Today on Ian Reads World of Darkness, we delve into the Advantages chapter. And I get a little angry at how mental conditions and issues are used in the game design.
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. This week we’re talking about the Advantages chapter. It’s about, uh, “Advantages,” which are “aspects of your character that set him apart from his peers, for good or ill.” Given the definition of an advantage indicating it being universally positive, I’m pretty sure WoD thinks that word means something it doesn’t. But oh well! Onward we go.
The start of the chapter is all about those static numbers they had to throw in somewhere. Things like Defense, Health, Initiative, etc. These are given partial overviews in other parts of the book, but it’s good to have them all thoroughly explained in once place.
However, pretty quickly we stumble into the Morality system. Your morality is a number from one to ten, ten being a creature so pure that mere selfish thought can cause a fall from grace, and one being a mass murder. You start at a seven, and any time you commit a sin that is at or below your current morality (such as petty theft for level seven, selfish thoughts for level ten, or a planned crime like murder at level three), you roll a dice pool to prevent yourself from degrading (the dice pool size decreases as your morality goes down). Because petty theft, regardless of circumstance, is the sort of thing that will stain your soul forever.
Okay, from that last line you might be able to guess that I don’t like this system. Generally speaking, I really don’t like linear morality systems. In addition, the tiers here (and really all the in-book morality stuff) seem to be written with a very biblical, Judeo-Christian mindset. The choice to use this particular morality system not discussed or justified in the text and comes off as the particular writer’s cultural experience and doesn’t leave much room for other interpretations. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it grates against my personal tastes that they’re treating one system of morality as an absolute, objective measure in a world that seems more suited for shades of grey. And, really, that anyone’s actions are being measured on an absolute scale like this at all. Petty theft to feed yourself or your starving child is much different from stealing just to turn around and sell the thing for some spending money, or just because you don’t like the person you’re stealing from. The only nod to these shades of grey is that if you do something that would breach your morality level in pursuit of your Virtue (say, killing someone who’s just shot someone else in pursuit of the Justice Virtue), you get an extra die on the roll. It’s a nice gesture, but hardly enough to make me like the system. And that’s okay! I’m not going to like everything about a given system. This just rubs me the wrong way. Though I do like that as your morality goes down it becomes harder to prevent degradation (as your dice pool shrinks). Having the slippery slope baked into the mechanic seems good for a horror game, as someone begins spiraling down into becoming a monster (at least by this standard) themselves.
It gets worse, though. As you fall down in morality, you gain derangements. These are generally mental conditions such as depression, paranoia, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc. There are mild ones (depression, fixation) and severe ones (melancholia, obsessive compulsion). It’s an interesting idea to develop a fragmented mental state as you’re force to do things you normally wouldn’t, whether by circumstance or otherwise. There’s a lot of Storyteller discretion given to assigning derangements, which makes me worried that people will get derangements that are tenuously linked to the reason their morality shifted downward; but that’s up to the storyteller and having open communication with the players, something that’s difficult to enforce mechanically.
The big issue I have here is regaining morality, and how that relates to derangements. So you gain these “derangements” (augh, calling depression a derangement just seems to me like it’s shitting on people with depression or other mental struggles) from losing morality levels, right? Well, fun story. You can make those problems go away by simply being a better person! That’s right. Spend experience to get your morality back up, and soon you too can be cured of mental disorders that people struggle with every day! I feel like this makes light of mental disorders and uses them to portray people with them as “broken” and that “they can be fixed.” And not only that, but that they can be fixed by (essentially) piety and following a specific moral code, which is so, so gross a concept to embed into a game. Now I’m sure this wasn’t the designers’ intention (I think the intention was to model getting to the root of a traumatic event and dealing with it, thus moving past the cause of the mental state), but that’s how it reads to me. There’s a nod given to these issues sticking around where when you get back up to a certain morality level and would have erased a derangement off your list, you simply leave it on there and ignore the effects, the idea being that you’re simply able to deal with it for now due to the rest of your life looking up. I personally feel this is the better model, as people struggle with their problems and relapse all the time, instead of getting virtue-cured. I’d probably use this mode for running the derangements in my game.
The derangements themselves are decently well-written to model the conditions they represent, assigning penalties to rolls in triggering situations. But I don’t know as much about each individual condition as I should, so if someone has issue with how a derangement portrays a given mental condition, feel free to educate me on how you’d like to see it done. I’d be interested to hear! Overall, it seems like a good way to model the struggle of a character with a mental condition without relying solely on roleplay, or giving permanent debuffs regardless of situation (so even when triggers aren’t present). So I like the base idea of the derangements, even if I don’t like the name or how they’re tied into morality.
The last bit of this chapter is Virtues and Vices. You choose one for each character. They’re all biblical, which of course none of us saw coming. >_> (Virtues are things like Charity, Faith, Hope, while the Vices are the classic seven sins, e.g. Envy, Lust, and Wrath.) These are all perfectly functional. I like that the main way these are used in game is to regain spent Willpower. You regain all your Willpower points if you act in accordance with your Virtue, and regain one if you act in accordance to your Vice. The catch? You can only regain willpower with Virtue once per session, whereas the Vice can be indulged every scene. I like how this encourages players to be a mix of both virtue and vice, and that it allows for characters to hew one way or another and still do decently well. Doing both seems like it would produce a more complex character, like an unapologetic alcoholic who nonetheless believes strongly in justice and will act in accordance with that virtue with the opportunity presents itself. (Aaaaand I’ve just described pretty much every private eye ever printed on pulp.)
And that’s it for this chapter! Thank the gods. Apologies if I got a little rant-y there. Come back next week for Chapter 5: Merits!