Taboo to follow White Wolf?

Started by First Oni, June 13, 2008, 02:21:05 PM

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First Oni

Here's my question and i'd like the honest opinions of those also in game publishing:

Is it taboo to do design, develop, and publish a game that is similar to a game White Wolf has released in the past?

The example of this come from my recent brainstorming about designing a game for modern day children of gods, using the DGS system that i wrote for Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. (see my link). I've pitched the idea to a couple of my play testers and the first thing that pops out is "Oh, like Scion?" Now, i really wanted to like scion, but in retrospect, it was poorly designed and poorly written. Plus, i've run many successful forum games on these ideas YEARS before Scion was even thought about.

I guess it kinda gets to me that one company should have a monopoly on any idea that they write. Then it is forever "a game like the one white wolf did".


(PS: this is not a knock at white wolf writers or them as a publisher. I really do like white wolf that their writers personally. This is more a note on the public view of them.)
Eloy Lasanta, CEO of Third Eye Games
Buy "Apocalypse Prevention, Inc." NOW!!!
API Worldwide: Canada - Available Now!

Kevin Vito

Nothing is truly original. Everything is essentially something else regurgitated. What matters is that you leave your mark on it.
I say go for it. Who knows? Maybe as you work on this you might make so many twists on it that it evolves into something completely different from what White Wolf did?

First Oni

That's the advice i always give people as well and am definitely going to still write my game, as it has an interesting take on the idea (IMO). the only thing similar is "modern gods" and that's it. The themes and stories are completely different. I think my topic had a double purpose.

It's A) a rant for me, and B) i'm just talking about the perception of people that if there's a vampire in your game, you're either ripping off WW or Buffy. If there's modern gods, you must be ripping off WW. If it's fantasy, you must be ripping off D&D.

But it was mostly A.

Eloy Lasanta, CEO of Third Eye Games
Buy "Apocalypse Prevention, Inc." NOW!!!
API Worldwide: Canada - Available Now!

Ron Edwards

I think that the rant-part leads somewhere interesting, though, so to me, what you've said is not just a rant.

First, let's deal with something for clarity: "taboo" isn't the issue, which I think you've acknowledged anyway. Who cares what people think? And in publishing or legal terms, the relevant point's been made above, and we can follow up in the Publishing forum if anyone's interested.

So where does that lead? As I see it, to the reason one might want to design some role-playing, with a (say) vampire in it. Notice, I said, "design," not play. Whatever the reason is for wanting that in play, well, it's whatever it might be. But design? Why, when one has Vampire? I presume that's the flip side of the attitude that gets up your nose, right? Not only the idea that WW somehow owns the concept of vampires, but also that "vampire" as a concept is expressed fully by whatever WW happens to have done with it.

The answer can only lie with each given author, but here's mine: because my interest in vampires (admittedly minor compared to people who were 15 in 1990) lies in something older, more varied, and as I see it more core to the human experience than what White Wolf has done with it. So were I to write a vampire-centric game, it would basically ... forget White Wolf, much as I basically forgot D&D and all related role-playing games when I wrote Trollbabe. I don't mean "forget" in a dismissive or slang way, but rather as a creative act - to start with vampires as they imprinted upon me when I was much younger, when they scared me or attracted me in the first place. (Disclaimer: this was a minor thing for me, as opposed to a lot of my friends for whom vampires were a primary personal image at one point or another.)

It's the same with D&D and fantasy, which lies at the core of my essays about Heartbreakers - if one wants to play D&D fantasy (a thing of its own), then there is no reason on this earth not to use D&D to do it, perhaps tweaked to one's heart's desire. The thing to avoid is to try to play fantasy (a thing of one's own, however informed by folklore or older fiction) and forcing D&D to conform to it or vice versa.

What do you think? I ask because I may be seeing, under the rant, the desire to bring what vampires were to you to the fore, instead of slamming what WW did with vampires into the socket upon the very mention of the word. I could be wrong, so let me know. But if I'm right, I'd like to know what they were to you which you think might be a good core for a game.

Best, Ron

First Oni

You are very very close to the ideas that i was trying to express and i'm glad that someone picked up on my actual point, cause for a while there i really just felt like i was whining. Which i kinda was, but i digress.

But yes, my problem is more a matter of perception versus anything else. If you wanted to play a vampire, who not just play Vampire... seems crazy to me. Yes, WW is a great company and they put out great work (for some of their lines), but they shouldn't hold the very idea of a vampire or a werewolf or a ghost in the palm of their hand. Remember the whole Underworld legal battle... where white wolf was suing because the movie had vampires versus werewolves. That's been a horror movie staple since way before my time, and yet i had to argue with people saying that they were "stealing from WW".

Not to mention that there are hundred of different vampires in all of literature and cinema, from Bram Stokers, to the Lost Boys, to the Buffy vampires, to those in the Forsaken, or those in My Best Friend's a Vampire.

I do happen to have vampires in Apocalypse Prevention, Inc., which takes some classic horro elements and brings them modern with a few quirks, and they have things in common with WW vampires, just like ALL vampires do, but there are also stark differences. But i guess the thing about it is, if i was to say "I have vampires in my game", people will automatically compare them to WW, as if there weren't a million different ways to interpret the idea.

So, you are partially correct. Although, i'm trying to portray less of what i thought they were when i was kid, but how they are in my own crazy mixed up brain as an adult writer and developer. And its hard to do so with the idea that a single company has a gambit on the lot of horror.


PS: I actually have gotten over my hang up about this so i can actually talk about in a calmer manner than when i wrote the original post. Now, its annoying, but i plan to just look past it and write my games as they appeal to me and hope others will do the same. :-)
Eloy Lasanta, CEO of Third Eye Games
Buy "Apocalypse Prevention, Inc." NOW!!!
API Worldwide: Canada - Available Now!

Big J Money

I'm not sure the analogy drawn between D&D and fantasy and Vampire and vampires is to the point.  D&D's take on fantasy was very elementary (immature, but not necessarily in a negative way) -- barely researched; misinformed on many things.  Vampire certainly isn't high literature, but I don't think it's a stretch for many people to be of the opinion that it's a well thought out fictional world.  The accusation of being elementary doesn't stick, because its goal was to reinvent the vampire (and other horror) myths from the ground up.  That's a compelling idea, and I think that idea in particular is what they have the "monopoly" on; not the vampire/horror genre in particular. (More like: Earth's horror through the conspiriatorial lens.)

So, if you're trying to build a game that is a fresh take on the vampire myth in our present day world (I suppose Medieval, too), I'd say you are "pulling a White Wolf".  I'm not making a judgement call on that.  If you have more compelling fiction and a better set of rules to play a game with, it could be a wonderful product (and that makes it A-Okay).  I have never tried to do this for certain reasons.*  If you were looking at gothic horror themes in more "alternate universe" situations, then I don't think that can fairly be compared to WW products.  In that case, it seems like no issue.

Of course, you mentioned Scion.  Your conclusion sounded to me like, "White Wolf has something of a monopoly on certain settings, would I be copying them by using similar settings?"  Well, my point above is that the only thing White Wolf really put their mark on was their horror (Changeling possibly included) stuff.  I don't think you can class Scion or Exalted with it.  They are popular for other reasons.  I think it's likely that Scion in particular is popular for brand name reasons more than anything else.  You are making a general point out of something I see to be more specific.  Does that many sense?

Hell, another question I'll ask is how different is your game idea from what WW has done?  Do you think it's inspired by a WW game?  Do you think it covers certain ground that WW's product can't cover?  Is the only time you think about it when you are already thinking about a particular WW game, or is it something that has been in your mind for a long time?  In the end, I think your concern about "copying WW" is something of an either/or.  It might be that you have no reason to be concerned, or it might be that your idea would be something of a copycat product.  The only thing you can do is work on it and see what people think.  Thank God there's this place for support and discussion, right?

-- John M.

* --I have asked myself before if I want to try that.  The answer I give myself so far is "no", because White Wolf's settings are so familiar for many people.  If I want to play a game with other vampire enthusiasts, I don't expect them to not know about WW.  I am an inexperienced enough GM to know that I have a lot to learn and there probably is a lot of longevity I can get out of WW products simply by learning how I can modify the systems how I need.  I don't game with WW enthusiasts (yet), so I don't forsee problems with this.

Marshall Burns

Monopoly schmonopoly.  Bottom line is, you're not going to invent flour.  You're not even going to invent pie.  If you try, you're doomed, because it's already been invented.  The designer's responsibility is to make a damned good apple pie, as it were.  It doesn't matter if someone else is making apple pie.  There's lots of ways to make apple pie, and plenty of reasons why someone might prefer one recipe over the other.



I was thinking the same thing when I was working on my game about fallen angels, a while back.
''My game is about fallen angels and-''
''Oh so it's like Demon: The Fallen''
''Well no, they are actual angels that have fallen and they fight these demons-''
''Oh so it's like In Nomine''.

If there's one thing that I'm having trouble with is words/terms. Each game line has used almost every term relevant to the legends they used at the time.

Orpheus uses the following:
Will o Wisp

How the hell am I suppose to write a game about ghosts without using those words? :P

First Oni

Yeah... northerain is a bit more on the mark of what i'm feeling. The feeling that if you're doing something even remotely like something else, it's immediately "like something else". And it's not something you can't get over, as I'm now well on way, but it does get annoying.

Also, if the terms are linked to legend, i say use them regardless. Good luck with your ghost or fallen agenl game idea, btw. definitely let us know about the flavor, texture, and recipe of your pie eventually (thank for the great analogy Marshall Burns).
Eloy Lasanta, CEO of Third Eye Games
Buy "Apocalypse Prevention, Inc." NOW!!!
API Worldwide: Canada - Available Now!

Lance D. Allen

I've had similar experiences. Have either of you tried to explain a game only to have it dismissed as a cheap knock off of another game? Not just compared, but dismissed as though you were somehow trying to reinvent the wheel, or worse were trying to claim credit for other people's ideas when the similarities were superficial at best?

I have. This is why I can't even hear about Orpheus without a snarl trying to curl my lip.

My long languishing game ReCoil has been compared to The Whispering Vault, Wraith the Oblivion and Orpheus. When the Whispering Vault comparison was made, I went out and bought the only .pdf I've ever bought so that I could see where the similarities lay. While in concept the games were very similar, the themes addressed and mechanics were very different so I went ahead. Wraith the Oblivion is one I resigned myself to from the beginning, because certain ideas were borrowed, as well as certain terminology (wraiths, Oblivion, etc.), from Wraith. What makes.. err, made me so angry about Orpheus is that I was having good conversation with this fellow, who seemed like a reasonable dude. Then I started talking about ReCoil, and he brings up Orpheus, which I'd never even heard of, and basically tells me that I'm trying to steal their ideas, and do it badly he's blunt enough to add.

I've since looked up Orpheus to a small extent, and it has vastly less similarity in concept to my game than Whispering Vault does. So I've gone ahead with my game, though I have begun looking for a few new terms, to attempt to get past the knee-jerk "Oh, it's like Wraith: the Oblivion, right?" reactions.. But in the end, you've just got to accept that there will be those who will make those comparisons, and among them, some who will never look past them. In those cases, sigh and move on. At worst, they'll never play your game. At best, they may drum up online publicity by ranting on about how much of a hack you are.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls


I know EXACTLY how you feel, and it always makes me really paranoid (and I think makes me a better writer, because I'm let my ideas cook more so they're less cliche). Example: Thaumaturgy. That's the single best word for sorcery in the English language, but because frakking vampire used it first now you're just ripping off WhiteWolf. I love WhiteWolf (the new edition can go die in a fire) but seriously, Mark Rein*Hagen was so prolific that he basically monopolized half of all the good ideas. I think really though, if you product is better than theirs, and better by a significant margin, then people ignore the old one (if anything, it gets looked down upon). Think of BSG; it's the perfect example. And D&D has been redone, that's how GreenRonin made its name, and really just proves the point. Sure new ideas are good (particularly the good ones) but if they're not executed right, then what have you really done? All you've done is set the stage for someone ELSE to become known for the thing you did. D&D may be famous, but there's a REASON there's a whole crowd of people who play RPGs who bash the game, even now with 4E, even though they came up on it (me being part of that community). D&D may have been among the first to create the RPG community, but many people played it not because IT was good, but because RPGs were good, but then once they experienced another RPG (even D&D-esque fantasy one) that with superior crafting they shifted over without blinking.

Basically, what I'm saying is: Be original AND effective; and if you can only pick one, pick effectiveness.

Ron Edwards

I think the thread is winding up in rant mode again, especially since the topic seems to be how an unspecified "them" is reacting. It's easy to work oneself up into a froth by imagining what someone else says, or over-extending what a few people have said.

First Oni, is there any chance of you discussing your publishing decisions about Apocalypse Prevention to illustrate the positive side of the issue you've brought up?

For example, referencing my experience, publishing a game with a single-word title concerning magic use (Sorcerer) was not planned as a counter or reaction to Mage, but as it happened, people who noted the similarity in title style were then pleased or at least productively jarred by the game's profound difference from Mage.

Best, Ron

First Oni

Of course, i love talking about my game. I guess the first positive thing that i did was to take stock of all the games to which Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. will likely get compared. Most play testers have said that my game is mostly like a cross between Hellboy and Men in Black. As Men in Black doesn't have an RPG, i jotted the Hellboy RPG on my mental list. Because my game uses horror influences (and a lot of my fan writing had been for white wolf games), i knew i'd be compared to them as well. I have vampire and wolfmen in my game, so i add Vampire: the Masquerade, Vampire: the Requiem, Werewolf: the Apocalypse, and Werewolf: the Forsaken to the list, even though they aren't the focus of the game.

So, as a publisher who believes in his game and knows its good and bad points, I actually thought long and hard about things that i can say to break the thought that my game is similar to these. Comparisons to Hellboy are very light and its never been said in negative way, so i actually don't mind it because it is kinda similar to Hellboy, even though i've only seen the movie once and it was way after coming up with the concept. But i do emphasize that my game is not government based and has more demon races to choose from than just Hellboy and Abe. :-P When comparing against Vampire, i simply let it be known that my vampires are a completely different breed, as they aren't undead. I'll let that one lay in secrecy for a bit. My wolf people are also more like the classic wolf man movies than gaia-worshipping furries. ;-)

In the end, it's all about self confidence. I know my game is new, different, and worth playing. Those that don't want to give it a look because it may have a vampire are missing out in my opinion. I'm finishing up the principle writing and editing as we speak and am having a ball. The feedback I've received is highly positive and I expect great things for my game, with comparisons or not.


PS: the single-word titles get less kickback than say "Title: Subtitle" games. Because WW seems to have a monopoly on those as well. :-P
Eloy Lasanta, CEO of Third Eye Games
Buy "Apocalypse Prevention, Inc." NOW!!!
API Worldwide: Canada - Available Now!

Ron Edwards

That sounds quite fun, all 'round, and I'll be checking it out soon. I think your conclusions about confidence are spot-on.

Best, Ron
edited when interrupted by a toddler - RE


Yeah, that was my first thought...Supernatural Men in Black...that could be fun.

BTW there was a MiB was one of WEGs d6 line.