Saturday, August 1, 2009

Revisiting a Wicked Age

I've spent a lot of time lately in my other life, working up to the point where these two finally intersect. It looks like I'll soon get a chance to playtest Microscope with the Myth Weavers (or at least some subset of them), and then, I'll have to start shifting into high-gear again with Fifth World development. But for the moment, I still have a more relaxed RPG schedule (which fits nicely with a more hectic everything-else schedule—as a quick example, I've moved and had minor surgery just in the past week). But I just finished playing two chapters of In a Wicked Age, and it's reminded me of everything I love about this game.

In a Wicked Age more-or-less invented the idea of oracles, something Willem riffed on last year (parts 1 & 2), and now, I have an even deeper appreciation for what he said then. The Three Rivers Oracle needs improvement: it lacks the right balance that Willem talked about.

But not just with the potential for oracles to seed a game with elements of a meaningful story, the game itself drives in a particular direction. Rather than dreaming of a character and then saying what that character would or would not do, we first establish "Best Interests"—the things your character wants—and in play, we explore to discover what kind of person would want those things. Robert E. Howard especially brought a strong streak of that kind of existentialism to sword & sorcery. Think of Conan, and how much the original stories define him in terms of his ambitions, lusts, and desires. In play, you wear each other down over time, driving, typically, towards a thunderous climax. My brother noted early on that In a Wicked Age usually results in myths or folktales.

Perhaps just as important—at least to me—when played right, In a Wicked Age thrives on sensory details and lush description. Between this and the oracles, it focuses play on finding the story. We discover the type of character who would want these things, rather than "make up" a character and then extrapolate her desires. We unravel together how the statements from the oracle weave together, and flesh it out with sensory details that move us towards a common dream. In a Wicked Age still involves a lot of story that we make up, but it has a lot of story for us to discover, too.

We played with the default oracles for once—The Unquiet Past in the first chapter, and The God-Kings of War for the second. We might even play again sometime during the week, simply because everyone wants to know what will happen next. Sometimes it seems with all the oracles available, not many people play the default oracles anymore. I think I could use more In a Wicked Age in my life—but then, I could use more storyjamming in general.

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