What is The God Machine Chronicle? Is it World of Darkness 2.0?
Is it a new setting? Does it replace what has come before? Is it a needless money making scheme? These are the
questions on the lips of all World of Darkness fans so I figured I would take a look and see if I couldn’t
figure it all out.
Reading through the
new rules it is clear why this is not a straight up second edition, but rather a rules update, as the core rule
book (the “Blue Book”) is still required. All the attributes and skills are the same, you still roll a fistful
of D10, look for 8,9 or 10, what you have here is a set of alternate rules, tweaks and hacks that can be added
to you game as you see fit. If you have read the Armoury reloaded, you will have seen this type of thing before
with the “Combat Hacks”. The new rules all work with the existing rules (pretty much) so you can use as many or
as few as you like, some are small and minor, some are game changing!
Let’s look at some
of the The God Machine Chronicle minor tweaks first. The merits are the best example of
interchangablity of the new rules with the old ones. You could view this section as a new set of merits and
throw out all of the old ones, you could use most of these new ones but keep a few of your favourites from the
core book, (say if you really want to have a kung-fu expert) or stay mostly with the existing merits but use the
ones you like from the new ones. This pretty much reflects the nature of this book as a whole, changes that can
be added in any combination to your game rather than a whole new way of playing.
Taking a closer
look at the merits, you will see that some are ones that were present before but with a bit of a polish
(professions), some are familiar but new (fighting styles) and some are completely new (fast-talking). The
professions for me was a notable highlight, these were present in Hunter: the Vigil, they were things like
doctor, lawyer etc, the sort of thing that rounds out a mortal character nicely. However, they offered so little
bonus to the character it was almost impossible to justify the cost, it felt like you had to spend up to half
your starting merits just to be able to SAY you were a doctor/lawyer etc. Now however, they give you some
amazing bonuses making them almost an essential choice for a mortal character. Each profession gets 2 asset
skills, skills associated with the profession, such as medicine for doctors that get the 9 again rule, meaning
your get to re-roll 9s as well as 10s giving you a much greater chance of getting a lot of successes. On top of
that it gives you the equivalent of 2-dots in contacts in your field for the price of one dot in profession.
This is a massive improvement on the way it was before in my opinion and relates to what I think is the main
selling point of this book, it makes the World of Darkness into what you wanted it to be from the
Let me explain. WoD
offers something different to other RPGs, it is a much more social affair that doesn’t rely on kicking and
punching your enemies to death all the time. It’s about seeking knowledge, making contacts, gaining influence,
seizing power etc. However, I have always felt that with mortal characters that the choices for this were really
limited, there have always been mental and social merits, but they have never been particularly ... interesting.
If you WANT to kick and punch your enemies, there are LOADS of really cool fighting styles to choose from that
all felt really unique and different. If you want a non-combat character, you had photographic memory
and encyclopaedic knowledge, and
that was pretty much it. So for a game that seems to encourage less combat focused play, making characters who
were not combat-ready badass was a limited affair.
Not anymore! The
balance has been shifted with these new merits, and with things like fast-talking, making a non-combat badass
can now be achieved in a variety of different ways. It seems weird to say about WoD, but the attention has been
taken away from combat and put onto social interactions.
A lot of the rules
help move the focus from combat and onto more social interactions. A whole section on “social manoeuvring” gives
you a framework for working out how PCs can achieve their goals without firing a single shot. New rules for
non-lethal combat mean that a simple bar room brawl doesn’t have to become a life and death struggle. The
player, and story teller, has to announce whether it is a fight to the death before the dice are rolled, and if
it isn’t them a combatant can knock the fight out of their opponent and get the better of them without filling
their bar with lethal damage. This means an end to security guards who are willing to die to protect the mall,
muggers who don’t give up even when all their ribs are broken or gang members who still throw punches after
taking a face full of buckshot. Of course these things can be avoided by good roleplaying but many of us can get
carried away in the moment and this just helps keep everyone on the same page.
Morality has become
Integrity, focusing less on sin and more on things affecting sanity. It works in much the same way but has a
quite different feel. It does have a more Call of Cthulhu feel and will ultimately come down to which you feel
suits the tone of your game better. I personally prefer Integrity and felt it came into play much more
organically than Morality but I can easily imagine some people finding it a bit of a departure from the feel of
the game. However, as with all the rules, this can be included in your game or left out as you see fit and it
would affect how the other rules work. Another new feature of Integrity is Breaking Points, these are situations
specific to the character that will cause them to lose integrity (instead of committing a sin as with Morality).
These are generated by answering 5 questions about you character and their past that not only gives the player
and storyteller a better understanding of the characters psyche but also can be used for coming up with story
hooks for the character.
Vices and Virtues
have had a less severe make-over, and again the changes just make it easier to bring them into play. All in all,
these new rules make sense, they are easy to implement and, in my opinion, help steer the game in the right
direction, away from hack and slash combat and toward meaningful social interactions and in-character
role-playing. Not only that, but you can download the rules update on their own for free, which considering you
do still need to buy the original blue book is very kind of White Wolf to do.
So this is the bit
that costs money and takes up the first half of the book, so what is it? Well, just as the rules aren’t exactly
a 2nd edition, this is not exactly a new setting. The best way to describe it is that the God-Machine is a new
antagonist for the characters, be they mortal or supernatural, to have to deal with. Only it is big, and
powerful, and world changing! How world changing is up to you, as are most other details of the God-Machine. Did
it create the world or did it come from somewhere else in the universe? Was it a Russian supercomputer built in
the cold-war that gained sentience? Are we all living in a Matrix created by the God-Machine and reality as we
know it is all a lie? Mysteries and
ambiguities are the name of the game, so why pay for something if it doesn’t give you any specifics?
Well what this DOES
give you is a framework upon which to build a game based on the unknown. It came be a difficult thing to
achieve, a game where the players and characters have no idea what’s going on and the threat they face is all
knowing and all powerful. This book sets out how you can run a game with such a powerful foe, how the players
can get the better of it and stop its plans. It describes different tiers of game from local to cosmic;
depending on how far reaching you want the game to be. A group of mortal characters in a mini-campaign may only
discover their local hospital is being used in service of the God-Machine. Whereas characters in a long running
Mage campaign may find the whole of reality is under threat from this omniscient entity. It may sound a bit
cheesy but the possibilities really are only limited by your imagination!
The basic idea is
that the God-Machine has a plan, what it is the players/characters may never fully understand, but it is taking
place all around them, unseen by the general population. Some humans will work in service of this plan, either
knowingly or unknowingly (and even if they think they know the plan, they almost certainly don’t), they gather
resources; cover the tracks of other agents, and anything else that forms part of the God-Machines plan. The
most powerful agents are known as Angels, and are part of the God-Machine itself, manifesting on Earth to ensure
everything goes to plan. This is what is known as an “infrastructure” and it is the storytellers’ job to create
this before the game. It is basically “What’s going on and who’s involved”, it may also include “why” it’s
happening but this is not essential. After that the storyteller must come up with a “Linchpin”, something that
the whole infrastructure depends on, which, if removed will result in the collapse the whole operation, giving
the players a way of fighting a foe that is seemingly all powerful. Again, this linchpin could be anything from
an abandoned warehouse used for rituals that, if burnt down or raided by the police collapses the
infrastructure, to ancient rituals set in place millennia before man first walked on the Earth that only the
darkest of magics can break. It all depands on the individual game.
To help you get
started there are about 20 story ideas and loads of NPCs ready to go along with them, so if this all seems a bit
daunting you can be shown the way first.
This was a hard
book to review, not because of the content, that is all great, but actually defining what it is is a bit more
complicated. Let’s start with the rules update, these are great but are more like a really intelligent and
creative set of house rules rather than a full 2nd edition, which seems a bit of a rip off until you see the
price, free! If you already play nWoD then gets these rules and use the ones you like, you have no reason not
to. My concern is for totally new players coming to the system for the first time, they will have to buy the
blue book, read it all, then download the update, read it all and decide which bits they want in their game.
Seems a bit complicated, would have been nice if they could just purchase one book with all the rules in, but
then it isn’t enough of a second edition to justify existing players paying full whack for a book they have most
of anyway… it’s a tough call.
The setting is
equally great and equally hard to define, everything about the World of Darkness you thought you knew is… well
still kind of true but now there all this other stuff. Maybe it’s appropriate
that an entity as
confusing as the God-Machine should get a book as nebulous and undefinable as itself but it hasn’t half given me
So to sum up, the
content of this book is brilliant, the rules refine an already awesome game to near perfection and the setting
allows for some of the most mind-bending stories imaginable. It is a must for all nWoD, without any question,
but for new players it is just going to come across as a confusing mess, and for that reason I can’t in good
conscience give it the 5/5 I feel it deserves. I have racked my brain for a better way they could have realised
this but I think actually they have been as fair as they can to as many people as they can (having the rules as
a free download is mighty generous of them). But if I had to describe what it is to a friend I think I would
have to make an Integrity check.
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