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Proposal for Narrative, Rules-Lighter CoD Suppliment

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  • Proposal for Narrative, Rules-Lighter CoD Suppliment

    Matthew Dawkins suggested that I post this here. I'm sure most of the people here are good at mastering crunchy systems with lots of rule exceptions and things to keep track of, so I'm not sure if this is exactly the right audience.

    Given the (1) excitement for Exalted Essence and Storypath system; (2) innovation in RPG rules technology; and (3) the upcoming Contagion chronicles, I'd like to suggest that Onyx Path offer a mechanically lighter alternative to Chronicles of Darkness for Chronicles of Darkness. This would allow more people to enjoy the CoD setting and themes and make it easier to do crossovers.

    The rules technology for creating such a system already exist (PbtA, Questworlds, Cortex Prime, Fate, Storypath). Some of the CoD quickstarts, the Mirrors / Chronicles books, and simplifications for Hunter and spirits antagonists hint at how such a thing could be done w/in the existing rules framework.

    Thanks!

  • #2
    For me CoD is carried on the strength of its amazing flavour and atmosphere, and the kind of stories it encourages you to tell. Not seldomly I find myself playing it despite the ruleset, rather than because of it. I feel that system mastery is often too big a factor in how CoD runs, with some questions my players have essentially having to be answered with "Well, if you combine these merits, get a speciality in this skill, remember to use this, this and this power/feature of your splat, and spend willpower liberally, then it works fine!"
    But I don't always want my PCs to need to have such a broad view of so many mechanics to do what they wish to do.
    It works, but I feel it could work better at times.

    Some elements of the systems also just feel much too mechanically loaded in general. There's a tendency to systematize everything in great detail.

    (Of course, Storytellers can deal with awkwardness through their own rulings, but that would be true for any rules and even if you used no rules at all.)

    However, I wouldn't want to give up all the good in CoD for a rules-lighter version:
    - The high diversity, both between splats and inside of them.
    - The strong link between lore and how things play out in-game.
    - The personal-horror aspect, which is carried far better in a simulationist than in a narrative game.

    For that second point: a "narrative" system tends to carry the implication that you make decisions more for a character than as a character. The spending of meta-currency like Fate Points, accepting Compels, etc, almost by necessity removes you one step from your character. I feel this would not be in the best interest of CoD. Which, along with low level of mechanical diversity between characters, is why I wouldn't recommend a Fate-like approach for this. (The other systems you mention I have never played, so can't really say there. (Though I've heard of the "moves" of PbtA games, and not sure that'd fit very well, either.)

    So I guess I do want a rules-light version, but not necessarily a narrative version. CoD is best for me when the players don't have a lot of any meta-control over the game world, but solely interact with the world through their character's actions.

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    • #3
      Base CofD can already be played quite rules-light. There are subsystems for combat, investigations (for specific types of investigations; but I digress), chases, social manoeuvring, etc, but they're all optional. The base action/conflict resolution of rolling Attribute+Skill with a fitting penalty or against another dice pool can be used for almost everything.

      If you want a rules-light version of all the various splats rather than just the base system, then that is a whole other beast. Unlike Exalted, CofD's different splats are designed to be their own games. Their powers, weaknesses, quirks, etc, all work widely different to fit different needs. I don't think you can have a rules-light corebook that can describe all of them without sacrificing tons of diversity. They all have special systems that reinforces their base themes, and forcing all of that into a shared system would, by necessity, remove a lot of that.
      Exalted: Essence works (well, hopefully, we'll see when it comes out) because all the different splats follow the same base model (both ruleswise and storywise), with their powers structured the same way (many powers even shared by all the splats) and their signature drawbacks also follows a similar structure.

      In short, I'm extremely sceptical to this idea. CofD splats are developed into wildly different directions with wildly different rules systems for their particulars, and a unified system would be extremely wanting for at least some of the splats (especially Deviants) no matter how you do it. In comparison, Exalted splats are all developed from the same mold, with only a few variations in their rules. Streamlining those is a cakewalk, relatively speaking.


      Bloodline: The Stygians
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      • #4
        Well, there's one big hurdle:

        It's not Onyx Path's decision. It's Paradox's decision. They get final say on what gets made for the CofD.

        I think it would be better to pitch a CofD update of Mirrors or some sort: a guide for hacking the game. Rather than focusing on a "lighter" version (I think the comparisons to Essence and StoryPath are way off in that regard), a more general book on how to modify the system, and perhaps more thorough ST guidance on things like navigating the many optional systems that could apply to a given situation, and deal with things like Condition and Merit bloat, is probably a better direction.

        First, it's an easier pitch to Paradox.

        Second, it's a more useful book to the entire CofD community.

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        • #5
          Even rules lighter than it already is? What would that even look like? Is there even a game left at that point?

          The only issue I have with Chronicles of Darkness is how every Merit, Discipline, Ritual, etc. has its own rules and sometimes even its own sub-systems, which can be a bit daunting at times. I think things might be improved on that front. But I really like the rest of the system. The Attributes, Skills, and Traits (Health, Willpower, Defense, etc.) and how they are used to compile dice pools for actions is pretty much perfect the way it is.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Tomorrow's Nobody View Post
            Even rules lighter than it already is? What would that even look like? Is there even a game left at that point?

            The only issue I have with Chronicles of Darkness is how every Merit, Discipline, Ritual, etc. has its own rules and sometimes even its own sub-systems, which can be a bit daunting at times. I think things might be improved on that front. But I really like the rest of the system. The Attributes, Skills, and Traits (Health, Willpower, Defense, etc.) and how they are used to compile dice pools for actions is pretty much perfect the way it is.
            I agree that the base is pretty light.
            But like you say, there's a ton of subsystems. Handling a chase is an entire subsystem that comes with its own table for modifiers, both to rolls and number of successes needed, that is hard enough to memorize that you'll likely need to look it up each time you wish to use it. And that approach is quite common throughout various other subsystems (many splat-specific) too.
            And then as you say, there's a ton of individual merits, powers, etc... It's certainly not "ruels light"!

            I mean, if your argument is "The base attributes and dice resolution are simple, so it's already rules light!" then D&D is rules light too. :P Roll 1d20, add your skill or attack modifier, check if you beat the DC, done!
            But nobody would call D&D rules-light in any serious way. It's all the subsystems and individual spells/classes that make it "rules-heavy", same applies here.

            Anyway, I doubt many want to sacrifice the merits and such just to make it "lighter". That's sort of the thing with CoFD, it can be a bit bloated at times, but it has a lot of charm that there's so much diversity.

            Heavy Arms is exactly correct in his proposal for the "ideal" approach, I think.

            To make the game lighter, I'd look at the following stuff:
            - Optional rules to remove speed. You can replace speed in combat with just a simple zones or range band movement system that slots right in. The approach in Hurt Locker isn't bad, but it sort of keeps speed still around so it doesn't simplify that very much. By removing speed as a factor we're less likely to feel like we must include it in subsystems to "make sense". Individual splat powers would need to be looked at, of course, but that's easy enough. Let a vampire's Celerity allow them to move one extra zone/range band at 1, 3 and 5 Celerity and call it a day, for instance.
            - Alternative rules for the heavier subsystems, such as chases, that don't require looking up a table for diverse modifiers. That shouldn't be too hard to do, we can easily bash something out among ourselves.
            - Simply equipment and service bonuses and the like.
            - A more unified optional "light merits" system could help with merit bloat. I'd probably introduce "story points" then, and make merits give permission to use a story point to call that merit in effect. So if you have "Allies", spending a story point on it makes those allies important in the current story. Or if you have "Striking Looks", you can spend a story point on that to make it important. But all merits would essentially just be descriptors of what their narrative impact is, and the storypoint rules would be universal, with a small list of benefits a story point can give IF you have an appropriate merit to use it with. Each merit would only have 1 rank, and you'd have less of them, maybe 3 at char gen. There wouldn't need to be a list of merits, only rules for what is an appropriate merit. They wouldn't bloat too much since story points would be somewhat limited so more merits give you more options, but not ever increasing stacking modifiers on top of one another that add complexity. It's an interesting option, though I wouldn't let it get too meta, like some other meta currencies in other games can get. I'm not sure I'd use this variant myself, but it would really simplify merits for sure.
            - The rest would essentially be splat specific changes.

            Only four bullet points, but several of them do cover a lot (like "simplify subsystems"). Still, it all seems fairly doable. ^^

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            • #7
              If you don't want to radically change how Merits basically work, I think the biggest thing is really a matter of a somewhat bad tendency (that well predates the CofD):

              The more mechanically complex a part of the game is, the more hooks there are for the granularity of Merits, and thus there's the temptation to bloat the Merit lists.

              This creates issues beyond the number of Merits. You have both general physical Merits, and then subsystem specific physical Merits. Do I take the general Merit that lets me run faster, or the Chase specific Merit that only helps me outrun people in a Chase. Do I take a general Merit that increases my Brawl pool when using grapples, or do I buy the Fighting Style Merit for grappling.

              And of course, in the end, you want to take all the Merits to get the most bonuses.

              If more of the subsystems integrated standard Merits instead of being a source of new subsystem specific Merits, you cut down on these things considerably.

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              • #8
                This seems like what the Storyteller Vault is made for.

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                • #9
                  I'm far from certain. I would definitely double check the STV rules because porting games to a new system (even if it's supposed to be a light-weight version of the existing rules system) may very well be explicitly forbidden.


                  Bloodline: The Stygians
                  Ordo Dracul Mysteries: Mystery of Smoke, Revised Mystery of Živa
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                  • #10
                    As I understand it, you can't use the STV to, say, convert CofD to StoryPath, but you could use it for a supplement for a simplified Conditions system.

                    This is from the STV FAQ:

                    " Or you can create your own custom rules system variants. Products that created with custom, non-traditional rules systems not previously published by White Wolf or its official partners must be stated as such at the beginning of each product for clarity. "

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                    • #11
                      I was a bit nervous posting here, because the people here are people that don't find the system heavy and don't need a simplified version.

                      And I agree the core system is very straightforward. You could simplify it as they did in mirrors or Storypath with just 3 attributes, but that's about it.

                      I think what makes it heavy are all of the subsystems (conditions, additional tracks, exceptions for every power and merit, how different supernaturals work, etc.)

                      I think there's a huge market for meaty settings with simplified systems (just see the enthusiasm for all of the PbtA and Forged in the Dark Games).

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                      • #12
                        There's lots of us that think the CofD could use some streamlining, even if we don't see a need to do radical changes.

                        Part of the problem with comparing things to Exalted Essence or StoryPath, is that those two systems are basically taking the even more complicated Storyteller/ing systems down to where the CofD is. Comparing Trinity 2e to CofD 2e puts them at roughly the same levels of complexity. StoryPath's big advantage is that it frontloads a lot of complexity, but Talents, Novas, and Psions all use completely different rules for their powers, Edges are just like Merits, etc.

                        This is esp. the case because as you just said, it's not the core system that makes CofD a hefty rule set.

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                        • #13
                          As someone trying to get back into CofD after fooling around with other systems, I do like the idea of streamlining a few things but I agree with other posters here that it’s not the core rules that are difficult. I played nWoD first, DnD 5e way later and I think nWoD’s rules in general were way easier—there’s just a lot of sub-systems and different ways supernaturals work. My biggest wish for streamlining would be some way to make it easier to play multiple types of supernaturals in one game. Not impossible, but daunting to learn all the specifics for each splat.

                          I like what Unahim said about CofD being a simulation game versus narrative game. I wouldn’t want to give that up. I don’t think rules adjustments or simplifying rules has to go hand in hand with making it a narrative type game, though?


                          [He who fights monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze too long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you. -Nietzsche]

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                          • #14
                            If I found this kind of thing on STV or DTRPG, I'd buy it for the curiosity.

                            It's the kind of thing I've thought about taking a run at myself, but never got around to, and at this point of my life, I believe I never will. But I'd buy it and read it and maybe chime in on forums and stuff with opinions.

                            I do agree that it's worth taking the shot at streamlining the rules. I'm unconvinced anyone can, which is part of why I'd be intrigued by an attempt. My advice, with a grain of salt, would be to have a vision that's more than just "rules-light CofD;" something more like "slice of life Requiem" or "archaeomancer Mage".


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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Unahim View Post
                              I agree that the base is pretty light.
                              But like you say, there's a ton of subsystems. Handling a chase is an entire subsystem that comes with its own table for modifiers, both to rolls and number of successes needed, that is hard enough to memorize that you'll likely need to look it up each time you wish to use it. And that approach is quite common throughout various other subsystems (many splat-specific) too.
                              And then as you say, there's a ton of individual merits, powers, etc... It's certainly not "ruels light"!

                              I mean, if your argument is "The base attributes and dice resolution are simple, so it's already rules light!" then D&D is rules light too. :P Roll 1d20, add your skill or attack modifier, check if you beat the DC, done!
                              But nobody would call D&D rules-light in any serious way. It's all the subsystems and individual spells/classes that make it "rules-heavy", same applies here.
                              The difference between CofD and D&D is that all the subsystems of CofD (the base game; no splats) are 100% completely optional. They can all be reduced down to a single roll. Even the combat system (the only system that is so expected to be used you're instructed to put derived traits specifically for that system on your character sheet) has Down & Dirty as an option. Merits are by far the most complicated, but even they require a literal buy-in because they're not used unless you buy them and use them.
                              If you don't like the Chase rules, just throw them out and roll a contested Stamina+Athletics with whatever modifiers you think should apply.
                              The various splats are certainly not rules light, no, but I've already stated why I don't think a supplement for all of them wouldn't work. At best you would need one supplement per gameline, which would still make a lot of rules to juggle for the Contagion Chronicle.

                              In D&D (though I wouldn't call the current edition particularly rules heavy compared to the actual giants like Exalted), all the rules (except Feats) are supposed to be used, and basic character progression (Class levels) is based around interacting with all the rules of the game. There are tables everywhere (especially for the GM) and antagonists are not much less complicated than PCs (with the only saving grace being how many pregenerated antagonists are available).
                              A few things can be done to ease the load; generally by choosing not to interact with a few systems. You could run a party of non-casters and have non-casters as enemies to get rid of the bloated list of spells, for example, but combat is the most involved part and that you can't remove.


                              I do, however, think it would be a good idea to rework Merits (as discussed above) as well as revamp the ephemeral entities rules to be less demanding on the ST having to remember or check what prerequisites are necessary for Manifestations, and which Influence levels can grant them, etc.


                              Bloodline: The Stygians
                              Ordo Dracul Mysteries: Mystery of Smoke, Revised Mystery of Živa
                              Mage The Awakening: Spell Quick Reference (single page and landscape for computer screens)

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