Wednesday, 22 April 2015

RPG Update: Everway

Today's game is a little different
I'm a bit behind on nerdy news - I've got a few bits and bobs to update you on.  A final one-off, a new campaign, some new RPG purchases and a new book club meet mean I've got lots to bore you on.

Let's start with the last game of our one-off season as ran by Matthew: Everway.

A very early Wizards of the Coast product
Everway is a diceless roleplaying game whose randomisers are not numbered cubes but, essentially tarot cards.  This may seem passe now to people who have played recent games like Swansong, but Everway was pretty much the first game of it's kind. 

Designed by a then up and coming game studio called Wizards of the Coast, the first thing that strikes you about Everway is how beautiful it is: the cards and the character sheets are something to behold compared to the functional but drab design of most games.

A beautiful, minimalist character sheet - the character I played in the one-off.  The back lists some extra rules but most key data is up front.
The game itself?....

The game itself is a fairly high fantasy universe-hopping escapade.  The pre-gens that come with the gmae mostly avoid being "man with sword #5" and included shamans, wizards, shadowy assassins and my own were-raven.  (Well, more of a were-person since I was born a Raven.)  The end result is something which feels less like Conan and more like Planescape.
Not a huge Planescape fan, but I do love Modrons.  They made a couple of appearances in my Phratil campaign and the above event was teased.
 The game comes with a custom tarot like deck called the Fortune Deck.  Those big numbers on the character sheet are your rating in key areas and each shift is notable - someone with Fire 4 is a notably better fighter than one with Fire 3.  Any time you need to do something with an element of risk, however, the Fortune Deck is drawn from.
One of the many Fortune deck cards.
Each card has two readings, one positive and one negative.  Like a Tarot deck, the orientation of the card matters: so how you flip the card over and how the deck is shuffled means the same card can produce two very different results.

At the simplest level, it can simply generate a good or bad result.  Draw the positive interpretation and the GM reads the best possible interpretation of your action; the negative draw means they do the inverse.  On a more specific level the cards can give more specific pointers: so if I win a fight by drawing The Lion that suggests I win out by endurance, whereas a card like Winter (which represents Maturity) would suggest I won through experience.

We had some slightly bad luck with the cards - no matter how often we shuffled, re-oriented and changed how we drew the cards we didn't seem to be able to get terribly many positive results.  That can happen in any game - I recall Raj was completely sold off the wrestling RPG Piledrivers and Powerbombs because he had the worst luck with the decks you could imagine, while Matthew breezed his way through every hand of cards.  Sometimes, The Lady isn't with you!

Art by Kendom-Art
Our actual session was just four players - Raj (weretigeter), Dave (Shaman), Aaron (Assassin) and myself (Wereraven bard).  Only Aaron and I's characters knew each other at the start of the gmae, the plot seeing a plane-hopping gate malfunction and drop us all together in a mysterious land.  The above picture shows what was happening in this land - something called the "Blood Moon" was ascendant and when it is, the dead rise up.  We ended up stranded in a wee village, trying to help them defend themselves from their once in a generation night of horror.

Aaron really liked the adventure, but I was a little cold to it and I think Raj was as well.  It wasn't a terrible idea, by any means - Matthew was inspired by a Minecraft mod and that's far from the worst inspiration.  I mean, I've ran D&D adventures based on David Bowie songs.  I ran D&D adventures based on Kylie Minogue songs (With a good dash of Grant Morrison's New X-Men.) Minecraft is a perfectly reasonable starting place!

The problem I had was that we were just told to expect some sort of generic fantasy-ish setting, and all the characters and setting info at the start of the night tended us towards a Planescape kind of idea.  Instead we got something closer to Ravenloft, something in which our high fantasy beautifully illustrated characters had to run around Night of the Living Dead

I actually like Ravenloft a lot more than Planescape, but it wasn't what I was expecting.
 Fantasy Night of the Living Dead is a solid idea but not one we were really sold on.  Aaron is a big fan of horror style games and leaped into it happily, but for me it just wasn't where our characters or their skills suggested the game would go.    It seemed the wrong tool for the job - something like Burning Wheel, Dread or even a version Dungeons & Dragons might have worked the survival horror tone better.

With more warning I might have enjoyed this more, but in the end it felt a bit bait-and-switch for my liking- Standing around a blacksmith's house with a house full of screaming children while zombies swarm around wasn't exactly on the job description!  Matthew probably felt it would have ruined the surprise but I think at least telling us to expect a horror-tinged fantasy would have given us some warning.

Other factors didn't help.  The previously mentioned terrible luck we endured meant that we couldn't do a damn thing useful, and that horror movie "helpelessness" feeling was ramped up to 11 even when we had better ideas.  We had a bit of a slow start as we had to all be introduced to each other, work out our random arrival location and get to the adventure.  Raj and Aaron in particular spent a lot of time ambling about and nattering to each other which was maybe good for character building but, in a one-off, ate up a fair bit of time and meant we didn't actually get to the meat of the zombie hunt until the back section of the night.   In order to wrap up as we hit 23:00 hour Matthew had to quickly give us a denouement that felt particularly unheroic - after falling from one disaster to another we hid in a forest, which didn't exactly leave a huge appetite to play again.

Some of the many Visions Deck cards, a second set of cards designed to help inspire adventure creation

Despite a slightly muted opinion of the game, Everway is one of the few times where I've played a game under someone else and almost immediately ran on eBay to try and source a copy of the game.  The rules may be minimal but the look is so cool: the above picture of visions cards gives you a hint as to the many weird and wonderful pieces of full-colour fantasy art in the game.  Top right you'll see one of several Ian Miller pieces and I'm enough of an 80s Games Workshop/Fighting Fantasy to squee over any time he gets a gig! 

Would I play Everway again?  Yeah, definitely.  It's got a reputation as a difficult game to understand: the joke goes that the only way to play it is to get the designer to come to your house and explain all the weirdness going on.  Despite some issues, though, the system seemed to work and Matthew fairly quickly interpreted any card draw into the game in a reasonable way.

1 comment:

  1. I mostly agree with your comments there. I was expecting a general fantasy game where we could get to show off our awesome powers, not a horror game where we were ineffectual and had to basically let everyone die and just save our own skins.

    That was really my main issue with the game. The system was fine, and I really quite liked the multiverse-style setting. I'd definitely play again, but I'd want to know in advance what sort of game I was playing.