Number zero, the one to keep in mind for all of the below choices, is this: remember your Willpower. Even if you completely ignored your resolve and composure attributes back during character creation, you have a minimum willpower score of two. Willpower can be spent to give you three extra dice for an action, such as running the hell away from the monster or staying extra quiet and still so the monster goes past without noticing you or even kicking the monster extra hard in the weak point you found. It can also increase your defenses, both against external attacks and supernatural abilities that seek to harm your body, mind, or spirit. It is an invaluable resource for survival which you should be aware of.
Number one, retreat is seldom a bad idea. Running away from or at least putting distance between yourself and something lethal is a universally good idea. In the world of supernatural horror fleeing is a common way to live through an adventure. Call of Cthulhu players likely have this one down already but people entering the system from Dungeons and Dragons or other combat focused adventuring games might have a harder time figuring this out. The only times when running away is a bad idea are when you know you don’t be able to outrun the threat or when running away will result in certain death. If you are trapped inside an area unable to reach safety or move far enough to change your surroundings then you might still escape the immediate threat. Remember that unless something is ridiculously faster than you, it can not chase you and attack you in the same round of combat. Normal human speed is between nine and eleven with twelve and thirteen being possible but less common. Even much faster creatures such as wolves don’t double this speed, so by running (move double your speed) you can be sure that the enemy can not simply move their normal speed and then attack, they must move double to follow you. Bear in mind that this works only in tactical combat. Once you leave “combat” and enter into a real foot chase the exact measure of your speed becomes less important. In the event you do become trapped in a foot chase with something much faster than yourself, remember a human’s simian advantages of mobility. Climb something, push things into the path, or use an access method which requires opposable thumbs (doors for example, knob doors in particular since, as we all know, dinosaurs can use handle open doors perfectly). None of these truly assure your victory, they are advantages you should think to employ if able.
Number two, if you can’t leave the area, try to get out of the way. World of Darkness has a dodge mechanic which can double your base defense against incoming attacks. Some merits in the system can increase this to even higher levels, such as Brawling Dodge or Weaponry Dodge. If your defense is low remember that you can spend a point of willpower to increase it by two against one attack. Even if your defense is normally one you can dodge and spend willpower to get it up to four. Cover adds significantly to your ability to evade attacks so putting solid objects between you and the monster or concealing yourself somehow greatly increase survivability.
Number three, stay the hell away from guns. I don’t mean your character shouldn’t have a gun (though in a horror game one has to wonder how useful a gun really is) but that you should get away from anybody using a gun. Guns are especially dangerous to mortals for two reasons: they inflict lethal damage and you can not use your defense against them. So if somebody shoots a gun at you they suffer no penalty to their roll (in fact they get a bonus based on the gun they use, someone with only one dexterity, one firearms, and a light pistol has a shooting dice pool of five). Even willpower can’t help you on this one since increasing your defense doesn’t help if defense doesn’t apply in the first place. Cover protects against firearms as does dropping prone. Solid cover is best, such as a large pillar, a pile of wooden boxes, or even a sheetrock wall. Any of these materials is helpful because the shooter must penetrate the object before they can harm you. There is additional benefit if the shooter can not see the target (your character in this case). If someone is shooting through an object then they are forced to make two separate die rolls. With partial cover some part of you is exposed so the cover doesn’t have to be pierced, the shooter just has to shoot around it. Whenever possible, dive to the ground behind something and then crawl to safety as quickly as you can. Be aware that if you are in a gun fight, any bonuses you would gain from cover are counted as penalties to your attack efforts.
Number four, let the heat die down. Wait for things to cool off. In most games this won’t really be an option but when you have the chance, make sure to take it. If you’ve been beaten up, try to lay low for an hour or two and recover from all those points of bashing damage. If you’ve been clawed or shot or burned or suffered any number of other life threatening issues you may want to wait a few days while your wounds close up. Damage carries over so if you go running ahead with your bashing damage still in place, farther bashing damage can force your minor wounds into larger wounds.
Number five, do not guess if you can avoid it. Making quick guesses or assumptions and then using them as the basis for a plan can lead to horrible tragedy for your character if the guess isn’t right. Also consider that there is often more than one angle to a fact. Let’s say the forest monster you’re dealing with chases you into your camp but then backs away from your camp fire and vanishes into the darkness. First guess is probably that it’s afraid of fire. What if it doesn’t care about fire at all, but hates the smell of smoke? Or maybe it can be harmed by that specific type of wood. Heck, maybe it just hates the color orange. These might seem unlikely until you consider the rather ridiculous things monsters can be frightened of or killed by in stories. The World of Darkness is inconsistent in that well known creatures play against known facts while more obscure ones will actually follow the oddities of the myths they come from. These obscure myths things can be studied, in game, to get more information.
Number six, have a back up plan. It isn’t fun to assume your primary plan is going to fail, probably makes you feel like you’re not an awesome hero. Well your character probably isn’t an awesome hero, they are an average person who really benefits from having a leg up on the dark creatures of nightmare. It’s always good to have a back up plan, even if that plan is just an escape route. Improvisation can save your character’s life as long as they have enough luck. But if you plan ahead then you don’t need to be lucky, or at least not as lucky.
World of Darkness is a game system created by White Wolf publishing. It’s a well known system linked with the love/hate genre of vampire games. The system has gone through many updates since its creation, adapting system alterations for each game in the series line, swapping out or adding skills and attributes as well as changing the supernatural powers system with each game. It went through three or four editions under the original World of Darkness heading until that line ended with the new millennium when all of the games linked with the system reached the end times and collapsed into a giant battle of some sort or other. By the end of the line all the systems had mingled into a large meta-plot mass with NPC characters and dozens of world ending threats. The current system completely disregards the events of these previous editions.
New World of Darkness is the renewed game line following the end of the original in 2004. The central game of New World of Darkness has not changed significantly since 2004 so the original core rulebook for the system is still valid, though you might want to have a look at the website to note any major errata changes. All of the supernatural supplemental games use the core mechanics with the same attributes, skills, and merit systems rather than being totally independent games. With earlier editions, updates were handled individually. Vampire: The Masquerade, which was the original World of Darkness game, went through three editions as the rules altered, as did Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Mage: The Ascension.
For this write up I’m going to be assuming you are playing mortal characters rather than using supernatural templates because each of the templates changes play so much that it becomes a game of its own. They will get their own write-ups later on. I’ll also be assuming that you’ve either looked through the rule book or have had someone (likely your storyteller if you’re a player) throw some of the game’s vocabulary at you.
Before beginning to play a World of Darkness game you will want your storyteller to be familiar with the central mechanic of the system as set out in the core book. The engine of the game is very simple: to resolve a conflict you roll a number of ten-sided dice. Eights, nines, and tens are success. Tens can be rerolled in an attempt to gain more successes. In most cases there are modifiers to your dice pool size based on circumstance and you only need a single success to move forward. The game calls these individual rolls instant or reflexive actions, depending on how much time they take your character to complete. Instant actions take a few seconds while reflexive actions take no time. Since three out of ten numbers result in success, a dice pool of three or four is enough to have a better than even chance at success in most tasks. You may also make opposed actions where your goal changes to getting more successes than someone (thing) else in a single roll. Extended actions are a catch all for things taking longer than a few moments. When performing an extended action, each roll represents a set amount of time working towards an established goal, like researching a place or person. You’ll continue rolling the same dice pool until you add up enough successes to get what you want, you run out of time, or you give up.
The dice pools you use for actions are determined by starting with one of your character’s attribute ratings then adding a skill rating. The attribute and skill used are based on the problem presented to your character. A glance through the skill section of the rulebook will give you a much better idea of how the game’s logic interprets each skill and likely uses for each of the skills. The attribute section of the book gives you similar background for each attribute and tells you what elements of your character they are used to create. These elements are secondary attributes, as opposed to the nine primary attributes. The ones you will run into on your character sheet are speed, health, willpower, initiative modifier, and defense.
Of the nine attributes intelligence, presence, and manipulation are not used to derive a secondary attribute. Composure is used in determining two of the secondary attributes listed above (initiative modifier and willpower), and is used as part of your perception roll (which isn’t on your sheet), so you should consider it carefully when making a character. Dexterity and wits are also used more than once. The lower of the two determines your character’s base defense, an extremely important element of combat. Dexterity also affects speed and wits effects your initiative and perception.
Reading the book or looking at a character sheet you’ve like found that all of your skills and attributes divided among mental, physical, and social sub-groups. Your attributes are also divided into subgroups as well: power, finesse, and resistance. This helps both storyteller and players to quickly determine the combination most fitting to the current problem. Power is used when attacking. Finesse is used when moving. Resistance is used when resisting. Simply determine which selection a given character’s action falls under and you have the attribute to use. Then select the skill from the fitting subgroup, add any modifiers the storyteller thinks are appropriate, and make the roll. The book makes numerous suggestions for general use combinations and modifiers. The storyteller should give players a feel for which skills will likely be needed during character creation.
In the World of Darkness rules regarding any type of creature are open and may not reflect real world legends and myths. In the supplement setting, Vampire: The Requiem, which uses the World of Darkness system, vampires hate the sun and fire but crosses and running water do nothing adverse to them. As a result, when running a game the players won’t be able to count on legends and folklore. The vampires they face might be completely unaffected by fire and they might be repelled by crosses. Ideally there is enough information in the scenario to give the players what they need to win, or at least survive, but not give them clear answers as to what they have encountered. A “by the books” mortal game never fully answers a character’s questions about the strangeness that they have to slog through, though the storyteller can explain it to the players afterwards.
The core book holds only a few example templates for mortal antagonists and ghost to use as threats so if you want a list of enemies to freely pull from this is not the system for you. Because the books hand you a toolbox to make your own monsters it’s very difficult for players to metagame by knowing the abilities of any given monster. Later books give you even more options for creating your own creatures, Hunter: The Vigil in particular. The system is designed for use with the Hunter game, which is about mortals fighting the supernatural, which makes it just as good when playing mortals who are bumping into the supernatural by surprise.
Monsters provided in various source books can give you an idea of the variety that World of Darkness seeks to encourage. Basically, think of something creepy or nasty and then build a monster around it. Don’t worry about it being fair, focus on frightening the players (this is a horror game after all). As long as the monster doesn’t kill them outright you probably don’t need to worry about over powering your creatures. If the creature feels underpowered you can increase the number involved. Your players should (hopefully) learn that trying to combat the monsters in a direct, Dungeons and Dragons style encounter is not going to work out in the character’s favor.
The storyteller should be careful not to kill the players outright with a nasty monster, because it’s pretty easy to do. The average character will have only seven boxes of health, a defense of two, and little to no armor. As a result, a monster with a dice pool of eight to ten is a major threat, especially if it has claws or teeth that can be lethal damage to the characters. With defense and armor taking maybe three or four dice out of the attacking pool, a monster could still roll six or seven dice and hit a player hard enough to inflict several boxes of lethal damage. This amount of damage is frightening because it takes a mortal character two days to heal one box of lethal damage. That makes it unlike that they will be healing during a given scenario. When possible, use bashing damage, which heals much faster (one every fifteen minutes). The threat of the bashing rolling into lethal is present but it gives players a little breathing room if they make a mistake.
We’ll begin by laying down the most general advise that can be given before playing any roleplaying game. Well, nearly any roleplaying game. The industry has some pretty odd ducks from independent publishers and “outside the box” designers. Anyway, the most basic materials you’ll need before you get started:
1) The game you want to play.
This is square one. Pick a game before you get anybody together. If you don’t than the players will either seize control and start sending your group in a spiral or bounce questions around without any choices being made. Having the game picked before anything else gets underway will save you alot of time.
2) People to play with
Friends are best. Do not game with people you don’t like. Once you start you won’t want to stop because it would mean breaking up an established group. Best not to establish until your pretty sure you want to hang around with everybody involved for several hours. Also make sure that all of your players can be around one another for several hours without problems breaking out.
3) Secure a place to game.
Different games have different requirements when it comes to ambience which we’ll address as we run through various games. A regularly available site to play is important to a continuing group.
4) Have dice, paper, and pencils on hand.
I lump dice in because most games use them but there are exceptions. Writing paper is nearly universally useful because people aren’t going to remember everything that happens perfectly. Maps and something to track numbers on is part of alot of main stream games. Virtually any game you play you’ll want to jot down a few notes about major events, especially the names of people or places.
Once you’ve properly secured these four basic elements you’ll be able to expand to the specific requirements of your particular game.
When I’m getting ready to play or run and game for the first time I like to try and do some research on it. I’ll read the book, maybe check the internet and see if there’s anything worthwhile to hear about the game. But that’s about as much as I can do most of the time. I seldom have other people around who’ve used the system themselves to ask for advise and the net, while helpful, isn’t interactive or as welcoming as it could do. So, one day, I did a google search for “so you want to play” and the name of the game. I got lot of “so you want to play chess” sites and some junk, nothing else.
I figured the net needs a place where you can get real, practical advise on running a game from somebody who’s run it before, ideally with actual sound and maybe some pictures. So, my concept is born.
Welcome to “So you want to Play…”