Review: White Wolf – The World of Darkness (Storytelling System)


The World of Darkness
The (New) World of Darkness is a gothic horror RPG, powered by the Storytelling System, written by Bill Bridges, Rick Chillot, Ken Cliffe, and Mike Lee and published by White Wolf.
By Aaron T. Huss

Learn more about The World of Darkness here
Purchase The World of Darkness here
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You’d be hard-pressed to find a role-playing fan that doesn’t at least know about the World of Darkness. Many know it’s modern horror and many understand that it serves as the base for many different gothic horror settings published by White Wolf. However, there are lots of gamers out there that stay clear of horror games as they prefer epic fantasy or space opera and hesitate when they can’t simply kill the main antagonist (a common feature in horror gaming). Even though the World of Darkness, new and old, has been around for quite some time and many reviews have been written, I’m going to focus more on those who don’t really know about The World of Darkness and the Storytelling system and what it has to offer.

The World of Darkness presents a world much like our own, but where nasty creatures of horror and gothic horror fame lurk in the shadows or terrify people at night. It is not an alternate history whereas something in the timeline has changed, it just presents a more horrific version of the world that we know. The core rulebook presents the modern world with various horrors; other settings may add additional elements or place things in a historical era. However, the core rulebook is strictly modern and serves as the base mechanics for World of Darkness settings. Using only the core rulebook, characters are human and have standard human qualities and abilities (albeit maybe better than others). Other settings introduce supernatural concepts and abilities, but for this core rulebook, it’s all standard humans.

With this in mind, the stories to be told are not going to be like epic fantasy or space opera. They are not going to be filled with mind-blowing combat or extraordinary feats of unnatural abilities. They are most likely going to resemble modern horror stories and movies, investigation thrillers, or any number of feasible media that depicts humans in a modern environment, albeit with a horrific flair. The focus here is more on the story including how the characters immerse themselves within that story and how the story resolves. Another thing to keep in mind is the separation of The World of Darkness and the Storytelling system. The World of Darkness is the underlying setting used abroad for the core book and the setting guides. The Storytelling system is the mechanics that power game-play set in The World of Darkness.

The Storytelling system is a roll-over dice pool whereas a pool of d10s is constructed according to the character’s Attribute + Skill + Equipment with any bonuses or penalties applied. This dice pool is rolled to achieve a number of successes (rolling an 8, 9, or 10) against a static target number according to the difficulty. Target numbers are not floating and are determined according to difficulty, which all players would then be able to translate into the number of successes they need (such as a target number of 5). This is the base mechanic that the entire system is built upon; quite simple if you ask me. Attributes and Skills are listed as dots on a character sheet representing the number of dice you add to the pool being constructed. You could use numbers instead of dots; either way will give you the same result, just shown in a different way. Combining Attributes and Skills is quite dynamic as the two are only linked by general category (Mental, Physical, and Social), but not defined as a combination. In other words, you can combine skills with different attributes to create different effects, resulting in a different task being performed. This is a great way of reducing the number of skills required while maximizing their possible usage. Some systems reduce the number of skills available, but you may be left with wondering what skill applies to a specific task because it’s directly linked to a given attribute (which may not apply to that task).

The Storytelling system is simple, yet powerful and the World of Darkness is an excellent setting. This core rulebook definitely presents a story- and character-focused role-playing game with no shortage of possible horror.

CONTENT

Prologue is a narrative introduction to the underlying setting that defines the World of Darkness. It’s fairly generic in style and presents the modern gothic horror world rather than a particular World of Darkness setting.

The Secret History is a further detailed introduction to the World of Darkness setting with a combination of short narrative pieces and setting content. It serves as a way of better understanding the setting as a whole and some of the different directions one may take during game-play. Capping off this section is a summary of the Storytelling Rules System including an overview of character creation and a glossary of terms used throughout the book and the mechanics.

Attributes dives straight into the beginnings of the Storytelling system mechanics by detailing the base attributes for every character. As always, these attributes define the very basics of your character and their capabilities.

Skills delves into the abilities each character is better trained for or knowledgeable of. The Storytelling system allows you to combine skills with appropriate attributes to get the desired effect instead of statically linking one to another. It all depends on the task being performed. Many of these combinations are detailed therein.

Advantages are the mechanics and aspects that round out your overall character. This includes their defense, health, size, speed, and initiative mechanics along with their morality, willpower, derangements, virtues, and vices.

Merits are the mechanics that make your character more unique by giving them special capabilities that others may not have.

Dramatic Systems details the game mechanics for the Storytelling system including details about the dice pools, the structure of each game, possible actions, target numbers, equipment, and vehicles.

Combat details the mechanics surrounding combat, the different actions characters may perform, and how damage is applied. Additionally, a list of weapons and armor are provided along with examples of game play using combat.

Storytelling details the principles of what the Storyteller does to make a great story and how they’re applied to game sessions. Moving on from there is a collection of antagonists including animal, non-combatants, combatants, and ghosts. There are also details for experience points and character advancement. This section is essentially the Storyteller’s Guide.

OVERALL

The World of Darkness core rulebook serves as the base mechanics for all of the World of Darkness setting books. There’s enough content in here to run a modern horror game without a setting book, but the Storyteller will have to fill-in the gaps concerning antagonists. The good thing is that horror games don’t need a lot of antagonists like fantasy games do and this shouldn’t be too hard of a task. It’s a fantastic presentation of an excellent game system, but more importantly it presents a setting that is a great representation of modern gothic horror. The World of Darkness, and moreover the Storytelling system, definitely focuses on characters and their uniqueness by giving you mechanics that don’t hamper your creativity. Oh yeah, it’s also a great read, even if you don’t like the mechanics or don’t plan on playing the game; there is no shortage of content that can be extracted to create your own world.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 10 out of 10
The World of Darkness core rulebook looks fantastic. The layout is simple and effective, the formatting looks great, the majority of the artwork has a great blend of horror and modern-feel to it, and the complete package is pleasing in many regards. It’s a very easy read and I truly appreciate the mixture of narrative and game content.

Mechanics: 9 out of 10
The Storytelling system is a solid dice pool system with simple mechanics that can be very flexible. I’m not a huge fan of representing traits using dots, but it definitely drives the point across of how simple using the dice pool can be. As stated before, you can easily convert the dots into a number, but then again dots are easier to fill-in as you go on a character sheet (no need to erase to write a higher number). I’m not particularly impressed with the antagonist list, but then again this book is meant to serve as the base mechanics only, and does that quite well. If you are turned away by the dots, use numbers, and storytellers would do well to look into additional material to flesh out additional antagonists if necessary. Otherwise, I find character creation to be quite flexible allowing you to create virtually any human character imaginable.

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
If you compare the Storytelling system to other horror games (such as Call of Cthulhu), you get a lot of the same principles regarding how those systems view characters and their inherent flexibility regarding creation (no classes here). It’s another approach using dice pools instead of other means, and the low count of dice may not allow for a lot of granularity, but then you also don’t want to get tied up in too much dice rolling (horror is meant to focus more on the story and the characters than combat encounters). If you compare the World of Darkness to other horror settings (such as the Cthulhu Mythos), again you get a lot of the same principles, just with a different face (gothic horror instead of supernatural horror).

That being said, The World of Darkness and the Storytelling system do both of these things extremely well, presenting an excellent game package to Storytellers and players. Those who like dice pools will find an excellent dice pool system. Those who like horror will find a setting with plenty of twists, turns, creepiness, and horrific possibilities.

Overall: 9 out of 10
The World of Darkness is one of those games that is well-known for a reason. It has solid mechanics and an expansive setting, both of which fully embrace their fundamental goals. It’s not going to replace your epic fantasy, space opera, or even Cthulhu Mythos games, but it definitely gives you a perfect outlet for experiencing gothic horror in the modern world; all done with a focus on story and characters.

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