A little while ago, I posted about Deliria, while I was still reading it. Well, I just finished last night, and I wanted to follow up with a few things.
First, I still feel fundamentally the same about the game. I like the setting, and I like the rules; I’d probably jump at the chance to play a game of Deliria, though I don’t think I know anybody who’d actually be interested in playing with me. As I mentioned in my previous post, though, I just can’t shake the feeling that Brucato thinks he knows the right way to game. While he’s describing the mechanics, he frequently makes derisive references to mechanics like hit points and “push-button spellcasting”, references which are clearly aimed at popular RPGs like D&D and even White Wolf’s games. He doesn’t describe his mechanics and play style as being different, as they are; he describes them as being better, on a higher level than those lesser mechanics. He doesn’t use those words, but the implication is clear, at least in my mind. Now, I’ll be the first one to say that mechanics like hit points (or reasonable facsimiles thereof), or D&D’s Vancian spell system (or White Wolf’s system of Disciplines/Gifts/Whatevers) are far from perfect. They have their problems, and they’re not right for everyone. I happen to think they work well for the games that they’re a part of, but I also recognize that that is my opinion, and I recognize that “push-button spellcasting” wouldn’t jive with a setting like Deliria, where magic is supposed to be fundamentally mysterious and unpredictable. Not only that but, to his credit, Brucato has created a very cool system of largely story-driven magic, with few mechanical aspects, that (if handled correctly by the GM and the players) would probably succeed in preserving the mystery of magic within the game.
However, I find the frequent jabs at other systems to be in extremely poor form. An RPG should be a game first and foremost, and should never be a forum for airing the author’s personal agenda (that’s what blogs are for, right?). If he doesn’t like D&D, that’s fine; more power to him. His need to be different from D&D probably made Deliria a better game in the long run. But let’s try to keep the name calling to a minimum, shall we?
Now, I said that the mechanics of the game were cool, and they are. They seem to be easy to learn and they seem to lend themselves to fast play, and they certainly support the setting. The only real problem I have is with the Vitality trait. On the surface, Vitality looks like hit points (though Brucato repeatedly tells us that they’re more than mere hit points) in that they are points that measure how close you are to dying. What’s kind of wonky, to me, is how you lose and regain Vitality. When you’re injured enough to lose Vitality, you don’t lose a number of Vitality points, you lose a fraction of your overall Vitality score. So, the higher your Vitality, the more Vitality points you lose when you’re injured. Further, you recover Vitality over time based on your Spirit score at a fixed rate, so the more Vitality you have, the longer it takes to recover. Does anyone else see the problem here? Brucato says that a person with a higher Vitality is more alive than one with a low Vitality, but let’s look at an example:
Bob has Body 5, Mind 5, Spirit 5, for Vitality 15. Joe has Body 2, Mind 2, Spirit 5 for Vitality 9. They both take the exact same injury, one that reduces their Vitality scores by 1/2. Bob now has 7 Vitality left, while Joe has 4. Now, each day Bob and Joe each recover Vitality equal to their Spirit score; this means that it will take Joe one day to recover his Vitality, while it will take two days for Bob. So, their injuries affect them in the exact same way, but the character with the lower Vitality recovers quicker. Does anyone else think that it seems like a disadvantage to have a high Vitality? This is compounded by the fact that there doesn’t really seem to be any other advantage to having a high Vitality. You can share and steal Vitality, and I can get behind doing so from a story standpoint, but from a mechanics standpoint I’m not sure there’s much incentive to do so. You can also spend all but one of your Vitality to automatically succeed on an action but again, the guy with the higher score gets hosed by that one.
What really confuses me is that Brucato already has a very cool, elegant system of narrative injury in the game, whereby injuries are largely story elements with very few hard-coded mechanical effects. The danger of this is that it means that you die when the GM says that it’s narratively appropriate for you to do so, but this can be mitigated by playing with a good GM. To me, this system makes Vitality a bit superfluous. Also, the concept of sharing Vitality or stealing Vitality could easily be handled entirely by story elements (as injuries are), or by the temporary reduction or exchange of Body, Mind, or Spirit points. Personally, I have suspicions that Vitality is only in the game because Brucato needed a third Heart Grace (already having Deliria and Fortune), and couldn’t think of everything else. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if he hadn’t made the trait so utterly useless by trying to make it different from hit points.
Now, I really, really don’t want you to get the impression that I didn’t like the book. I did. Overall, it was very, very good. However, these are the two major things that really bugged me while I was reading it, and I just needed to air my criticisms. I hope that they’re taken in the spirit that they’re intended: as me wanting a really good book to be even better.