Among the many changes that were implemented in the transition from the classic World of Darknessinto what is now known as the Chronicles of Darkness, one particularly interesting one was the decision to transition from a Judeo-Christian focus to a more agnostic one. So much of the classic World of Darkness was based on theology that it was quite jarring to read the Chronicles of Darkness books and just not find many direct religious influences. Let’s explore it.
Classic World of Darkness
Vampire: The Masquerade is where it all started. This was the original game in the line and straight from the get-go, it was steeped in theological influences. In this game, all vampires (well, most vampires. Let’s not dwell too much on Kindred of the East…) are assumed to be descendants of the first vampire, Caine.
Caine was the first son of Adam and Eve, and brother to Abel and Seth. As in the Bible, Caine killed his brother, Abel. Unlike the biblical account, Caine was then cursed with vampirism and became the first of his kind. The details that follow are slightly hazy and are explored in the The Book of Nod. Caine was an incredibly powerful being in World of Darkness, with each generation of vampire that followed becoming weaker as the purity of his blood is diluted.
Thus, the entire first game in the line was based on a story from the Bible, albeit one that was then taken in a completely different direction. The vampires come from Caine who was cursed by God. The game implicitly states that the Christian religion is true and that the world has been shaped by the Christian God. Other games in the classic World of Darkness line continue this theme.
One of the most prominent Vampire: The Masquerade titles to continue the religious themes of the series is The Inquisition, a supplement that examines the role of zealous vampire hunters and incorporates the concept of faith into the game. The blurb reads:
- While young vampires may scoff at the mortals who hunt them, their elders remember a time when robed monks rode from haven to haven, using the twin weapons of fire and faith to destroy the undead. But the Inquisition did not die in those dark ages. Its soldiers still roam the earth and the Damned fear it more than any other group of mortals. Begin your search for those elusive spirits known as the Restless Dead.
- The Inquisition includes
- *Ways to add inquisitors to any chronicle, either as characters or enemies
- *New details on using Faith in a game
- *Rules for torturing vampires
This tied directly into the ‘Year of the Hunter’ event that White Wolf was running at the time, promoting their new game, Hunter: The Reckoning.
Hunter: The Reckoning deals with humans imbued with powers from mysterious sources and charged with protecting the mortal world. Unlike the rest of the World of Darkness line, Hunter: The Reckoningreally wants you to play as an average person who has suddenly become aware of the supernatural horrors that inhabit the night. Faced with wraiths, mages, werewolves and vampire (who we have already established as the descendants of the murderous first son of Adam and Eve), there is little surprise that players are often encouraged to create religious characters who are intent on fighting the forces of darkness:
Several sourcebooks also explored specifically religious topics. One of these, The Infernal, is described in the blurb as:
The End is Nigh
They say angels once rebelled against God and were cast out of Heaven. Hunters don’t know if Scripture gets it right, but they do know one thing: Darkness has fallen and its Hell on Earth. Things that can be called no less than demons walk among us, tempting the righteous, corrupting the innocent and orchestrating the end of the world. Can they be stopped before the Devil gets his due?
Hunter: The Infernal explores the blasphemous realm of demons as hunters desperately seek out devils’ strengths, fears and weaknesses. But the tempters have discovered hunters, too, and are willing to strike a bargain. Can hunters possibly drive the infernal host back into the Pit? If they can’t, there will be Hell to pay.
This book is clearly based directly on Christian theology and, crucially, heavily foreshadowed one of the final games released for the classic World of Darkness line, Demon: The Fallen.
Demon: The Fallen is the most directly Christian of the classic World of Darkness games. You are playing as a character who has literally interacted with God. You are dealing with characters who were there when God created the world. There is really no doubt at this point that in the classic World of Darkness, Christianity is truth and all other religions are fabrications. This is even explicitly stated in Demon: The Fallen, where fallen angels have created alternate religions to garner belief, one of the game’s key resources. The supplements, such as Fear to Tread, further develop these ideas, as well as providing a ton of really cool demonic art.
At this point, given that by the time Demon: The Fallen came around, White Wolf were actively encouraging crossovers and interactions between their game lines, there really should be no non-Christian vampires and, to a lesser extent, very few non-Christian monsters from any of the lines. They have fallen angels walking among them as living proof of God.
Mage: The Ascension represents one of the few exceptions to the exclusively Christian creation stories. It explores many different creation stories and the Christian viewpoint is really limited to one specific tradition of mages. Whilst the Verbana represent pagan beliefs and witchcraft, Christianity is representing the The Celestial Chorus, a group of mages who believe in the Abrahamic God and who believe that all other religions represent a different facet of this same God. This tradition aside, Mage: the Ascension is the most open and theologically diverse game that White Wolf put out in the classic World of Darkness era.
White Wolf have put out a few different alternate settings for their games. They had a wild west setting that actually made Werewolf: The Apocalypse interesting, Victorian settings for Vampire: The Masquerade and Changeling: The Dreaming and dark ages settings for Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage: The Ascension and Werewolf: The Apocalypse. In addition to the established games which inspired dark ages spin-offs, White Wolf also created the stand-alone title, Dark Ages: Inquisitor, which they describe as:
In this Age of Darkness
Satan’s get infest the world. Blood-drinking demons and savage creatures prey on good Christians or lead them to heresy. Even the Holy Mother Church itself teems with devils in man’s flesh. But God Almighty has seen fit to choose some to stand against the tide of darkness. With sword and torch in hand, we search out the evil that lurks in the night.
We are the Holy Inquisition.
Some Stand for the Light
Dark Ages: Inquisitor is a book for playing members of the Inquisition in the Dark Medieval world. Members of secret orders operating by papal sanction, Inquisitors hunt the devils and degenerates who prey on men and defy God, from blood-crazed vampires to pagan warlocks. Inquisitor provides complete systems for making characters (from wielders of holy magic to warrior-monks), a whole new system for blessed abilities, and much more. This book requires the use of Dark Ages: Vampire.
The heavily Catholicised setting bears its religious influences front and centre. Whilst other titles deal with characters that exist in settings shaped by Christian theology, this is the game that lets – nay necessitates – you play as zealously religious (read: Christian) characters. It’s understandable, of course, given the time and location (Europe) of the setting, but still, it’s yet another directly Christian influence in the classic World of Darkness.
Despite the amount of Christian influence in the classic World of Darkness, there are definite exceptions. Games like Orpheus, Changeling: The Dreaming, Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Mummy: The Resurrection have few or no overt Christian themes. These, with the exception of Werewolf: The Apocalypse, are relatively minor games in the series which do not have many books in their lines. Even Wraith: The Oblivion, a confusing mess of a game set in ‘the underworld’, does not really have much in the way of Christian influence, dealing with more generic, dark spirit world rather than any solid ideas of heaven or hell.
Chronicles of Darkness
The new World of Darkness line was recently renames as Chronicles of Darkness. I will be referring to the setting under the new name. The first core book for the new game did not really make any huge claims regarding God, but it did introduce a new concept that was then picked up and developed for the second edition of the game, entitled The God-Machine Chronicle.
The God-Machine Chronicle develops the idea of the God-Machine, an extraterrestrial being, similar to a super computer. The White Wolf wiki describes it:
The God-Machine is a sentient, supernatural, extremely powerful and alien entity, similar to an occult supercomputer, with an interest in Earth. It is described as the Creator in The Testament of Marco Singe, the so-called “Pain Prophet” of New Delhi, although whether it is actually the Creator or not is impossible to prove and Singe was wrong on several counts, such as demons being creatures created from normal animals, when true demons are fallen angels, algorithms of the God-Machine who came to question their purpose and rebelled, losing their connection to it in the process.
What is known is that it is fully deserving of the title, having long since passed the point where Clarke’s Third Law (“any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”) applies, knowing of physics undreamed of to mortal scientists and with the capacity to use them. The only limit on its power is its need for an “occult matrix”, an extremely precise supernatural manipulation of physical laws, reliant on Infrastructure, in order to work its miracles. Even mortals can disrupt a forming matrix, but the God-Machine feeds on its own growth; frequently, a complete occult matrix will summon a new angel into the world, who can oversee and construct more Infrastructure, which can complete more summoning matrices, ad infinitum.
The machinations of the God-Machine are a central concern in the second edition of the core game.
Naturally, Demon: The Descent deals pretty directly with some aspects of the God-Machine. Specifically, it deals with the purpose, nature and creation of angels – agents of the God-Machine. Angels in Demon: The Descent are constructs, created to complete a specific mission or fulfil a specific purpose. Angels are valuable and, once their mission is complete, are either put into stasis until needed again, or cannibalised and recycled to create other angels in the future. They exist to complete their missions, and this should be their only concern, though their minds are capable of understanding complex concepts such as mortality or self-interest. Often, when they reach this level of self-awareness, they ‘fall’, developing true consciousness and refusing to return to the God-Machine to be dismantled.
There is definitely religious language being used in the descriptions of these entities, and the idea of angels being servitors and demons being angels who have deviated from God are clearly reminiscent of the biblical account of angels and demons. It’s all just framed so much more agnostically. What it does not do is explicitly rule out the idea of a creator. Like many spiritual questions in the Chronicles of Darkness, that is left open to speculation.
Vampire: The Requiem does away with the biblical origins of vampire, as explored in Vampire: The Masquerade. No longer are vampires clearly defined as the progeny of Caine, but nor do they have any confirmed, clearly defined and widely accepted origin story. The nature of generations and aging has changed in this game, with Vampires now gaining power over time, rather than deriving it from the concentration of their blood, as defined by their distance from Caine, generationally. As they age, and as their power increases, vampires must also eventually enter a long, deep sleep before their blood is too concentrated and they are taken over by the beast within. This hibernation affects the vampire’s memory, and so even the eldest of vampires will not have clear memories of their earlier years.
Of course, vampires could still be the progeny of Caine, or another religious figure, and different factions within the game tend to support different creation myths. There is one faction the adheres closely to the Christian interpretation:
The Lancea et Sanctum, as explored in the the supplement, Lancea Sanctum (fancy that!), are the faction that embrace the theocracy of modern religions. The supplement’s blurb reads:
- I am God’s holy monster, the drinker of mankind. For so long, I could not see the role I would play, because I looked for it with human, mortal eyes. So I put forth the truth in these pages, for you who seek as I have sought. I am not some godless beast who stalks beneath the dark grandeur of sanctity. I am the grandeur. I am sanctified.
—The Testament of Longinus
- This book includes
- *An in-depth look at the history, philosophy and modern operations of the Lancea Sanctum, the holiest order of the Damned
- *Explorations of Sanctified Requiems and the role pious predators and monstrous paladins play in the Danse Macabre and the World of Darkness
- *Guidelines and inspiration for Kindred of event clan, including new bloodlines, new Disciplines and horrific new miracles of Theban Sorcery
With this approach, there is still huge scope for using religion in your games, and faith is an important part of the background, but there is no outright assertion that Christianity is ‘true’, leaving important questions open to interpretation.
This approach of incorporating aspects of faith, instead of direct religious content is continued in the game, Hunter: The Reckoning. The approach to religion and faith in this line has changed very little from the days of Hunter: The Reckoning. There are religious individuals, and religious fervor can lead characters to take up the mantle of a Hunter, but there is no overt examples of divine intervention or the presence of a God.
The shift in religious tone was one of the biggest changes between the World of Darkness and Chronicles of Darkness lines. The gothic feel of the original World of Darkness games benefitted from the over religious themes of Vampire: The Masquerade and Demon: The Fallen, but these themes also caused significant problems. Demon: The Fallen is particularly problematic, and raises the question of why there would be any non-Christian monsters, as they share the night with being who have literally experienced God, and who were there when the world was created.
The Chronicles of Darkness did away with the gothic feel of the older lines, preferring instead to explore wider horror themes. The lack of an overarching metaplot, like the out of control one we had for the original World of Darkness, is also a factor in this, as White Wolf clearly intended to leave a lot of options and questions open to us, allowing us more freedom in our own stories.
Overall, I like the shift in tone between the two games, but I don’t think it has to be a matter of one or the other. Both sets of games still have their place and although they can be similar (Vampire: The Masquerade or Vampire: The Requiem?) they are actually fundamentally quite different. There is room for both approaches, and it does come down to personal taste. I can see though, why White Wolf would change this approach, not only to open up the story potential of their games, but also to avoid limiting their readership by being heavy-handed and potentially judgemental about religious belief.
On one final note, I have no idea where Wraih: The Oblivion, Orpheus or either of the Changeling games fit into all of this…