Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Cosmology of Everway

The setting of Everway consists of innumerable spheres.  Each sphere “is an entire world... physically similar to real-life earth, the same size and shape, with cold polar regions, a hot equatorial band, varying seasons, oceans covering most of the surface, and so on.”  Spheres are connected to one another by gates.  People who use gates to travel among the spheres are called spherewalkers; all player characters are spherewalkers.  Otherwise, very few people are spherewalkers.  Most people aren't even aware of other spheres.

There are also realms.  A realm is...

...an area on a sphere in which cosmic forces hold sway, an area with a shared story.  It may encompass several kingdoms, city-states, or lands, or it can be a small area.  A realm can be as large as a sphere, but usually realms are smaller, so that there are many realms in a sphere.

Everway is expressly a fantasy setting, presenting “a world of warriors, shamans, monks, assassins, unicorns, dragons, goblins, ghosts, temples, castles, shrines, ruins, curses, spells, prayers, and quests.”  We are told, “modern or futuristic elements, such as firearms, spaceships, and robots, don't fit.”  However, “With your gamemaster's permission, you may play someone from a modern or futuristic sphere, provided that the hero can't return to that sphere and can't use sophisticated, high-tech tools, weapons, or skills.”

An important Everway game mechanic – as well as an important aspect of the setting – is the Fortune Deck.  Consisting of thirty-six cards, a Gamemaster can use the Fortune Deck to guide play.  It exists in the setting as a “deck of symbolic cards use to divine the future.”  Similar to tarot, each card has a distinct meaning, as well as a contrary, 'reversed' meaning when a card appears upside-down.  In Everway, there are three ways to resolve actions:  the Law of Karma, the Law of Drama, and the Law of Fortune.  The Law of Fortune involves drawing cards from the Fortune Deck.  While this represents the only type of random resolution in Everway, interpretation of the cards is subjective.

We learn, “The deities created the spheres for people to live on, and they made them fit for human life.”  At the same time they...

...created the Fortune Deck as a guide for humanity.  In its original form, it was a series of thirty-six images laid out in a specific pattern.  The images detailed the evolution of the human soul from its manifestation in the world, through various lives or stages, to its eventual, inevitable perfection...

...A deity variously identified as any of several deities of chaos or trickery, stole one of the images and then mixed the others together so that the original pattern was disrupted and forgotten...

The loss of the thirty-sixth card created a cosmic void, an emptiness that the card used to fill.  Sometimes in a realm a lesser force grows to fill this void until it asserts itself as the thirty-sixth force in that realm . . . Such a force is the “usurper force.”

The thirty-sixth card represents this “usurper force.”  Sometimes gods are represented in the Fortune Deck, such as Odin in the 'Law' card (below).  Different realms use different gods and some realms may not use images of deities at all.

“You can interpret a fortune card based on many things,” we learn from the Playing Guide, “the card's name, the listed meaning, the card's elemental and planetary correspondences, and the art on the card.”  The Fortune Deck can be consulted to decide the result of a specific action, for a yes/no determination, an interpretation of large-scale events, or to improvise details.

Meaning:  Order

Odin is the Law-Giver.  He walks among his people and guides them with wise sayings and rules of conduct.  To guide people to that which is right, he uses speech first and force second.

Reversed:  Treachery

Just as the wind can change direction, so the law can become a tool for injustice.  Treacherous people can use others' faith in law against them, violating laws that others expect them to follow.

Correspondences

Odin's ravens, Thought and Memory, represent Law's ties to air, and thus to words and to forethought.  Odin's walking stick signifies the card's ties to earth.  Earth represents Law's link to that which is stable, orderly, and strong.

In the Identity Stage of character creation, the player chooses different Fortune Deck cards to represents the character's Virtue, Fault, and Fate.  A character's Virtue “represents some way in which he or she is particularly gifted.”  A character's Fault “is a way in which he or she is particularly weak or vulnerable.”  Virtues and Faults can be personal traits, magical gifts/curses, or aspects of fortune.  Fate is a character's “current challenge, where the hero is in her life's story.”  Each realm can also have a Virtue, Fault, and Fate.

The Fortune Deck can also be used for divination.  The “most common way” to structure a reading is shown below.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Visionary Roleplaying

Art by Janine Johnston

Casting about for my next study after Tabloid! and Pandemonium!, I thought about Everway.  It's not exactly old school, but it is twenty-five years old.  Little did I realize a Kickstarter for a silver anniversary edition is planned for next month by the aptly named The Everway Company.

Designed by Jonathan Tweet, Everway was published by Wizards of the Coast as part of its Alter Ego line of role-playing games.  Such a combination of designer and publisher might seem auspicious, but the game's success was rather equivocal.  Everway was released in August 1995 and, four months later, WotC discontinued it's line of role-playing games.  This seems like some sort of urgent, end-of-the-year budgetary action.  (Yet sixteen months after that, WotC acquired the world's most popular role-playing game.)

Rumor has it that WotC required businesses that sold Magic: The Gathering to also sell Everway, forcing Everway into retail channels that did not want to accommodate role-playing games.  A survey included with the game shows the types of establishments WotC thought would carry Everway.

Were there many “New Age” bookstores that sold Everway ?  In any event, the suggested retail price for the Everway set was a pricey $35 (which would be approximately $60 in 2020 terms).  The sizable box (9.5" × 13.5" × 2") included:

  • Playing Guide (162 pages)
  • Gamemastering Guide (64 pages)
  • Guide to the Fortune Deck (14 pages)
  • Fortune Deck (consisting of 36 cards)
  • Vision Cards (90)
  • Quest Cards (6)
  • Source Cards (4)
  • Blank Character Sheets (12)
  • Character Sheets with Pre-Generated Characters (12)
  • Maps (2)

Also included, but not listed on the back of the box, were the aforementioned survey and a plastic tray.  The tray was able to hold all cards included in the game, as well as a set of “companion collector” vision cards (sold separately).  Honestly, the large box didn't need to be so large.  The guide books measure roughly roughly 7" × 9".  The character sheets and maps are 8.5" × 11", but they could have been folded in half for the sake of a more compact box.

Not surprisingly, the company behind Magic: The Gathering made cards an essential part of their Everway role-playing game.  Rather than dice, Everway employs a Fortune Deck to determine the outcome of actions in the game.  Cards from the Fortune Deck have iconography similar to the Major Arcana of the tarot.  (The survey asks, “Do you own tarot cards?”  If so, “How many decks do you own? 1-2, 3-5, 6-10, Over 10”)  Lacking numerical values, interpretation of the cards is necessarily subjective.  Like tarot cards, a Fortune Deck card has both a normal meaning as well as a reversed meaning.  For example, 'The Griffin' card has a normal meaning of “valor” and a reversed meaning of “cowardice.”

Each of the 'source cards' depicts an aspect of the Everway setting with a brief, informative paragraph on the back.  Shown at the beginning of this post is the “Gate” source card.

The 'quest cards' depict aspects of the ready-to-run quest (i.e., introductory adventure) provided in the Gamemastering Guide.  Five of the six cards are of non-player characters from that quest.  This is helpful in showing players what these characters look like.  The backs of the cards indicate the attributes of the characters, convenient for the gamemaster's reference.

The 'vision cards' distinguish Everway from other role-playing games, both then and now.  These cards are instrumental in creating a character as well as recording the character's continuing, in-game story.  Creating player characters begins with the Vision Stage, which requires vision cards.  According to page 67 of the Playing Guide :

          You use vision cards to develop your hero's background and identity.  First, look over the vision cards.  Your gamemaster may provide some, as may your fellow players and you may, of course, provide your own.  Select five cards that attract you.  You need not decide right away what these cards will mean to your hero.

          When you have selected the cards to use, look them over and invent a hero and that hero's background.  You only need a sketchy idea of your hero for now.  You can write notes about your hero's background on the back of your hero sheet.

          Keep your vision cards so that you can show them to other players.  You may want to buy special sheets that hold, display, and protect cards like these.  You will be getting more vision cards cards as your hero completes quests; your gamemaster gives these cards to you so you can have a visual record of your hero's activities.

A side bar informs us, “If the gamemaster provides your vision cards, be ready to give them back if you stop playing your hero.”

Each vision card has an image of a person or scene.  The back of each card presents questions about the image that encourage interpretations that may be useful in establishing a character's background.

An important part of the Vision Stage is the “introduction,” wherein the players show one another the vision cards they selected for their respective characters and “describe briefly what these images mean.”  Players question one another (as does the gamemaster) general questions about their characters.  As I mentioned previously, this exercise enriches a player's concept of his or her character and allows players to appreciate one another's characters.  In this manner, a player character becomes a genuine character as opposed to something that can be reduced to various numbers and a class affiliation.  It is this sort of human interaction that can differentiate tabletop role-playing from computer role-playing.

A side bar on page 68 of the Playing Guide states:

If you develop a hero alone, leave some details unfinished.  When you get a chance, have another player ask you questions about the hero so that you get some input from others before finalizing the hero... You can even talk with another player over the phone or email, though this prevents the other player from seeing your images.

Liberated from the technological restrictions of the 20th Century, sharing images is no longer an obstacle.  In fact, nowadays, physical cards are unnecessary.  An app would facilitate the Vision Stage.

As alluded to above, a separate set of ninety vision cards was available to enhance Everway play.  The ninety cards included with the game should be sufficient for most playing groups, but surely additional options would be welcome.  These “companion collector” vision cards were sold in booster packs.  (Leave it to Wizards of the Coast to shoehorn aspects of a collectible card game into a role-playing game.)  This gimmick may have put off gamers that may have otherwise shown an interest in Everway.  Such booster packs may have been viable if – in addition to vision cards – they included more source cards, quest cards, and alternate versions of Fortune Deck cards; may have been viable, but probably not.

 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Introductory Adventures for Tabloid! (spoilers)

Art by Newton H.Ewell

 

Interspersed throughout the Tabloid! rulebook are ersatz articles written by some TSR regulars.  “The articles are the 'background' of the TABLOID! world,” we are told.  Furthermore, the rules explain:  “Use the articles as inspiration for your own adventures – they are there to give you ideas.”  The list of articles follows:

Karen S. Boomgarden

  • Chainsaw Heals Injured Auras
  • Renowned Scientist Claims Atlanteans Made Crop Circles
  • Rosicrucians Contacted Aliens! Ancient Link Established by Scientist’s Hoax!
  • Stonehenge Mystery Creator FOUND!
  • Aliens Prefer College Grads!
  • Startling Research Reveals Aliens Built Ark! Holy Ark of the Covenant Designed by Visitors from Beyond; New Theory Links Ask to Coso Geode, Nazca Lines and Great Pyramids
  • Knights of the Crap Tables The King Part of the Secret Cult!
  • France: UFO Landing Fields?

 Anne Brown

  • Shocking Secret Revealed! Docs Turn Backs on Human Torches! Dozens of People Up In Smoke and No One Seems to Care!

 Jeff Grubb

  • Suppressed Manuscript Reveals Shakespeare Was a Woman!
  • Hitler’s Brain-Powered Death Machine
  • Mad Millionaire Wants to Build Dinosaur Park in Congo
  • Moon Flag for Sale Minnesota Farmer Hosts World’s Oddest Auction

Roger E. Moore

  • The Monster LIVES! Frankenstein’s Creation Discovered at North Pole; Escapes Vowing Vengeance Against Hapless Humanity
  • Hitler’s Terror Children Cannibal Nazi Vampire Dwarfs Turn Amazon Into Green Hell; Line Dancing, NAFTA Encouraged by Fourth Reich
  • Ghost Riders Plague Information Superhighway! Spirits Take a Grave View of Cable Placement; “Dead Ends” on the Information Superhighway!
  • Russians Battled Evil Atomic Space Aliens 30 Years Ago! American Space A-Bomb Tests Created Van Allen Horrors; Cosmonauts, Rockets Attacked By Ruthless Radiation Monsters, Soviets Retaliate With Doomsday Device
  • The Triangle of Terror Aliens, Atlanteans Battle for Captives off Bermuda Coast!
  • Giant Piranha “Not a Problem” Says Governor Boaters and fishermen protest handling “of nature gone mad” in Wisconsin lakes & rivers; giant beavers here, too

(The 'piranha' article quotes a resident of Lake Geneva and references Gamma Lake.  Said lake receives run-off from a nearby nuclear power plant, thus mutating its denizens.)

The articles are one or two pages each, except Moore's 'Russians' article (3 pages) and Brown's article on spontaneous human combustion (4 pages).  The headlines tend to take up more than one-half page each.  In all, the articles account for 20% of the book's page count.  A handful of articles would have been more than sufficient; perhaps a sidebar detailing apparent cases of spontaneous human combustion and another with a list of planes and ships that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle.

“The Wedding of the Year” is “the first of two funtabulous, fully authorized and mostly realized TABLOID! adventures designed specifically to get your TABLOID! campaign to a running start.”  In this adventure, “your favorite actress” marries a “crime boss heir.”  The player characters are assigned to obtain photographs of this private event.  There are two days before the wedding and most of the six page adventure is a discussion of obstacles the characters face and the results of potential strategies the players may attempt.

The second adventure, “Faux Pas,” is a more scripted affair.  It asks the question,  “What's buried in Grant's tomb?” – a play on the riddle “Who's buried in Grant's tomb?”  The basis of this adventure is that a Canadian professor, Anton Sacka-Weejie, has announced that “Ulysses S. Grant was really a space alien!”  The player characters are required to introduce the professor in person.  This entails traveling to Yellowknife.  The author dedicates a few paragraphs describing how Canadians talk and admitting his ignorance about Yellowknife.  The player characters encounter a wendigo which, for purposes of this adventure, is an alien being.  “In another adventure,” we learn, “the wendigo might be something else, depending upon the conspiracy involved.”

Since the player characters only have a P.O. Box address for the professor, “they must go to the post office and bribe some mail clerk into looking the address up.”  Suggested complications include:  (1) The Canadian Postal Service is on strike – again, (2) Ultra-Patriot is working the desk today, and (3) The entire staff is Quebecois.

Eventually, once the player characters find the professor, he relates that...

[T]here is an evil conspiracy of ancient proportions that has been working for centuries to control humanity for its own evil ends.  According to him, some time in the 1800's THEY perfected the secrets of cloning and behavioral conditioning.  This allowed THEM to clone world leaders and then condition those clones into absolute loyalty to THEIR conspiracy.

The professor knows this because alien beings told him so.  These same aliens “taught THEM the secrets of cloning a long time ago” without realizing “THEY would use these secrets to evil ends.”  Said aliens show up and confirm this information.  We learn, “Grant was really an alien, planted by the good guys to try to undo some of the damage caused by THEIR clones...”  However, the good aliens “don't want their involvement known!”

No adventure is complete until the players submit the story.  To facilitate this, the game provides an “Instant Copy Generator,” a Mad Libs type template (shown below).  “No thought required,” the book assures us.

 


 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Introductory Story for Pandemonium! (spoilers)

 

The premise of the Pandemonium! Introductory Story is that Elvis has been missing for three weeks and the player characters are dispatched to his last known sighting.  Of course, since it is an Introductory Story, the player characters are just starting their career as tabloid journalists and, just possibly, it may be the Editor's first time running a game.  As such, the Story describes the step-by-step process of the player characters entering the home office of the Weekly Weird News and receiving their assignment.  Even the car their employer provides the player characters is fulsomely related:

In the parking lot, parked next to the dumpster, is a 1976 Pinto.  The car sports a bilious green paint job, has a few dents in it, and shows signs of rust around the wheel wells... The interior smells of stale cigarette smoke, thinly disguised by an air freshener that looks like a plastic pine tree, which hangs from the rearview mirror.  The green vinyl seats are faded and worn, and you can feel the springs pushing up from below.

There are four “background” pages describing the offices and staff of the Weekly Weird News.  “This information may or may not be of use... in this Story,” but would be useful should the introductory Story become the basis of a campaign.  In any event, Elvis was last seen in a Milwaukee supermarket.  Helpfully, Pandemonium! supplies a “mileage chart” indicating the distance to Milwaukee.  We learn, “Describing the entire trip to Milwaukee would be both time consuming and incredibly monotonous.”  Instead, an Editor should play out “a handful of short encounters and events designed to give the players something interesting to do until they get to their destination.”  Pandemonium! categorizes such encounters as either information, obstacles, or ambience.  Of course, nothing proscribes any given encounter from combining more than one category.

In Milwaukee, player characters have opportunities to cultivate clues and may even be presented with a false lead regarding Spike, teen-aged assistant manager of the supermarket where Elvis was last seen.

Spike may look and act like a Satanic Cultist, but he's not.  This is a false lead intended to throw the [player characters] off the trail.  However, he is a member of a weird group of guys who get together to eat potato chips, drink pop, and play a game in which they fantasize about running around in dark dungeons crawling with demons and dragons.

Ultimately, Elvis may be found in an abandoned garage.  He is the captive of Replicants.  According to the Encyclopedia Paranormal...

Replicants are artificial life-forms created by Martians.  They can be made to resemble ordinary humans or other sentient races, as desired.  On the surface, Replicants are indistinguishable from 'normal' individuals, though they tend to speak and act a little like robots.

Replicants have no real emotions, though they may be programmed to emulate 'typical' human emotional responses, in which case they will do so badly, and without subtlety.  They have no conscience or moral values, and are incapable of independent thought.  If cut-off from Martian psychic control, a Replicant will freeze in place, awaiting further commands.

If the player characters rescue Elvis, he can help “kick some Replicant butt.”  Pandemonium! emphasizes the King's purported martial arts skills.  The Encyclopedia Paranormal goes so far as to present Elvis' TCB Oath:

  • More self-respect, more respect for fellow man.
  • Respect for fellow students and instructors.
  • Respect for all styles and techniques.
  • Body conditioning, mental conditioning, meditation for calming and stilling the mind and body.
  • Sharpen your skills, increase mental awareness for all those who might choose a new outlook and personal philosophy.
  • Freedom from constipation.

Words to live by.

So, what's the Martian plot?  The player characters do not receive a definitive answer but, if asked, Elvis supposes they wanted to force him to record “some kinda alien record with a buncha subliminal messages hidden in the mix.”

Should a player character query Elvis as to why he faked his death in 1979, the King replies:

I'm afraid your security clearance isn't high enough, son.  [Or, little lady.]  Right now, it's a story that can't be told.  Maybe next time...

The last quarter-page of the Introductory Story is a 'Continuing Stories' section.  Should the enterprising Editor choose to run further Stories, this section presents several adventure seeds “that branch out from” the Introductory Story.