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White Wolf is an imprint used for RPG products developed by Onyx Path Publishing, licensed by IP owners CCP hf. It's been one of the market leaders in the roleplaying game industry since its entry into the market in 1991.
Before White Wolf Edit
In June of 1986, brothers Steve and Stewart Wieck sold 30 copies of a gaming-specific magazine, Arcanum Magazine. Although circulation was minuscule, response was favourable enough that they decided to expand operations. Deciding that the name was too similar to D&D's Unearthed Arcana, they chose a name based on Michael Moorcock's eponymous hero, Elric of Melniboné, also known as the White Wolf.
The first issue of White Wolf was published in August of 1986, and with successive issues, circulation and sales increased further. With the glossy-paged issue 8, the title changed from "White Wolf" to "White Wolf Magazine."
Meanwhile, Mark Rein•Hagen and his friends began Lion Rampant as a basement operation, largely on a volunteer basis. His inheritance had paid for a Mac, on which all books were laid out. His initial goal was to release a game about wizards done right, to be called Ars Magica. It was published in late 1987.
The Origins 1989 issue of WW Magazine included much praise of Ars Magica from Stewart Wieck, earning a stellar review. Several articles also appeared from Rein•Hagen and other Lion Rampant employees, Jonathan Tweet and Lisa Stevens, describing the background of the magi of Ars Magica.
Lion Rampant fell on some financial hardship, and after a move to Georgia to attempt to restart production, were forced to admit they were losing the battle. They could produce, but needed the cash to start the production flow. WW Magazine, however, were doing well. As the two companies had become quite friendly since that 1989 issue, and because the two companies were now located in adjacent states (WW Magazine was in Alabama), they made a decision. December 1990's edition of WW Magazine included an announcement: it would be merging with Lion Rampant to form a new company, called White Wolf Game Studio.
Rein•Hagen had designs to expand the world of Ars Magica to describe its knights in a game to be called Shining Armor, but the success of Pendragon deterred him. Instead, after another aborted ("cursed") game called Inferno, he decided to expand upon the world of Ars Magica in the modern day, where magi were only one of several supernatural creatures kept hidden from modern humans. This was the foundation of the World of Darkness.
White Wolf Game Studio Edit
The new White Wolf Game Studio continued to publish both Ars Magica and White Wolf Magazine, but made its entry onto the scene with its new identity with 1991's Vampire: The Masquerade. The design and presentation of the game was unlike anything gamers had seen before to that point, and was a smashing success. White Wolf was quickly launched to the top tier of game companies, where it has largely remained in the 20 years since.
The original concept for the World of Darkness had five games, which Rein•Hagen originally dubbed Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Ghost, and Faerie. These games were released as Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, Wraith: The Oblivion, and Changeling: The Dreaming. One new game line was released per year, ending with 1995's Changeling. Due to the rush to release the games, the first editions were quite flawed, in many cases. Second Editions were pushed out two years after the first editions, beginning with Vampire: The Masquerade Second Edition in 1993 and ending with Changeling: The Dreaming Second Edition in 1997. Sadly, Wraith and Changeling weren't as successful as the first three had been. Wraith was ended prematurely, while Changeling's releases slowly dwindled and vanished.
Losing Origins Edit
The success of the World of Darkness reflected back on its inspiration. The WOD clearly had elements of Ars Magica in it (the Tremere in Vampire, the Order of Hermes in Mage), and so White Wolf released a third edition of Ars which made the world somewhat darker and grimmer, with a sort of proto-Paradox effect, to bring it more into line with the WOD. Most Ars fans found these changes distasteful. By 1994, Ars was no longer up to snuff with the success of the WOD, so it was sold to Wizards of the Coast by way of Lisa Stevens, who had several years previously left Lion Rampant for WotC. While White Wolf retained the rights to the Tremere and Order of Hermes, Ars Magica and the World of Darkness became decoupled at this point. Ars' timeline has blithely ignored the dark future it once held, and the WOD's own history has since been filled out in a way that invalidates some Ars preconceptions.
Similarly, with the success of their RPGs, White Wolf Magazine found it harder to maintain their "indy coverage" cred. With issue 47, they dropped that claim. With issue 50, they relaunched as almost a White Wolf mouthpiece, now calling itself Inphobia although still providing plenty of coverage for other games. The changes weren't enough to save the magazine, and it was cancelled in September 1995 with issue 59.
Licenses and Imprints Edit
With the loss of Ars Magica, White Wolf was largely supporting itself on the success of the World of Darkness. Even its successful CCGs, Jyhad and Rage, were WOD properties. So it decided to diversify. It picked up the license to Street Fighter and released the Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game. Sadly, SF was never a commercial success.
White Wolf also published a more indy game called HoL: Human Occupied Landfill. Since the subject matter was rather adult, White Wolf determined the need to create a new imprint to let retailers know that this book was not for younger gamers (as was largely common at the time). So they borrowed from their dark reflection in the World of Darkness and created the Black Dog imprint, for adult-oriented releases. This imprint would later transition to World of Darkness releases, and would serve them well for many years.
Black Wednesday Edit
White Wolf loved fiction, and in addition to providing their own fiction, they opened up the Borealis and Borealis Legends fiction lines in 1994 in order to support some of their favourite authors. They published (or republished) books and compilations from Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, and Harlan Ellison.
Unfortunately, this came at a bad time: established bookstores were closing down mall storefronts in order to open up the modern "big box" bookstores. Since, in the fiction publishing industry, unsold books can be returned to the publisher for credit, massive numbers of inventory were returned to White Wolf as storefronts closed, forcing White Wolf to reimburse them.
Sometime in this era, due to all their non-RPG efforts, "White Wolf Game Studio" was reorganized to be a division of the larger "White Wolf Publishing, Inc."
- 1998: ArtHaus for games with lower sales
- 2000: Sword & Sorcery imprint, Exalted
- 2004: Classic World of Darkness ends, New World of Darkness begins
- 2006: ArtHaus, Sword & Sorcery imprints close. Merger with CCP hf announced, corporate restructuring.
- 2011: CCP Transmedia, 20th anniversary, Black Wednesday.
Onyx Path Edit
Following Black Wednesday, CCP was no longer in a good place to pursue publishing. In an effort to save White Wolf, someone reminded WW Creative Director Rich Thomas of his plans to one day strike out on his own, and asked "why not take White Wolf with you?"
Thus, in January 2012, Rich started Onyx Path Publishing, a separate company. He took up production and publishing of White Wolf materials at that point, with the first Onyx Path-branded product (the WTF/ ) releasing in April. Aside from the license to publish the World of Darkness, Classic World of Darkness, and Exalted lines, Rich also acquired the full rights to Scion and the Trinity Universe, and is seeking the rights to Scarred Lands.
The changeover was announced at GenCon that year, although the licensing agreement was not yet finalized at that point. Other lines, such as VTES and Mind's Eye Theatre, were not included in the agreement and may be picked up by another entity.