The End of the WoD as we know it, part 1a: Gehenna introduction and chapter 1: “The Final Nights”

I’ve had a request from a regular reader to give reviews/impressions of two sets of books: the nWoD corebooks and the oWoD Time of Judgment books.  I’ve decided to start with the ToJ, because there are fewer of them, I’ve read them before (albeit not since they came out), and they break into easy chunks due to the way they’re set up.  First, though, a brief overview of the ToJ as a whole.

The Time of Judgment: the oWoD goes away forever seven years

In 2004, the World of Darkness had reached a turning point in terms of development and sales.  It had been on the “supplement treadmill” (in which the company uses the proceeds of one supplement to fund the release of the next one, meaning that the business model requires a steady stream of releases regardless of what the market and company really need) for some time at that point, and stores were tired of being swamped with books that wouldn’t necessarily sell.  On top of that, there weren’t a lot of new areas to explore, both in terms of setting and subjects for sourcebooks. Accordingly, they made an announcement: the WoD was coming to an end.

Many (arguably most) of the settings were leading toward some sort of final, climactic event or turning point, ranging from the downfall of the supernatural beings in question to the literal end of the world.  The metaplot had been building in that direction for some time, with an accelerating series of massive gamechanging events and a series of signs and portents, such as the rise of the Red Star (a sort of all-purpose omen of doom with no specific meaning).

There were a variety of promotions leading up to this event.  A news crawl was added to the WW website, reporting a series of increasingly-fraught events (the contents can be found here).  There was also a ToJ countdown clock, which after the end arrived could be used as a normal clock.  White Wolf had a major sale on their back stock, giving away bonus items on orders above a certain size (IIRC it was one free item for every three items purchased?).  And four books were released, one per month, covering Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, and the rest of the WoD.  There was also a ToJ book for Mind’s Eye Theatre (the only non-limited edition hardcover for the original line), but it was just an adaptation of the scenarios in the other books.

Toward the end of this period, the new World of Darkness was announced.  The original intention had been to end the modern oWoD and keep publishing the historical lines (primarily Dark Ages), but it became clear that retailers wouldn’t support that, so the entire line ended.  The final oWoD book released was actually End Game for Orpheus, but it was clear that one era had ended and another had begun.  Until V20, but that’s another story.

Gehenna: Raising Caine

As befits its use of Biblical lore, the end of the world was part of VtM’s mythology from the very beginning, and was developed further when the Book of Nod was released.  The core myth is that the first vampire was Caine, cursed by God for murdering his brother Abel.  He sired three offspring, and they sired the thirteen Antedilvuians that went on to sire the various vampiric Clans.  Gehenna is when Caine and/or the Antediluvians will rise again to reign over and/or destroy the world.  Over time, this became a major doctrinal difference between the Camarilla and the Sabbat: the Camarilla denies the literal truth of Noddist lore, while the Sabbat believes that they must fight the machinations of the Antediluvians to sit at Caine’s side come Judgment Day.

The VtM metaplot moved toward Gehenna as the gameline progressed.  Key sourcebooks included Nights of Prophecy (an overview of the metaplot with some adventures to advance it) and Time of Thin Blood.  The thin-blooded (in the modern nights, 14th and 15th Generation) are a generally-agreed sign of Gehenna, and the book not only developed them, but included the Week of Nightmares, an event in which the Ravnos Antediluvian awoke in Bangladesh and was eventually destroyed through Herculean effort, taking most of the clan with him in the process.  In general, the advance of the metaplot gave a sense of events rapidly spiralling toward the end (which partially excuses the speed at which events occurred during the game’s run relative to the backstory, vampires generally being a conservative lot).

Prelude: Ouroboros

Opening fiction: Dr. Douglas Netchurch, Malkavian scientist, observes as a vampire gives birth.  Mostly scene-setting; it’s tied in to the whole thin-blooded vampire thing, and will be explained more later.

Introduction: The Beginning of the End

The chatty introduction.  If you’ve read a WoD book before, you’re familiar with the style: the designers addressing the reader directly and going over what the book is about, the theme and mood, and so forth.  In this case, it goes into more detail than they usually do, covering the approach they’re taking (a sliding scaling of apocalypsiness from whimper to bang), some of the effects of Gehenna and how it ties in to the metaplot, the effects on the sects, and a rundown of the Antediluvians, their last known whereabouts, and their names, if known.  This last part is noteworthy because it’s an unusually direct canon infodump, when the general tendency in the past had been to leave these matters open-ended or play it close to the chest.  There were complaints that this supplement didn’t resolve every single mystery in the gameline (which realistically wasn’t going to happen), but sections like this one did go a small way toward it.

Chapter One: The Final Nights

This chapter gives an overview of events leading up to Gehenna and things that can happen during it, rather than a specific scenario.  It also covers various ways that the world can fall apart, which is the sort of thing that should be in a sourcebook like this: if the end of a horror game world doesn’t have the occasional frisson as things go to hell, it’s a major missed opportunity.  If you’re going to break your toys, do it thoroughly.

The Signs of Gehenna: A list of signs and portents from Noddist prophecy, and some speculation on what they could mean.  These are left deliberately ambiguous: for example, the prophecy about the rise of the Crone could potentially refer to Baba Yaga or Lilith.  The next few sections go into some of the portents in more detail.

Case Study: The Antediluvians: One of the central expected events of Gehenna is the return of the Antediluvians, the Third Generation progenitors of the Clans.  It’s an article of faith among the Sabbat that they will arise in Gehenna to consume their descendants, and that they can get in good with Caine by acting against his treacherous offspring. This section starts with a general overview of the nature of the Antediluvians, and the fact that there may be or have been more of the Third Generation than the canonical thirteen.  There’s the standard Rule Zero disclaimer that the disposition and fate of the Antediluvians is ultimately up to the Storyteller, and then a much more detailed breakdown of their possible activities and whereabouts than the one in the introduction.  Finally, there’s a speculation on some of the rumored non-progenitor Antediluvians. (Interestingly, the name of one of them is Mekhet, which they clearly back-pocketed to reuse in Requiem.)

Case Study: The Inconnu: The Inconnu go all the way back to the 1st edition rulebook, and are an odd set of ducks in that their nature became less clear over time, not more.  They’ve always been a shadowy conspiracy of mid-powered vampires with no ssesect association, but originally they were primarily a Gehenna cult.  By the time of Gehenna the sourcebook, there are seven possibilities listed, from Gehenna cultists to agents of Caine to red herrings.  This treatment is in keeping with the stated editorial philosophy of leaving some rigidly-defined areas of doubt and uncertainty, and as they note, any explanation they gave would be bound to feel anticlimactic. (This was one of the sources of complaints from readers, but I can see where WW was coming from.)

Case Study: The Jyhad: The Jyhad is the underlying theme of the metaplot, the conflict between the Antediluvians played out using their descendants as pawns.  Unfortunately, there’s not really a lot more to say about it than “you should do something with that” and a paragraph on the idea of small-j jihad as a struggle.  A large part of Gehenna is the Jyhad coming to a head, so its effects on all other vampires will be pretty key, but since it’s a logical corollary to the premise it doesn’t narrow the field of ideas very much.  I’d like to have seen this tied more directly to the Antediluvian section, which could have provided more specifics on how the individual Clan founders manipulate their pawns.

Case Study: The Appearance of the Last Daughter of Eve: This is a specific harbinger of Gehenna, a 15th Generation vampire who’s pregnant and bears the mark of a crescent moon, tying her to a figure in prophecy.  (She’s the one in the opening fiction.) This is another wide-open concept, but it’s more useful than the previous section since it gives the rundown on a specific part of the event.

Mortal Reactions to Gehenna: A quick rundown of the spectrum of Gehenna’s effects on mortals, spanning a spectrum matching the extent of Gehenna itself (not noticing at all to COMPLETE DEATH).  They’re matched to each of the scenarios in the book as examples.

Interesting Times: A short section of prop documents the Storyteller can use in-game or as inspiration.

The Withering: This is the crunchiest section of the chapter, as it details the weakening of the blood that leads to the vampires turning inward to consume their own. (This is the section about it all going to hell I referred to earlier.) Vampires lose the powers in their disciplines over time, blood costs are more expensive, and uses of blood may fail altogether.  However, diablerizing (consuming the soul of) another vampire gives temporary relief from the effects…and since vampires are already predators whose relations are strained at the best of times, the implication is that it won’t take long for it all to turn into a giant suckfest.

Advice to Storytellers: The advice in this section is pretty good, and useful in that this is an unusual sort of adventure to which normal rules and ST experience don’t necessarily apply. (They note, for example, that player characters probably shouldn’t get a break from events which affect their entire clan just because they’re PCs; in this specific type of scenario, having world-spanning events that can wipe out a character with no saving throw are par for the course.) A lot of it is a restatement of the Golden Rule in various ways, but that’s true of a lot of GM advice, and there’s nothing wrong with having more focused advice for specific situations.

Thoughts: In some ways this is the most interesting chapter in the book, because it’s the Gehenna elevator pitch: it allows the reader to envision the best possible version of Gehenna, without the risk of getting snagged on the details contained in the individual chapters.  The integration of ideas with the written scenarios isn’t always the best–the Withering is implied to be going on in most of them, but isn’t directly addressed–and I’d have handled some sections differently and possibly included a section on Caine, but all in all it has the things you’d want from this sort of sourcebook.  How well this continues will be seen in subsequent reviews…

Up next, it’s time to go to church.  Until then, the Woggle-Bug says “Hey, hey, you know what would suck?  If Mr. Mxyzptlk’s name was Bob.”

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