Friday, 9 September 2016
The Consequences of Templates
What do White Wolf and Games Workshop have in common? A genius for creating something which I am going to call, for want of a better word, templates. In other words, in Werewolf: The Apocalypse, you're not just a werewolf. You pick from certain werewolf templates (I am a Wendigo; I am a Ragabash, etc.). If you are collecting a Warhammer 40k army, you don't just have to have Space Marines or Imperial Guard army, you pick from templates (Blood Angels, Mordian Iron Guard, etc.). I've written about this before - human beings like to define themselves as belonging to groups, and it's clever to play up to that.
I think the true genius of this, though (as well as it being a great marketing ploy if you know what you are doing, like Games Workshop but unlike White Wolf), is that templates implicitly encourage you to create your own. The existence of different Space Marine Chapters encourages you to think up your own ones: the Purple Rhinos, the Death Dolphins, the Gunboat Diplomats, the Pink Panthers, the Blood Bananas. The existence of different werewolf tribes makes you want to come up with your own: the Yellow Fangs, the Bushy Tails, the Pigeon Fanciers, the Eye Gougers. If there was simply a generic entity known as "the Space Marines", there would be less room for creativity within it. If there were simply "werewolves", there would be less of a spur to the imagination to think up different werewolf types.
The companies in question, of course, to varying degrees discourage that sort of fast-and-loose attitude: Space Marine Chapters other than the main GW "sanctioned" ones rarely get a mention - except in novels, where there's always a bit more leeway for writers to go off-message - and I think I'm right in saying that in Werewolf: the Apocalypse there were only the 13 tribes to pick from and no or little indication that there were others. It may well be that the designers of both games never envisaged players being imaginative enough to pick up the ball and run with it. It doesn't matter: unwittingly or otherwise, the consequences are good ones.