Yeah, that was always the World of Darkness’s strength (the rules, generally not so much…)
Yeah, that’s one reason I’ve finally switched back from Chronicles of Darkness (was: New World of Darkness) to World of Darkness (was: Old World of Darkness). They finally fixed the combat rules so that I don’t hate them.
It used to be that each attack involved four rolls: aggressor rolls to attack, defender rolls to dodge, aggressor rolls for damage, defender rolls to “soak” (reduce that damage). And there were various mechanics that let you attack multiple times per turn! The end result was an absolute slog that was no fun at all.
This stemmed from trying to imitate D&D too closely. The authors knew that D&D’s greatest strength was its turn-based combat system, and tried to emulate that, without understanding why it was the greatest strength.
You see, in D&D, your stats…generally don’t matter much. Here’s a real-world example from last week: the party is trying to find a safe trail through a forest. My rogue spent their life on the streets of Fantasy Chicago and thus has no proficiency in this (+0). My roommate’s bloodhunter spent their life in the Fantasy Wild West and thus is very proficient in this (+2). What do you think are the odds that this matters at all?
The answer is 10%. Only 10% of the time will the difference between +0 and +2 have any impact on the situation, since it’s resolved with a single roll of a single d20. And thus my rogue excelled and the bloodhunter failed completely. This is, as you might imagine, unsatisfying.
And the reason for this is that D&D’s dice system is built around the assumption that you’re making a new roll every six seconds or less! When you’re rolling that often, the difference between +0 and +2 is just about perfect: both players can hit some of the time, but the one with the good stats tends to hit more. This is what the dice system was designed for, and it becomes awkward and clunky when taken out of that environment.
World of Darkness saw the problems with D&D’s dice system outside of combat, and fixed them with a dice pool system, where your stats determine how many dice you roll. This makes the difference between +0 and +2 very significant (two extra dice makes you not only more likely to succeed, but more consistent in your success), and they also gave the player more ways to affect the outcome of their dice rolls. (A lot of systems have something like this nowadays; D&D is a bit of an outlier in not really letting players say “this is the really important d20 roll that I really want to succeed”. That’s why more recent D&D books have been handing out inspiration (points that let you reroll a single d20 once) like candy.)
Except…they didn’t realize that this system is totally unsuited for D&D-style “make a new roll every six seconds or more” combat. People are making up to six attacks per turn, each attack involves four rolls, and your stats have a huge impact on the probability of success? The result of that is that the person with better combat stats almost always wins, but it takes an hour to determine that every time. It also generally ditched D&D’s assumption of tactical combat on a grid, which took out one of the most significant ways players could affect combat. It was miserable.
Chronicles/New World of Darkness was a reimagining of the Old World of Darkness that tried to jettison all the cruft from the 90s and apply those lessons to something new. And it was great! It simplified combat significantly, for example, and got rid of a lot of the stifling metaplot (“this is how the important NPCs are changing your game and you can’t meaningfully affect it”). But the combat system still couldn’t quite figure out what it wanted to be.
And then the IP owners realized that the metaplot was what made their setting unique and licensable—nobody wanted to license the Chronicles/New World “build-your-own-setting” toolkit when they could just…use those vibes to build their own setting without paying any license fees and get something like Vampyr (which is heavily inspired by the Chronicles/New World version of Vampire). So they abruptly killed off Chronicles/New World, retconned out the apocalypse that ended the Old World, and brought back the Old World as the only World of Darkness. But the new edition of it is finally using modern game design knowledge, and turned combat into something fun! It’s a lot mechanically cleaner, smoother, and more elegant than even Chronicles/New World was. So that’s become my favorite World of Darkness edition now.
P.S. As you might have guessed, I’m fascinated by the theory of game design, so things like “what does this dice system incentivize” are my favorite parts of trying a new game. The Powered by the Apocalypse system, for example, has one crucial little sleight of hand at the core of its mechanics. You’re rolling 2d6 and adding a modifier; getting a 7 is just barely enough to succeed, with some sort of cost or drawback attached. But of course, even with a modifier of +0, a 7 is the most likely roll of 2d6! The books avoid pointing this out, but the system is designed so that most of the time you will just barely succeed with a cost attached. In other words, the system is designed to say “yes, and…” as much as possible, while still feeling like you almost failed, in order to set a particular mood.
(Why is it good to feel like you almost failed? Well, there’s a famous paradox about bronze medal winners being happier than silver medal winners, even though the silver medal is clearly better than bronze. The silver medal winner sees how close they were to getting the gold; the bronze medal winner sees how close they were to not getting a medal at all!)
@Draconis Very interesting.
But I want add for @KADW : If you really want to know how TTRPGs are, I recommend:
Find a person who is willing to be the gamemaster. Play whatever rules and world he wants to run.
If that’s not possible you have to “jump into the water” and master it yourself.
I will see your angst about the oWoD/nWoD combat system and raise you having run and played multiple Exalted campaigns, which had most of the same problems except dialed up to 11 I actually found nWoD/CoD combat worked reasonably well for mortals-level games, though – it was reasonably quick and injected enough chaos that “slightly bigger dicepool always wins” didn’t feel quite so inevitable. It also got wonky very quick when you put in supernatural abilities; I played some nMage and it was very clear that the players’ sense of restraint in how much they wanted to cheese the system was the only thing that kept combat from going completely off the rails (well, combat and everything else).
Anyway, good to know the new/old WoD system is better – I haven’t checked it out, due to not having a regular group and some lingering sense that there was weird politics around the Paradox version of “White Wolf”. But might need to take a look (have they gotten to Mage yet? That was always my favorite).
Only Vampire and Hunter at the moment, with Werewolf allegedly coming soon. Vampire is solidly built and well developed, but they’ve recently had a change of leadership and it seems the focus is now on reading the books rather than playing with the books. As a result the Hunter corebook has a lot of words dedicated to themes and moods and very few dedicated to actually playing the game; they decided to not give any guidance for “how to investigate things” or “how to do combat” or “how to pace a story” in favor of philosophizing about what it means to hunt monsters.
So you’re saying as an old-school White Wolf fan, I should be right at home?
(I feel like dumping on WW is an integral part of liking them and their games)
You may or may not be surprised to hear that this change in direction started when they brought Achilli back to lead the development.
But hey, at least the new team hasn’t caused any international incidents yet! Which is better than some of the previous ones!