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Becoming the Weapon, in a Wholly Literal Sense

There’s a running joke in our group that some of our greatest ideas end up being co-opted by the extant games companies, thereby robbing us of needful royalties.  On more than a couple of occasions, there have been campaigns we’ve run or concepts we’ve debated writing up that mysteriously show up in print some months later.  It’s either a case of a Jungian unconscious that threads through gamer society, or we just happen upon interesting concepts at similar points as published game designers.

The most recent example of this was an idea that a friend of mine postulated about a year or so back.  The idea was that the campaign was centered not around the usual sort of heroes that strode into battle to earn their place in the halls of legend, but rather it dealt with the artifacts of power that the characters bore with them.  The game was to focus on the items of power, as they strove to fulfill their own secret motivations, with the normal stock of RPG heroes as their pawns in a larger scheme.

The problem with the game, as far as we could tell, was that it would be problematic to figure out how best to make the game retain the focus on these weapons, especially if you wanted to assemble any sort of adventuring party around the idea.  It’s all fine and good to have the narrative shift towards how something like Stormbringer views the mortal world around him, but it’s nigh impossible to have a circle of similar swords faffing about in an internally consistent manner.  Standard storycraft insists on having a singular weapon or artifact, untarnished by any competing mythic objects.

Further, it becomes an exercise in creativity to chart the progression of such an item through the myriad owners and wielders as it moves down through the streams of history.  At best, it’s a practice in trying to invert normal campaign progression, and at worst, it’s a tangled mess of would be heroes that try and fail to be the chosen one who brings the sword back to its requisite glory.

We’d mucked about with the idea, mainly as a sort of story hack for Pathfinder, but it never got much beyond the initial planning stages.  It sounded like a fun concept, but without any significant breakthroughs on what sort of system to use to handle a game from the viewpoint of the weapon or object, it remained firmly in the realm of pure speculation.

And now we have the new Kickstarter project by John Wick.  I don’t recall him sitting around the table with us when we were tossing ideas back and forth, yet here we are.

John Wick has an interesting pedigree within the gaming industry.  He’s generally considered responsible for much of AEG’s early success, as he took on a lot of responsibility for developing the early versions of both the Legend of the Five Rings RPG and Card Game and the 7th Sea RPG and Card Game.  These alone have cemented his reputation as far as I’m concerned, but his world subsequent to his departure from AEG are less than stellar.  The gaming public is sharply divided on projects like Orkworld, games like Neopets and the Vs. Card Game have small pockets of fans, and while his indie games are fairly well received, they’re hardly industry-changing on their own.

Wield: Chronicles of the Vatcha is one of Wick’s so-named ‘Little Games’, in the same vein as John Wick’s Cat and others.  The project pages notes it as being a 50-page book, and the rules are implied to be quick, simple and immediately playable.  The video is less inspiring, though, as it implies a completely different game than the general pitch would suggest.  You can pretty much guarantee that the epic game of dread powers and eldritch artifacts is off to a bad start when one of the first descriptions talks about how it’s a ‘game about negotiation’.  This is because the game concerns itself with balancing power between the artifact and the wielder, who is played by another player at the table.  Each has their own agenda about things, and in order to fulfill their collective goals, they have to try to work together.  If they don’t, Wick notes that the wielder can simply drop the artifact and go on with their life.

Most of the video pitch talks about how the players set their own difficulty on their actions, how the difficulties seem to work on a basic level and apparently how inner-party conflicts are handled with a LARP-styled system of hand gestures and rounds.

Honestly, it’s a little weird.

If I step back and try to apply a little self-reflection, a lot of the problems that I’m having with Wield are due to a failure of expectations.  When my friends and I were batting the idea back and forth, it was with the idea of some sort of generational narrative.  What would the story of a vile black sword look like from the sword’s point of view?  What sort of story would arise from following the blade as it fell into new hands, and how would history shape itself around this item?  If it were lost in a dragon’s horde for generations, what differences would the new world it found itself in have to their perceptions?  How would the world have changed in the hundred years after this weapon suffered a terrible defeat?  What effect would the passage of time have on an artifact’s agenda?

I think these are very interesting and relevant questions to answer.  I’m not really sold on Wick’s idea of having this as an indie game of negotiation, as it seems like you’re taking the deeper conflicts and narratives away from the game in favor of keeping it as a light and vaguely silly one-off RPG to play in your down time.  Which is fine and good, but not really what I’m looking for in a game that I could see as being a lot more.