Inquisition persecuting their members, when the Inquisition was practically non-existent in France during the late medieval period and secular authorities prosecuted witches. It tries to blame the Spanish Inquisition for practically exterminating a freehold in Logroño, but only 11 or 12 people were executed.

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    1. Hmm… I’d noticed this individually but not as a whole. I think you have a point and I think the settings are just going with the Standard Big Bad Guy in medieval settings. The Catholic Church was the biggest force in Europe for centuries and in the classic underdog model of storytelling these days it’s gotta be the bad guys. Still, a nuanced approach would be better and I’ll probably adjust things when I run these settings.

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