Revisiting The Wheel of Time

•March 14, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Wheel of Time (WoT) is getting a series on Amazon Prime. The first season is in production and I’m hyped up about it. After Lord of the Rings, this is the only other really big fantasy series that I ever got into and it’s something my mom and I shared a love for before she passed. Also, apart from Star Wars, it’s the only fantasy series that I know of that was published by WotC (back in 2001). I’m thinking about how it might translate to an RPG today.

It has been on my mind all week and I’m just thinking out loud here to empty my head. Maybe this goes somewhere, but maybe not? Life is funny in pandemic-times.

This blog post will contain spoilers and I’m pretty much going to assume you know what Wheel of Time is, so reader beware.

Why would anyone want to play A Wheel of Time RPG?

Apart from the obvous answer, I mean. Self-insertion into a fantasy is a lot of fun. There’s a reson why D&D can’t get away from the Forgotten Realms and why Star Wars & Marvel superheroes are recurring favorites as RPG settings.

In fact Wizards published a campaign book for WOT in 2002 the does excatly that. The Prophecies of The Dragon wove between events in the first three books of the series.

For WoT, I like the scale of things. Events can play out over ages, generations, or on a normal time scale with human adventurers at the heart of the action. Eventually all three scales become very important in the novels.

But because those larger time scales are built-in to the concept of WoT, it’s also the perfect excuse to remix and alter elements of the books. This feels a bit like Stephen King’s The Dark Tower in a way, where Roland is reborn to fight the same battles over and over, but his journey is never exactly the same. Sometimes his victories and losses leave him better or worse prepared.

We can make wheel of Time our own.

How the Wheel works.

Some brief notes on the nature of the world of Wheel of Time.

Gods, Magic, and Creation.

There is a Creator and a Dark one. When The Creator made the Wheel of Time, he imprisoned the Dark One outside of it.

The Wheel is driven by the One Power. The One Power is divide into two competing forces, Saidin and Saidar, represented graphically by a disk divided by a sinuous line (the familiar Ying and Yang of Chinese philosophy. (These are often referred to as the mail and female halves of the One Power, which is absolutely one of the things we could change.) Both halve are equal, but competing aspects of the One Power. Each has power over the five elements of air, earth, water, fire, and spirit.

The five elements of power, in both aspects are part of a weave of creation known as The Pattern. Magic is perfomed by making new weaves or changing The Pattern.

The Dark one has his own power, sometimes referred to as the True Power, as it is not dual-natured. More on that another time.

There are at lease four ages in the Wheel of Time.

In the first age, Humans are ignorant of The Dark one and his prison.

In the second age, the Dark One’s prison is discovered and a hole is drilled into it. The Dark One begins to influence the world until the prison is patched, poorly. This age ends in cataclysm.

The third age is the low-ebb of humanity. As they recover from the cataclysm of the second age, the seals on the Dark One’s prison fail and his power resurges into the world, threatens to break the Wheel, destroying Time and unmaking the world. This age ends with a choice. If The Dragon despairs and turns on the world, it all ends. Otherwise, the fourth age begins and the cycle continues.

The fourth age begins with a perfect seal of the Dark One’s prison. By the end of the fourth age, humanity is recovered and the Dark One completely forgotten.

There is more than one world.

There are echoes of the prime world. The patterns of these echoes can be very thin or warped in unusual ways. They can be as simple as alternate histories playing out, or as alien as the worlds of the Aelfin and Eelfin.

There is the World of Dreams, Tele’arna’rhiod. This is the echo closest to our own world and unique in that ordinary people can sometimes go there when they sleep. This is also where those whose lives have become bound by the Wheel go before they are spun out again, reborn to reprise their role in a new age.

Ta’veren

In addition to ‘heroes’ whose lives are bound to the Wheel, The Pattern of creation can sometime center on individuals. these are called Ta’veren. For a time, the lives of others bend around the ta’veren, altering destinies and even the Pattern itself.

The most powerful ta’veren is The Dragon. The Dragon a person whose destiny is to make the choice that will continue the cycle of the Wheel of Time or to allow the Dark One to break it forever.

Decisions

The first questions that comes to my mind is:
What is interesting at each level of scale for the GM? for the player?
What tools can we offer to support those modes of play?

At the top level, we have the repeating progression of Ages, which have themes that help direct what the aims of play to be. The first and fourth ages are the least well defined, but the second and third ages have a lot of inherent conflit that we can use to make adventures.

In the middle level, we have the movements of nations of generations. They generally move toward the goal of the age, but there’s more churn as nations compete for resources and the failings of their rulers are magnified by the might of their armies.

At the ground-level is the traditional adventuring party. They can start small, dealing with local concerns, but eventually, they get caught up navigating the powers of the world that press upon the area s of their concern. Monsters are few and far away for much of the world, if they exist at all in the current age. (They exist when the Dark One’s influence is strong).

So I’m remainded of a few things that already exist, RPG-wise.

The first is Microscope. In it, players take turn inserting events into a timeline. Like WoT, it operates on three scales. At the lowest scale, players can adopt roles and play out pivotal conflicts. Microscope is a great tool for collaborative world-building and includes tools for what players agree to include or avoid its “session 0”. This sounds like a great 1:1 fit for WoT. You can use it to define your version of the Age you want to play in and create hooks for exploring those events further.

The other is Birthright, a D&D setting that also took a long-view on history. IIRC, it had a decent framework for running houses or kingdoms over time too. It may be work a look, but there may be other stuff out there since what can be adapted for use.

Of course, I expect most people are going to be focused on the ground-game. There is D&D, of course. Jordan was a fan and ran D&D for his children for years. Wizard’s 2001 effort was written based on an incomplete series. Simply expanding it seems insufficient, and I wasn’t happy with using the traditional Vancian system of spellcasting. It didn’t feel like how weaving spells did in the books.

Even on the ground level, I want something that handled social and martial challenges equally well. But largely, I’m concerned with a magic system that can handled improvisation of elemental effects, the use of rote “spells”, and a reasonable way to handle burnout if players push themselves for effect, knowing that they could permanently damage their ability to perform magic.

If the players do want to occasionally change scale or play troupe-style–controlling multiple characters over a continent or two–then character creation probably should be relatively simple and quick.

For fast, scalable character-building, I personally tend towards Fate and Cortex. You can sketch out an NPC in seconds and add detail as you need them, scaling up the character’s importance relative to the level detail on their sheet.

To Come (Maybe)

So if I keep moving on this, the next step I want to take it is to broadly define the character classes and what I want them to do. If I can do that, I should be one step closer to deciding what to use to run the game.

Like, should a reborn hero be a class, some flavor, or an optional mechanic? What’s the story we’re trying to tell when we do that and what sort of mechanic (if any) will support it? Maybe the decision of what system to use will become clearer.

Review – iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy

•April 19, 2020 • Leave a Comment

It’s not often that I encounter an RPG that commands my attention the way #iHunt has. It is personal, political, and unapologetic. It knows what it is and conveys that to the reader in no uncertain terms on every level.

Check out this business right before the title page:

#iHunt is a game by and for the LGBTQ+ community. This is a game by and for poor people. This is a game for all the people society leaves behind and lets fall through the cracks. We wrote this game to see ourselves kicking ass in a world when the game industry at large is still hostile to diversity despite all the claims to the contrary. This isn’t a game with some milquetoast sidebar about how “you are allowed to play gender non-binary characters.” This is a game about marginalized people. Are you allowed to play it if you are not from a marginalized group? Of course. But understand that this is a game written about our concerns apologetically, first and foremost, front and motherfucking center. This is our wold. You’re a tourist. Welcome to the show.

And what a show it is. This statement echoes clearly throughout the entire book. There are discussions on player safety at the table, a chapter on #thinkingpoor, and an endless array of diverse people living, working, and playing on nearly every page. Continue reading ‘Review – iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy’

SotDL Session 1: As Below, So Above

•November 1, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Sooo.. session 2 ended up being a lot shorter than planned. I expected to be introducing combat mechanics for the first time and then the players made thoughtful, compassionate decisions that turned a combat encounter into a skill-challenge (D&D 4e mechanic, although may similar contests exist in other RPGs).

Our 4th player made it! “Joe” was renamed “John Johns” was fleshed out a bit in play. Despite the jokey name, this character is the straight man to the rest of the party’s antics.

One of the other players couldn’t be there, but we had a guest who sat in for Grievance and she played them brilliantly. She was a first-time player and really enjoyed the session. If introducing the someone new to the hobby and having it be a home-run experience for them is the highlight of the campaign, I’m fine bombing from here on out.

Session 1

Continue reading ‘SotDL Session 1: As Below, So Above’

SotDL Session 0: Exodus

•October 13, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Necromancy! I’m running a Shadow of the Demon Lord [SotDL] campaign for the first time. Blogging has been a huge help in re-capping and organising my thoughts during a campaign, so the blog is back for a bit.

For those that don’t know, Shadow of the Demon Lord is an RPG by Rob Schwalb. It’s a high-fantasy, apocalypse-in-progress RPG with horror elements. A Demon Lord campaign is intended to run in a dozen or so sessions, one for each of the eleven character levels.

Horror is not an easy genre for me. Apart from a session or two of Don’t Rest Your Head, I don’t have much experience running it.

Session 0

Continue reading ‘SotDL Session 0: Exodus’

Savage Star Wars 2

•August 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Download: Savage Savage SW 2

Our local Star Wars game is over and we’re moving on to Starfinder for a bit. I thought now would be a good time to share the final version of my Savage Star Wars document.

Except… somewhere along the way the bookkeeping involved in Savage Worlds’ Powers system left me cold. I ended up re-writing over half the document and I don’t feel that it has been adequately play-tested to be considered “final”. I can say that the action flowed much better once we switched to this so.. mission accomplished!

I may come back to this someday because vehicles are still conspicuously absent. However, in the mean time I look forward to your comments!

[Edit] Based on comments  in the Savage World community on G+, I changed “Arcane Background: The Force” to “Force Sensitive”. The was to avoid confusion because all other Arcane Background feats give you access to the powers subsystem.

I ran a spell-check.

Lastly, I moved a few things to make the document a page longer. If you print it double-sided, each rules segment will be self-contained on one physical page. This also had the side-effect of putting all the [Dark] Hindrances on one page–perfect for printing to share with the table.

Savage Star Wars [draft]

•November 16, 2016 • Leave a Comment

*Gasp* An update! I stopped blogging for personal reasons. I finally have something to share and no other place to put it, so I’m back.

I’ve been playing Star Wars on alternate Sundays. We started with Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPG which is interesting. However, the GM eventually decided that it wasn’t supporting the style of game that he wanted and he switched us to Savage Worlds.

There is, of course, no official support for Star Wars in this system. The fan-based projects that we found didn’t satisfy, so I started my own write-up. I’m still new to the system, so I hewed as closely to the core rules as I could. When it comes to powers that includes the time-honored tradition of re-skinning existing powers. 😉

You can download the draft here: savage-star-wars

Conveniently, the completion of the first draft coincides with the death of my character, so I’ll be making a new character using this draft for the next session. the really challenge is winning over the current Jedi player and perhaps your approval as well. I certainly appreciate any comments and suggestions you can make to make the document better.

Strange Pitch

•August 23, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I sent the following pitch for a The Strange campaign to a couple of my old Marvel players and they flipped out.

“It should be obvious, even to rooks like you, that for every agent in the field The Estate employs a score or more of non-agents. Their job is to support you in the field or to keep the cogs of bureaucracy turning smoothly. A majority of these people don’t even know what is it that The Estate does. Many of them lack even the spark that would allow them to understand, even if someone were to tell them.

[“Most of them…”, he mutters.]

You are all intimately familiar with the Psych Division and the regs regarding a full evaluation after each mission. In order to perform their function, the counselors are granted full clearance to hear all details you may divulge in your sessions. Any additional information they believe necessary to make their assessment is doled out on a need to know basis. All of those requests, as well as information shared with Cartography used to be funneled through the Director of Psych.

[The chief clicks his remote and the image of a balding middle-age man appears on the wall.]

In 2000 and 8, The Director left for Earth Prime and disappeared with a reality seed that was recently retrieved by The Estate. We’ve sent older, more experienced agents after him but none of these efforts have succeeded, we believe, because the agents were known to him. You are among the best of the new agents recruited since his departure.

You have one hour to review his dossier, to familiarize yourself with his activities under his assumed name, and then we will reconvene to discuss your mission.

[The dossier is for “The Director AKA Kevin Feige on Wikipedia“]

Continue reading ‘Strange Pitch’

The Role of Rules in RPGs

•August 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

This post has been a long time in coming and it is still terribly incomplete. What can you add to it?

1. Rules prevent or assist in resolving player conflicts. (GMs are players for this rule.)

I am sometimes asked about RPGs by people who learn how I spend my free time but know nothing about the role-playing games. Nearly everyone has heard of D&D but they don’t know what it is. So I start simple. Continue reading ‘The Role of Rules in RPGs’

Random Thoughts: Apocalypse and Revelation

•August 2, 2015 • 1 Comment

I posted the following on G+ last night and the only response was a +1 from Vince Baker. I’ll take it.

A few weeks ago, I had a new thought about PbtA games.

For a while now, I’ve been telling anyone that would listen that I love how the experience of Dungeon World is defined through the player’s moves. Moves have a fictional trigger, highlighting the experiences the designers what you to have while playing their game. You change the triggers and the game will feel different because the emphasis of what is important to your game has changed.

But what just recently occurred to me is that is only half of what moves do. Rolling dice in Dungeon World isn’t really about success or failure–it is about choosing how the narrative will advance from that point. This is just as important as the trigger for establishing the genre and style of game play because it reinforces the beats you want to hit in your game.

I haven’t fully processed this thought yet (I don’t get to sit and think about RPGs as much as I like to), so it’s still percolating on the back burner of my mind. I still have to return to finishing off my 13th Age conversion for the Ravenloft game. I’ve got all the plot notes sussed out, so that’s mostly monster design but I bet I can find a way to use that idea while I’m at it.

It’s too soon to have anything thoughtful to add, but I was encouraged by the response.

I’m not done formulating follow-up questions, but to start:

  • How do I incorporate this technique into my general GMing style, regardless of system? Should I?
  • What other narrative-heavy systems do something similar and what makes them different? The first example that comes to mind is Fate’s Aspects.

This all dances around the idea that system matters. There’s no such thing as a generic system because the mechanics, be they few or many, have a quantifiable effect on the decisions we make as players and GMs. And because they influence how we play and create, they might bring an element of sameness regardless of genre?

Anyway, I’m a big fan of rules that enhance your game-play rather than the opposite.

Expedition to Castle Ravenloft in the 13th Age: Sessions 18 & 19

•August 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Sometimes it feels like we’ve hit the doldrums of the campaign. It’s not he story, which is gaining in focus and in pace, but rather the difficulty of managing summer schedules. As a group, we agreed that adding another player might help us meet a quorum for a bi-weekly game. I invited Matt, who played 1ceman in my Marvel: Age of Apocalypse game back when I started streaming RPG sessions.

Sadly, Matt’s availability is due to chronic health issues that have had a huge impact on his ability to make a living as well as the equally chronic medical expenses. Matt is offering his RPG expertise for hire. He will run, design, or help design games for you in return for a donation. If that interests you, check out his Google Plus post on the subject.

Now on to the games!

Continue reading ‘Expedition to Castle Ravenloft in the 13th Age: Sessions 18 & 19’