Brief things first: you can obtain a couple of replica Buffy daggers at Battle Orders Ltd, should you be so inclined.
Which reminds me of something I happened across yesterday evening.
Kam and I were wandering around downtown Santa Cruz, and spent some time in a game store there. I noted that there was once a time when I had a pretty good idea of all the major RPGs available (I'm talking tabletop roleplaying, not computer games): what they were about, what their names were, who the important companies were, what the general focus and tone of the games were.
These days, there are dozens of games and supplements from companies I've never heard of. The release of the "d20 system" (the "Open Game" system created and provided for free use by Wizards of the Coast) seems to have been great for small game companies: there are a whole lot of sourcebooks out there now that use d20. Which is to say, a company can now produce a complete game world without having to come up with new game mechanics. Cool beans. (I have yet to actually use d20, so I can't judge it as a system, but I've heard good things about it.)
Anyway, one game at the store in particular caught my eye: Hunter: The Reckoning, from White Wolf.
My first reaction was that this must be a new take-back-the-night post-9/11 approach to White Wolf's "World of Darkness." The idea seemed to be that, in a return to the old pre-White Wolf days, player characters weren't monsters, but rather were humans with a few special abilities who set out to hunt monsters. It felt vaguely to me like something that fit the new aggressive take-out-the-bad-guys zeitgeist in modern America. Something about the art suggested to me that the book was going to take a sort of survivalist/militia stance, and the book appeared to be missing the introduction to "Gothic-Punk" roleplaying and the World of Darkness that's boilerplate in every other White Wolf game.
But the copyright date on the book was 2001, which means it must've been in development well before 9/11, especially since the book referred to several White Wolf supplements about Hunters that had been published earlier. And Kam pointed out that it was probably actually in reaction to the popularity of Buffy, which makes a great deal of sense.
Still, it became clear on further perusal of the book and a couple of sourcebooks that the Hunters (pretty explicitly) couldn't possibly be effective on a large scale; the World of Darkness is too corrupt, too full of monsters and evil at every level, to let the Hunters get very far.
But I was intrigued to see one particular sourcebook, Utopia, which postulated an alternate-world scenario in which Hunters band together and gradually manage to eliminate all monsters from one particular corner of the world—a town, a company, whatever. Still, the book made clear that this was not to be considered canon, and that all future White Wolf games and novels would continue to assume that Hunters are largely ineffectual.
So although it still feels a little like a return to the old days of horror gaming, it's a remarkable contrast to the one game it most reminded me of initially: Stalking the Night Fantastic, later reissued as Bureau 13, which we used to describe as "werewolves vs. hydrogen bombs" but these days could perhaps be best described as a precursor to The X-Files: player characters were agents of a secret government agency whose twin objectives were (a) to wipe out all supernatural critters and phenomena, usually through the use of superior firepower; and (b) to ensure that no normals ever learned the terrible truth that supernatural stuff is real.
Hunter is almost the exact opposite: PCs are, apparently, underfunded lone-wolf types who try but usually fail to wipe out supernatural critters, and who do their best to expose the truth despite the beasties' attempts to maintain the Masquerade.
I'm still intrigued by the existence of Hunter and by what it might say about the zeitgeist, though I have no particular interest in running or playing it. But when I went to the White Wolf site to find some URLS for this entry, I found out about some much more interesting recent developments:
It appears (and I imagine those of you who care have known this for months, but I've apparently been hiding under a rock) that White Wolf announced back in August that, after a successful thirteen-year run, they're ending the World of Darkness.
Starting earlier this week, they're releasing a series of games (it's not clear to me where these items fall on the spectrum between full RPGs, sourcebooks, and game "modules") and novels collectively called Time of Judgment, which will show the world going through the prophesied end times. New half-vampires will arise who can walk around during the day; the "angriest and most hateful" of the dead will come back as zombies; the Apocalypse that the werewolves have been predicting will come about; mummies will rise; and hell will open and Lucifer will walk the Earth. Heady stuff.
It's not clear to me how all this fits with Orpheus and Demon and other recent-ish White Wolf stuff. It's also not clear to me what ever happened to Wraith, which looked to me like the darkest of the White Wolf games. (I've only ever actually played a couple of Vampire games, but I've always paid some attention to their games 'cause they looked somewhat interesting and 'cause they have such a big following.)
The press release on the main White Wolf site suggests roundaboutly that after the apocalypse there'll be other stuff set in the same world, it's just that the world will have changed drastically. I've seen other gaming systems go through alleged big changes to the game world, and I'm not convinced that things will actually change that much; World of Darkness has been their biggest business since White Wolf's inception, so I'm sure they're not going to just stop putting out anything related to it. (The newly revived version of Gamma World is not going to make them enough money to cover the loss of their core goth audience.) But it does sound like interesting changes are in the works.