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Reviews - WEGS 101: Old Skool
 
by Demian Katz


WEGS 101 coverWEGS 101: Old Skool
Published by Gamewick Games
Created by L. Willy Wickman
Design and Layout by Karen Knorr
Illustrated by Kennon James
102-page perfect bound book and card deck in hang-hole bag.
$25.00

 

The obvious first question when confronted with yet another new fantasy role-playing game is "Why?" The second question in this situation is "WHY??" Surprisingly, though, WEGS, the "Wickedly Errant Game System," manages to come up with at least two decent excuses for entering a shockingly oversaturated market. First of all, since the game has been developed largely through games run at conventions, it's strong for one-time pick-up games; it's not too hard to learn, and it plays off of the knowledge and experience that most gamers already have. Secondly, WEGS aims to bring the element of luck back into role-playing – it gives the game experience a bit of a casino feel by making certain dice combinations lucky or unlucky and by making heavy use of poker chips to track game effects. Although neither of these things is an entirely original idea, the combination seems to have been quite effective in allowing the game to carve out a niche for itself.

Playing the Game
WEGS goes to some lengths to simultaneously pay tribute to past fantasy RPGs and to give itself a distinctive look and feel through new terminology and conventions. For the most part, it is successful in this effort, though some of its quirks, like overuse of the letter "k" and the ubiquitous phrase "for wegsample," become slightly annoying after a while. In general, though, it does a good job of applying the standard sense of gamer humor to familiar "low fantasy" conventions.

Characters in WEGS are called "Arks" since they all conform to familiar fantasy archetypes. There are five character races (Dwarves, Elves, Goblins, Gnobbits and Humnz... yes, Humnz) and four "Arketypes" (Warrior, Ranger, Trickster and Skolar). As one might expect, different races offer different bonuses, penalties and restrictions, and some Arketypes give extra choices that affect which special abilities or spell lists are available. Aside from these obvious choices, character creation also involves an interesting combination of dice-rolling (since fate is a big part of the game) and point allocation (allowing considerably more player control than in really old-school games, but without completely eliminating the element of chance). At first glance, the process looks a bit complicated, but it basically amounts to filling in a few numbers, calculating a few derived stats, and taking the appropriate cards from the skill deck to remind yourself of your character's Arketype-specific powers.

Like character creation, the game system itself looks intimidating at first glance due to all the weird terminology and acronyms (there's a page-long glossary to help with this). However, once you understand a few things, it's a fast-playing, tactics-oriented game. Adventures are meant to be played out with miniatures on a 1" square grid, and everything has been reduced to seven core actions: Move, Aim, Fire, Cast, Blast, Ready, Attack. You have to Aim before you can Fire a missile weapon; you have to Cast before you can Blast a spell; you have to Ready before you can Attack with a melee weapon. You get one action and can apply one of your special skills each round (called an "inning"). The rest is in the dice, the poker chips and whatever exceptions your skills and spells allow you to make.

Dice are important. The game uses d6's and d10's, and there are several different types of rolls that can potentially be used to resolve actions – this is confusing until you learn the terminology, but then it's a nice source of variety. Regardless of the type of roll being made, certain numbers cause special effects. Very low rolls are "Wicked Successes" while very high rolls are "Wicked Failures." Rolling doubles on percentile dice generally counts as a "good shot" while rolling numbers divisible by ten generally causes "bad shots." It's all written on the character sheet, so it's not too much to remember!

Poker chips are used to track spell points, or "Spoints." Everybody has Spoints, even if they are not spellcasters – Spoints can be used to increase the probability of success for certain types of rolls even if characters are unable to use them to cast spells. An important part of every inning (and of the game's casino feel) is the "Spante," when players with spells already in play have to ante chips into the pot in order to keep the spell effects active.

A couple other distinctive features of the game are worth noting. First of all, there is no inventory management – the game pretty much just assumes that players have what they need. This may frustrate players who love the thrill of managing their weapons and collecting stuff, but it removes a big obstacle to fast play and shortens the potential delay in getting the game up and running. Secondly, the game features a distinctive damage system – when a player runs out of Wound points, they have a choice: they can burn a Phew! point to ignore the fatal wound, or they can take a "Near Death Experience" test to see if they survive. This adds considerable suspense and is just one of many ways in which the game emphasizes dramatic dice rolling.

Running the Game
WEGS does a great job of making life easy for the GM. One of its innovations is the way it handles enemy creatures. Most "Minions" in the game are between level 1 and level 8. Each standard Minion's stats match its level – that is, a level 1's stats are mostly 1's and 11's, while a level 8's stats are mostly 8's and 88's. The game system is tuned to make this work well, and it's a great way of easily differentiating the power of opponents without forcing the GM to track or remember large numbers of complex stats – it's very easy to improvise a new opponent. Of course, really powerful and significant opponents are called Master Minions and may have special powers beyond the standard stats... but it's easier to remember the major characters' details when you're not as worried about remembering all the little guys.

WEGS 101 includes a single ready-to-run scenario called "Dwarf Walks Into a Bar." This is an ideal introductory adventure; it details a handful of NPCs with different agendas and drops them into a standard-issue fantasy adventure bar. The PCs show up for any number of reasons, and things should unfold naturally from there. Very little prep work is necessary, but the power of familiar clichés and silly interactions should allow a satisfying game session to unfold from an uncomplicated seed.

Presentation
Gamewick Games has done a great job with this product. While I admit to finding some aspects of the game's tone a little grating (your results may vary), what can't be denied is that they've produced a professional-grade product (well, higher than professional grade if you consider that the quality of copy editing here is much better than you usually find in mainstream RPGs). The layout is simple and easy on the eyes, the artwork is of good quality (though sometimes a bit inconsistent with textual descriptions), and the skill cards are thick and sturdy. My only complaint is that the price seems a bit steep for what is basically a 100-page book of large print and a handful of useful but not absolutely necessary cards. Fortunately, if you consider that there are already two free full-length adventures (and various other minor add-ons) available on the WEGS website, that helps to take a bit of the sting off the price.

Conclusions
WEGS is not for everyone – it favors mechanics over storytelling, and it intentionally wallows in clichés. If you want to tell a serious story, this is not for you. However, if you like a bit of fast-playing, chaotic fantasy and you don't have a lot of time to prepare, you could do a lot worse than to choose this as your pick-up game of choice. There's definitely a bit of a learning curve, but if you can get past that, you should have fun with this. The game also seems poised to grow; in addition to the aforementioned free online products, several new books are scheduled for the coming year. This may be a game to watch. Even if you're not sure you want to commit to buying just yet, watch your local conventions – depending on where you live, it may not be too hard to get a taste of the game before you buy!

 
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