As you may have gleaned from posts I’ve made on various forums of late, I’m writing the kewl powerz for Demon: The Spearmint. I’m also co-developing, but that’s neither here nor there for purposes of this entry.
What I want to talk about here is “Storyteller discretion,” in a very specific context: that of supernatural powers.
In cWoD, there were a lot of powers that relied heavily on Storyteller discretion. Hell, Mage: The Ascension was pretty much a whole game that relied on it. The rules gave you some guidelines on what you could do with various dots and spells and so on, but what that actually meant in terms of game play – and game mechanics – was very often left vague and up to the Storyteller.
Now, I think that was a good thing, at the time. Coming to gaming from D&D (or, as I did, Marvel Superheroes, also from TSR), the systems were pretty tight, insofar as everything had one. If something had a game effect, it was pretty well-defined. It was additional damage, a column shift (that’s a Marvel thing), a sneak attack, and so on, but these all meant something in terms of numbers. Not much “up to Storyteller’s discretion.”
One of the things we tried to do with NWoD, and something I enjoy about games like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (Margaret Weiss Productions), is that there’s a lack of leaving things up to the GM. Sure, putting game effects into narrative terms is often the GM’s responsibility (though in fairness, MHR advises you to make the players do it, which I think is great advice), but the number-crunching is pretty straightforward. In NWoD, everything really cooks down to adding or subtracting dice, since target numbers don’t really change (though I’m hearing rumors about Mummy…). As such, instances of “the Storyteller defines this” have become much rarer.
Looking back at Demon: The Fallen, the powers (Lores) were almost entirely in the hands of the Storyteller. What the powers were supposed to do was defined in narrative terms, but not really in mechanical terms. That made DtF something of a bugbear to run; I ran a year-long Demon game (it was actually the last time I’ve run a cWoD game, to date), and it asked a lot of the Storyteller. You could, of course, always fall back, as cWoD games so often did, on “the rules don’t matter, do what’s fun,” but I don’t like that style of game writing anymore. It feels lazy. Plus, nWoD works, so why not use the system (especially given the revisions you’ll see in the God-Machine Chronicle).
So for Demon: The Cherimoya, as I’m writing the powers, I find myself occasionally saying “up to Storyteller’s discretion.” But that’s not because the game mechanics are ill-defined, at least I hope not. It’s because the powers in question are flexible enough that the Storyteller needs to exercise some discretion, and decide what exactly the character is capable of doing, where the limits are, and above all, whether the use of the power attracts any attention. (Attracting attention is a big thing in Demon: The Picabo. Not human attention, so much. Humans are OK, as long as you don’t overdo it.)
I’m going to get more into the open development thing with Demon: The Judybats than I have with other books I’ve done, mostly because I have access to this blog and a lunch break. Along the way, maybe you get to see the kewl powerz evolve and see links to playtests and so on. I don’t want to post too much, though, because you don’t want to buy the book and discover you’ve seen it all already, yeah?
So I’ll use my discretion.