Skill Based: Scaling Exp into Scaling Time

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of skill-based game systems that use a flat-cost system in character creation but a scaling-cost system for advancement. That is, something that costs 2 points per level in creation might cost current level x 2 with exp. It effectively penalizes players for not min-maxing at character creation, as it’s way cheaper in the long run if you start with several useful traits maxed out and neglect median ranks in traits.

What the scaling costs are meant to do is create a more simulationist curve to advancement: of course it’s harder to master a skill than to pick up the basics, so the first rank costs a small fraction of moving from the penultimate to ultimate rank. But even with that stated goal, in the latest White Wolf game I’ve been playing, we’ve started to notice flaws. We have a five-member party where everyone started out with a high degree of skill in at least a couple of areas that compliment one another, so we can usually field at least one person against any given challenge. Since there’s only the lowest pressure to shore up our weaker traits, it only makes sense to save up our exp until we can buy something really flashy (generally the next highest rank in our powers). The GM is stuck in a weird situation where our group can pretty easily roll over most of the opponents in his setting book, because even though those NPCs technically have tons more exp than us, they’ve diversified it across a bunch of traits. We’re magical idiot savants, fantastically skilled at a couple of meaningful areas and worthless at anything else. And the system makes that a great idea.

And, as a secondary concern (which is a problem with virtually every game that doesn’t require training time), we’ve gone from newly awakened nobodies to magical powerhouses in only a couple months of game time. There’s no reason for us to take a break longer than it takes us to heal up, recover mana, and refill willpower. So even though the GM would like us to spend some time in magical study, it doesn’t really make any sense for us to do so.

That’s a long intro to explain the background of the system below. It’s designed to:

  • Minimize the differences between buying something at chargen and during play
  • Encourage players to diversify spending rather than just buying the flashiest traits
  • Enforce a “realistic” time frame on learning skills

Fixed Costs

The following charts are tuned to new WoD (new level) and old WoD (current level), but should be applicable with minor modification to any game that uses a level multiplier for exp costs.

New WoD

New Level x 5 dots* 10 dots
1 3 6
2 5 11
3 8 17
4 10 22
5 13 28
6 15 33
7 18 39
8 20 44

* The fifth dot costs double as in character creation.

Old WoD

Current Level x* 5 dots 10 dots
1 2 5
2 5 9
3 7 14
4 9 19
5 12 23
6 14 28
7 16 33
8 18 37

* The costs are based on a fixed cost for the first dot equal to about 150% the cost of the second dot (e.g., skills cost 3 points for the first dot in oWoD and 2 for the second).

Examples

In oWoD, attributes cost current level x 4 for a five-dot progression. Looking at the chart above, they now costs 9 points per dot. Similarly, Willpower costs current level x 1 for a ten-dot progression. On the chart, that becomes 5 points per dot.

In nWoD, attributes cost new level x 5 for a five-dot progression, so they now cost 13 points per dot (and the fifth dot costs 26). Meanwhile, Willpower becomes a flat 8 points per dot, so that remains unchanged.

Enforced Time

Standard Method

Characters can spend one exp per week per trait. If they don’t have enough saved exp on hand at the end of the week for all the traits they want, they didn’t learn anything that week and don’t get to “buy the week back” when more exp is gained. But if they have lots of exp, they can be working on several traits at once. This is effectively paying for the trait on layaway: when the last point of exp goes into the trait, it is increased on the character sheet immediately.

The GM may additionally want to give out bonus training that is effectively extra exp that can ignore the time restrictions. This will generally be something the PCs were focused on during the adventure and could justify learning faster due to on-the-job training. For example, in an adventure where everyone learned a ton about the occult, instead of 4 general exp the GM might give out 2 general exp and 2 exp that went straight into the Occult skill (and the players could spend another point of exp into Occult for their regular weekly increases).

Players will likely either want a character sheet with room next to every trait to track exp spent, or a scratch sheet to keep track of which traits are being worked on. The GM will likely want to pick a day of the game week that’s exp day, and remember to call it out at the table (“It’s Sunday morning, spend your exp!”).

Slightly More Bookkeeping Method

The above method does make more expensive traits take longer to learn, but doesn’t capture the geometric feel of the multiplicative exp. That is, under this system, the fourth dot takes just as long to learn as the second. If you’d like to retain some of that feel, you can make lower point values take less time to pick up than higher.

The simplest way to do that is to let the players put two points of exp into a skill per week if they’re trying to buy rank 1 or 2 and only half a point in per week (or one every other week) if they’re trying to buy rank 5.

In nWoD, that means a character completely untrained in a skill (and with ample exp to spend every week but no bonus exp) gains rank 1 in four weeks, rank 2 after 8 weeks total, rank 3 after 16 weeks total, rank 4 after 24 weeks total, and rank 5 after 56 weeks total. Meanwhile, a x6 power gains rank 1 in 8 weeks, rank 2 in 15 weeks total, rank 3 in 30 weeks total, rank 4 in 45 weeks total, and rank 5 after 105 weeks.

If you have enough downtime that a year still seems too fast to go from untrained to mastery in a skill, you can slow the progression down even more. Do keep in mind that doing so will make learning more expensive traits than skills (i.e., attributes and powers) take even more time. Make sure that your time progression leaves enough room for players to bother getting the last rank in a power if it takes over a year to go from 4 to 5.

And if, as a GM, you want to keep track of all the bookkeeping yourself, you can simply ask the players what they’re trying to learn and then tell them when they can level it up. Just one day you’ll be like, “all that time you spent learning X has paid off, you may increase it by one dot.” Your players might even be amazed at the way their characters grow along with their intentions but without their direct involvement.

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System Review: Mage: the Awakening, Conclusion

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And I Say It’ll Be Alright

I wonder if my issues with Mage: the Awakening aren’t my issues with the new World of Darkness in general.

In the 90s, the game lines were almost explicitly about taking everything resembling a horror or occult mythos and tossing it into a big melting pot. Original Vampire had pretty obvious influences from every major piece of Vampire genre fiction out there, and you could conceivably run a game where Near Dark collided head first with Necroscope by way of the Lost Boys if you had such a mind. Changeling made splats out of any kind of humanoid creature that could remotely be associated with a myth or faerie tale. And Mage was built from a lot of genuine occult beliefs attached to a substructure of the 1990s zeitgeist. The old WoD was, in many ways, set up so that you could just roll in with whatever mythology, horror, and pop culture background you had and find something relatable to build a character around.

Because of this, though, the old WoD lines could be considered a little immature. Drawing from every source imaginable for your setting introduces thematic dissonance, and it was hard to tell a player that she wasn’t matching the intended feel of the game line when she was clearly basing her roleplay on the obvious source material for her splat. The new WoD games, in addition to trying to clean up some of the metaplot bloat of the old lines, seem to have had a less explicit goal of homogenizing the character types so they could actually be directed at a specific story and theme, rather than being a strange amalgam of pop culture. The new WoD games are much more consistent in tone and intended direction.

Unfortunately, though, to my mind that makes them a little boring. While there’s a lot of stuff in these games, it’s all uniform enough that none of it pops out. Old Mage was all like “whoa, crazy kung fu monks and weird shaman guys and mad scientists and magical hackers!” New Mage is more nuanced, and asks you to have a strong idea for a character or game to impose on the setting, rather than those ideas popping out at you. There may actually be a lot more things you can do in the new setting without all the cruft from a few dozen other media properties fighting with you on what you want to do, but the text itself isn’t very exciting.

The rules are the same way.

New Mage has rules for magic that are all about minor bonuses and gradual upgrades in power. There’s much more consistency across different power types, and they’ve gone out of their way to make each arcana useful in as many typical game situations as possible. There’s less of a sense of odd imbalance like Life 3 giving you a huge bag of tricks from healing, to the best attack in the game, to shapeshifting, to stat boosting while Time 3 mostly just lets you get a few extra actions. There are clear and gradual paths to improvement, and a lot of fun to be had in figuring out how to get a few more dice for a useful effect.

But they’re lacking in the excitement of old Mage. That was a game that really wanted you to figure out the handful of incredibly unbalanced things you could do and make use of them as often as you were willing to soak up the Paradox. The first time I ever saw old Mage in action was a con game that ended with the macguffin pile of deadly toxic waste getting transmuted to water like it was nothing. I’ve had players cover themselves in frictionless force fields to escape at high velocity down a skyscraper’s stairwell. I’ve used that same one-trick Time speed power to take out enemies by accelerating just their heads so the blood rushed out of their brains faster than it could rush in. You could probably do some of these wacky, immature, exciting things in new Mage, but the rules are tuned to support a much more sedate and serious setting, so they’d be fighting you at every turn.

Ultimately, new Mage is a perfectly workable rules set. It’s got a lot of warts, but there aren’t any really glaring flaws to make it unplayable. Its only real sin is probably just being based on an updated but still aging 1990s rules set while dumping the idiosyncratic charm that made that rules set fun. That is, there are a lot of modern game engines in which one could more easily run a consistently toned and subtle modern occult game, and it’s weird to have dropped the gonzo 1990s tone of the setting while keeping all the cruft of a 1990s rules engine. New Mage is completely serviceable, but that’s not really high praise for a successor to a game that still stirs the imagination a decade later.

But I have to admit I could easily be succumbing to nostalgia, and, if Mage: the Awakening was the game I had played first, maybe I’d be just as excited about that.

System Review: Mage: the Awakening, Part 3

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Miscellaneous Rules

Welcome to Paradox

Earlier, I described this game as “Mages in Trenchcoats” with the intention that this game has a far lower gonzoness cap than old Mage. Superficially, it’s set up so starting characters don’t have access to the really exciting spells until quite a while into progression, and Paradox is easier to come by. The tone indicates that you’re meant to really try to keep all this stuff secret.

But then one might look more closely at the rules and realize that Highlander was big on trenchcoats, too: gonzo swordfights in trenchcoats. In particular, Paradox isn’t nearly as bad in this game as it was in old Mage. There are several ways to mitigate it outright (from magical tools to spending mana), and when you do take it you still have options. The first is to take it as backlash and soak up a couple of points of bashing damage; it can’t be healed with magic, but it will be gone on its own pretty quickly. IIRC, Paradox damage in old Mage lasted a lot longer. Even if you choose to let the Paradox flow into the world and cause havoc, it’s more on the order of cool special effects like electrical storms, temporary insanity to roleplay, and scary eyes than real drawbacks. For most characters, they only last for a scene. Eventually you start summoning antagonistic spirits, but the lower order effects aren’t actually that terrible.

So behind the surface caveat to avoid going vulgar whenever you can, because it will cause Paradox, there’s an actual realization that it probably won’t be too bad until you do it a lot. I’m not sure whether this is a case of the rules not supporting the intended feel of the game, or just the intended feel of the game being unclear from a superficial reading.

One Permanent Willpower

One thing the game does, just as an aside, that really bugs me is rely on “spend a permanent dot of Willpower” for anything that needs to be lasting. In particular, making a spell permanent or creating a magic item is based on this cost, as are other things like inducting apprentices into your magical legacy. This reminds me of the old joke from 2nd Edition D&D about the poor foolish wizard that used up all his permanent Constitution to make a bag of +1 sling stones: the enchant an item spell consumed a permanent resource there as well. Since restoring an expended Willpower is a fixed and fairly expensive experience cost, this system pretty much implicitly makes permanent items or effects not worth it unless they’re incredibly powerful. Cool little magical doo dads that perform one minor function can’t cost less to make than world-shaking items of power, so PCs are unlikely to fiddle with them. Which makes me sad.

Rituals, Durations, and Spell Limits

An area where new Mage has a pretty significant leg up on old is structure for non-instant casting. Old Mage likes to talk a lot about rituals, but I can’t recall much support for them since there wasn’t a real limitation against making an extended casting in regular combat rounds rather than over hours. The newer game has a fixed divide: if you want to make more than one roll toward a spell, you have to go to a ritual casting mode with some fixed timing (hours rather than seconds).

Even with the greater focus on the difficulty of a ritual, you could still build up a lot of successes with an extended casting. In particular, it’s not hard to make any spell with a base duration of a scene last a long time. To counter this, the game makes a big deal about how many active spells you can have at all, and how many buffs you can have on yourself before taking major penalties. To be fair, old Mage didn’t make having a lot of buffs nearly as attractive as new, but it was pretty easy to stack stuff up if you had a mind to, and that could have been troublesome. I still remember a rote concept of mine that I think would have been legal that would have allowed ritually building up a pretty obnoxious pool of aggravated damage blasts to be used at will. New Mage at least puts some structure on that kind of game breakage.

Organization

On reading back though the rulebook for these reviews, I have to admit that part of my problem with the game is just that there’s a lot of cool stuff that you may never notice if you don’t make a concentrated effort to read the book cover to cover again once you have a firm grasp on the basics. Old Mage, as I’ve noted before, had some teething pains for new players, particularly with grokking paradigms, but once you got over a few conceptual hurdles you’d have players operating at a pretty high effectiveness as far as being able to make full use of the available rules options. New Mage has a lot of cool stuff that’s just buried in the text. You can chant in the language of magic to make spells more potent. You can bind spells to sigils to make them last longer. You can weave spells together to cast a multi-purpose effect or have multiple minor buffs only count as one for spell limits. All of these are cool things that will probably drastically change how I interface with the game system now that I’ve found them, and they’re all mixed arbitrarily throughout a pretty dense rules chapter.

A large part of the problem is that the headings are in a hard-to-read cursive font in reflective bronze ink (and the sidebars are often in the same ink). But even were the text easy to read, the information is not at all organized well. There are several pages of charts for modifications to spells that are mostly a complete reprint (one’s for fast cast spells and one’s for rituals, but the only difference is that “drop 2 more dice” is replaced with “spend 1 more success” all the way across). Some things are called out in sidebars that break weirdly across pages. The spell effects listings are in three columns with minimal column breaks (the text wraps as it will for the most part).

If this game had been given to an editor and/or layout designer more focused on making a whole raft of fiddly but interesting rules easily accessible, rather than going for graphical style and dense prose, this could have been a better game. Even if it would have been technically the same game… layout is more important than a lot of people seem to realize.

Conclusion

System Review: Mage: the Awakening, Part 2

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Magic Basics

For those that haven’t played old or new Mage, a brief primer: all spellcasting revolves around a collection of nine or ten conceptual groupings of magic (“Spheres” in old, “Arcana” in new). You raise these elements in a similar fashion to any other power group in WoD: by spending character points to fill in dots. The groupings are:

  • Correspondence/Space: Teleportation, scrying, and more strange manipulations of positions
  • Entropy/Fate & Death: Manipulating probability and decay (this is two arcana in new Mage, splitting Entropy in half and each gaining a few new tricks)
  • Forces: Manipulation of physics, particularly fire, cold, light, sound, and electricity
  • Life: Manipulation of biology, including transformations and healing
  • Mind: Anything having to do with mind reading or control
  • Matter: Manipulation of chemistry, letting you affect basically any non-living matter
  • Prime: Tricks to let you get more mileage out of the quintessence/mana resource of the game
  • Time: Speeding up time, precognition, postcognition, and trying to time travel if you’re really powerful
  • Spirit: Interacting with and summoning the spirit world (both nature spirits and ghosts in old Mage, but ghosts moved to Death in new)

These are conceptually sound, and basically survived intact through two revisions of old Mage and into the new edition. The important thing to consider is that they do strongly define how mages break down in specialization. The guy with Correspondence is going to scry and teleport all the time. The girl with Life is going to focus on buffing herself physically and healing. In typical WoD style, it will be a long time before you have a broad base of competency, so often the game breaks down to using your “hammer” of specialized magic type to turn your problems into nails.

The other major similarity across both editions is the idea of Paradox. Effectively, reality thinks magic is wrong, and punishes mages in various ways for using it in an obvious fashion. If you throw a fireball or teleport across town, you’re going to take Paradox as either damage or other nasty results. So you can’t go all out very often. Instead, magic is meant to be subtle (“coincidental” in old, “covert” in new): magic that would either go completely unnoticed or could be justified easily as something weird but possible.

While I’ll probably talk later about how there’s actually a pretty big difference in how the two editions handle this, the takeaway is that it sets a pretty strong limitation on player character behavior. Mages will spend a lot of their time doing research (sensory magic is usually totally fine) and building up subtle buffs, and may never get to flinging around fireballs unless things have gotten very dangerous. In either edition, a player that attempts to walk in and play a classic fantasy mage is going to quickly be beaten down by Paradox.

Rote Learning

Perhaps the biggest surprise transitioning to new Mage from old is the rotes. Old Mage always toyed around with the idea of a rote—a predefined “spell” that you could use more easily than making it up as you went—but the mechanical support for them was always somewhat incomplete. The thing was, the rules at their base level really wanted you to be coming up with crazy things to do with your magic on the fly, so you weren’t really punished in any way for doing so. You could say, “Hey, can I combine Life and Time to lock onto that guy and rewind to see where he’s been?” and if your GM bought it, you could do it. If you wound up doing that a lot, you might buy it as a rote and get a small bonus for using it, but the watchword was experimentation.

New Mage still allows this, but there are much more extensive breakdowns of what can be done at each level of each arcana, and they’re pre-packaged as rotes. Each of these often has a special case rule: this effect gives you armor equal to X for Y duration, that effect allows you to generate strength equal to X and dexterity equal to Y for concentration duration. In old Mage, the spheres would often give you several big ideas of what you could do, but they weren’t broken down with as much granularity and, more importantly, they generally referred you back to a single chart for things you could do with a given result (as far as damage, duration, range, targets, etc.).

It used to be a big learning curve for players to figure out how to interface with the system. Old Mage was daunting. The inclusion of extensive lists of predefined cool things you can do and exactly how you do them is almost certainly a boon to new players. I do wonder if it’s ultimately a limitation to experienced players, however: in old Mage, you could very quickly memorize the conceptual space available to your spheres and then you only needed the two page global chart to basically figure out the results for anything you wanted to do (and even that was pretty easy to remember for simple things). Nearly twenty sessions in with new Mage and we’re still having to look up the particular effect description to figure out how it works.

But what really bothers me about these rotes is that they’re very arbitrary. The proudest nail on that front is mana costs. Some rotes require you to spend mana to use them or allow you to spend mana for a special effect. Others are completely free. In almost every case, this seems to be purely a game balance decision without any real justification in the world fiction. Armor spells let you spend mana to raise the duration to a day so they can be fire and forget and you don’t have to work out the successes to duration chart. Invisibility requires you to spend mana to use it, even though every other effect at that level is free to use, probably because GMs don’t want their PCs to be invisible all the time. Fireballs are free (at least as often as you want to suck up the Paradox), even though in that case you’re actually creating energy such that spending mana might be justified.

Further, the rotes listed in the book use the arbitrary skill combinations that I disliked so much in Fading Suns and original Changeling: when you don’t have a rote written on your sheet, you just roll your arcana rating plus your Gnosis (your central magical “level” stat), but when you do have a rote you replace the Gnosis with an attribute plus ability. This attribute plus ability is usually very arbitrary: though they do try to make the ability one of the ones that is the specialty of the mystical order that invented the rote, each effect is seemingly randomly assigned to an order. Manipulating light has a rote combo used by group X, but manipulating sound (at the same level of Forces) uses group Y’s justification. And even if the ability is germane to the order, the attribute is almost completely arbitrary: one of the players in our group was annoyed that his magical archetype told him not to worry about mental attributes, but then all of the effects for that archetype’s favored arcana used mental attributes in their rotes.

Even if you happen to find a rote where the combo is something you’re decent at (or the GM is nice enough to let you find a custom rote that deliberately plays to your strength), the benefit is often marginal. Given that characters start with fairly limited points and spend the same experience pool on arcana, attributes, abilities, and rotes, but have a secondary experience pool that’s used to raise Gnosis, replacing Gnosis for an effect with an attribute plus ability is often going to be a fairly minor improvement unless it happens to be something you’ve focused on. With similar rates of increase between my normal and Gnosis exp, my character is very close to getting four dice from Gnosis, but still has only a small handful of attribute plus ability combinations that are better than four dice. So there’s a huge part of the game that I’m unlikely to interact with very much beyond the rotes I got as a bonus at character creation unless the GM keeps ignoring the book and letting us learn rotes tailored to our focus traits. Which isn’t really ideal.

Part 3

System Review: Mage: the Awakening, Part 1

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The Sun Is Out for Another Day

The accounting is difficult, particularly over a decade later and including crossover games, but I think I wound up running or playing in more sessions of Mage: the Ascension back in the day than any of the other World of Darkness line. Vampire is up there, given a particularly long Giovanni Chronicles run in college, and Changeling probably stands out as the game I’ve run most, but it’s hard to compete with Mage for player buy-in. Distilling all the narrative power of Hackers, The Matrix, Kiss of the Dragon, and more into a single RPG where you get to play modern-day wizards was pretty much like crack for a late-1990s gamer.

So when Harbinger started running the new WoD version, Mage: the Awakening, earlier this year, I was down. We’re nearly twenty sessions in at this point, and I’ve mostly reached the point where I’m not constantly wrong about my expectations about how a rule should work. Awakening is a pretty different game than Ascension, despite significant shared terminology and rules structure. A lot of the differences are in the setting, of course, as the game is clearly shooting for a low key mages in trenchcoats feel as advertised in the pre-1993 products, rather than the sometimes gonzo Matrix-esque battle of occult misfits vs. their technological overlords that was Ascension. But rules follow fiction pretty heavily in this edition, so the impact of the setting has had a pretty profound effect on the rules.

I’m a huge fan of Ascension, but I understand that it had its own problems. I’ll do my best to take off the rose colored lenses and give Awakening a fair shake. Will I succeed? I guess we’ll find out.

Core Mechanics

The very basic dice mechanic for new WoD is the same as old WoD: combine attribute and ability into a big fistful of dice and let fly. Then count dice that meet or exceed a target number and consider those successes. Use those successes to produce a result.

Most significant is that, like some of the older non-WoD games like the Aeon-verse, the dice go up against a fixed difficulty rather than the GM altering the target number based on the situation. For most of the older fixed-target games, that target was 7. For new WoD, it’s 8.

I didn’t really understand how much a normal DC of 6 had made on my old assumptions about White Wolf’s dice engine. A fixed difficulty of 8 makes a pretty profound difference in the probability of success. To wit, even without a “1s cancel successes” rule, even a big handful of dice is likely to roll few successes. You’re still statistically likely to get at least one success on 3-4 dice, but additional successes are more elusive. We have a common quote at the table: “look at all those 7s.”

This creates the first profound difference between old Mage and new Mage. In the previous game, at least the way I always saw it played, there was a huge meta game for spellcasting rolls of always trying to scrape together enough situational modifiers to lower the target to the minimum difficulty of 3. This was balanced by the fact that you usually weren’t going to be rolling many dice for your casting rolls. Awakening has to turn this on its head: the new mini-game is trying to roll as many dice as possible for an effect you want to succeed.

The dovetails directly into the next major mechanic difference between old and new WoD: dice penalties. Difficulty in the game is now only rarely a success threshold (because getting more than one success isn’t reliable even for large pools), and never a change to the target number (except maybe in extremely rare circumstances). Instead, difficulty is often in the form of a penalty to your dice pool (e.g., “-4 dice to try this because it’s hard”). This is another pretty significant change: dropping dice against a target number of 8 is far more likely to produce completely failure than raising difficulty to 9 or 10 ever could in old WoD: 10 dice still had a 90% chance of success against difficulty 9, but a steep enough die penalty can reduce an expert to unreliable pretty quickly.

Finally, the least significant but perhaps most exciting difference in the two dice engines is rolling 10s. In old WoD, you could often reroll 10s for extra successes on your best attributes or abilities. In the new system, every 10 explodes in this way. This is exciting when it happens, but does have the downside of making successes periodically very swingy. I’ve frequently seen two players roll for a task and the one with a lot of dice gets a success or two while the one with only a couple gets a series of 10s and lots of successes. Does the excitement balance the reduced predictability of the results? Probably, but mostly because I doubt there are many GMs banking on “he only has 5 dice, so he can only get 5 successes.”

Part 2

Vampire: Older Character Gen

Comments Off on Vampire: Older Character Gen

This is intended to allow older vampire characters to coexist with younger ones in the same PC group: age provides definite improved character stats, but youth includes some significant bonuses regarding quick advancement and activity within the setting.

For five-dot traits, First dot costs half, fourth dot costs double, fifth dot costs triple (for base points and freebies). Out-of-clan disciplines cost one extra point per dot.

If generation allows these to go over 5, each dot costs new level (times base freebie cost with freebies).

Willpower, Humanity (and any other 10-dot traits) costs 2 freebies up to 5, 3 freebies up to 8, and 4 freebies up to 10.

Age Attributes Skills Disc. Bg. Morality WP Hum. Free
1 9/6/3 10/7/4 2 4 10 3 7 20
2 10/6/3 11/8/5 3 6 10 3 7 30
3 10/7/3 12/9/6 5 8 9 4 7 40
4 10/7/4 13/10/7 7 10 9 4 6 50
5 11/7/4 14/11/8 9 12 8 5 6 70
6 11/8/4 15/12/9 11 14 8 5 6 90
7 11/8/5 16/13/10 13 16 7 6 5 120
8 12/8/5 17/14/11 15 18 7 6 5 150
9 12/9/5 18/15/12 17 20 6 7 5 200
10 12/9/6 19/16/13 19 22 6 7 4 250

Age

  1. Newly Embraced (0-4 years)
  2. A few years undead (5-10 years)
  3. Nearly a generation gone (11-22 years)
  4. Early 20th Century birth (23-46 years)
  5. All contemporaries are dead (47-94 years)
  6. They call me Ancilla now (95-190 years)
  7. Few active are older than I (191-382 years)
  8. Am I an elder already? (383-766 years)
  9. Torpor is an old friend (767-1534 years)
  10. I am a whisper of the past (1535-3070 years)

Benefits and Consequences of Age:

  • All chargen points are increased with Age
  • Roll exp as dice vs. diff equal to Age to keep
  • Roll for downtime actions is diff equal to Age
  • Characters must take one dangerous secret or similar flaw per level of age
  • Characters may have to roll against Age to avoid Torpor in sessile situations

Downtime Actions

Roll 1d per week of downtime vs. Age, each becomes a point that can be placed in various categories; points stack until expended or attacked by a rival

  • Culture: Spend to add dice to social dice among supernatural, persuasion against mortals
  • Exploration: Spend to add dice when superior knowledge of territory would be helpful
  • Planning: Spend to add dice when the situation could have been prepared for in advance
  • Power: Spend to declare local control/influence (1-10 scale for minor to major manipulations)
  • Reputation: Spend for bonus social dice among mortals, intimidation against supernatural
  • Secrets: Spend to add dice when having an ear to the ground might help against a supernatural target
  • Security: Spend to add dice to defensive rolls in locations that could be considered secure
  • Study: Spend to add dice to extended action supernatural effects or knowledge rolls
  • Sustenance: Spend to automatically recover blood points when off screen (One point per BP)
  • Wealth: Spend to declare access to specialized equipment or convert to raw cash: roll 1d10 per point spent, total results, sum x 100 is dollar value

System Review: White Wolf, Conclusion

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White Wolf is not a system to use for binary results. A halfway competent character will get at least one success, on average, on a roll of almost any difficulty. Some systems will allow the GM to set a difficulty where failure is an option, success is not assured, and it takes a really exceptional character to get better than a minimum result. That isn’t White Wolf. It’s not hugely improbable that someone with four dice can get just as many successes as someone with eight.

Instead, White Wolf’s system does a good job of modeling the kinds of games that White Wolf makes: no character is an order of magnitude more competent than any other character, almost any action willingly undertaken will be successful to some degree, and victory hinges on luck, tactics, and access to wicked cool powers. In short, it’s a game where characters increase in robustness but don’t become drastically more potent; unlike in many other systems, a specialized starting character differs from the same character after months of play only in degree, not in magnitude.

Straight out of the box, it’s not a great system to use for high fantasy or epic superheroics (though Exalted and Aberrant added enough wicked cool powers to tilt the balance) simply because enough opponents with minimal attack skills remain threatening throughout a character’s career in a way they don’t in linear systems. Instead, it’s a perfect fit for the street-level games that the World of Darkness was built on, where a rag-tag band of PCs really can take on the establishment and succeed in a way they couldn’t if more experienced opponents were completely out of their league. It’s ideal for stories about competent individuals that nearly always succeed at the tasks they’ve set for themselves, but just might not do so well enough or in sufficient time to gain the outcome they were looking for.  These are the kind of stories the World of Darkness was built around, in my opinion, and the system works better to tell them than a roll and add system ever would.

Plus, rolling fistfuls of dice is incredibly fun.

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