In A Wicked Age actual play.


I wanted to run a short RPG session for some visiting family - a parent who has played D&D on and off since he was a boy, and two children who have played a bit of 5e D&D. I offered them three options - Agon (Homeric heroes, with nice self-contained one-session scenarios), Classic Traveller (pretty quick PC gen, and play can move along at a good clip) and In A Wicked Age (swords-and-sorcery). The choice was for the last-most.

We started by choosing the Oracles to establish the basic situation. By prior agreement among the adults, given the age of some of the participants, Blood & Sex was out. That left God-kings of War, the Unquiet Past, and A Nest of Vipers. By consensus the players settled on God-kings of War. We drew four cards and got the following results:

*A brutish and tyrannical warlord and his uncouth thugs.

*A summoner of illusions and diversions, mild and of good humor, but gullible.

*An enemy champion, fearless and bellowing.

*A token indicating that its bearer speaks for the high general.​

We then went around the table, each of us nominating some characters that we thought were implicit in this situation. We ended up with the following (though the last came a bit later - see below).

*The high general Natan

*Ku-Aya, Natan's champion wielding the Spear of Power

*El-Mash, a rider in Natan's service, bearing his token

*Romulus, the brutal warlord, with a chest of gold

*Borak, a simple-minded thug in Romulus's army

*Destorak, the illusionist, and Romulus's jester

*Parya of the Steppes, the High Sorcereress and a wielder of wild magic​

The kids chose Destorak and Romulus as their PCs; the parent El-Mash; the rest were my NPCs. The players then allocated attributes (d4, 2x d6, d8, d10, d12 to Covertly, Directly, For Myself, For Others, With Violence, With Love) and I added the simpler attribute arrays to my NPCs. And we worked out "particular strengths" (ie special abilities) for those characters who had them - Destorak's magic, Romulus's gold, El-Mash's Gift of Steeds (ie his preternatural riding ability) and Ku-Aya's Spear of Power.

Then we chose "best interests". I started, and chose for Ku-Aya that one of her best interests was to defeat Romulus in single combat. This gave the idea better than any explanation could, and also helped explain my earlier answer to one of the players' question "Are we, the PCs, working together?" - which I had answered "You don't have to." They worked out that I was going to be putting them in tricky situations, relative to their PCs', and my NPCs', best interests. I'm not going to list them all, but some that loomed large included Boraks' (have Romulus acknowledge me as an equal; gain Destorak's friendship), one of Natan's (never have El-Mash deliver his token), one of El-Mash's (to be victorious in the riding contest at Praya's great ziggurat), one of Parya's (have her kinship to ElMash remain secret), and both of Destorak's (seize the Spear of Power; have Parya take me on as her court illusionist). It was that last best interest that required us to add Parya to the cast of NPCs.

Having written Natan's best interest that seemingly contradicted him having sent forth a bearer of his token, I started with Borak approaching Destorak - Borak had been retained (in some fashion that never became clear) by Natan to stop El-Mash, and Borak was now offering Destorak a gold coin, stolen from Romulus's hoard, to help in this endeavour. Destorak agreed to do so, and so the next scene was Destorak using his illusions to stop El-Mash arriving at Romulus's camp. As this was resolving I cut to Romulus, whose steward announced the theft of gold, producing an instruction to behead the thieves - but (as I stipulated) Borak escaped the execution and started stealing the whole chest of gold. Romulus confronted Borak, but Borak won the ensuing conflict and extracted, as a compromise from Romulus, that they should rule as equals.

El-Mash and Destorak became allies, and went to visit Praya. And despite Borak's efforts, El-Mash was able to present Romulus with Natan's token. Through various shenanigans, Destorak was able to extract Praya's agreement that he should be court illusionist. Destorak used his magic to stage an illusory battle between Ku-Ay and Romulus, while the real Ku-Aya - rended invisible by Destorak - tried to sneak into Romulus's camp, where Romulus was avoiding doing any actual fighting. The illusion made it easy for El-Mash to win the horse race, which required running the gauntlet of the battling champions. And Romulus detected and killed the invisible Ku-Aya, and so ended up with the spear of power.

Borak also became Destorak's friend, and ended up leaving Romulus and joining Destorak and Praya. It emerged that Natan wanted to kill Romulus (or have Ku-Aya kill him) and take Romulus's army for his own, and was using the token as a cloak for this, but couldn't let Romulus actually receive the token, because an ancient taboo meant that Natan could not kill or betray someone who held his token. So Natan and Romulus became allies; and in the course of this, via twists I can't remember now, Destorak ended up with the spear of power.

When all these things had happened, I declared the session - which had run for just over two hours, including set-up - done. The PCs had achieved most of their best interests (Destorak both of his; I think Romulus both of his; and El-Mash one of his). Borak had also done well, and Praya had got one of hers (but had not had the glory of her school honoured by the spilled blood of champions, given she got only an illusory battle); while Natan and Ku-Aya didn't get what they wanted at all.

In framing conflicts and pushing consequences, I didn't go as hard as I would if playing with more experienced adult players. But I think for these players, it was probably more "in your face" as far as conflict and aggressive framing than they are used to from their D&D play. Another thing I noticed is that they tended towards having their PCs talk and try and negotiate out of conflict. In A Wicked Age doesn't call for conflict resolution while talking is happening, only when the acting starts - so eg in the early scene with Destorak and El-Mash it was when Destorak used his magic to check El-Mash's horse that I called for dice rolls. So I sometimes had to push things a little bit - either by provocative questions, suggestions, or having my NPCs do things - to get the play to escalate from talking to acting. And another way this talking-ness manifested was that all our conflicts ended with negotiated outcomes rather than the default injury or exhaustion (that degrades abilities) - which is one reason, I think, why there was widespread fulfilment of best interests.

Still, it was a fun session, and I enjoyed the colour. The players readily introduced things both big - the High Sorceress Praya, for instance, and El-Mash's steppes clan - and small - like Romulus's wall of axes in his mobile palace, and his cat Mr Fluffington.

And it did cement my view that In A Wicked Age is a good system for a fairly quick one-shot. The oracles create colourful situations, which beget colourful characters, making it fairly easy to write best interests that will produce colourful if somewhat overwrought or exaggerated action.

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Haiku Elvis

Knuckle-dusters, glass jaws and wooden hearts.
That was really interesting, I'd never heard of In a wicked age before.
Ways to generate actual scenarios rather than just random encounters is something that I've been looking into recently so that caught my attention straight away.
I thought the fact that the players were negotiating outcomes so the damage and exhaustion mechanics weren't being used sounded like a flaw in the game but I read up on it and found out that is part of the game mechanics where the contest winner can negotiate a different outcome with the loser to better serve their interests. Which is a nice idea that lets conflict be more than just stabbing each other, without having a boatload of different sub systems.
Probably shouldn't have been surprised given its a highly narrative game where the conflict comes as much from PCs internal conflicts and prep is discouraged, that it's a Vincent Baker creation.

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