The Way Back Machine, Everway, that is

More family RPG time! This week we settled down to make Everway characters. Released in 1995 by Wizards of the Coast, Everway is a role-playing game written by Jonathon Tweet, an exceptional game designer (in my opinion) who was 1/2 of the original Ars Magica team, 1/3 of the AD&D 3rd Edition team, and now 1/2 of the 13th Age in Glorantha team. Tweet has a nice style of writing that works well for role-playing games, which by definition are half fiction and half instructional manual. Rereading Everway, it’s easy to see his hand in the 13th Age in Glorantha playtest packets.

Everway is a lot like Planescape in setting and nothing like it in rules mechanics. The players are heroes who travel between different worlds exploring and righting wrongs. My hope is that Aug and KC’s heroes can traipse through my RPG library, leaping from one game setting to the next, visiting different settings but using the same simpleIMG_1088 Everway rules for conflict resolution. I don’t want to get into the conflict resolution system just yet. Let’s concentrate on character generation.

Everway is a more narrative approach than traditional simulation-style rpgs. There is no classes or levels, no set races that the players can pick. The flood gates of the imagination are thrown open, with only a few restrictions to block the creation process. Essentially, heroes have to be heroes. No bad guys. No monsters. Each player selects five cards to represent his player’s background. These cards are just art pictures that run from traditional sword and sorcery images to more fantastic science-fiction landscapes. It’s like flipping through an old Heavy Metal magazine without the boob shots. In 1996, Wizards of the Coast released booster packs for the game, sets of 10 random cards that were supposed to fire the imagination. They certainly did for me, especially since WotC paid for some images from some very, very talented artists. The booster sets include art from Ken Kelly, Roger Dean (Yes, the guy who painted the Yes album covers), and Jeff Jones. Jeff effin’ Jones.

So, five cards from however many you want to look at to describe your characters. KC and Aug spent a lot of time on this stage of character creation, rightly so.

IMG_1089croppedHere is Aug narrowing down his choices from eight or nine cards to five. I should have read the “no monsters, no bad guys” rule to him before handing out the cards, because he made a monster. On reflection though, and through the question and answer process that follows the card-selection process, we discovered that the character really was a hero and suffering from a wizard’s curse that periodically changes him into a monster.


While Aug made a monster, KC made a midget. Aug was drawn to cards representing monsters and combat, KC drawn to cards depicting fantasy vistas and landscapes. Her character needed teasing out as well, and the sample questions provided in the players’ guidebook helped immensely. I noticed that both KC and Aug made fairly tight backgrounds for their characters, using the five cards as the only points in the character’s background instead of perhaps the high points. As a first-time Everyway GM I didn’t know how to guide them, and the next time I guide character generation I’ll point out that the five cards don’t represent the entire background of the character, maybe just the formative bits for the upcoming adventure, or “premise” as the game calls it.

I’ll send up individual posts about each character, after I ask the players’ permission to do so. It was interesting how attached to the characters both players are. We spent two hours making characters. Much of that was learning the system, yes, but we still spent a lot of time trying to define the characters. This surprised me. The system uses much simpler rules and far fewer stats to define the characters, but simpler doesn’t mean swifter and fewer doesn’t mean faster. It was almost harder to create characters without the familiar building blocks we’ve become accustomed to. No, “Okay, I’ll be an elven cleric who worships Woden and whacks enemies with a hammer.” Familiarity with the rules plays a big part, naturally. It doesn’t take me long to make an AD&D character, and I can make an Ars Magica character – which uses a very complex method of character generation – in about an hour. Of course, I’m making Ars Magica NPCs, not PCs. So to be honest, making an Ars Magica PC does take a couple hours. I was surprised that making Everyway characters took the same amount of time. IMG_1091

One final comment, look at all the gear that comes in the box. Yes, I purchased additional cards – “Vision Cards”, to help shape your vision of the character – but look at the books (players guide, GM guide, guide to using the Fortune Deck), the map of Everway, the character sheets, all in a sturdy, provisioned game box. Every thing is books nowadays, and I think that’s because a high-end book can also be sold as an electronic file and a lot of gamers use electronic devices at the game table. I do, and when I buy a book I often pony up a few extra bucks for the pdf. Still, I miss the old box sets, the books, the maps, the little trinkets.

Up next, the characters.

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