Skip to content
October 22, 2006 / jadettman

D20 vs. nWoD: fight!

When the new World of Darkness rulebook came out I had a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to it. Basically, to me, it looked as if White Wolf had taken all of the experience that they had gained from working with the D20 System (through their Sword & Sorcery arm) and applied it to the re-creation of the nWoD rules.

Whether my knee-jerk reaction was good or bad isn’t really something I’m concerned with, though I do wonder if my reaction wasn’t colored by the fact that much of what I write is for a modified version of the D20 rules set. So, one way or the other, I’ve decided to do a side-by-side comparison of the two systems to see if I change my mind.

To begin with, both rules sets are essentially skill-based systems. While in D20 a character’s attributes provide a ‘fixed at the outset’ bonus to skills and nWoD has their signature ‘choose which attribute applies on the fly’ system, I don’t see that as a significant hurdle when looking at both systems side-by-side.

ATTRIBUTES

Both games use attributes. D20 has six attributes that provide sturdy system support for physical and mental resolution with very little emphasis put on the social end of the spectrum. After all, they might say, that is what the roleplaying is for.

NWoD, on the other hand uses nine attributes that provide equal system support for physical, mental, and social resolution. Which I find amusing when considering the original marketing for the Storyteller system seemed to indicate that it was more roleplaying focused than most RPGs.

Attributes in both system work in much the same way, providing a modifier to the character’s skills. However, the modifiers in D20 system range from -4 to +5 (or, more likely, a -3 to +4 for starting characters) while the nWoD system modifiers range from +1 to +5. That the nWoD system only uses the positive modifiers is not surprising when the resolution system is considered but that come later.

SKILLS

The D20 System and the nWoD both use skills as the primary means of task resolution (barring combat). NWoD has twenty-four relatively broad skills that define what a character is capable of. The D20 System has 35 total skills, 31 fairly focused skills and 4 broader skill groups, that serve roughly the same purpose. The nWoD system is directed toward a more modern skill set, while the D20 list is directed more toward the psuedo-medieval setting that the game originates from.

FEATS/MERITS

Holding, what appears to be, the essentially same function in each game, the D20 System has feats and the nWoD has merits. Both are means of mechanically distinguishing characters from each other by giving them concrete yes/no abilities.

“Wait,” you might say, “merits in nWoD can, in some cases, be purchased at different dot ratings. That makes them different from feats, right?”

Actually, no.

Sure feats in D20 are discrete entities that require a ‘feat slot’ to acquire but that is window dressing. You can’t buy Improved Window-dressing before you buy the Window-dressing feat. They are, essentially, the same feat; one is just a better version than the other much like the muli-rating merits in nWoD.

ADVANTAGES (AKA MORE WINDOW-DRESSING)

For more window-dressing compare the following traits from each game (D20 then nWoD):

  • Armor Class (or Defense in the Modern rules set) vs. Defense
  • Hit Points vs. Health
  • Initiative vs. Initiative
  • Alignment (or Allegiance in the Modern rules set) vs. Morality + Virtues and Vices
  • Size Category vs. Size (I suppose I should mention that nWoD’s size trait effects a character’s health, whereas Size Category doesn’t effect hit points but I don’t feel that it is particularly significant)
  • Speed vs. Speed

TASK RESOLUTION

As I said before, both games use an [Attribute + Skill] system for task resolution that uses a Target Number to determine success. D20 uses a sliding scale of target numbers to vary the difficulty of tasks based on the situation, while nWoD uses a sliding scale of ‘successes’ to vary the difficulty of tasks.

Both games use ‘circumstance’ modifiers to adjust die rolls further to account for different situations. D20 uses numerical bonuses/penalties, while nWoD increases or decreases the number of dice in your die pool.

Up front, I’m going to point out that I am neither a mathematician nor a statistician, so I am not going to do a lot of probability calculations to prove that the difficulty scales of both games are congruent.

The basic assumption of D20 is an average TN is 15+ on a d20 (meaning that a character should succeed 25% of the time) while the explict TN of nWoD is 8+ on a d10 (meaning that a character should succeed 30% of the time). Finer gradations of success cannot be accomplished with the d10 so 8+ is the closest equivalent to 15+ on the d20 without reducing the percentage chance of success.

AND MORE OF THE SAME

Beyond the basic task resolution system, both games go into great depth to further explain a character’s combat options. Looking over them, my eyes start to glaze over. Let’s just say that there is more than enough detail in both games to cover combat.

We could, of course, talk about how a character in each game gets to move and take an action in a combat turn, or about the similarity of Simple/Instant actions, Complex/Extended actions and Contested/Contested actions. We could also talk about how each game accounts for environmental effects or the congruency of Reflexive action and Saving Throws, but I just don’t think it’s necessary.

CONCLUSION

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe all games have these congruent systems or, as I said before, maybe I just write for the D20 system too much. I might, tomorrow or the next day, after pondering my analysis further come to different conclusions, but right now I’m going to stick to my original assessment: The folks at White Wolf took what they learned from working with D20 System and made some changes to the Storyteller system for the new World of Darkness.

If nothing else, they made the rules set a damn sight clearer than the previous editions I’ve worked with.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Shawn / Oct 24 2006 12:38 am

    You admit that the bulk of your analysis is centered on the similarities, but as you indicate at the end, the majority of game systems can be broken down into similar systems.

    It is the differences that make them unique.

    First, D20 is still a level based system, nWoD is not.
    You might ask what difference that makes, allow me to explain.
    This results in a different gradiant of advancement. With nWoD you can expend for a new “feat” (dot) after the first session if the GM is providing sufficent XP.
    Not so likely in the D20 system.
    This leads to character growth being a more gradual process than the level jumps which are present with any level based system.

    The analysis of Hit Points vs. Health is marginal at best, ignoring completely that the d20 system artificially “increases” damage-taking capabilities with the increase in levels (again level based) where as nWoD does not.
    It is argueable that the nWoD “feats” (dots) match this progression, but then these would not properly be feats, would they?
    This difference begins to strain the proposed similarity between the two systems.

    In addition combat, which was the terribly clunky problem with the original “Storyteller” system, is much much quicker now. Combat has been paired down into a much faster system, which really is just a test to see if you damage the opponent rather than an arduous process of spliting dice pools to your best advantage, rolling to hit, them rolling to dodge, you rolling to damage, them rolling to soak…. et cetra etc…

    Actually, combat in the nWoD is faster than in the new d20.

    I might suggest that you look at the system for the changes in comparison to the older system.

    Oh, in addition the flaw system has been beautifully re-worked, which rewards the player for taking the flaw and continuing to roleplay its existance.
    1) No points up front for the flaw
    2) Only 1 flaw may be taken with GM permission @ character creation, more can be earned through the story
    3) Bonus XPs during the session when the flaw impacts the story. (a 1 pt flaw role-played accurately & impacting the story will garner 1 pt more XP.)
    4) If the flaw is ignored too often, the GM can declare the player “cured” of it in some manner, thus depriving the player of the carrot of XP for proper roleplaying.

    Much better than the previous power gaming/munchkin flaw crap which is still practiced by min-maxing roll-players the world over.

    Honestly, I just find that in order to improve the gaming experience, becoming a gaming snob about whom you play with is easier.
    *grin*

  2. J.A. Dettman / Oct 27 2006 9:35 pm

    You admit that the bulk of your analysis is centered on the similarities, but as you indicate at the end, the majority of game systems can be broken down into similar systems.

    It is the differences that make them unique.

    Yes, I did make the supposition that the majority of roleplaying games could be broken down into similar system. While the differences do differentiate the games, I don’t feel that it invalidates my thesis.  The nWoD can be a different game and still be influenced by D20 (or any number of other games).

    First, D20 is still a level based system, nWoD is not.
    You might ask what difference that makes, allow me to explain.
    This results in a different gradiant of advancement. With nWoD you can expend for a new “feat” (dot) after the first session if the GM is providing sufficent XP.
    Not so likely in the D20 system.
    This leads to character growth being a more gradual process than the level jumps which are present with any level based system.

    There already exist implementations of the D20 rules that use point-buy XP systems for advancement. However, yes the base D20 system does use levels rather than an incremental advancement system.

    So, can a nWoD player spend their advancement points immediately or do they have to wait until the Storyteller allows them to spend them?  Do I get to advance my character immediately after a game session or do I have to wait until the end of a story-arc or some other logically convenient time?

    If the answers are the latter in both cases, then there is little difference. In both cases, the DM/Storyteller is deciding when the characters advance.  The D20 system just provides a logical structure for that advancement based on the precepts of the game.

    The analysis of Hit Points vs. Health is marginal at best, ignoring completely that the d20 system artificially “increases” damage-taking capabilities with the increase in levels (again level based) where as nWoD does not.
    It is argueable that the nWoD “feats” (dots) match this progression, but then these would not properly be feats, would they?
    This difference begins to strain the proposed similarity between the two systems.

    So, a nWoD character becomes more fragile in combat as they advance?

    Also, I feel the need to point out that in both cases we are talking about roleplaying game systems. As I understand it, there is no such thing as a naturally occurring RPG system, and therefore they are both artificial in all respects. 🙂

    Moving on.

    In addition combat, which was the terribly clunky problem with the original “Storyteller” system, is much much quicker now. Combat has been paired down into a much faster system, which really is just a test to see if you damage the opponent rather than an arduous process of spliting dice pools to your best advantage, rolling to hit, them rolling to dodge, you rolling to damage, them rolling to soak…. et cetra etc…

    Actually, combat in the nWoD is faster than in the new d20.

    I might suggest that you look at the system for the changes in comparison to the older system.

    When I’ve got a moment, I will certainly wade through the new nWoD combat system, though I fail to see how it can be faster than rolling a d20 and comparing a target number.

    Oh, in addition the flaw system has been beautifully re-worked, which rewards the player for taking the flaw and continuing to roleplay its existance.
    1) No points up front for the flaw
    2) Only 1 flaw may be taken with GM permission @ character creation, more can be earned through the story
    3) Bonus XPs during the session when the flaw impacts the story. (a 1 pt flaw role-played accurately & impacting the story will garner 1 pt more XP.)
    4) If the flaw is ignored too often, the GM can declare the player “cured” of it in some manner, thus depriving the player of the carrot of XP for proper roleplaying.

    Much better than the previous power gaming/munchkin flaw crap which is still practiced by min-maxing roll-players the world over.

    Honestly, I just find that in order to improve the gaming experience, becoming a gaming snob about whom you play with is easier.

    While that may be the case, it is not an option open to all of us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: