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Remember that older game line produced by White Wolf? You know, the one from the times where vampires held masquerades and werewolves strived for the apocalypse? Those books are now lovingly referred to as OWOD or Old World of Darkness, while newer incarnations are referred to as New World of Darkness. While it might be interesting to talk about the evolution and changes undergone from one system to the next, I’m choosing not to cover that here. I owned a few books for OWOD but I never really got into it. I will leave it to someone well versed in the old series to deal with the comparison and contrast. I, on the other hand, intend to approach the review of NWOD stuff as though it was the only WOD on the market. I just realized how disturbing that might read if people pronounced ‘wod’ instead of World of Darkness- never the less!

STRUCTURE:

The last thing I want is to do a disservice to the book; and yet the first thing I think is: this is exactly what you should expect from a company that has been producing RPGs for 15-20 years (20 now, 15 at time of publishing). It’s a bit of a no win for White Wolf when you think about it; if they produce a great supplement - they have only met expectations - so really the only thing they can do is fail. I suppose in business, that’s where you want to be, setting the standards; but standards rarely get a ‘wow’ factor. In any event, I’m going to judge World of Darkness by its merits alone, as though it is the first thing they produced. So to start things off: WOW, this book is really well structured! (And that is wow as in an expression of awe not the massively popular blizzard title.)

The first thing you will notice about this ‘core’ rulebook is that it is thinner than most you will find on the market. The size seems more akin to supplement than a core set of rules. This is a deliberate choice by the authors as this is a core book intended to be used in conjunction with a variety of other core setting products. This book is essential because all other books in the World of Darkness use the mechanics laidout in this volume.

Some people have complained that this is just an attempt by White Wolf to grab more cash through division and supplementation. I disagree. This was a choice of economy. Few people who are ‘into’ the World of Darkness own just one core set. Most people own at least Vampire: Requiem and Werewolf: Forsaken. I’m a bit of an exception in this because I don’t like either game premise (vampires seem too political and werewolves too whiney). I do, however, own multiple WOD core products: Mage, Changeling, Gheist, Hunter.

Normally all of these books would have chapters devoted to basic mechanics and mundane situations. This eats about 30-50 pages of an average RPG. That’s 30-50 pages that you can’t use to explain setting specific information. The worst part is it’s the same 30-50 pages in each core book. The effect of separating this information out is for the good of the line in general. Think of it this way: Because there is a World of Darkness Core, there are more spells listed in Mage or more details about the underworld in Gheist - net gain in my opinion.

The book starts out with a fairly decent piece of fiction that takes the form of a transcript from a mental hospital. I’ve always been sort of take it or leave it on fiction in the beginning of RPG books. When it works, it works really well but most of the time I find it distracting.

That being said I find the fiction here to be really good at setting the tone of mystery, the very popular modern concept that there is a ‘world behind the brittle mask of the world we live in.’ That’s about all the fiction I’d really need in a book, but if you’re a fan you’re going to find a lot more. The introduction chapter does what, I think, a good RPG should do: it introduces the world where everything takes place. The introduction has fiction mixed in with descriptions of the world/game. It’s a novel idea, but one that I think distracts from the information at hand more than it helps with filling-in details.

The rest of the book is fairly standard in layout with basic character creation taking up the bulk of the book and mechanics the last bit. I personally don’t like the art in the book a great deal, particularly the anime-inspired last chapter, but I think that’s just a preference.

Things I hated: Not much, I find the fiction to be a bit over-done and a little tedious, but that’s a little thing. The art isn’t my cup of tea, but I don’t hold that against them.

Things I loved: This book reeks of experience. It is tight, concise and well organized. This is the culmination of 15 years of game production, victory and error. If you want a basic ‘form’ for creating an RPG core book, look to this product. Change if you need to, but be aware that this form is the one to use and have good reasons why you’re changing things.

Bottom Line: White Wolf books have great structure. It’s not only a structure that works for them but also one that is universally good. It’s hard to fault them here.


MECHANICS

The World of Darkness series touts itself as a story-driven game. In my experience, few sessions live up to that noble ideal. I suppose it could be argued that the attraction of playing super-powered vampires and werewolves is the same basic urge that fuels munchkins to get invulnerable armour of dragon-slaying. You get to be the big, bad thing everyone is afraid of. To this end I’ve found a lot of games to be power-driven, crunchy, sluggish and the exact opposite of story-driven.

The basic premise is dice-pools. Essentially, the player roles a number of dice, with each one looking to hit a standard target number. Each die that meets or exceeds the standard target is considered a success. The total number of successes is compared against a difficulty rating to determine if the player was successful in their action and to what degree they succeeded or failed by.

*****

If you don't know how a dicepool system works, here it is:

The difficulty is '2' and my pool is '7'.

I pick up 7 dice and roll them, getting a 1,1,3,3,4,4,6.

For the purposes of this demo, we'll say the universal target number is '4'

So I count up all the times I rolled 4 or more.

Since I rolled 3 '4' or better, I have 3 successes. Since the difficulty was rated at 2, my character succeeded at what he was doing.

*****

This is what WOD means by story-driven. The amount that a roll fails or succeeds, gives you dramatic premise. If the target is 3 and you get 6 - you not only accomplished it, but you did it with style and panache and a big banner hung from the rafters. At the same time, if you got a 2 you failed, but you were really, really close; missed it by ‘that’ much. I like this. I don’t think it counts as story-driven gaming, but I like the dramatic effect dice can have. A person in real life rarely ‘just’ succeeds or ‘just’ fails, we can either barely make it (giving us *whew* drama) or really nail it (giving us *woot* drama) and the same is true of failing. I admit, there *are* times when success is neither of these, but then - those are not dramatic so why are you rolling??

Every character has several different pools to pull from: attribute pools which are generally your strength, charisma etc. scores; skill pools which are your firearms, academics etc. scores and resource pools which is where contacts, status and special powers etc. come from. Generally a roll requires a combination of pools. So, for example if you’re shooting someone it might be dexterity pool (3) + firearms pool (2) for a total of 5 dice. If you’re just playing knifey-knifey with someone else it might be a straight-up dexterity pool roll, where as knifey-spoony might require a dex pool + streetwise pool to adapt to the new rules.

And that’s about all I’m going to say about mechanics. Why? Because dice pools are now an industry standard and these rules are as straight-forward-dice-pool as you’re going to get. Maybe a bit vanilla, but that is the most-popular flavour in the world for a reason.

Things I hated: The dice pools can potentially get out of hand, power-gamers with a decent character could easily be rolling 10+ dice for a single action.

Things I loved: It may not be ‘story-driven’ gaming by my definition, but they DO make a serious attempt to get people out of the basic ‘roll and succeed, roll and succeed, roll and fail, roll and succeed’ pattern. They put an emphasis on making rolls mean something dramatic and I *love* that in gaming.

The Bottom Line: This is a basic dice-pool system. Other systems are starting to take this to the next level and they are doing a great job of it. I would like to see world of darkness look at the advances something like Warhammer Fantasy RP 3rd ed. has done to dice-pools and take their game to that level.

SETTING/CONCEPT

I don’t dig playing a vampire. I tried it. Half a dozen times. I don’t get it, it’s not for me. If it’s for you, awesome, have a blast, it doesn’t bother me, it’s just not my thing; that’s not fun for me. The same is true for werewolves. Being a super-powered wolf thing is not something I really get charged about. So is World of Darkness something I should be playing? Absolutely.

See the core book give you more than just basic rules that you can translate to the other core products. The core book sets the baseline for inhabitants in the world; it’s almost everything you need to know to play a human. Think of the core book like the core setting as well. Armed with this and a bit of imagination, you can start running simple horror games with a group of humans. In fact, the core set, like all White Wolf products, is colour-coded (dark purple). You can pick-up any dark-purple supplement for the world of darkness line and it’s contents can be used to run stories about humans (along with any other core setting if you want - Dark Purple is universal). You see, now we have the stories that begin to interest me.

Pick-up a copy of Precinct 13 and you can tell dark horror stories from the point of view of police detectives and reporters, pick-up a copy of Inferno and you tell a tale about hapless teenages who dabble in demonic summoning. If you find you want to have more ghosts in the stories, pick-up a copy of Spirits, if you want to add more enchanted items to your game then buy a copy of Reliquary. All of these stories can be human-centric tales that can be told with just the core setting.

If at a later date you wanted to add seasoned and knowledgeable monster-killers into your game, you can purchase the Hunter book and begin to introduce those elements without missing much of a beat, the two settings are completely compatible. If on the other-hand you want to introduce magic, you can mix-in some Mage. Obviously White Wolf has tried to balance the different core-settings but I can’t speak to how balanced they actually are. I’m told that my favourite core-setting, Gheist, offers characters that are extremely unbalanced compared to other settings; but I find this a minor point - if your game is truly story-driven then character-power is just a ‘decoration’

What I hated: If this was anything OWOD, I would have a lot to say here, as it is: I’m really happy with the setting as it’s presented. I probably would have liked a few more story hooks but this isn’t core setting: human, this is the universal book-so I forgive.

What I loved: The fact that this kinda is core setting: human. I think there are really interesting stories to be told for players about their exploration of the world. I love that you can use the core universal line to introduce players to the WOD at whatever pace you’d like.

Bottom Line: This is a great introduction to the World of Darkness setting and a great way to tie all the settings together.

THE SCOOP

The World of Darkness core book is well-worth picking up if you’re intrigued by the WOD material but a bit shy about committing lots of $$ or time on volumes of setting-specific material. It will not only give you the flavour of where you can take your adventures but also allow you to try the system out and take it for a test drive. The book is relatively inexpesive but well worth it and something I would see as a standard to any RPG collection.

Presentation (Style, Readability, Artwork): 7 - This book covers all the basics but it really is what you’d expect and nothing awe-inspiring.

Rules (Complexity, Logic, Playability): 7 - Despite claims that this system is story-driven, I find the large dice pools hinder story-telling rather than help; still, there is a good amount of drama encouraged.

Story (Setting, Concept, Intrigue): 8 - If owning this book does not make you want to buy a few more and see where the world of darkness can take you, then you’re probably just not that interested in the genre.

Last Word: I don’t like playing vampires. But play some dead guy who has a powerful spirit attached to him and keeping him alive to complete unfinished business? Sign me up!
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1st Printing VTM used the dice pool versus a TN by difficulty. Each die equal or higher was a success. 1 was automatic, 10 was extremely difficult. Quality was measured by successes, with 1 being marginal, and 5+ being spectacular. Further, the "Autosuccess" rule allowed taking a single success without rolling if your pool was as large as the TN.

2nd printing and later VTM, and, as far as I can tell, all other oWOD core books, used a fixed TN, with difficulty being required successes. That TN varies, however... some are 6+, some are 7+.

While I prefer the VTM 1E mechanic, I seem to be in tiny minority.
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Hey,

Thanks for the comment. I had totally forgotten about the variant dice pool system. I think the old vampire system was a bit too limiting in terms of target number, but I can see the attraction. Out of curiosity, having played both, which do you think enabled play to flow easier?

Cheers!

Adam
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I found 1E far better for play, because, outside of combat, the players generally would go, "Oh, it's a 6, I'll succeed" without rolling the dice. Only important stuff or stuff one wasn't skilled enough in was rolled. That enabled a lot of speedy play. It also readily allowed for uneven contests of skill.

I will say, tho, that the fixed TN was simpler to teach. Get it explained in 2-3 minutes, and secure after one session, instead of 5-10 minutes, and secure after two sessions.

Then again, I played Shadowrun before WoD, and Shadowrun 1E (and 2E and 3E) was also pool vs Difficulty-based TN.

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im thinking of picking this one up in the near future. your review gave me a lot of usefull information. thanks.
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andy wrote:
im thinking of picking this one up in the near future. your review gave me a lot of usefull information. thanks.


I really appreciate you saying so. Make sure you post a session report or even just a note here so we can see how you liked it... out of pure curiosity was there a particular core setting you were looking at or just the this core book?

Cheers!
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That if you kill him with the pill from the till by making with it the drug in the jug, you need not light the candle with the handle on the gâteau from the château.
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first the core book and then im thinking about vampire and/or changeling.


agduncan wrote:
andy wrote:
im thinking of picking this one up in the near future. your review gave me a lot of usefull information. thanks.


I really appreciate you saying so. Make sure you post a session report or even just a note here so we can see how you liked it... out of pure curiosity was there a particular core setting you were looking at or just the this core book?

Cheers!
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