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They Interviewed Martin Elricsson and We Have No Idea What He’s Talking About

In case the title of this article didn’t catch your attention, Imagonem interviewed Martin Elricsson, White Wolf’s lead Storyteller and Brand Architect.

We’re of the humble opinion that he is, at many turns, talking out of his ass.

There’s already been some confusion over the rebranding done in order to further differentiate Classic World of Darkness from New World of Darkness and The God Machine Chronicles. (What a mouthful, that.) Maybe it would have been best if they didn’t get somebody to explain why.

We’ll do a blow-by-blow account of this interview here. Inclusive of some of the gems that made me (and several others on our team) go “???”.

 

The interview seems to start out strong. Martin Elricsson alludes, once more, to the reboot of the “classic” line that many of us have been waiting for.

The World of Darkness universe has always been praised for its lore. In many ways, it has helped many of us tabletoppers redefine typical horror and urban fantasy tropes.

Marrying digital content with pen-and-paper RPG formats also seems to be the new way to go across the board. World of Darkness will also benefit, we feel, from producing actual computer games based off of its universe and its system precisely because it’s rich in flavor.

martin elricsson
Photo courtesy of Martin Elricsson’s Twitter account.

There is also some bolstering news regarding the development of an MMORPG, the original of which tragically fell through. He also helpfully clarifies, in his words, what the differences are between Chronicles of Darkness and the World of Darkness lines.

There is only one WoD. Chronicles of Darkness is a sandbox tabletop setting featuring the same broad creature types as the World of Darkness, but it is not the same world. It will not be spun off into computer games, novels, TV or anything else. It’s our specific brand for great metaplot-less, flexible, table-driven tabletop rpg. With the 2nd editions CoD has really found a separate identity from WoD and will continue to become even more of it’s own thing. We still own it but it’s Onyx Path’s baby. I love CoD and find that is a much more playable game with a more vague and unsettling aesthetic than WoD ever had. Too bad it never sold for shit and that old players hated it. It lacked the epic scope and the punk passion of the classic WoD. Had it done even remotely as well as the classic WoD things would be very different.

 

Okay. Hold up.

The idea that Chronicles of Darkness “lacked the epic scope and punk passion of classic WoD” makes me wonder if he and I are reading the same books. CoD (then known as New World of Darkness) had a hell lot of flavor. This, WHILE leaving a healthy amount of room for speculation and personal expansion in the hands of a willing Storyteller.

Yes, I’m aware that a lot of WoD oldies are going to fight me about this. But if they’re the breed of oldie that always bitches about nWoD being too “simple” or flavorless, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that they just weren’t creative enough to do something interesting on their own. nWoD (or CoD, whatever the heck you want to call it) is a toolbox.

Learn to goddamn use it instead of complaining about its lack of shiny.

On that note, I’d also like to see some figures on old players hating on it. What crowd were you even hanging out with, sir? There are a hell lot of old players out there that like the classic shit just as well as they like the new shit. And they patronized both products. Unless this is clarified with actual data, I’m inclined to view this as elitist, White Nerd Circlejerking.

(Spoilers: many of the statements in his interview may give you guys that feeling.)

 

Finally, claiming that the lack of sales is because players hated what you guys came up with is whiny finger-pointing.

Maybe the REAL reason why your stuff did not sell is because your team never really bothered with playtesting.

No matter how rich the flavor of a tabletop system is, it WILL fall through if it’s a poorly functioning system. My primary specialty as a GM is World of Darkness. But even I will acknowledge that the rules are vague and ripe for abuse, the mechanics are broken; and some of its storytelling systems can be super confusing. I’ve made document upon document of fixes for my own campaigns.

The lack of playtesting goes hand-in-hand with a lack of consistency.

At some points (for me and many of my players) it felt as though they were throwing all of this new stuff in. And without checking what they had already done; or how it might fit into the rest of their systems.

By the way, constantly catering to “old players” tends to kill a franchise. Just sayin’.

 

We’re going to skip over a whole section of babble in order to focus on the last question.

When asked about what White Wolf “did wrong”, Martin Elricsson answered with this:

Anything that smells of Fantasy. The attempt to create a deep mythology by linking the setting to Exalted was the worst choice ever. That was the last step in WoD’d death-march from being an artistic horror-IP to full on immature, escapist Urban Fantasy. The inability to deal with and integrate real-world events in the setting. If you can write about the Holocaust, you can write about 9/11. Fear is the death of creativity. The game was always best in the hands of storytellers who dared to place the story close to reality, often in their own cities, featuring real places and people.

What. Just what. Did he even CHECK the flavor produced by his own team in the many expansion books of CoD?

There’s no lack of that going around. Furthermore, given how extremely Eurocentric World of Darkness was in the first place, this feels just a little bit hypocritical. Let’s not forget that beyond the not-so-small issue of a thorough lack of play testing and consistency, there IS an issue about how the backroom politics behind the development of the MMORPG pretty much killed development of their pen-and-paper franchise.

By the way: what, exactly, is his problem with Fantasy (capitalization intended), and, for that matter, Exalted?

Exalted had its own thing going, and a hell lot of people liked it. It’s also perfectly possible to mix horror with fantasy. Fantasy can be horrific, just as horror can be fantastical. What is with this weird need to categorize?

On that matter, Dungeons & Dragons, Esteren, and many other systems explore fantasy settings and are, by no means, “immature” or “escapist”. Heck, isn’t the essence of tabletop escapism? Immersion in another world with a purpose?

Of course we can write about the Holocaust, 9/11, ISIS, Chinese expansion in the Pacific; and any other upheaval we experience in our respective milieus. Stop telling us what every GM out there already knows, and what some of your GMs have actually had to do after locating the areas in which your lore fell short.

Metaphors and allegories exist, mate. And if some GMs don’t feel up to rising to your lofty ideals, it should not be any of your damned business.

 

 

Since Martin Elricsson was hella-fucking-vague about when in 2016 that we’ll be seeing that new release, we’re all just going to have to keep our eyes peeled.

The newer stuff that these teams have produced (aka, Promethean and beyond, then the new line-up in The God Machine Chronicles) have gotten consistently better. So it’s definitely something to look forward to.

We really hope, though, that White Wolf will get somebody to check this guy before he wrecks himself, or hire somebody else.

He seems desperately out of touch with a sizeable chunk of his player demographic.


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Pammu
Female, bisexual, not in Narnia about anything. Games, writes, DMs, watches shit, reads shit, loves cats. Answers to Kae, Pamela, Pam, Pam-Pam, Pammy, Pammeth. Pamera, and Pammu. Also part of the admin team of What's a Geek, over at http://www.whatsageek.com!

3 Comments

  1. Frank Frank February 20, 2016

    Martin has seen the exact sales numbers and we haven’t, However, it’s important to remember that his statement that NWoD sold “like shit” is broadly compatible with what we can infer of sales numbers. Back in the nineties, White Wolf used to brag about how many millions of books they’d sold in total. And while those are not exact numbers by any means and don’t distinguish between shelf breaker core books and 64 page pamphlets, we could basically infer that in between the time they boasted that they’d sold “over five million books” and the time they changed the boast to “over six million books” that they’d sold about a million books.

    Onyx Path sells all their materials online, and the lion’s share goes through kickstarters for new books – which tells us how many backers there are. Those numbers of backers are measured in the thousands, with most “core” books having less than three thousand backers.

    When Martin Ericsson says that no one liked NWoD, he’s coming at it from the standpoint of looking at the real sales data that he has and we don’t. But even the vague data that us outsiders have access to shows that the Classic World of Darkness was selling products to two orders of magnitude more people than the New World of Darkness was. White Wolf didn’t go bankrupt and have its IP sold to an Icelandic videogame company for no reason.

    Yes, anecdotally you can find people who like New World of Darkness. Martin Ericsson claims to be one of those elusive unicorns himself. But when you compare the real numbers, the support for New World of Darkness is about 1%, That is literally within the margin of error of nothing. We’re talking the electoral support of Jim Gilmore or Martin O’Malley. If you did a survey of World of Darkness fans and actually were able to get an unbiased sample, you would very likely find support for the Chronicles of Darkness to be ZERO. It’s not actually zero of course, but since the actual support is well below the margin of error of any polling.

    The bottom line is that if you like NWoD or even think it’s not that bad, you are so far outside the mainstream as to be statistically irrelevant. New World of Darkness was a disaster on the scale of New Coke, and the only mystery is why White Wolf didn’t throw in the towel and come crawling back to their old fanbase a decade ago.

  2. Billie Billie December 5, 2018

    I’m reading this article in 2018, and Martin Elricsson may have written himself out of a job.

    It started with Elricsson’s decision to hire New York enfant terrible, visual artist and porn star Zak S, aka Zak Sabbath, for a job that required none of those skill sets. He was to write the many branches of a simple text based mobile game to set up 5th Edition of Vampire the Masquerade, a task he took to with zeal, writing truly bizarre prose about severed buttocks and a vampiric serial killing trans woman who drove a taxi and deliberately provoked transphobic reactions from her prey. Some readers noted that this character shared a name with a prominent trans woman who Zak S had an ongoing dispute with – Zak, for reasons known only to himself, taking great exception to trans women. Other delights in Zak’s past involved allegations of him “brigading” fans through twitter posts, commanding them to harass whoever provoked his ire. These allegations were made by none other than a prominent writer and game developer working as a contractor for Onyx Path, who claimed his children had suffered death threats and that the harassment had led to him literally moving to another country because of the impotence of the legal system. That game developer subsequently – and loudly – departed Onyx Path, refusing to work on the products of a parent company that would hire such a person.

    White Wolf, and Elricsson in particular, were overly eager to defend Zak. WW released a public statement, saying that they had investigated the claims and found no evidence – an extraordinary statement, as it effectively called the complainants liars.

    The next scandal came when White Wolf had started work on 5th edition in earnest. An example of skill checking was given, where a person rolled 1, 4, 8, 8. For the uninitiated, these numbers are used as a sly nod-and-a-wink between neo nazis and “white nationalists” (same bloody thing). 14 refers to “the 14 words”, some quote about securing ze future of ze white race or something equally asinine. 8 refers to the 8th letter of the alphabet, so 8 8 = H. H. or Heil Hitler.

    Apologies were made, alterations to documents, and the project lurched on.

    It is now the last quarter of 2018, and Ericsson seems to have made his final and fatal mistake. As I write this, AB Paradox Interactive have effectively relieved Elricsson of management and begun restructuring the company, folding WW into Paradox Interactive as a division and not a separate entity. White Wolf have proven they cannot be trusted with an IP that cost the company millions of Kronor. Their role from here on out will be license holders, granting the tick of approval to projects worthy of the name. No more materials will be produced in house.

    The final straw came with the Camarilla sourcebook. In an extremely ill-advised chapter on Chechnya, “someone” writes:

    “The recurring international controversy over the persecution of homosexuals is a clever media manipulation designed to keep the focus on Sharia law, away from the true inner workings of the republic. While homosexuals are indeed held in detention facilities for days, and humiliated, starved, tortured, and eventually killed, this is not the point. The point is to distract from the truth of what Chechnya has become. That said, even among the Kindred any kind of “homosexual behaviour” is punished harshly.
    …There is unfortunately nothing we can do for our brothers and sisters in Chechnya who suffer under this – Interference is ill-advised at this point, but should any Kindred (or even Kine) seek asylum within regnums under our control, granting it may win allies to our side who are not just well-trained in combat and thankful to us, but also knowledgable in the ways of a people who might already be preparing to attack us.”

    Now, this is a real thing. A real world massacre, and an ongoing one at that. White Wolf games back in the 90’s were as politically tone deaf as a bunch of comfortable cis-het white guys in America could get at that time, but they famously stopped short of suggesting that WW2 or Adolf Hitler were in any way part of some vast supernatural conspiracy because they didn’t want to lessen the very real human suffering of that war. The closest they got to touching the subject was a book for Wraith, “Shoah – Charnel Houses of Europe”, a supplement of exceptional quality that delved into the very human sense of loss and pain, and how to cope with the memory of such trauma, without dwelling on supernatural reasons to explain away why it happened in the first place.

    Ignoring how tasteless, crass and inappropriate it is to make InfoWars style conspiracies to explain away and dismiss real world suffering as “not the point”, stepping aside from the insanely insulting suggestion that Sharia Law is actually perpetuated as a vampire conspiracy, and turning away from the fact that we outside of Chechnya can very much do something about this by funding charities such as the Rainbow Railroad, sexuality was never something vampires cared about in other editions, it was alien to their way of thinking. Sex was a means to a feed, nothing more. And yet, Elricsson has chosen to place very human prejudices as motivations for inhuman monsters.

    “Monsters we are, lest monsters we become” wrote Mark Rein Hagen in 1st Edition. By 5th Edition, it’s hard to imagine becoming any more monstrous than this.

  3. stellawainwright stellawainwright February 4, 2019

    I know Martin E. Or, we used to be in similar circles during the 90s and early 00s. His problem with Fantasy is this: Swedish larp was mainly fantasy larps back in the day, relatively simple things with a lot of playfulness about them. And this meant Martin couldn’t pick up chicks at the cool Stockholm bars by saying he was a larper. So he went on a quest with his equally pretentious friends to make the larping scene “mature”, in order to be #takenseriously and to score.

    Everything he’s done originates from that simple fact: He thought of himself as cool but he had nerdy interests. It’s sad really, seeing him in his middle age still trying to chase that status high and stomping over anyone who gets in his way. Just like when he was an awkward early 20-something.

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