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.


  1. With Space Marines, it's not implicit, it's explicit.

    There's a lot of baked-in room for player creativity with Space Marines. It's clearly stated that there are countless chapters out there: if you want to do your own thing, do that. If you want to make Your Chapter be like an Official Chapter: boom, it's a successor chapter. Done. Each official chapter codex gets a couple of pages dedicated to example successor chapters.

    Even with the earlier, fixed-number of Space Marine Legions, there are two redacted legions, so there's space for a 30K player to assert that their Space Marines are one of those.

    1. Fair enough. It's been a long time since I played it. I remember the mentioning of other chapters and successor ones, but the only minis you ever, ever saw were Blood Angles, Dark Angles, Ultramarines and Space Wolves. It was never "In this battle report, the Whispering Snakes take on a warband Orks..." or whatever.

    2. Anecdotally - you're not off. I was at one of the largest 40K tournaments in the US over the weekend, and I'd say maybe 60-80% of the Space Marines there were "on-brand" but there were a lot of custom paint jobs, even if they were in the minority.

      Jervis Johnson (whatever happened to that guy?) used to write about _his_ custom chapter (I don't remember the name) that he made a point of being unique so he could run it with whatever chapter rules caught his fancy, and did so in White Dwarf. (Not in battle reports, of course, but in his editorial column.)

    3. According to wikipedia he's a "long term strategy manager" at Games Workshop. Presumably his job is to turn up at board meetings and go "We're basically just going to keep printing money forever and ever..."

    4. He was around at the beginning, and was super-involved in a everything until... 5+ years ago, or whenever White Dwarf went weekly. I haven't heard his name come up since.

      Totally a gamer, someone who loves playing games. Created lot of the stupid, fun one-off games that turned up in WD. Not a money person at all.

  2. I feel like the true templatism, if you will, of the White Wolf games occurred at a different scale. I agree that the books weren't written in a way that allowed or encouraged or facilitated adding on new werewolf tribes, or vampire clans, or mage traditions, or faerie kith, etc. But just from that sentence you can probably see where I'm going.

    The whole system was so modular and interchangeable. Each game had almost identical spreads of stats and skills using the same dice-pool mechanics. It was trivial to take that template and tweak it for a new genre. Just offhand I remember people using the White Wolf system to play Highlander-style immortals and jedi.

    I wasn't involved in the "scene" enough to tell you whether or to what degree this sort of thing was officially encouraged, discouraged, or simply ignored. But to me it does feel like a "template" nature on a global level that wasn't matched until D&D moved to the D20 system and the OGL.