Diceless Explorations… Everway
Everway is a game with a very odd and special place in my heart. Everway came out in 1995 and it was firmly in what I think of as my “second phase” as a gamer. I started playing OD&D in 1983 and pretty much played nothing but D&D until about 1992. I mean, I had picked up a clone or two – like Bard Games’ Arcanum – but it was mostly D&D. In about 1992 I started going to cons, had a reliable gaming store (or three), and had a couple new groups to play with other than the guys I started playing with. And suddenly, gaming as a hobby really grew for me. And I discovered diceless play. Everway was my second diceless game – after Amber – and I learned more about gaming than I really expected. Everway was both fascinating and disappointing in equal measure – and so I’d like to explore with you the fantastic reality that is Everway.
A Quick Overview
First of all, Everway is not a game with a defined setting (well, maybe it does but let’s table that). Everway has all the settings. PCs in Everway travel the worlds (called Realms) and have adventures in many different places. You can have any kind of vibe you want in Everway – dark, light, fantastical, faery-tale, whatever, it’s all there. Everway challenges the notion of setting by being open-ended in that regard. I fell in love with Everway a little because of this open setting approach. I was already indoctrinated by Amber into the concept of Shadows and D&D had a demi-plane of well, everything, so this open-setting was familiar and also refreshing.
Everway is tradition in the sense that you have players and a GM. The roles are clearly defined and you get all the standard injunctions at the beginning of the player book, “Don’t read the adventure,” “Don’t look at the Quest Cards,” and all that. And, oh, right, Everway uses cards. A lot of cards. I should probably have mentioned, Everway was produced by Wizards of the Coast. Wizards of the Coast is good at cards.
When writing these, it is always a challenge to balance writing at length about the system for completeness and clarity vs. writing more narratively about what the system does… in Everway’s case I think I’ll be better served with the second approach, so apologies. Everway characters are built with a Name, a Motive, a Virtue, Fault, and Fate, four Elements (think Attributes here), and then various Powers and Magic. It was the 90′s after all, so all that Virtue, Fault, and Fate stuff fits in perfectly.
The Elements are further described on the character sheet (the sheets are very pretty and visually interesting as well as useful) and provide a player with ideas about how the elements interact. The junction of Earth and Fire, for example, includes words like, Power, Active, and Passive. Fire is Action and Earth is Might. It’s a fascinating piece of gaming communication, reinforcing the game part while keeping story and possibility forefront as well.
The game is played like a very narrative RPG. Most of what happens is give and take with the GM and other players and occasional pause in the action to determine successes and failures. For most simple tests the mechanic is really a fairly straightforward “how high is your X?” And action resolution is what I really want to spend a little time discussing as I transition into the next part…
What Excites Me About This Game
What excites me the most – in terms of my memories of this game and the joy of rereading it again – is the thoughtfulness put into action resolution. Action resolution in Everway follows three laws. To be fair, these “laws” pretty much apply to just about every RPG out there – but the way they are approached in Everway makes it worth mention.
The first law is the Law of Karma. This law of action resolution is the basic “how high is your X?” with a twist. The idea of this form of resolution is that the GM looks at the abilities of the character and determines if they are high enough – much like the Cthulhu Live system I discussed last time. The twist is, the Law of Karma also includes a dose of cosmic justice. In some ways, this is similar to the Good Stuff/Bad Stuff rules from the Amber DRPG but instead of players setting that number (initially) it is incumbent on how you play. If you are a villain, the universe begins to treat you like a villain. If you are kind and heroic, the universe begins to treat you like you are kind and heroic. Not always – and not in all ways – but well, sometimes what you do will come back to you… you know, Karma.
The second law is the Law of Drama. This is the bugbear of all players, it is the dreaded “needs of the plot” Law. Well, sorta. The Law of Drama is the game’s explanation and tacit approving nod to GMs to do what they need to for the sake of moving the story along – but they are also cautioned and given interesting guidance in applying this power. To be honest – invoking the law of drama is pretty much how I run Amber. I will constantly invent ideas on the fly and fling them at the characters. I’ll see what sticks and what doesn’t and see what works and what doesn’t and then start all over again. It’s quite satisfying and I’ve rarely heard complaints from Amber players – but the advice in this chapter, while not groundbreaking, is comforting for a GM who may not feel as safe working without a net.
Finally, the third law. This is the Law of Fortune and is the game’s concession to randomness. Everway comes with a deck of cards called “the Fortune Deck” which in many ways resembles a Tarot deck with cards having meanings and reversed meanings. Players may draw from the Fortune Deck (one card only please) to shape and determine outcomes. You are trusting to fortune that what you draw will be in your favor… and well, sometimes it isn’t. I was a fan of this when I read it. I used it for a time, got caught up in the fun of it. It’s not how I roll now – but it’s still an intriguing concept. I genuinely believe that an Amber game using some form of Trump reading to offset the truly diceless nature of the game would be interesting. Don’t get me wrong – I prefer purely random-less games, but with the central nature of the Trumps to the story and the family, this could have been fun.
Between the pages of the game taken up by the discussion of the Laws (and it’s quite a chunk of the book), I found a game that spoke to the budding diceless nut within me. I was emerging into the player I would become. I didn’t roleplay to check my skills – I wanted my skills to exist to help me tell a story. I wanted my skills to give me a guideline for play, not set limits. It’s a fine distinction – but I was feeling it already then.
There is a short bit at the beginning of the book, under the heading, “In What Way Is It a Game?” that I want to share (and I’ve omitted some bits for space, but this is the meat),
Like any game, Everway has rules. These rules let the people playing know what to expect from each other and how to interact with each other. When playing Everway, however, nobody wins or loses. the point is to play and to keep playing… Indeed, many of the rules are simply suggestions for how to play… No one loses when the players win. Indeed, any victory is followed quickly by another set of challenges so the story of these heroes and their adventures can go on indefinitely… Much of the joy of roleplaying comes from portraying a character or imagining new worlds and possibilities, regardless of whether the hero defeats the villains or is vanquished by them.
For a young player, emerging from D&D and GURPS into Amber and Everway, those words were like a breath of fresh air. Not that D&D is bad mind you – I still play and love D&D today – but this, well, it’s what I’d been looking for ever since I sat down with the Last Unicorn and heard Schmendrick say, “there are no happy endings, because nothing ever ends.”
If you ever have a way, check out Everway – you might never play it but it is a fascinating part of the story of gaming and a great read. And as always, thanks for reading.