I picked up the new World of Darkness: Innocents last week but didn’t manage to read any of it until this week. I promised a review in my private blog, so here it is. The short version is: A little disappointed.
For those unfamiliar with the product, the idea is that it’s a stand-alone game that is geared towards playing children in the World of Darkness and provides a modified version of the nWoD variation of the Storytelling system as a mechanic behind it. The end result is a 256 page hardcover costing $34.99.
Taken on it’s own merits, it’s a reasonable book I guess. It doesn’t have the charm of Little Fears, but its otherwise seems like it was done well. The rules are a slightly tweaked version of the World of Darkness rules, at times just changing the names a bit to fit with the setting better. Instead of Virtues and Vices to regain Willpower, they have Assets and Faults. (And they no longer have the Seven Deadly Sins/Heavenly Virtues motif.) Derangements have been replaced by Triggers. Many of the Merits and Flaws were tweaked to reflect that the characters are children, so you have a Speach Impediment Flaw and you have “Odd Jobs” and “Deep Pockets” to represent the money the characters have instead of “Resources.” The Skill “Academics” was replaced with the skill “Study.” Not all of it is as gracefully handled. They introduce two new fighting styles for characters in this game, “Karate for Kids” and “Playground Dogpile,” in order to represent the sort of fighting specialties kids might need to draw upon. That earned a stinkeye from me.
Attributes and Skills took something of a GURPS Bunnies and Burrows approach. They still went on the normal WoD scale of 1-5, but they were reinterpreted on a “child” scale. So a child with a 5 Strength was not the same as an adult with 5 Strength in normal WoD. Getting dots in a skill above 3 was prohibited to those who did not lack some relevant “prodigy” Merit. Along similar lines, the damage track was modified to give children more penalties for taking damage. All of this is kinda fun and neat, but they didn’t scale up adults accordingly. Instead, adults operate on the normal WoD scale and have special rules for conflicts involving children. Most of the special rules boil down to, “Adults win.” Some of it looks like it kiiiinda works, but even they admit in the rules that there isn’t a good adult-to-child conversion when dealing with a straight up opposed dice tests. I think of all the mechanics, the rules for handling adults will prove to be the most problematic.
The setting they provide is, essentially, the World of Darkness. Most of their non-human antagonists are a re-hash of the ghost and spirit rules that you find in other World of Darkness books. They toss in a half-dozen or so “urban legend” style monsters appropriate for children to deal with. In the appendix they have information about blending the big supernaturals into things (ie, Vampires, Prometheans, etc). Most of the Storytelling chapter covers themes common in children-in-horror genres as well as some general discussion of child psychology and how it can help you portray a child. They also have several essays throughout the book on the subject of children in roleplaying games in general. There are also a few sample adventures.
I also think it’s very beautifully laid out and I even find the flavor text to be pretty neat.
All in all, a pretty solidly made book. Not smokin’ awesome. But solid.
My gripe, though, is: Why did this need to be a $35 hardback with most of the material being something I already own?
The child-specific stuff from the Storytelling chapter, the essays, the rules modifications, the sample adventures and the special antagonists represent maybe 50-60 pages of material. Maybe less. Otherwise it’s just one big, fat repeat of nearly all the material from the World of Darkness core book. I’m guessing from a marketing perspective they felt that this would be a good stand-alone game for people who would not normally buy the normal World of Darkness game and this could serve as a gateway book for those who want to try out their other products. But… who the hell is interested in playing “children in a horror setting” that would not already be interested in playing adults in a horror setting? Otherwise I can’t figure out their reasoning.
I’ve been trying to think how it could be done differently. Produced solely as a supplement to the main rules, 40-50 pages seems a little small for a company like White Wolf to put out as a print item. I could see them bundling it with something like the Storyteller’s screen, but that would have really only been viable if they’d come out with the product two years ago when the screen first came out.
Otherwise the best I can come up with would just be a straight PDF sale. Beyond that it seems like their best options would be to either provide a few sample settings (like Guardians of Order did with Ex Machina and Dreaming Cities) or else make a book of different variations on the World of Darkness theme. Either way it’s still going to be a pretty hefty sourcebook to buy on top of the core rules. I just don’t have any clever ideas for how else to do it, I guess.