I’m Dark and Evil… are You Dark and Evil?

White Wolf achieved its position in the RPG industry by a single expedient: making a game that cool people could play without having to admit that they were nerds. Despite a substantial overlap in interests, for the entirety of the 90s, no self-respecting and self-identified goth would admit to playing D&D (well, maybe Ravenloft), but White Wolf managed to convince them that “Storytelling” games were an entirely different animal, appropriate to black lace and clove cigarettes. And, once they had the only game in town that you might convince pretty but abnormal girls to play, the market was sure to follow.

In high school, my friends and I wore a lot of black (and I still do, but that’s mostly because wearing all black as a teen means you never learn how to match colors). D&D was a tough sell to that crowd, but there were many flavors of White Wolf, and so that’s what we played. Suffice it to say, I’ve played this system quite a bit, in many of its permutations.

The luster had started to fade by the time D&D 3e came out and became the newest, easiest sell in the gaming world, so my experience with the New World of Darkness system is, consequently, less. Thus, this review will focus on the different core systems for the old World of Darkness, with mention of Exalted and the Aeonverse where appropriate.

Core Mechanics

Part of the allure of White Wolf over D&D and other traditional RPG systems is that it is very math light. The core mechanic is very easy:

  1. Construct a trait total by adding together a very small number of traits (represented by dots so you can add them visually).
  2. Pick up that many d10s and roll them.
  3. Keep all the dice with a number that equals or exceeds the difficulty that the GM told you.

There are a few interesting permutations, of course, but, at root, it’s a very straightforward dice pool system.

Since the beginning, die-hard systems geeks have been ambivalent about the whole thing. This is largely due to the system, while being very easy to explain to new players, being very hard to accurately gauge for difficulty. How much practical difference in success does adding a die mean? Is it the same as lowering the difficulty? What about requiring a minimum number of successes? Systems where traits are numbers that are added to a roll (either flat or curved) are much easier to calculate: if you’re rolling d20, each +1 to traits makes the action 5% more likely and each +1 increase to the DC makes it 5% less likely. Conversely, White Wolf’s dice pool results in a hugely complicated series of curves. If a GM judges that an action should be roughly 50/50 for a character with good skill, it’s very hard to figure out the requisite difficulty and threshold on the fly.

But that’s kinda why I love this system…

Part 2