I’ve been looking at the new World of Darkness material. I thought this would be an appropriate place to share my thoughts:
I thought this was kinda sad. The old WoD material had a number of flaws (erratic editing being a major issue), and I’ll grant that it sorta assumed you’d be nailed down into one of their redefined roles (one of the reasons vampire clans etc. proliferated - it was an implicit atempt to create new roles). The new stuff seems to swing too far in the other direction.
The base WoD book is not too shabby. It’s well illustrated, if a bit blandly, and presents the material well. The new magic mechanic (supernatural attunement levels) isn’t quite to my taste, but it works well with the rest of this. (I have an objection to it later, but grant me a moment). I’m glad they cleaned up and nailed down the attribute/skill system, but I’m not certain they really cleaned up the confusion between Presence and Manipulation. The morality system looks fine, but takes some real work by the GM to nail it down. The book is rather vague about what some of the sins actually involve. It also seems to assume you live in helf-decent Judeo-Christian-based western democracy, which is not neccesarily a valid assumption in the WoD.
On the whole, though, the book is worth the price and presents the material well.
I have a problem with some of the expandion material, though. In addition to being a wee bit overpriced, it’s just not all that exciting. It doesn’t chart any new direction, and at best is just a stripped-down version fo what we already had. Organization is poor, and they keep trying to overlay the old character abilities and magic onto the new magic system, which is just plain clunky. The result is rather unpleasant and overly complicated.
Take the new Mage, for instance. Outside of using an overly-complicated system, you really can’t do nearly as much. In fact, taking a look there, Mages are really less-well off than a “mere” Sorcerer back in the old WoD material! They have few more powers, are only slightly more flexible, and face huge obstacles to using magic freely.
A second flaw, and probably much more serious than a slightly clunkly magic system, is the nature of the game organizations. Problematically, they’ve become exceptionally bland. After reading the Mage material concerning mage groups thrice, I realized I still couldn’t even name one, much less describe it or its goals. This pattern repeats. A lot. They have a vague philosophical idea, but no real organization, goals, or even methods. As a player and GM,. I’m not actually sure what to do with them. Without a lot of added work, they don’t add anything to either my characters or my games.
The idea of reorganizing the various clans, tribes, traditions, etc. into smaller groups with more subdivisions is not a bad idea. But these seem to be devoid of personality and character. Lastly, they seem to have little to no actual poewr or purpose. There’s no real competition among groups anymore.
Let me expand that point. In WoD, you always had built-in enemies and allies. There were always groups competing at one another’s expense (perhaps a bit too much and too illogically, where they wanted different resources anyway). It meant that there were always numerous goals, objectives, and problems to work on. These might be quite difficult - the PC’s are unlikely to completely alter the world by themselves. But they could certainly push it in a given direction.
The new material doesn’t really have that. As a Mage, there’s no real reason for me to interact with or take notice of other mages. They can give me little and have little to no reason to compete with me. Vampire and Werewolf are somewhat better, but still have some serious problems in this regard. Sure, the Werewolves are “guardians of the spirit realm” or something, but humans take care of themselves and the spirits largely take care of themselves, so it’s not clear what you actually ought to do. Vampire has done away with most of the political groups - they’re still here, but the ones available to PC’s don’t really do much.
My last criticism has to do with the hat they rant an awful lot about how being a magical being sucks. Guys, there’s a limit. Wraith died because of this same kind of treatment, and had many of the same prioblems. After a while, it just gets old. In the first WoD book I read, I enjoyed the mini-stories. BY now, it’s a pretty tired gimmick. If I wanted to read an angsty noir whine-fest, I’d just go buy an Anne Rice book.
And that’s a shame, because there are good ideas in here. The idea of smoothing out the lumps in the system was a good one, but the execution comes off seriously flawed. Realistically, this just isn’t much of an RPG per se: I’m fine with character interaction and politicking, but there needs to be something behind it: magic, goals, and character. Otherwise, I can just hang out and chat with the people I’m playing with instead. I think, in fact, that the new books were designed to appeal to one particular subset of gamers of the old material: for them it’s great, but I just don’t see that “upgrading” is worth the sticker price or shelf space. I wasn’t a huge fan of the old stuff, but I enjoy reading it and playing it casually. It had a lot of flaws, but I think the new material erred in how it tried to fix them.
Main Good Points (I’m a little tired, so I’m going to do this quick)
- More definition on the combat system, with some fewer rolls to speed things up. As it should be.
- Magic is better integrated into the basic rules; my issues with it revolve around its implementation into the specific character rules.
- More straightforward character groups and grouping. This would have been a major step forward if the groups had really defined some kind of political/social role.
Those are non-trivial improvements.
As an adedum, I was talking with my mixed feelings toward the new books over, and my fellow RPG’er had an interesting insight: they had removed or stomped on everything anyone ever complained about. I dunno if it’s true, but it does makes sense. The problem does kinda look like they tried to please everyone - but that entailed removing so much (defined character roles, over the top powers, etc.).
All in all, I can’t give it more than a 5 out of 10. Attractive books, solid art if not spectactular visuals, and good overall presentation, but I can’t help but feel like I’d rather collect some neat old books to fill out my previous collection.