Game: The Wheel of Time
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Series: The Wheel of Time
Review Dated: 14th, November 2001
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 88
Average Score: 6.29
The Wheel of Time is a popular fantasy series by Robert Jordan. In fact some people might argue that the Wheel of Time is surprisingly popular since it can be rather difficult to find anyone who will admit to actually liking the books. I didn’t particularly like the first nine books in the series but I’m sure I’ll jump to buy the tenth should it ever hit the shelves and perhaps therein lies the success of the series.
The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game has been published before the fantasy series has finished. The game, however, seems to have been written in full co-operation with Jordan and rather than stumbling over this obvious problem the authors have done their best to turn it into advantage. The solution is as obvious as the problem; the game can be run during various different times. You could try and adventure before the Dragon Reborn (one of the heroes from the books) has risen to the fore or you could bite the bullet and set your game after the immediate timeframe of the novels and see how accurate your predictions are. On the other hand you might be fairly certain that the good guys will win in the novels but base your game on the idea that the forces of the Dark One are the ones who win the struggle. The default setting and the one I imagine that most games will be run in is slap bang in the middle of the action described in the books.
If you’ve thumbed through a copy of the third edition Dungeons and Dragons then you’ll be familiar with most of the mechanics for the Wheel of Time RPG. Here we have d20 system being used to its full. For the Wheel of Time, this is a good thing. I think the Wheel of Time would make a great game to introduce someone to roleplaying with. This is doubly true – no, triply true! – if said person is a fan of the fantasy series. The game certainly isn’t too bad for more established gaming groups. Veteran roleplayers will be able to make a tasty meal out of the rich setting and with its carefully constructed familiar feel. The more experienced roleplayers are, I feel, likely to get tired with the setting rather quickly unless they also happen to be die hard Wheel of Time fans. Can you imagine playing the same campaign over and over again – but with a different angle or focus with each attempt?
One aspect of the book that I think everyone will appreciate is the look and feel of thing. The book is sturdy hardcover. Pick it up and you’ve a veritable tome in your hands. The design and colour is first class to. The days of minute font and cramped charts and tables of obscure mathematical formula are long banished from roleplaying games – thankfully. The layout is clear and concise; I spotted small paragraphs of useful rule twists that I must have missed in my flicking through my copy of the Players Handbook for Dungeons and Dragons. That’s another reason why I think the game would be a good introductory offering for new roleplayers. A shame about the index; something went wrong there. I have to wonder whether the designers suddenly had to do with two pages less after the decision to include a glossy advert for the Wheel of Time fantasy novels and made up for the loss by hacking at the index. Another theory is that the index was forgotten entirely until five minutes before the printers were due to start and they only just managed to throw a page of notes in at the end of the book in time. I don’t like some of the artwork either. I am not a fan of the style of art used on the covers to the Wheel of Time series and that annoying style is randomly mixed with the more familiar Wizards of the Coast art throughout the book. The effect isn’t very good – but at least the wash of pale colours suits the page design.
One of the important facets of the novels is the magic of Weaving. In the books certain talented women can draw on the “One Power” to weave ethereal strands of fire, air, water, earth or spirit together to create magical effects. The One Power and Weaving are simply superimposed on top of the standard d20 magic system. Well, nearly. There are a few changes and I think they’ve tweaked just what they needed to tweak. I want to avoid getting drawn into a mechanics heavy discussion but I shall say that the way you cast magic/ the way you Weave depends on your introduction and background to the art. If you’re a trained sorcereress (Aes Sedai, as the books terms them) then you’ll approach the task in the same way you might a mathematical problem but if you’re an untrained natural (a Wilder) then you’ll fall to your instincts in order to achieve the same effect. In addition, characters may have natural affinities to various different Weaves (fire, spirit, etc) and this can sometimes allow them to perform their magical effects better. This is all good because it fits nicely into plot developments and personalities from the Wheel of Time books. On the downside very little is said on how people learn their Weaves. This was a bit of a disappointment since the canny might have spotted the contradiction in Jordan’s writings as to whether a user of the One Power can learn a Weave by being able to study an established pattern or whether she needs to watch it being woven. Men can – and seem likely to – go mad if they try and grasp their share of the One Power. This aspect of Weaving is an important plot strand in the novels. The roleplaying game addresses the problem by providing light rules as to how this madness might catch up with male users of the Power. The Wheel of Time RPG also provides a light smattering of mechanics that cover the differences between male and female use of the power. “Not much is known” about male use of the Power is the given reason – and that’s certainly true if you set your game in the same time frame as the books (at least all those published at the time that the roleplaying game was written) – but isn’t much help to you if your game is set in a time where the Dark One’s taint doesn’t affect the male half of the True Source.
The d20’s system of prestige classes works well with the Wheel of Time. You’re a fighter, a guardsman or a solider – the collective group in the game is given the name “Armsman” It works. The Armsman character class has its own advantages and disadvantages. In the Wheel of Time novels there are examples of really good swordsmen called Blademasters and the specially trained Aes Sedai protectors known as Warders. In the game system both Blademaster and Warder would be a prestige class. That is to say that there are extra special qualifications that required to be fulfilled before you could claim that title as your own; but further bonuses if you do manage it. It might take years as an Armsman, years of practise and battle experience, before you’re able to call yourself a Blademaster. Should you manage to become a Blademaster you don’t suddenly stop being an Armsman either. I liked the fact that Aes Sedai is a prestige class and not a basic character class. There just are not that many Aes Sedai in the world – it’s something to aspire to, it’s a title that carries prestige.
I liked the inclusion of all the maps in the book. I think. I liked the maps but there are an awful lot of them and the city ones are all very similar. There are plenty of pages in the book given over to describing the various parts of the world – or, at least – the expanse of the world covered by the roaming heroes of the Wheel of Time books. The detail is needed. Too many roleplayers are used to their being genetic differences between the various “race” options; humans are different from orcs, orcs are different from elves and elves are different from dwarves. With the exception of the secluded race of Ogier (and yes, the Dark One’s various battle broods) the only sentient race is human. The book does a good job at pointing out the differences between the people who live on the east coast, for example, from those who those who live on the Border lands.
Given that the RPG does manage to draw clear and distinct differences between the various people of the land I think it is a shame that so little attention is given to Daes Dae’Mar. The Daes Dae’Mar is the grand name given to the dangerous and complex game of politics (assassinations, plotting, kidnapping, etc) that some of the noble houses of the lands “play” among themselves. The Daes Dae’Mar was perhaps one of the key aspects to the Wheel of Time that could have helped appeal to those Gamers who appreciate the nitty-gritty of scheming and politicking rather than fantasy hack’n’slash. The Wheel of Time runs the serious risk of becoming nothing more than a horrid combat fest wherein the heroes do nothing except battle against the monstrous minions of the Dark One.
There are ten pages given over to describing some of main characters from the books. For me, these ten pages are a waste of space. I neither want nor need this sort of information. The last thing any GamesMaster needs is some snotty-nosed player announcing “Actually, Moiraine doesn’t know that Weave.” This is a matter of personal taste though. I am sure there are some readers who’ll rush to this section. I personally found the quick stat comparisons given as way to describe the range of attributes to be both more fun and helpful. Ah, so Lorial the Ogier is stronger than a rat – that makes sense, but which is smarter, Rand al’Thor or a horse? I would rather have seen these ten pages taken back and given over to a more detailed description of the World of Dreams, the Ways and the Ogier’s Sheddings. All three of the following being magical places, each of their own importance, that have plenty of mention in the Wheel of Time series but given only token mention in the game.
Do you need to have read the Wheel of Time books in order to appreciate this game? The answer is no. No, probably not. No, but it’ll help. If you want to run the game then the richness given to the world that only the novels can provide is even more important. Only in the unlikely situation wherein a GamesMaster who’s not read the books tries to run the game for players who have do I see certain doom.