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Chronicles of Darkness Balance Questions (New GM/Storyteller)


New member
Hello Friends! I first played Chronicles of Darkness (NWoD 2nd edition) last summer. I really liked both the storyteller system, and the eerie haunting atmosphere it brings. Or to be more accurate which the system helps a good storyteller create and immerse the players in.

I want to GM a story using this system. Mainly because I really liked the attributes and skill system. It's easier to create an imminent sense of doom when the characters are so much more fragile when compared to other more dnd-esque heroic and fight oriented rpgs(which I usually dm and play) But a good gm can always do that to one extent or the other.

What I have in mind is a "mafia"/gangs setting on which I will implement several supernatural elements.
Leader of a local gang may be a vampire or maybe he has made a deal with some sort of supernatural creature etc...
Players will be mortals, to awaken shortly after we begin.

Now I am constantly reading more about the edition but I thought you might could help me comprehend some things even faster.

My main question is even though I know it's a more story and mystery/horror oriented type of roleplaying game and less fight oriented, is how to balance fights.

How deadly should be a fight... Compared to how much xp/dots the players have?
I know it is not that simple, but still there must be a reference. Obviously the best way to measure this is experience. When I GM for pathfinder or dnd I use my own judgement mainly and barely sweat CR ratings, but I had them to back me up on my starting days.

I know it is not that simple.
In storyteller system you can attribute points to abilities skills merits etc... All advancement comes from the same shared pool
So a Pc could keep pumping his skills and knowledge greatly while remaining less useful in combat situations and vice versa
Whereas in dnd/pahtfinder etc.. even levels that give a Pc more out of combat utility increase his combat survivability because of hp increase and other progressions.

I understand it's a different progression system, and it's a less controlled one.
But fights will come up. Yeah the system is less combat oriented than dnd which was mainly made for dungeon crawls etc, but still combat is a part of it...
So when do fights do come up, I want them A) to be challenged and B)to have a fighting chance

So how do I at least try to balance things?
In both Chronicle of Darkness Rulebook and World of Darkness: Antagonists I read something about power levels, but there was not much elaboration on the matter.


Registered User
Validated User
The rules have a few tools to let your deal with lethality and 'quick' combats.

The top level thing that should be done before a fight is to determine 'Intent'. Basically what are the PCs and their opposition trying to achieve. Based on that there are some options with 'Beaten Down and Surrender'.

Basically if the PCs are being attacked by gang members and the gangs intent is to have the PCs back off and stop messing around in their turf then the PCs can become 'Beaten Down' and stop fighting but then become safe from anymore harm. This happens when the character has taken any amount of lethal damage OR >=[stamina] bashing damage.

I.e.: you've just been cut by someone with a knife or had your ribs cracked by a thug with a baseball bat. Do you really want to continue the fight?

The same is true in reverse. If the PCs intent is to just get into the building and these gang members just need to be shut down so they can't interfere then if the gang members take lethal or >=[stamina] bashing damage they are also Beaten Down and give up.

Using this you can have fights that don't need to end with death and murder.

In general NWoD combat is...more of a murder simulator than designed for straight up slugfests. Ambushing someone - even a tough enemy - with a knife is often plenty for the bookworm with no combat skills to win.

The big thing to look out for is action economy. If one side has way more people then they have a big advantage (unless their stats are wildly divergent) so try not to go crazy with a gang of 20 armed thugs vs the 4-5PCs.

Personally when I run combats with 'mooks' rather than fully statted NPCs/monsters I use the great/average/bad set up for dice pools. The thing the mook is good at they get 7 dice, if they're average at it they get 5 dice and if they're bad at it they get 3 dice. Any static values are 4/3/2 if they're great/average/bad.

It's simple for me and provides a baseline I can tweak up or down from depending on how my PCs are doing, adding weapons or spending willpower or going all out-attack, etc. Supernatural opposition may well be higher than this or have more tricks.

Mooks should have, at most, 1-3 Willpower, important NPCs should probably have a less than full pool of Willpower going into a fight (because they've been living their life off screen too and the PCs will have spent some so should the NPCs).

One thing to note is that you may find that good or skilled combatants have a hard time hitting each other reliably. If you're rolling 7 dice to hit someone with a defence of 4 you're unlikely to land a blow. This is meant to be intentional. What is intended is that if you're seriously trying to hurt someone you should be spending Willpower and/or going all out attack to do it.

What I would do is start with my suggested 7/5/3 stats, use suitable weapons (if any), make sure you pay attention to Intent and he Beaten Down options.

Then once you've started to see how your PCs are building their characters, playing them, etc. then start spicing things up with fighting styles or bigger dice pools.

Remember as well that even for characters with no combat skills whatsoever there are still ways to make themselves a combat threat OR work around a fight entirely. Average person with Dex2 and no firearms skill picks up an SMG from a ganger and they can go full auto for +3 dice, Willpower for +3 and be rolling 7 dice to hit someone (who has defence 0 vs firearms) and dealing a lot of lethal damage. Remember that a point of Lethal Damage can cause someone to be Beaten Down and take them out of the fight so PC whose day job is ensuring that their company has followed all relevant export laws on that shipment they're sending and whose hobbies involve a sofa and a beer can still grab a gun and spray+pray and be a threat.


Eventually you'll be dead
Validated User
When you say the PCs are going to "awaken" early on, what do you mean, exactly? Like, are they going to be "normal mortals" for the entire campaign, or are they gaining some sort of supernatural power?

If they're "normal" mortals, then you might look at Hunter: the Vigil for some inspiration as to how they could have a chance against supernatural NPCs without becoming supernatural themselves. In a game like Chronicles of Darkness, it matters a lot how prepared people are -- mortal PCs who ambush a supernatural that they have some understanding of can win, whereas even a relatively "weak" supernatural (in the combat sense) can turn a fight around if the mortal PCs don't know what they are dealing with. Like, maybe you are a fit and skilled fighter with a big knife and the vampire has never even been in a stand-up fight, in which case you ought to take the vampire to pieces... unless they have the power to make you hallucinate that your clothes are filled with black widow spiders, a vision so real that you scream and roll around on the pavement, trying desperately to strip off your shirt.

I would say to stat up enemies that "make sense" and give the players a chance to know what they are dealing with before they get locked in a room with it.


Registered User
Validated User
Hello, D DivineTempest & welcome!

I'll let others with more skill in WoD mechanics, and info about the product line, give direct replies (as I see them doing above!); just chiming in to say welcome!
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