Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Portion of Wonder

Art by Jody Lee

In 1982, Chaosium released Worlds of Wonder, a boxed set marketed as “3 Interchangeable Role-Playing Games in 1 Box!”  Included in the box were:
  • a 16-page “Introductory Guide” to the Basic Role-Playing system
  • a 16-page science fiction genre expansion – Future*World
  • a 16-page fantasy genre expansion – Magic World
  • a 16-page superhero genre expansion – Superworld
  • all dice needed to play
  • character sheets
  • a cardboard sheet of stand-up “character silhouettes”
  • a 4-page “Play-Aids” pamphlet
  • a 4-page pamphlet titled “A Portion of Wonder”
With a price of $16, Worlds of Wonder was quite a deal, even in 1982 terms.  Also, three role-playing games in 64 pages seems incredible nowadays, a time when some RPG publishers – Chaosium included – eschew simplicity for 'comprehensive' rule books having hundreds of pages.

To further lower the barrier to entry, character generation in each of the three 'world' books was tailored for players familiar with popular systems of the day.  In Magic World, player characters were assigned to “professions” very similar to classes found in D&D (and other fantasy games).  In Future*World, player characters engaged in “career paths” very similar to careers and terms used in Traveller character generation.  In Superworld, players allocated “Hero Points” to selected skills and superpowers very much like Champions.  (Superworld characters could even gain Hero Points by acquiring “Disabilities.”)

Beyond the three 'world' settings, there is a meta-setting connecting them all:
THE CITY OF WONDER exists on an island somewhere on Earth, but no one is interested in telling just where.  Only someone who needs to go there can find it, and then most folks pass through into one of the Worlds of Wonder and never return.
     Wonder is built at the confluence of Earthly probabilities, where everything that could have happened did happen in a related dimension.  The portals of Wonder each open into a universe very different than the one we know.  This box provides three such universes:  to distinguish them, we call them Magic World, Superworld, and Future*World.  But in those places the Earth is still the Earth, the Sun is still the Sun, and the Milky Way looks just the same.
     For every ten adventurers who journey into one of these worlds and settle there, one will make his home in Wonder and roam the various worlds as he or she pleases.  One of ten of these latter will finally retire from adventuring and stay in Wonder.  Most of the present businesses were started by such people, and they have intriguing stories to tell.
Each portal is at the end of an avenue dedicated to the world to which the portal leads.  Each avenue has businesses that player characters may patronize, like equipment stores and places of healing.  Characters can even acquire residences and rent office space.  The 'style' of each avenue is appropriate to its adjoining world.  For instance, Magic World Avenue has an alchemist and a heraldry expert; Future*World Avenue* has a Longevity Hall and a Travellers Aid Society.

Note 'Bronstein Hardware' in the upper left-hand corner.
Doubtless, it is an homage to Braunstein.

Next to every portal there are Purchase Agents.  Regardless of the portal, the description is the same:
Characters returning from [insert name of world here] can store goods here or sell them to these agents.  The agents change often, as do prices.  All storage is receipted; no one has ever lost items here.
Purchase Agents are necessary because...
No adventurer may purchase any artifact natural to only one world at any store other than a store on the street to that portal, and no one may bring a significant artifact out of the world past those same stores...
Although “Personal artifacts and spells are permitted,” characters may not introduce “technical or magical knowledge...[to] a world unsuited to it.”

The existence of the city of Wonder offers the premise that the player characters are not native to the settings of Magic World, Future*World, and Superworld.  Yet the character generation rules presume the player characters are natives.  One could suppose that the portals allow Wonder-dwellers to occupy the bodies of pre-existing natives of the settings except the transfer of physical objects through the portals is clearly intended.

In any event, if player characters use the city of Wonder as a base of operations from which they conduct forays into one or more worlds, suspense is compromised somewhat since – no matter how bad things get – the characters have a fallback 'reality' to which they can escape.

* Thus called in 'Short Guide to the Avenues', the map shows “Future*World Walkway.”

1 comment:

  1. While the game rues were intechangeable the only Magic World character that wasn't toast in future world or superworld settings were Sorcerors. Didn't much care for the skeletal City of wonder but the basic idea was one you could run with.

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