|Publisher(s)||Wizards of the Coast, Rubicon Games, Gaslight Press (since 2001)|
Everway is a fantasy role-playing game first published by Wizards of the Coast under their Alter Ego brand in the mid-1990s. Its lead designer was Jonathan Tweet. Marketed as a "Visionary Roleplaying Game", it has often been characterized as an innovative piece with a limited commercial success. Wizards later abandoned the line, and Rubicon Games purchased it, and published several supplements. The line was sold again to Gaslight Press in February 2001.
The game has a fantasy setting of the multiverse type, with many different worlds, some of which differed from generic fantasy. It appears to have been heavily influenced by divinatory tarot, the four classical elements of ancient Greece, and mythologies from around the world.
Everway was first with implementing, in a commercial game, several new concepts including much more picture-based/visual source material and character creation than usual. Like other works by Jonathan Tweet, the rules are very simple and flexible. It is also one of a few diceless role-playing games. Although the Fortune Deck works as a randomizer, the results obtained by it are entirely arbitrary and subjective, and the GM's absolute power over the game is further emphasized by the three resolution systems: Karma (the higher character ability wins, modified by situation), Drama (the GM decides what happens, by what they think most appropriate), and Fortune (more or less the same as the above, with interpretation flavored by a card draw). The original edition contained the "Fortune" deck of thirty-six cards, used for "divination" and action-resolution, as well as ninety "Vision" cards used as source material. Each Vision card depicts a fantastic scene of some sort and is backed with a series of leading questions such as, "What does this person most enjoy?" or "What's the worst thing that could happen in this situation?" The game's box also had three books of source material and game-playing tips: a Player's Guide, Game Master's Guide, and Guide to the Fortune Deck.
The official setting for Everway revolves around heroes with the power of "spherewalking," traveling between worlds called "spheres." Spheres typically consist of many "realms." The city of Everway is located in a realm called Roundwander, in the sphere called Fourcorner. Roundwander is the only realm in Fourcorner that is described. There is some detail on the sphere's main city, Everway, which contains a stone pyramid, a set of family-oriented guilds, and various exotic events related to the city's position as an inter-dimensional trading center. Several dozen other spheres are described as one-sentence blurbs, a few as page-long summaries, and one in detail as the setting for a sample adventure, "Journey to Stonekeep." The theme is strongly fantasy-oriented as opposed to science fictional, with advanced technology explicitly forbidden in the character creation rules. The authors gave significant thought to anthropology by describing how the people of various spheres live, including many similarities across cultures. Some of these common features are entirely realistic (language, art), and others plainly related to the game's fantasy elements (magic, knowledge of the Fortune Deck). Nearly all spheres are inhabited by humans, with mostly realistic physics.
Character design is abstract and simple by most role-playing games' standards. Each character begins with twenty points to divide between four Element scores roughly equivalent to statistics for Strength (Fire), Perception (Water), Intelligence (Air) and Endurance (Earth). Scores range from 1 (pathetic) to 3 (average) to 10 (godlike), so a generic hero would have scores of 5. Each Element also has a specialty for which a character can get a 1-point bonus; e.g., a 5-Air hero with an Air specialty of "Writing" could write as though their Air score were 6. As a general rule a statistic of N is twice as capable as a level of N-1, where this makes sense. (A 5-Fire, 5-Earth hero can typically defeat two 4-Fire, 5-Earth enemies, or handily defeat a 3-Fire, 5-Earth character in foot race, but cannot necessarily run twice as fast even though speed is governed by Fire.)
Each character also has Powers representing unusual abilities. These cost from 0 to 3 or more points depending on whether they should be considered Frequent, Major (or even "Twice Major", for especially powerful abilities that significantly affect gameplay) and/or Versatile. For instance, a "Cat Familiar," a slightly intelligent cat, is arguably worth 2 points for being Frequent (usually around and often useful) and Versatile (able to scout, carry messages, and fight). A "Winning Smile" that makes the hero likable is worth 0 points because of its trivial effect, while a "Charming Song" that inspires one emotion when played might be useful enough to count as Frequent (1 point). There is no strict rule for deciding what a Power is worth. Each hero can have one 0-point Power for free; additional Powers that would otherwise cost 0 points instead cost 1.
Magic is also abstract. A hero wanting access to magic, as opposed to a few specific Powers, must design their own magic system. This is done by choosing an Element for its basis, which affects its theme; e.g., Air is associated with speech and intellect and would be suitable for a system of spoken spells gained through study. The new Magic statistic has a 1-10 rating and point cost, and can be no higher than the Element it's based on. The game's rules suggest listing examples of what the magic system can do at each power level, working these out with the GM. It's suggested that most characters do not need magic and that it's not suitable for new players.
Finally, each hero has personality traits based on the game's Fortune and Vision cards. Players are to choose one or more Vision cards and base a backstory on them, and to have three Fortune cards representing a Virtue, Fault, and Fate (a challenge they will face). These three cards can change to represent new phases in the hero's life. There is a list of suggested Motives for why the hero is adventuring, such as "Adversity" or "Wanderlust", but this feature has no gameplay effect.
Equipment such as weaponry is handled completely abstractly, with no specific rules for item cost, carrying capacity, or combat statistics. However, a particularly powerful piece of equipment—for example, a cloak that renders its wearer invisible for a brief period—may be treated as a Power that the hero must spend their initial element points on.
The Fortune Deck
To decide what happens, the GM considers the rules of Karma (characters' statistics and Powers), Drama (the needs of the plot), and Fortune, the result of a card drawn from the Fortune Deck. Many of these cards are based on the "Major Arcana" of tarot divination, such as "The Fool" and "Death", but the deck includes original cards such as "Drowning in Armor" and "Law." As with the Tarot deck there is symbolic art and each card has two complementary meanings when upright or reversed (while face up). The meanings are printed on the cards (e.g., "Protective Measures Turn Dangerous" vs. "True Prudence" for "Drowning in Armor") and explained more fully in the game's books. The rules are flexible about how often the GM should consult the Fortune Deck, whether the cards should be shown to players, and how much influence the draw should have—it is entirely acceptable for the GM to never use the deck at all, if she so desires. Though cards sometimes have obvious interpretations for the context in which they are drawn, the rules explain that sometimes they are best read simply as "a positive (or negative) result."
Although the Fortune Deck resembles (and can be used as) a fortune-telling device, Everway treats the Deck only as a storytelling device and an element of the fictional setting. It does not in any way endorse "real" fortune-telling or other supernatural concepts.
- Staff (March 1996). "Review: Everway". Shadis (25).