Wednesday, December 7, 2011

An Everway Character

No use rambling, walking in the shadows, trailing a wandering star
"Pack Up your Sorrows," Richard & Mimi Fariña

This is the story of Raindrop. She rose from humble beginnings to respected status to the friend of dragons. Now she's out to right injustice in the spheres, even if it means confronting the gods themselves...

Some roleplaying games require you to have a good idea of your character before you can start. If you make a character for Dungeons and Dragons 3rd or 4th edition, you need a good idea of what you're going to do before you ever pick up a 20-sided die. Other games give you little or no control over what happens to your character. If you're playing Traveler, you get to make choices which influence the way they'll turn out, but not the specifics.

But there are games which take a middle approach. Here's one where coming up for the inspiration for a character is actually part of the process of character creation: Everway.

When you open Everway's box, you see something that looks like a game box, with slots for cards, and a character sheet that feels like it could be a game board (though it doesn't really act like one). I could go into the history of the game, but that's not supposed to be the thrust of this article. The nickel tour: It was put out by Wizards of the Coast before they bought D&D, when they were trying to produce a different roleplaying game.

The game has a New Age feel to it. Characters are described by their Fire, Water, Earth and Air skills, and rather than rolling dice, you draw cards from a "Fortune Deck," modeled on the Tarot, and filled with imagery of elements, planetary symbols, and gods and goddesses.

In Everway, your character plays a Spherewalker, who can travel from one fantasy world to another. It allows a lot of backgrounds, and a lot of freedom in character creation. It's also, unlike many games, a visually interesting process. If you learn the (fairly straightforward) system, you only need to look at a few beautifully illustrated cards when you're creating one, rather than flip through tons of rules and pages of charts.

I started out with no real idea for a character, and wound up with one I think is pretty interesting, just by following the steps in the Players Guide. This is how I made Raindrop.

The Vision Stage
The first setting, the GM sets the premise, and may ask for specific themes.  Since this was a solo design, I sort of skipped that, and assumed that it's going to be a "you meet in a tavern while wandering the Spheres" type of game. Then you select five cards you find appealing, and decide how you want them to relate to your character.

The first two I was drawn to had weird animals, so I decided to make the third a dragon, and the fourth a man surrounded by animals. Originally I had a very patchy story to connect them, which I'll spare you. Here's the refined version of what I decided each meant.

(Illustration by Hannibal King)
She was a tiny child, the illegitimate daughter of the duchess' housemaid. She was named Raindrop for both her small size and humble background. And she might have remained that way, except that one day the duke's fae-cat got loose from his coach, and young Raindrop managed to calm the mystic beast and bring him back safely.

(Janine Johnston illustration)
The Duke gave young Raindrop a job in his menagerie and she quickly became a respected member of the household staff. When she and the Duke's daughter were both teenagers, the duchess-to-be had her heart broken by a cruel prince. Raindrop gave her a box. "Cry into this and give it to me." The noble's grief did indeed go away, though for years afterward Raindrop found it hard to look at a boy. 

(Both Ian Miller illustrations)
When a dragon invaded the kingdom, Raindrop thought it, like the beasts she tended, might be lashing out since it was troubled. She sought out the wise and enigmatic imp known as The Toymaker, who told her of the curse the gods had imposed on the drakes. Raindrop used her talent to restore the dragon's speech at the cost of her own voice, but, touched by her kindness, the dragon returned her speech and left the realm in peace.

The final picture is not yet part of her story, though it could be. It represents taking on an epic,  gorgeous project, going on a quest to rid the realms of sorrow:
(Janine Johnston Illustration)

Notes: While I was looking through the cards, the folk song "Pack up your sorrows" got stuck in my head, and I decided Raindrop could do just that. Here's Judy Collins singing the song, if you don't know it:

Identity stage
I included parts of the Identity stage above, but I'll outline them here, rather than how I ultimately decided what they came to mean.

Name: While Everway allows any name, they encourage you to use common words. The example character in the book is Fireson. I chose Raindrop because it's a small item, but it can be part of something much bigger -- a nourishing shower to feed the crops, or a horrible deluge. It's a name with a lot of potential.

Motive: I chose "Authority," one of the listed motivations, even though it's not quite why she's wandering the planes. But part of it is "eager to bring justice" and I see her as eager to end suffering throughout the Spheres, which she thinks of as bringing goodness and justice. (You're supposed to play a hero in Everway; though possibly a flawed one. Raindrop really wants to do good.)

Virtue, fault and fate: These are three Fortune Cards. When they get drawn from the deck, it's probably significant to your character, much the way that in some games when you roll the exact number of your skill or a natural 1, it's meaningful to the character.

While these are normally chosen based on symbolic meaning, I was drawn to the Dragon as her Fate card for narrative reasons. In Everway, dragons once rebelled against the gods, and they were punished by losing some of their gifts. Some lost flight, some lost speech, etc. Raindrop's very annoyed that the gods would punish immortal beings for eternity; it offends her sense of justice.

Symbolically, the dragon represents "cunning." Reversed, it represents "blind fury." Raindrop is treading a dangerous, narrow road.

Her flaw was easy too: Striking the Dragon's Tail. She's prone to leap before she looks, not ask if maybe there's a reason bad things happen to people.

Her virtue was hard. I ultimately decided on "The Creator," which represents nurture. She started out caring for animals, and has only growns since then. And it is a fine, chutzpadik name for someone who will challenge the gods for perceived slights against others.

 If you're curious, here are my notes while I was working on her. You can see that the identity phase took up nearly half a page, compared to a few lines for the third phase, and a seven for the first phase:
Powers Phase
I liked the concept of a modified sin eating, so I chose that as Raindrop's big power. When someone else has a problem, she can take it on, no matter what the cause. I think it's an ability that can be used frequently in the game, is powerful, and allows a variety of different effects, it's a 3-point ability.

Raindrop is also entitled to a free power, something that is not likely to come up much or make a big difference in play. I choose "stable friend," meaning that domesticated animals naturally find her likeable (it would not keep a guard dog from attacking, but a merely curious dog would likely give her the benefit of the doubt).

Elements stage
There are four stats in the game, Fire, Water, Earth and Air, and what they symbolize represent the character's physical and mental attributes. A genius with her head in the clouds has a high Air and low Earth.  Someone who is full of Fire is energetic. I had 17 points to assign after powers.

Raindrop is Water 5; Earth 5; Fire 4; Air 3.

To use the book's adjectives, she's sensitive to strong energies; tough and energetic. (Her Air is average. I thought about lowering it to two and raising Water, but decided that might risk making her look Ditzy.)

You also get a Specialty for each element, something you're really good at. I chose "Animal empathy" for water, "Obstinacy" for Earth, "Herb Lore" for Air, and "Fiery Rhetoric" for Fire. Normally, that would be an Air specialty, since argument falls under that category, but because there's a Fire connection, she can put forth her causes as well as an expert promoter, even if she's average at most Air tasks.

Magic Stage
Raindrop doesn't use magic, as Everway defines it. I get to skip this.

Question Phase
This really requires play at the table, when players ask about characters to refine them. I actually tweaked Raindrop a bit from the original. This would give me a chance to refine her more.

Everway also suggests you define their possessions. Here are a few of the things she carries:
  • A loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese and a canteen of cheap wine, wrapped in a patterned cloth.
  • A wooden flute. (She can play simple melodies beautifully, but nothing too fancy)
  • Some sugar cubes, carrots, scraps of dried meat and other treats for animals
  • An elegant clockwork rabbit, which will hop and wiggle its ears when wound.
  • Some salves
  • A charm bracelet. Most of the charms are cheap copper, but one is an actual dragon's scale.
Raindrop doesn't carry weapons or armor; she's not a believer in violence, and Everway doesn't require them to be effective.

Here's what her final character sheet looks like:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Okamiden, Day 19

The dog has got more fun out of Man than Man has got out of the dog, for the clearly demonstrable reason that Man is the more laughable of the two animals.
James Thurber 

The ending of Okamiden is all right; it's a bit of a let down after such an amazing game. I felt like it was trying too hard to set up Okami 3. Still, it's not too bad. 

Spoilers follow. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Okamiden Diary, Day 18

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting/ On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door
Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven

It took me a little longer to get to the boss fight with Akuro than I thought. First I had to rescue my colleagues, fight some lesser bosses and get some revelations. Now, I have to figure out how to defeat this guy. (I'm probably missing out on one of the ways to use the celestial brushes.)

I'll post my thoughts tomorrow.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Okamiden Diary Day 17

Little darling of mine, I can't for the life of me remember a sadder day
"Mother and Child Reunion," Paul Simon
I'm about 23 or 24 hours of play in, and I think I'm nearing the end, though I may be mistaken. (Also, I'm not really playing 80 or 90 minutes a day; I got large chunks in on the weekend, but smaller bits during the weekdays, and it averages out.)

A lot of really exciting stuff happened in today's play, but it was preceded by something less exciting but emotionally satisfying. I came into a room, and a demon sicced a  monster on me. It wasn't quite a boss battle, but it was tougher than most creatures. Anyway, once I finished, the demon thanked me, saying that the monster had been a pain in its side, and it was glad it was dead. That was a pleasant little twist. Yesterday, I said I didn't like boss battles for the sake of boss battles, but the demon's reaction turned a random fight into a memorable encounter.

Anyway, a ton of stuff happened afterward. Big stuff. Highly spoilery stuff. You've been warned.

The only real bad part of Okami was the beginning. Before you can begin playing, you need to sit through a 15 or 20 minute unskippable cut scene about events that happened 100 years before the game began; how everyone assumed that Shiranui, Chibiterasu's grand-sire, was evil until he sacrificed himself to save the hero Nagi from evil. Then they realized that he was actually an incarnation of Amaterasu. It's not a bad story, but it's never fun to do nothing whatsoever when playing a game.

Well, this part of the game takes place 100 years (and nine months) in the past, and we got to see this happen. Of course, Shiranui sacrificed himself trying to stop Akuro, this game's big bad, instead of Orochi, Okami's big bad. I'm not sure if this is because we've changed history, of the scrolls didn't quite have the full story. Either way, the wolf's sacrifice effective emotionally:

Poor Chibi. Sad little godling puppy.

Shiranui was unable to stop Akuro, but he was able to save his grandson and Nagi.

Then, soon afterward, we learn a nasty twist about who Akuro was. He's possessed Kuni, Chibi's first partner. (Or maybe created him as a vessel. I'm not totally clear.) And he explains how he's manipulated Chibi all along into killing the obstacles and acquiring the pieces he needs.

And then, Chibi summons help.
(Isshaku actually makes an appearance in Okami. He's that little blur in the bottom right of this picture.)

As I've said, it's tough to take good pictures of this game. I'll post a picture of Kagu which is, objectively crappy, but I like how the flash that unexpectedly went off makes it look like there's a spotlight behind her. It's appropriate for a child actress.

So this whole scene was effective. You have  pathos, betrayal, and the joy of seeing old friends. 

Tomorrow, I suspect, will be the final(?) showdown.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Okamiden Diary, Day 16

I know it is wet, and the sun is not sunny. But we can have lots of good fun that is funny.
Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

I once ordered a salad at a restaurant, and was given what looked like a plain plate of lettuce: no croutons, no fancy veggies, no creamy dressing. I was disappointed, and about to reach for some oil and vinegar, but  decided to taste it first.

Each leaf was perfectly dressed; they might have looked like they had nothing on it, but they had just enough extra virgin oil and vinegar to coat them, offsetting the slight bitterness of the greens with a rich and slightly tangy flavor.

I was unimpressed when I started this night's Okamiden. The first part had what felt like an arbitrary, meaningless boss battle, which should be a contradiction in terms. You put bosses in because it's a climactic part of the game play, not because it's been too long since the last battle. And compared to some of the previous bosses, this one was boring. It was a plain dragon; not even a complete one, you just had to battle the head since the rest was buried in a pile of ice.

Then things got interesting. We found something else in a block of ice. Something lupine.

No, it's not Chibi's mother; it's his grandfather. I'm sorry I didn't get any good shots of them together, but if there's anything cuter than a little wolf god, it's a full grown wolf god and little wolf god interacting. I loved how calm they were about it. "Oh, it's my grandson who's traveled through time. Well, guess I can curl up and take a nap," Shiranui seems to say. I don't know if dogs don't worry about paradoxes, gods don't worry about paradoxes, or it's a combination that keeps them so cool.

So Chibi and his companion head to the Moon Cave to rescue the companion's mother. I started this entry talking about food, and when Chibi and Manpuku fall through a trap door, they almost become the base for a soup, but Manpuku drinks it all instead. It's a great cartoony moment.

Tonight, I also learned the story of why Manpuku had to give up his dog, which would be tragic if it wasn't so silly; saw a demonic chef get jealous of another talented cook; and saw Chibi try to get the overweight Manpuku to move somewhere he didn't want to go. That was also an awesome animation as the puppy wound up walking in place trying to push the child.

So what started out as a ho-hum evening turned into an excellent night.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Okamiden Diary, Day 15

About forty years ago, I made a short visit to the curè at Bregnier, a man of immense stature and who had a fearful appetite.
Though it was scarcely noon I found him at the table. Soup and bouilli had been brought on, to these two indispensables had succeeded a leg of mutton a la Royale, a capon and a salad.

 Brillat Savarin

A short entry, even though this session was rather plot-rich.

Kurow got a message, and left in a hurry. He looked rather sad when leaving:

After a minor quest, Chibi found his new companion, who calls him Pork Chop. For no particular reason, he can shoot fire out of his hair and walk past spikes. (The mermaid could swim underwater and shoot water from her hair, but that made sense, because she was a mermaid. Kurow could float, but he was a moon person. And Kagu had magic powers, to explain what she could do. Maybe I'll learn about why my new friend can do these things soon.)

Manpuku is on a quest to rescue his mother, Charity, who has been kidnapped by demons because a) he had eaten everything in the house and she needed to go out and find him more to eat; and b) she's a good cook and may be the one to prepare Orochi's meal. But there's a demon chef, Umami, who is working to make an even better meal. Let's hear it for names which are horrible puns.

At one point, to propel them around a puzzle, Pork Chop and his companion jump into cannons. It doesn't photograph well, but a closeup of a dog's butt sticking out a cannon is a really silly sight.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Okamiden Diary, Day 14

I'm gonna make it to heaven/ Light up the sky like a flame/ I'm gonna live forever/ Baby, remember my name
Fame, Irene Cara
A lot happened in the last couple of hours of game play. But before I get into the plots, I want to mention two scenes that I really liked. (Obviously, spoilers follow. You don't get so far into a game without them.)
The first was when Nanami and Chibi were riding around a ship on a quest. The actual quest annoyed me; it felt largely like filler, and most of the monsters weren't powerful enough to be challenging, so there was a bit of boring grind. But there was one scene where Nanami came to a pet shark in the ship's aquarium. "If you have a chance to escape, go for it!" she told him. Mermaids don't believe in cages apparently, which actually fits well into the mythology.

The other moment I really loved was when Kurow rejoined Chibi, and took him flying. Look how uncomfortable the dog looks:
The game really packs a lot of personality into 256x192 pixels. That is not a happy wolf. I understand that dogs today don't like riding airplanes either.

Anyway, the story is, like the first one, doing some strange time travel things. I started this session nine months in the past, at the time Ammy is fighting Orochi with Susano's help. We run into Susano, but only see the other two from a distance.

As in the first game, and a few times in this one, we have needed clever disguises to get past demons. In this case, it's a piece of paper worn as a mask (you decorate the mask yourself. It's hard to see, but I gave Kurow a smiley face. Chibi's, which is not yet on him, says "Woof!" 
After tricking the demons, and seeing Ammy fight Orochi (I'm a little bummed Ammy and Chibi didn't meet, but there's still time), they meet Akuro, who I believe is the big bad. He needs to bathe in the blood of a freshly killed Orochi to gain the ultimate power, which is why he went back in time. When Chibi and Kurow stops him, he asks who they are, says he will remember their name, and creates another time portal, which he jumps through, followed by our heroes.

So now Chibi and Kurow are 100 years in the past. (Technically, 100 years and nine months. It's a good thing Kurow's from the moon, that makes it much less likely he'll kill his own grandmother accidentally.)

What indignities will Chibi have to endure to get from point A to B next time? Tune in and find out.