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New World of Darkness, core rule book, a GM’s review.

The New World of Darkness, or nWoD for short, is a line of horror RPGs published by White Wolf in which players take on the rolls of one of the classic “monsters” of gothic literature (vampire, werewolf, Frankenstein’s monster etc.). Each line comes with its own core book, as well as supplements, but all require the New World of Darkness core book, or “Blue Book”, to play as it contains the basic rules including how to make a character (very important for running any game!). You can choose to ignore the supernatural lines and use just this book to make mortal characters, and White Wolf produce a line of books to support these games. But before we talk about any of the other lines or supplements, let’s first look at the nWoD core book. 

 

The system

If you are used to the D20 system or similar games (such as the first game I played which was Palladium fantasy) and have not read any White Wolf books before then this book might seem a bit alien to you. Things are not done in quite the same way as other RPGs and this will, if you are like me, take a bit of getting used to. Firstly, your stats are measured in dots (usually 1-5, 1 being below average, 5 being the peak of human ability) this goes for skills, attributes, merits etc. Next thing you will notice that is different is that you will only ever use one type of dice, the D10, and you will roll lots of these. Your typical task will be resolved by working out what attribute and skill you are using, so to climb over a wall you might use “strength” and “athletics”, add up the dots you have in them (this number may be modified, i.e. -1 if the wall is slippery or +2 if you brought a rope etc) then roll that many D10s, then count up the 8s, 9s and 10s (or successes), the more successes, the better you asucceed at the task. And that’s basically it, whenever the characters do something, the GM (or storyteller) will pick an attribute and a skill that seem the most appropriate. 

New World of Darkness

This mechanic can drastically change the way you run an RPG, because instead of characters being limited to a fixed list of skills they can perform and may not attempt ones not on the list, in the nWoD, any character can attempt any skill; they may not be any good at it but they can have a go. This means players can approach a challenge in a number of different ways, which can result in a scene going very differently than planned (you may have thought they would attack the guard then pick the lock, but were you prepared for them seducing a locksmith and getting him to pick the lock?). It does, however, makes things a breeze when coming up with a rule for an unusual situation, you just pick the attribute and skill that seem the most appropriate, roll that number of D10s and count the successes. 

Character creation is a point-buy system and is relatively easy to do and you will have to make a mortal character in this way to make a character for any of the supernatural games. It’s simple to explain to new-comers and encourages you to imagine the characters personality, traits and quirks as well as their backstory and relationships. You can purchase merits for your character which range from fighting styles such as kung-fu or boxing, to social merits like fame or contacts and mental merits like photographic memory. The end product is a well rounded, living, breathing character. This game also focuses on social skills much more than any other game I have played, which again, takes your game in a very different direction. Relationships with NPCs get fleshed out and PCs can make their own friends and enemies (which can be different to the NPCs you thought they would be friends or enemies with!). What all of this means is characters feel like part of a real world instead of a sprite in a computer game.

Willpower is one of my favourite things about the nWoD system, during character creation you will determine your character’s willpower which measures their emotional resilience (that’s quite important in this game and, if you play a mortal and you see a werewolf, you’ll find out why!).  But it is also the number of points your character can spend to give them a boost during the game, such as adding 3 dice to any roll, so that when a heroic act is required, characters can do that bit extra or let characters better attempt actions they are not skilled in. Players can replenish their willpower by acting according to their characters “Vice” or “Virtue”, which the players chose at character creation; in other words, if you play in character, your character can be more awesome!

What you get in the way of antagonists are mainly other mortals, the type of people you would expect in a modern setting, cops, security guards, club goers etc. The book has a section on ghosts, how to work them into your game, with a list of ghostly powers as well as a few archetypal ghosts that are ready to use in any game. This alone could give you plenty of ideas for games or even a long running campaign (think Ghostbusters meets HP Lovecraft). However, to give your players a bit of variety you are going to have to purchase one of the Mortals line supplements (such as Second Sight or Antagonists) or graduate on to one of the supernatural lines.

It must be pointed out that mortal characters are insanely fragile and will not stand much of a chance against any of the supernatural creatures of the world without a lot of help from the GM. This adds to the horror aspect of the game as players will be afraid for their characters’ lives when something goes bump in the night.

 

The Setting   

The setting for all the nWoD games is a dark reflection of our own world, things appear the same but get under the surface and there are dark forces at work. Corrupt corporations are really corrupt, the rough area of town is really rough and that guy at the bar who keeps looking over should be avoided at all costs! The book is full of fiction set in the world, opinions on the quality of these stories vary (you can’t please all the people all of the time) but they do an excellent job of conveying the mood and feel of the world.

Apart from the section on ghosts (which is exactly “the handbook for the recently deceased”!), this book does not so much detail the world as try to draw you in and get your imagination working. All of the nWoD games are presented as a toolbox so groups can take elements they like and ignore others, so there are no “facts” about the world that could be presented here as they might be in other games. Although all of the supernatural lines are supposed to exist in the same world, it is not always obvious how; things you read in one game may appear to contradict things in another game. This is a deliberate move on behalf of White Wolf so that no matter how familiar you become with the setting, your GM can always surprise you, and even when you’re a vampire with a blood potency of 10, you are still afraid of the unknown!

However, this is just the core rules, so again, to get into the setting in any detail you will need to make further purchases. But don’t be disheartened! You’ve bought the rules and you need never do that again, unlike the Old World of Darkness where every book contained the same section on the rules so you had to pay White Wolf for the same few chapters EVERY TIME you bought a book, so things have moved on.

 

Conclusion

If you like horror then this book is a must have, it is dark, intelligent and stylish (like me! *cough*). The production values are of a very high standard, the art is black and white but still (mostly) excellent and very evocative, the whole thing draws you into a “world of darkness” (clever!). New World of Darkness comes Highly Recommended, and we haven’t even got to the supernatural lines…!

5 Star Rating: Highly Recommended

You may also like to read:

God Machine Chronicle Vampire: Requiem for Rome Wereolf: The Forsaken Mummy: The Curse

Want to try another system?

RIFTS: Ultimate Edition Witchcraft Dark Heresy Call of Cthulhu