Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/07/26/tabletop-review-glimpses-of-the-unknown/
Back when I first got into playing pen and paper RPG’s, I started with the game most people have likely started with: Dungeons and Dragons. Funny thing about that, though: while I like the ideas of medieval fantasy, swords and sorcery, and other such things, and while I like the occasional video game, film or novel based around it, I’m generally not a fan of media related to the genre as a whole. It’s incredibly weird to me: I love the concept of such a thing, and I absolutely adore some stories from the genre, but as a general whole I can’t get into the genre, and as a result, I couldn’t get into Dungeons and Dragons. No, the first tabletop franchise that really got me into role playing wasn’t the franchise based around bringing to life stories of ancient fantasy, but rather the one that brought to life stories of dark evil in modern times: the World of Darkness, specifically, Werewolf: The Apocalypse. I’ve always been a big fan of the White Wolf Storyteller System, and while I never got into all of the different franchises that came from it, Werewolf always kept me interested, to a point where I still have multiple sourcebooks and Rage cards around here and there. Sadly, when the old World of Darkness was laid to rest, I couldn’t get into the new one to any significant degree and I basically just kind of moved on with my life, but I still pay attention to White Wolf every once in a while, just to see if maybe they’re going to release something that sparks my interest again.
Glimpses of the Unknown, while not that product, is almost as interesting. Instead of acting like a sourcebook or a storytellers or players guide, it is instead a story guide. The book gives you various threads you can use to create main or side stories throughout the World of Darkness, across the various different sub-franchises that exist within the game world. There are twelve total chapters to Glimpses of the Unknown: the Prologue, which is a short two-page story that sets the tone of the book, as one expects from White Wolf; the Introduction, which fleshes out, in a page, what the book is meant to be used for; and ten chapters devoted to providing content for ten of White Wolf’s core books: World of Darkness, Vampire: The Requiem, Werewolf: The Forsaken, Mage: The Awakening, Promethean: The Created, Changeling: The Lost, Hunter: The Vigil, Geist: The Sin Eaters, World of Darkness: Innocents, and World of Darkness: Mirrors. Each chapter provides various seeds of stories, full plotlines, and different additions one can bring into the game proper, so that storytellers have plenty of ammunition for creating stories from these elements, for whatever games they happen to want to run at any given time. In other words, it’s a book that you can use to help you flesh out storylines for your campaigns.
Each chapter after the first is broken down into two to three categories: Seeds, Plotlines, and additional rites/ceremonies/compacts/whatever, depending on the sub-franchise. World of Darkness: Mirrors deviates from this slightly by offering seeds and plotlines for each of the deviated worlds the core book outlines, but otherwise the format is the same. Seeds are small plot points that the storyteller can either choose to use as minor subplots in a bigger campaign or can themselves be developed into full storylines, and most are only one to three paragraphs long. Plotlines are full plots for a campaign to follow, giving the storyteller beginning and middle points to work with, though they leave the endings and most of the events to the storyteller, as they’re more ideas than full modules. The various added skills and such that pop up are also offered as new elements to add into the stories, either into the stories supplied in the book or otherwise. Basically, the book acts as a way to add depth to storylines you’re working with already or as a way to create all new storylines out of whole cloth, as you wish.
On one hand, the book is generally very well assembled, as one might expect; the presentation of the book is great featuring the varied and interesting artwork one expects from the company interspersed into the pages, and the writing is as clear and easy to follow as ever. The different storyline ideas in the book are also very creative and easy to work with, and furthermore, they’re also easy to rework if you want to take stories from other sub-franchises and work them into another system or even old World of Darkness campaigns, so you could grab a plot from the Vampire: The Requiem section and cram it into your Vampire: The Masquerade campaign almost fully formed. Another thing the book does that one might not expect is that it gives players an introduction to other systems in the modern World of Darkness. For instance, while I was acquainted with the Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Hunter, Changeling and standard human systems, I hadn’t seen much information on the Promethean and Geist systems, and I wasn’t even aware of Innocents until reading through the book. Really, there are very few people who have the ability to pick up every single core book that comes their way, and something like this, that offers a small sampling of what sort of campaigns could come from a game run under a particular sub-franchise, gives prospective storytellers a taste of what they could do with the core books. It’s a very useful selling tool, to be honest, and the book, at seven dollars, is inexpensive enough to be worth picking up for most storytellers, so it helps make that exposure more readily available by offering it at a low price.
That said, the book is essentially only a book of plot ideas with a couple of random new skills/rites/etc thrown in, and while that’s not a bad thing, well, only so many people are going to get use from that. Again, repurposing the stories in the book is exceptionally easy; for instance, there’s a story here about an energy drink company that makes a drink that causes human blood to lose its nourishing properties for vampires that is meant for Vampire: The Requiem but could be repurposed easily for a mercenary werewolf pack or hunters curious about who’s horning in on their territory. But if you’re not the sort of person who has any trouble coming up with stories for your players to run, the amount of value you’re going to get from such a book is limited, and if you’re the sort of person who prefers whole modules to work with, well, story bits that require you to fill in the important details aren’t going to help you much. Also, as an aesthetic note, while White Wolf RPG’s are generally meant for a more mature crowd of player, putting a topless woman on the cover of your RPG book is… probably not a good idea, I don’t care what your intent was. This is especially confusing since all of the rest of the images on the cover appear in the book but that one, so, literally, this image only appears in the absolute worst place for it to appear if one wants to be able to sell the book in establishments where kids might see it.
Glimpses of the Unknown does have a lot of interesting ideas in it for stories to run, and there are a lot of simple plotlines that a creative storyteller could run as full campaigns or random one-shots in the middle of more complex stories. As a result, it’s a solid reference book to have for the storyteller who’s looking for a little variety or some new ideas to toss into a plot, and there are enough story threads in the book to keep a good campaign going for months with some proper repurposing and development. The book is also useful if you want to get an idea of what sort of concepts other White Wolf systems you don’t normally deal with might explore, and it might even get you interested in a sub-franchise you’d never even looked at before. If you’re not too interested in plot threads to work with, either because you need something more developed or you’re plenty good at making your own ideas, then the book might not be for you, but between the low asking price and the usefulness of the content within, Glimpses of the Unknown is worth taking a risk on if you’re looking for a little something to freshen up a campaign or help develop a new one.