Tuesday, April 17, 2012

System Shopped: The River - World of Darkness

The River Flows Everywhere
System Shopped: World of Darkness
by Tobie Abad
April 2012

In the very well-written but sadly not as popular wuxia game Weapons of the Gods (by Brad Elliot and Rebecca Borgstrom), an interesting system was introduced:  The River.  In the game, when you make a roll, you are allowed to keep some of your dice to be used for later rolls.  This system allowed the player to determine when to have much more radical successes at more dramatically appropriate moments which made for a much more dynamic and fun game.  Here's my attempt to adapt the system to work for White Wolf Gaming Studio's World of Darkness.

The River
for the World of Darkness
It was like it was fated to happen.  

The catastrophic accident that took the lives of over fifteen people was a scene that seemed impossible for anyone to survive.  The 18-wheeler truck slammed into the cars like a rolling pin over soft dough and crushed each and every vehicle in an instant.  The fact the wheeler ended its spinning rampage by slamming into the nearby gas station only further established that this was a horrific incident that would force even angels to stare with helpless eyes.

But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Janet Prince rose from the burning debris and defied every sheared thread of destiny that decreed there was only death in this moment.  Janet miraculously survived the crash with the least of expected injuries and still had the mettle to crawl out of the crushed sports car and limp away to safety.

Perhaps she had the love of a deity on her side.
Perhaps, the river flowed in her favor this time.

From Final Destination 2

So how does this system work?
Plain and simple, every player character is meant to be the key member of the cast in a story.  While the World of Darkness is populated with billions of people - many of whom do have their own secrets and mystical traits - player characters are pretty much expected to be the stars of the show.  So it makes sense that they would defy expectations, or survive what seemed to be impossible odds.

But to make that too easy would be a disservice to the World of Darkness setting. After all, the game thrives in the sense of hopelessness and despair that pervades the world.

So here is how it works:
Each Player Character (not Non-player characters or supporting cast) has access to the system called The River.  For every two points of Permanent Willpower, a player character can store a die in her River.

At any point in time, when a character makes an important roll that may affect a major element in the game (examples include combat rolls in battles where the players are not having the advantage, investigation rolls which when failed can truly set the players back in their plans, etc) the player can opt to spend a Willpower point to store any of the successful dice she rolled into her River instead.  Since this expenditure happens AFTER the roll is made, it is possible to spend a Willpower point to gain +3 bonus dice that turn, and a second to store into her River one of the successful dice that was rolled.

Later on, in any future roll the player makes, the player can Flow the River into the roll.  What this means is, later in the game, whether or not the player should have dice to roll in a roll he wants to succeed in, he can move the dice stored in his River as part of the successes achieved in the said roll.

Characters who are of stronger will clearly benefit better from this system, and are able to store more successes in their River for later release.  They can store dice from a single roll, or gather them from numerous rolls (however, each time they Float dice into the River, it costs a Willpower point.)
all it takes in one BAD roll, even with twenty dice!

But since Willpower gives +3 dice, why would I want to waste it to move only (typically)  1-3 successes to a future roll?
Because the River does not care if you did or did not have a dice pool to use in the roll.    This doesn't mean a character with no Knowledge of Medicine can suddenly do brain surgery.  But it does mean the character can Flow the successes from his River to allow his (non-existent) Medicine attempt to keep the injured character alive long enough for help to show up.

The River is meant to encourage the player to think of adding to the drama of the scene.  The Storytellers are encouraged to throw suggestions on how a River enhanced roll actually worked out.  But personally, I think the players themselves will find it fun enough to try on their own.

Doesn't this suddenly make a lot of the threats less threatening?
It depends.  Storytellers who view games as a chance to be the players' rival may feel shafted by this System Shop.  But at the same time, they are more than welcome to have the River apply as well to any key villains or nemesis that exist in the game.

I personally like the idea of giving players some level of freedom in shaping the story to help them survive what seemed to be impossible odds.   While it may feel like a tiny box of Deus ex Machina in the hands of the players, I feel it does encourage the player to think of the story and focus on helping make it feel more dramatic and fun.

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