Ian Reads World of Darkness: Chapter 3: Skills

Hey everyone, sorry for the delay in getting to chapter three. I’ve had the outline together for a couple weeks, but I’ve been overloaded lately and couldn’t find the time and energy to get this written up.  Things are looking clearer now, though, and posts should be more regular from here on out.

Ah, skills chapters.  Essential to almost every RPG design.  Almost always long and tedious.  They’re one of those very necessary bits of writing that, while essential to playing the game, are often skipped over by new players.  This is probably because they usually read like textbooks, and go into a lot of nitty-gritty about each skill.  Which is fantastic if your character focuses on that skill, but makes it rather difficult to get an overview.

Surprise! WoD doesn’t really win any prizes on this front.  It’s a very long chapter, with all the information you could need on how to apply each skill.  Unfortunately, it’s pretty dense, and it can be hard to stay focused as you slog through skill description after skill description.  Still, they do a good job of letting you know how the skills are used, and the writing’s less dry than it could be.

I’m not sure there’s a solution to the dry skill chapter problem, and WoD has done better here than many of its contemporaries.  Every skill has a story attached to it, much like the attributes did in chapter two.  These stories do a great job of breaking up the dry technical description, and lend a nice bit of context to each skill.  The examples also do their best to imply stories, which helps make them more interesting and gripping.  Each skill also has clear examples for each level of success (dramatic failure, failure, success, exceptional success), which strikes me as a very useful tool for the GM to use as a reference point, especially when figuring out the results of more extreme successes and failures.

I do have a few concerns about the chapter.  A lot of the skills call for the storyteller to make the roll for the player, so that on a failure the storyteller can feed the player incorrect information.  (For example, getting the wrong idea based on a set of evidence, or misreading a disease.)  While I don’t mind this in theory, it comes up for so many skills I’m worried players will feel like agency is being taken away from them, and that the GM has all the power in these situations.  Granted, this is for dramatic purposes, but I feel like it wouldn’t work well at the table.  Also, as mentioned before, this chapter has a lot of detail and is very dense, which makes me worry the average player isn’t going to take the time to read it, and will then have a hard time choosing skills or being as effective as they want to be in play. It would be nice if there was a couple pages of brief overview to allow players to get an idea of what skills they want/need to dive down into detail about.

Lastly, a few specific points of awesome.  I love that Carousing is its own trapping, and has specific rules. Mostly because the mental image of someone training at carousing is hilarious to me, and I like the idea that people would try to master it intentionally.  The Computer skill’s short passage/story at the start mentions newsgroups, a reference that gives me the warm fuzzies and also makes it feel just a *little* bit dated.  And a shout out to the woman on page 77, who is a badass and is stabbing her mugger in the eye with an umbrella.  Although it is a little confusing that the mugger appears to have jumped out of a tree at her, given his angle of attack.  (The story this image is referencing just has him lunge at her, and her using her umbrella as an improvised rapier, a mental scene that makes more sense.)

So that’s pretty  much it for Chapter 3!  Come back next week for Chapter 4: Advantages.  Looking forward to seeing you then!

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