Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The God Machine Chronicles - Review

The God Machine Chronicles - Review

9 years ago White Wolf did something that caused controversy - they ended the World of Darkness and restarted it, with fresh new plots and refreshed approaches to the themes. The first significant change of course was that the rules for the World of Darkness were revised and placed in a single core book, that would be used for all supernatural characters in future. This 'blue book' would mean that at a base level all creature types would have a common base of reference for power balance and crossover, but it would also mean that we had a core set of rules for playing just normal human characters.
Since then we have had numerous setting books, covering vampires, werewolves, mages, created humans, mummies, changelings, hunters, and ghostly sin-eaters. And in that time we have also seen numerous variations on different parts of the system, and in particular the morality system and variations of ephemeral beings, and numerous ways to modify dice pools.
So it is of no surprise that the time has come for a revision of the New World of Darkness core rules. Many games in the same time period can have 2 or 3 editions, so that just shows how robust the original New World of Darkness rules were. They accommodated a number of creature types, and provided a great common baseline from which all other settings were derived.
The God Machine Chronicles book is two parts. The first is the God Machine Chronicle itself. And the last part of the book are the core World of Darkness revisions. These revisions are available for free which is great.
The God Machine Chronicle provides a default setting to use in a chronicle that is suitable for mortal characters. We get insight into the machinations of the God Machine, a cosmic horror that slowly maneuvers the world to it's own occult purpose. It's agents are humans, strange corruptions of the laws of reality, machine like people, and angels (angel being a broad term here - agents that work for this god based on instructions they are given). The true nature and intent of the God Machine is never given in the book, just the theme and mood, since any number of explanations could be valid.
To support these chronicles we are given plenty of ideas for how characters can get involved in these plots, and we are also given explanations of how the God Machine goes about manipulating the world, creating infrastructures to gathering, nurture, create and hide it's plans. Based upon these ideas we are then given a series of 20 or so example stories. These are not fully fledged Storyteller Adventure System (SAS) descriptions, but more condensed descriptions that explain the concept of the story, the types of characters involved, and the reason for why the event are happening. We are also given explanations for how these stories would influence future stories, depending upon the success of the player characters.
Given these story examples we are then given story tracks. These are 5 or so of these stories that are tied together to give a chronicle. Each track assumes player characters follow a certain setup (they are all medical professionals, they all work at a school etc), and each track aims to tell a story for a particular game tier. Tiers were introduced in Hunter the Vigil and return in God Machine Chronicles with a description for Tier 4 - Cosmic Level chronicles. Each Tier, street, city, national, cosmic, just gives us an idea for the scope of the game and the importance of the changes the players and the antagonists will make.
Overall the God Machine Chronicles provides a perfect framework for a chronicle that is suitable for telling stories for mortal characters, emulating things like The X Files, Fringe, Lost, Millennium, The Burning Zone, and Cthulhu.

Now the rules.

The rules still work essentially the same, but with some important changes to Morality, Combat, Experience, and the introduction of the concept of Conditions and Tilts.
Morality is gone. The Victorian concept of madness being linked to morality is abandoned, and now we have something far more nuanced and representative of how people's life experiences can make them more or less able to cope with the horrors of the world. This is Integrity. Integrity now relies on the players creating a list of important moral perspectives for their characters. This provides a base for how they respond to actions like violence, crime, death and unspeakable horrors. A war veteran is of course going to be more calm and resolute in the face of death than a college graduate. This then means that characters have their own particular 'Breaking Points' that cause the degradation of Integrity. But, all characters, no matter how jaded, will still see the action of killing a person, or the intent to kill, as a breaking point. Of course virtues, vices, and situation modifiers can make it harder or easier to pass the breaking point, and resist degeneration. It is then plain to see that Integrity better models Post Traumatic Stress, that can be triggered by our moral choices. Hence the change in name.
Of course degeneration of Integrity does not inflict derangements. Those are now conditions, and are invoked based upon the judgement of the player and Storyteller.
Conditions are similar to things we have seen in games like FATE. They are factors that modify characters, and have associated modifiers to how one should role play, and to dice pools, but also associated clauses that inform us how the condition can be ended. Conditions can be positive things, or negative things. So for instance, if your character sees a loved one murdered they take the condition of Grief Stricken. This may induce certain modifiers. So that the character is less able to be sociable, and may have bouts of grief induced by further stress. Resolution of this condition could leading to the condition being removed, or just moving to a lesser version of the condition, like Mourning. The book contains a number of these conditions to use in play.
Finally experience has been changed. Experience points are broken down into beats. 5 beats is equal to one experience point. Beats are earned in the game via a number of means. You gain them for filling character aspirations (these being things that are meaningful, achievable in playing through the chronicle, and are chosen for each player character and modified as the game progresses), the resolution of conditions (both positive and negative), if the player opts to turn a failure into a Dramatic Failure (the only way for this to occur now), the character being reduced to their last health boxes, good roleplaying, and of course the end of a session. So it is clear that all this points are earned by players who are proactive - they take risks, push the story forward, and even do things that cost them positive bonuses they may have acquired as conditions.
Of course there is a lot more in God Machine Chronicles that what I have spoken about here. We have revised rules for spirits, ghosts, and also rules for angels. We have all new merits and fighting style rules (extra actions now a thing of the past), and a host of supernatural abilities for mortals (the sort of things seen in Second Sight). And to top it off we have excellent art and fiction throughout - including some of Samuel Araya’s best work to date.

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