Psycho Wyrd Game

Ran a psychotic Wyrd game tonight.


Now, Wyrd, for them what don’t know, is the game of Viking revenge in the frozen North. It’s played with white and black stones — white stones represent good things happening to you, and black stones represent bad things.

The game actually has official rules, but given that we played out the last bit of the D&D session vs. the kobolds (more on that anon) and some of the D&D players went home tonight, but that people still wished to game, I more or less re-pseudo-invented the Wyrd ruleset on the spot. I have no idea how accurate I was; I don’t really care.

Here’s the rules, more or less as we played them:

Chargen:
Everyone gets twenty stones, 10 black and 10 white. Ten of the stones — five of each color — went into the bag. Then, each character got to create a character sheet from those ten stones. Drawing two at a time, each player created his character’s skills, motivations, tragedies, goals and hints of ultimate doom by writing a line of the epic of their life on a sheet of paper. With five lines done, everyone puts their five pairs of stones on their character sheet, and put the remaining ten stones to one side.

Chargen example: I created a character named Gerd. Drawing two black stones during my first chargen round, I made Gerd an orphan — a mother dead in childbirth and a father dead in a duel. A black and white stone came next, so Gerd became a great warrior, but he lost his father’s land to the murderer. Double-white next, so he kept his father’s ship and went on a successful viking raid. White and Black next, so he became a great leader, but returned home to find his uncle murdered as well. My last two stones were black and white, so I announced my intent to seek revenge for the death of my family, and enlisted my viking buddies to help me.

Gathering Doom Phase:
During the Gathering Doom phase, players take turns. Lifting a white stone from the character sheet and placing it in the bag causes one good thing to happen. Lifting a black stone from the character sheet invokes an action drawing the character’s doom closer. Placing the black stone in the bag invokes a second action drawing the character’s doom closer. Each player in turn must place a stone in the bag, whether white or black. No other player may play stones to counter an action or an event during Gathering Doom.

Gathering Doom Example: During Gathering Doom, I spent my ten stones to draw the three other players closer to each other, so I could use them to kill the king and the man living in my father’s house. This eventually turned out to be one of the other players at the table, and another player had made himself the friend of the king. Finally I used my last white stone to declare that after several months of fruitless searching, a festival had brought together all of the characters in the same place on the same day, a holy day. I also used a stone to create a prophecy that the other players would die on the same day.

The conventions I created were largely ignored by the other players — irritating, but potentially picked up by more capable or reasonable players. Who knows?

Bloodbath Phase:
Once all ten stones on the character sheet are spent, the remaining stones come into play. Players in turn place one stone in the bag, gaining a good action or a bad action depending on whether the stone is white or black.

During Bloodbath, players may modify the actions of other players by placing a stone of their own in the bag. White stones confer free modifications — that is, the player losing the stone need not connect the modification to his own doom. Black stones, however, have a cost — the player losing the stone to the depths of the bag must announce, with his modification of the other player’s action, how his own doom is hastened.

During each player’s turn during Bloodbath, no one may play more than one stone. Each player may only modify another player’s action once; the main player may not modify someone else’s modification.

Bloodbath Example: During Bloodbath, I modified several other player actions, and was rewarded by a couple of them for helping them to further their own goals. I didn’t kill the prince myself, but I saw the king’s son done-in by one of the other players, and another player poisoned my blade so that when I did get the king, the other players agreed that the king died. Cutting down CK, another player whose character occupied my father’s house, proved much more complicated. I had to play some of my black stones and get stabbed by the king’s bodyguards, or lose CK’s character in the crowd to weaken his defenses a lot and strip him of stones. CK played better, and didn’t modify the actions of others so much. The game needs more ways to strip away stones, and there needs to be a penalty for continually proposing “white stone” actions for black stones.

Accomplished Doom:
Once a player spends his second to last stone, he enters the Accomplished Doom phase. The last stone played gives the character’s name and final action before the character dies. This action may be as simple as, “Gerd spears his betrayer with his poisoned blade before he dies,” to as complex as “he lived another sixty years and died in bed with his wife.” Other players may use their own stones to modify the results of the Doom Accomplished.

No character gets out of the game alive. A character always dies on the last stone played.

Accomplished Doom Example: I think I got CK’s character in the end. The introduction of the dragon to fly him away using a white stone means that he got a pretty damn good exit, but he didn’t obey the rules on his last stone and make his character die. It’s awkward that people run out of stones at different rates at the end of the game, making it hard for one PC to kill another.

Actual Play:
So. Those, more or less, were the rules. At first, there were some holdover D&Disms, like CK trying to spend a black stone to draw his sword. Once people got into the spirit of things, it gotnasty. One player blood-eagled his character’s wife who was the sister of another character in order to extract revenge. Another used magic — a claimed talent from earlier — to use a lightning bolt to reduce the prince to ashes. Another was a blacksmith who made “the finest blade in the world”, but then forgot to use it.

It was a long game. WE started around 8:30 and ended around 11:45. Language Arts issues made a real appearance (see below), but players were also being very much ADDish, and also not buying into the spirit of the unfolding doom. Two players in particular slowed the game down a LOT by not coming up with negatives often enough for their characters when black stones showed up.

Thoughts about Game-play:
One player wound up with a lot more good stones than bad stones at the end of the game, but no one had woven him effectively into the story, so a lot of the attempts to kill him at the end failed both because he had more stones than others which he could use freely to modify attacks, but also he wasn’t really moving towards any sort of doom that had to be averted. Motivations sucked from some of the players, too. There needs to be a really clear motivation involved, it seems, and a really clear doom to be avoided.

The tendency was to create NPCs a lot, but it was hard to weave them into the story. Every player should have one natural ally and one natural enemy in the game — the person across the table, and to the right, would work. Some conventions on names might be helpful, as well as requiring everyone to get an epithet during the character creation process.

There seem to be too many stones in play during gathering doom. It might make sense to forego some of the stones from that phase, and increase the number of stones in Bloodbath. May need more reasons to play stones, and more motivation to play stones, during Bloodbath, too.

The game drags a bit with these players. Language arts are really a challenge for most of these students, and they’re really not familiar with the tropes and tricks of heroic literature in general, much less these specific literary functions from the sagas and eddas. You couldn’t do an Iceland-specific campaign. This was very much quick-and-dirty, so it wasn’t possible to set some parameters of the world in advance, though it might be worthwhile to figure out some world-creation rules so that there were some stones contributed to a shared vision of the world. I don’t know how that would work yet, though.
Advice, Comments, Suggestions helpful… please advise.

5 comments

  1. […] Wyrd: I used to do a lot more gaming than I do now, and I would like to get back into it.  On this occasion, back in 2005, I was playing a game called Wyrd.  It uses black and white stones to represent tragedies and successes in the lives of its characters.  It’s not too bad a game, although I don’t think I own it any more.  I think for me, this represents one of the great untapped potentials of school today — our kids are eager and willing to play games, and we could teach them so many possible games, as a way of explaining history, math and science to them. Yet we don’t. […]

  2. It did in fact devolve into silliness near the end, precisely because they are not really clear on the problems associated with dying.

    And yes, some of them are in fact VERY scary.

  3. “One player blood-eagled his character’s wife who was the sister of another character in order to extract revenge.”

    OK…your kids are just scary. I don’t have any specific advice other than maybe you start it off at the end, you say “OK, you’re sying, how’s that happening?” and they say “hanging from a noose” and you say, “OK, now that we know how you’re ending up, let’s figure out how you get there and start at the beginnig. Make sure that everyone knows how everyone else will die. No one gets a happy ending.

    It may also be a bit too much of a stretch. Kids their age may not have enough of a sense of mortality to make a tragic game like this work well for them.

    *shrug*
    Tom

  4. “One player blood-eagled his character’s wife who was the sister of another character in order to extract revenge.”

    OK…your kids are just scary. I don’t have any specific advice other than maybe you start it off at the end, you say “OK, you’re sying, how’s that happening?” and they say “hanging from a noose” and you say, “OK, now that we know how you’re ending up, let’s figure out how you get there and start at the beginnig. Make sure that everyone knows how everyone else will die. No one gets a happy ending.

    It may also be a bit too much of a stretch. Kids their age may not have enough of a sense of mortality to make a tragic game like this work well for them.

    *shrug*
    Tom

    • It did in fact devolve into silliness near the end, precisely because they are not really clear on the problems associated with dying.

      And yes, some of them are in fact VERY scary.

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