The Controversies of White Wolf Publishing – An Essay

In my previous two essays on Vampire: The Masquerade and White Wolf Publishing, I have talked about my love for the TTRPG and the lore behind it. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the controversies, missteps, and complete screwups White Wolf has done over the years. This is not a comprehensive list by any stretch but it is a highlight of some that I have found over the years.

Sensitive topics ahead regarding the LGBTQIA+ community, racial/ethnic stereotypes, the Holocaust, and white supremacy, so here’s the warning before continuing.

The first inkling that White Wolf would court controversy with their publications was the original description and in-universe lore for Clan Ravnos, one of the original thirteen clans in Vampire: The Masquerade. Pulling from the worst examples of Romani stereotypes, the Ravnos were described as tricksters, thieves, vagabonds (basically every stereotype of Romani that has ever come up over the centuries). The White Wolf Wiki has a breakdown of the original depiction, which coincided with the sourcebook World of Darkness: Gypsies. Granted, White Wolf switched things up considerably with the Second Edition of Vampire the Masquerade by connecting Clan Ravnos’ origin to the subcontinent of India, which brought its own sometimes questionable depictions regarding Indian belief systems and mysticism.

One of the biggest controversies from the old World of Darkness was the Black Dog Game Factory. In what many saw as a crass attempt to cash in on “adult-oriented” supplements, the Black Dog Game Factory company was founded to release the more controversial titles for the World of Darkness. Examples would be the Vampire: The Dark Ages supplement Clanbook: Baali (which covered a clan of vampires that make deals with demons and devils); the Werewolf: The Apocalypse supplement Freak Legion: A Players Guide to Fomori, which detailed the Fomori, spirits who corrupt people in exceptionally gruesome ways; and, for Vampire: The Masquerade the supplement The Giovanni Chronicles, which gave an in-depth examination of the incestuous necromancers of Clan Giovanni.

These books pale in comparison to a supplement created for Wraith: The Oblivion, titled Charnel Houses of Europe: The Shoah. Through the Black Dog Game Factory, White Wolf published a book discussing the supernatural aftereffects of the Holocaust, specifically how it affected the Wraithlands, the realm that housed the spirits of the dead. Despite White Wolf doing a ton of research into the Holocaust and (for the most part) treating the event with the respect it deserves, there are many fans (I count myself among them) who think this book should never have been published. Despite the fact that the World of Darkness is meant to be a dark reflection of the real world, there are some subjects that should be broached with extreme care. Despite White Wolf’s seemingly good intentions, the decision to publish a gaming supplement that directly tried to profit off the Holocaust hit a sour note for many people.

Now, these controversies were in the 1990s, so one would think that White Wolf grew out of this phase as the company continued. You’d be wrong if you think that is the case.

After Paradox Interactive purchased White Wolf from CCP Games in 2015, work began on the next edition of the World of Darkness game line. The first trouble sign appeared with the quick-start demo for the fifth edition of Vampire: The Masquerade when there was a character that could only feed by drinking the blood of children. Then when Fifth Edition did get published, many fans noticed some disturbing images in the book, specifically the example dice rolls for one section showing 1, 4, 8, 8. If you’re not familiar with what those numbers stand for, they’re a dog whistle for white supremacy. In a since-deleted Twitter post, White Wolf dismissed the concerns without fully addressing them. However, Jason Carl (the Brand Marketing Manager for Paradox Interactive, specifically the World of Darkness) later came out publicly during a Q&A and vehemently condemned any association with far-right white supremacy groups. Carl went so far as to outright say that White Wolf/Paradox Interactive doesn’t want white supremacists buying their products.

But this was just the tip of the iceberg, as the release of the sourcebook Camarilla for Fifth Edition Vampire: The Masquerade would prove. In the Camarilla sourcebook, there was a chapter in the first printing of the book that discussed the region of Chechnya. Chechnya (in the real world) has become widely known over the years for exceedingly harsh laws against the LGBTQIA+ community, including disappearing people and keeping modern concentration camps for those that are detained for violating the country’s laws. White Wolf decided to use this real-life system of oppression and human rights violation to paint the idea that the Camarilla vampires in Chechnya were using the anti-gay pogrom to keep stocks of humans available for feeding and to distract from the fact that vampires were actually in charge of the country.

Yeah, that’s about as terrible as it sounds.

Paradox Interactive stepped in at that point, recalling all of the existing copies of Camarilla and removing the PDF from purchase in online stores to remove the passage regarding Chechnya. Further edits were made to the Fifth Edition sourcebook for Vampire: The Masquerade and the supplement book Anarch to avoid these kinds of controversies. To take things further, Paradox fired most of the senior staff of White Wolf and restructured the company, basically absorbing White Wolf completely and using it as simply a holding company for the World of Darkness license.

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Bear in mind, these are just some of the more noteworthy controversies from within the published works of White Wolf. There have been others over the years and I would encourage any reader of this blog to do their own research into the others.

Now, with all of that being said, I am still a fan of Vampire: The Masquerade as a game system and setting. For others, they can’t look past these controversies and refuse to give White Wolf and Paradox their business. I think that is the best way to handle things. If you find yourself upset or disturbed by the products a company produces, it behooves you to both speak out publicly against them as well as withholding your purchase of their products. Paradox clearly got the message after the Chechnya controversy in Camarilla and made wholesale changes to White Wolf. For me, that was enough to win my support back. For others, it was too little, too late. Neither position is wrong or right. As with many things in life, it is a matter of what someone is willing to accept and what they will not turn away from.

My book series The Atalante Chronicles is now live on Amazon for Kindle, Paperback, and Hardcover Print-On-Demand. Your support is greatly appreciated.
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