Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Medicine Wheel

This idea owes a lot to Willem Larsen. First, his "Breaking the Spell" series on the College of Mythic Cartography really brought home for me the importance and relevance of the medicine wheel for rewilding. Of course, we needn't only consider the strictly Indian forms of the circle; Jung pointed out all kinds of Eurasian mandalas that not only operate with similar symbols, but often use the same directions and colors, amazingly enough. The white:black::north:south, red:yellow::west:east compass keeps popping up. Certainly, the concept of living inside of a circle—the circle of the horizon, the circle of the sun across the sky, the circle of the moon waxing and waning, the circle of the seasons, or any number of other circles in the natural world—provides an important difference between wild (and feral) cultures, and domesticated cultures.

  1. Breaking the Spell: Rewilding
  2. Breaking the Spell: Rewilding Your Ability to Reason
  3. Breaking the Spell: Reality Therapy
  4. Breaking the Spell: The Village Philosopher
  5. Breaking the Spell: The College of the Round Table
  6. Breaking the Spell: The Reason for Riddles
  7. Breaking the Spell: The Wise Compass

Willem wrote more on the wise compass in "Another Take on the Wise Compass," and "More Wise Compasses." I kept on turning in my head how to do this. I have a germ of an idea, but I don't know if it really works in practice.

The character sheet primarily draws a big circle, with north, south, east and west marked off. It marks off degrees, and perhaps ranges for particular benefits. Your skills, attributes, or traits form radii in the circle, and as they advance (or degrade), they turn around the circle. Facing different directions means different things: pointing east might mean that you just learned a particular skill, while pointing west may mean you let it atrophy. I particularly like the idea of putting this together with tokens like stones or beads to form four pools in the corners, so as you play the game, you have these ritual markings out before you, moving stones from one part of the medicine wheel to another. Going back to the challenge of making an evocative game, this feels like playing the game would seem like a shamanic divination. It still orients characters towards relationship, I think, because we still don't say anything about the skills or abilities that you "are," but rather, the way you face. A compass tells a relationship between you and the earth's magnetic field, not an absolute, cosmic principle of north. North on a different planet points in an entirely different direction, doesn't it? I can see this working well with general character statements like traits in Dogs in the Vineyard, or aspects in Spirit of the Century, and then those statements rise, peak and set for a character as they turn around the compass, providing a bit more dynamism to a character than either of those games normally provide.

My concerns here take a more practical bent. I thought of perhaps using push-pins to pin a character sheet to a small sheet of cork, and then use other push-pins and string to handle the traits, but that seems like a lot of work. Even using paper strips like hands on a clock can present too much difficulty. I love the feeling it evokes, but how can I simplify the execution?


Jason Godesky said...

I've called upon the wisdom of the Forge to help in this dilemma. Let's see if we can cook up something...

Jordan said...

Reading that Forge thread, the idea looks much more complex than I originally thought it would be. I pictured...well first of all, I thought it might be a cool idea if people could DIY their wheels...that is, you provide a basic layout, and then people can personalize them. This would also add to the "this exists in your synergistic tribe, in your bioregion" sort of thing.

But, back to the first bit. All I pictured was a circle, with four clearly defined areas. I pictured using small stones, or beads, around the edges, to indicate a skill or a relationship that existed at that particular wedge of pie.

I also thought it might be fun to indicate 1) what time of day it was. So, in the morning, you'd have your "time of day stone" in the east. This makes all your east skills/ relationships stronger. And so on.

2) Indicate where one is in their life. Do you want to create a young character? An old character? Then, your relationships/ skills, in the north, if you're very old, are increased as well. Hell, one could play out the entire life of a dude.

I do see that using beads or whatever could get cluttered. There has to be a way, using your system of pushpins, or my beads, or whatever, to have the least number of physical items, representing the most number of other things.

This would simplify things, practiacally speaking, immensly.

Andrew Jensen. said...

On the forge I suggested that the medicine wheel be used to define something other than skill, something that you could change frequently, a status monitor for something. I further suggested awareness as the focus.

I've come up with more of what that might mean, mechanically.

You have 2 axis, spiritual/physical (north/south), and aware/focused (east/west). Your bead position on the board determines how you are currently interacting with the world.

Where you are on the wheel determines the maximum number of points you can spend on certain checks.

If you are, say, on direct north, then you are perfectly spiritually focused, likely in some sort of trance. You'd be able to put in the maximum amount of beads on any spiritually related check. But you aren't paying any attention to the physical realm at this point, and any purely physical concerns would be outside your notice. You wouldn't be able to spend any points if such checks were called for. If you were focused (west), you would be able to go all in on checks involving what you were focusing on, but you'd get no beads on things that require awareness of your environment (like noticing that someone is sneaking up on you).

Decide the maximum bid you will allow people to make on their skill checks. This will determine the number of steps there need to be between opposite points on the wheel. I suggest either 4, 6, or 8, depending on the granularity you want in the numbers. The number of steps on the wheel away from the direction of the check is subtracted from the maximum bid you can make. So if the maximum bid is 8, but you are 3 steps away from true north, then you can only bid up to 5 on spiritual checks.

I think this makes more sense in conjuction with my last post on core mechanic.

Jason Godesky said...


I really like your idea of making some parts of the wheel stronger at different times of day, though I think J Tolson's suggestions from the Forge thread might make more sense for stages of life or maturity, in charting concentric rings, like tree rings. But do you want a "time of day" bead on the circle itself? That, I'm not so sure.


I can't say I feel very comfortable with such a physical/spiritual dichotomy, but this does pose a very interesting mechanic for awareness. And like you mentioned, awareness should play an absolutely huge part in this. But it still brings back the problem of how to deal with traits, skills, attributes, etc. Also, it seems to me that you really need two measures for awareness. You could sit in a trance, and basically take Owl Eyes into the Underworld; or you could focus intently on one thing as you climb the axis mundi. So you really need to know how much you currently focus on "physical vs. spiritual" (we'll stick with that for the time being as a short-hand, so long as we all recognize the shortcomings of such a formulation), and the focus vs. breadth of your current awareness. So a wheel wouldn't cut it; you need two figures. Oh, unless you want to place it not on the perimeter, but in the space of the circle, so you basically have X and Y coordinates.

Andrew Jensen said...

OH, the edge of the wheel gets you both, I think. See, when you are incredibly focused on on thing, you are paying equal attention to it physically and spiritually. When you are in a total trance, all your attention is focused on the spirit realm, but it balanced between focused and wide awareness. (Goodness, I need to come up with consistent terms.) Same with intense focus on any of the cardinals.

Then you get to the "north-east" locations and whatnot. But if you are widely aware of the spiritual, you are neither perfectly widely aware or perfectly aware of the spiritual, so it's not the same. I'm saying that you can't ever be at zero/zero on the grid, and you can't ever be at Max/max. your relationship along one axis limits where you can be on the other as well.

As for the spirit/physical dichotomy, it doesn't exist in the world, it exists in our perceptions. It's entirely a product of how the character is currently choosing to interact with the world.