Davey, over at The Marienburg Gazette, is an insightful fellow indeed. Though he doesn’t know it, he’s actually trumped my next WoD post in a single sentence, and it be this:
something I’m always told by family members or friends when trying to entice them with a casual game: “there are so many rules!”
It’s something I’d half-heartedly felt for a long time but hadn’t really grasped until I tried to introduce our resident board-gamers to the RPG form, and I think the crucial thing here was that I was attempting to teach an RPG to adults, rather than to adolescents. We all know that, as the years go by, the time you have for fun and the patience you have for nonsense diminish; you are too old for this crap, and it shows.
Looking at, say, character generation, you realise that what you’re effectively saying to someone is ‘you must fill out this convoluted form and make a whole bunch of uninformed choices before you may play this game’. This stands doubly true for something that’s points-buy-based, like Vampire, although random generation has its own perils – “I rolled low for this, my character’s shit”. At least the modern game defaults to a one-page character sheet (that’s a mercy, four sides was just far too many even for me), but still, there’s the prioritising of attributes and the allocation of points and the selection of archetypes, virtues and vices, deciding what kind of person your character is going to be before you have the faintest idea how to play them as any sort of person: it’s backasswards is what it is. And it takes time, and it requires people to be in a creative mood, and if it’s your first time you might not have any idea what sort of character you want, and ARGH.
Of course, this is avoidable. Chris, who’s nobly stepped up to run the last couple of sessions for my Original Recipe Gaming Group (which means I can play for a change, something I’m coming to enjoy more and more these days), has a neat little trick for Hunter characters whereby you create the human first and your special Hunter stuff (your virtues and powers) are built up during play. I do something similar with the prioritising of statistics and the allocation of dots; a prologue or prelude to the game narrative in which your characters navigate a scenario through call and response – I say “this happens”, you say “I do that” and I say “gain a dot in the other”. If one were to do both (shocking!) one would in theory arrive at that happy point where the player has been involved in the generation of their numbers and knows exactly what they mean, and has gotten to play from the moment of sitting down to play rather than having to fill out forms first, and has presumably thrashed out an idea of their character through actually playing them and so gotten some dots that represent the things they like to do.
It goes further than character generation, though. I’m looking at the step-by-step combat turn for the old World of Darkness system and there are sixteen steps involved. SIXTEEN. Two of those are ‘repeat previous step for subsequent characters, held actions or Celerity users’, so there’s exponentially more than that to be ploughed through just to, y’know, hit someone in the face and have them knee you in the whatsits. Now, admittedly, that’s the old one (I don’t have a new WoD book to hand), but I’m sure I don’t remember the new one being hugely more streamlined than this. Now, my last pair of new players are the sort of people who play a lot of board games, and frankly a sixteen-stage turn sequence for something that’s arguably not even the point of the game is more aggravating and convoluted than the most aggravating and convoluted board game in the house.
Then, lest we forget, there’s the small matter of supernatural abilities. Let’s disregard the fairly basic stuff; the spending of blood points for extra dice on Attribute rolls, or for healing injuries at different rates depending on what did the damage. Let’s look at the supernatural powers, shall we? Let’s consider that there are ten core Disciplines in contemporary Vampire – three of them are comparatively simple “the more dots you have in this the better you are at it” types, but the others are all “each dot gets you a new power with its own sub-system” types, as are the three Covenant-based ones. Again, that’s a whole lot of rules; the fattest chapter in the book. Again, Requiem is an advance on Masquerade in this department – thirteen is less than seventeen, and the structure of the new World of Darkness materials guarantees that you’ll encounter the core rules before the Discipline choices – but come on, people. It’s still a whole bunch of rules for pretending to be a vampire, it’s a hundred-plus page rulebook just to pretend to be a human and then three times as many pages to pretend to be a vampire, and it’s a whole bunch of rules which mechanise something which arguably doesn’t need to be mechanised much in the first place.
I’m running well over the recommended 750 words, though, so we’ll talk about that next time.