Divining A Plot

I’ve always liked In A Wicked Age for its Weird Tales sword-and-sorcery vibe, and its system would make for a really snazzy pick-up game. I’m more familiar with its rules for an “oracle draw,” generating various sets of descriptions and plot elements to build ideas from. And that’s an idea I’ve ripped off for all sorts of other games. I used it a bit when planning Exalted, and would probably go hog-wild with it if I ever get a sword-and-sorcery Fate game off the ground.

In essence, it’s like using playing cards for a tarot draw, drawing four cards and interpreting them . There are four oracle types—“Blood and Sex”, “God-Kings of War”, “The Unquiet Past”, and “A Nest of Vipers”—and each of those types gives different results for the same draw. At that point, it’s up to your own personal creativity to make a game out of it.

iawa-preview

For example, four examples:

5S: A great warship, set with ram and mangonel.
4H: A token indicating that its bearer speaks for the high
 general.
KD: A chest containing the tax monies of a rural province.
9S: A genius of flame, imprisoned within a brass mirror.

This one just seems to come together for me. Either the players are on a ship, or, no, the great warship docks at the port they’re in. It carries a tax collector for the local city-state, and in the ship’s hold is a lockbox with all the taxes levied thus far… including one unique item, a strange brass mirror. Obviously the PCs are hired to steal it, and get more than they bargained for…

5S: The private garden of a noble house.
4H: A fallen-in mansion, where by night ghosts and devils meet.
KD: A wealthy merchant-priest with much political clout.
9S: A band of slavers both bold and incorrigible.

This one also starts coming together: the private garden to a decaying, ancient mansion now haunted by ghosts and demons is the scene. The merchant prince is using the slavers as hired muscle to build his political cloud, and they meet in this garden at midnight to discuss their plans, and the players bump into them while investigating the mansion. Or, the merchant-prince has been captured by the slavers and is being held for ransom, which is where the PCs come in: kick in the door and fight through this ancient ruin to rescue him.

5S: A cruel and powerful young lordling.
4H: An ambitious petty-wizard, quick to take offense.
KD: The exposure by erosion of a long-buried door.
9S: The opening by sorcery of an ancient door, set in the earth 
 over the crypts of some forgotten convent or monastery, until
 now sealed with potent spells.

It sounds like we have an expedition here: sorcery has opened an ancient door in the crypts of an old monastery, and the lordling and wizard need the players as muscle to explore it. Maybe the wizard used his spells to open the door, and spends his time feuding with the noble; maybe the wizard isn’t with the group, and when he broke open the seal to get something nefarious held beyond the crypt-door, the lordling was alerted. Either way, the lordling and wizard have plenty of options for roleplay conflict.

5S: A famous traveling exorcist and his entourage, with as canny
 an eye for a village's wealth as for its demons.
4H: The night each year that a certain ghost is allowed her
 freedom.
KD: A company of desert horsemen, hiding a woman amongst them.
9S: The deathbed curse of a betrayed queen.

In my mind, this one strings together as well. Centuries ago the queen was betrayed, and this is the one night each year that she is allowed freedom until dawn. A famed exorcist and his entourage—be they clergy or charlatans—has an eye for the locals’ wealth, in exchange for freeing the old queen’s spirit. Who are the desert horsemen? The entourage, adversaries, or maybe the “village” is some mobile cross between Bedouin and Mongol? Is the woman meant for ritual sacrifice to appease the curse, or the long-lost descendant of the queen hoping to break a curse laid upon her as well? Or is the woman really the queen made flesh for one night?

Those are all the same four-card draw (5♠, 4♥, K♦, 9♠) interpreted by the four different types of oracle. (They got mixed up a bit; the first one is God-Kings of War, and I think the third is Unquiet Past.) For the most part, the ideas fit together rather tightly; when they don’t, they start a sprawling chain of intrigue and atmosphere that’s quite interesting. For example, I’ll leave you with your own interpretation of this one:

6H: The alliance by marriage of a certain tyrant's family with
 the cult of a certain desert god.
KC: A bandit captain, in hiding, with her trusted bodyguard.
4D: A practitioner of law, with her several secretaries.
10C: The marriage of a region's most beautiful girl, necessarily
 virgin and without blemish, to the dead stone effigy of a
 harvest god.

I’ve always liked the idea of randomly generated ideas to get your GM brainstorming juices flowing, and In A Wicked Age is one of the best I’ve seen: vague enough to give malleable ideas—the interpretation varies by the reader—yet specific enough to evoke the atmosphere of its setting and to visualize distinct scenes and characters in your mind. As a $5 .pdf, In A Wicked Age is worth it for its oracle plot-generation system alone.


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