why, brain, why?
So I’m hauling laundry out of the dryer, and my brain randomly decides it wants to distract itself from the tedium by figuring out how to hack an RPG system to run a Wheel of Time game.
I have no intention of actually running a Wheel of Time game, mind you. But as I said to kniedzw, I think it’s the fanfic impulse gone sideways; there’s stuff I really like about the setting, but also stuff that really annoys me, and a game would give me a way to mentally inhabit my preferred version of that world — maybe even critiquing it in passing. I have no concept for such a game, and probably nobody to play in it anyway (since it would go best with people who know the series), but every so often my brain likes to play with mechanics, and today was one of those times.
Yeah, sure, there’s already a rulebook for it. It’s d20, people. Which may be the Official System for Epic Fantasy Gaming — but it’s abysmally unsuited to handle the magic paradigm presented in the novels. Anybody with an interest in system hacks or running their own Wheel of Time game is invited behind the cut to see how I would do it.
Let’s start with what you need, based on what’s said in the books. Channelers — this post will largely be about channeling, since it’s the most idiosyncratic thing you’d need to cover — have a set strength in the Power, once they’ve reached their potential, so that should have a rating. Then they also have greater or lesser knacks for the five Elements, which (canonically) divide by gender. After that, you have specific weaves, each one built from one or more Elements; if the channeler isn’t strong enough in a particular Element (or the Power as a whole) to manage the necessary components, he or she can’t create the weave.
I thought briefly about doing it as an Ars Magica hack, replacing the Forms with the Elements: just borrow Auram, Aquam, Ignem, and Terram, toss in Spirit, and chuck the rest. On reflection, though, I think I would use nWoD Mage (whose setting doesn’t interest me, but which I quite like as a generic and adaptable magic system).
You’ve already got Gnosis, which can serve to measure general strength in the Power. I’d probably jack this up to a twenty-point range, to give more gradation and map to the probable scale of saidar strength. Then replace the ten Arcana with the five Elements. To make overall strength meaningful, I’d probably say that a character’s total rating in the Elements cannot exceed her capacity for the Power overall; if that latter rating is ten, then equal strength in each Element would give them all two dots. If you want her to be stronger at, say, Water, you have to drop something else. The gender difference among the Elements, if you want to include it, can be modeled by saying that a woman’s combined aptitude for Earth and Fire cannot exceed her combined aptitude for Air and Water; vice versa for men.
Weaves, then, can be treated like rotes and improvised spells: any given effect is rated at a certain number of dots in each component Element, and if you don’t have high enough ratings in the necessary Elements, tough luck, you can’t do the weave. (Most weaves would likely be conjunctional effects, in this setting.) Toss out the covert vs. vulgar magic distinction. Not sure how I would handle the dice pool for improvised spells — maybe Element + Willpower — making it Element + Power (i.e. Gnosis) would be WAY overkill, given the altered scale for the latter. You want rotes to have the better dice pool, after all, representing the fact that the channeler in question has done that weave often enough to be quite practiced at it. The real hurdle, of course — and this is always true for magic systems adapted from novels — is that you have to decide how to rate every bloody thing the players might choose to do, from creating light to healing a severed target. (See also: why I may never run the Harry Potter game I sort of have in mind.)
For Talents like Foretelling and so on, plus non-channeling stuff like Min’s talent or Perrin’s wolf connection, I would graft the old World of Darkness Merit/Flaw setup onto the general nWoD system. You could adapt “Sphere Aptitude” to give a one-die bonus or some such to a given Element, or something like the nWoD “rote specialties” for particular kinds of weave a channeler might be good at; that way, you can create characters like what’s-her-face among the Kin, the one who punches way above her weight class when it comes to shielding. I would treat the different Ajahs (as well as Wise Ones or Windfinders) as no-cost Merits, probably giving an additional dot to whatever ability the Ajah uses the most: Yellows get Medicine, Browns get Academics, Blues get Politics, Windfinders get Science (meteorology), etc., possibly allowing the ability to be raised up to six. (And yes, I would totally mash the Grays and Whites together as mediator-judges, and replace them with an Ajah of crafters. Whom I would probably call Purple. But I don’t know what ability bonus Reds should get. Misandry?)
Not sure how to handle char-gen/XP, and the buying up of Power and Elements. I suppose it would depend on the game. If you’re running something where the PCs start as novices in the Tower, pick an XP scale that works, and let them buy as they go; presumably the players will all want their characters to be strong channelers, so you don’t have to worry about capping it, though if somebody deliberately wants to play a weak channeler they could have it as a Flaw. If it’s a game about hundred-year-old full sisters, their capacity should probably be maxed out already, so in that case I’d set a basic starting value for the Power (four at a minimum, more if you want them to be badass) and say anything more has to be bought with bonus points at char-gen.
Edited to add: On reflection, I might also add in one or more new skills, to cover certain kinds of effects that don’t really go under the usual skills. Something for connections, maybe, to be used in rolls for linking, shielding, and resisting someone’s attempt to shield you, and possibly to sense the ability to channel in others (this would be where Reds get their bonus); something else for tying off or inverting weaves. Or you could just lump those all together under Occult, but it’s already true in nWoD Mage that every other effect you think up could be done with an Occult roll, so it might be nice to spread stuff out a bit.
That’s what I worked out while dealing with laundry. I’d be curious to hear alternative suggestions, whether tweaks to this basic concept or suggestions for entirely different systems to use as the base. I gravitate to WoD mechanics because I’m so familiar with them, but there’s probably stuff out there that would work as well or better. (And certainly better than d20.)