Posts Tagged ‘glorious and fearsome’

What’s a point worth?

Mulling a change to point costs in the character creation rules for G&F – the simplicity of Everway‘s approach is appealing, but I’ve been rereading Nobilis 2e for inspiration as well and I’m torn because Nobilis has a more robust ability creation method that would raise the prices on things. (In Everway, a power costs up to 3 points, or maybe 4 at the most if it’s really potent), whereas Nobilis can price some powers on a scale that goes up to something like 8 or 9 points. That would require refiguring what a point is worth in terms of character potential and how many to give a starting PC. I like games that start out with powerful characters, so I’m not averse to the idea, but I don’t want to break things by not giving the scale proper balance.

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Since Everway doesn’t have a hard advancement system for characters, I’m looking at existing tech to graft onto the game that won’t disrupt the feel too much. My leaning is toward goal-based advancement such as the Motivations in Exalted or the Keys in games like Lady Blackbird.

In Everway, as I mentioned before, you have a Motive for your character: the thing that drives them. You also have a Virtue and a Fault as well as a Fate that you are expected to eventually meet. For Glorious and Fearsome, the Virtue remains the same, the Fault becomes a Vice, and the Fate becomes your Destiny. Virtue and Vice are things you’re supposed to do during play; they should come up regularly, so it stands to reason that these would map well with Keys, which serve the same purpose. One downside is that Keys are tied to an “experience point” system, which doesn’t fit the feel of either Everway or Glorious and Fearsome – characters in both games, to me, feel cheapened if their routine actions translate into an economy or currency. On the upside, these Keys also have built-in mechanical incentives, like bonuses to actions, that encourage players to stick to those personality aspects in play, which I think I’m going to keep (especially since the law of karma gets highest priority for storyguides in Glorious and Fearsome when determining the outcome of actions – much like the Amber RPG, as it has been pointed out by others elsewhere).

Destiny and Ambition, by contrast, are infrequently met, even if they are acted upon regularly. They’re epic accomplishments and events, and should be rare so that they feel special. The reward should be correspondingly special as well; Exalted handles meeting a Motivation by allowing you to increase your Essence (the game’s “power stat”) immediately provided you can afford the experience cost, and then you can choose a new Motivation that is even grander in scale to reflect your character’s broadening influence on the setting. Since Glorious and Fearsome doesn’t have a corresponding “power stat”, this would be where you would receive new Mythic Points to spend on your character, the same as during character creation. There’s no intermediary “experience point” that has to be translated into a Mythic Point, it should be noted; you get the direct reward in the form you need it. The question I’m grappling with right now is whether these two goals should be on equal footing, or whether one is more likely to come up and be fulfilled during play than the other; my instinct is to say that a Mythic must confront their Destiny when its card is drawn from the Story Deck, but since Story Deck draws are comparatively rare, who knows when that will happen? Likewise, if a Mythic can accomplish their Ambition in a handful of sessions, it probably wasn’t the best choice of Ambition to begin with, and while they will replace it with a bigger one, should that be rewarded? Things to ponder.

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As I continue to read through the original Everway box, there are some areas that catch my attention now that never did before. One of those I’d like to comment on is the way wounds are handled in the game. They’re very abstract, broken into three categories – flesh wounds, serious wounds, and mortal wounds – and left, as is often the case, to GM fiat and narrative use as opposed to mechanical use. The closest the advice comes to a mechanical implementation is for players to treat serious wounds as though their hero’s element scores are all one lower than they actually are while wounded.

There are, of course, several good reasons why injuries are handled this way. Everway leans away from “blow-by-blow” resolution of combat, and thus has less need for tracking ongoing things like hit points or wound levels. You’re expected to fast-forward to the end of the combat with just a bit of flavor narration and maybe the turn of a card. But the game also de-emphasizes combat in favor of other forms of conflict resolution simply by choosing not to have a robust combat system. After all, you don’t need to know a lot about how heroes fight if you’re not going to be fighting very much, right? This is actually one of the things that attracted me to Everway in the first place, and it’s something I’m going to have to struggle with how to adapt to Glorious and Fearsome, which posits a more violent milieu than that populated by spherewalkers. Mythics explicitly draw from fable and myth, which are full of bloody deeds and the slaying of foes. Thus, I’ll have to come up with a way to balance the need for characters to take/deal wounds on a more granular level with respect for the simplicity and philosophy of the mechanical under-bed.

Right now, if just as a placeholder, I’ve recycled the penalty system I came up with for Blades of the Elf-Queen, which inflicts a cumulative -1 penalty to successive suits as your character takes hits or fails actions. It may not make the final cut, but for playtesting, we’ll see how well it functions. It seems like a good compromise on paper, at least.

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Overall, as I said before, Everway has a lot of good things. Among other things, it has a great spread of magical schools, and powers, and setting background (seriously, over half the playing guide is about the city of Everway and the spheres). It uses generous amounts of example text to walk players through how to make characters and give advice on how to properly play them. The player’s guide even gives players a peek behind the curtain and explains karma/drama/fortune to the players, as I mentioned in the last article, even though it doesn’t strictly have to do so.

You know what Everway doesn’t have, though? A fully developed advancement mechanic. There are hints every so often that heroes can improve their elements or their Magic score through play, but there’s literally no way to do that written into the game text. The closest there is to an advancement system is the introduction of boons, which are possible magical items or powers or knowledge that heroes can be given during play as a reward for quests – but the text also says that boons are one-use-only abilities. There are no experience points, and no permanent bumps to a hero’s starting build, to be found between Everway‘s covers.

Glorious and Fearsome addresses this by taking two apparently throw-away mechanics already in Everway and mechanizing them as advancement milestones. Heroes in Everway choose a Motive (a description of what that hero wants to accomplish) and also choose or draw three cards from the Fortune Deck to indicate their Virtue, Fault, and Fate. The Fate card specifically is neither upright nor reversed, but “sideways” to represent something hanging in the hero’s future that remains unresolved as of yet. The Mythics of Glorious and Fearsome likewise have an Ambition as well as Story Deck cards indicating Virtue, Vice, and Destiny. When a Mythic makes headway toward their Ambition or comes closer to facing their Destiny, they earn a Mythic Point, which can be spent to improve or add abilities to the sheet.

That more or less covers what will be different about Glorious and Fearsome. Fans of Everway will probably be heartened to hear that I’m changing as little as possible, only to address those things that Everway has garnered criticism for in the decades since its release. Hopefully this new implementation will be a worthy successor and a step forward in design.

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Part of the way you know you’re reading a game from the 1990s is Everway‘s use of language. It was relatively progressive for the time in using “his or her” frequently instead of defaulting to the usual “his” (although the singular “their” is still better), but it fails to acknowledge the problems intrinsic in the masculine-gendered term “gamemaster”, so in the interest of being properly inclusive, I’m going with “storyguide” for Glorious and Fearsome.

But there’s another reason. Today’s game designs have the advantage of something that Everway didn’t have: the Czege principle. Paul Czege’s wise observation that having the same person set up a character’s adversity and then also resolve it is unsatisfying rings true in light of the fact that, as mentioned in the previous article, the GM is both the one putting forth challenges to the players, and then deciding how they resolve essentially by fiat when applying either fortune or drama to the situation – that’s two-thirds of the time, at least on paper.

Glorious and Fearsome deals with this imbalance by explicitly codifying the Czege principle into its rule structure in a manner similar to Fiasco: players are given either the opportunity to frame a scene but not decide its resolution, or to hand over the scene framing to the storyguide or another player in exchange for the right to declare the resolution themselves.  For this reason, it’s actually a good thing that Everway decides to explain fortune/karma/drama to the players rather than just the GM: G&F strives to change as little as necessary in updating Everway for a contemporary sensibility.

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Let’s start off with one important point: Everway is a good game. It has a lot going for it: its aggressive multiculturalism, its extensive use of examples to guide new players, its production value, its use of art as part of the play experience (especially the vision cards), and for me in particular, its embrace of heavily narrative play.

It’s that last part that gives many other people trouble, though. Criticisms of the system focus on its mechanical lightness, perceiving that it relies too heavily for some on gamemaster* fiat. In rereading the game in preparation for Glorious and Fearsome, I can see the validity of that criticism: the laws of fortune, drama, and karma are great in principle, but just handing them to the gamemaster and saying “pick the one that seems right” rubs more traditional players used to more structure the wrong way. Everway is heavily improvisational in the course of actual play in ways that the character creation process doesn’t quite prepare you for. (And the character creation process is, for many RPG players, the only part of the system they really have to interface with to the extent that they have to “understand” it.)

For Glorious and Fearsome, one of my first tasks is to take the engagement that players show in the process of creating their characters and make it carry through into sessions of play. A player is telling the gamemaster what they want to be important in the game through the choices they make when they pay their points. Everway gives that a nod with the law of karma, but I’m explicitly creating a hierarchy of the three laws in which karma gets first place. The vaunted Fortune Deck (in G&F, the Story Deck) is used if karma doesn’t clearly resolve the issue, as per the law of fortune, and only if the card drawn doesn’t point to a satisfying resolution does the law of drama come into the picture.

*By the way, Everway uses the term “gamemaster”, but I’m replacing that with “storyguide” for Glorious and Fearsome. More on that in part two.

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Glorious and Fearsome

My next project is titled Glorious and Fearsome. It is primarily a reimplementation of Everway, but with DNA borrowed from subsequent games like Nobilis and Exalted to hopefully improve some of Everway‘s design weaknesses or oversights.

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