Sunday, August 29, 2021

It's 2021 and the Dream is Dead

So reads the cover caption of Mayfair's Underground, published in 1993.  Taking place in 2021, Underground is unusual in terms of genre; perhaps “dystopian super-hero” might be the best categorization.  According to the first chapter, “the world of 2021 is clearly a cold and dreary rat trap dominated by violent men and women who shoot or foreclose first and ask questions later.”

Writer Ray Winninger has contributed a variety of table-top role-playing game products; most recently, he has an “Additional Design” credit on last year's Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.  However, the first textual matter in the book is a poem by William S. Burroughs.  This is a clue to the reader that the game is going to a dark place.  In fact, the full page illustration on page 102 focuses on a person about to commit suicide.  Yet the game is not without (gallows) humor.  Tastee Ghoul, “a chain of fast food restaurants specializing in cannibal cuisine,” has as a motto, “Are you a people person?”  Among other topics, Underground is a commentary on consumerism.  Here is the ultimate extension of consumerism; the consumer becomes indistinguishable from the product.

How did such a strange world come to be?  In August, 1996, “a life-pod launched from an interstellar starship crash-landed in the Florida Everglades.”  The two aliens on-board died as a result.  Although the aliens were “totally unlike any creature mankind had ever imagined,” they are also described as “lobster-like.”  So, the first point of divergence from our reality is that lobsters cannot be imagined.  “The aliens' technology was found to be based entirely around the manipulation of amino acid chains” and this technology held “the clues needed to unlock the mysteries of quantum theory, unified fields, and genetics...”

Because the U.S. Government did not disclose all aspects of the alien technology to the world, a Second Cold War resulted among the “three major trading blocks:  the North American Confederation, headed by the United States; the European Common Market, headed by Neo-Deutschland... and the Far East Collective, headed by mainland China.”

Also According to the first chapter...

...technological advances derived from the pod combined with the political situation wrought by the new Cold War to dramatically reshape the world.  All across the globe, the gap between the upper and lower classes grew broader, crime and other social ills corrupted large portions of the planet, and multi-national corporations grew larger and more powerful than ever before.  Shortly after the turn of the century, warfare evolved into a business as multi-national corporations organized large, technologically sophisticated armies capable of rapid deployment to any hot spot on the planet...  Only a few years after the first corporate army took to the battlefield, all three of the major trading blocks were routinely hiring corporate soldiers to intervene in scores of Third World squabbles and conflicts in the hope of protecting and expanding their economic interests...

One of the so-called militant corporations, Allied Mayhem™ Inc., “learned to modify human genetic tissues, turning test subjects into 'super-men' capable of dominating a modern battlefield.”  However, “stabilizing the genetic enhancement process required a living subject with a seriously impaired capacity to replace lost body cells.”  Originally, AMI used brain-dead bodies that were cryogenically frozen in the twentieth century but, “Due to their artificial brains, the enhanced soldiers were easy to outsmart and frequently failed to follow all but the simplest orders.”

In 2014...

Allied Mayhem began enhancing live volunteers in limited numbers.  Although this latest generation of enhanced soldiers was very effective in battle, the new process was ultimately deemed unstable and abandoned.  During the many months that AMI scientists spent conquering the cellular regeneration problem, they failed to recognize psychological instability as an even more profound obstacle to the enhancement of live subjects.  The first such subjects who awoke to discover that they were suddenly capable of lifting cars, flying, and projecting powerful force fields all lost their grip on reality and went mad.  AMI researchers ultimately discovered that such a radical shift in world view was simply too much for a conscious human mind to handle.

The solution devised by AMI's head of the Genetic Enhancements Division was to have enhancement subjects “spend fourteen months in a sensory deprivation tank wired into” a virtual reality environment based on a super-hero comic book.  During this time, “the computer's program enables the subject to relive his or her entire life as it might have occurred in the four-color” comic book setting.  In the simulation, the subject acquires enhanced abilities while scientists confers those same enhancements to the subject's physical form.  “Once the process is complete and the subject is removed from sensory deprivation,” we learn, “AMI psychologically reconditions the subject to the real world, though a psychological acceptance of his or her newly acquired abilities lingers on within the individual's subconscious mind alongside a faint memory of his or her virtual life.”

Important highlights of the world of 2021 include:

  • The second cold war has a hidden impact on society
  • The U.S. government closely monitors its citizens
  • The demand for (military) recruits is high
  • Some forms of popular entertainment are becoming propaganda
  • Unskilled veterans returning to the U.S. often turn to crime
  • Foreign affairs are more complex than ever
  • The wars are changing the very nature of mankind

The player characters are super-powered veterans subject to “all sorts of bigotry and prejudice.”  With regard to these veterans, “most are neurotic, slightly detached from reality, and prone to extreme mood swings.”  Additionally, for some of the veterans, the virtual reality experience instills “a 'comic book' world view and begin to interpret life as a series of struggles between 'heroes' and 'villains.'”  Ultimately, “Given the growing alienation of the lower classes and the current climate of predatory corporate practices, a few such [veterans] look upon AMI and the American government as 'master villains' who have betrayed the American way.”  Such veterans formed the titular Underground activist group.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Pages from Spellbooks (part III)

Five years ago, your humble host published two posts (here and here) providing examples of what pages in spellbooks might look like.  Below are nine more examples derived from 'real world' sources; however, not all of these sources are associated with magic in the real world.  As usual, Thoul's Paradise disclaims any responsibility for circumstances arising from the use or misuse of the following material.

Spells have to come from somewhere.  For a warlock with a “Fiend” patron, perhaps the “Fiend” possesses the body of the warlock and inscribes a new spell in the Book of Shadows.  How might such an inscription look?  Well, a 17th century nun was said to have been possessed by the Devil himself.  Of course, having possessed a nun, Satan indulged in the scandalous behavior of writing a letter.  This is the result.  Presumably, a warlock would know how to decipher it but then again, Old Scratch might just be playing a prank.  Seriously, can you trust someone known as the Prince of Lies?

Speaking of the Devil, the cover of Secrets of Black Art makes some bold promises, but does it deliver?  If it were legitimate, wouldn't it be Secrets of ye Olde Black Art ?  In actuality, the first half of the book is a hodgepodge of topics like mesmerism and folk magic written in the Victorian era.  A clever spellcaster might use this cover for his or her actual spellbook; anyone coming across the tome would assume it was useless in terms of genuine magic and disregard it.  The second half of the book is a novelty item catalog, which stands to reason given it was published by a company that sold novelty items.  If we assume that Secrets of Black Art somehow imparts magical abilities to its owner, perhaps the 'novelty items' are material components.

Speaking of spell components, when dealing with eldritch energies, every nuance is important.  A finger quivering incorrectly may effectuate an undesirable result.  (“...hand movements are usually required in order to control and specify the direction, target, area, etc., of the spell effects.”  – DMG 1e, p. 40)  As such, spellbooks should address somatic components.  Here we see notes on thumb rotation – and none of that high-falutin' theory, just honest-to-goodness praxis.

Utriusque Cosmi Historia

Each spellbook has a “unique system of notation used by the wizard who wrote it.”  Not only are spellbooks encrypted, but they must convey abstruse information.  Wizards might express such knowledge in imaginative ways.


'Pattern poetry' presents different 'layers' of information to those in the know.  This method may be an efficient means for a wizard to encode the various particulars of a spell.

De laudibus sanctae crucis

Esoteric imagery may be a useful way (or perhaps the only way) to impart thaumaturgical concepts.

Cabala, Spiegel derr Kunst und Natur in Alchymia

This next page has a hole.  Is it due to wear and tear of an adventuring spell caster's lifestyle?  Or was the name of an ultramundane entity written on this segment of parchment?  An entity so horrific – so abominable – that its very name is rejected by our reality?

Book of Ballymote

Sometimes spells written in or on items other than spellbooks.  Here is how a spell scroll might appear.

Ripley Scroll (detail)

In a previous post, we explored the possibility of spells being recorded on alternative media.  A lazy wizard might want to forgo a spellbook altogether.  Why bother with tediously turning pages when you can just inscribe all of your pertinent spell information on your staff?  It will never leave your side; security and convenience both.

Santiago Staff (detail)

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Journey to Stonedeep (spoilers)

Art by Ed Lee

The introductory adventure (or “ready-to-run quest”) provided in 1995's Everway Box Set takes up about half of the 64-page Gamemastering Guide.  It is a very good example of what an introductory adventure should be:  it provides options for the gamemaster, explains the likely results of those options, describes probable choices the players may make, and the ramifications of those choices.  In short, 'Journey to Stonedeep' is not a linear narrative to which the players and gamemaster must conform.  However, Jonathan Tweet identifies a best or ideal ending (later called the “ideal climax”).

Given the focus on cards in Everway, it should come as no surprise that 'Journey to Stonedeep' has six 'quest cards' associated with it.  Each quest card has an illustration on one side and relevant information (usually the scores for background characters) on the other.  The illustrations are useful for showing the players what a particular scene or background character looks like.

In terms of background, “a venomous, evil dragon” devastated a realm called Sweetwaters three hundred years ago.  The only gate to the realm of Stonedeep is in Sweetwaters.  Due to the presence of the dragon in Sweetwaters, spherewalkers have not been able to travel to or from Stonedeep.  Recently, “a hero has vanquished the dragon,” and the gate to Stonedeep is accessible once again.  Patrons now recruit the player characters “to use the gate, find out how Stonedeep may have changed in three hundred years, and determine the best way to approach those lost neighbors.”

Once in Sweetwaters, a guide leads the party to the gate to Stonedeep.  This takes seven days.  The guide will wait two weeks for the party to return, after which, “the guide will leave, and eventually someone will sponsor another expedition to Stonedeep.”  The Playing Guide tells us, “Most spherewalks take about a week.”  One week to Stonedeep and one week back already accounts for two weeks, so there's not much time to accomplish the goal of the quest.

Anyway, during the transition from Sweetwaters to Stonedeep, characters with strong Water scores have a vision of the Awakener (shown above).  Of course, the characters don't yet know it's the Awakener, they just see the vision:

You are standing in a field, but you feel ungrounded, and you realize you're having a vision.  A dragon hurdles down out of the the sky, crashes into the ground, and bursts into flame.  Out of the flame walks a man in armor.  He strides forth, stands still, and stares at you.  His eyes glow red.  Suddenly you see that he is standing on a pile of skulls.  “I seek a bride,” he says.  The vision vanishes, and you're standing on solid ground.

Crashing dragon.  Glowing red eyes.  Pile of skulls.  Players are sensitive to clues like these and they might just receive the impression that this is not a nice person.  A sidebar provides some additional information:

The Awakener gets his name from a teaching of Anubis, the god of death.  Anubis teaches that dying is “awakening”:  the virtuous awaken to the light of a glorious afterlife, while the unworthy awaken in darkness.

If or how the player characters learn this is not detailed.

In any event, the party arrives at some ruins in Stonedeep, a realm similar to ancient Egypt.  The party soon encounters a damsel in distress; specifically, a woman named Rarity is at the mercy of two (or more) ghouls.  Presumably, the party rescues Rarity and, also presumably, return her to the town of Underwood.  In this and subsequent scenes she party obtains pertinent information.  A priestess of Isis repelled an invasion 250 years ago and became the ruler of Stonedeep, changing the name of the realm to Bonekeep.  She remains ruler and is known as “the Ghoul Queen.”  We also learn:

The queen rules the land by turning the dead into vile, half-alive servants that do her bidding without question.  The people have grown resigned to her rule.

Additionally, the party gains some information about the Awakener.  His arrival in Bonekeep is imminent.  As indicated in the vision, he is looking for a bride.  The Ghoul Queen has captured a few beautiful women (like Rarity) and intends to present them to the Awakener under the assumption that he's looking for beauty.  She expects the Awakener to provide her with a boon for her efforts.

Should the party confront him once he arrives, they learn that, “By snapping his fingers, the Awakener can bring death to mortal and undead beings.”  Specifically, each snap causes up to twelve beings to lose one point of Earth.  Therefore, the Awakener can destroy a dozen average opponents in three narrative turns.  Also, he is “unkillable” and has a Fire score of 6.  In effect, the party cannot reasonably hope to defeat the Awakener.  If the party prevents the Ghoul Queen from presenting the Awakener with a bride, they “will have to track him down and deal with him somehow to keep Bonekeep from being destroyed.”  So, absent interference from the Ghoul Queen or the party, the Awakener will destroy the realm.  I feel safe in saying this is a bad thing. 

As written, the quest implies that the Ghoul Queen's rule is tyrannical.  There are references to peasants being “angry at the Ghoul Queen,” that hers is an “evil reign,” and “there are crimes she committed.“  Granted, 'Ghoul Queen' is not a term of endearment and she has arranged for the abduction of beautiful women for the purpose of giving one of them to the Awakener.  However, since the arrival of the (possibly ineffective) party was unanticipated, the Ghoul Queen's plan was the only way to prevent the destruction of Bonekeep.  Other than the fact that she takes her subjects “as servants and soldiers when they die,“ there is no evidence presented that she is evil.  Remember, the Ghoul Queen saved the realm from invasion and, as another priestess of Isis explains, “as long as the Ghoul Queen rules, no living soldiers have to shed their blood in battle.“  Also, the ghoul servants are morally incorruptible.  It's been several generations since the Ghoul Queen became ruler and since the “people have grown resigned to her rule,“ one might suppose that the ghouls have become an accepted part of society.  I mean, if creating ghouls is so intolerable, people would cremate their dead or otherwise dispose of corpses to prevent their conversion.

“The cleverest outcome,“ the text relates, “would be for the heroes... to convince the Awakener to choose the Ghoul Queen as his bride.“  (So, Jonathan Tweet's concept of an “ideal climax“ involves a Ghoul Queen.  I'm not judging, just making an observation.)  In terms of storytelling, it makes sense; resolve the quest by using two threats to cancel each other out.  This ending also leads to the sixth quest card.  However, there's no apparent reason for the Awakener to choose the Ghoul Queen as his bride.  Unless the party suggests this option to him, the Awakener will not select the queen.  The “best ending“ develops from a player character essentially saying to the Awakener, “Hey bro, why don't you hook up with the Ghoul Queen?“  Why the Awakener would think this is a good idea is not touched upon.  No explanation is needed.  At the last minute, the player characters “still have a chance to succeed if they can yell to the Awakener and put it in his mind to choose the queen as his bride.“

As indicated earlier, the assumption is that the Awakener is looking for a 'beautiful' bride.  This assumption is incorrect.  With regard to suggesting to the Awakener that he should choose the queen, it would make much more sense if the party could discover some bit of lore about what the Awakener actually wants or why choosing the queen is a good idea.  Maybe the Ghoul Queen's original name was 'Open Eyes' or something and the party can find this out.  Awakener + Open Eyes = perfect match.

Everway characters do not earn experience.  As compensation, for this quest, heroes can get loot from the Ghoul Queen's palace (assuming she departs – one way or another):

Ask each player to invent some item that his or her hero takes from the Ghoul Queen's palace.  They may find precious jewels, items with magical abilities, scrolls bearing magical secrets, and so on.  (You can change or disallow any item that you think would make the game less fun, such as one that would make a hero too powerful.)

Alternately, you can invent an item for each hero, either on the spot or ahead of time.  Invest items that the heroes are likely to enjoy.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Pre-Generated Characters in Everway

Everway provides a dozen pre-generated characters, complete with backgrounds, descriptions of magic and powers, possessions, and even “questions for development.”  Without further ado. . .


Air:  3 (etiquette)

Fire:  5 (unarmed combat)

Earth:  6 (resisting unconsciousness)

Water:  3 (stealth)

Motive:  Authority

Virtue:  Summer

Fault:  The Fool – reversed

Fate:  Knowledge

Amber is a weretiger from a village of weretigers.  She was exiled after helping humans from other villages and now she travels among the spheres using “her powers to right wrongs, correct the injustice, ad protect the innocent.”  Other than being a weretiger, she has the powers of 'Silence of the Hunter' (“When stalking her enemies. . .Only those with special senses or a strong Water scores can sense her”) and 'Resistance to Death Magics' (“Magical abilities that specifically kill instantly only incapacitate Amber. . .”).


Air:  3 (military tactics)

Fire:  6 (reacting to danger)

Earth:  4 (endurance in combat)

Water:  6 (sensing motives)

Motive:  Adversity

Virtue:  The Peasant

Fault:  The Griffin – reversed

Fate:  War

Chance inherited some abilities from his father, who was a wandering warrior.  He left his village to become a mercenary, but stopped when all the fighting became too much for him. . .”  His powers are 'Berserk' (“His strength and endurance increase [in combat], but he becomes completely lost to reason”) and 'Inured to Pain' (“Chance endures physical pain easily”).



Air:  6 (poetry)

Fire:  4 (swordfighting)

Earth:  3 (resisting persuasion)

Water:  5 (sensing others' presence)

Motive:  Wanderlust

Virtue:  Inspiration

Fault:  The Defender – reversed

Fate:  The Smith

Growing up, Clarity was an apprentice to a bard.  Eventually, she discovered that she was a spherewalker.  Now she travels “among the worlds, learning songs and poems and sharing them with others. . .”  Her powers are 'Ravenform' (“Clarity can take on the shape of a large raven at will”) and 'Perfect Memory of the Bard' (“Clarity can remember everything that she was trained to perform or learn as a bard”).


Air:  3 (identifying herbs and plants)

Fire:  4 (hunting)

Earth:  5 (resisting bad magic)

Water:  3 (sensing injury and illness)

Motive:  Mystery

Virtue:  The Lion

Fault:  The Creator – reversed

Fate:  The Peasant

Cleft has five points of 'Soil and Stone' magic, appropriately associated with his Earth element.  Cleft uses his magic for healing.  “His touch can ease pain, stop bleeding, and keeping a wound clean. . .[as well as] cure diseases, neutralize poisons, lift curses, and banish malignant spirits.”  Among other capabilities, “With great and constant effort, he can prevent a mortally wounded person from dying and nurse that person back to health.”  With his power of 'Earth's Surety', “Cleft is almost impossible to knock down” if he is standing on “living, level earth.”



Air:  7 (ancient lore)

Fire:  3 (jumping)

Earth:  2 (walking long distance)

Water:  5 (sensing death)

Motive:  Knowledge

Virtue:  Winter

Fault:  Striking the Dragon's Tail

Fate:  Spring

Detritus has decided to explore “the spheres for the rest of his life, compiling what he hopes will be a comprehensive book about past civilizations.”  His powers are:  'Rune of Lurking Unseen' (Detritus has a stone that allows him to become invisible as long as he doesn't move or make a sound), 'Ancient Gesture of Clarity' (He “can dispel magical illusions”), 'Invulnerable Sphere of Infinite Sound' (“This crystal can. . .make any manner of sound, as loud as thunder or as quiet as [a] mouse's sigh”), and 'Illuminating Clap' (“With a clap, Detritus can illuminate the area around him with a gentle glow”).


Air:  3 (speaking to crowds)

Fire:  6 (fire magic)

Earth:  3 (maintaining vigils)

Water:  5 (sensing divine energies)

Motive:  Adversity

Virtue:  The Lion

Fault:  Death – reversed

Fate:  The Soldier

Fireson – Jonathan Tweet's own character – was “banished from his homeland” after he “offended his deity.”  Now he “wanders the spheres, hoping for a way to regain his deity's favor. . .”  His powers are:  'Priestly Rites' (“Fireson can channel divine energies and the energies of worshipers through powerful rituals”), 'Sweat Fire' (“Fireson can cause flames to come forth from his skin”), and 'Friend to Fire' (Heat “neither pains nor harms him”).


Air:  4 (speaking well)

Fire:  5 (climbing)

Earth:  2 (enduring pain)

Water:  7 (sensing magic)

Motive:  Adversity

Virtue:  The Phoenix

Fault:  The Hermit – reversed

Fate:  The Cockatrice

A water priestess was held captive by an evil wizard.  The priestess died giving birth to Opal.  When Opal grew to adulthood, she beheaded the wizard using a pair of “bird claw gloves.”  The gloves allow her to “grasp with great strength and endurance.”  Opal also has the power of 'Persuasion' (“Because of her strong intuition about people, she is very effective at manipulating them”).

Praises Be

Air:  6 (authoritative voice)

Fire:  2 (staff fighting)

Earth:  3 (studying long hours)

Water:  3 (sensing magic)

Motive:  Conquest

Virtue:  The Eagle

Fault:  The Defender – reversed

Fate:  Law

“After defeating his master in a contest of magic, Praises Be. . .set out to explore the universe and test his abilities against the challenges to be found among the infinite spheres.”  He has six points of 'Words of Power' magic, associated with his air element.  With this magic, he “can compel a spirit to obey him, kill an average person, or force a group of people to back away.”  Additionally, he can use his magic to conduct rituals as well as “inscribe objects with magic words. . .”  Praises Be also has the power of 'Universal Reading'.


Air:  3 (storytelling)

Fire:  5 (archery)

Earth:  6 (enduring the elements)

Water:  5 (stealth)

Motive:  Authority

Virtue:  The Defender

Fault:  The Dragon – reversed

Fate:  The Creator

“Puma is a hunter, the only known survivor of an earthquake that killed her people when she was eighteen.”  She has the powers of 'Speak to Animals' (“Puma can speak to and understand all animals”) and 'Cat's Leap' (“Puma can jump fifteen feet straight up from a standing position”).

Serenity Freemansdaughter

Air:  3 (singing)

Fire:  5 (dancing and partying)

Earth:  4 (resisting poisons)

Water:  3 (sensing faerie magic)

Motive:  Wanderlust

Virtue:  Death

Fault:  Knowledge – reversed

Fate:  The Fish

Serenity's maternal grandmother was a troll.  She taught Serenity magic and gave her the secret name “Farbright.”  Serenity has five points of 'Flux' magic, associated with her fire element.  She can use this magic to “transform people and things. . .through her concentrated gaze.”  Such transformations are temporary and relatively minor.  She also has the 'Troll Friend' power:  “Trolls (and other earthy, magic beings) generally take a liking to Serenity.”

Shadowblade Dragonseeker of the Clan of the Spirit Mountain

Air:  3 (disguise)

Fire:  5 (swordfighting)

Earth:  4 (resisting magic)

Water:  7 (anticipating another's actions)

Motive:  Mystery

Virtue:  The Dragon

Fault:  Autumn – reversed

Fate:  War

Shadow was “a spy [for] a noble house. . .” who performed “a delicate, dangerous, and ugly deed. . .”  Freed from further obligations to the nobles, “Shadow has set out to learn about life's deeper mysteries: beauty, love, family, awe, worship, friendship, and sorrow.”  Wearing “shadow gear,” he “can blend into shadows and become invisible.”  Shadow is also a 'Weaponsmaster' (He “can use any sort of mundane, handheld weapon without training...”).

Whisper Walker

Air:  3 (historical insight)

Fire:  4 (spirit battles)

Earth:  4 (“Soul's Wall of Stone”)

Water:  5 (speaking with spirits)

Motive:  Beauty

Virtue:  The Hermit

Fault:  Drowning in Armor

Fate:  The Phoenix

Due to a mishap as a child, Whisper became “sensitive to the world of spirits.”  She has four points of 'Open Chalice' magic, associated with her water element.  Whisper can use her magic to sense energies and become possessed by spirits.  Her “Soul's Wall of Stone” is a “psychic barrier.”  Whisper also has a power called 'Vision of the Departed Spirit' (She “can tell by sight whether a person is awake, unconscious, or dreaming”).

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Powers and Magic in Everway

In Everway, all player characters (i.e., “heroes”) are spherewalkers.  The Playing Guide asks, “What makes someone a spherewalker?”

Those who are sensitive to mystical things (in game terms, those who have high Water scores) can open the gates and walk the paths between spheres.  A few other people who aren't particularly sensitive also can open and travel the gates.  Different people have the ability for different reasons.  Those with even a little blood of the deities can usually spherewalk, as can those sent on missions by their deities, those who have been given special gifts by spirits or faeries, those conceived or born at propitious or magical times, and so on.  Often no one knows what makes spherewalkers able to travel the gates, not even the spherewalkers themselves.

Heroes can have “magical, psychic, or unusual Powers.”  For the most part, Powers have a cost in elemental points.  Therefore, purchasing Powers will limit the hero's combined Element scores.  Technically, the Powers Stage occurs before the Elements Stage.  The cost of any given Power is determined by three factors:  versatile, major, and frequent.  Each factor that applies to a power costs one point.  If a Power has numerous effects, it is versatile.  If a Power “has a big effect, especially on another character,” it is major.  A frequent Power is “something that often makes a difference in play.”  Example Powers are presented in a number of categories.

Examples of 'Create Fire' Powers include Throw Fire (2 points; frequent and major) – “The hero can produce fire from his or her hands [and] ...can be formed into balls and thrown” and Mastery of Flame (3 points; frequent, major, and versatile) – “The hero can create heat, light, and flame at will.”

Examples of 'Healing' Powers include Fast Healing (1 point; frequent) – “The hero recovers from physical wounds seven times as fast as normal” and Instant Healing (2 points; frequent and major) – “no wound lasts for more than a few seconds [but] ...A blow that kills the hero instantly, however is still fatal.”

Examples of 'Immortality' Powers include Unkillable (2 points; frequent and major) – “The hero cannot be killed, though he or she can still be hampered by wounds, sickened by poison, knocked down by blows, weakened by disease” etc. and Invulnerable (3 points; frequent and twice major) – “The hero cannot be wounded or poisoned by normal means, though he or she can still be struck down by forceful blows, knocked unconscious from lack of air, or killed by hunger or thirst.”  As can be seen, the 'major' factor can be doubled, costing an additional point.

'Invisibility' Powers include Standing Unseen (1 point; frequent) – “The hero can become invisible but must remain still and silent” and Walking Unseen (2 points; frequent and major) – “The hero can become invisible and can move about.”

Examples of 'Persuasion' Powers include Winning Smile (0 points) – “The hero's smile... helps the hero stand out and may make some people more favorable disposed toward him or her” and Charming Voice (2 points; frequent and major) – “The hero can win the affection of those that he or she can talk to at some length.

'Priestly Powers' include Priestly Rites (2 points; major and versatile) – “The hero can lead worship services and divine ceremonies to channel energy” and Invocation (3 points; frequent, major, and versatile) – “The priest or priestess, apart from any worshipping congregation, can invoke the power of deities.”

Examples of 'Shapechange' Powers include Werewolf (2 points; frequent and major) – “The hero can turn into a powerful wolf that is immune to normal (nonsilver and nonmagical) weapons” and Bird Form (2 points; frequent and major) – “The hero can turn into a particular type of bird, such as a crow or hawk.”

Examples of 'Speech' Powers include Speak to Animals (1 point; frequent) – “The hero can speak to all manner of animals” and Shadow Whispers (1 point; major) – “The hero can speak to the dead.”

Examples of 'Visions' Powers include Glimpses of the Future (1 point; major) – “During times of stress, the hero gets visions of the future” and Mystic Eye (3 points; frequent, major, and versatile) – “The hero can concentrate to gain visions of the future, of times past, or of distant places.”

Powers can also be purchased to allow a hero to guide others while spherewalking; to guide a group is a 1-Point Power, to guide “large contingents” is a 2-point Power.  Otherwise, a hero needs a high water score to lead others:  6 – one or two people, 7 – a group, 8 or more – “large contingents.” 

It is possible for a Power to “come from some object or creature... [such as] a familiar animal, a wand with magical powers, a flying boat, or the like.”  Examples of animal companions include Cat Familiar (2 points; frequent and versatile) – “It can talk to the hero (and only the hero), and it is as intelligent as a child” (Fire = 1, Earth = 2, Air = 2, Water = 5) and Wolf Companion (3 points; frequent, major, and versatile) – “A clever, loyal wolf... It does not have human-like intelligence” (Fire = 4, Earth = 3, Air = 1, Water = 4).

As Winning Smile suggests, there are zero-point Powers that are neither frequent, major, nor versatile.  Other examples of such Powers include Friend to Water (“The hero can breathe water”), Horse Friend (“The hero befriends horses automatically”), and Phantom Musician (“The hero can make a musical instrument play by itself”).  Each hero is entitled to one such free Power.  Each Power after the hero's free Power costs at least one point, even it if would be a zero-point Power.

The Magic Stage follows the Elements Stage.  Similar to purchasing an element score, to have Magic, a hero spends elemental points to develop a Magic score.

Of the dozen pre-generated characters, eight characters have purchased Powers, spending up to three points total.  The other four characters have spent four to six points on Magic and have only free Powers.  Although I could not find any rule that prohibits a hero from purchasing Powers as well as Magic, each pre-generated character has either purchased Powers or Magic, but not both.  Presumably, a hero need not spend points either for Powers or Magic, but this is not the case for any of the pre-generated characters.

There are various 'types' of magic (e.g., paths, schools, arts, styles, and traditions).  Each magic-using hero has a single type.  The rules provide four example types, but players can “invent” their own.  Each type is linked with one of the elements, but a mage cannot have an element Specialty that is magical.  A hero's Magic score cannot exceed his or her score in the linked element.  Additionally, the Magic score of a beginning character cannot exceed seven.

Examples of what a Magic score indicates are...

1 Apprentice:  A beginner, capable of both modest tricks and catastrophic mistakes.

3 Average Mage:  A humble practitioner with some impressive powers in his or her area of specialization, but not one to tackle great magical challenges.  A town of a thousand people might have one such mage.

6 Mighty Mage: The mightiest living mage that most people have ever heard of; a master of magic.  A realm of a million people might have one such mage.

The four example magic types are 'Flux' (Fire), 'Soil and Stone' (Earth), 'Words of Power' (Air), and 'Open Chalice' (Water).

'Flux' regards transformation.  Example levels include:  1 – Alter minor features on small objects, such as making a pebble smoother; 3 – Alter minor features, such as aging milk, freshening air, fortifying wine, weakening rope, and rusting metal; 5 – Alter an average hero's features, such as height or race.  We learn, “the effects of this magic last only a short time, usually about a day.”

'Soil and Stone' regards healing and wards.  Example levels include:  1 – Aid the ill; 3 – Counter diseases or ward an individual against a particular danger or magic; 5 – Counter curses or let a mortally wounded person recover (slowly).  We learn, “this magic works through physical contact, especially with the hands.”

'Words of Power' magic “uses spoken and written words to affect living things, spirits, and magical forces.”  Example levels include:  1 – Command insects by voice or inscribe charms to bring good luck; 3 – Force back wild animals or inscribe charms for various, minor purposes; 5 – Force back an average person with a magic word.

'Open Chalice' regards empathy and communication.  Example levels include:  1 – Sense strong energies; 3 – Call and channel spirits with varied success; 5 – Neutralize petty negative energies or communicate nonverbally with plants or call and channel spirits with facility.  We learn that “taste and smell are the physical senses ruled by water, this magic sometimes uses magic drinks, smoke, incense, or other aids.”

Saturday, March 20, 2021

City of Wonder

Six years ago, your humble host wrote about Chaosium's 1982 Worlds of Wonder product.  We return to that product because a reader has informed me that he (or she or they) purchased Worlds of Wonder on eBay; however, the 'A Portion of Wonder' pamphlet was missing.  This, of course, is unconscionable and I cannot sit idly by while a lone voice cries out in the wilderness.  In this post, I provide the requested scan.  Some concern was expressed over copyright.  I am certain that this is covered by one or more 'fair use' provisions (particularly the 'obscure blog' & 'material that has been out of print for nearly four decades' provisions – but you should consult with a lawyer before relying on said provisions for your own purposes).  Anyway, what good are laws when justice has been trampled in the dirt?

The pamphlet consists of four pages.  The front cover briefly describes the city (usually referenced merely as 'Wonder') and supplies a price list.  The interior two pages present a map of part of the city (i.e., the Magic World, Superworld, and Future*World sections).  The back cover provides a 'Short Guide to the Avenues', with brief descriptions of places shown on the map (e.g., All-Beings Hospital and Piglar Megalessar's Stage Show and School of Cunning).

Please note the reference to Apple Lane in the lower left area
The reader also requested “any suggestion for a multi-genre crossover rpg.”  It seems several such games have been published over the years, but it would be inconsiderate of me not to suggest Chaosium's own Basic Roleplaying, the natural evolution of Worlds of Wonder.  It has a System Reference Document that has been out for almost a year.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Characters and Elements in Everway

From Leonhard Thurneysser’s Quinta Essentia (1574)


Previously, we examined parts of the Identity Stage of Everway character generation; specifically, the concepts of Virtue, Fault, and Fate.  The remaining portion of the Identity Stage is choosing a name for the character, which “is not a trivial matter.”  However, “You may choose a name at any point in designing you hero.”  Names of Everway characters often “mean something in everyday speech rather than being merely traditional.”  Names of the pre-generated characters appear in a chart later in this post.  Choosing a Motive is also part of the Identity Stage.  Seven Motives are listed, but the reader is invited to “invent your own.”

    Adversity:  “The hero is under some compulsion to walk the spheres.”

    Authority:  “The hero is the hands, the eyes, the mouth, or the sword of some authority, such as a deity, ruler, or holy order.”

    Beauty:  “The hero seeks to share or to experience that which is beautiful:  art, music, romance, poetry, aphrodisia, and more.”

    Conquest:  “The hero lives for challenges and loves to exert power.”

    Knowledge:  “The hero seeks knowledge to be found in new realms and new worlds.”

    Mystery:  “The hero seeks no mundane goals but wishes to confront mysteries on other worlds.”

    Wanderlust:  “The hero wanders the spheres with little or no care for a purpose.”

Stages that follow the Identity Stage involve an allocation of elemental points.  Players have twenty elemental points to spend on the Powers, Elements, and Magic of their characters.  Elements are the “basic aspects” of a character – what would in other games be called characteristics or attributes.  In Everway, these basic aspects correspond roughly with the four medieval humors.  Rather than have attributes like Phlegm and Yellow Bile, Tweet wisely named these aspects after the four classical elements.  Elements have ratings from one to ten, with a one meaning helplessness and a ten meaning a godlike level of ability.  Player characters have a minimum rating of two and a maximum rating of nine.  We learn, “An average hero's scores are usually between 4 and 5...”  An average background character (i.e., non-player character) has only twelve elemental points to allocate, “so a well-balanced average person has a score of 3 for each Element.”  The Elements and their meanings are:

          Air determines intelligence, speech, thought, logic, analytical ability, oratory, and knowledge.  A hero with a strong Air score knows a lot, speaks well, and can figure things out easily.

          Earth governs a hero's health endurance, fortitude, will, determination, and resilience.  Heroes with strong Earth scores can withstand damage, shake off the effects of poison, and resist magic.

          Fire measures vitality, force, courage, speed, and daring.  Heroes with strong Fire scores are energetic and capable in physical activities.

          Water governs intuition, sensitivity to that which is unseen and unspoken, receptivity, psychic potential, and depth of feeling.  Heroes with strong Water scores are good at sensing lies, feeling magic, intuiting hidden emotions, adapting to new social situations, and so on.



As the above graphic shows, each Element has an opposite Element and combines and contrasts with the remaining two Elements.  For example, Air ('thought') opposes Earth ('might').  The combination of Air and Water results in 'Wisdom' (Air associated with “spoken” and Water, “silent”), while the combination of Air and Fire results in 'Energy' (Air associated with “focused” and Fire, “forceful”).

If a player has a “role” or “career” in  mind for his or her character, one or more Elements can be emphasized.  As examples...

Earth:  farmer or guard

Earth and Water:  priest or healer

Water:  mystic or artist

Water and Air:  physician or poet

Air:  scholar or engineer

Air and Fire:  leader or messenger

Fire:  warrior or acrobat

Fire and Earth:  athlete or smith

Even opposite elements can be combined for certain roles / careers.  High Fire and Water scores can represent a scout or dancer.  High Air and Earth can represent a magistrate or inquisitor.

For each Element, a player character has a Specialty.  A Specialty is a particular area of expertise.  “Generally,” the rules inform us, “a Specialty allows a hero to perform an act as if the [Element] score were 1 point higher than it is.”  Examples include...

    Air:  Smooth-talking, Occult Lore

    Earth:  Resisting Magic, Tireless Stride

    Fire:  Archery, Running

    Water:  Stealth, Tracking

It's possible for a Specialty to be a “Cross-Specialty,” meaning it can be associated with one Element but affect another.  As an example, the rules explain that Archery is a task normally associated with Fire, but “because arrows fly through the air,” Archery could be associated with Air.  If a hero has a Fire score of 2, but an Air score of 6 (with an Archery specialty), then that hero “would shoot arrows as well as as a 7-Fire” character.  Other Cross-Specialties include Smithing (Fire – Air), Swimming (Water – Fire), and Mining (Earth – Air).

The Everway boxed set comes with twelve pre-generated characters.  As such, Tweet gives us a good amount of insight into his concept of how player characters ought to be.  Below is a chart showing the Element scores for the “ready-to-run heroes.“  The characters are ordered by ascending value of their Air scores.

In terms of averages:  Earth = 3.83, Air = 3.92, Fire = 4.5, and Water = 4.75.  The 'Wisdom' Elements (Air and Water) have a value range of 3 – 7 while the 'Power' Elements (Fire and Earth) have a value range of only 2 – 6.  For fully three-quarters of the characters, Element ranges are within 3 – 6; for one-fourth of the characters, Element ranges are within 3 –5.  If the characters are grouped according to which of their Elements has the highest score, each Element would have three characters except Fire, which would have two.  (One hero has Fire and Water tied at highest score.)

Sunday, February 7, 2021

The City and the Setting

Map by Amy Weber

The Everway Kickstarter has surpassed its goal and – as of this writing – the project has about a month left.  Readers within this time period are encouraged to check it out.

Anyway, Everway the game is named after Everway the so-called “City of a Thousand Deities.”  Located in the sphere of Fourcorner, Everway is the central city of the the realm of Roundwander and is “home to half a million people.”  There are “at least seventy-one gates in Roundwander.”  (We learn, “Most spheres have two gates, each leading to a different sphere.”)  Like characters, realms have a Virtue, a Fault, a Fate.  Realms also have an Usurper.  For Roundwander, these are:

Virtue:  Autumn ( plenty).  The place is old but still active.  It is past its most energetic stage but not yet into winter.  Roundwander's Autumn Virtue represents not just “plenty” in terms of quantity, but also in terms of variety.  The people of Roundwander present the hundred colors of a forest in fall.

Fault:  Spring – reversed ( stagnation).  Roundwander is an old, old place, and the habits of a hundred generations are worn into the stone-paved pathways.

Fate:  Cockatrice ( corruption vs. recovery).  The influx of new people, new magic, and new ideas could undermine what is good about Roundwander or bring it the new energy it needs to overcome the threat of stagnation.

Usurper:  The Pyramid ( order and cooperative effort).  This Usurper represents coming together, working together, balance, order, and progress.  Reversed, The Pyramid means dissension, imbalance, conflict, and regress.

The Walker's Pyramid sits in the center of Everway.  It consists of seven tiers of blocks “about twenty feet high.”  It is “some three hundred feet on a side.”  The Walker is a legendary being who supposedly built the pyramid one stone at a time and “is out among the spheres now, searching for the capstone, which will complete the pyramid.”  We learn, “No one knows what will happen when the pyramid is completed.”  The pyramid is tended by priests and “temples, wandering mystics, and booths that sell magical goods and items for offerings” surround the base.

Jonathan Tweet's “original idea was to have no background at all” in the game, but included the city-setting for people “who want to create their heroes and quests in a cultural context.”  Tweet states that he made the city “big and varied so that you would feel free to add the details that you wish to add.”  He also claims, “Heroes can find plots within the city itself, or they can find reasons to explore other realms” or spheres.  Additionally...

...Everway includes a few magical patterns that aren't explicit.  You can enjoy Everway without finding out all of its secrets, but they're here for those of you who like a little mystery.

There are various “centers of interest,” each supporting “a different sort of business and attracts a different sort of visitor.”

Arenas:  This is “where gladiators fight and martial families demonstrate their skill and courage.”

Council House:  “Centuries ago, the leaders of prominent families formed the Council as a way to relieve the great king of an endless stream of mundane decisions and obligations.“

Court of Fools:   “[A] large plaza where entertainers of all types demonstrate their arts.  Mixed in among the buffoons and jugglers, one can sometimes find prophets and seers.”

Gaming Houses:  This is “where fortunes change hands over the rolls of dice.  Other amusements of questionable morality can also be found nearby.”

Gardens:  This place contains “various temples to deities of nature and the earth.  Exotic animals and plants from other spheres can be found here...”

Houses of Dusk:  This is “where the dead are prepared for their final journeys.”

Library of All Worlds:  ”[A] collection of large buildings filled with scrolls holding knowledge and wisdom collected from a thousand spheres.”

Temple of Mercy:  ”Here one finds poorhouses, hospitals, orphanages, and temples to deities of fertility and healing.”

A page in the Playing Guide named 'Sights in Everway' lists various encounters that heroes might have in the 'centers of interest' described above.  There might be a “humanoid dragon, a guest of the [Library of All Worlds], teaching the language of the dragons.”  Around the Gaming Houses, there may be a “spherewalker getting beaten for getting caught using magic to influence the roll of the dice.”

No description of the city of Everway would be complete without mention of Strangerside, “home of Strangers ... and Outsiders.”  (A 'Stranger' is someone from another realm.  An 'Outsider' is someone from another sphere.)  Strangerside is to the southeast of the walled portion of Everway, across the Sunset River.  (On the map above, north is to the right.)  Possible encounters in Strangerside include:

  • A large, two-legged bearlike creature wearing a harness.  It's sitting in the shade, swatting flies that buzz about it.  It watches passersby with intelligent eyes.
  • Bedraggled refugees from a distant realm who have come here to find champions to bring justice to their homeland.
  • A narrow alley in which several short, light-skinned, brown-haired merchants ply visitors with a bewildering array of small, exotic goods.  They refuse beads, insisting on being paid in silver, gold, or (preferably) gems.

“There are nearly a thousand families in Everway,” the Playing Guide tells us, “some with a handful of members, some with over a thousand.”  These families “are the central system of ordering society in Everway.”  Examples of noteworthy Everway families include:

Crookstaff:  “A family renowned for magical ability, secrecy, and strange ways.”

Digger:  “Historically, a family of miners.  Now, however, they're mostly moneylenders (who still maintain a monopoly on mining).”

Emerald:  “The royal family of Roundwander.”

Mask:  “A family that, officially, provides amusements and diversions.  Unofficially, they are involved in various illicit activities.”

Moondance:  “A family of priestesses and cousins who support them.  Moondances are found in temples dedicated to many different deities.”

Mudbank:  “Leatherworkers.  They are responsible for removing dead animals from the streets...”

Snakering:  “Courtiers, ambassadors, and functionaries.  They were once a powerful family, but now they work at the behest of others.


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... 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.


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.