Sunday, February 3, 2013

Review: World of Darkness

Review:  World of Darkness
by White Wolf Gaming Studios
Rating: ★★★★

Yes, this is clearly a review that is way behind a lot of other blogs, given the book in question was released many years back.  Then again, given this blog is still pretty young, consider this then one of many reviews I'm writing to catch up on the stuff I've run games with.

The World of Darkness rulebook came out as the vanilla system book for the new World of Darkness line following the close of what is now referred to as the Classic World of Darkness.  With the release of the Time of Judgement books that were once said to never ever be written (a statement I recall once being mentioned in a Vampire the Masquerade book, although I forget which one), the old World of Darkness with its Cainites and Garou, with its Kithain and its Spectres, with its Messenger-guided Hunters and the many Eastern counterparts, came to an end.   Now, as I write this blog, that seemingly final end has in fact been proven merely to be a temporary one with the rise of The Onyx Path and By Night Studios.  While there still are those who strongly feel one or the other version is better, I am happy to be one of those who appreciates BOTH games for different reasons.

Heck, I still run games using either system when opportunities arise to do so.

So What Is It About?
The main World of Darkness book is the book that contains the basic system of the game, as well as guide on how to create mortal humans as characters.  Unlike the Classic World of Darkness that focused on the monsters, and eventually offered optional rules to play mortals, this book had the human race as the focus of the game.   With this book, playing games that were inspired by shows such as X-Files, Supernatural and Fringe became very easy to do.   And in what would become a pattern for the game's later books, Vampire the Requiem and other books then gave the necessary rules on how to bring the mortal character further into a supernatural being.    While the main book might sound boring to some players out there, the book itself is rich with plot ideas that you can use, with fictional pieces talking about the Machine God (which yes, now has its own novel and an upcoming supplement), antagonist notes for both human threats as well as handling ghosts.  I know I had a lot of fun with this book alone when it came out, and my group had fun exploring the new system to run games inspired by everything from shows like Millennium to movies like The Matrix.

How the Dice Rolls
The game uses d10 dice, with players gathering dice equal to their Attribute and Skill ratings.  Additional dice can be added depending on equipment, and other factors that may come into play.  Then any defenses, complications and environmental issues that are intended to hamper the character subtract from the dicepool.  As long as at least one die comes out 8 or higher, the action is successful.  (Certain actions may require more than one success).   An interesting mechanic is the Chance Roll.  If the pool is ever reduced to zero, the player still rolls a single die.  This is called the Chance Roll and it only succeeds on a 10.  If the chance die rolls a one however, a Dramatic Failure occurs.  This can be described as guns jamming, or breaking your foot as you land from a fall and so forth.

Narrative?  Simulationist?  Tactical?
I personally feel that while the game uses The Storyteller System, the game is less Narrative and more a mix of Narrative and Simulationist.  The game is crunch light, if one compares it to others such as Pathfinder or GURPS, but is definitely more crunchy than games that use the FATE system.

The Storyteller still handles the narrative of the game, with players only really giving their reactions to what the Storyteller shares.  There is no passing of narrative power the way games like Houses of the Blooded approaches resolutions.  Nor are there any bennies or tokens to use such as those in Cortex Plus games or Savage Worlds.

But the game system is nicely flexible, and as I mentioned above, with little tweaking can be used to play games set in different milieus when desired.   There are many supplement books for the games' varied lines with settings set in Victorian, Ancient Roman and even Post Apocalyptic and Futuristic settings, making this a game line you can invest in and reuse in many different ways.
Fan Friendly
Admittedly I used to feel that the (new) World of Darkness was a wrong reboot of a fantastic setting.  The (old) Classic World of Darkness, while metaplot heavy and very hard to break into given its complicated backstories was something i had gotten into during its 1st edition days, and thus was something I felt I had grown up alongside.    So with the coming of this line, I had a time I felt angered that my Toreadors and Malkavians and Sidhe and Skinriders were all getting shafted.     But as I gave the new lines a chance, I started to see how they were not too different and yet not just clunky changes to the old things I loved.    I started to love the new line in its own way and sometimes even cherished some aspects of the new system.

Then came the Translation Guides.  With the Translation Guides, one can convert characters and system from the Classic system to the current one, allowing suddenly a chance for players to literally mix and match the stuff they WANTED to.    This was a direction of the line that made me really smile.

Now, with The Onyx Path, more books are coming out and the awesome thing about it is that they are being written by people who have a strong love for the line as well.  While the availability of actual printed books would not be anything like it was before, it did still mean we would get new well-written material for the games we loved.

And personally, that for me is a great thing!

So is it worth playing?
Absolutely.  The game promises a heck of a ride, whether it be horrific or mysterious, dramatic or action-packed, the World of Darkness has loads to offer.

Rating Breakdown:
Concept:  The Machine God is the concept of this book that I loved from the very onset and I am tickled all over to know they are working on an actual supplement book for this.  I'm anxious to see it out soon and I do hope to successfully snag myself a printed copy of that book.
Crunch:  Light but not as light as most narrative-favoring books.  I will admit that while the game system is more streamlined than the Classic Storyteller system, I do feel it has more crunch given how tied to the system the secondary ratings (such as Defense) are.  
Layout: Nice and orderly, although I would have wanted to have some kind of label/design on the page edge to easily locate the chapter you are in by flipping the page.   And yes, the index can still get better, in my humble opinion.
My favorite part: Other than the Machine God, I will have to admit a love for how the Storyteller System made being Mortal a cool thing.  Even mortals without magical powers or psionic powers can be awesome in this game, and that's not a common thing to feel.
What I wish was better: Narrative rules.  It would have been cool if White Wolf allowed players more narrative control.  This was sort of almost there with the Stunt system in Exalted, then more prominent but hard to accomplish with the Dramatic Editing rules in Adventure!, but here in the core book the closest thing to narrative control is being able to state other things that might give you a +1 or +2 bonus during dice rolls.  ("The bad guy chasing me is in leather shoes?  So I can run better than him?")

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