Ever since I read The Long Road Home, an Everway Actual Play thread over on rpg.net, I've been interested in the Everway setting. There's something about adventuring in the setting - jumping from fantastic local to fantastic local - that appeals to me. I think it's because I tend to take a visual approach to gaming; I find the idea of hopping from floating island to floating island across an endless sky then traveling to a volcanic landscape to dodge lava bursts fascinating.
In the past my problem with Everway was twofold. One was getting a hold of the Everway rulebook, long out of print. The second was training myself to be able to do task resolution based on the draw of a fate deck. That seems contradictory based on the visual way I tend to think, but my problem is that a picture can be taken so many different ways that picking one seems difficult to me. That also felt too arbitrary to me. "This card means success because I say it does" just doesn't feel right.
I had pretty much realized I wouldn't get a chance to play Everway, then I found Vi et Armis.
Ve et Armis is another Everway Actual Play thread where the author hit on the idea of using Magic: the Gathering cards instead of a tarot-base fate deck for task resolution. In one fell swoop this solved both of my problems - his description of how he build and used his fate deck provided me enough information to play this rules-light game and the way he used the color and converted mana cost of the cards to dictate whether the card denoted success or failure gave just enough guidance to remove my concerns of the deck being too arbitrary and make the system accessible to me.
I've been working on some minor changes to the rules used for Ve et Armis for my version of Everway. I decided there were three main things I wanted to do differently: I wanted a little structure to magic use, I didn't see the need to separate the various non-Summoning spellcasting types, and I wanted the option to go to a turn-based task resolution system in certain situations. The first two were solved pretty quickly, as I tweaked the system to be similar to the old Dragonlance Fifth Age (Saga Edition) rpg. For the turn-based option I decided to combine some of the elements of FATE 3 and Shadows of Yesterday and bring a version of the Bringing Down the Pain mechanic into the game. I plan on posting documents on these changes after we playtest them a little and tweak them as necessary.
The setting of Manaburst is an infinite collection of discrete worlds, or spheres, connected by a series of gateways. These gateways vary in strength and the ease in which they are opened. If the connection between two spheres is strong enough a gate will open when a person approaches it. A weaker connection may only open at night, and an even weaker connection might need a ritual to force it open. The name of the setting itself references the mythic cataclysmic event that severed the one original world into the many spheres that exist now.
I knew as I was thinking up the campaign that I wanted the characters to be motivated to explore the spheres but at the same time they needed a home base of sorts. However I didn't want them to have powerful benefactors who could solve any problems for them - I wanted the players to be the troubleshooters. With that in mind I decided on a New World style campaign. The characters would be part of the expeditionary force that colonized a new sphere recently.
The inhabitants of Frostmourn, the characters' home sphere, had recently discovered a gate that could only be opened a few times a year. Early expeditions discovered a thriving, resource-rich sphere they dubbed Verdant. Considering the slow decay their own sphere was suffering, the decision was made to colonize. A few years later the player characters join a caravan sent out to bring supplies and new settlers to Verdant. Now that the main settlement was stabilizing they wanted people able to start exploring the surrounding areas and spheres - the player characters.
This set-up allowed me to give the characters a home base - Verdant - that was still primarily concerned with building itself up and thus probably unable to provide the PCs additional resources than they already had to deal with what they uncover. The difficulty in getting back to Frostmourn (the periodic gate) meant they couldn't just go to the motherland for assistance, either. It isolated them and would force them to be self-sufficient.
A couple weeks ago after everyone was introduced to the concept and setting we had our character generation session. We had talked about rotating GMs through the campaign so I made a character too. The process itself was an interesting change from the norm. Cards from the fate deck were dealt out on the table and we took turns picking cards for ourselves and each other. The objective was to use at least five of these cards as inspiration to create your character's background. We wound up with the following:
Saultydog created Feral, a Manaburst equivalent of a gypsy whose dreams foretell coming destruction. With her people ready to move on from Frostmourn their elders have "suggested" she join the caravan to Verdant in search of a new place to settle. While the members of her tribe share a comradery with the wolves, Feral is one of the rare members of her tribe marked by the wolf and able to shape change into a wolf or a large wolf-woman. Changing shape requires care to maintain her humanity, but in times of need it can be rushed at a risk of sanity.
The Heir to the throne of Frostmourn, Slate is a foppish young man who is fleeing his responsibility. Under Lore's tutelage Slate had been learning blue sorcery, but the young man could only do so through his dreams. While asleep Slate can enter another person's dreams and manipulate them to gain information or influence the dreamer. However Slate's abilities are chaotic and he has accidentally overwhelmed his subjects' mind, driving them to insanity. Such was the fate of his father when Slate was using his ability to influence the monarch - the king woke up screaming and threw himself from his bedroom window.
Unwilling to accept responsibility and uninterested in having his doings found out, Slate sought out Lore for guidance and the two joined the caravan to Verdant to flee Frostmourn.
Centuries ago Lore was one of the Inquisitors during the cold war-style conflict with a neighboring sphere (yet unnamed). When the conflict ended, he used his influence and ample power over black sorcery to seize control of the sphere. He ruled through fear and intimidation until he was finally overthrown. Instead of execution Lore's soul was removed and bound to an artifact and his body inscribed with a Circle of Protection - Black, effectively preventing him from wielding any magic. Cursed to obey whomever owned his soul, Lore was used as an adviser and agent for the ruling family, being passed down through the generations.
When Slate came to Lore seeking help, Lore saw his chance to use his influence over the prince to manipulate him into unbinding his soul. The expedition to Verdant was his opportunity to go somewhere where he was Slate's only confidant to continue earning the prince's trust.
Stalk (my fiancee)
An explorer and druid by nature, Stalk was hired to travel to Verdant and lead their exploratory missions into the surrounding areas. She is originally from the unnamed sphere which Lore had lead Frostmourn against, a source of agitation for Lore. In addition to Stalk's skills she exhibits a nature-based control of green sorcery as well as the ability to summon beasts to her side.
You can see how we used our backgrounds to help flesh out the settings - things like the ancient conflict between Frostmourn's populous and Stalk's homeland and the gyspy-like sphere wanderers. One of the goals of this game is to have a more collaborative experience where the players help define the worlds around them. I look forward to seeing this aspect in play myself - I think it will help keep everyone invested in the story.
We had the first session of the campaign last weekend, but since this entry is already long enough I'll save my thoughts until next week when I'll write on the first two sessions combined.