Schrodinger and I were enjoying a game of chess one cold December night. Or at least I was. After being beaten more times than I could count, I had my regrets about admitting to know how to play. But tonight, I was winning.
“White Rook takes black pawn.” I announced.
“When’s your dead line?” He inquired.
“The 19th,” I answered, “Why?”
“You know that’s tomorrow, right?” He asked.
“And…?” I asked hesitantly.
“We got a letter.” He said “Boris has a few questions for you.”
“Shoot.” I said.
“He wants to know if a free-forming GM needs to buy any rulebooks, or in other words, supposing rulebooks are in fact books of rules, does he actually need them? And more specifically, does he really need the Call of Cthulhu rulebook to run a free-from horror campaign, ala H. P. Lovecraft?” He read the letter “Also, he has been reading a bit about different RPGs and he wants to know what is the difference between Shadowrun and the World of Darkness settings? And if you could elaborate a bit about these campaign settings.”
“Well,” I started.
“Knight to D5” Schrodinger interrupted.
“White pawn takes black knight” I wanted to get on with my answer. “I don’t think it’s an issue of need, but an issue of can. If he’s going to invest time and energy in background research anyway, why not take advantage of the fact that someone else already did the dirty work for you – and get a copy of the rulebook? This is especially true for a system like Call of Cthulhu where the rules themselves take up only a minor part of the book, as opposed to Rolemaster, for example.”
“Black queen takes white pawn.” Schrodinger announced, “And what about the other question?”
“White knight takes black queen.” I said, “Both setting indeed present a world that’s made up of both magic and technology. With a little tinkering of the rules I can definitely see a werewolf running around San Francisco with two Ingram machine guns in Shadowrun or a hidden community of Elves who’s magic forest is slowly being cut down by man in World of Darkness.”
“And the difference is?” Schrodinger asked.
“The difference is in the feel of the campaign, the mind-setting, the mood” I answered. “Shadowrun is commercial fantasy-punk. Basically, it’s cyberpunk – magic is only another element that fits into the puzzle. Orcs, Elves and Dwarves walking around don’t attract any more attention than a person of oriental or Latin roots would have nowadays. We’re talking about a society that has lost any moral values besides the all-mighty dollar. A society where the rich buy and sell countries by whim and the poor live in recycled cardboard boxes. In this setting, drugs are a legitimate part of society, and you can finds them in grocery stores between the chocolates and the coffee. And if we brought up the grocery store, in the next aisle you could find a special offer on all hand guns – buy three, get a switchblade for free.
The World of Darkness is a completely different thing. Here we have our own world, only twisted to the nightmare version. All the horror stories you heard as a child are probably true. The supernatural exists, but it is hidden from the normal man. World of Darkness games are highly philosophical and psychological games, each one bringing out a certain aspect. For instance, Vampire: the Masquerade is bent around the notion that just because you are a vampire, does not mean that you are evil. In fact, a large part of roleplaying any Vampire character will be to try and reconcile between your blood that turns you into a ruthless predator and what’s left of your human moral.”
“I take it you agree?” I asked.
“Rook to B5. Check and Mate.” was his only answer…