Of all the big-name publishers on the market today, few command their tone and setting as deftly as White Wolf’s World of Darkness. Its striking modern-gothic setting has captivated players for over twenty years, and with a few smart mechanical changes to their classic formula, they’ve created something that I believe will fascinate and entertain tabletop gamers for decades to come.
Looking Into the Abyss
Technically speaking, the World of Darkness is a loose core setting for a constellation of other, related game lines. The world in which these games take place is remarkably similar to our own. The same technology exists, the same historical figures — heck, it’s usually presented as our world, save for one major difference: there are horrible things hiding in the dark corners of this world, and almost all of them want to kill us.
Vampires scheme in the dark of the night, using mortals as their pawns. Werewolves futilely struggle to bring balance to a wounded planet, raging against any who would oppose them. Mages rip the very fabric of reality apart, searching for a way to ascend to the glorious heights mankind once held — damn the cost. All these and more are player races in their respective setting books, and each plays WILDLY different from the others.
Becoming a Monster
Regardless of whether they’re a human or a horror, all characters in the World of Darkness have three categories of stats: Physical, Mental, and Social. Each of these categories contains one Power stat, one Finesse stat, and one Resistance stat — Physical, for instance, encompasses Strength (Power), Dexterity (Finesse), and Stamina (Resistance). These stats are rated from one to five (or occasionally up to ten, if you’re more than human.) This rating is known as dots, due to the fact that it is represented as shaded-in circles on the character sheets. Skills are also rated in dots, and are sorted into Physical, Mental, and Social categories as well.
Gazing Back At You
The World of Darkness core rules use a d10-based system centered around degrees of success. Technically speaking, it’s not too hard to get a single success in WoD — all you need to do is roll above an 8 with a D10 — but the quality of the success comes from the number of dice that you can get to roll successes.
When rolling to resolve a conflict during gameplay, the GM gives the players a task, and then decides on the bonuses or penalties that the player rolling will incur. The player then takes a number of dice equal to the skill they’re using, plus the stat tied to that skill, and rolls to see how many successes that they get. It’s a surprisingly elegant solution, though at later levels the huge dice pools get a bit cumbersome.
At the end of the day, World of Darkness provides a smart, scary take on modern fantasy with a tested-and-true game system to back it up. If you’ve ever wanted to know what goes bump in the night (or to bump right back,) give World of Darkness a shot — you won’t regret it.