Remembered with Honour: Lace and Steel

This post is part 2 of my contribution to the Dyvers Favourite Game Project

For part 2 in my series of games that time forgot, here’s Paul Kidd’s magnificent Lace and Steel.

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We’re not short of swashbuckling/Early Modern RPGs — off the top of my head I can think of Flashing Blades, En Garde!, Swashbuckler!, GURPS Swashbucklers and All For One for Savage Worlds, and 7th Sea — and by stretching the definition we can cram the likes of Castle Falkenstein, Duty and Honour and Renaissance in as well.

So, if you want to get your swash on there are plenty of titles to choose from — why then would you choose an obscure Australian game from 1989?

Genre emulation

The swashbuckler is the most rigidly conventionalized of all the subgenres of the Adventure genre, and one with close affinities to the Historical Fiction and Romance genres as well

(TV Tropes)

Whether or not you agree with that quote, the swashbuckling genre has some key elements that most players will expect: historical elements, class division, codes of honour, and a certain blend of adventure, comedy and romance. The party will be good and daring and probably outside the law, though still bound by some class conventions; and the villains are dastardly and deserve their comeuppance.

A lot of the time genre emulation is primarily via setting fluff and what the GM and players bring to the table — so roleplaying to the tropes of the genre is part of the social contract. Games that are designed with swashbuckling in mind may pay lip-service to fencing mechanics and social climbing but in the end GURPS Swashbucklers will still smell of GURPS.

What I like about Lace and Steel is its mechanical support for the genre. It does duelling very nicely — swordplay, magic and verbal sparring all use a card sub-system. But the interpersonal mechanics (Ties and Antipathies, and Self Image) are also very good, and include some pretty tight design. Outside the sub-systems I can take-or-leave the general mechanics, which are actually a bit cumbersome (subtract a stat from a difficulty, roll dice and subtract skill, cross-reference the result is all a bit unnecessary).

The setting material does what I like best — it keeps things brief and to the point. No doubt there would have been a lot more had the line taken off, but I am OK with the terse descriptions of the various nations, and the brief passages on daily life, religion and ecology. But most of the setting is implied in the mechanical sections on magic and warfare — suggesting that the typical campaign will always feature conflict as a backdrop, if not a direct game feature. There are rules for mass combats, naval combat, and so forth. This is ripe territory for intrigue, spy games and other staples.

Art

Let’s just briefly mention Donna Barr, who is credited with the interior B&W art as well as the cover of the first edition, and the art for Castle Keitel (note that the reprint cover was by David Cherry, though the interior art is unchanged).

This is possibly my favourite interior piece:

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You can see some examples here and read a blog piece on her here.

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I think Barr did Stinz around the same time. The centaurs in that comic identify as “Half Horse” and that term also crops up in L&S (as well as the slang “two leggers” and “four leggers”). Since the original novel for Stinz dates from 1981 I guess the term originated with Barr and was appropriated by Kidd. I’d like to know if any of the other geographic features in the world of L&S originated in Barr’s comics, too. Either way I love the implied continuity between the two works.

Half a Horse, Half a Horse, Half a Horse Onward

A fantasy 1640s could have ended up with a sub-Tolkien melange of elves and dwarves, but instead it ended up with Greco-Roman influenced Satyrs, Harpys and the Half-Horse. Humans and Half-Horse are the “civilised races” with “wild races” living on the fringes of civilisation in their own communities. Then there are the Fair Folk and “halflings” (again not a Tolkien reference but a term for pixies, trolls, goblins and such, similar to its use in Jack Vance’s Lyonesse).

So, superficially Kidd has just exchanced poiny ears for cloven hooves and horns. But the interesting thing is not the choice of races but the way they’re grouped. The “civilised world” is explicitly mixed-race (human and half-horse) and it’s clear that the “wild races” are welcome in the cities and trade freely, they just prefer their own communities. With the implication that the world is expanding and becoming more civilised, these tribal wild communities are in the minority. The national boundaries described later are for the civilised world.

This gives me all kinds of ideas of how the wild races coexist and are influenced by the various conflicts in the civilised world. A lot of Tolkien-formula fantasy settings segregate by race in what feels like an arbitrary fashion; somehow this arrangement feels more credible.

The only bit that’s slightly peculiar is the half-horse habit of wearing human clothes on their torsos but going unclothed on their hind-quarters, and being embarassed about it:

Half-Horses wear clothing on their upper bodies, and four legger women wear apron-like skirts. The equine hind-body is never clothed or armored, and this lack of covering can be a cause of embarrassment. Many a love-sick young male has had to hide his nether regions upon contemplating the charms of his sweetheart….

A sly reference to Errol Flynn perhaps?

The rest of the setting is pretty much as expected: a fantasy post-medieval Europe with the serial numbers filed off and various national grievances to ensure someone somewhere is starting a fight. There are sections on war technology, social life, language, ecology. Magic is treated like a group of skills, organised into schools like Alchemy, Necromancy, and so forth (but only Sorcerers able to cast missiles and engage in magical combat).

Interestingly the religion is explicitly Christianity, but with a certain amount of tolerance:

The end result is a church which contains some elements of earthly Catholic ritual, but with a level of toleration, debate and variety which is closer to that of the early Christian church. There is no belief in “saints”, no inquisition and no blots on the clerical conscience such as the Albigensian crusade. The wars which are being fought all across the continent are the result of dynastic ambition, rather than a clash of religious dogma.

Duelling

A duel is not warfare, it’s not a brawl, it’s not a back-alley assassination. Duelling implies feelings of propriety and fairness, codes of honour, and above all a way to settle a dispute between two persons without interference from organisations or government.

But the principals are not the only ones involved in the fight — the audience is part of it as well, rooting for one side or the other, biting nails and clutching lace hankies to their mouths (both in-fiction, and outside). Formal duels set the stage for conflict — the insult, the challenge, the stakes and the outcome — and thanks to this transparency the audience is aware of what success or failure might mean.

The card system does the mechanical fighting part very nicely. It’s easy to learn but with surprising depth — attacks and defences run on the upper, middle and lower lines, with a few special attacks, a gradual attrition of hand size due to fatigue, etc. It’s also very transparent to other players who aren’t directly involved in the combat.

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As a fencer I can say this game feels like fencing. “Initiative” means one side attacks and the other defends (as opposed to both sides attacking), until they can take back the initiative from their opponent with a decent parry. The matching or mismatching of suits (rapiers and roses) adds an element of luck for who gets to draw new cards, and the desperate defence, disengaging and stop-hits all feel genre-appropriate and representative. Additionally, player skill and the luck of the draw come into the game in a way that dice rolling does not. It’s possible to be out-fought if you have a bad day on the cards, even if your PC is better at fighting. Fights are not and should not be taken lightly even if the stakes are to first blood.

Repartee is the social equivalent of swordplay, and uses the same deck with damage done to Self Image rather than physical wounds. It’s not covered so well in depth, however, and I wonder if it was only included as an afterthought.

Magical duelling gets its own deck. The conceit here is that sorcerers are walking magical artillery; engaging armies need sorcerers to protect themselves from the opponents, as only the sorcerer can build up the magical protection to ward themselves in a duel. Much of the sorcery duelling is about building a defensive wall and knocking your opponent’s down. Other differences involve playing more than one card in attack and defence with an initial play face up, and additional cards face down to make bluffing possible.

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Whichever kind of conflict, using cards in a sub-game flags three things to the players:

  • Conflict is between these two characters, and should not be interfered with;
  • There are real stakes in the conflict if you lose, and the GM is in an adversarial position;
  • Once you’re in the conflict, you’re there until you either win, lose, or get to play a Disengage card.

Interpersonal Relationships

The other very nice mechanic in this game is around relationships between characters. Ties are positive and Antipathies are negative relationships:

A tie is a feeling of friendship, loyalty, respect or duty towards a person, a nation, a group or an idea. An antipathy is a feeling of distaste, disgust or aversion to a thing. Ties/antipathies are treated very much like skills, being given a rating of zero or more. This rating is termed the tie or antipathy’s strength.

Additionally we have Self-Image as a kind of social hit-points (applied as a modifier to all Charisma and Drive rolls), and the Disposition of a character is derived from a draw of a Tarot deck to establish the character’s Significator. The overall section on Interpersonal Relationships is brief but absolutely killer, including

  • what happens if a character acts contrary to their Ties or Antipathies
  • friendships conflicting with Dispositions
  • staking Self-Image on actions
  • how Self-Image can go up or down, depending on success or failure relating to a Tie or Antipathy

In broad terms, how a character acts on their ties towards a person, ideal or nation will drive their sense of self-worth. Hmmm, that sounds familiar. It’s not expressed in such depth as the Burning Wheel BIT system, although it also doesn’t involve the whole “Artha” economy and the post-session popularity contest, and it’s way simpler. I count that as a plus.

Final Remarks

Lace and Steel presents a sort of fantasy Age of Reason with both setting details and genre-appropriate mechanics — but although the setting is explicitly fantasy 1640s, it could cover an era anywhere between 1600 and 1800. Some things stay the same: attitudes to duelling would not change much, though the technology will be different (the rapier transitioning to the small-sword, etc.), and there will still be a backdrop of political and military conflict. But where would the Wild Races be a hundred years later? Would attitudes to magic and religion change?

It’s a sad thing that Everway will (probably) never see a new edition, but I can at least understand why: that game will never be cheap or simple to make, and a small fanbase makes sales uncertain.

Lace and Steel has no such excuse. The electronic rulebook and cards were available from OneBookShelf until the mid noughties when they were mysteriously withdrawn from sale. Golden Elm Media (formerly Electric Mulch) has a Lace and Steel page but no way to buy the product. Paul Kidd refers to his game on his Squeee!!! site (although that looks like an old site — he’s currently at PaulKidd.net where he mentions RPGs, but no L&S). Right now the only place you can find the rulebook is on Scribd, which I have mixed feelings about. But the electronic copy is there, with “Copyright 1998-2003 Pharos Press” (publishers of the late 90s reprint) and the old Electric Mulch URL. If any reader knows why the digital version isn’t on sale, I’d love to know.

The Trindie Triangle

Trad vs Indie is the chosen subject for the first episode of the What Would The Smart Party Do podcast. I think this topic is pretty well-worn by now, but there’s some good stuff — highlights for me were:

  • Baz opines that Indie games are almost wholly a subset of Trad games — because while Trad can emulate Indie (and use techniques from Indie) the reverse isn’t true — and the rebuttal from Gaz
  • Interesting discussions on FATE around the 30 min mark, which is a game I also want to love and fail to
  • They mention Ribbon Drive
  • Discussion converges on the ideal “Trindie” game (Cortex, apparently)

I’ve had a few rounds of discussing indie games with friends, and since some of those friends are Live Action / Freeform enthusiasts the discussion turns to the similarities between Freeform play and the improv-styled Indie stuff. And in some cases Indie titles are not like Trad games at all, but they’re similar to Freeform games.

At the same time it’s not enough to draw a line with Indie at one end and Trad at the other, and Freeform games in the middle. The improvised nature of Freeforms makes it a third degree of freedom — I give you the Trindie Triangle:

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On the left we have Indie games — GMless, scene focused, story by consensus and “play to find out”. On the right it’s Trad stuff with the GM-led, plotted, mapped, and bounded by wargame-like mechanics. And up the top there are the Freeform aspects — which to the Indie side represent the improvised nature of the game, but on the Trad side they represent those apocryphal sessions where no dice were touched and the party just spent three hours in theological debate.

These three points are extremes — they don’t describe real play, or real habits. Even if a game is designed to be right in the corner, player and GM habits are likely to shade the game away from the corner and towards the other modes. The significant part is each of the three relationships represents a behaviour:

  • For Trad vs Indie, it’s GM autocracy vs consensus
  • For Trad vs Freeforms, it’s Rules vs Judgements
  • For Indie vs Freeforms it’s Scenes vs Continuity

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Ribbon Drive is held up as an Indie example. If we compare it to D&D it’s clearly the antithesis of corporate, supplement-driven RPG consumption and play — a little pamphlet that’s short to read, a game that’s short to play and very focused on a single activity, prepless and GMless. It’s loosely scene focused, and highly improvised, but it’s also fairly continuous in its presentation — in other words, there are no real breaks in the road trip. Most of the time players are in the actor stance (despite also having authorial responsibility).

Now, compare Ribbon Drive to the poster-child for storygames, Fiasco. The latter is also scene focused but it’s also discontinuous — the narrative jumps from scene to scene, and during called scenes other players are roped in to play NPCs as needed. In other words, there is no actor-stance continuity, although certainly there’s pressure to incorporate or call back to events from previous scenes. Everything in Fiasco drives scenes to make decisive conclusions (and consume black or white dice), which is not the case in Ribbon Drive.

Another game which is Indie but entirely unlike Fiasco is When the Dark is Gone; it’s a group therapy session that’s constrained by time, effectively one single group scene (but one where the facilitator ensures all the characters speak for an equal length of time). It’s continuously presented — there are no scenes to present gaps in the narrative from an actor POV — and therefore it’s much more like a Freeform LARP game than a storygame.

With that in mind, you can start to place different games on the triangle. Some interesting results come out:

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  • Apocalypse World is surprisingly far away from the Indie corner; it’s mostly freeform until the point where it triggers a move, when it becomes traditionally rules-bounded; it tends towards the scene-based play, though. Overall there’s a tendancy for AW to move towards the centre of the triangle.
  • Vampire also tends to go towards the middle — it’s scene bounded, it’s fairly collaborative between player and GM (preludes) and it drifts towards Freeform by player habit because the system is mostly unusable
  • Fiasco is right in the Indie corner (scene and rules bounded) but Ribbon Drive and When the Dark Is Gone are halfway up the left edge towards Freeform’s continuity
  • OSR games are close to D&D (obv.), but start to drift towards Freeform

I’m sure there are more degrees of freedom, and better diagrams to express them — but hopefully you get the idea.

I’d like the chaps to expand on their opinion that some modern games like Numenera and 13th Age try and fail to be “Trindie”, that they “don’t get it” (although it’s an academic question since I’m never going to invest in either game).

Finally, here are my own Trindie candidates:

  • Cinematic Unisystem (Buffy, Ghosts of Albion, Eldrich Skies). It’s still very traditional in format, but with some Indie methods we take for granted like Drama points offering narrative control to the player, and options for only the players rolling dice
  • Everway, natch. Plenty of opportunities to cede narrative control to the players via fortune deck interpretation, etc.
  • Beyond the Wall for its approaches to forming the party and using playbooks to generate characters and scenarios

In Loving Memory: Everway

This post is part of the Dyvers Favourite Game Project

People complain that EVERWAY was too politically correct, and speaking as a guy whose published ouvre is perhaps littered with more sodomy jokes than are strictly necessary, they may have a point. But that minor flaw (if it is one) is more than overweighed by EVERWAY’s brilliance of concept, not to mention art that is just gob-smack stunning. No game since has looked this good, full stop.
(Greg Stolze)

Everway arrived on the crest of the Magic the Gathering wave in the mid-90s in a huge box stuffed full of art cards and nicely designed character sheets.

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Aaaaand… it flopped. But why? Well, it was expensive compared to the perfect-bound offerings. The tacit association with MtG probably didn’t help consumers decide either — one has Planeswalkers, the other Spherewalkers, which may have led people to think this was Magic: the Roleplaying Game (and leads to questions like: did you need a collection of Magic cards to play?). I heard that WotC refused to allow sellers to carry MtG if they would not also carry Everway, though that could be apocryphal. I do know that the extra vision cards were sold as random boosters, which made sense for MtG when players would buy and trade, but for a roleplaying game where the GM often provides all the moving parts at the table the market for collectable vision cards is already vanishingly small.

I picked up my first set for pennies in a remaindered book shop.
So commercially it may have been a questionable venture, and something that would not have happened had WotC not been making absurd sums from the CCG market. These are my reasons why I’m grateful that it did happen, because Everway offers technical innovations as well as stunning presentation.

The USP

Everway is a game of Heroes who travel to other Spheres and Realms via Gates, doing Quests along the way. So it’s a fantasy game with elements of Sliders, Fredrick Pohl’s Gateway, maybe a bit of Quantum Leap and The Littlest Hobo. Well, maybe.

Everway’s brilliance comes from a few very tightly interrelated game objects. Here’s a C-Map that covers the basics of Everway:

Everway Image

  • Dark blue nodes are things that are actual on-the-table objects, including the Fortune Deck and the Vision
  • Light blue nodes are in-game concepts
  • Karma, Drama and Fortune are the three kinds of resolution, colour-coded
  • The orange nodes are elements with numerological weight

Everway is billed as “Visionary Roleplaying” for its use of images and symbols. The more obvious parts are the images in Vision Cards and the Fortune Deck, as well as the character sheets. Feast your eyes:

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A bit less obvious is the symbolic use of numbers — the repetition of the number 3 for example:

  • Three modes of resolution (Karma, Drama and Fortune)
  • Three kinds of powers (Frequent, Major, Versatile)
  • Three-stage divinations (Virtue, Fault and Fate)

Whether Tweet intended this or not, the repetition around the number 3 has a mythic resonance to it. Likewise the use of four elements in the character sheet has a numerological quality. And notice also that heroes are constructed around both the number 3 (for their metaphysical Virtue, Fault and Fate) and the number 4 (for their earthly Fire, Air, Water and Earth scores).

But deeper and more resonant still is the way the Fortune Deck is central to the entire game — as a metaphysical principle, in the in-game fiction, as a tool on the table for the players and GM to generate random results.

If all this seems a bit New Age for some… well, yes. Everway is like that. It is perhaps the ur-hippy game — laced with symbolism and so politically correct it hurts. But try not to hold that against it.

Vision Cards and Open Questions

Everway’s branded Vision Cards have art on the front and a set of provocative questions on the back.

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The questions on the back of The Yellow Man by Jeffrey Catherine Jones are

Where is this person? What, if anything, does he see in the water?
What is the most important thing he has ever done?
What does this place mean to him?

These questions are directed at both the GM and the players. Typically the players pick 5 cards during the Vision Stage of character creation, and the GM will use more cards during adventures. With 90 cards in the base set and a further 90 sold separately, and 4 questions per card, that’s 720 questions to kick off some creative thought. Pretty good value, eh?

The Vision Cards are obviously fundamental to Everway’s Visionary Roleplaying. But they’re also consistent with another principle: asking open questions. Questions feature throughout the game — in the last stage of character generation, and throughout the book in Tweet’s advice to GMs.

If you’ve played any indie games from the last decade you probably take asking questions for granted. And it would be silly to suggest that the games that preceded Everway didn’t raise questions of their own. But what Everway does is teach these really useful techniques, putting the use of art and open questioning at the heart of the game.

If that were the only thing that Everway did it alone would be worthy of praise. But there’s more…

The Fortune Deck

Any game can just swap out dice for cards. The genius of the Fortune Deck is the way it repeats as a theme throughout the game, both as a thing on the table and an object in the game world:

  • It’s a ubiquitous divination tool — every culture in every Realm has a version of the deck
  • It represents a cosmic principle of a perfect cycle of 36 cards
  • …which is then reproduced imperfectly on Earth because an unnamed chaos deity stole one of the cards, creating a void in its place…
  • …that void is called the Usurper, and each Realm has a different card that fills the 36th slot — based on the themes of the Realm
  • Each Realm and each Hero has a Virtue, Fault and Fate — a three-card divination using the cards, with the Fate representing a crisis or decision point in the future
  • The deck can be used for six-card divinations too
  • And of course, it’s used for resolving skill checks (etc) based on Fortune.

So what we’ve got here is an object on the table that the players are looking at and interacting with, that also reinforces the spiritual and philosophical elements of the game, and is a recurrent motif throughout each Realm that the PCs visit. That’s kind of beautiful.

The cards are beautiful, too:

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Functionally the cards are like the Major Arcana in the Tarot, with upright and reversed meanings. When you draw one (for a Fortune check, for example) you interpret the outcome based on the card (and taking other traits into account, like the PC’s Element scores).

There are a lot of opportunities for the in-fiction uses of the deck. Like, what interesting new form can the Fortune Deck take? Like a massive clock tower in the centre of a city, proclaiming hourly divinations? What if the cards are drawn by putting your hand into a box with a scorpion inside? How would the population respond to such readings? How easily can they be ignored?

The Fortune Deck is also the constant that the Heroes can observe, when everything else changes as they travel through different Gates. The PCs see the Fortune Deck objectively, but to the people of the many Realms they pass through, their way of interacting with the deck is the Way.

I’m sure this homogeneous new ager stuff will turn a few people off. Personally I dig the whole cosmic patterns repeating on a human scale, but it could easily be pushed to the background. Whichever you prefer, you can’t deny the elegance of it.

Heroes, Elements and Powers

Everway’s heroes are based mechanically on a four-element-with-speciality system, which is something I found in the Ghostbusters RPG and have used for a few one-off games over the years because it’s dead simple for players to engage with.

What really works for me is the implied balance between different pairs of elements as mental/physical, active/passive etc. It’s also the antithesis of the long lists of skills (GURPS, BRP) — long lists of skills tend to imply a small number of things the character can do and a larger number that they can’t, whereas the elements imply that everyone is capable of the same action, just some are better than others.

Then there’s the character sheet itself:

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That’s a threefold metaphysical (or divine) layer, and a fourfold physical layer — something that appears in occult imagery such as these diagrams from Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine:

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I’m not suggesting you should read too much into the character sheet, but it’s a pleasing design. The total number of elements are also low, meaning they stay within the constraints of working memory.

The other part I want to mention is Powers. The effects are pretty much what you’d expect from a fantasy RPG, but it’s the way they’re costed that’s particularly cunning. If the power is Frequent and can be used often in the game, that’s a point; if it’s Major because it can influence a scene strongly that’s a point; and if it’s Versatile because it can be used in different kinds of scenes, that’s a point. With 20 points to spread amongst Elements a 3-point power is a big deal, but then it should be. And this system gives a method for player and GM to negotiate over those costs and make sure they’re both on the same page regarding what the player wants and what limits apply.

Fluff and World Building

Everway is more of a premise than an actual setting. There is the sample Realm of “Roundwander” and its city of Everway, which gets a large chunk of text in the playing handbook even before we get to the character generation section. It goes on at length about its many families, locations, politics (such as the adoption of family name along the female bloodline). But Everway the city is simply the nexus of gates for travel to other Realms — according to the book most spheres have two gates, the entry and exit points for the proto-deity “The Walker” that created them, but Roundwander by comparison has seventy-one gates. I guess Everway the city was expected to be the hub from where the Heroes would strike out to other spheres, and had the game line lived on we’d have seen supplements around city and family politics.

It is politically correct, and also bit twee with its hippy naming conventions (“Tribes of the Sun Lands”, “Roundwander”, “The Clashing Hills” etc.). I guess some people will be put off and others will say these elements make the setting more mythic and dream-like.

World design is mostly topological. Distance and scale aren’t really considerations, and the main focus is themes and significance. Still, I think Realm creation is genius, both for simplicity and the way it engages with both heroes and the fortune deck. That said, while there is an implied method to world creation it’s kind of scattered throughout the books. Here’s the summary:

  1. The Realm will have a Virtue, Fault and Fate, exactly like a Hero — a neat callback to character creation.
  2. The Realm will also have a theme in the form of the Usurper (for example, the Walker’s Pyramid in Everway city). The book advises the GM to pick a vision card to show the players when the Usurper is drawn (since it can’t be shuffled in).
  3. Finally there’s a Realm-building template that adds colour like “Economy”, “Magic”, “Foods” etc.

The Fate of the Realm provides the crisis or decision that affects the Realm (and the Quest) and the Usurper ties the Realm directly into the Fortune Deck — both of these are mechanically supported by the game props. But strangely both of these are presented as optional, tucked away in various corners of the text while the main focus is on the Realm’s food and politics and what kind of domestic animals they keep.

Karma, Drama and Fortune

I should mention Everway’s threefold system of Karma/Drama/Fortune for resolving tasks, which is often cited by proponents of the threefold model (e.g. in the essay System Does Matter).

  • Karma is about work; if the task is something the character ought to be able to succeed at, they will succeed. If it’s not, they won’t.
  • Drama is about opportunity for drama and plot; if it’s good to use the moment to foreshadow or deliver a dramatic impact, allow success or failure on that basis.
  • Fortune is about fate; if you want to submit success or failure to the cosmic will, draw a card.

This isn’t anything new — all Tweet has done is identify and deconstruct the three main techniques that pretty much every GM uses. It’s the thought and attention to detail that makes this section worth reading and taking note.

Final Remarks

So, this is Everway. Sadly it’s long out of print, but you can pick up copies on a certain auction site — and if you look around it’s not too hard to piece together the different mechanisms from fan resources around the web. Here I’ll give the Everwayan another shout, as well as point to John’s Everway Site and his Fortune Deck.

(There’s this analysis of the Fortune Deck too, linked from these pages which appear to be a hack of the original)

I guess I should mention other diceless/narrative games: there’s Amber, and Amber’s spiritual successor Lords of Gossamer and Shadow. And there’s Nobilis, and Heroquest. All of these can be tagged as a sort of mythic narrative game, though none as cohesive as Everway, or as tactile.

Everway makes use of a lot of things we take for granted in indie designs — but it’s not really an indie game. It’s staunchly traditional in the relationship between GM and players — and rather than subvert the traditional mechanisms it uses them quite aggressively. Perhaps that’s its problem — too hippy for the traditional crowd, and not mechanical enough to appeal to indie types, not to mention that it looks a wee bit pretentious. But in the age of diverging approaches to RPGs where the OSR and retroclones, GMless story games and the like, I think it represents a separate genre — a sort of mid-nineties minimalism that I keep coming back to.