Tabletop Roleplaying: the Gateway to Creativity
I don’t roleplay anymore, but I’ve still got a shelf full of White Wolf sourcebooks.
Good thing, too. Those things were expensive.
When I was in college, my circle of friends was big into tabletop roleplaying, and eventually, I got roped into the festivities. I dabbled in Dungeons & Dragons, the game seemingly everyone defaults to (particularly when stereotyping those who play), but my games of choice came from White Wolf. Specifically, Vampire, Mage, and Hunter.
Those games gave me a lot of the same thrills I got from genre fiction, from TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and from comic books. But instead of merely being a passive observant, with tabletop roleplaying, I was an active participant. Without realizing it, I was honing my own creativity with each character I created. With each session, I improvised my way through.
As college faded into the rearview and we all went our separate ways, I put away the dice. Yet the sourcebooks have remained. They’re as prominent on my shelves today as they were when I played. Just their use has changed.
I’m not filling out character sheets anymore. I’m less worried about dolling out stats and balancing attributes and more about the worldbuilding aspects at the heart of White Wolf. Whether Vampire has been Masquerade or Requiem, whether Mage was Ascension or Awakening, the purpose has been the same:
One reason I was drawn to White Wolf more than D&D or any of the roleplaying games based on intellectual properties was because of the emphasis on story. So many of the other games focused on fighting. Battle mechanics and the like. But White Wolf games were as much about the world and the characters as anything else.
White Wolf called DMs storytellers, after all.
That’s not to say D&D couldn’t tell great stories; in the right hands, it could. But stories were at the heart of every White Wolf game, which is why I’ve held onto (most of) my sourcebooks, even decades after having played my last game.
There’s no telling when one of those sourcebooks might come in handy. Especially as I work toward launching a new series, one in which I’ll be diving even further into the world of monsters and demons that was first hinted at in Notna and Legends of the Gem. White Wolf’s World of Darkness is rife with storytelling possibilities, whether you’re sitting at a table with your friends downing Mountain Dew and tossing dice or you’re tapping away at your keyboard, surrounded by imaginary blood and gore.
The World of Darkness is fiction, to be sure. Vampires, werewolves, and other such fantastic creatures. But the intrinsic truth of it: a world that is darker, more sinister than we’re led to believe…well, that plays out in front of us every day, doesn’t it?
Our darkness is just…more mundane.
Sometimes, that darkness comes in the form of greedy billionaires, corrupt politicians, and failed real estate tycoons turned wannabe fascists. Sometimes, that darkness takes the form of bloodthirsty monsters hiding in the shadows. Whichever it is — and my fiction has found use in both worlds — that darkness lies at the core of both White Wolf and the real world.
Other roleplaying games were pure escapism, and there’s certainly a place for that. But in my experience, the best fiction — the best stories — are those that let us escape while simultaneously teaching us something about ourselves. About the world in which we live. Escapism and meaning are not mutually exclusive, and I’ve always appreciated White Wolf’s ability to balance the two.
Which is why I still use their sourcebooks to this day. Vampire and Mage have aged well for me, even as their uses have changed. The dice are long gone, but the books themselves? I still flip through them when I’m on the creative lookout.
Because at the end of the day, we tell stories as a way to explore the unknown. The things we don’t see. Those mysteries aren’t always pleasant, and sometimes, the monsters are metaphors for something else. That’s something White Wolf always did better than practically any other tabletop game, and it’s why those books are still on my shelf.
It’s time we dispensed of the notion that tabletop roleplaying is just some time-waster for lonely nerd boys who can’t get a date (…and ignore my entire lack of a love life, while we’re at it) and acknowledged that roleplaying is a legitimate form of not just entertainment, but of storytelling. That’s something White Wolf has known for decades, and it’s an axiom that continues to prove true today.
And who knows? Maybe I’ll need some of those D&D books down the road for some otherworldly creatures in some future works.
J.D. Cunegan is a self-published author and freelance editor who has written six novels (including Notna and the Jill Andersen series), the non-fiction The Art of Reading, and has had short stories published in three anthologies.
You can find his work at https://jdcuneganbooks.com.