So I’ve mentioned this game a couple times on the site, but haven’t really gotten into the game that much or talked about the sessions. Let’s fix that.
A few months back, I went down to Lee and De’s with Kate, and we cracked open my copy of In A Wicked Age — a game designed to do Sword and Sorcery in the vein of Howard or Tanith Lee. There’s a cool podcast interview with Vincent about the game, here.
The game basically let’s you draw a few cards to define the elements of the setting, pick up some of those elements as PCs, some as NPCs or setting, get each of them pointing guns at each others heads (metaphorically) and then dumping them into a situation together.
Combat/conflict is about as complicated as any “roll initiative/roll defense/gain advantage for next round” game, and is basically perfectly designed to create a kind of an anthology of loosely connected short stories that involve many of the same characters (to a greater or lesser degree) in many sessions. Each session jumps to a new chapter… forward in time… backwards, sideways… whatever. It’s pretty hot, and the rules cool and pretty easy to ‘get’.
It hit the gaming community, and everyone promptly built like 300 million new oracles to use the system in different settings — unlike Dogs, it’s highly setting-independent as a system.
Anyway, we got to the game-starting, and I opened to that part of the book, and we did that stuff. Here’s what the book said to do, and what we did.
Gather up you and three or four of your smartest, boldest, most creative, and hottest friends.
I don’t know that it’s fair to list anyone as an ‘est’ in any particular category, but I certainly feel they met the criteria well enough. Participants: Lee, De, Kate, me.
Someone choose an oracle. Your choices are Blood & Sex, God-kings of War, the Unquiet Past, and a Nest of Vipers. It doesn’t matter who chooses.
We chose Blood and Sex, because… well, it’s us.
Someone shuffle the deck and deal four cards where everyone can see. Someone go to the oracle and read out its entries for your four cards.
- 2 of Diamonds …A woman suddenly bereft of love and family, daughter to a long heritage of sorceresses and poisoners…
- Ace of Spades …A field of herbs and wild flowers, alive with bees, where a certain half-bestial creature brings his many lovers…
- 3 of Hearts …A sorcerously animate homunculus of a wizard, more clever than wise…
- 10 of Spades …A wandering spirit, visible at will, an inflamer of human passions…
All together, read the entries out into a list of characters. Note the explicit characters, and read the implied characters too, and decide as you go and by your gut what counts as a character.
We identified as characters:
- The woman bereft of family, heir to sorceresses and poisoners
- Some patriarchal enemy group of that matriarchal lineage (which we didn’t really use)
- The half-bestial creature
- The half-beast’s lovers
- The bees (the players were quite, quite adamant that the bees were a character)
- The homonculus
- The wizard
- The passion-inflaming spirit
Everyone chooses one character from the list, except the GM, who gets the rest. It doesn’t matter who chooses first and who chooses second. As a group you can expand and contract the list as you go, at need.
In no particular order:
- Lee called hasty dibs on the homonculus
- De selected the woman bereft
- Kate selected the half-bestial creature, now made a ‘she’
- Doyce took everyone else
Players: Give your character a name. Choose whether your character’s going to have a particular strength. Assign one die each to the six forms; higher dice are stronger.
Chiela, A woman suddenly bereft of love and family, daughter to a long heritage of sorceresses and poisoners
* Covertly d12, Directly d4, for Myself d6, for Others d8, with Love d10, with Violence d6
* Particular Strengths: Bee Magic (gm says: “The Appian Way”, which De detailed in the next step)
Cupix, sorcerously animate homunculus, more clever than wise
* Covertly d10, Directly d6, for Myself d8, for Others d4, with Love d6, with Violence d12
* Particular Strengths: Show true form (gm says: “Horrific Visage”)
Ursula, a certain half-bestial creature who snares many lovers
* Covertly d8, Directly d6, for Myself d10, for Others d6, with Love d12, with Violence d4
* Particular Strengths: Carnal Seduction
GM: Give the NPC character a name. Copy the character’s description from the story sheet. Assign two dice each to the three NPC forms: action, maneuvering, self-protection. Choose whether the character’s going to have a particular strength.
Shahu Seen, the spirit that enflames passions (which I totally just copied from the example in the book)
Samson, one of Ursula’s lovers, a noble son
* Action d12 d8, Maneuvering d6 d4, Self-protection d10 d6
Illabeta, one of Ursula’s lovers, a well-born girl
* Action d10 d6, Maneuvering d12 d8, Self-protection d6 d4
* Action d10 d6, Maneuvering d6 d4, Self-protection d12 d8
* Particular strength: Swarm
The Wizard, Kuriguzal
* Action d12 d8, Maneuvering d10 d6, Self-protection d6 d4
* Particular Strength: Wizardry
Create particular strength sheets. Give the strength a name. Describe the strength. Describe the strength’s special effects: what it requires, and how it appears in action. Choose both a PC and NPC form the Strength is linked to. Choose one Significance option from potent, broad,consequential, unique, far-reaching.
Best interests GM starts, with one of the strongest of the NPCs, and names two best interests for them. Each should represent a direct attack on at least one player’s character. From there, you and all the players take turns, until every player’s character has at least two best interests named and every NPC has at least one (and many have two).
- Kuriguzal wishes to recapture and punish the errant Cupix.
- Kuriguzal wishes to acquire the secrets of TheAppianWay from its last surviving practitioner.
- Cupix wants to use the “bee magic” in conjunction with acquiring the soul of a ‘changing spirit’ (read: Ursula). For this, he needs the cooperation of Chiella and Ursula as a victim.
- Chiella wishes to enact punishment (on Ursula, one presumes) for the recent destruction of her family/the family apiaries.
- Samson wishes to continue his relationship with Ursula, perhaps unto marriage.
- Chiella wants to marry a noble of some kind to continue the family line.
- Illabeta wishes to expunge the shame of her dalliance with Ursula by marrying well, perhaps to the beautiful Cupix. She’d also like to see Ursula suffer vast indignities.
- Ursula wishes to mate with someone powerful to stave off the ‘long sleep’. Also, as the bees of her meadow are the source of much of her power, she would like to utterly control them.
- The Bees wish to see the hive free from outside control, including Ursula plundering their hive.
Right. So that was “character generation” — which is basically setting/antagonist/protagonist/situation generation. All this stuff is also on my Wiki, along with the first session of play.
We’ve now had two sessions of play. Here’s what I like:
- Nice solid system; easy to understand, limited handling time, little need to look stuff up and pretty unobtrusive when i wanted to check stuff out anyway. It’s so SIMPLE and INTUITIVE to look at your stats and say (for example) “I am acting ‘with violence’ and ‘for others’ in this conflict.”
- Love the Oracles. Love em. Atmospheric and fun. For our second Chapter (which will be played in Session Three), which is going back in time from the first Chapter, we grabbed the “Ghosts” oracle and drew from that for new story elements, and it was perfect. Can’t wait to play it more.
- The “we owe” list is awesome. Basically, the idea is that if you go into a conflict where you’re at a disadvantage, and don’t get totally blown away, you go on the “We Owe List”, which can then be “traded in” for Advantage in a later conflict, or to bring your character into some later Chapter. This let’s you do a kind of “With Great Power” kind of thing, where you get the crap beat out of you for awhile and then, Parker-esque, kick ass at the end.
- Conversely, you can totally kick ass and play to your strengths for a whole Chapter and never get on the We Owe list… and really have no ‘right’ to come back in on a new Chapter without making some “story sacrifices”. That works too.
I’ll have to get back to you on what I don’t love or what’s ugly about the system. I’m not sure yet. I like it it a lot. It drives some nice story with a good system behind it, but unlike Primetime Adventures, the system itself is much more intuitive to me than the “Stakes setting” of PTA, which gives me good games, but which I really struggle with on every conflict. There is no Stakes setting in Wicked Age; there is only what you do — what you actually accomplish is handled via the ‘negotiation with a stick’ that happens during and after the dice rolling.
Okay, here’s a minor peeve: it’s not crunchy. However, that’s something I don’t think is a flaw of the game, it’s just that — while I’m enjoying this game — I’m in the mood to play a crunchier rules system right now — which is something else I’m going post about separately.
Next? I want to use this game to run Wuxia Kung Fu. Seriously.
(How long have I had a jones to run a wuxia game and still haven’t done it? Oy.)