Lets talk for a minute about Merits in World of Darkness. I'll get to some of my bigger issues, but lets talk a minor mechanical sticking point. That is-- the existence of iterative Merits & of singular Merits. What I mean is, you've got things like Status, which ranges from O to OOOOO. You need to buy one dot before you can buy two, two before three, et cetra. Then you've got Merits that have one fixed cost. Things like Gunslinger, which lets you use two guns at the same time. Three dots, blammo, OOO. This is confusing-- not just in theory, but in practice. At Sunday's game I had to talk about it with my Players, because it is a headache. Not a big deal, but inelegant. This leads me to another thing that has always bugged me. Social Merits. Now this is me as the pessimist Narrator. There is an element in my design philosophy that says: always build with the worst in mind. Expect a system to be exploited. Why take "Contacts" when I could take "Kung Fu"? I can always roleplay my way into talking to a guy-- what is the Narrator going to say, "no, there are no opportunities to engage the story?" It is just smart to take advantage of the new abilities presented in the Physical & Mental categories, rather than shoot yourself in the foot with "Allies" or something. This is why I always liked the Old World of Darkness' "Backgrounds." Choosing between apples & apples, rather than apples & oranges. Or apples & "kewl powers." As another thing, as I mentioned yesterday, I hate Supernatural Merits. I mean, I loathe them. Partly for the reasons above-- you really think a magical power is equivalent to Contacts? Or that the experience cost for a Merit as compared to the experience cost for a Discipline or other kind of Power isn't just engineering a mathematical framework to undermine your whole system? Really? Frustrating.
One fix is relatively easy. Don't allow Supernatural Merits, & require everything to be a Power, like Dread Powers. This is mostly the route I've taken, though there actually are Supernatural Merits that I think are balanced, like Dream or Residual Memory or Totem. I still get players asking me if they can take Merits from Hunter: the Vigil or Second Sight, not because they are trying to sneak one past me, but because they are neat powers, & heck, who wouldn't rather spend Dots times two than Dots times six? Another fix I've been thinking of lately ties in with my notion of Character Traits. With traits you could get rid of Merits all together...but you don't have to! I mean-- just as a thought experiment, lets talk about expanding the categories of Abilities. What if Merits were all rated one dot through five? That is, what if things like Encyclopedic Knowledge & Toxin Resistance were rated O to OOOOO? Maybe it is the pool available for Encylopedia Knowledge, or the ammount of penalties to a Stamina roll against poison that Toxin Resistance would negate? The devil's advocate in me says-- well, then they are just Skill Specialties on steroids, but is that so bad? You could then have a third category-- Perks or something-- that would be bought a la carte, & have actual rule quirks. You know, Stunt Driver lets you drive & make an action; that is a whole new ability, outside the usual streamlined rule system. Perks could be all the ad hoc rules, the interesting bits of Fighting Style sort of things, & a chance to use the 9-again rules, automatic successes, all the strange mechanical cul de sacs of the World of Darkness. & of course, no Supernatural Merits, or Perks-- I think the Dread Power mechanics, the piecemeal use of Disciplines, Gifts, Transmutations & whatever else is the way to go. Which is why books like Changeling & Mage frustrate me, but now I am starting to get off track. I've said my piece!