Tag Archives: World Of Darkness

Why do you prefer old World of Darkness? Is there cons to nwod/cofd that you’d share, or is it more like thats just what you happened to play?

As a setting, old World of Darkness was better put together. It has a heavy
meta-narrative that bridges across the games, and moves forward. There was some
really stupid stuff mixed in (I’m thinking of Samuel Haight specifically, if
you’re curious), but it was one, massive, setting.

For those of you unfamiliar with World of Darkness: the name refers to two separate
urban fantasy settings published by White Wolf Publishing. The original (or
old) World of Darkness was printed from 1991 – 2004, while the new World of
Darkness entered print in 2005. Both of these were actually a large collection
of different interconnected games, unified by their settings.

In a lot of ways, old World of Darkness was ahead of its time. It took
elements of Anne Rice, and (later on) Buffy, and ran with a connected vampires,
werewolves, and other creatures setup, that would later become the default
standard for urban fantasy. Because it was an early example of it, the books
spent a lot of time justifying their world building.

White Wolf Publishing did one very
smart thing with their world building, and it’s the reason while I’m still talking
about a series of tabletop RPGs that went out of print in 2004: they’d tell you
“why.” As a writer, it’s very easy to say, “well, I want this in my setting,”
and stop there. You’re the writer, you have final control over your setting.
This kind of thinking can easily lead to nonsensical world building. Sometimes
the real answer is, “because I said so,” but usually, this is something to
avoid at all costs. White Wolf’s games tended to be very careful about providing
explanations. Granted, often those explanations are sometimes buried in separate
pieces across five different books, but they are out there.

As a result, the old World of Darkness was really good for presenting a
setting where information is at a premium, and people with different pieces of
the puzzle are trying to understand how the world works, within the context of
what they understand.

The Consensus reality concept is actually a really good example of that.
When you filter in things like The Imbued and Demons, it makes no sense. In
fact, the entire concept of paradox is already pretty shaky when you just look
at the werewolves and vampires. These are beings that shouldn’t be able to
exist if the awakened mages were right about the universe. The mages try to
justify that by saying, “well, humanity knows they’re out there, and they
survive based on humanity’s fear of them.” Which is credible… until you start
looking at the other things in the setting and realize that paradox may very
well be a product of some other natural system slapping the Mages around.

For all their faults, and there are a lot, old World of Darkness was, and
remains a very interesting setting, with a fantastic attention to detail.

New World of Darkness is also really useful, though in an entirely different
way.

The old World of Darkness was a self contained setting. It was always very
interconnected. You weren’t ever just telling “a vampire story,” you’d get
mired down in Kindred politics, because it was immediately relevant to who your
characters were, and how the people they interacted with regarded them.

The new World of Darkness is a lot more, generic. Ironically, I don’t mean
this as a pejorative. It does two really important things; it makes the setting
more accessible, and it provides the tools to better tailor the setting to fit
the group.

Also, as a game system, it’s actually a vast improvement. The rules are
streamlined. Switching from target number to number of successes meant dice
rolls played out much faster. (Exalted’s 23 dice pools notwithstanding.)
All of the storyteller games, showed improvements over their predecessors. Old
World of Darkness was the first, and even then, the later iterations, like Hunter:
The Reckoning
, and Demon: The Fallen are systemically much smoother
experiences than Vampire: The Masquerade.

New World of Darkness was also the first time White Wolf really nailed a
good presentation format for the books. Old World of Darkness books were always
leaking information back and forth. With bits of a mystery in one, that gets
paid off in another book, often in a different game line. (Again, Sam Haight is
a huge offender here.) New World of Darkness basically did away with that. It
takes the same, “this is the real world you live in, but different, with
monsters,” and manages to actually keep the books self contained. So, if you’re
wanting to look at police dealing with the supernatural in the setting you need
one book instead of the (I think) seven in oWoD.

What I’ve said before is; if you’re an introductory writer, who’s wanting to
write urban fantasy, then the new World of Darkness books are a really useful
primer. There’s a lot of really good thought that went into them, and a lot of
the material can be legitimately function as an inspiration for your own work,
without being derivative.

At the time, I hated how nWoD wiped away a lot of the different factions
completely. Half of the vampire clans were gone, first glance said the
werewolves were now just cursed creatures instead of the Defenders of Gaia.
Over time, I’ve come to respect what they were doing with the setting, and how
it actually works on a larger context. It also has some of the most interesting
side books, and monster variations, which wouldn’t have been possible in the
original game series. For a lot of oWoD fans, that realization never came.
Also, for players who were fans of Changling: The Dreaming, Hunter:
The Reckoning
or Kindred of the East, they never really got a return
to form with nWoD (that I’m aware of, anyway).

If you’re an experienced writer, have the time, and want to look at a
massive meta-narrative, then the old World of Darkness is a setting that’s
worth the time to tear apart. It has a lot of characters who are working on
limited information, making intelligent (though often prejudiced) guesses about
how the rest of their world works, and the series was pretty good about showing
their work.

There’s a lot to recommend for both. I prefer the old World of Darkness for
it’s setting. I’ll sometimes joke about being snobby on the subject, but
honestly, n World of Darkness has a lot to offer.

-Starke

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I’m trying to figure out a form of magic that isn’t Elemental, and all I can really think of is something like telekinesis. What do you think of avoiding cliche ‘elemental’ magic? Do you have any advice for doing so?

fixyourwritinghabits:

Well, almost anything can be reduced to the elemenst if you think about it, but why being a reductionist? That could be your starting point.

Taking what I just wrote above, not everything is matter, why not use energy as a source of magic? Not only telekinesis, think of Magneto, the guy can control magnetic forces, Flash was given the Speed Force, Black Canary uses the Canary Cry, which are sonic vibrations, and so on.

There are other forms of magic, not necessarily related to an specific energy, healing, for example. What kind of energy or elementat form is magic healing? What about electronic devices? There can be magic related to them. What about opening portals to different worlds, or teleportation? These can be considered superpowers instead of magic, that’s where your imagination has to step in.

To avoid the elemental magic cliché, give it a twist. What if everytime you use earth magic, let’s say create a wall to protect yourself from an attack, you create an earthquake somewhere else? What if, in order to use water magic you have to be hydrated  otherwise you can’t? (There’s a scene in The Incredibles where Frozono can’t use his powers because the air is too dry).

Here are some links to guide you through

Hope this helps you.

L.-

I probably should have slapped this into the “Top Ten Coolest Magic
Systems” post, but here’s another, slightly oddball example, that might
get you thinking.

Mage: The Ascension split magic into nine “spheres,” or kinds of magic.

Correspondence was magic based on location. This ranged from a mage knowing exactly where they were, to being able to find anything, or anyone, to teleportation, depending on the power of the mage.

Entropy was the ability to predict and affect random events, or the natural decay of things. A mage versed in entropy could predict the future, prevent objects from wearing out.

Forces was the basic “elemental” magic sphere, with a significant twist. It did include things like fire and lightning, but it also affected other physical forces, like electricity, kinetic energy, magnetism, and gravity. A mage versed in forces could track an electrical current, or even prevent a security alarm from triggering. A master of forces could potentially initiate a nuclear detonation or extinguish a star’s nuclear fission.

Life was the ability to affect and alter living objects. It included sensing life, healing, harming, and shapeshifting.

Matter was the companion sphere for Life that affected inanimate objects. This included things like transmutation, but also allowed a mage to determine an object’s exact composition.

Mind was telepathy and psionics. It also allowed mages to manipulate memories or even someone’s identity.

Prime was a kind of metamagic, interacting specifically with magic. Prime could make magical effects permanent, or effectively defend against another mage’s attacks. It also allowed a mage to detect magic being used, regardless of the sphere.

Spirit specialized in interacting with extra-dimensional beings, “spirits.” This tied directly into the setting’s cosmology, but the basic idea should be fairly self explanatory. As I recall, at higher levels it would allow mages to enter the spirit realms (The Umbra).

Time was the ability to sense and manipulate time. This ranged from a mage being able to always know exactly what time it was, view past or future events, enter “bullet time,” up through being able to freeze time or step outside of it.

There was some intentional overlap, the Spheres were designed with the idea that mages could mix multiple spheres together to create a desired magical effect.

Additionally the setting operated under a consensus reality system, where overtly magical actions would incur severe backlash. So there was a very strong incentive for mages to come up with inventive ways to deal with their problems. It was flat out better to deal with an attacker by giving them a heart attack or cause their weapon to fail catastrophically, than to start throwing fireballs around.

-Starke

So, my character goes to fight another character that she is a bit stronger than. He’s a guy, but they’re vamps and she drinks more blood. If they were to get in a fight starting at the center of a room that’s about 15 ft across both ways, how long should it take her to get him pinned to a wall?

But, the real question is, how many dots does she have in Celerity?

The problem with a question like this is, whether you mean to or not, you’re basically asking me, “which of my character’s superpowers are better?”

Vampires are rapidly becoming the urban fantasy counterpart to elves. Which is to say, when you use the term, there’s a vague understanding of what you’re talking about, but no uniform, concrete rules.

Hell, when it comes to a vampire’s power scaling with when they’ve fed last, my first thought is actually The Elder Scrolls setting, where feeding weakens them, but makes them harder to detect. While starvation makes them stronger and more feral. But, that one scales over time, not how much the eat.

When it comes to overall power, I tend to lean towards World of Darkness’ generational system, or the idea that they just get more powerful over time, so it’s an age issue, not a feeding issue.

This is all dancing around the point that I don’t know how strong your vampires are. Yes, yours. Unless you’re writing fan fiction, or RPing in an established setting, those are your characters with superpowers you’re defining.

For that, you probably need some kind of system to operationalize your vampires. Your options are to either cook up a system for yourself, or borrow one.

If it’s the latter, then World of Darkness isn’t a bad system to pull from. Basic character generation is really fast, and the system is good for getting a quick feel on what a character’s strengths and weaknesses are. It doesn’t hurt that one of the main games in the series is focused on vampires, so you might end up with some ideas to flavor your setting with along the way.

Vampire: The Masquerade provides the tools for a huge range of different styles of vampires in the core book alone. They’re all, more or less, inside the European immortal blood drinker genre, but it’s still fairly diverse group. And looking at the disciplines (specialized powers characters pick from) should give you some ideas about just how powerful you want your characters to be.

There’s also Werewolves, Mages, Hunters, and Demons. Given the series started in the early 90s, it’s a surprisingly comprehensive look at the common Urban Fantasy lineup. Though Demon: The Fallen was a smaller run, so that one will set you back a bit, if you end up wanting it.

I actually did an article on the setting awhile back, but, right now the main takeaway is looking for a rule system to say, “my character is this strong, and is this good at fighting.”

If you’re familiar with D&D, or GURPS, or really any RPG, and know what their numbers actually mean, then that will probably work just as well for you.

I’m not a fan of recommending D&D for stuff like this because character creation is a fairly involved process. Just crunching the numbers can take awhile. But if that’s the system you know, it’ll still do what you need.

I’m also more of a fan of recommending GURPS for the contents of its source books, over the actual game system. Speaking of, if you want a good quick primer on actual vampire folklore, GURPS: Blood Types spends the first 30 pages on the subject, before going into game systems. There’s also a chunk further in the book focusing on a lot of more obscure varieties of the myth. The discussion on how to make vampires is a little rule heavy, but still worth taking a look at.

-Starke

A World of Darkness

So, I keep recommending Hunter: The Reckoning to everyone who’s got a question about their characters hunting monsters. Well, okay, so I recommended it twice last week, but, it’s something you should be aware of if you’re writing urban fantasy. Part of this is because I really like the World of Darkness setting it’s part of, or I wouldn’t be writing about it a decade after the setting nuked itself and closed up shop. The other part is; today, World of Darkness represents a road not traveled in mainstream urban fantasy.

With all the urban fantasy questions we’ve been getting lately, I really should talk about setting in more detail and why I recommend it.

More urban than fantasy, the World of Darkness setting drops it’s supernatural critters into the world, and rather than isolating them off, forces them to cope with modern realities. Vampires that were alive to see the fall of the Roman Empire face the threat of a street punk with dragon’s breath shotgun shells. Werewolves have to contend with gangbangers that pack a silver round in their guns “just in case,” and human hunters have to circumvent or avoid the police in order to actually hunt because rigging up a car bomb will bring a federal taskforce down around their necks.

First off, these were roleplaying games. We continue to recommend RPGs for writers because they’re fantastic idea toy and toolboxes. A well researched sourcebook will cost far less, and be much easier to digest than a detailed technical manual. As a quick aside, the GURPS books are consistently a fantastic research starting point.

That said, RPGs can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to writing. Once you understand the numbers, they’re a very slick and effective way to quantify what your characters are actually capable of. On the other, they can quickly create nonsensical fight scenes because, “no really, my character would get an attack of opportunity because her opponent just moved through two adjacent spaces, so I can do a circle kick from behind while they’re using bull rush.” …just, no.

I don’t like recommending D&D (or D20 in general) for dummying up characters, because of the amount of paperwork a basic character requires in those systems. But, with some caveats, D&D is really good about limiting your character to “realistic” levels. So long as you remember that anything over a level 10 character is rapidly heading into superhero territory.

For dummying up characters, the World of Darkness games actually work pretty well. You have a list of attributes and skills and other traits that score 0 – 5, with 2 as average for most things. When you’re dummying up a character with the system, you can do it really fast. That said, there isn’t any power checking the way there are with levels in D&D, so you’re left to your own judgment on how powerful a character should reasonably be.

The system itself is pretty abstract, so it tends to avoid the kind of tabletop eccentricities I was giving D&D flak for a minute ago. Just keep in mind, either of these (or really any RPG) can be a good tool to work through your fight scenes with, but they both have flaws. The same thing applies with dummying up characters. It can be useful, but you should never take that as gospel.

So, that’s systems, and, while I like the system, it isn’t really anything special, so let’s talk about what we’re really here for; the setting.

Well, settings, there were two different Worlds of Darkness, and in spite of some overt similarities, these are completely different animals. Normally, I’m inclined to recommend the old setting, but depending on where you are as a writer, the new setting might be more useful, so we’ll get back to it in a minute.

Old World of Darkness entered print in 1993 with Vampire: The Masquerade. This was rapidly followed with Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Mage: The Ascension.

From the beginning, the setting was on the clock to the end the world. The books do a really good job of capturing pre-millennial anxieties about how the world was going to end when the clock struck 2000 (the end of the world arrived in 2004). There are signs and portents all over the place that “the end is nigh.” Including new supernatural creatures appearing (and a few old ones reappearing) as the clock ticked towards the end. This, incidentally is where Hunter: The Reckoning fits in.

 The world, as a whole, is a sprawling Rashomon gestalt as various supernatural societies try to deal with the world. One thing that’s really important to understand about the setting is that there is no unifying body. No one group polices them all or oversees them. More importantly, no one has a complete picture of the world.

Everyone has their viewpoint. As an outside observer you can look at what the Vampires say about the Werewolves, and then go look at the Werewolf book to see how wrong they actually are. This might sound like a minor thing, but from a writing perspective, this is incredibly useful. As a writer, you will write characters that are trying to learn about something, and inevitably, when they have incomplete information, they will make mistakes. Here are hundreds of examples of that scattered through the books, where you can actually check the perceptions against each other. In many cases you’ll also get both their views of themselves and an objective, systemic truth.

If you’re writing urban fantasy, this is even more valuable, because it’s a persistent reminder that: no, as an outsider, your character probably shouldn’t be fully conversant in the exact cultural norms for a secret society of monsters. Or even really know everything they’re capable of.

There’s also subtle rule differences between the different games. On one hand, this is kind of annoying, because you can’t just cross one character from one system into the other. And it can confuse players (no, Imbued don’t actually deal, and never receive, aggravated damage). But, at the same time, it’s an important reminder. If you’re working with an urban fantasy setting that has vampires, werewolves, and any number of other creatures, why would they all work under the same rules? On the whole, I’d stick this as more of a negative, beyond simply thinking about the general concept when you’re building a setting.

The setting is also really good at setting up mysteries. Not so much with actually paying them off. Usually the answers would be buried, in a supplement for different series. Now, 10 years later, the easiest way is usually going to be to just go digging on a wiki, to have someone else put the pieces together from the half dozen books you’d need. But the original sources are useful to see it actually being done. To be fair, the way it hides information isn’t a bad example, the issue is more where it hides its secrets.

The setting has a kind of “horror-punk” aesthetic. Depending on your preferences that can easily translate into a permanent sense of “trying too hard.”

Also, it’s worth knowing that this isn’t always the most culturally sensitive settings. The Mafia book is more Goodfellas and Godfather than actual organized crime, the middle east book for Hunter recommends Patai’s The Arab Mind, and one of the writers on the Gypsies book didn’t realize they were a real culture until after the book had gone to print. So, be careful with what you pick up along the way.

Having said that, let’s cover the games and what they do. In rough order:

Vampire: The Masquerade is an Anne Rice soaked game. The game does a good job of dropping Vampires into a modern setting where someone with a flare gun is a real threat. The game thrives on petty political maneuvering. You know, vampires, back when they were threatening, parasitic monsters, and weren’t particularly interested in high-school girls.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse is about eco-terrorist werewolves. Which sounds kinda goofy, but at least you can’t accuse the writers of doing the same thing as everyone else. The werewolves see themselves as guardians of Gaia, and one of their primary antagonists is actually a multinational corporation. The game has a slightly amusing Captain Planet on meth vibe. But, at the same time, there is some really interesting stuff with how they treat their human (or animal) relatives, and an entire culture facing extinction. Also the non-wolf shapeshifters go way beyond “like werewolves, but they transform into a cat/snake/bird.

Mage: The Ascension is about people trying to change the world without getting caught. The Mages have the ability to alter reality at a fundamental level, in very fluid ways. But, if they practice magic overtly, they’ll be crushed by the disbelief of the populous. This is easily one of the most philosophically complicated RPGs I’ve ever seen. Also, if you’re using magic in your urban fantasy, the consensus reality mechanic Mage uses is something you should be at least aware of.

Changeling: The Dreaming put players in the shoes of Faeries stranded in the setting. Beings of imagination and whimsy they are fighting against the banality of modern life in order to survive. Part crazy person living out a storybook tale, part, well, storybook fantasy, this was actually one of the most upbeat pieces of the setting.

Hunter: The Reckoning focused on people suddenly being forced to confront the presence of monsters as a part of their world, and going insane. More Falling Down with monsters than Buffy, the game focused on the deterioration of characters, as their lives fell apart from hunting monsters. There’s also borderline urban terrorism theme, because of the lengths the hunters need to go. This often manifests as a reminder that, “the cops will be hunting you for this, plan accordingly.” There’s also some fantastic interplay between different outlooks on how to deal with monsters in the first place, ranging from “we need to save them” to “kill ‘em all, and anyone who helps them.”

Wraith: The Oblivion focused on the setting’s underworld. It’s interesting, particularly if you’re writing about characters dealing with life after death, but bleak as hell. Ironically (or not), Dark Souls comes to mind as the closest analogy with characters that were constantly struggling to retain their identity.

Mummy: The Resurrection was the only series in the setting that was outright about “the good guys.” And, that was kind of the crazy part, because you were playing a Mummy. Mummies had a split soul. A modern character who’d lived and died miserably. And a millennia old soul from Dynastic Egypt who had purified the modern soul. Mummies were actually trying to save the world from the apocalypse, and ease the world’s pain, as best they could.

Kindred of the East dealt with Asian vampires. (Kindred was an explicit term for vampires in the setting.) There’s some really interesting stuff with the Chi eaters interacting, and fighting with, the western varieties of Vampires.

Demon: The Fallen focused on demons who’d just been released from hell. This was one of the last games in the setting. The demons would possess the corpse of a recently departed, and their return was one of the biggest signs that, no really, the world is about to end. This was loaded in Judeo/Christian/Islamic cosmology, more than most of the other games in the series. It casts the demons as semi-sympathetic figures that rebelled to fight for giving humans free will.

And then the world blew up. There were four books, Gehenna, The Apocalypse, The Ascension, and Time of Judgment, which detailed multiple possible endings for all of the series. Time of Judgment covered most of the smaller lines, while the big three got their own book. (Gehenna is Vampire’s.) If you’re writing about a supernatural apocalypse, these are probably worth looking at.

There was also a limited run series, Orpheus, about ghost hunting mortals. Technically it’s supposed to be part of the old World of Darkness, but it doesn’t really fit into either setting smoothly. Systemically it has more in common with new World of Darkness. So, let’s just move on to that.

Launched a couple months after the original setting detonated, new World of Darkness was an attempt to create a more accessible setting. Gone are the massive metaplots, the impending end of the world, and a lot of the interconnectivity.

The biggest difference is that new World of Darkness is modular. If you pick up a book for the setting, you’ll get a lot of random pieces you can pick out and use, or modify and use. It’s more of a toolkit for a writer. Want to write about cops that hunt the supernatural? Grab Tales from the 13th Precinct, and see what gets suggested in there. Want to do the same thing, but with soldiers? Dogs of War. This is actually a good thing, because it means you don’t need to go hunting for five or six obscure books to parse out what you’re seeing. But, in the process you lose the effect of seeing the same thing from multiple angles.

The new World of Darkness launched with Vampire: The Requiem, Werewolf: The Forsaken, and Mage: The Awakening. Which is why I have to keep typing out the subtitles for most of the games.

Superficially, Vampire: The Requiem is basically a rehash of Masquerade, but with most of the clans missing (and one from a vampire that didn’t produce a clan in Masquerade). This actually manages to sidestep about 90% of the most convoluted mess in Masquerade’s backstory. And, as a result, Requiem is remarkably accessible. But, you lose a lot of the pay off for political relationships that have stretched back centuries, with various groups stabbing each other in the back whenever the opportunity presents itself, that is to say: “almost constantly.”

So, minor mea culpa, I’m not nearly as well versed in the new setting as the old. In part because the piecemeal format didn’t really appeal to me. So, this information might be a little wonky.

Werewolf: The Forsaken focuses more on werewolves as your traditional movie monsters. There are still elements of the “Protectors of Gaia” theme buried in some of the supplements, but these are a lot more generic, which might be what you want.

Mage: The Awakening shifted off the philosophical bent of understanding magic, to a more adventure focused finding and preserving ancient sources of power. There was also a transition from the freeform system in Ascension to a more traditional spell list in Awakening. You can still create magic on the fly, but the game is actually more obtuse on that front.

Hunter: The Vigil isn’t really an update of Reckoning. It’s more of a revival of the Hunters Hunted books. These focus on normal (or mostly normal) humans who go out and hunt monsters. Possibly because it’s their job, or because they’re freelance.

Changeling: The Lost is almost a polar opposite of The Dreaming, it deals with malicious Fae who are victimizing children into becoming the next generation of Fae.

Geist: The Sin-Eaters is (sort of) a relaunch of Wraith. This is one of the two series I don’t have books for. This focused more on ghosts that had returned to the living world, as opposed to wandering in the underworld.

Prometheus: The Created is a new addition to the setting. This dealt with beings that had been artificially created. Like Frankenstein’s monster or a homunculus. As with Geist, I don’t actually have a copy.

Scion isn’t technically a World of Darkness game, so far as I know, but, it is in a similar vein. This is the American Gods or Percy Jackson presentation of players as the offspring of gods from various pantheons. Scion actually gets pretty creative with this, including things like American and Soviet pantheons in one of the later books. This trends more into the fantasy end, we are talking about the offspring of gods after all. But, it might be just what you need.

New World of Darkness, as a whole, is more useful to newer writers. As I said above, it’s a toolkit, and each book will give you more ideas to play with. It’s also (systemically) a better, or at least more streamlined, game. Gone are the mixed rule systems, that actually hid some pretty important interactions and thematic elements. It’s also a much better to look at if your setting only has one kind of supernatural creature.

Picking apart the old World of Darkness is more valuable to writers at an intermediate level. You can get a lot of practice in working out what characters would know about one another, especially in a setting where your supernatural critters don’t have any kind of formalized relations with one another, and don’t have easy access to the others’ cultures.

It’s also better about presenting a cohesive world where monsters can’t simply segregate themselves off from the modern world whenever they want. This is especially important if you’re writing monster hunters, and why Hunter: The Reckoning keeps coming up.

-Starke

Hi! This blog is so helpful. I have a question regarding armor. My MC is part of a s.w.a.t. like team. They fight supernatural being who use sword and shields and engage in gunfights. What kind of armor would would you nede to be alle to engage in both?

Well, riot armor actually reduces mobility. It’s good for dealing with someone chucking a bottle at you, but if someone opens up on you with an automatic weapon, you’re screwed. I’d assume your supernatural beings would be slightly more dangerous than that.

Normal SWAT gear is probably the best option, honestly. Unless they’re dealing with a specific threat that calls for heavier armor.

If you’ve never seen it, the British TV series Ultraviolet, might be a good thing to look at.

I would strongly recommend against sword ‘n board in a modern environment, though. The problem with going toe to toe with a monster that’s superhumanly strong and fast is, in melee, you’re just going to lose. If your characters are going up against werewolves or vampires, or something worse, a shield isn’t going to save them, at best it will become the implement used to beat them to death.

Something Ultraviolet does, that might be worth expanding on is specialized ammo. Just because a vampire is “immune” to a chunk of lead passing through their body, doesn’t mean a dragon’s breath shotgun shell won’t ash them on the spot. High explosive rounds are a (rare) thing, so your monster might be able to soak off a .38 to the face, but when that .38 explodes on contact, it’s a different story.

Even things that are immune to conventional weapons might not be able to shrug off a Tazer slug.

The other thing that might be worth looking into is Hunter: The Reckoning. My fondness for the original World of Darkness is pretty well documented, but, Hunter was about humans with limited superpowers going up against monsters in an urban fantasy/horror setting.

-Starke

A character of mine is routinely tracked by agents of various organizations (think Area 51 kind of deal, not the police or the army). What kind of signs would she look for when she’s assessing whether someone is a threat to her? How to spot an agent in disguise?

Here’s the thing. If you’re going with the whole alien hunter thing, then you’re probably looking at the police and military. Remember, Groom Lake was an Air Force Base, and that is military.

The short answer is anyone that singles her out and she catches paying attention to her, and that’s about as good as it’s going to get. Unless she knows specific tells with the agents hunting her, like, say, that they’re all aliens themselves, and have some distinguishing characteristic, then there’s that, but otherwise, she’s just going to have to rely on her own paranoia.

As I understand it (and keep in mind, this is a little out of my forte); the basic advice with protective details is to scan the area, and if anyone sticks out in your mind, keep an eye on them. But, as simple as that is, it’s hardly foolproof. Over time, more details of what you’re looking for specifically will get filled in, This is just the old “one of these things doesn’t belong” game with assassins and attempted murder.

Also, “disguise” makes me think of Groucho Marx glasses. Realistically, in a situation like this, a disguise would probably be something as simple as jeans and a t-shirt, with maybe a jacket or work shirt if it’s appropriate.

This is also going to get into a protagonist/antagonist bent, so, I’m going to start with the assumption that your conspiracy agents are the bad guys.

In order to be effective, they need to be able to escalate. They need to have the ability to act openly if the situation really warrants it. Otherwise it will just be too easy to outmaneuver them. In the real world, hunting and killing anything bipedal is generally frowned upon by the police, and any antagonist that can be completely neutralized by dialing 911 is a poor foe (at least in this context.) This means, setting them up like the fake emergency call in the Bourne films would be an amazingly fast way to get rid of them, and it would work reliably.

So, your antagonists need to actually be affiliated with either the police, military, or both. If it’s a conspiracy outside of the government, they need to have pull inside the police. These need to be people that really can call the cops for backup, and possibly (depending on what they’re hunting) the national guard or marines.

If it is a conspiracy, then their front line agents will probably be ex-law enforcement or ex-military. These are the kinds of people that have the necessary skills, the background, and the outlook for the job. This also means, they’ll be very hard to spot, because you’re not looking a specific set of characteristics, you’re having to look for a lot of possible tells.

If the group is actually your protagonists, and the situation is a little different. In this case, your agents will look a lot more like resistance fighters. Ex-law enforcement and military are still preferred, but they might have to take whatever they can get.

They’re also going to need to be very careful. One slip up could mean their entire operation is in jeopardy, and the police are a serious treat to their ability to function.

In a case like this, agents could be potentially impossible to spot. The easiest way would be to look for the same faces popping up. These guys don’t have a large staff to pull from, so they can’t afford to rotate their surveillance. They also probably couldn’t afford to track someone “just because they might be a problem later”, again, they don’t have the numbers to do that. So if they’re stalking your character, it’s because they’re planning to neutralize her, soon.

You can run groups like this as antagonists, but it’s not easy. Hunter: The Reckoning is written from the perspective of the rag-tag monster hunters being the protagonists, but the books could give you some ideas for using them as antagonists. While we’re on the subject, Hunter: First Contact is specifically built around running these two types of groups against each other, and it does offer some good suggestions, even if it is geared for a world where Vampires control the police, and the werewolves are ecoterrorists.

First Wave was a… let’s call it quirky series about a lone alien hunter trying to save the world. Cade Foster wouldn’t make for a good antagonist, but if you can track the show down, it might give you some ideas. Also, the aliens in the setting are interesting, and Roger Cross’ work as an enforcer for the aliens is very memorable. Fair warning, the first season DVD set is obscenely expensive, and I don’t think SyFy’s released the others, so this might not be an example you can actually use.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention V. Either the original series from the early 80s or the reboot a couple years ago. I’m not a fan of the former, and I haven’t seen the remake. But, it is the urexample of a resistance cell fighting against an alien invasion. This is pretty much the opposite of what you’re wanting to do, but it might help.

By the same token, I’m not a fan of Earth: Final Conflict, but the show was about resistance fighters hiding inside, and working to subvert aliens who came to earth openly. It’s at its best when the aliens are ethically ambiguous, but that gets lost in later seasons, as the aliens become more overtly evil. It probably isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, but for anyone else in the general vicinity.

You can run conspiracies as protagonists, but it’s tricky. Stargate: SG1 is a good example, and The X-Files plays this for both the FBI agents and the conspiracy. The British miniseries Ultraviolet plays a lot like this as well, though they’re hunting vampires, not aliens. If you’re going for more of a comedy bent, the MIB films might not be a bad place to look. The first film in particular, has a wonderfully surreal quality.

This one might not be possible to track down, but The Visitor (1997) was a really interesting series where an alien abductee returns to earth, and is trying to save the world. It’s notable for having two separate groups, a slightly deranged military commander tasked with covering up alien activity, and a cadre of FBI agents. If you can find a copy, this was a really good series.

-Starke

Any good advice on how to write a fight between the forces of Heaven (potentially using swords and shields and other medieval weapons) and the forces of Hell (using more modern weapons like guns and stuff)? This is probably a stupid question, but I’ve never actually written a good fight scene before, and this has to span several chapters and potentially 20,000-30,000 words. I just really need some advice, please.

Well, given that your average November novel is 50k words, 20k to 30k is a little excessive. You can’t keep a single fight going for that long, without the reader wearing out, though you could comfortably stuff an entire war in that word count.

Unless the weapons are magical, the guns will win out every time. I keep saying this, but there’s a reason we no longer take longswords into battle. If these are enchanted armaments of heaven and hell, then you’re the one setting the ground rules for what they’re actually capable of.

If you’re willing to go back to the drawing board, I’d recommend digging up used copies of In Nomine. It was an RPG setting in the 90s, with angels and demons engaged in a shadow war for the universe. If you can find it, White Wolf’s Demon: The Fallen might also be a good, if bleak, source of inspiration.

If you want to look at a setting with mass warfare, particularly where guns and melee weapons do mix, I’d recommend Warhammer 40k. I usually recommend the Ciaphas Cain novels as the best 40k entry point, but in your case, one of the Grey Knights novels might be closer to what you’re trying to do.

-Starke