I love the storyteller systems. I’ve loved them for many years and they are my go-to games. However, the element I dislike the most are combat mechanics. Over the years White Wolf, Onyx Path, and other variations on these companies have tried to establish effective methods of running combat. Chronicles of Darkness was a little better, but I think the dice pool system is inherently a little frustrating when it comes to combat. Dice rolls are usually pretty straightforward in WoD games, and they run smoothly in every situation outside of fighting. In combat, things slow down to a crawl, which is particularly problematic in games like Werewolf, where combat is an essential element of the storyline.
Here are a few ways I’ve streamlined combat over the years to make it run a little smoother.
None are perfect.
D&D and other fantasy RPG players are used to the idea that initiative goes from top to bottom. White Wolf games have introduced the idea of lowest to highest initiative in multiple games, but most people I’ve played with ignore this rule. So, let me give you two suggestions for the price of one for initiative.
Give players a set score – Wits+Dex+Attribute is my suggestion. This attribute can be different for mental, social, or physical. For example, a player could have three scores written down, Wits+Dex+Awareness (mental), Wits+Dex+Dodge (physical), Wits+Dex+Etiquette (social). These three scores are static; the player gets one based on which action they first choose to do in combat. If they use a social power or action, then they get that initiative order for the whole encounter. Same for the physical one, and the mental one. This saves everyone from rolling and gives the social player an advantage in certain situations.
Always run combat from lowest initiative to highest. Highest gets to react to everything else around them in the round. Have the entire group declare their actions, and then roll to see what happens. DO NOT DEVIATE FROM THIS. If you do, you actually throw a lot of the nuances of WoD combat out, and this actually slows down combat. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but getting into this groove will make things much smoother.
2) Soak And Damage
Traditional combat requires a roll to hit, a roll to do damage, and then various rolls to either dodge or parry, and then a roll to soak the damage. This could mean a back and forth of 4-6 dice rolls, depending on different factors, splitting dice pools… it goes on and on. I recommend using a standard soak amount. There is a roll to hit, then standard set damage from an attack or weapon plus any additional successes from the to hit roll. (2d10 to hit, both successes 3 damage standard +2 for the successes = 5 damage) Then soak is a static amount, half of Stamina+Fortitude or other similar power. I usually will arbitrate how much a specific discipline or gift will add to this number based on the way the power is written. That player then auto-soaks that amount of damage. This makes things more straightforward, and reduces confusion over what to roll, when, and for what.
3) Splitting Dice Pools
Usually, I just don’t. There is nothing wrong with splitting pools to have multiple actions, but it really does slow things down. Particularly if you have newer players or players that don’t have the best understanding of the mechanical systems work this out themselves. These are often amazing roleplayers and story folks, so I want to make things easy for them. I want them to engage in what they are good at in the game. I don’t want them to get frustrated with things that seemingly don’t make sense or are complicated for unclear reasons. So, I often eliminate the idea of splitting dice pools from the game. If a player wants to do something that would normally require this, I take it on a case by case basis. There are ways to storytell dodging and attacking in a thematic manner which I am comfortable with. I still allow the dice to play a part in the process, but I reduce the overall amount of rolls to focus on the important elements to the players and to the overall story.
What ways do you streamline your game’s combat? I’m sure you aren’t all happy with the reasons behind why I do what I do. I’m also sure some of you have come up with a better work around that is even more streamlined and effective. I’m thrilled to hear feedback from either side.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games. With 19 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his other gaming projects. Josh is also the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s currently running a Changing Breeds game and CHARIOT digital LARP. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s published adventures here and here.
Picture Reference: https://www.polygon.com/2014/5/2/5674352/World-of-darkness-cancellation-CCP-Fanfest
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.