Sunday, June 21, 2009

Scattered Thoughts on World of Darkness

I have made brief mention of a NWoD game that I was running, but readers will note that it doesn't figure heavily into my posting. I can't seem to get the group together more than once every month and a half, and I must also admit that my heart just isn't in it anymore. The next session of my NWoD game will be the finale, assuming I can ever bring half the players together again.

I had been a long time White Wolf fan. Yes, they have some bullshit that I was never particularly fond of, like song lyrics and excerpts from new age-y texts inserted into my games. I also had various problems with the various settings, but all in all I liked it enough that it consumed a considerable portion of my gaming energy from when I was seventeen until I was about twenty three.

I liked the idea of the new World of Darkness model: the "core books" were just sort of generic horror/supernatural things that assumed mortal characters. The core books of the various game lines like Vampire and whatnot could be purchased and "added on" or run in and of themselves. I liked the idea that it was now mechanically easy to cross over things from different games, and that you could more easily start a mortals game and neatly change it into something else. I liked the idea of the "Big Tree" (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage) being continuously supported with a "guest" game that would only have a core book plus a few supplements. Conceptually, I thought that most of the new games were improvements over their predecessors; aside from Vampire: the Requiem, I believe that the settings and set ups of the new games are better, and, in not trying so hard to be grown up, actually succeed at being more grown up than a lot of the old stuff. (Then again, your mileage may vary... I can do without the song lyrics and the saturation of Gothic, thanks very much.) There are some things from the old games that I miss (Pentex comes immediately to mind, even if they do kind of seem like a bad guy from Captain Planet sometimes, I found I had something of a soft spot for them) but all in all the new stuff gets a thumbs up.

...well, except for the mechanics, a matter that I am on the fence about. I will say that New World of Darkness does a lot of things right. Namely:

-The removal of 1's canceling out successes on rolls. With the lack of a probability curve that comes from reading all the dice individually, we found that someone with the pinnacle of skill (Say, Dex 5 Melee 5 or Int 5 Computers 5) failed more often than someone with a smaller Dice Pool.

-Willpower points as a boost to your chances instead of an automatic "I win" mechanic.

-The old system featured both modifiers to target numbers and modifiers to Dice Pools. New World of Darkness fixes the target number and all modifiers add or subtract to the Dice Pool. I'm in favor of going one way with it, as the previous method of doing things was muddled and there never seemed to be much rhyme or reason as to what gave you a penalty to the pool and what gave you a modifier to the target number, which was not fixed to begin with.

-Truly unified mechanics across the different games, so that a interactions of different types of supernatural creatures is easier to mediate.

There are a few points where the new system breaks down for me:

-New combat rules. I appreciate the attempt to boil all attacks and defenses down to a single die roll. In the previous edition, one roll was one swing, and that swing usually took three or four die rolls to resolve. (Attack, defense, damage roll, soak roll) In addition, characters with moderate dice pools could split their pool for multiple attacks. I often saw characters who would attack three, sometimes four times per round, which meant that I could be looking at up to twelve rolls just to resolve what that one character was doing during the round. I often avoided having combat as an element in the game because frankly it was a pain in the ass., hold your horses. Like I said, I think their heart was in the right place with the one roll to rule them all mentality. However, it gets a little too abstract for my tastes. I have found, for one thing, that larger, slower weapons are far more likely to hit. I have also found that combat becomes just a bit too cinematic for what I expect for WoD. A character with Dex 2 Firearms 2 firing a 3 damage pistol (which I believe is supposed to be representative of something in the .45 caliber range) is, statistically, going to net around 2 successes per shot. Now that successes are the damage, that means someone with moderate firearms training is going to have to plug the average dude four times to take him down (though he will still be alive) and three more times to finish the job. (If they don't want to wait for him to bleed out) Average dude, by the by, is someone with Stamina 2 and Size 5. I could also point out that it is possible to build a starting character who can eat those four shots (from a .45, recall) and not only be able to continue fighting, but have absolutely no wound penalties. This, again, is a mortal human and not a vampire or werewolf.

-The Merit system strikes me as being very similar now to Feats from D&D 3.X. Many of the Merits will allow you to be more effective in combat or perform some type of special maneuver. Lack of an extensive list of Merits means that many World of Darkness characters have a Strong Back or are Boxing novices, just because they didn't really know what else to do with the points. (From my experiences, anyway)

-The number of successes needed to complete a task, in most cases, is now 1. I find that having the group roll Perception or searching a room or whatnot is often a moot point, because someone in the group will inevitably roll an 8 or higher, and that is all it takes.

-Wound penalties and healing rates are a bit too cinematic.

-The Size mechanic strikes me at totally useless. Can we not just give smaller creatures fewer health points and larger creatures more? Did this not work well in the older versions? I never noticed a problem, and I liked that different creatures often had different wound penalty schemes.

I still have some brand loyalty to World of Darkness, and as I said, I actually find that I prefer most of the "reboots" or "reimaginings" or whatever you want to call them to be more interesting than the older games. Still, I'm not sold on the new mechanics in a lot of ways, and I think that it suffers from supplement glut worse now than ever before.

Some house rules have mitigated some of my problems with the system, but I'm starting to wonder if I don't really just want to run the new settings with the mechanics I like from old and new.

...of course, part of me want to just find a different modern supernatural game altogether.

These are just my own personal nitpicks. If you like NWoD, bully for you, and I can certainly see why. (Or why you might prefer things the Old Way.) Don't feel obligated to defend the game, because I do still have some fondness for it. As I've mentioned on this blog, I have found that I had no idea just how much a lot of my gaming tastes have changed until I started revisiting things I hadn't played/run/read in awhile.


  1. Hi, thanks for subscribing. :)

    My main beef with nWoD, the one campaign I played in, was that, statistically, it takes over 3d on average to achieve a success.

    Until we started either using shotguns, or specialised in a Stat, the chances of accomplishing anything was continually out of our reach. We regularly were rolling 5 and 6d and only occasionally getting over one Success. It was truly frustrating.

  2. Strange... I had much the opposite experience; characters seemed to succeed at absolutely everything, and if more than one character could roll, it was pretty much guaranteed.

  3. Well, there you go.
    "YMMV" is always in effect.