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
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
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
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.