There are nearly as many options out there for tabletop horror fans as there are tabletop fantasy. And preeminent among them, alongside giants like Call of Cthulhu, is the wide and interconnected World of Darkness.
Published by White Wolf, the World of Darkness is an overarching horror roleplaying system and setting, in which players (usually) take on the role of some kind of monster or supernatural creature. While they may be hidden from site, these creatures have complex societies and political struggles. Some find themselves protecting the mortal world from their kin, while others seek power, influence, or merely survival.
These games are marked by intense personal conflicts for players, dramatic emotional arcs, and gritty worldbuilding, whichever subculture you choose to play in.
Vampire: the Masquerade
The most famous of World of Darkness properties, Vampire: the Masquerade is a political and interpersonal horror game. In it, you explore the conflicts of the various vampire factions – some old and grand, some twisted and dangerous, and some outright insane. To simply survive you’ll need to be cunning and cutthroat. And if you want to get ahead in the midst of whatever turbulation has recent rocked the vampiric sphere, you have to be downright conniving.
VtM is currently on its 5th edition, with dozens of supplemental published campaigns, extra sourcebooks, and fan made content. There are also videogames, boardgames, and published LARPs. The political intrigue focus of the game makes it excellent for LARPing and low-combat players in particular.
Werewolf: the Apocalypse
A slightly more altruistic brand of horror, Werewolf: the Apocalypse places the player as a werewolf instead of a vampire. These lycanthropes are equally divided among their tribes and factions as the vampires, but with at least one common goal: defending the world from the Wyrm, a cosmic force of destruction. But the Wyrm is a powerful enemy, and their battle is an uphill one, especially when inter-group conflicts make it even harder to unite against an alluring foe.
WtA currently has several editions available, and a 5th is slated for upcoming release. This new edition won’t be a continuation, but a reimagining of the whole game, with an emphasis on environmental conflict and spiritual horror. There are also a couple of video games available to play!
Wraith: the Oblivion
A complicated and short-lived installment in the World of Darkness, Wraith: the Oblivion allowed its players to undertake the lives of spirits and ghosts. They inhabit the Underworld, a strange and complicated land with its own organizations that layers over the real world in places. But any conflict within that world, or with the Oblivion (the ‘end of all things’, which seeks to destroy wraiths) plays second fiddle to the personal struggle of each individual ghost against their Shadow, an aspect of them that craves that very destruction.
WtO was a game made to be intentionally uncomfortable to play, and requires each party member to act as an antagonist to another, making it a tough sell for most casual gaming groups. The first rulebook was released in 1994, and the last in 1999.
Mage: the Ascension
Not all dangerous forces in the World of Darkness are undead monsters. In Mage: the Ascension, you play as a wizard. But not just one with magic, no, mages here are those people who have discovered how to bend and alter reality to their will. Some act in what they consider to be the best interest of humanity, some seek to destroy and corrupt it, and some still have lost all sense of reality in any capacity. Like all world of Darkness games, these factions are constantly in conflict with each other, and you’ll have to keep on your toes to survive.
MtA first came out in 1993, and had a few different editions over the years. Its most recent was in 2015 with the 20th Anniversary edition.
Changeling: the Dreaming and the Lost
In Changeling: the Dreaming, changelings are half human and half fairy, strange creatures torn between two disparate natures. The Dreaming world is fading and the Banality encroaching, powerful protectors are losing power, and powerful foes are gaining strength. The end of the world is coming, and it may be impossible to survive.
In Changeling: the Lost, changelings are humans, once stolen by the fairies of Arcadia, who have made their way back to the mortal world. But they’ve been irrevocably changed by their time in the fae realms, and must take care to disguise their otherworldly mien. On top of that, there are various enemies who might endanger both humans and the newly returned…
CtD was first released in 1995, with the most recent rules being published in 2017 for the 20th Anniversary. CtL was published as a reimagining of the game in 2007, with a second edition released in 2019.
Demon: the Fallen
Either hopefully good or horribly evil, the protagonists of Demon: the Fallen are those fallen angels who were banished from heaven. You’ve crawled your way out of the Abyss, slipping through the cracks, but now there are new problems to deal with. You have your house and faction to please by gaining power and renown, and demon hunters and Earthbound monsters to fight. And worst of all, the last memories of your mortal host have done the unthinkable: restored some sense of reality, of morality, to you, and given you a second chance.
DtF was released in 2001, with several sourcebooks coming out over the next couple of years. There were also 4 novels (1 standalone, and 1 trilogy series) tied into the game.
Mummy: the Resurrection and the Curse
The titular creatures of Mummy: the Resurrection and Mummy: the Curse are reworked each time that they appear, either in their own game or within other titles in the World of Darkness. But ultimately, they are those who have been given the Spell of Life, mummies, either keeping them alive or bringing them back for some purpose, determined by whichever god it was that created them. Often, this is the god Osiris of Egypt, but not always.
MtR was released in 2001. MtC was released in 2013, with various supplements following it, and a new guidebook slated for future release.
Hunter: the Reckoning
In a world so filled with monsters and horrors, it’s inevitable that some humans might discover and even take up the fight against them. Such is your role in Hunter: the Reckoning. You play as a human who has stumbled into the knowledge of vampires, werewolves, wizards, and fey, and taken up a particular Creed in response. You’re no intimidating, monstrous creature of the night here. Just a normal human, perhaps with some slight supernatural edge, doing the best that you can for the protection and betterment of the world.
HtR originally came out in 1999, using the 3rd edition ruleset for World of Darkness. In 2022, a more recent release was published, using the 5th edition mechanics.
You can check out the World of Darkness website here: Homepage | World of Darkness
Have you played any of the World of Darkness tabletop games? Which is your favorite? Did we miss any from our list? Let us know in the comments below!