Friday, February 2, 2007

Designing Paris by Night - Part 2

I have run numerous games in the past. Not only D&D or medieval role-playing games, but also numerous RPGs using modern occultism or fantasy as their backgrounds. This alone provided me with multiple references and ideas to use in this new version of Paris by Night.

But these weren't the only influences I had at my disposition. I always was passionate about history, particularly ancient and medieval. I am an avid reader of anything related to myths and legends, and love weird conspiracy theories based so-called "occult" and "esoteric" sources: Knights Templar, the Fall of Montségur, the Holy Grail... you name it. I am also interested in world politics, old and new, cultures and religions, and a whole host of various topics which would fuel my imaginary ventures into a supernatural Paris the players of the game would enjoy.

These influences formed the corpus of influences where I would search for ideas to twist and interpret in the context of a World of Darkness (WoD) version of the City of Lights, but they weren't the main components I would use to build the game itself.

The Old Paris by Night (PbN)

My previous interpretation of a Paris by Night was heavily influenced by the games it used as its main frame: Vampire: The Masquerade and the other games of the old World of Darkness. Many elements of this old version were liked by the players of the game. I wouldn't need to change them.

Of course, I would have to change some elements, to reorganize them into a more coherent whole, as so many things were added somewhat erratically during the eight years the Chronicle ran, but some significant chunks of the old background I created so many years ago would remain unchanged. Even some characters directly taken from the old WoD sourcebooks would be kept: I had no choice, since some of the players of the new Paris would be searching for correlations and similitudes, basically a "safety zone" that would make them feel like there were "coming back home".

So I kept iconic characters such as François Villon, Madame Guil or Elaine de Calinot, even if their roles in the Requiem for Paris by Night would be largely revisited.

I also kept many of my own creations which went into the design of the old Paris by Night: Quasimodo, Maximilien Robespierre, the competition between the Toreador and Ventrue clans of Paris (now the Daeva and Ventrue of the Invictus, respectively) would remain present in the base frame of the new Paris by Night. "If it ain't broken, don't fix it," as they say.

The background of the Mage and Werewolf sides of the old Paris by Night would experience a revision, however. For Mages, I had some very particular ideas. For Werewolves, whose overall background and involvement in the old Paris by Night remained sketchy at best, I didn't know what to expect before reading their dedicated game for the new WoD.

As a matter of fact, after thinking a while about the old components of the old PbN, I realized would have to understand the whole new line of World of Darkness games and the way they meshed together to know exactly how I would use them in the new version I was preparing myself to design.

A New World of Darkness (nWoD)

My first experience with the nWoD would be through Promethean: The Created. Instantly, I loved what I was reading. This book alone decided me to use a huge chunk of myths and legends of the Occult, and particularly Alchemical lore and "history", as a component of the new PbN.

I also knew, as soon as we started talking about a new incarnation of PbN on Les Petits Potes, that I would have to carefully read Vampire: The Requiem (VtR) and make vampires the "first supernatural citizens" of the City of Lights. This just made sense: most players would want to create vampire characters, therefore the setting would have to address the Paris of the Damned first and foremost. When I read VtR the first time, I instantly liked the modifications the designers brought to the old incarnations of the game: no more generation, no more Gehenna, no single explanation of the origin of Vampires, less focus on monolithic clans and families of the Damned... this was all to my liking. I thus decided to use the game as it stands even if I would obviously add my own bloodlines and legends to the background of the game. No big deal.

Werewolf: The Forsaken solved all the trouble I had using these supernatural creatures in the Parisian context. Gone was the presence of the Wyrm, and gone too was the crusades of the shape-changers against the vampires. This allowed me to design alliances and feuds between vampires and werewolves, which decided me to make them part of the game much more than they were in the old Paris by Night.

Mage: The Awakening is certainly the game I liked the most from the get-go, but also the one with a background which needed to be modified the most. I had no trouble with the rules, and huge parts of its background were really flavorful, but the five Orders (or political organizations of mages, if you will) described in the main rulebook were completely disappointing: these were unflavorful, clichéd templates of the "fighters", the "anarchist/innovators", the "assassins/enforcers", the "lorekeepers" and "politic elitists" (respectively the Adamantine Arrow, the Free Council, the Guardians of the Veil, the Mysterium and the Silver Ladder). No basis in history or legends, really an unnecessary repetition of the political concepts already exploited in the other games of the new WoD, and frankly, none of the appeal of the Orwellian Mage: The Ascension, previous incarnation of the game.

The game's background had some tremendous potential, most notably concerning the origins of Mages in the World of Darkness, but its treatment in the alternative "now" it proposed was truly letting me down. Luckily enough, its premises were close enough to another role-playing game of modern fantasy which had been a long-time favorite and that I never had the chance of running until that point: Nephilim, the French-speaking RPG of "modern occult" were you play elemental spirits reincarnating in mortal bodies through the ages.

There, the organizations of Nephilim were based on the Major and Minor Arcana of the Tarot. This fitted nicely the tones of Mage. "What if I fused Mage and Nephilim into one single game?" I asked to myself. I would have the benefits of a tremendous background with tons of historical references and flavoful NPCs, and I would have the frame of Mage's rules to work with. I never had tried that kind of fusion of two different published RPGs before: that would be fun to attempt!

To conclude on the WoD games, I also decided to leave some room for the future games of the World of Darkness series, like the upcoming Changeling, which would certainly be interesting to add to the sauce. There's also a mysterious book entitled "Monte Cook's World of Darkness" scheduled for some time late in 2007. To this date, I am not sure what it would contain. A d20 adaptation of the WoD? That seems unlikely. A personal take on the components of the WoD rearranged into a new whole? That's much more likely. Whatever it is, it sure is on my list of future references for Paris by Night, given my long-time support of Monte Cook's designs and Malhavoc Press' products.

I thus had all my gaming components right then and there. All that remained to do was to organize all my thoughts and start writing a background. Easier said than done, obviously: that's what I'm working on right now.


There's one last component of the PbN design I have to discuss: this is Ptolus: Monte Cook's City by the Spire.

This is honestly the best role-playing city book that's ever been published. To summarize its contents, it presents a fantasy city named Ptolus and the world surrounding it, named Praemal, to use for one or several Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. It presents the world, its inhabitants and main nations, the city of Ptolus itself, with its various organizations, districts and underground regions, presents its customs, laws, and more while providing gazillions of adventure ideas and advice in the meantime. It's also the best organization of an RPG sourcebook I've ever seen: tons of cross-references in the margins, colors on the side of the pages to find a section quickly, dozens of maps, embedded bookmarks, that's just just amazing.

The reason I am mentioning Ptolus here is twofold: one, it allowed me to understand better what may possibly have been right and wrong in my earlier design of the old Paris by Night. Two, it provides great insights on the way I could organize my work into a coherent and usable whole, since I knew that, like the old PbN, the new one would soon include hundreds of pages of notes and descriptions of various aspects of the Chronicle.

I'm not planning on taking stuff from Ptolus to use it in Paris by Night: outside of the mere inspiration for maybe this NPC or this faction, the two cities are so different in feel and aim that this wouldn't do. However, the types of concepts and the way they work out together, as well as the physical organization of the whole thing, will certainly influence my work on this new Paris by Night.

As a matter of fact, besides this PbN game that's just restarting, I've been running a Ptolus game for some time now with my friends here in British Columbia. You can read more about our Ptolus game, how it is played, my thoughts about it, as well as the summaries of the various game sessions and events occurring in the game, in the Praemal Tales, its dedicated blog.

Now you have it: all the main components which help me design and run this new Paris by Night. Next time, I'm going to list all the books, movies, websites and more which became major inspirations of this ongoing design. Stay tuned!

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