Collecting classic World of Darkness, part 8: Wraith: the Oblivion

Wraith: the Oblivion was the fourth WoD core game, and the first one not to be a long-term success.  This is partially by design: Mark ReinHagen felt that a game about ghosts shouldn’t be simple and taken lightly, so it included a system in which each PC has a dark side, known as the Shadow, that is controlled by another player.  While this was an interesting and original mechanic, it also required strong roleplaying skills and mature players (WtO is the first RPG I know of to include safewords).  This limited its audience from the beginning.

Other factors that held the game back were the game’s art design (extremely gray, and with a hard-to-read logo) and the fact that it didn’t play well with others.  Even in a setting that ostensibly wasn’t intended for inter-game crossovers, that sort of game wasn’t uncommon, and a vampire, werewolf and mage could interact face-to-face and fight the same foes.  However, it was difficult for wraiths to interact with the world of the living, and vice-versa, and to find an enemy that they could all interact with. (Note that in the crossover-friendlier nWoD, the PCs of the similarly-themed Geist aren’t ghosts themselves.)

As a result, Wraith became the only oWoD game to end its metaplot early, compressing a few years’ worth into one supplement, Ends of Empire (see below).  Only 32 game products were released for it in total, which is a major drop from the first three games.  This makes it one of the easier game lines to collect, although there are a few books that are rare/expensive.

Core rulebooks.  There are two of these, the paperback 1st edition and the hardcover 2nd edition.  Their price can fluctuate and may run higher than some of the others, but it should be possible to find 2nd edition for $15 and 1st for $10 or less.

Core supplements. The key supplements here are the Players Guide and Shadow Players Guide.  Neither is terribly expensive (the Shadow book generally runs to double digits but not more than $15-20) but they’re the most important from a play perspective.  There are also books/booklets that came with the screens, but no Storytellers Guide.

Splatbooks. These are called Guildbooks, and were somewhat compressed by the decline of the game line.  There are six, but two of them cover two Guilds each.  Ends of Empire also include a mini-Guildbook for a Guild that’s critical to the metaplot.  The single Guildbooks run $10 or less, while the double books can run up to $25 (being later, less common and higher demand).

On the splats, it’s worth noting that Wraith was unusual in that they didn’t define characters the way they did in most other games–the only group a character intrinsically belongs to is their Legion, which is determined by the method of their death, but that doesn’t mean that the character actually serves their Deathlord.  The Guilds are groups that have mastered a particular Arcanos (and are mostly underground), but group membership isn’t required to learn at least the basic powers, and they aren’t as strictly defined as clans or tribes are. There are 15 total, some of which are more important than others.

Screens. There were two Storyteller screens released, with the usual attachments.  There was also a Character Kit, which had a half-height player’s screen, a rules supplement, and a “death certificate”.  None of these are notably rare or expensive, but be sure you’re getting all the components.

Other supplements. The key supplements for the game setting are Book of Legions, Hierarchy, Renegades, and Risen, all of which run $10 or less.  Another key rulebook is Dark Reflections: Spectres, which runs $20 or more and can be hard to find in good condition due to the shiny black cover.  Dark Kingdom of Jade is another book that’s not that expensive but useful to understanding the setting.

One of the rarer books for the setting is Charnel Houses of the Shoah, the Holocaust supplement that was released under the adult Black Dog line.  This was written partially as a teaching tool about the Holocaust in a modern medium, but was both controversial and a difficult read, so I suspect it didn’t sell as much back in the day.  The going rate can vary wildly, from $20 to over $100; right now it’s hovering at $20 on Amazon.

The historical setting for WtO is Wraith: the Great War, set in the aftermath of World War I.  This wasn’t a standalone game; the relatively recent timeframe meant that most of the powers hadn’t changed, and not repeating information from the main rulebook left more room for setting material.  This runs $15-30 at the low end.

The last supplement of note is Ends of Empire, which was the final sourcebook for the game.  This wrapped up the metaplot and explained a number of the setting’s outstanding mysteries.  This is on the less common side, but it can be found in the $15 range with some patience.

One more supplement to note: Face of Death is an oversized art/setting book with no rules content.  There isn’t a lot of demand for it (the best use would be to fill a new player in on the setting more quickly than handing them the rulebook) but since it’s oversized it’s harder to find in good condition.

Merchandise

There isn’t much of this.  The dice set is marbled grey with white numbers, in a box similar to the rulebook cover, and seems to be very rare; I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen it on eBay.  The pin is the image of the key from the rulebook’s cover.  There are some novels, but not too many.  I can’t find any T-shirts on Google (although the existence of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion complicates these searches).

Orpheus

Since this doesn’t warrant an entry on its own, this seemed like the logical place to put it.

Orpheus (no subtitle) was an experimental limited-run game, with a rulebook and five supplements.  The supplements cover the plot of an entire campaign, and also include rules content for new powers, enemies, etc.  WW would later follow the limited-run game model for some of the non-core games in nWoD, such as Promethean and Changeling, though without the running plot.

The game was the last new game for oWoD.  At the start, it involved a company that could project mortals into the realm of the dead, and employed actual ghosts.  Over time, the plotline connected with the Wraith metaplot and revealed what had happened in the land of the dead after WtO ended.  The games aren’t really designed to be used together, but it’s still the closest connection to WtO after the line ended. (Wraith didn’t get a section in the Judgment Day book because it had already wrapped its metaplot.)

The books in the Orpheus line are:

  • Orpheus (main rulebook)
  • Crusade of Ashes
  • Shades of Gray
  • Shadow Games
  • The Orphan-Grinders
  • End Game

Orpheus supplements tend to run to the low end on both supply and demand.  As a late product, there wasn’t a lot produced (End Game was the last pre-hiatus book published for the oWoD) but it’s also of limited interest except to those planning to run it and collectors.  Excepting Wraith, the characters don’t interact with the wider oWoD, which really isn’t referred to at all, and the later supplements aren’t that useful as general sources of ideas.  The supplements work best building on the previous supplements, although there is information for the Storyteller who might have to skip an installment.

For a collector, that means that the main rulebook and End Game run in the range of $15.  The other supplements usually run under $10, and it’s not uncommon to see them in lots on eBay.

Next up: Changeling!  Until next time, the Woggle-Bug says, “I’ve got the strangest feeling I’m being turned into a puppet!”

Collecting classic World of Darkness, part 7a: Mage merchandise

Mage: the Ascension is the last of the oWoD games that had a large amount of merchandise produced back in the day.  This will be the last standalone merchandise article, therefore, because from here on out it’s mostly going to be “a set of dice and a pin”, which isn’t worth an entire article.

As follows the usual pattern, Mage is #3 in the amount of merchandise available, after Vampire and Werewolf.  One reason for that is they didn’t generally market Tradition/Convention-specific items in the way they did with the clans and tribes–there are no Tradition pins or necklaces.  As a result, most of the Mage merchandise is part of a set of three that cover the first three games.  It also doesn’t have much third party licensing–it’s not a concept that lends itself to, say, PC/console games as well as some of the others, and it doesn’t have a notable amount of awareness outside the gaming world.

The symbol usually used for Mage as a whole is the symbol of the Prime sphere, which looks like this:

Prime

Also note: One thing you’ll run across when searching online is material from Matt Wagner’s Mage comic book; make sure you’re not mixing the two up.

Dice.  Going by what I’ve found online, there were two versions:

  • Pre-Revised: Purple bag with Prime symbol, dice lighter purple and slightly marbled with gold numbers, box with Magician Tarot card on front
  • Revised: Purple bag with Prime symbol, dice darker purple and solid with gold numbers, box with Revised logo and Prime symbol

As with all of the WoD dice sets, these tend to run expensive when they turn up on eBay.

Miniatures. Ral Partha released a few miniatures in male/female pairs, representing some of the splats.  These show up from time to time and run about $5 or so per set.

Cards.  There was no MtA CCG; however, for the true completist, some mages appear in VtES and Rage.  The Tarot decks were covered in the previous article.

Novels. The MtA fiction line continued until the original WoD was shut down, so there are a reasonable number out there; they’re covered on White Wolf’s official checklist.

T-shirts.  The catalog I have lists two, an original and a Revised; there may be others.  These rarely turn up online, and run in the $15-20 range when they do.

One of the Mage 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter tie-ins will be POD Tradition/Convention T-shirts; the final designs haven’t been released yet.

Jewelry.  I only know of one Mage pin, with the Prime symbol in light purple (and a slightly odd shape because the points on the top are one unit.  It turns up from time to time, at the usual pin price range ($20+).

The catalog I have doesn’t list Mage jewelry in the Java’s Crypt entry, but there was at least one, a silver necklace of the Prime symbol (surprise).

Coffee mug. Purple with white marbling, the 2nd edition Mage logo on one side and the Prime symbol on the other.  This one doesn’t turn up too often.

Lighter. A purple Zippo with the Prime symbol and revised Mage logo in yellow.  It turns up on eBay about as often as the Vampire lighters and more often than Werewolf, and runs around $30-40.

Temporary tattoos. Update!  I originally had these listed under Apocrypha, but I now have a set in my actual possession (Virtual Adepts, for the record).  They’ve run around $10 on eBay.  One noteworthy thing about them is that they’re the only classic Mage merchandise that’s specific to a Tradition rather than the line as a whole.

Apocrypha:

Scented candle. This is listed in the WW catalog along with the Vampire and Werewolf candles.  However, I have less reason to believe this was ever released than the others–Noble Knight and the game store product listing both have the VtM and WtA candles listed but not the Mage.

 

These are all the MtA tie-ins I’m aware of.  As always there are probably some limited and promotional items I don’t know about, but unlike Vampire I don’t get the impression that there are more than I could ever keep track of.  Next up: Mage, possibly with a special bonus!  Until next time, the Woggle-Bug says “Damn these electric sex pants!”

A missed opportunity

Riffing with my housemate Kathleen on the following quote from Cracked.com:

So what if we replaced Swamp Thing with Superman and Mrs. Swamp Thing with a new motivation to putz around Gotham, like an ancient, weird-ass Kryptonian superweapon that crash lands in the duck pond at Arkham Asylum? (This being Arkham, the ducks are inmates too.)

raised the following questions:
  • Putting aside any characters from Darkwing Duck, about the only major bird-themed supervillain is the Penguin. (After that, you start getting into losers like Raptor from G.I. Joe.) This is an unfilled niche.
  • There really should be a duck-themed supervillain.
  • Why is there not a duck-themed supervillain called the Canard? (Who would operate out of Canard Base.) If there is one, Google is not leading me to them.

C’mon, DC & Marvel–don’t pass up a winning idea just because it’s absurd!  That’s never stopped you before.

(ETA: It has been pointed out to me that I overlooked the Vulture as another major bird-themed supervillain.  My apologies to Mr. Toomes and his family.)

Any club that would have me as a member, part 3

In the first half of this article, I went over the structure of teams with one to three members, but at those numbers there’s not as much to work with.  In this half, I get into the real meat of the article as I look at numbers four and up, which is where the real patterns start emerging.

Four members

Square

As you can see from the diagram above, the four-member team is the first time we have more sets of 2-person dynamics than we have members of the team (6, to be specific).  This is also the point at which we really start seeing a template that can be applied to the group as a whole.

TV Tropes has their own examples, based on humors or worldview, but my preferred model is adapted from the essay “George by Default” by Steve Ahlquist in the back of his comic Oz Squad (issue #1):

There is probably a very popular sociological theory which I don’t know the name of that holds that any group of four people interacting socially can be mapped onto any other socially interacting group of four people. […] Hence, it can be clearly seen that Peter Tork was, in fact, the Ringo of the MONKEES.  Mike Nesmith was John Lennon (because he was the brilliant, quirky conscience of the group).  That leaves Mickey Dolenz as George by default, as Davey Jones is obviously Paul.

Following the inescapable logic down a step on the musical ladder we discover that Snorky of the BANANA SPLITS is Peter Tork, aka Ringo Starr. Despite the fact that Mike Nesmith created ELEPHANT PARTS, we cast him as the lion of the ‘SPLITS, namely Drooper, the lanky feline in the Lennon glasses.  Astute observers of the BANANA SPLITS will notice that the function in the group dynamic of these individuals is absolutely the same in all cases.  We are led to Fleagle, the large Beagle, who becomes Davey/Paul, as Bingo the gorilla’s delightful mugging tends to remind me of Mickey, our de facto George.

[…] Remember that in mapping these groups onto each other, we are actually mapping them onto an invisible, theoretical Platonic Universal Quartet, each member of which functions within the group to promote their core dynamic.  This suggests the Invisible Girl is George/Bingo, based on who in the group receives the least exposure.  The Thins is John, at constant odds [with] the group’s [outspoken] leader, Mister Fantastic’s Paul McCartney. This may well make Alicia Masters Yoko Ono, and, if I understand current plotlines, make Yoko a Skrull spy!  I’d watch that girl if I were you.  Bringing up the rear is Johnny Storm, in the role of Sorky the elephant.

By now, everybody must be wondering what this has to do with OZ SQUAD, and in a weird sort of way I am too.  All kidding aside, this idea is integral to the manner in which OZ SQUAD is composed.  Because OZ SQUAD is a quartet, they are mappable onto all other quartets, making Dorothy Gale Mister Fantastic, Nick Chopper, the tin woodsman, Mickey Dolenz, the Scarecrow John Lennon, and the Lion Bingo the Gorilla.

This model is simpler (if more subjective) than either of TV Tropes’, even if I don’t agree with him one hundred percent with his assignments (and it was John who was the Skrull spy).  Since this is primarily a look at superhero teams, I’m using the Fantastic Four as the base model, which leaves the following roles:

  • The Leader (Reed). Pretty much every team configuration has a character who’s either the explicit leader, the dominant one, or just the most likely to accomplish things.  In a group of this sort, the leader is less likely to be a Hero type (see the 5 members entry for more on this).  In some cases, this character just isn’t any of the other three–they show initiative but in a relatively levelheaded way.

  • The Contentious One (Ben). The one who’s at odds with the Leader, or just everybody.  This can be overt, as it often is with Reed and Ben, or more passive-aggressive.

  • The Hotheaded One (Johnny). The one who charges in or does dumb things unencumbered by the thought process.

  • The Quiet One (Sue). (Also, in some older Marvel teams, the Girl, that being all the characterization required at the time.) The one who stands out the least or spends the most time by themselves.  This character may well be quietly competent and get things done; the difference between them and the Leader is that they’re less likely to take the initiative or drive others.

Admittedly George was “The Quiet Beatle”, which fits his assignment by Ahlquist, but what really matters here are their fictional personas as defined in A Hard Day’s Night.  In AHDN, George and Ringo both go off on their own, but George goes off because he gets fed up and winds up falling in with a fashion designer, while Ringo goes off because he’s being overlooked and has some time by himself.  That clearly makes George the Hotheaded One and Ringo the Quiet One, at least in that era.

Four-member teams aren’t the most common in superhero comics, so I’m going to look at other quartets as well. (Ironically, the original Wizard of Oz quartet doesn’t actually fit this model very well, because the characters don’t diverge from Dorothy’s path very much.)

  • Original Teen Titans: Robin (Leader), Wonder Girl (Contentious), Kid Flash (Hotheaded), Aqualad (Quiet)
  • Original Defenders: Doctor Strange (Leader), Hulk (Contentious), Sub-Mariner (Hotheaded), Silver Surfer (Quiet)
  • Original New Mutants (after Karma’s disappearance): Cannonball (Leader), Mirage (Contentious), Sunspot (Hotheaded), Wolfsbane (Quiet)
  • Avengers (Cap’s Kooky Quartet): Captain America (Leader), Hawkeye (Contentious), Quicksilver (Hotheaded), Scarlet Witch (Quiet)
  • Power Pack: Alex (Leader), Jack (Contentious), Julie (Hotheaded), Katie (Quiet)
  • Original Doom Patrol: Chief (Leader), Robotman (Contentious), Negative Man (Hotheaded), Elasti-Girl (Quiet)
    • The DP is an unusual case, because the Chief isn’t a field member, making him as much a Mentor as a Leader.  In a way the fractured structure fits the damaged nature of the team, however. (Despite the comparisons often drawn between the DP and the original X-Men, the FF model is undeniable–as it is with the X-Men, in fact.  See Grant Morrison’s “This Man, This Monster” pastiche in Doom Patrol #53 as an example.)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy (Leader), Cordelia (Contentious), Xander (Hotheaded), Willow (Quiet)
    • Note that this inverts the usual gender dynamics of the superhero version of this team (although not entirely–that would involve having the Quiet character be male).
  • The Incredibles: Mr. Incredible (Leader), Elastigirl (Contentious), Dash (Hotheaded), Violet (Quiet)
    • This is very much a second-generation iteration of the concept.  The similarities between this team and the FF (and Doom Patrol) are hard to ignore.  It’s changed up by the family dynamic, however.  Helen’s conflicts with Bob aren’t because she’s short-tempered and thinks he’s not running the team correctly; they’re valid marital/family conflicts, albeit with a cinematic twist.  This also means that the Quiet character, while still female, isn’t the only female representation in the group, and thus isn’t falling into the role by default.

The reasons for this pattern are fairly clear: it’s a simple system of opposites.  Every team needs a leader, or at least someone who sets their direction or gets things done.  To provide intra-party conflict, someone needs to disagree with the leader or try to do their own thing.  Another character tries to get things done, but overdoes it; their opposite is understated.  The natural pairings here are Leader/Quiet One and Contentious/Hotheaded One; we see this in the FF, where Reed and Sue started out as a couple and Johnny and Ben wound up partnered together in Strange Tales.

Five members

Pentagon

By now, things are starting to get complex.  There are ten pairs of interrelationships, and when teams are being created from scratch they may not have their personalities strongly defined at the start.  This can lead to a relying more on archetypes, and in turn characters’ personalities may be defined by their role on the team.

Before we begin, it should be noted that the five-member pattern differs from the four-member in that it is sometimes used deliberately as a model.  The four-member team either comes about because of straightforward storytelling and character logic, or because somebody’s following the patterns established by a similar, earlier team (see the FF/Doom Patrol correlations, for example).  While the five-member team came about in similar ways, one archetypal version was refined by the various Super Sentai series, stripping down the roles, color coding them, and setting a pattern for a number of sentai and anime/manga teams.  The roles are based in part on this configuration, so they aren’t entirely subjective.

At this point I need to address TV Tropes’ entry on this subject, because it’s a pretty well-known summation of the setup.  However, I’m going to use the terms my friend Josh coined when he observed this phenomenon. (Some terms overlap, because see previous paragraph–real pattern, independently observed.) I’ll get into the terms I disagree with in their individual listings, but more to the point, despite their insistence that “The Five-Man Band only occurs when the team as a whole fits, not just a few characters“, a lot of their comic book example are blatantly shoehorned to make them fit.  The Boys entry uses one character in two slots and puts two characters in another (one of whom doesn’t really belong there), and the original Teen Titans entry uses Wonder Girl in two contradictory roles. There are also a lot of attempts to cram in teams with a lot more than five members, which is fine if there’s genuine overlap on one or two, but the Young Justice entry has nine characters in eleven slots, which is stretching the number five to its breaking point. (Also, Namora is not a Sixth Ranger in the Agents of Atlas–she’s a core member from the beginning.  Triathlon/3-D Man is a Sixth Ranger, but Namora is a second Big Guy.)

However! I’m not primarily here to poke holes at a crowdsourced reference site, just to point out why I’m listing my own system rather than just linking to their article.  Here’s the team layout I go with, many of which are self-explanatory.  For a familiar example, I’m using the lion Voltron team and the Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets team, both of which fit to a T. (I’m not going to go beyond that in breaking down other anime/manga teams that fit, since there are a lot of them and the article is ostensibly about superhero teams.)

  • The Hero.  TV Tropes has this as the Leader, but notes they can be a Hero as well.  I don’t disagree that this character is sometimes just a leader in the sense described in the four-member entry, but particularly in Japanese material there are cases where the team is clearly a central character and their four sidekicks rather than a true team of equals, and this term encapsulates that better.  Beyond that, there’s not a lot to say that I haven’t said already.
    • Voltron: Keith. Gatchaman: Ken/Mark/Ace/Hunter/Ken.
  • The Other Guy. This is a case where I don’t like TV Tropes’ term.  The meaning of The Lancer isn’t clear if you don’t read the entry, and I originally thought it was a Robotech reference.  It also oversells this role a bit.  The secondary character can be the one who’s set as the opposite to the Hero, but there are times when they’re just another member of the team, and the “Other” captures the miscellaneous nature of the role. (“Vell, look–Zaphod’s just zis guy, you know?”)
    • Voltron: Lance, and Sven during the short time he was around.  (Note that Lance doesn’t really come off as a foil to Keith–he’s an example of the miscellaneous Other.) Gatchaman: Joe/Jason/Dirk/Joe/Joe.
  • The Big Guy. The most physically driven of the team, if not always the physically largest–basically does what it says on the tin.
    • Voltron: Hunk. Gatchaman: Ryu/Tiny/Hooty/Ollie/Rocky.
  • The Chick. In older material, particularly from Marvel, this could be the entirety of the characterization; now, it can be the most sensitive team member instead (and doesn’t have to be female, although they tend to be).
    • Voltron: Allura. Gatchaman: Jun/Princess/Aggie/Kelly/June.
  • The Pet/The Smart Guy. The Pet is younger, smaller, and/or more annoying than the rest of the team.  They may be a literal pet, or just the child-identification-character-that-children-don’t-like character.  The TV Tropes role is the Smart Guy, and these can overlap, but the Pet role isn’t represented in the TV Tropes scheme, so I’ll use whichever one is more appropriate. (Note that they classify Keyop from BotP as “Smartass Kid”, which isn’t listed as an option on the Five Man Band entry.)
    • Voltron: Pidge. Gatchaman: Jinpei/Keyop/Pee Wee/Mickey/Jimmy.

Although this pattern was perfected in Japanese media, there are Western examples as well.  The one I’ll focus on is the Original X-Men, because they demonstrate how characters can fit these roles from the beginning while still having room to evolve. (Other teams that fit the model: Challengers of the Unknown, Inferior Five, Forever People, original Legion of Substitute Heroes.)

  • Professor X: The Mentor, and thus not part of the five-member structure.

  • Cyclops: The Hero/Leader.  Even though he’s not officially so designated at first, he’s clearly in this role from the beginning; he’s leading the charge and speaking on behalf of the team from issue #1.  He’s also the one who’s too tightly wound; in #1 he snaps at Angel and Beast for playing around in the Danger Room.  Neither of these traits has changed in 50 years.  He’s also the first original X-Man to get an ongoing series that’s named after him (Beast had a feature in Amazing Adventures but not the title).

  • Marvel Girl: The Chick.  Does what it says on the tin.  She also has the only non-physical power of the field team, and is the only one without a decent codename.

  • Angel: We’re into the roles that aren’t quite as obvious now.  TV Tropes argues over whether Angel or Iceman is the Lancer, based on who argues with Cyclops more.  That’s the advantage to the Other Guy designation: there are fewer expectations attached, and Angel fits them better than the others, so that’s where he goes.  Later reinterpretations of the original team have played up his role as romantic rival to Cyclops, which also fits this niche.

  • Beast: Originally an unquestioned Big Guy, until Stan stopped writing him like Ben Grimm and made him the smart one.  He still fits that role, however, since Smart Guy isn’t a required slot in this scheme. (In early issues, his dynamic with Iceman was pretty much the same as Thing/Human Torch.)

  • Iceman: Again, the Pet is the best designation for him; he’s the youngest and the least mature of the group, spending his time joking around and complaining that the others treat him like a kid. (This has changed the most over time, although he’s never had a strongly defined persona.)

The Beast’s role has shifted the most based on which team he’s on.  On the original team, his intelligence was a personality note, but he wasn’t a full-on science genius.  That side of him developed more in his Amazing Adventures series, which is also where he underwent his physical transformation.  In the Avengers, his physical side was more prominent, as was his sense of humor.  I can’t speak to his role in the Defenders particularly; in X-Factor his physical side was emphasized for a while since he was losing his intelligence as his strength grew.  Since he returned to the X-Men in Morrison’s run, his main role has been as scientist-in-residence, with his physical outings relatively rare.

The upshot appears to be that when creating characters in this sort of scheme, they don’t tend to start out as very nuanced.  As they develop, they can grow in new directions or just become a more refined version of how they started out.

This layout also gives us an example of the difference between a constructed team and one assembled from pre-existing characters, especially those with their own features, by looking at the original Avengers.  Wasp is the Chick, of course.  Beyond that, the Big Guy is probably the Hulk, but Thor could fit that role as well.  When the Hulk leaves and Captain America joins, Thor can be the Big Guy, but then you have three main characters with varying degrees of alpha-maleness to try to fit the other roles, and no natural leader. (In later material Iron Man has been retroactively cast in this role, but that’s less true in the original run.)

Six members

Hexagon 2

That’s…a lot of interrelationships.  Let’s see what it looks like if we cut it down:

Hexagon 1

That’s a little more manageable.  At this point, the team is getting big enough that it’s hard to develop it as a whole, so it’s easier to look at patterns of relationships within the group.  While there are some superhero teams that fit this dynamic, I’m going to use as example a group where the planning behind it is fairly clear: the main cast of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

The MLP crew can be broken down into pairs, either aligned or opposed in some way.  Examples include:

  • Pony type: two each of unicorn, Pegasus & Earth pony.
  • Primary attribute:
    • Physical: Rainbow Dash & Applejack
    • Mental: Twilight Sparkle & Rarity
    • Emotional: Fluttershy & Pinkie Pie
  • Opposing attributes:
    • Knowledge vs. Intuition (Twilight Sparkle/Pinkie Pie)
    • Outwardly directed vs. Inwardly directed (Rainbow Dash/Fluttershy)
    • Refined vs. Rough & tumble (Rarity/Applejack)

These are the most obvious, and I’m not going to dig for more subtle ones, but these set up a web of relationships that have set up several episodes by themselves.

A superhero example is the original Runaways; while they aren’t quite as clear-cut, there are still opposing pairs within the group: intellectual vs. emotional (Alex/Karolina), magic vs. science (Nico/Chase), outward vs inward (Molly/Gert), for example.

(And to jump back to the first article in this series, Friends has similar opposing pairs, which is why Twilight Sparkle/Pinkie Pie=Ross/Phoebe.  For the record, Fluttershy is Chandler because, like Chandler, she’s very good at what she does but awkward when interacting with others on their terms.  (This is also the aspect of Chandler that Christopher Priest based Everett Ross on.) Applejack is Joey, but I can’t decide who Rarity and Rainbow Dash are between Rachel and Monica.)

Seven and up

At this point,  there isn’t a major recurring pattern (with one exception I’ll note below).  There aren’t too many teams of this size created from scratch (Sovereign Seven is the only one that comes to mind offhand) and the group is more likely to be the result of brainstorming than a deliberate pattern.

The exception is teams based on the Justice League.  The original JLA was founded on the pattern of “everybody who has their own feature except Green Arrow for some reason”, and as main characters they didn’t really have clearly distinct personalities or dialogue styles at this point.  However, they have themselves become a template: most of the times a JLA analogue appears in another universe, it’s the Power 7 they’re emulating.  This includes Grant Morrison’s JLA and teams that appear in titles like Top Ten or The Boys (although, interestingly, not the Squadron Supreme, the original analogue–probably because the Avengers were a smaller team at the time).

In conclusion

Apart from the fact that this article was a lot longer than I expected, what have we learned?  Four- and five-member teams have the strongest patterns, and analogies can be drawn between their members.  Teams constructed from scratch are more likely to fit these patterns than those assembled from established characters, since they can be invented to fill a given niche.  And the larger the team, the less developed each individual needs to start out.

Next time, the final part of this series: How well do team-created characters stand on their own?  Until then, the Woggle-Bug says “Alas…earwax.”

Collecting classic World of Darkness, part 7: Mage: the Ascension

Mage: the Ascension is the third World of Darkness game, both in terms of time and general popularity.  (However, while its fans aren’t as numerous, they often make up for it in terms of devotion.) It’s the third of the games that continued publication until the line stopped, and had an equivalent as a core game in nWoD.

Core books

As with VtM and WtA, there are three core versions: paperback 1st, hardcover 2nd and Revised. (Note: Amazon has a listing for a paperback edition of Revised, which is actually the original Tarot deck.  This led to me receiving the wrong product once, so read listings carefully.)

The usual age/price inverse relationship applies: 1st edition is generally cheap, Revised more expensive.  The Revised core book can run to more than the other ones, especially on Amazon; $30 isn’t an uncommon price to see, but with a bit of patience it can be found between $10 and $20.

Note that, while it’s not as vulnerable as the WtA cover, the gold effect on the covers (particularly 1st ed) is prone to wearing off, so that’s something to watch for if you care about condition.

Limited editions

The Revised Limited edition comes with a slipcase and limited art book, the same as VtM and WtA.  This generally runs third in cost, behind Vampire and Werewolf but ahead of Dark Ages.

As I write this, the Kickstarter for the Mage 20th Anniversary Edition (Mage20) is running and doing quite well; if you want the Deluxe version of that, pledge now because you’ll never see it for this price again.

Core supplements

Unusually, Mage didn’t have Players or Storytellers Guides for the first two editions (except Hidden Lore, the book that came with the 2nd edition Storytellers Screen) until the Guide to the Technocracy, a late 2nd edition supplement.  Although it’s not quite in line with the Revised version of the Technocracy and still has a bias toward treating them as villains, it’s still an important supplement and often starts at around $20-25.

Revised had a Storytellers Companion (with the screen, under $10) and Storytellers Handbook, which is less common and can run between $20-30.  In lieu of a Players Guide they had the Guide to the Traditions, which usually starts at $10-15.

Splatbooks

There are two sets of splatbooks, original and Revised.  The original had books for the 9 Traditions and 5 Conventions, which were gathered into compilations (3 and 2 volumes, respectively).  None of these run to very much, but the Tradition books had shiny metallic covers that show wear like a beacon, so they can be hard to find in good condition.

There are 10 Revised Tradition books (the Hollow Ones, originally treated as an unaffiliated catchall, got its own book this time around).  Only one Revised Convention Book (Iteration X) was published before the line stopped, but the remainder have been published as PDF/POD.  The Revised Tradition books generally follow the alphabetic/price correlation, with Akashic Brotherhood and Dreamspeakers running closer to $10 and the Verbena and Virtual Adepts closer to $20 or more.  The exception is the Order of Hermes book: for whatever reason, this one seems to be particularly expensive and sought after. (One reason may be that they’re one of the more complex Traditions, so having a book collecting all their Houses is more important than it is with a looser group.)

Other supplements

A general note on Mage supplements: Some but not all of the first two editions’ supplements were numbered in approximate chronological order (generally the purple-covered non-corebooks; the Convention books were numbered but the Tradition books weren’t).  According to the Mage FAQ, this was dropped because it wasn’t being applied consistently (numbers followed when books were assigned, not necessarily when they were released).  The FAQ also says that the number 21 was put on some copies of Digital Web 2.0, which should have been number 22.  My copy has 21; I haven’t been able to confirm the existence of both numbers or their relative frequency, but that’s a variant to watch out for.

As usual, Revised has most of the books that are sought after/hard to find/expensive.  Noteworthy examples:

  • Infinite Tapestry, the Umbral guide.  The price on this one can vary a lot but it’s generally above $20.
  • Sorcerer Revised.  The original version was a collection of hedge magics, but the Revised version collects all the Numina (mortal psychic powers) from various supplements as well, which makes it very useful as a resource for hunters and the like. (Ignore the clueless 1-star review on Amazon.)
  • The Fallen Tower: Las Vegas. A setting book/adventure.  To be honest, I got this one at a store for a reasonable price so I hadn’t realized it had gone up in value, but at the moment it’s running around $60 on both Amazon and eBay.
  • Forged by Dragons Fire. A collection of and guide to magical items; runs around $30.

In-character books and other items

There is one in-character text, Fragile Path: Testament of the First Cabal. For those who are interested, there are two distinct versions of this; the original printing had a purplish cover, while the later printings were red.

The other collectible items of note were the two editions of the Mage Tarot.  These were full-color decks using the cards that appeared in the frontispieces of the booksl  There are two versions; the original has a box with a horizontal orientation and the word “Tarot” most prominent, while the Revised version’s box has a vertical orientation and the “Mage” logo in Revised style as the prominent word. (I don’t know how the interiors differ, because my Revised deck is still in the shrinkwrap and I’m not opening it, thank you.) These run to serious money: expect to pay $50 for the original and $70 or more for the Revised.

Sorcerers Crusade

This was the historical game for Mage, set during the Renaissance.  It doesn’t seem to have been terribly popular, but was more successful than Werewolf: The Wild West, with eight supplements total.  The core book and most of the supplements can be found for $10 or so; the exception is Infernalism: The Path of Screams, which can run around $60.  The Witches and Pagans book was listed on White Wolf’s checklist but not released; it turned up as a PDF on DriveThruRPG, but (annoyingly) hasn’t had a POD version yet.

I also found the Storyteller’s Screen surprisingly hard to locate.  The Companion that came with it is relatively common, but finding a reasonably priced copy that definitely had the screen with it was harder (one Amazon seller was surprised that I’d even care about the screen).  There are a couple on eBay right now, but they’re not the cheapest.

That’s it for Mage!  I’ll be doing a short article on merchandise, and after this the articles will get shorter; I may cover more than one game in one article, and will probably make the merchandise part of the article (since it doesn’t take long to say “dice, a pin, and a few novels”).  Until next time, the Woggle-Bug says “FIRE BAD!”