The Way Back Machine Part II; Diceless Everway

Wednesday was Game Night at Casa Ryan, a practice that we’ve let lag over the last couple years. To amend our faulty ways, we’ve re-instituted Game Night, and Wednesday last Aug, KC, and I sat down for our second session of Everway. We’d made characters two weeks ago and set down to play the in-box demo adventure, “The Journey to Stonedeep.”

I asked both players to introduce the character each had made, their spherewalker hero. I’ll paraphrase the responses.

KC: “Mitzi Moth has a background in retail. She is a 600-year-old midget with wooden hair and a pet cat named ‘Biddy’. Her shop is in a realm that received several spherewalkers, and one day she realized she had the power to spherewalk as well. Bitten by wanderlust, Mitzi left her shop to travel the realms, always looking for a bargain. She has a magic valise that she can reach into and retrieve small items from her shop, no matter how far distant she is from it.”

Aug: “Curse comes from a realm controlled by an evil, powerful wizard. Much of the wizard’s power comes from his magic scepter. Curse and his best friend sneaked into the wizard’s tower to steal the scepter, and were caught. The wizard cursed Curse’s friend with an advancement of aging, and the friend withered and collapsed into a pile of bones before Curse’s eyes. The wizard turned Curse into a humanoid pigman and ejected him from the tower. A favorite spell, the wizard then cast it on Curse’s tribe, turning them all into pigmen. They revolted and Curse was swept up in the battle. They failed to penetrate the wizard’s tower and lost, Curse was swept from a bridge and fell to the swamps below. He was captured by a tribe of fishmen – another tribe suffering from one of the wizard’s curses – and enslaved. As a slave Curse clandestinely learned the secrets of spherewalking, and left at his first opportunity. In another realm he changed back into a man, but when enraged or wounded he turns back into a pigman. He calls this his Pig Rage and has learned to use it effectively. He wanders the spheres trying to gain enough power to return to his home and defeat the wizard.”

Well done, right? Two different approaches to the characters’ background, to different types of information, and two awesome heroes. So in we went, walking from the realm of Sweetwater to Stonedeep to investigate the realm that no one has visited in 300 years. The realm has changed, and instead of an Egyptian-based culture of stonemasons and farmers the heroes find a realm ruled by the Ghoul Queen and her army of undead, that is soon to be visited by the Awakener, a supernatural entity looking for a bride and bringing death as a wedding gift. Naturally, the players get stuck in the middle.

Writing adventures for characters that you can’t see is hard. I know, and Tweet has years more experience doing it than me. This generic pinch between a rock and a hard place isn’t that bad overall. The heroes show up and immediately rescue Rarity, a bride-to-be pursued by a couple ghouls. The Ghoul Queen is rounding up prospective brides that she hopes to give to the Awakener, who will then reward her with a boon, some new magic power or such. The characters are meant to save Rarity and then go to her village to meet Greatheart, a priest of Osiris who will fill the heroes in on the backstory and overall plot. KC and Aug did as anticipated, saved Rarity and went to meet Greatheard. Tweet includes suggestions for players who don’t decide to save Rarity, which is helpful and essential information. Brought up to speed about the plot (Ghoul Queen collecting brides, Awakener due to come, arrival marked for 4 days at a place called Stoneflat), the players get to decide what to do.

Tweet offers four options, which I didn’t read to the players but are designed to cover the four probable decisions they make: talk to the Awakener, rescue the other Ghoul Queen captives, lead rebels against the Ghoul Queen, or fight the Awakener. He then writes how only the first choice is a good choice and the other three are bad choices, and that the adventure doesn’t have the space to detail how to handle the bad choices. What? He’s an experienced game designer, and even though he wrote this 25 years ago he was still an expert in the field. To make it worse, he writes how the GM (or whatever it’s called in Everway) can encourage or discourage each of the four options to players. That’s great advice, so it really came as a surprise that only one of the options was actually supported by the rest of the adventure. I didn’t encourage or discourage any choices. I handed out all the information and let Aug and KC decide what the wanted Curse and Mitzi to do.

And naturally, it wasn’t “let’s go have a discussion with the Awakener.” It didn’t help that we watched Bruce Campbell vs. the Army of Darkness the night before. (That’s the full title according to the film’s title sequence. Much better than simply Army of Darkness.)

“We roust up the citizens in Underwood, Greatheart’s village, and lead a revolt against the Ghoul Queen. We’ll start here then travel south, taking the villages along the way, and stop at Stoneflat on the fourth day, when the Awakener is due to arrive.”

Got it. I informed them that the citizens were farmers, not soldiers, but with Mitzi’s high Air score, which covers things like presence and communication, they will follower her. I told them that the ghouls were more powerful and that each was the equal of two or three farmers, but that the farmers were passionate and committed to the cause. They took a second village, bypassed a third, and arrived at Stoneflat on the third day.

A few words about conflict resolution. Everway uses three methods to determine who winds in a conflict, Karma, Drama, and Fortune. Karma is essentially scores and abilities, and the higher score wins. For example, the Fire score covers athletic ability and combat prowess. Curse has a 6 Fire score and a ghoul has a 4 Fire score. In hand-to-hand combat, the rule of Karma says that Curse wins the fight. Drama concerns the story, and the rule of Drama says that conflict resolves according to the needs of the story. If the ghoul needs to escape the fight because it needs to appear in a later scene, the law of Drama says that while Curse might win the fight, the ghoul escapes. Fortune means that the player draws from the Fortune deck, a tarot-like deck of cards that guides the results of the conflict. The law of Fortune throws some randomness into the game, and the interpretation of the random card is a lot of fun. Surprisingly, the players were a lot more willing to accept setbacks and negative results if they could participate in determining how negative they were.

For example, arriving at Stoneflat with 100 farmers, the heroes found that the Envoy, a ghoul captain, had already arrived with a force of 30 ghouls. They held the hill and were waiting for the Awakener to arrive. After some discussion, Curse took a force of 10 men through the woods to create a diversion by lighting the Envoy’s tent on fire, at which point Mitzi would lead the rest of the army in a charge up the hill. Curse could easily defeat a ghoul or two and was a master at stealth, but he wasn’t a great leader. He lead his men into the Envoy’s camp and I asked him to draw a Fortune card. It was the Cockatrice, a bad card that means Corruption. Not a good card. I said that I interpreted it to mean that the mission was spoiled, the attack team discovered and battle occurred. Aug agreed, but thought that the tent was lit because of Curse’s great athletic and stealth skills. Okay. Mitzi saw the smoke and led her forces up the hill. I asked KC to draw a card to determine the outcome of the battle. She drew the Satyr, which means Indulgence. Urged on by Mitzi’s communication skills and Curse’s prowess, the rebel army through itself full tilt against the ghouls. I suggested that Curse used his Pig Rage power, not holding back at all, and won the day, but at a Pyrrhic cost. To my surprise, KC and Aug agreed. Their army suffered heavy casualties but took the hill. Thinking that I might be able to use the Envoy latter in the game, I suggested that he survived and limped back to the Ghoul Queen’s palace. The element of surprise was gone and both players agreed.

I was surprised at how much we got done in a two hour session, and how smoothly the conflict resolution mechanic worked. Determining the results of a fight, even a large battle, with a single card speed up the game and added to the entertainment. I don’t know if this simple mechanic will work for the Glorantha games I plan to run – HeroQuest already has a pretty simple mechanic – but I might try it just to get the players used to the setting.

Ed. Note: no time for a proper edit before posting, I’ll look at this again later!

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