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  • Okay, so let's read this thing

    During some slow times at work today I browsed the forums and got a sudden urge to try out a new game. I made a thread asking questions about Chronicles of Darkness and ended up purchasing the Corebook as well as Hurt Locker both as PDFs and as premium edition prints on demand. As work kept being slow, the replies in that other thread made me recognize that the preconceptions I had about the game were vastly different from what it actually is.

    I've known about the World of Darkness for a very long time. But knowing about it is pretty much it. I think I played a session of Vampire: the Masquerade a decade ago and I've played a few sessions of Hunter: the Reckoning. I've browsed a friend's Mage: the Ascension book without actually absorbing any of its content. Since my main game for the last decade has been Exalted, I've assumed that the WoD splats have been similar to the splats in that game; seamlessly part of the same setting and built off the same mechanics. I assumed that World of Darkness encouraged mixed groups just like Exalted did, and it was first now after creating that thread (on the same day as I actually bought my first Chronicles of Darkness products) that I recognized that the gamelines are vastly different in that regard. I understand now that the various splats exist in a unified setting, but as individual games. There is no such thing as a seamless transition. The games are different. The mythos is the same.

    And what the hell is a God Machine Chronicle? Don't tell me yet.

    I will be reading Chronicles of Darkness in this thread. As of me writing this I haven't started yet. I am going to give my honest impressions on what I read, based on my own personal interests as well as the games I'm familiar with. I expect that there will be a lot of comparisons to Exalted since that's the game I'm most familiar with. I will also ask questions that arise as I read, and hopefully learn more about the game from the discussions that may come about in this thread. I will try to focus on a chapter at the time and I would encourage anyone who wants to reply to this thread to keep it from digressing too much.

    I have set the mood to be able to get into this: the Chronicles of Darkness PDF on Monitor 1, the document where I'm writing this and where I'm taking notes on Monitor 2, and a World of Darkness-inspired music list as well as a Skype window on Monitor 3. I have mood lighting, scented candles and coffee. Now let's get started!


    COVER

    The cover, depicting a blurry individual in a blurry environment with a blue hue, doesn't really grab my attention. I understand that it goes for mood, with the blur effects symbolizing another world overlaying reality. It feels a bit easy, though, and a bit boring. The logo is cool. I like the font and it grabs my attention much more than the actual picture.


    INTRO FICTION: “APT, 3B” BY AUDREY WHITMAN

    This intro fiction is the first thing I'm reading from the Chronicles of Darkness. It's a decent story. I don't really have many problems with it, apart from a few pet peeves. The fiction is very dialogue heavy, and it focuses on the interaction between the characters more than setting a scene. I understand that it's trying to set up a scene through dialogue---but that's telling. I want to be shown the scene. I want to get in the mood. The characters aren't displaying much emotion before the “And then ...” part. It's first when we get to that point when the story piques my interest.

    I have nothing against Audrey Whitman and I don't want to offend anyone. But I didn't really feel the Chronicles of Darkness through this story. I think it would have been better if she cut down on the dialogue and tried to establish more mood, emotion and desperation. It was a pretty deadpan encounter with the supernatural.


    CREDITS AND SPECIAL THANKS

    I actually didn't know that Rose Bailey was the developer for the Chronicles of Darkness. I've lived with Onyx Path/White Wolf for a decade and I've been a member on the forums since back on the old forums in 2010. I confidently write and publish Exalted Homebrew. And I haven't even paid enough attention before to know that the Rose Bailey I see on the forums from time to time is the brains behind this operation. I really am clueless, aren't I? I actually feel kind of guilty for not having given the other OPP products more attention before now.

    I'm not very familiar with the other names, apart from Audrey's because I just read her intro fiction. I still don't know what the God Machine Chronicle is, but I see that there are some other writers working on that. It was originally written as a separate piece of content, wasn't it? Was the original intent to sell it separately or was it always meant to be part of this book? Don't tell me what it is yet. I'm thinking that it's an in game adventure of some kind.


    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    What I'm noticing here is that we seem to be jumping straight into character creation after the introduction. It doesn't have hundreds of pages of setting before we get into the actual character creation. My guess is that the idea here is that this book is a framework for the system and not a setting book. And if I want to apply these rules to create a game based in the “real world”, then why would I need to read a bunch of setting now? I'm okay with this.

    When looking over the table of contents, I notice a few terms I'm unfamiliar with: likeAnchors. Much of the rest is similar enough to Exalted to make me understand what they mean, but this one is new to me. Then we have Aspirations and Breaking Points. I assume that Aspirations are going to be tied to character motivations. No idea about Breaking Points.

    The Dramatic Systems mention some new stuff as well: Conditions, for example. I assume these are some kind of magical effect or something. The Investigation part of the rules seem heavy. Can't wait to get there. Then there's something called Chases that I have no idea what they are. I like that the combat part is called Violence instead of Combat.

    Oh, there's a Storytelling chapter. Nice.

    The Antagonists chapter seems to contain a lot of meat as well.

    Overall, my impressions are good and my interest is piqued. So this God Machine thing is half the book? That's interesting. Based on the table of contents, it looks like it has a lot of setting stuff. But I still don't know if it's a complete playable adventure, or if it's an alternative sandbox setting or something.


    SPREAD: “WHERE THE SHADOWS GROW LONG”

    Now this sets the mood for me. The book uses the cover art again but I find it much more effective here when there's an added context in the form of that quote. The blurry picture is growing on me.


    INTRODUCTION

    I like the art and layout here. Mannequins will always be creepy.

    Now I finally got a description for what the God-Machine Chronicle is (I don't know if I'm supposed to write God-Machine or God Machine though since the book does both). So it is kind of what I suspected. I dunno what the God Machine actually is though. It reminds me of a fictional story I wrote way back, about a steam-noir setting where an ancient clockwork machine was located under a fascist 1940s style city where people could hear the cogs spinning in the ground below. Many worshiped the machine, but no one really knew what it was and where it came from.

    The Inspirational Media surprised me a little. The Crow and the Exorcist were given. The Terminator and True Detective surprised me. I expected more of a Friday the 13th and The Omen. Or maybe just a longer list. I do understand the reasoning though and I think it's a good idea to mention non-horror works as well as it could attract players who aren't normally horror fans (I'm not a horror fan, by the way---I'm a fan of suspense and good stories).

    I want all of the Storytelling System Books. I have Hurt Locker already and will be reading that one too when I'm done with this.

    Now the book lists all of the available splats. Promethean and Geist interest me. Not as something I want to buy right away, but as concepts I want to learn more about. My first splat will probably be Vampire: The Requiem or Hunter: The Vigil. But we'll see.

    LEXICON

    I'm not sure I understand what the system is getting at with the Beat becomes Experience system. Do I get Beats in a skill if I successfully use it, or do I get Beats in a pool for playing, that I then convert into XP that I then convert again into actual progression? Why not just use XP instead of a secondary thing? I guess I'll learn later.

    Ah, so breaking point is like a “sanity” thing? The more a character is exposed to bad stuff, the more likely he is to be traumatized?

    The chance roll is interesting. I haven't seen that in other games.


    FICTION: “TWO SIRAS”

    Oooh. I enjoyed this. This was well-written and suspenseful. I wish it had been the intro fiction.


    THE FACE IN THE MIRROR: CHARACTERS

    STEP ONE: CHARACTER CONCEPT

    It mentions Aspirations again and it's making me think of the Motivation system in Exalted 2nd Edition. It seems like you're supposed to have more than one Aspiration in this game though (based on the fact that it's mentioned in plural), so I assume it has some kind of important game mechanical application.

    STEP TWO: ANCHORS

    Okay, so Anchors are tied to personality traits. I didn't see if there were an Intimacy system in this game so maybe Anchors and Aspirations are this game's variation to that. I'm curious to learn how they will work mechanically.

    STEP SEVEN: DETERMINE ADVANTAGES

    I'm starting to realize now that this game works very different from what I'm used to in Exalted. There's something called Willpower in both games, and I have a feeling that this game's Willpower is different from that game's. I'm not going to try to assume that I know stuff now based on terminology.

    So Defense uses the lower of Wits or Dexterity for whatever Defense is used for. Since I'm picturing this as a dodge value of some kind, I'm surprised by the fact that it has two applicable Attributes. I don't really get why a trait that's probably important must ignore a stronger Attribute in favor of a weaker one. If both Attributes are important to the Defense value, why not use an average between the two traits? Or why not have two different Defense ratings based on different situations? I'm sure it'll clear up for me when I get to the system chapter.

    ANCHORS

    So the character's personality traits are anchored (pun intended) in the game system as a way for the character to spend/gain Willpower, but the characteristic cannot be something that's representative of an Attribute or Skill? When I determine these Anchors for my character, maybe I should focus on “how” she is and not “what” she is; avoid physical descriptions or synonyms for traits already represented and give attention to traits that represent behavior. Then me acting according to or against that behavior is what's helpful or detrimental to my Willpower. If I decide that my character has the Virtue “playful,” I should be encouraged to roleplay in that way in order to regain Willpower? Is it also connected to breaking points? Am I understanding this correctly?

    So far I'm liking what I read. Giving the players incentives to act out their Anchors could do wonders to further roleplay.

    ASPIRATIONS

    This is an interesting idea that could encourage players to take more initiatives in game. But I'm very skeptical about the suggestion to have an Aspiration that encourages you to “fail at something” in order to make a better story. I don't really see how rewarding someone for failing at something should be encouraged. The act of roleplaying through both victories and defeat should feel rewarding. I don't need to write down an Aspiration to have fun. And I fear that it would make players meta-game their characters so that they fail at something for OOC reasons while their characters wouldn't try to fail at it IC. No, that seems like trouble to me.

    BREAKING POINTS

    I like the idea of breaking points, but I didn't really understand here if there is a game system consequence for breaking or if the consequences of breaking is only in narrative. I guess it will be further explained later on.

    ATTRIBUTES

    Very different form what I'm used to. I'm looking forward to learning more about how the actual system works.

    SKILLS

    The fact that Untrainted Skills give -1 or -3 is something I'll probably forget about all the time.

    MERITS

    I enjoy the large number of Merits. I may even steal some of them and homebrew them into Exalted Third Edition. I'm not familiar with the mechanics yet to comment on individual Merits. I didn't actually expect that Merits would cover so many supernatural abilities, such as Telekinesis and Telepathy. They seem to be the true meat of character customization so far.


    My impressions of the game now after having read up to this point is that it seems like a fairly simple system but that can hold substantial depth. The Merit system lets you customize pretty much any character concept, with potential for homebrewing more Merits. The layout is rather simple, but clean and effective. I do miss colors though, and the blue hue is kind of boring and tiring. There are many different visual styles in the art pieces scattered across the pages. I can't say I like all of them, but almost all of them fit well enough into the layout. I tolerate the odd ones out here more than some of the awkward Poser pieces in Exalted Third Edition.

    I'm going to leave it at this for now and continue with Infernal Systems: Dramatic Engine at another time in another post.


    Edit: Since this is a thread of me talking to myself, it's not really clear when I'm rhethorical and when I seriously want to a discussion about it. I'm going to do this: Blue text means that I'd like to discuss this further. Green text means that I'm interested in further discussion but that I think that I already know the answer or that I'll soon figure it out. Then I can just add the color when I'm done writing the post without needing to go back to edit any of my initial impressions.
    Last edited by Ekorren; 02-18-2017, 06:28 PM.


    Ekorren's Homebrew Hub - Last Update: June 23, 2017

  • #2
    Readthroughs in this format are always a fascinating and valuable exercise. Since following your thought process as the book presents information to you is critical, I want to ask: are there any particular questions or wonderings in your writing so far that you would like direct responses to? For instance, is "am I understanding this correctly?" under Anchors rhetorical, or a query to the forums?

    I do think it's safe to specify: the Vampire game you played a decade ago was probably Vampire: the Masquerade, not Vampire: the Requiem. Masquerade, Reckoning, and Ascension are part of an older set of gamelines, now (since intellectual property changed hands, business stuff) officially titled the World of Darkness; as you've already read, the set of gamelines now called the Chronicles of Darkness is different, differentiated by subtitles where appropriate. It's definitely understandable if that bit is confusing. The mechanical heritage of White Wolf games kind of started with the original World of Darkness system, and then branched in different directions, with Exalted's system being one direction, and the Chronicles system being another. So you will see significant similarities alongside significant divergences, as again, I think you probably have noticed already.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Stupid Loserman View Post
      Readthroughs in this format are always a fascinating and valuable exercise. Since following your thought process as the book presents information to you is critical, I want to ask: are there any particular questions or wonderings in your writing so far that you would like direct responses to? For instance, is "am I understanding this correctly?" under Anchors rhetorical, or a query to the forums?

      I do think it's safe to specify: the Vampire game you played a decade ago was probably Vampire: the Masquerade, not Vampire: the Requiem. Masquerade, Reckoning, and Ascension are part of an older set of gamelines, now (since intellectual property changed hands, business stuff) officially titled the World of Darkness; as you've already read, the set of gamelines now called the Chronicles of Darkness is different, differentiated by subtitles where appropriate. It's definitely understandable if that bit is confusing. The mechanical heritage of White Wolf games kind of started with the original World of Darkness system, and then branched in different directions, with Exalted's system being one direction, and the Chronicles system being another. So you will see significant similarities alongside significant divergences, as again, I think you probably have noticed already.
      I meant to write "the Masquerade". Writing "the Requiem" was a typo.

      It's true that some questions I pose are rethorical since I often answer my own questions as I keep reading, and I don't really want to go back and edit stuff retroactively because I want to retain my initial impressions. For this post, I would like to hear people's thoughts about my questions under "Aspirations" in particular. I'm also curious about my Defense thoughts, but that's something I may figure out when I delve into the next chapter too.


      Ekorren's Homebrew Hub - Last Update: June 23, 2017

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      • #4
        This is awesome and I can't wait to hear more of your impressions of the book! I'll second Looseman's query if you want actual answers to some of your questions or if you are just posing them rhetorically and want to wait and see what the book has to say. If you do I'd be happy to answer.

        It's also really, really hard to refrain from talking about the God-Machine Chronicle and what it is, but I'll hold my tongue since it's clear you want to sort out what you can on your own.


        Onyx Path Forum Moderator

        My mod voice is red. I use it so you know when I'm speaking in an official capacity, not as an indication of tone.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Charlaquin View Post
          This is awesome and I can't wait to hear more of your impressions of the book! I'll second Looseman's query if you want actual answers to some of your questions or if you are just posing them rhetorically and want to wait and see what the book has to say. If you do I'd be happy to answer.

          It's also really, really hard to refrain from talking about the God-Machine Chronicle and what it is, but I'll hold my tongue since it's clear you want to sort out what you can on your own.
          I edited my original post in a way that will let people know what I'm genuinely interested in discussing.


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          • #6
            Originally posted by Ekorren View Post
            I edited my original post in a way that will let people know what I'm genuinely interested in discussing.
            Ooh. Could you please edit it again and change that red to another color? Red text is generally used by the mods to indicate official communication, so we prefer other members not use it to avoid confusion. Thanks in advance!


            Onyx Path Forum Moderator

            My mod voice is red. I use it so you know when I'm speaking in an official capacity, not as an indication of tone.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Charlaquin View Post

              Ooh. Could you please edit it again and change that red to another color? Red text is generally used by the mods to indicate official communication, so we prefer other members not use it to avoid confusion. Thanks in advance!
              There we go.


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              • #8
                Note on aspirations: It's less on "succeeding/failing at a roll" and more "succeeding/failing at a endeavor". I've personally never taken a "negative" aspiration, but I can see how it'd work in say, Vampire or Werewolf. An aspiration such as "drive my loved ones away from what I've become" could be phrased in different ways. Interesting takes could be "Failing at keeping the Beast/Rage/Obsessions at bay."

                All of those generate plenty of dramatic tension.

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                • #9
                  @ Anchors, yeah seems you understand them.
                  @ Aspirations, so far aspirations which are "Fail at x thing" or "X bad thing happens" haven't caused any metagaming issues, but of course every group is different, and even some people in my group were like "Wait, why would we want aspirations which screwed ourselves over?" at first. It's important to remember that the aspirations are more an attribute tied to the player than it is tied to the character. But care should be taken if one of your players does think up an interesting "fail aspiration" that the other players are fine with it.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Ekorren View Post
                    So Defense uses the lower of Wits or Dexterity for whatever Defense is used for. Since I'm picturing this as a dodge value of some kind, I'm surprised by the fact that it has two applicable Attributes. I don't really get why a trait that's probably important must ignore a stronger Attribute in favor of a weaker one. If both Attributes are important to the Defense value, why not use an average between the two traits? Or why not have two different Defense ratings based on different situations? I'm sure it'll clear up for me when I get to the system chapter.
                    This is partially a verisimilitude thing - being agile doesn't help you avoid getting hit if you're not quick-thinking enough to react to the incoming attack in time, and having fast reflexes doesn't help if you're too clumsy to act on them effectively. As for the specific execution of that idea (lower of the two traits instead of average or some other calculation), that will probably become more clear when you get to the violence section.

                    Originally posted by Ekorren View Post
                    So the character's personality traits are anchored (pun intended) in the game system as a way for the character to spend/gain Willpower, but the characteristic cannot be something that's representative of an Attribute or Skill? When I determine these Anchors for my character, maybe I should focus on “how” she is and not “what” she is; avoid physical descriptions or synonyms for traits already represented and give attention to traits that represent behavior. Then me acting according to or against that behavior is what's helpful or detrimental to my Willpower. If I decide that my character has the Virtue “playful,” I should be encouraged to roleplay in that way in order to regain Willpower? Is it also connected to breaking points? Am I understanding this correctly?
                    You are understanding correctly, yes. And anchors do play a small role in Breaking Points, and in the Social Maneuvering subsystem, but their primary purpose is to guide roleplaying and to provide a means of recovering spent Willpower.

                    Originally posted by Ekorren View Post
                    This is an interesting idea that could encourage players to take more initiatives in game. But I'm very skeptical about the suggestion to have an Aspiration that encourages you to “fail at something” in order to make a better story. I don't really see how rewarding someone for failing at something should be encouraged. The act of roleplaying through both victories and defeat should feel rewarding. I don't need to write down an Aspiration to have fun. And I fear that it would make players meta-game their characters so that they fail at something for OOC reasons while their characters wouldn't try to fail at it IC. No, that seems like trouble to me.
                    So, if this rubs you the wrong way, there are a few other things in the system that I think may give you similar vibes. This is part of a general design philosophy for 2e where roleplaying behavior should be encouraged, not forced, and should be encouraged with carrots, not with sticks. That said, I wouldn't worry too much about it causing meta-gaming. A big part of the purpose of Aspirations is to give the players an in-system way to communicate to the storyteller what direction they would like to see the story go. Taking an aspiration to fail at something is a little like including loose ends in a character backstory in that sense. It sends a signal saying "This is an avenue of character development I would like to explore, and you are welcome to use this as a means of introducing drama into the game."


                    Onyx Path Forum Moderator

                    My mod voice is red. I use it so you know when I'm speaking in an official capacity, not as an indication of tone.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Charlaquin View Post
                      It sends a signal saying "This is an avenue of character development I would like to explore, and you are welcome to use this as a means of introducing drama into the game."
                      One good example I've seen is an aspiration which said they wanted to save their family, meaning I as storyteller would be allowed to go for their family to make drama without having to worry about players feeling like "if you have a character in your backstory they will be targeted meaning I should be a loner orphan in future games".

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                      • #12
                        So Defense uses the lower of Wits or Dexterity for whatever Defense is used for. Since I'm picturing this as a dodge value of some kind, I'm surprised by the fact that it has two applicable Attributes. I don't really get why a trait that's probably important must ignore a stronger Attribute in favor of a weaker one. If both Attributes are important to the Defense value, why not use an average between the two traits? Or why not have two different Defense ratings based on different situations? I'm sure it'll clear up for me when I get to the system chapter.
                        I would say it's primarily due to the small scale on which Attributes are typically rated, and the slow rate at which they're increased in play. An average would be unwieldy because the difference between Wits and Dexterity is very frequently a single dot, having just one Defense trait keeps things simpler and moving smoother (combat doesn't generally go for the kind of mechanical detail Exalted does), ticking the average Defense value down a point contributes to the system generally favoring dynamic violence by privileging offense, and it opens up a little design space in that there are certain situations where characters do use the higher of the two Attributes, usually as the result of a particular power or Merit, or as a general perk making wild animals a bit more dangerous physically.

                        ANCHORS

                        So the character's personality traits are anchored (pun intended) in the game system as a way for the character to spend/gain Willpower, but the characteristic cannot be something that's representative of an Attribute or Skill? When I determine these Anchors for my character, maybe I should focus on “how” she is and not “what” she is; avoid physical descriptions or synonyms for traits already represented and give attention to traits that represent behavior. Then me acting according to or against that behavior is what's helpful or detrimental to my Willpower. If I decide that my character has the Virtue “playful,” I should be encouraged to roleplay in that way in order to regain Willpower? Is it also connected to breaking points? Am I understanding this correctly?
                        You're pretty much on exactly the right track. Virtue and Vice function the best when they are about what stakes you are fighting for (Virtue) or what quirks and behavioral tics you lean on (Vice), rather than being too particular or process-based. Generally, Virtue is a higher drive that comes into play in situations where you are risking everything or going to extremes: you become able to exert heroic effort in favor of your Virtue without totally exhausting yourself. Vice is a weakness or tic that is very frequently tempting to feed in lesser ways, and comes into play during slower or safer times, as an easy comfort to keep you going.

                        ASPIRATIONS

                        This is an interesting idea that could encourage players to take more initiatives in game. But I'm very skeptical about the suggestion to have an Aspiration that encourages you to “fail at something” in order to make a better story. I don't really see how rewarding someone for failing at something should be encouraged. The act of roleplaying through both victories and defeat should feel rewarding. I don't need to write down an Aspiration to have fun. And I fear that it would make players meta-game their characters so that they fail at something for OOC reasons while their characters wouldn't try to fail at it IC. No, that seems like trouble to me.
                        The Chronicles of Darkness second edition system you're reading is going to need a little buy-in to what it's trying to do, and you'll find that to get into its playspace properly, you're going to have to warm up to the idea of player decisions not always directly lining up with the player character's best interests. CofD is a system that wants characters to strive, but not always for things they should strive for; it has systems you've not read yet that exist to reinforce and incentivize behavior that is genre-appropriate for a horror game where people make mistakes that get them into trouble or contribute to their undoing.

                        Aspirations often function best as a convenient flag to the Storyteller to indicate plot beats you're interested in exploring as a player, and not all of the story situations we enjoy when consuming media are positive for the character in-universe. You might think of Dale Cooper's sheet containing the aspiration "encounter an uncanny similarity or omen," or Luke Skywalker's sheet saying "discover a fateful secret about my father." They're not always things the character is personally working to bring about, but they're parts of these characters stories, and often some of the most memorable and entertaining ones. Story feeds off conflict, and one function of Aspirations is to help the Storyteller align their idea of what conflicts are interesting and fun with their players'.

                        Truth be told, despite putting this argument forth, I'm not the biggest fan of the aspiration subsystem for different reasons: I find it fiddly in play, slowing things down to keep thinking of aspirations in ways that outweigh the benefit of an explicit dialogue on what everybody wants to see in the game. And there is an occasional, though rare, mechanic that does treat a character's aspirations as a more internal description of what the player character is actively seeking out, so my view of it is not completely consonant with the rules as written. I can say that it's super easy work to house rule them out and just add a couple beats a session to replace their role in progression. They're not a central part of the CofD system.

                        But another thing, later, is, and it will confront you with a similar divide between player intent and character intent.

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                        • #13
                          Defence is deducted from the dice pool for the attack, most of the time it doesn't apply to being shot at because bullets move fast. Other than that you seem to be on track.

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                          • #14
                            Aspirations seem like a headache to be honest. It's too soon to tell this early into the read, but I have a feeling I'll put some restriction on aspirations to only represent the character's goals and not the player's.

                            Originally posted by Live Bait View Post
                            Defence is deducted from the dice pool for the attack, most of the time it doesn't apply to being shot at because bullets move fast. Other than that you seem to be on track.
                            Really? So in theory, there are enemies who are so good at defending that you're practically incapable of attacking them (if their Defense is higher than your attack pool)? I guess this is where the chance roll comes into play to give you at least a small chance of hitting a big bad?


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                            • #15
                              Yep, some of the supernaturals can get it absurdly high. You can dodge instead of using your defence which lets you roll double your defence and deduct the successes from your opponents successes but doing so uses your action for the turn.

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