Game: World of Darkness: Chicago
Publisher: White Wolf
Series: World of Darkness
Review Dated: 2nd, February 2006
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
This is a dangerous book for me. World of Darkness: Chicago is my first peak at a supplement for the “new” World of Darkness. In many ways, Chicago is a fresh start. My own view is that the previous World of Darkness did not mix well. Vampire was great. Vampire with lupines was great. Vampire mixed with Werewolf was fell significantly short of great. A lack of coordination and a plethora of shoehorns was partly to blame for this. Chicago has a key role here. Chicago is a cross-over book. If you play or Story tell in the new Vampire, Werewolf or Mage then this could be the supplement for you. This is a dangerous book for me because it may wake my old addiction to the World of Darkness.
Is this the book for you? Has my World of Darkness obsession come crawling again?
Perhaps; this might be the book for you. No; my World of Darkness obsession is still a thing of the past. I must admit that at many points throughout World of Darkness: Chicago (there is a paper version too) I felt pangs of greater interest and the temptation to dive into the series again. I also felt familiar mini irritations balloon into annoyingly large irritations. For example, I found myself wondering whether authors Greg Stolze or Chuck Wendig really understood the nuances of World of Darkness vampires. That’s almost a crazy thing for me to say. They do know. In my defence; this a setting where mood and atmosphere is so important it is easy to be offended if someone else’s interpretation threatens to insidiously corrupt your understanding and hard work.
There’s a touch of jingoism, for example, that irritates. Some of the vampires watch the airport and look out for terrorist attacks (amongst many other things) and there is the remark; “we’re all Americans even if we’re undead.” Phhts. So much for the loss of human values in the face the vampire beast and kindred politics. Yeah, this is my personal interpretation but it does impact on my enjoyment of the book. Of course, by now World of Darkness had talked about the Government of England rather than the Government of the United Kingdom and so, as a Scot, my own patriotic shackles were up.
Remember, I did say that minor irritations ballooned into large irritations. If you’re not afflicted by balloonitice then this is an even better book. By and large I enjoyed the Chicago. It does the best work of being a three-in-one sourcebook that I’ve seen for the World of Darkness.
I don’t believe Chicago successfully gels the supernatural races together, however. Chicago presents three different patchwork possibilities. One patchwork has the vampires dominant and werewolves and mages as important backdrop. The other two patchworks have different spins with either the werewolves or the mages dominant. There is a suggested fourth option were everything is ramped up, vampires, wolves, mages, monsters and sundry other urban fantasy. Let’s pass, though, on that possibility. The patchwork approach is best. This version of Chicago does not try to shoehorn the World of Darkness foci into a new shape, it recognises that the world mood works best with a dominant influence and then rolls with that option.
Ah… but wait. Chicago does not dive into the supernatural option any more than a standard World of Darkness book dives into new stats and powers. We begin with a history of Chicago – and that’s especially helpful for people like me, the Scot, who previous had no reason to research Chicago.
If you’re super sensitive to spoilers then stop reading now. There are stories/scenarios in the book; one for vampire, werewolf and mage, so those players who are sensitive to spoilers will have to turn Chicago’s pages carefully too.
Chicago seems to have an appropriate history and geography for a World of Darkness patchwork of supernatural. It’s in the middle of the country and one of the earliest defining moments for the location was when the natives massacred the inhabitants of Fort Dearborn. The Fort grew into Chicago. All that spilt blood woke something.
By 1865 the fort had grown into the city and – sticking with the blood theme – was home of dozens of slaughterhouses. Poetry once described the city as the “Butcher to the world”
In 1871 the Great Fire of Chicago ruined much of the city. The heart of Chicago was gutted by the flames. Oh, for a World of Darkness plot the opportunities are legion, Stolze and Wendig certainly find the time to lace a plot thread or two through the disappearance of an influential Man In The Know or the arrival of weird books as part of the city’s new library.
The Haymarket Riots rocked the city in 1886 and the region of the serial killer H. H. Holmes in 1893. There really is a bottleneck of interesting events in the last half of the nineteenth century. H. H. Holmes’ home is known as the “Murder Castle” and thankfully is this is the name the people of the time gave the twisted serial killer’s twisted house and not something a hack horror writer made up.
Chicago, of course, continues to have an interesting history – it’s just that the dramatic events of over a hundred years ago sit more firmly on the supernatural radar just because of their age. Weird events from recent history have less gravitas.
Once we have our introduction to the World of Darkness’ Chicago we go on to explore three more sections; Vampire, Werewolf and Mage. Not a bias towards one supernatural offering but just the order in which the core rules are published. For each section we have a view of the city from that supernatural’s point of view – and its here were might have scenarios where the Vampire Price has an area where he’ll allow representatives from the lupines. Even though it’ll be best to take Chicago with one supernatural race is dominant in the city the book does not force this on to you. The supernatural-view-of-the-city does not overload any area. If the werewolves have a railway station in one section of the book then the mages do not control it in another. The tour of the supernatural-view of the city is informative too. If you’re reading about O’Hare airport, it’s from the Kindred point of view and won’t be contracted from the mage point of view.
After the supernatural-view-point-of-view of the city we’re taken through a cast of supers for the city. This is the meat of the book for many World of Darkness fans. They want to know who and what is in power is power in Chicago. They want to know what powerful factions are worth knowing about. We have the Vampire Prince and the most important Pack leaders. In fact, if you took all three “super sections” of the book and used every NPC in them then Chicago is simply teaming with power.
As it happens my preference is not for this. I would prefer to create the NPC cast myself but this is tricky for a World of Darkness sourcebook. If you’re not going to talk about the key players then there’s not much to talk about. You can’t discuss angry spirits without saying which werewolf upset them or debate kindred politics without looking at the movers and shakers. The solution, for the reader, is to use the sourcebook as a possibility. Chicago is good here. The book certainly talks about history and non-NPC based plots but importantly there is not much in the way of hanging plot of quintessentially altered characters. For example, Chicago does not introduce a mage with rule breaking powers and an impossible vampire. The “old” World of Darkness ate itself by doing this. It’s more mature not to do this. It also makes it much easier to swap out NPCs you dislike or shuffle NPCs around.
There’s a story in each section too. Again, I am not so much a fan of pre-written RPG adventure but I am fan of being shown exactly how the authors of a roleplaying supplement envision their creation coming to life.
This is a review of the PDF of Chicago. Chicago is essentially a paper book (a large one given that the PDF is 426 pages) and this is the quick conversion. You can tell that the supplement was not written with the PDF audience in mind. It’s so heavy that even this powerful laptop lags when scrolling through some pages. There are internal hyperlink bookmarks, a few, and this simple addition makes the fat PDF so much more manageable.
I liked Chicago. It’s a great city! This World of Darkness twist is an interesting and engaging one. If you have the new Vampire, new Mage and new Werewolf then Chicago is certainly a supplement for you. If you’ve just got a few or one of the new core rules then Chicago’s lure begins to weaken. The PDF option is a good way to go if you’re not entirely sure.