Wednesday, 26 October 2011

New Bremen: The Classic World Of Darkness chat game

New Bremen was the official moderated DigiChat game for White Wolf's classic World Of Darkness, like a global LARP (but played in a chatroom) running from 2000 to 2004 with thousands of players at its height.

Following a series of discussions about chat games at The Grand Masquerade, Ian Watson acquired the rights to revive New Bremen, as well as the official New World Of Darkness chat games, so as one of those several thousand players, I sent him the email bolded below to ask about his plans for the game.

This started as a couple of questions, but has now developed into a full-on interview about chat games, which I might put on my blog and repost on the WW forum if you don't mind. Some are NB-specific, others relate to chat games (and large player base games in general, such as LARPs) and the wider lessons of the NB experience.


The original New Bremen started with every character type, power and combination in the books being allowed, but quite a lot of things being restricted or banned pretty quickly due to some emergent play situations, most famously the Mokole with multiple levels of Huge Size going on a Godzilla style rampage through the downtown area. It helped underline the difference between a single group's tabletop game and something larger, like a chat or LARP, where we have several Storytellers (GMs) working together and a much larger ratio of players to GMs in a vast number of PCs who are all "stars" of their own stories. What lessons have you drawn from this? How do you strike a balance between player freedom and necessary restriction?

NB was pretty much the first time anyone had done anything like this, so we had a lot of lessons to learn when we first opened, lessons which everyone takes for granted these days. There was also a push from management to allow any book-legal character, so no matter how preposterous something was, if the points added up, it was approved. We didn't have the luxury of immediately being able to change our guidelines as a result.

Now, thankfully, we do. We do want to clamp down to make it less likely to have the insanity that typified early New Bremen, but we still want things to feel open. It wouldn't be New Bremen without that some craziness, after all. I feel that the players should be telling us what kind of game they want to play, rather than vice versa. As an example, I'd like to allow as many of the canon bloodlines as possible (which doesn't include the dead ones). With V20, we've got them all presented in a way that makes that possible. They may not be available when we open, but I'd like to have them open up further down the line.

It's early yet, so I can't say if this will be a final decision or not, but it's one of the things we're considering. That said, we're definitely putting the focus on stuff out of the core books rather than supplements. So put away your ST Handbooks, Mage players: it's doubtful you'll get to play that Promethean.

As well as the players' characters there were a small number of prominent NPCs in positions of authority such as vampire Princes and Archbishops or mortal police chiefs and mayors. Some steering like this is essential, because most venues should not be leaderless anarchy and no player can be active as often as an NPC leader shared between several GMs. How much in-character steering do you plan to involve? The first Prince of the city was an "absentee landlord", for example.

We plan to open with a full complement of NPCs in positions of authority, but within a couple of months I'd like to have most, if not all, replaced by PCs. Optimally by PCs who are fairly involved and likely to be present a decent amount of time, so a Prince should be able to hold court somewhat regularly.

If someone's not actually around, that may be IC grounds to getting replaced by someone who's more willing to get the job done.

My only experience on the GM side of a large-base game was assisting with the Dark Ages Bremen chat, where I saw a number of NPCs being designed and some plot events planned out. The NPCs who would have to be available more often than a single GM could control them, such as the Prince, were designed in fairly broad strokes so that if need be any GM could take over with little briefing. (The unseen first Prince of New Bremen was the logical extreme of this.) How much does this inform NPC design? Would an interesting Prince who only shows up occasionally be more entertaining than an "average" one any GM could play whenever a new PC needs to be presented or a punishment handed down? (I suppose one compromise would be to have several NPCs with the necessary powers.)

I'm largely leaving NPC design up to their respective ST teams. As mentioned, I'm trying to focus on planned obsolescence, so if a Prince is kind of bland, I'm not too concerned; they'll be out of the way in short order anyhow.

That said, having interesting and memorable NPCs is always fun. The ST teams are currently small enough that I don't think we really have much to worry about with a large number of people trying to portray a small number of NPCs, so they don't have to be kept as generic as possible.

With a small staff of GMs, most events in a large-base game will be player driven, with GMs stirring the pot as well as providing NPC authority and sources of external conflict. How much NPC activity do you hope to feature?

Depends what you mean. If you're referring to those positions of authority, they should hopefully all, or almost all, be in PC hands after a few months. If you're referring to storylines... well, I can't think of any storyline I've ever seen which didn't involve NPCs.

The new chat will effectively be a new chronicle based on the same "sourcebook", so none of the previous events will be canon, but do you intend to draw inspiration from particular storylines (as well as the lessons of the Godzilla incident and the like)?

No Godzilla. Never happened.

We're definitely drawing inspiration, but we're not tied to the old chronology. The STs are going through the major events and determining what's useful enough to keep and what isn't. To take the Ten-do Dojo as an example of one of the many, many, many buildings which have burned down over the years: players may find the Phoenix Dojo which was built in its place. They may find the abandoned burnt remains of the original building. If we decide the nostalgia factor is strong enough, players may find that the Phoenix Dojo has been renamed Ten-do. Or perhaps the original Ten-do Dojo still stands.

Likewise, the Blue Caverns had caved in on the original NB. Maybe it's back. Maybe it isn't. It's certainly an iconic location. It's too early to make any pronouncements, but we're definitely going over NB's history and rooms and figuring out what works best for us here and now.

With Vampire: The Masquerade being one of the initial venues on offer, the original New Bremen (IIRC) quickly introduced a policy of two-hour day and three-hour night "cycles" so that everyone could play day and night characters. Will you follow this or something like it?

The day/night cycle was there from day one. It's one of those iconic New Bremen experiences which I don't think anyone has tried to duplicate since then; most places simply assume whatever the current time of day in whatever the real-world equivalent to their setting is.

But as I said, it's an iconic NB experience, and the place wouldn't be the same without it. I'll be duplicating it as best as I can.


I could ask some hyper-specific rules questions (how you're interpreting the temporary nature of the Gangrel weakness in V20, for example) but I'll spare you for the moment.


  1. I remember talking to the ST team about having myself and another player "promoted" to Wraith STs since there were none regularly active at the time. However, that was shortly before the Time of Judgement stuff came out, so...

    1. I'm sure there's a joke I could make about dead venues... ;)

  2. I remember talking to the ST team about having myself and another player "promoted" to Wraith STs since there were none regularly active at the time. However, that was shortly before the Time of Judgement stuff came out, so...