Rollin' Dice Is All Fine, But...

When I was a much younger gamer, a boy of merely 17 years old, I discovered roleplaying by way of a most unorthodox entry; a game called Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade. This was exciting as it opened all sorts of doors to me, and before long, I was reading through all of the World of Darkness games of the time; games like Vampire: the Masquerade, Mage: the Ascension, and Werewolf: the Apocalypse. I devoured the knowledge laid before me and studied the rules, concepts, lore, and techniques that would allow me to become a Storyteller. Helping me along with this quest for knowledge was the fact that right after I turned 18, I got a job at my local comic and games store.

"I play Vampire," I would say when asked about which games I played. "I'm a Storyteller." And when other people would hear me say that I roleplay, they would ask the inevitable question.

"Is that like D&D?" They would ask, having never heard of the World of Darkness in any capacity. I would recoil in horror and derision and say that no, in fact it was not really like D&D at all, and that I preferred to do my gaming as a real, personal exploration of horror, madness, and morality. To put it nicely, I was not a fan of D&D.

Now, let me be quick to state that, as I've gotten older and had time and opportunity to play multiple games across dozens of systems, I have learned that I don't hate D&D. I don't. I think it's a great game, and I think the 5th edition of it is the best version there's ever been. I will also say that Vampire the Masquerade is definitely not the same type of game as D&D. I could get into all kinds of side topics about running dungeon quests versus telling tales of Machiavellian political power scheming, but I won't. Instead I will simply say that, in my opinion, Vampire (and it's sibling game lines) is a "Narrative-based" System, while D&D is a rules based system.

I'll elaborate a little bit. I've always explained D&D to potential customers as a very intricate and beautifully designed mathematical formula. That is to say, x characters at y level + an encounter of a rating at or below their level = Success, yielding z amount of experience. The entire thing is balanced near-perfectly to ensure that the players have a chance of making it through the encounter and defeating whichever adversaries they meet, and that the rewards for making it through will include magic items and experience sufficient to allow them to reach a new level of epic heroism. This new level will also be required for the party to be able to successfully complete the next set of encounters. And so it goes, on and on. For you math nerds out there, you should really appreciate the complexity of this whole set-up. I think it's beautiful. The only issue I have with it is that all of this math has a tendency to trump whatever story is occurring. And as you may know, VtM (etc) runs on something called the "Storyteller System."

Vampire is many things, but chief among those is, quite simply, a story. While the players may obsess over the distribution of the dots in their Abilities (ever adding d10s to their dice pools), their Player Characters are people caught up in a story. VtM is a system wherein the rules support the story, bending and shaping to do whatever you need them to do in order to support the narrative. This is an important distinction from more rules-based rpg systems. The rules are important, as they set the framework for how events unfold, but they can't dictate the story itself. This comes from the Storyteller, and they should feel free to use and abuse the rules however they see fit, provided it pushes the narrative and enhances gameplay.

I'm sure that some of the people reading this are scoffing at the idea that "rules don't matter" or that the Storyteller could have the power to flippantly disregard them at any point in time. I understand the concern for such a thought process, but I've always seen the game as something that is very much supposed to be a collaborative effort. That is to say, the Storyteller shouldn't be working against the players, they should be working together to have fun while telling a good story. In the interest of telling the story, you should be more than willing to sacrifice, and the rules are among those things that can sometimes be sacrificed.

Take heed, my fellow Storytellers; running your game while paying 100% attention to the accuracy of the rules is not wrong by any means, but its not the only way to play the game.