A few months ago, I visited a small convention up north in Oulu, the frozen armpit of Finland. Good pizza, nice people, no city to speak of, terrible climate. Generally, not a town one wants to sit six hours in the train for.
However, the local collection of giant Lego blocks that they call a university has a roleplaying club, CRYO. A couple of times a year, CRYO organises an event called Maracon, and I’ve gone farther afield in search of those. At least, this time I never left the continent. It’s a small convention type thingy, with, I understand, the occasional presentation or program item, but mostly just gaming. I got to test out a bunch of board games, and one RPG. I should’ve written this post an age ago, and now remember very little of the board games, except that FFG’s Chaos in the Old World was plenty cool, and I got to blow up Bretonnia in big, huge, disease-ridden chunks. Though the game takes a while to play, as Fantasy Flight games are wont to do, I picked it up pretty quickly and was in the lead when I had to hoof it to catch a train back to more temperate climes. I also won a miniatures painting competition, though it was the beginner round and with some 13 years of miniature painting under my belt, there would be something wrong if I hadn’t. I handed over the prize to the second-place winner.
Then there was the single RPG session that I got to play. I’d planned to play in a session of Serenity, but unfortunately it started too late and I couldn’t make it. However, I had the opportunity to test something else, a game rather far from my usual fare. In a Wicked Age is one of those storygames whose roots can be traced back to the Forge forums. It’s written by D. Vincent Baker, whose other works include the pirate RPG Poison’d and kill puppies for satan. He is also one of the co-authors of Executive Decision, an interesting attempt at creating a roleplaying game about political decision-making. As a long-time West Wing fan, I’ve wanted to try it for some years, but it’s a bit obscure and sadly, the topic doesn’t seem to generate interest in the player base.
The game was sold to us as a sword & sorcery game set in ancient Sumeria or Assyria, or somesuch. Evoking images of Conan was sufficient to get at least my imagination moving.
It was an interesting game. At the start, an oracle was picked, and then, with the assistance of a deck of playing cards, a number of plot elements were created from the oracle’s list. Then, from those plot elements, we came up with our characters and a number of NPCs. Lumpley Games provides an oracle generator on their website, so you can see what it’s like.
The player characters we came up with were a wrongfully accused man, the bloke who framed him, a vengeful widower, and the manservant/bodyguard of a brothel mistress. The last one was my PC, named Zain. Each PC had a certain special ability that added dice to his roll in the appropriate conditions. I don’t remember the others’ abilities, but Zain was notable for his mighty thews and chiselled musculature. In other words, he was strong as an ox, which came into play whenever there was fighting to be done.
The NPCs, then were the Satrap who condemned the accused man, the sorcerer Ugurnaszir who slew the widower’s love when she spurned his advances, and Gemekaa, an enchantress returning from the wilderness to the city.
Then, we came up with some plot hooks tying the characters to one another. Ugurnaszir, in addition to being a murderous bastard, wanted the brothel Zain worked at for his own, which Zain wanted to prevent. The accused man, Aram Seen, wished to clear his name with the Satrap and Ador Palassar, his framer, wanted him to get caught. The widower Shalmanizar, naturally, wanted the head of Ugurnaszir. He also turned out to have a beef with Zain, whom he considered partially responsible for his wife’s death. Finally, stirring the plot was the enchantress Gemekaa, who came to claim Shalmanizar as her husband and whom Zain saw as a terrible omen and wanted to drive back into the wilderness.
I probably should have drawn a flowchart.
It’s an interesting feature of the game, by the way, that conflicts cannot be resolved by talking. This resulted in a lot of violence, though surprisingly few deaths.
I do not recall all the specifics of the game, so I can’t give you a blow-by-blow recap of the events. However, I can tell you that the game ran very smoothly and the tensions between the player characters drove it onward, especially once we got the hang of things and started to really push the conflict situations. At one point, Zain had Shalmanizar hanging from a brothel balcony and beat his hands with a burning torch. After this, they allied to defeat Ugurnaszir, with the promise that if Shalmanizar still wanted Zain’s head, they could settle it like honourable men after their mutual foe had been dealt with. In the end, Aram Seen managed to flee, never to be seen again, Ador Palassar was dumped out of Ugurnaszir’s tower window into a pile of manure, and Ugurnaszir himself got decapitated by a raging Shalmanizar. At this point, his tower was on fire, and Gemekaa got crushed by a burning ceiling beam, illustrating the destructiveness of Shalmanizar’s quest for revenge.
The game is on my shopping list, now.
The conflict-resolution system and the tensions forced by the character generation make for a fast-paced game that’s good for convention games and other one-shots. It’s a storygame, though, so you’ll need imagination and you’ll need to focus on the game more than, say, Dungeons & Dragons requires you to focus in order to get good results. This isn’t a game for the shy and quiet wallflower player, either, because sooner or later, you and your character will have to take the limelight.
And, well, I’m too damn lazy to actually read them.