Friday, June 15, 2012

World of Darkness and Mage the Awakening

World of Darkness and Mage the Awakening

One of the most influential games to ever hit the market was Vampire the Masquerade.  I have talked about this game quite a bit in the past, but never addressed directly.   Well a while back they “rebooted” the entire universe and now we have the “New World of Darkness” and with it a revised vampire game, Vampire the Requiem.

Let’s start basic; both games are all perfectly playable as they are.  All the games cover much of the same ground and allow you to play similar types and styles of games.  All the games have similar backgrounds, realities and even to some degree futures.  Characters created in one game can easily be thought of as having an analogue in the other game.  In fact recently White Wolf created a “Translation Guide” to allow you to move characters from Vampire the Masquerade to the newer Vampire the Requiem.  It was an insanely popular book spending many months in DriveThruRPG's top 10.   They also now have a Werewolf Translation now.  I am waiting for them to do one for Mage.

The same could be thought of when comparing *WoD with Unisystem.  For every Unisystem character there is an analogue in the World of the Darkness (either).    Both games cover a lot of the same ground, just in different ways.

Translations between the two different systems it bit hard than between oWod and nWod, but it can be done.  So the question then is why would I want to?

Well there are many reasons.  Maybe you want something new a unique to spring upon your players.  Zombies with more “life” in them, vampiric ghouls, conspiracies from either game.    Given that the in-game realities allow many permutations the question become more of Why not?
Maybe you have tons of books of one system, but want the new challenge of a new system, but don’t want to loose your investment in a world.

Or, lets face it SOME ONE out there want’s to see what happens when a Slayer goes up against the Ordo Dracul, or who really is more powerful, a Mage or a Witch.

For the sake of this post I am going to concentrate on nWod or new World of Darkness and the "Storytelling" system and the WitchCraft and Ghosts of Albion flavors of Unisystem.  Given that, I am going to focus mostly on Mage the Awakening.

Worlds of Darkness
What is different between the two WoD games and why should I care?  To start with the rules have been cleaned up to allow greater playability across all the lines and a new focus has been placed on “normal” humans; something the old World of Darkness sorely lacked.  All in all the rule changes are an improvement.  They are, if I dare say it, more Unisystem-like. Also the meta-plot and background has changed.  In many respects the meta-plot of old is gone, this allows Storytellers great freedom.  But it also seems they purposefully did what they could to make differences more pronounced.  In Vampire this is a good thing, in Mage I am less pleased with the results.

Mage: So What’s New?
Well in many ways much is the same.  Characters are still magic wielding humans that can change the nature of reality through the effort of their will and a butt-load of d10s.  There are still traditions of sorts (now called Paths) and there are still spheres of control (10 total).
The authors really took time to think about the myths of Mage. The results will vary in the eyes of the beholder, but there is no doubt that they craft an interesting world.  It is almost like they took all the myths of the world and thought “what are the root truths to all of these”.  The result is something I describe as looking at the world from a perpendicular or a sideways glance; it looks familiar and yet oddly strange.  Everything is familiar and still new and different. Also there seems to be a general fondness for the 70’s occult revival or the trippy acid-induced hangover of the 60’s. For example the five mages of the watchtowers look like something out of a Black Sabbath album.

Mage the Awakening system wise is much closer to WitchCraft.  Mage: The Ascension is more compatible with WitchCraft thematically.

nWoD: Second Sight
In many ways this the Mystery Codex of the new World of Darkness.  It is also the new “Sorcerer: The Hedge Wizard’s Handbook”. It deals primarily with psychic powers and phenomena as well as “low magic”.  It is a good addition to any WoD game and a decent enough primer of psychic ability for any game if you can’t get your hands on the Time-Life Books series. It does do something that the old WoD was never able to do adequately for me, and that is answer the question of what happens if an already powered character gains vampire, werewolf or mage powers.  Full of ideas of new Supernatural Qualities, Seer Metaphysics, and even Taint based powers.  This book is actually quite useful as is for Unisystem gamers.

What Do Users of Each Game Get?
For the Unisystem player the answer should be quite obvious, a variety new and interesting powers for Vampyre characters. Most Vampire powers can be converted to Qualities.  But beyond mere crunchy stuff, there is the thing that makes both games so appealing; the back stories.  Both the new WoD and the old WoD had very interesting back stories and meta plots to their game, it really gave the feeling of living in a real, living (unliving?) world.
Unisystem Games are not as detailed for another good reason, to allow players the freedom to make the worlds their own.  WitchCraft also assumes that there are many different kinds of magic, not just paths to one ultimate truth.  These magics can coexist with each other and the world.

Conversions to Unisystem
Normally when doing a game to game conversion I like to think these are the same characters in the same world, with just a different way of looking at things. Conversions between Unisystem, d20, BESM, Chill,  and even Kult have worked out fine in this regard. Sure there are some differences in world mythos and ways and means of magic, but all in all conversions can be (and have been) done.

This one is a little more tricky.  While converting the actual numbers is not a difficult task really, it is determining if the numbers mean the same thing.  Then there is the dice pool mechanic vs. the stat+roll compare to a target number mechanic of games mentioned above.
In most cases a direct conversion may not be possible so instead one should try to stat the character using the same concepts.  So my Wicce Seeker of Knowledge ends up being a witch on the Thyrsus Path and a member of the Mysterium.  Not exactly the same thing really, but close.
I am viewing this then as separate but equal (which, thanks to the Kansas Board of Education we know really isn’t) characters; alternate universe versions of each other. So the characters are largely the same, just the worlds are different.

Points to Points
We can look at conversions two ways; a point for point conversion or some external correlation.  In WoD (most) everything is on the same 1 to 5 point scale.  In Unisystem everything is also on an equal pointing scale.
This is good, so let’s start with the Attributes. The new WoD still has nine Attributes in 3x3 categories, with Willpower which is removed from the attribute list and has it’s own scoring.  Unisystem has 6 attributes in 2 categories (mental and physical). So not everything is going to convert nicely.
Intelligence, Strength, Dexterity and Stamina (WoD) line up well to Intelligence, Strength, Dexterity and Constitution (Uni).  Willpower and Perception in Unisystem are slightly different in WoD.
The Social triad, Presence, Manipulation and Composure can best be handled by Qualities and Skills.  In particular Charisma (which can be positive or negative in Unisystem) can handle Presence and Composure to some extent.  Others Qualities and Skills include Influence and Attractiveness, as well many supernatural qualities.

If we count the “free” point everyone gets in WoD for all nine attributes and add the amount allocated we get 30 points total and an average of 2.333 per attribute.
In Cinematic Unisystem Heroes get 20 points for 6 attributes, this amounts to a 3.33 per attribute.  So on the average 1 point higher per attribute.

Going to the external validation let’s do what I did with the Chill conversions; compare the max lift of both games.  At a strength of 1 a character can lift 50 lbs in Unisystem or 40 lbs in WoD.  In both systems a strength of 2 will allow a character to lift 100 lbs.  But it is at Strength 3 that the systems differ. At Strength 3 a WoD character can lift 250 lbs, a Unisystem character 150lbs.  This continues and gives us the following table.

Strength nWoD Unisystem
1 40 lbs 50 lbs
2 100 lbs 100 lbs
3 250 lbs 150 lbs
4 400 lbs 200 lbs
5 650 lbs* 250 lbs
6 800 lbs 450 lbs *
7 900 lbs 650 lbs
8 1000 lbs 850 lbs
9 1200 lbs 1050 lbs
10 1500 lbs 1250 lbs

There is a built in error factor of ± 10% of the weight on Unisystem’s side.

Continuing our look at external validation let’s compare what each system calls their human maximum (* above).  In WoD this is 5 (at a higher point cost) and in Unisystem it is a 6 (also at a higher point cost).

All three of these combined point to one overwhelming conclusion:
WoD scores = Unisystem – 1

Very nice.  A quick and dirty look at skills, metaphysics, merits and flaws and this seems to hold true.

Vices and Virtues
This is new to the new WoD game and it is an interesting role-playing twist.  By having your character role-play one of the seven deadly sins and the seven virtues they gain Willpower points.  My suggestion is to retain these when converting to Unisystem and have players gain or loose Essence Points (for Classic games) or Drama Points (for Cinematic games) in place of Willpower.   In the case of following their virtue they gain a 1 to 3 Essence points or 1Drama point instead regaining all lost.
Of course Experience points can always be given, but by giving Essence or Drama points they take on a different feel.  My personal preference is to use this with Essence.
This is most similar to Kult’s Mental Balance mechanic or the Karma mechanic of other games. My trouble is often my characters do not fit well into the seven virtues or vices.

Skills
Skills seem a bit easier.  Classic Unisystem has more skills than WoD, but CineUnisystem has less.  Five dots is the human maximum in the WoD, 6 is the human max in Unisystem, but some can go to 9.
Use the same conversion formula here, WoD score = Unisystem score -1.
If converting to CineUnisystem, use a wild card for skills not covered (like politics).

Metaphysics
Ah. Now here is the meat of the matter, what makes both games unique.  Mage and WitchCraft’s magic systems are not only very different from each other, they are also largely different from most other games out there. The magic system is often one of the big reasons why people choose one of these games over the other.
In Mage one immerses themselves in a Path and learns (by spending points) Arcana.  These are then utilized by Rotes and powered by Mana (Quintessence in old Mage).   In WitchCraft one immerses themselves into metaphysics and learns the invocations (by spending points) of that area.  In some cases these are also call Aracana. These metaphysics are powered by Essence.

Converting Rotes to Classic Invocations
In Mage magic exist in Arcana and are powered by Mana.  WitchCraft invocations are likewise grouped and are powered by Essence. So they do have surface similarities.
Since invocations have mostly set effects, it is often easier to use Mage rotes as the path of conversion.  But it should be noted that purchasing 7 levels in any WitchCraft invocation often has the same effect as becoming the master of an Aracana (5 dots), again the WoD = Unisystem -1 formula (more or less) comes into play.

For WitchCraft I would take each Mage Sphere and make them a sub category under a new grouping of Metaphysics called “Mage Arcana”.  What separates these from other invocations is the only way to learn them is to be a member of one of the Mage associations.  Mage Arcana might just be a long hiden type of Atlantian Arcana (something both games have) or it might something completely new.  Lost texts from ancient Lemuria come to surface full of this new type of magic for example.
Now certainly there is (and should be) overlap. The Mind sphere should be accessible to anyone with the Sight, and Death and even some Life and Time should be available to Necromancers.

Converting Rotes to Cinematic Spells
When converting to Cinematic Unisystem, Rotes are the way to go.  The dots of the Rote add up to give the Cinematic Power Level.  In many cases this will have to be adjusted by -1.
Witches and Magicians that have more than 9 levels of Sorcery or Magic (respectively) can use the Improvised casting rules in Mage.

Up next, conversions in practice.

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