With our regular game canceled last week, we tried out a game that has been neglected on my shelf for too long. The game was In A Wicked Age. It features a short rulebook, simple character sheets, and seemed perfect for a fill in game. We got started a little late, didn’t get all the characters tied together, and quit a few scenes before we reached the end–but it was a fun experiment anyway. Here are some key elements that might work for you, whatever game you ordinarily play.

Situation Building: Oracles

The game begins incredibly flexibly; it’s a rush and a terror to try to tie together the prompts and make a situation. What am I talking about? The Oracle, and what it reveals.

You select one Oracle, to give the game a specific style. Then you draw four cards, each of which contributes one specific element. We selected the God-kings of War oracle, and got the following results:

  • A day sacred to an oppressed slave cult, the celebration of which is punishable by torture.
  • A warrior-woman, queen of her small wild tribe, hard-pressed by advancing civilization.
  • The arrival of a hundred fearsome warships on an unprepared, prosperous, peaceful coast.

From those random elements, everyone at the table picks out characters that sound interesting–explicit or implied by the oracle’s reading. The characters can be anyone–god, mortal, slave or king. In our case, the characters that were selected were a tribal queen, a noble horsewoman driven to the edge of habitable land by the large empire. She crossed paths with a captain of the approaching fleet, who it turned out, was a member of the subjugated culture that kept the slaves and drove off the warrior-woman’s people. The last PC was an adviser to the high priest of the banned religion. We had many other characters who came up when we read the characters from the oracle–the ones no one claimed became NPCs. The queen of the ‘peaceful, prosperous’ empire, the high priest, the admiral of the invading navy, and the neglected god were all other characters that could have been selected as PCs–and wound up as NPCs for our game. You can imagine how different it would have played if one of the players had switched their character for one of those roles!

Oracles and You

The core game concentrates on a bronze age, Conan, feel. But the oracles have been embraced by players who love other settings and gathered at random-generator.com; oracles exist for Mouse Guard, Shakespeare, Wuxia, Battlestar Galactica, and dozens of other settings.

If you’re stuck, or just need inspiration for your next session, click on an appropriate oracle. You might have a one-click Shadowrun at hand. (Some assembly required.) You can twist the PCs into the implied roles–or just report the tense revealed situation to your players, and see how they get sucked in.

Short Character Sheets

In A Wicked Age does a great job of summarizing a character’s capabilities succinctly. A PC’s stats are: Covertly, Directly, For Myself, For Others, With Love, and With Violence. That’s how you solve problems–pick two that apply and roll their associated dice. In some ways the stats are similar to traditional RPGs–being good at solving things With Violence is similar to being a high strength fighter in D&D–but being a passionate fire mage is as good an explanation for solving things with violence.

NPCs are even simpler; they have only three stats: Action, Maneuvering and Self-protection. They’re each fixed combinations of two dice, so they’re immediately ready to go. If an NPC is good at maneuvering, okay at self-protection and poor at action? That sounds like an idle ruler or his vizier, doesn’t it?

Needless to say, assigning stats takes only an eye blink when those are all you have. Coming up with the cool character is much less simple, but it is refreshing to throw out driven NPCs, just worrying about characterization–and without pondering how their CR matches up to the PCs, what feats they have available… and all of the other burdens that we accept with our standard systems.

Mastering In A Wicked Age

So, now that I’ve played, here’s the research I should have done to have a smooth session. I hope it helps you get off on the right foot.

This isn’t just advice, it’s also an example and a nice tool. Best Interests tutorial and sheet (PDF)

Some of the bad habits addressed in this thread impeded our play too. This thread, led by the game designer, does a good job of bringing some unconscious habits to light.

I muddled, bringing dice in too early. This thread includes good advice, particularly about waiting until someone says, “Hell no, you’re not doing that” before the dice come out. It’s hard to resist using the system, but delaying until it’s a real conflict would have helped to cement the difference.

Tim Jensen’s advice later in the above thread would have really improved our game. “All of the characters should start within easy walking distance of everyone else.” Not addressing that led to three parallel stories rather than a braid of overlapping interactions.

Setting Sparks

Have you played In A Wicked Age? Did you play it straight, with a different oracle, or hacked to your group’s play style?

Even if you haven’t played IAWA, have you ever used a tool like an Oracle to help you plan out your next scene? Or even to generate PCs and a tense situation for a game?