One of the highlights of PAX Unplugged for me was taking a look at Weave, a role playing game developed by the Monocle Society focused on collaborative storytelling. This is a game that is designed to get people to the table and playing quickly by removing the traditional barriers of the genre. Complicated rulebooks are replaced by a simple and intuitive app that serves as a character sheet and adventure module outline.
The game revolves around a deck of 22 brightly illustrated tarot cards, six dice with custom symbols, and your imagination. Starting the game is easy, and requires you to draw and scan a few cards to establish a few details about your character. The app takes the image, and gives you a few options to choose from for each card to help establish a backstory, character talents and flaws, as well as any equipment you might have. Descriptions for everything are only a few sentences long, so it serves as a starting point which can be explored and developed in the game. There are currently four different themes to choose from, which determine the flavor of the game, and plans for more to be released down the road.
I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons almost weekly since the 5th edition came out a few years ago, and on and off before that. For a while I was the game master, leading my players through a few different adventures before turning the reigns over to a friend. I then joined as a player, making a few different characters for each new campaign that we started.
As a player, I feel that it’s always somewhat of a chore to get a character together for that first session. The core rule books are big and go into depth about the various races, classes, and subclasses. Rolling and assigning starting stats, picking spells, and filling out a character sheet can also be very confusing and can serve as a barrier to entry for those who are unfamiliar to how everything in the game works. And once the game is underway, referring back to the books is a regular occurrence to determine how a spell works, or to look for clarification on how the game mechanics are written. Often times this means the game grinds to a halt.
The first thing that sets Weave apart from other table top RPG systems is the ease of getting started. There isn’t the upfront time commitment of reading through rule books, and this goes for both the players and the game master. Since everything is based on the tarot cards, all it takes is a quick shuffle and then you are ready to scan cards using your phone or tablet. For the game master, these cards will flesh out the core qualities of the game, which are the theme, location and boss. For players, it will determine the characters backstory, talents, flaws and and any assets they are carrying. Scanning one card per quality is all it takes to start, so it can be completed in just a few minutes.
Players also pick a primary attribute, referred to as a core suit, and which correspond to one of the four elements. Stones represents strength, and is used for physical challenges like athletics checks, lifting things or jumping. Flames represents intelligence, and is used for things like knowledge of history, focusing on mental tasks, and casting spells. Brooks represents charisma, and is used for social interactions like persuasion or deception. Lastly, Gales represents a players agility and is used when determining things like if an attack is successfully dodged or moving stealthily.
Weave uses six standard sized six sided dice customized with the four elemental attributes, an X, and the Weave symbol. These dice are used when there is any sort of challenge in the game, like vaulting over a wall, swinging on a rope across a ballroom, or punching an enemy in the face. The player describes what they are trying to do, and the game master decides which attribute is appropriate and sets the difficulty. Players get three dice to roll by default, but can get more if they have a bonus to that attribute. For example, a character with +2 gales would get 5 dice on a gales based check. The Weave symbol on the die is a wild, so it can count to which ever element type you are rolling for. Additionally, that die is picked up and can be rerolled, improving the odds of success.
Having the character sheets and game world information handled on your phone or tablet makes setting the game up very simple, and handles all the heavy lifting as players level up, or as new locations or enemies are introduced into the game. It is important to note however, that while Weave does most of the upfront work, this a game that relies heavily on the players imaginations. Everyone that comes to the table should be willing to contribute to building a rich story together. This a truly a collaboration between the game master and the players in collaborative story telling.
Weave has a number of things in the works for 2020, including the launch of their Weave Plus service. This is a subscription service that will bring a flood of new adventure content on an ongoing basis. Monocle Society is partnering with several different writers and IP holders to design the framework for adventures in worlds both new and familiar. This subscription will unlock every adventure available on the platform, so you should be able to find something interesting no matter what kind of story theme you are in to. Additionally, this will open up the ability to create you own adventures, by mapping your ideas to the tarot cards.
Weave is really more than just a game, it is a platform. Much like Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, or other RPG systems, it sets the rules so that there is a consistent way to interact with the world, but the rest is left up to the imagination. The cards get you started, but it is so much more than that. I was lucky, because not only did I have a chance to interview Mike Hayes and Tristan Morris, two of the people at the helm of Weave, but I also got to play my first session with Tristan after the floor closed at PAX unplugged. We played for only an hour or so, but the game was so easy to get into. Even the people at the table who had never role played before were engaged, acting out voices and contributing to the story. What Weave does is put the narrative at the center, so all other aspects of the game like combat still rely on vivid descriptions, instead of colorless dice rolls. This game has a bright future ahead, and I am excited to see how Weave grows over the next few years.