Halloween has come and gone, but monsters are still thumping and bumping around in the offices of Clarkston's White Wolf Publishing company. In just five years, this offbeat outfit, known for originating such popular games as "Vampire: The Masquerade" and "Werewolf: The Apocalypse," has become the second-largest publisher of role-playing games in the world. Only TSR Inc., the makers of "Dungeons and Dragons," achieves greater distribution. Since 1994, White Wolf also has been publishing and repackaging books by horror, science fiction and fantasy authors like Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock and Nancy Collins. Through its licensing contracts, White Wolf's characters and concepts are appearing on television, in video
games, and on T-shirts.
White Wolf began as the brainchild of a pair of college friends, Stewart Wieck and Mark Rein Hagen, said Paul LePree, the company' s retail liaison. "They had both worked on some role-playing fan magazines when they decided to do "Vampire" using their computers and desktop publishing software," LePree said. "They began the business out of their Atlanta- area home, and used their porch as a warehouse." Eventually, the company moved into offices in Stone Mountain and, later, to an office and warehouse complex in Clarkston. The group stages a major initiative at Atlanta's DragonCon show, a major science fiction- fantasy convention held each year, and LePree said fans are surprised to find out that White Wolf is based in Georgia. "It's strange, but no one knows we're here," said LePree. "Sometimes we do wish people would come by and visit, maybe even ask us about sponsoring events or something."
In role-playing games like "Vampire," players use dice and their imaginations to transport themselves to fantastic worlds where their adventures take place. A player creates a character by developing a name and personality and by choosing attributes, such as strength, stamina and
dexterity. Once the characters have been fleshed out, a nonplayer, called the Storyteller, leads the adventurers through the fictitious world of the game, describing events as they occur. In "Vampire," the characters belong to "clans," each with their own lifestyles and codes, which battle for dominance over the vampire subculture. While this war rages, the vampires participate in "The Masquerade," a cooperative effort among all the clans to keep their existence secret from humanity. For its part, White Wolf keeps players interested by continuously publishing new volumes and supplements full of rules and scenarios. For example, this year the company released "Vampire: The Dark Ages," which allows players to interact in the vampire milieu of medieval Europe.
Players weren't the only ones whose imaginations were inspired by White Wolf's publications, said LePree. "We had writers contacting us about creating books set in our game worlds," LePree said. "We brought out our `World of Darkness' series for this purpose." White Wolf created a separate imprint, Borealis, to publish and repackage other works of fiction.
While releasing novels and collections of noted authors with dramatic, cutting-edge cover art, the company has also sought to bring new and unusual properties to the attention of the reading public.
This year, for example, White Wolf published "Saint Vitus Dances Eternity: A Sarajevo Ghost Story," about a slain Serb's spirit traversing the streets of Bosnia's war-torn capital. The book was written by an American, Stewart Von Allmen, and illustrated by a Bosnian refugee, Aida Musanovic, in a shadowy, impressionistic style reflective of the hellish aspects of a prolonged war. Profits from the sale of the book will go to the New Bosnia Fund, an organization that provides services to help restore Bosnia.
Recently, White Wolf released a screenplay penned by Harlan Ellison for the original "Star Trek" series. Although "The City on the Edge of Forever" was produced as an episode during the 1960s, "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry subjected Ellison's script to extensive rewrites. Now, nearly 30 years later, White Wolf is publishing Ellison' s screenplay as it was originally written.
With an energetic staff of nearly 60 workers toiling in its Clarkston offices, White Wolf publishes four or five game-related books and three novels every month, said LePree. An ancillary office in San Francisco oversees the licensing of the company's creations.
Spelling Entertainment produced "Kindred: The Embraced," a series based on "Vampire," for the Fox Network last year. Though the show lasted only one season, it amassed a core of loyal followers who still debate the characters' merits on the Internet. LePree said other TV, film, and comic book adaptations are in the works.
When asked why the White Wolf line has become so successful, LePree said he feels that the company's games and books fill an essential need for the public. "So much stuff is fed to youth these days about how bad things are," he said. "People need to have an escape -- a little time for their imagination. Since we don't really have myths or fairy tales, we look for an escape in games, books, and fantasy worlds."
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
December 4, 1996
By Don Plummer, Staff Writer
Vampires Just Want to Have Fun:
They gather in the night. Truck drivers, students, computer operators by day; after dark, they become the undead. Or at least they pretend to be. About 100 pretend vampires gathered Saturday night for their monthly round of Vampire: The Masquerade, a role-playing game created by White Wolf, based in DeKalb County. Monsters, ghouls and vampires chatted and waved to old friends as they assembled in a former school auditorium in the Grant Park neighborhood of southeast Atlanta for a continuation of the 3-year-old game.
Everyone at the Saturday night games insisted their vampire fantasies are contained within the confines of the free-form play. Even so, topic No. 1 among the players was the controversy set off by the recent slayings of an Orlando, Fla., couple by a group of teens who allegedly drank each other's blood as members of a "vampire cult." Three of them have been charged with the murder.
"Due to the mess in other states where some people acted inappropriately that is casting aspersions on our game, we will no longer be able to allow anyone under 18 beginning with next month's game," a leader announces to groans. "We just cannot face unhappy parents." Having cut
out a sizable portion of the group from future performances, the leaders called on those present to put "these unfortunate events" out of mind. "Anyone who needs a character, please follow me," called out ball-gowned Megan Walters, an Oglethorpe University psychology major.
Walters then gathered her clan of artistic vampires, called Toreadors, to go over the evening's plot at a set hung with artworks by members of the group. "The evening is a lot like a cross between a social game and a murder mystery theater," Walters said.
The games, called "chronicles" of vampire life, are played in many U.S. and European cities. The Atlanta games, which began in 1993, are held monthly and usually draw a crowd of 100, said group leader Michael Cook. Cook said players enjoy the theatrical aspect of the game. There are no scripts, auditions or rehearsals, just improvisational theater based on a "shared world" that encompasses the supernatural and the natural, he said. "Everyone acts out their own character and plot line," said group leader Eddie Maise, who works in computer security. "Most of the story lines are about a struggle for control of the city - who can gain control of the other vampires and humans in the city." Cook, who wears a purple sash over his white tux to denote "majesty, or personal power over others" in the game, said other standard devices are used as a sort of game shorthand. "Someone might wear a green mask or something yellow to mean that they can't be seen," explains Cook, who spends his days working for a Saturn dealership.
Rich Dansky, a White Wolf staffer, said each city's game develops its own flavor. "This game is very different from ones I've been to in New England," he said. "Some focus on politics, some are more social, but each has a drama that includes conflict."