Ian Reads World of Darkness: Chapter 2: Attributes

Hey everybody, this week I’m talking about the Attributes chapter of World of Darkness.  There’s Strength!  There’s Wits!  There’s…not that many fiddly bits!  I hope you enjoy the second entry in Ian Reads World of Darkness.

So this chapter is all about Attributes.  (I know, you’re all in shock.)  The Attribute chapter shows up in a lot of RPGs, and tends to be short and, often, very, very boring.  This one is one of those!  (Protip: it’s the far more positive one to be.)

The chapter does a solid job of explaining when attributes are used and how they play into the whole World of Darkness system.  Both the overview of the start of the chapter and the specific explanations of each attribute explain both specific examples and the philosophy behind what each attribute represents, making it easier for players and GMs to understand why certain checks use certain attributes and what attributes might be appropriate substitutions for others in certain cases (such as for certain skill checks).  As a part of this, they also explain what level of talent each level of dots in an attribute, from one to five, represents.  I really like this, as it gives a much better idea of what the statistics mean narratively.  In a game like D&D, it can be hard to know what the difference is between a character with a 16 or an 18 in Strength, as those stats are only used in mechanical terms.  But here (and in the Fate-based Dresden Files), taking the time to explain “this can be a result of natural talent or training” versus “this can only be done through continuous practice” both gives players and GMs and easier way to grok the differences in stat level and helps marry the mechanics to the setting.  It also has the potential to move players away from being focused on having the biggest numbers possible, as it gives a framework for understanding what level of dots in an attribute your character is likely to have based on how you’ve imagined them.

The star of this chapter for me, and the whole far, is the stories interwoven into the body of the text.  I find this does a great job of breaking up the technical text, giving the reader a break from working hard to absorb highly technical writing.  That it works as an example without pausing the narrative to go “okay, and then the player rolls X and their character does Y” is an extra bonus for me, as it lets the storytelling stand on its own and have a deeper narrative than usually happens in examples, which often rely on a very loosely implied narrative.  Having this narrative focus also helps immerse the reader in the World of Darkness as a setting, not just a set of rules, which seems to be a running theme and is very different from how a game like Pathfinder does it, where it tries to keep any setting details as out of the way as possible.

Another detail I find interesting is that WoD has a very few specific uses for pure attribute checks, and says that unless you’re making a roll for those specific things, to always do attribute + skill instead.  This is very different from most d20 games, where attributes are used when you don’t think a skill applies.  I’m undecided on if I think one is better than the other, but it is a very interesting reversal from most of the other games I’ve played.

The only bit I found weird in this chapter at all was the seemingly universal use of Meditation as a way to bolster morality rolls.  It sort of makes it seem like all characters interested in not degenerating morally would be meditating regularly, but I’d personally prefer there to be other ways to gain that same advantage.  Not everyone explicitly sits down in a quiet place to meditate on things and clear their mind.  But at the same time, this is an interesting tonal choice, adding what feels like a quiet spirituality angle to World of Darkness not often seen in other urban fantasy settings.  I’ll need to see how it works out in play before I can really decide how I feel about it, I think.

And that’s it for Chapter 2!  It was a short one, but it did its job well and then got out of the way so the reader could continue to progress to more complex (and possibly more interesting) topics.  Come back next week for Chapter 3: Skills!

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