Not everything that your character actually does counts as an action. For instance, spending a blood point to increase an Attribute is considered to take less than a second of game time - no dice are rolled, and your character can do this while doing something else. Such a "free action" is called a reflexive - in essence, a feat that doesn't require taking an action to accomplish.
Reflexives include such activities as spending blood points to increase Attributes, soaking damage, making a Virtue check, or activating Celerity to take extra actions. They aren't considered actions in any real way - you don't have to subtract from your dice pool to soak damage while you're firing a gun, for example. Of course, you still have to be conscious to perform many reflexives, but they don't get in the way of anything else you want to do in a turn.
Although your character's personality is limited only by your imagination, his capabilities are defined by his Traits - all of his innate and learned aptitudes and abilities. Each Trait is described by a rating of 1 to 5; a 1 in a Trait is barely competent, while a 5 is the pinnacle of human achievement. Most people's Traits range from 1 to 3; a 4 in a Trait indicates an exceptional person, while a 5 is nearly incomparable - among humans, at any rate. Think of this as similar to the "star" rating system of movies and restaurants - a 1 is barely passable while a 5 is superb. It's also possible to have a zero in a Traitthis usually represents a skill that the character never learned, but some exceptions (such as the hideous Nosferatu's lack of an Appearance Trait) do occur.
Whenever you roll dice, you roll one die for every dot in the appropriate Trait; for instance, if your character is trying to find something and he has three dots in Perception, you would roll three dice. However, you almost never simply roll the number of dice you have in an Attribute; raw potential is modified by skill, after all. The most common rolls in the game involve adding the dice gained from an Attribute to the dice gained from an Ability.
For instance, if Veronica were trying to find a specific file in a cluttered clerk's office, the Storyteller might have her player Lynn roll Perception + Finance - an Attribute plus an Ability. In this case, Lynn would take two dice for Veronica's Perception of 2, plus as many dice as she had in Finance; Veronica has Finance 4, so Lynn gets four more dice from that.
Veronica has a total of six dice to attempt her task. These dice are called the dice pool - in other words, the total number of dice you roll in a single turn. Most often, you'll calculate a dice pool for only one action at a time, although you can modify it to be able to perform multiple tasks in a turn (for more information, see the "Multiple Actions" sidebar).
Of course, you might not need to add an Ability to an Attribute for some rolls; for instance, there's no skill that will help Veronica heft a small safe. In such cases, Lynn would use only the dice from the Attribute - in this case, Strength.
There is absolutely no situation in which more than two Traits can add to a dice pool. What's more, if your dice pool involves a Trait whose maximum rating is 10 (such as Humanity or Willpower), you can't add any other Traits to your dice pool. It's effectively impossible for a normal human being to have more than 10 dice in a dice pool.
There's no point in rolling dice unless you know what results you're looking for. Whenever you try to perform an action, the Storyteller will decide on an appropriate difficulty number and tell you her decision. A difficulty is always a number between 2 and 10. Each time you score that number or higher on one of your dice, you're considered to have gained a success. For example, if an action's difficulty is a 6 and you roll a 3, 3, 8, 7 and 10, then you've scored three successes. The more you get, the better you do. You need only one success to perform most actions successfully, but that's considered a marginal success. If you score three or more, you succeed completely.
Naturally, the lower the difficulty, the easier it is to score successes, and vice versa. Six is the default difficulty, indicating actions neither exceptionally tricky nor exceptionally easy to accomplish. If the Storyteller or rulebook ever calk for you to make a roll, but doesn't give you a specific difficulty number, assume the task is difficulty 6.
Occasionally, a player will want her character to perform more than one action in a turn - for example, firing a gun at two different targets, or climbing a ledge while kicking at pursuers below. In such situations, the player can attempt actions normally, though all actions suffer a penalty.
The player declares the total number of actions he wishes his character to attempt. He then subtracts a number of dice from his first dice pool equal to the total number of actions. Additional actions lose an extra die from their pools, cumulative; if a dice pool is reduced to zero or below in this manner, the action may not be attempted.
If you score no successes on a die roll, your character fails his attempted action. He misses his punch. His pitch is a ball instead of a strike. His attempt to persuade the prince falls flat. Failure, while usually disappointing, is not so catastrophic as a botch (below).
Bad luck can ruin anything. One more basic rule about rolling dice is the "rule of one," or (spoken in a despairing tone) "botching." Whenever one of the dice comes up as a "1," it cancels out a success. Completely. Take the die showing "1" and one of the dice showing a successful number and set them aside. In this manner, an otherwise successful action may be reduced to failure.
Occasionally, truly bad fortune strikes. If a die roll garners no successes whatsoever, and one or more "1s" show up, a botch occurs. In other word, if none of your dice comes up a success, and there are dice showing "1s" (no matter how many), the roll is a botch. If you score at least one success, even if that success is canceled out and additional "1s" remain, it's just a simple failure.
A botch is much worse than a normal failure - it's outright misfortune. For instance, rolling a botch when trying to gun down a hunter might result in your gun jamming. Botching a Computer roll when hacking into a system will probably alert the authorities, while botching a Stealth roll is the proverbial "stepping on a dry twig." The Storyteller decides exactly what goes wrong; a botch might produce a minor inconvenience or a truly unfortunate mishap.
Simply put, if the number of dice in your dice pool is equal to or greater than the task's difficulty, your character automatically succeeds. No dice roll is necessary. Mind you, this does not work for all tasks, and never works in combat or other stressful situations. Furthermore, an automatic success is considered marginal, just as if you'd gotten only one success on the roll; if quality is an issue, you might want to roll dice anyway to try for more successes. But for simple and often repeated actions, this system works just fine.
There's another way to get an automatic success on a roll: Simply spend a Willpower point (p. 136). You can do this only once per turn, and since you have a limited supply of Willpower you can't do this too often, but it can certainly help when you're under pressure to succeed.
Trying It Again
Failure often produces stress, which often leads to further failure. If a character fails an action, he may usually try it again (after all, failing to pick a lock does not mean the character may never try to pick the lock again). In such cases, though, the Storyteller has the option to increase the difficulty number of the second attempt by one. If the attempt is failed yet again, the difficulty of a third attempt goes up by two, and so on. Eventually, the difficulty will be so high that the character has no chance of succeeding (the lock is simply beyond her ability to pick).
Examples of when to use this rule are: climbing a wall, hacking into a computer system, or interrogating a prisoner. After all, if you couldn't find a handhold, defeat the security program, or get the prisoner to talk the first time, there's a reasonable chance you might not be able to do it at all.
Sometimes the Storyteller shouldn't invoke this rule. For example, failing to shoot somebody with a gun, detect an ambush, or keep on another driver's tail are to be expected in stressful situations. Such failure does not automatically lead to frustration and failed future attempts.