Friday, March 21, 2008

Consulting the Oracles

I haven't played In a Wicked Age, though I'd very much like to, and all the more since reading Willem's actual play report on it, and seeing everything he accomplished with an animist oracle and a myth-map (to say nothing of some excellent ideas on how I can help my shy, timid wife bring out her inner storyteller). I've heard a good deal about the Oracle concept that Vincent Baker included in the game, and while listening to episode 3 of "The Game that May Be" (great podcast, by the way, no matter how much my inner E-Prime editor cringes every time I hear the title), I remembered what we did with the Statue of Liberty and the Anayok. We all know that every post-apocalyptic setting must feature the Statue of Liberty as a touchstone to establish how the setting relates to our current time, even when you set it in Las Vegas—or did only I catch that opening shot in the Resident Evil: Extinction TV ad? Well, we took our cue from one of Michael Green's images from Afterculture collection, showing a girl in a small boat, sailing away from a mostly-submerged Statue of Liberty. Imagine what the sunken city of New York would look like in four hundred years, with heaps of strange, red boxes jutting out of the ocean at all angles (the remains of rusted skyscrapers, many toppled over), and then this blue woman, up to her chest with the sea, rises up before you. We put a single hermit living in the observation deck shouting out prophecies, and decided that the Anayok called her the Water Oracle. Well, as I listened to Mick describing the Oracles of Liam, I realized, these ideas go together quite nicely.

Now I wonder what we could do with bioregional oracles. Every region could have its own oracle, that could use playing cards or tarot cards to dispense the stories that resonate through that bioregion. Perhaps we could even make adventures out of just going to consult the oracle in the first place. But I think this gives us another thing to include in our region books—which makes me think, more and more, that we'll end up with a fairly small core rulebook, and a series of nice, crunchy regional books.


Willem said...

Now I wonder what we could do with bioregional oracles. Every region could have its own oracle, that could use playing cards or tarot cards to dispense the stories that resonate through that bioregion.

Dude, you have no idea. Mwahahahaha! Great minds think alike.

I call my version of it, the "Mythdeck", and work on the Cascadian one will begin May 16th, if luck holds.

I've planned this for a long time, 4 years or more, and the whole story-game angle has finally made it fully make sense.

I think the craft of creating a Mythdeck oracle for each bioregion will mean learning herbaceous plants, trees, animals, weather, and stories of each bioregion.

And of course, why stop at one deck for a bioregion? You could have a deck of weathers, a deck totally of animals, a deck totally of stones, and on and on. The first one, I think, we need to have a general overview.

Just imagine a 'edible, medicinal plant' deck, filled with characters - healers, poisoners, cooks, all interacting in the storyjam they've inspired.

Cray stuff. Don't tell anyone. I want us to do it first. :)

WorldWithoutToil said...

I've not played in a wicked age, so I may be missing something. But it sounds to me kinda like a Magic Deck.

Wait, don't leave!

I mean, earlier we talked a bit about random encounters and how they suck, but also about traveling and how the encounters along the way can define that. What if each card in your location deck was a potential encounter, or a part of an encounter like setting, antagonist, conflict? The GL has a hand of cards and when a unscripted encounter is called for, they play the one from their hand that most appeals? Is that how oracle decks work? Is that how our "mythdecks" might work?

Willem said...

Sigh. You know, you probably make a really good point there. From what little I know of Magic decks, they have lands, objects, and character.

The difference (for my games, if not also the fifth world - jason will have to talk about that), lies in the scale of the elements (much smaller - not a land, but a specific location to set a scene in), and the purpose of them (to drive a story, not to 'win a game' - or rather, winning means driving the story).

But other than that, you probably have something pretty big there.

Jason Godesky said...

You know, tarot decks have meanings attached to each card, but fewer people know that playing cards (which have a sordid historical relationship with the tarot deck) have meanings, too.

We can talk about the general characteristics of Wolf, since Wolfing brings some commonalities with it no matter where you Wolf, but Wolf's precise nature and character varies from one bioregion to the next. These cards, both in the tarot and the playing deck, bring with them their own general tropes and archetypes. What if bioregional oracles played from that? What if each bioregional oracle took the basic archetypes of the decks and applied to it the stories, rhythms, songs, values, winds and myths of that bioregion? So the eight of clubs might always mean a message of fortune, but in one bioregion that might mean many salmon, or in another that might mean much corn.

WorldWithoutToil said...

I'm thinking you could have your own cards. Cards like wolf, oak, bear, river, etc. Things that both describe the land and have great architypical meaning.

So your region happens to be a savannah in africa, say. You nake a deack that includes the geographical features of the area (a watering hole, a dry gulch), the typical flora and fauna (grass, gazelles, some specific useful plants, a lion, some zebras, mosquitos) and some weather patterns typical to the area. The deck kinda describes your region.

Then, when you need a plot point, you pull a card from your deck (or, in my preferred version, put down a card you had in your hand) and interpret what you draw to the circumstances. Drawing a bear might mean you encounter an actual bear, or it might mean you meat a person with traits like a bear, or that you must behave like a bear to overcome the situation. Whatever fits.

Cards start not to fit in with the aethetic of the other paraphenelia we've posited with the game. How could we rework this idea to use stones or beats or little totems?

Jason Godesky said...

I want to limit the amount of material you need to play the game, not expand it. The basic idea could work, but I'd want to roll it into an existing deck, like a deck of playing cards, that you could count on most players having around. I don't want to require people to purchase extra things in order to play (though I'll happily make premium merchandise for big fans, and try to make some money on that end!).