I nuked most of the old blog, but some posts were popular enough to bring back. Due to a technical hiccup I brought back a post with notes on rules light Storytelling (the system that powers Chronicles of Darkness, previously known as the new World of Darkness).
This is not that article, but another I wrote detailing the system I used for a one-shot inspired by The Man in the High Castle at Phantasm a few years ago that built upon those older ideas. I’ve made a few adjustments this week to account for the new edition of the system and my evolving ideas, so it’s got a bit of shiny new content too.
This post is notable because it brings together some ideas I plan on implementing in a future project. I’ll let you know.
Making a Character
I use a highly stripped down version of character creation that suits a high degree of GM moderation. These rules do not include special or supernatural traits, such as the last game’s psychic powers.
- Split 9 dots among Mental, Physical and Social Attributes. Minimum 1 each, If you boost one to 5, that costs 6 dots. These are your character’s basic capabilities.
- Split 9 dots among Power, Finesse and Resistance Abilities. Minimum 1 each, and again, 5 costs 6 dots. These areas of ability come from a mix of training, general life experience and temperament. High Power characters are aggressive and direct. High Finesse characters value precision and slyness. High Resistance represents patience and determination.
- Choose 3 Specialities. These may be linked to an Attribute or Ability. Examples include Seductive, Judo Expert, Big and Strong, and Occult Scholar.
- Calculate Health: Resistance + Physical + 5 — yeah, you get more.
- Calculate Defence: (Lower of Physical or Mental) + Finesse/2
- Calculate Speed: Physical + Power + Finesse +3
- Calculate Initiative: Finesse + Resistance
- Calculate Willpower: Social + Resistance
- Calculate Morality: It’s 7.
Merits and Flaws
- Pick 7 dots of Merits, maximum of 5 dots of 1 type. Merits are freeform, using a descriptor such as “Allies,” “Wealth” or “Kung Fu.” You can ask for a story benefit, or you may spend Merit dots to boost the dice pool of an applicable roll. You regain these dots at the start of a new session (well, never, in convention play) or after an extended period of time — at least a day or so.
- Flaws are similarly freeform, providing the usual payoff (Beats or XP, depending on the edition of the game).
- Name, Presentation (the aspects of her identity that appear to others) and Visual Description
- Virtue Statement: “It isn’t easy to do the right thing, but when I _____________________ I feel better for having done it.” You regain all Willpower for making this moral choice.
- Vice Statement: “I don’t like to admit it, but I feel a certain thrill when I ____________________.” You regain 1 Willpower for indulging this urge.
- Concept Statement: “My highest Traits are my [List Attribute] and [List Ability], so I feel most confident when I attempt _____________________ [must usually involve using the Attribute + Ability].” You regain 1 Willpower for succeeding at this task.
- Roll dice pools of Attribute + Ability. You may add as many Specialities as you can justify for +1 die each, even if they wouldn’t normally be linked to any Trait in the pool. Physical for physical stuff, Mental for mental stuff, Social for social stuff. Use Power when the task involves defeating a challenge with brute effort, Finesse when the approach involves precision, and Resistance when it involves, calm, patience or toughness. Mental Power is applying personal knowledge to a problem — typically what would be covered by Intelligence-based rolls. Mental Finesse is information gathering and lateral thinking — Wits in conventional games. Mental Resistance is similar to Resolve, but I encourage it for a number of tasks that are often made Intelligence-based, but involve more determination than cleverness, such as a long research session.
- When characters meed to find a thing to move the story along, the first die in the pool to find something always scores a success. Further successes add new information beyond the bare minimum necessary.
- Social influence drops Doors in favour of negotiating outcomes between participants on a single roll. The person who ends up having to modify their behaviour wins a Beat.
- Wing Conditions and Tilts. The easiest thing is to frame them in pure narrative terms, or apply them to an Attribute + Ability pool. The basic disadvantageous Condition/Tilt imposes a -2 penalty.
- Hand to hand combat is usually Physical + Power + weapon, but it could be Physical + Finesse with light weapons.
- Firearms combat is usually Physical + Finesse + weapon for running and gunning, but it might be Mental + Resistance for snipers.
- Otherwise, combat is as per usual with the Storytelling System as in the 1st edition Chronicles of Darkness rules. Weapons add their damage rating to the dice pool instead of being added after the fact and Defense comes off the dice pool.
- Track Health along three different rows for bashing, lethal and aggravated — none of these slashes and Xes and things. When one category fills up, move on to the worse one next to it. Once you lose all bashing, roll Physical + Resistance to avoid passing out until revived. Once you lose all lethal, make the same roll per turn until you succeed or fail three times — the last of those three determines whether you stay conscious or not until you’re healed. You may also spend 1 Willpower point to stay conscious or regain consciousness at any time, even though that strains credulity.
- You suffer one aggravated wound per turn once you’ve suffered any aggravated wounds at all.
- Equipment/narrative factors provide a straight +1 to +5 bonus. If you narrate something cool or ask for extra benefits on to of an equipment bonus, the total bonus cannot exceed 5 before penalties — anything over the maximum becomes bonus successes added to rolled successes of 1 or higher, but not to any roll that scores 0.
2nd Edition Storytelling’s Beat system doesn’t suit one shot games where character development doesn’t matter. Therefore, put any Beats in the Beatpower pool, represented by some stones or spare dice or candies or whatever in the middle of the table — one pool for everybody. You spend Beatpower like Willpower, but you can spend it in addition to Willpower. Only one person can spend Beatpower per turn or scene.
You could theoretically use this in long games where advancement matters. In the case, spending Beatpower doesn’t use up the Beats that fueled it for advancement purposes.
It’s pretty simple, and lets participants make characters fast. Characters are also a bit tougher to encourage action, and get a clear reward for obeying a concept. You may recognize some of the basics from the Mage Chronicler’s Guide and its Furyland war chronicle model, where I first piloted it. Other elements come from World of Darkness: Mirrors and the Ready 2 Run system I devised that powers Aeternal Legends.