Open to Close Reviews: A Trip Through the Slipstream Adventure of Wayfarer


UPDATED 11/2014: See “Character Creation”, just after the old, striked text.

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Product: Wayfarer: Things Beyond Wonder
Publisher and Author: Ill Gotten Games and Arian “Dutchmogul” Croft.
Availability: Paperback is available for purchase online for $25 through Lulu.

Physical/Digital Quality
Product Quality
As I received both the physical and digital copy of Wayfarer through the original, succesful Kickstarter project, I was delighted to hold it in my hands just a few months after I had previously featured it, safely delived to me via media mail in a bubble envelope. The physical book is roughly the same size as your average role playing text, it stacks nicely beside my numerous Rifts books, and is composed of high quality paper and a tough paperback cover. The cover itself is in nearly pristine condition, the only error being that the barcode is very blurred and probably unusable (a printing error, it seems), and is very stark and set apart with its mostly black background. The text is clean and not smudged, no errors which I have found, and with very clear images, even in its black and white print. Oftentimes when I buy a new book, especially an RPG, it smells a bit like a newspaper for the sheer amount of ink pressed within, however, Wayfarer delightfully has none of that almost plastic odor.

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As for the digital copy, it is a straight forward .pdf file, easily and quickly downloaded, with the full contents of the book represented by clean, easy to read text and images, even on mobile. The only things which could have made the digital version better are if there were preset bookmarks for easy navigation, the ability to copy and paste text for even easier character creation, and a digitally fillable character sheet. As it is, I’m doing just fine without said amenities and the quality of both editions are very satisfying.

Layout/Organization
Set in a crisp, two-column style, the sections are clearly differentiated, the typeface is clean and easy to read, all of the tables are obviously marked and easy to navigate, and the headers fit well and provide an appealing contrast to the text. There is also a very well indexed glossary, which outlines just about everything in both an alphabetical and categorical fasion, making for quick finding of various skills, specific weaponry, or any other qualities of gameplay. In fact, this is one of the most comprehensive glossaries I’ve seen in an RPG in a long time, as IGG has taken the care and effort to outline what seems to be every item in the book!

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Artwork
Entertaining, easy on the eyes, and professional; the artwork is what first drew my interest to this game. Fitting very easily in the layout, none of the images are too cramped to see details properly, and most of the composition matter is befitting the text. The artwork itself varies in style and content greatly, and while there are very busy and starkly constrasting pieces, they are shaded and placed in a way that does not detract or distract from the text, either; the works lend to the setting.

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On the whole, much of the artwork represents the world of Wayfarer and the various races or industries of space travel and otherworld population, adding more to the widening scope of the Slipstream for the player. While there are some combat scenes, there is a great variety of other types of images, which reassured me that this was not another “hack n’ slash” adventure and had greater potential for unique character and world development.

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Content
Rules
Operating on a new storytelling system for role playing and combat alike, as Arian Croft eloquently puts it,

Wayfarer is powered by the Continuum Narrative Engine, the ultimate experience in RPG realism. Using real world physics in its core engine to create a complete adventure in whatever genre the players imagine, all things (no matter how fantastic) may be strictly defined. With each dice roll, the element of chance is combined with advanced characterization to make sure that even the most fanciful stories will have a realistic outcome. With random character generation tables available, as well as the ability to customize your character from the ground up, Continuum offers a unparalleled level of creative options. Your role playing sessions will unfold like a story, not a game: a collaborative, interactive experience in which your imagination can flourish. This isn’t a game for casual gamers. This is THE game for gamers who want to feel like they’re participating in an excellent movie or novel each time they play.

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The rules themselves are very clearly defined and well worded, easy to understand and to locate either via flipping through or by using the index. Some rules are placed in applicable sections, such as alternatives to an attack (tripping or pushing instead of punching, etc.) being located in the melee combat skill descriptions, but the basic rundown for combat, travel, interactions, and more are all found in the “Playing Wayfarer” section.

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The concepts are fairly easy to grasp and the mechanics are simple enough; as a player, the best way to learn is by making a character and then jumping in, but mastering the rules and such should come fairly quickly – especially since gameplay only requires the consistent use of one D10. Because of the layout of the book and the rules, I’d wager that DMs may have a bit more to chew as far as the mechanics and variations go, but it should be mastered easily and within a session or two.

Character Creation
You start by picking your race, selecting an occupation such as a Mage or Engineer (these function as classes, and you can even make your own with the DM’s help), assigning attributes like Power and Creativity, picking personal traits (long memory, light sleeper, natural armour, etc.) and personality, choosing skills and specialties, receiving bonus experience to further increase attributes or skill levels (this is done through a point-buy system), and then gearing up. All of this is streamlined throughout the text, each section clearly outlined with descriptions, rules, notes, and tables.

Creating a character can be as complex or as simple as you wish; you can pick and choose the different aspects of your PC, leave it to chance and roll everything randomly, point-buy, or any combination of the three. Skill selection and gear distribution are possibly the most time consuming aspects, but that is simply because there are so many options to choose from. On average, it seems to take experienced players 15-25 minutes to write up a character, even less time if they randomize the selections, and new players take perhaps 40-60 minutes (depending upon how much they’ve looked through the rules.) In the future, I hope to do a short piece (maybe even a Toon Tuesday character post) detailing the full creation process and my resulting character.

I found the character creation process to be incredibly streamlined, and was surprised by how entertaining it really was! The races have very interesting variations, and the traits and tricks really add to that. I created Rodo the Small, a Badger Pookah Warrior in little more than a half hour and quickly grew attached to the character concept. Selecting skills, spending experience on tricks (which are much like Feats) that were relevant to his size and combat skill, and conjuring a backstory for a race and homeworld that is vaguely described was great fun. I will likely make more characters in the near future.

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There are thirteen races to choose from including humans, all of varied form; many are humanoid, but some are not. Each race comes equipped with its own table of qualities, perks, and disadvantages, as well as a brief description of the race itself, a little background, and some general ‘Verser’ knowledge for adventuring as one. While there are not sourcebooks filled with different races, Wayfarer provides enough variety between the races to satisfy most role players and bring a fresh play style to the table for each different race, as well as outlining some basic background and statistics of their homeworlds in a later section. Players may also choose to generate their own race using the alien creation rules, or to play the optional Undead or Robot races. This is, of course, subject to DM approval and can be overpowered, but also provides a challenging aspect to role playing for the more experienced player.

There are ten core classes provided, covering most of the basic character archetypes as well as a bit of wiggle room depending upon the setting and time line of the game (this, too, can be completely randomized.) From Outlaw to Soldier, or Trader to Mage and more, the basic occupations are well covered. Throughout the text there are sprinkled optional, sometimes whimsical classes which, while they may be harder to play or less conventional, are equally interesting and entertaining to utilize. And, as is encouraged in this game, you can create your own using the rules provided and some help from the DM.

Completely randomized character creation is also an option for those who aren’t sure what to make, or just want a possibly wacky combination! This is done by rolling dice and determining the results via tables provided in each section of the book as you go along (very well organized, indeed), and I’ve been assured by the creators that this has resulted in some very memorable, if a bit complicated, characters and sessions.

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As for equipment, there is a vast wealth of weapons, armour, clothing, and general gear available for characters, all conveniently organized and with plenty of very nice weapon concept illustrations to help fuel your bullet or LASER onslaughts. I was actually very impressed with how much was packed into the equipment section, without cutting down on the stats or descriptions too prematurely. You can also find magic items or cybernetics (and rules for their installation.) The level of tech and magic used or required can vary in campaign type as well as between individual worlds, but the text provides more than enough weaponry and gear to provide for nearly any situation (and rules for homebrew creations, if necessary.)

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Magic is a “take it or leave it” subject; there are a couple of races that innately know of the arcane arts, and others who have no abilities at all. Likewise, especially in world generation, there are many places and peoples that do not support or recognize magic. As to the power of spellcasting itself, the more powerful spells have a much higher DV (Difficulty Value) to successfully be used, and the different schools of magic each have different spell lists. While magic is to be taken seriously, especially in combat, it is just as common/uncommon and powerful as technology or other fighting methods.

Any race has its advantages and disadvantages, but these seem to equal each other out through the creation process. Using your awarded bonus experience, you could theoretically end up with a character that is both very smart and strong, for example, but this would typically result in a vast difference between endurance and agility. Min-maxing and power gaming seems to be difficult using these creation rules, but not impossible. After all, if the player wants to pick their qualities they could neglect to pick any negative traits and only the best positive ones; though most DMs are unlikely to allow such a thing unless the whole party got the okay (and then watch out for the opposition, ouch!)

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Being a new game which any player would be freshly introduced to, the level of DM involvement required is moderate to heavy, but only at first. The text itself is simple enough that a player could take it home, read it, and then fully comprehend what they were doing at the table the next day. After the initial, lengthy process of introducing a player to a new game (which stands for any RPG, really), DM involvement becomes almost minimal, with perhaps some simple corrections to characters and rule functions, as well as normal DM activities like picking out accents for the NPCs. Much of what makes Wayfarer so fun and interesting is that it plays more naturally as a story than a game, involving the players just as much as the master.

The character sheet (both sides featured immediately below) is everything I want for marking down stats, equipment, and the like; the areas are defined, functional, spacious, and the whole piece is pleasant to look at overall. I love the included silhouette that is numbered to indicate striking zones on humanoid adventurers, and the typeface fits with the theme and text without being too busy or too hard on the ink cartridges.

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Dungeon Master Resources
DMs are treated to a wealth of information of the Multiverses and their inhabitants and adventurers, and as the primary narrators of these stories, are given may tables and optional rules to help them flesh out the background and settings.

For alien/monster creation, there is an entire five page section detailing how to assign attributes, different physical qualities, different adaptations, and more to these creatures to challenge your players and build your world. Speaking of, to create brand new and uncharted worlds, there is a two page section with tables to assist in outlining travel, stability, the presence of magic nd technology, how time moves, the environment, and its inhabitants.

There are two different maps presented of ship layouts, the rooms are listed by number with their contents to aid DMs and supplement a session. These accompany full adventures for DMs and are even further fleshed out by pre generated NPCs (with illustrations, even!) Looking over these adventures and maps, they seem very fun and easy to play, I personally can’t wait to try them out.

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However, as I have not had the pleasure of playtesting it myself yet, Mr. Croft had this to say in regards to us put upon DMs,

Wayfarer is definitely up there when it comes to complexity and needs a good bit of prep. As a ‘Narrative Engine’, the system is richly detailed, allowing for honest, realistic resolution to any choice or situation. Once you know the system well, as a GM, it’s much easier to improvise on the fly, and Wayfarer campaigns are best when players are allowed to go off the rails, in our own experience. Additionally, there are a number of tables for creating content procedurally that will make storytelling interesting for the GM as well as the players.

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Creativity/Originality
While much of the content (and the included adventures) are science fiction in setting, the world creation rule for DMs offers anything from medieval fantasy, to deep space politics and anywhere else in between. There are a great number of items, races, and classes that are applicable to any setting or genre, and with a little bit of ad-hoc from the DM, anything is possible.

The cultural rules for the various races and worlds presented are not set in stone, in fact, DMs and PCs are encouraged to explore and do their own world building, adding skills, items, abilities, and other applicable qualities as needed to suit their own story.

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As a science fiction fan, I’ve seen and read many different takes on space travel, post apocalypse, alternate universe type tabletop games. Wayfarer does an excellent job in laying the groundwork for a favorite theme with rule sets, randomization options, and creative takes of classic archetypes, but leaves the universe and setting open enough that it exhibits a great deal of potential to really shine. At first glance, it may seem like just another space-y RPG, but there is a lot of gold hidden underneath that dusty genre, especially since the rules and much of the content is not strictly “sci-fi only” in use.

One of my favorite things about gaming is always the ability to play what you want and how you want. You can be almost anything and do almost anything, and that’s how I pitch tabletop gaming to potential players. Wayferer is no different in this regard, and with the various systems and options for character creation, each PC is incredibly unique and gives the players the promised power of playing what they want.

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Playtest
Level of Fun/Replayability
The game itself, as stated before, is more like a set of tools and some groundwork to build your own stories and worlds. Therefore, it is much like many other RPGs, campaigns and sessions are varied in length and intensity, and you get the same amount back that the PCs and DM put into it. A campaign could sprawl on for years, be a over and done with in a night, and be either open or close ended depending upon the actions and efforts of the party. Frankly, it’s your story!

To have the most fun playing Wayfarer, Mr. Croft had this to say,

[…] imagine that you’re about to participate in a deep, immersive piece of fiction. Your character is your avatar within this story, and by crafting that character with the traits you choose, you can watch your decisions shape the events. Because Wayfarer is in the ‘anything goes’ Slipstream genre, really diverse concepts can meld to make something uniquely fantastic.

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And he’s not wrong! There is a running series of audio recordings called The Lost Agency Archives in which those at IGG and Mr. Croft give us a lengthy dose of actual gameplay; which really enforces the idea that this game is meant to be more like a story that you write with your friends than a game.

It can be fun, hilarious, completely random, serious and sobering, frightening or gory, and anything in between. But one thing is for sure, it is immersive, unique, and very interesting.

Representation
This is an increasingly popular topic with RPGs so it must be noted.
The representation of different genders, sexuality, and persons of color have been an increasingly hot topic of late among role players. I agree that it is an important topic, and needs to be discussed more.

Wayfarer makes no mention of sexuality, though it is not completely absent, either. In the Wordplay skills section, “Romance” (pictured below) is made plainly indistinguishable of sex or gender (in fact, most of the text is free of gendered broad statements), enabling the player to play how they feel most comfortable. Gender differences in race descriptions are also not a prominent feature, and are quite open to interpretation by the DM or players.

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When looking through the art and descriptions, I noticed that at least half of the pictured beings had no presented gender, whether due to clothing or racial appearance or being a genderless character. While there are a large number of clearly male humanoids, there are a fair number of female figures, as well, and many of them are pictured as doing non stereotypical jobs or filing unconventional roles for their perceived gender (to note a couple of great ones; a female Neanderthal character performing complex mathematics, a womanly wrestler in full, non-sexualized spandex, and several other intellectuals or athletes.) And as for persons of color, while there were only a few examples scattered between the various alien races, they did have prominent placement (such as the Black man on the cover, a hero character called Henry Cobb, who is featured several times throughout the text) and were not rendered in a fashion that would make them seem primative or savage nor as background scenery, rather, they were obviously intelligent, dynamic, sophisticated, and influential.

The color and gender representation could be much better (an estimated 25-35% female gender representation not counting alien species, and perhaps 15-25% for ethnic diversity through all images), but was handled with great care where applicable, and as noted earlier, there was little, if any, sexualization or racial profiling.

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Creators/Marketing
Company and Authors
Ill Gotten Games has produced a game called Pocket Tactics in the past; a tile-based game in which fantastical forces are caught in a power struggle over the world. And the whole thing is tiny enough to fit in a small bag and last 20-40 minutes. The designs for Pocket Tactics are also available for free to the 3-D printing community (see link in Extra Bits and Bobs) which Dutchmogul is a proud member of; he posts many free models for players with 3-D printers of their own so they can use them with their games – including Wayfarer!

Mr. Croft and IGG have been very close with their fans and backers, taking the time to personally address any questions and comments during their KS and also now that they’ve been published. I’ve had email correspondence which has been fast, friendly, and very encouraging as to their level of dedication to their products and players.

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IGG is currently Kickstarting another RPG title, Drakendar, which is described as a “classic sword and sorcery adventure [with] cutting edge RPG rules.” They are utilizing many of the same artists on this project as well as the low price of $20 for a softcover copy of the book. Given the quality of Wayfarer, I sincerely hope they recieve the funding for this venture, as well, and not just so I can review it.

Artists
Of the many artists used, all have their own distinct styles which fit in perfectly alongside the text. All of the employed illustrators add their own personal flair; among them are well known artists such as Austen Zaleski, Ingmar Endmund Freske, Gustavo Cosio, and Cameron M. Croft. This review exhibits only a small fraction of their total contributed pieces, and the whimsical nature of the game is very well placed in the hands of such professionals.

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Cost and Availability
At a stunningly low cost for a full RPG, you can find it in print easily at Lulu to the tune of only $25.00 (plus shipping and handling). For those of you who prefer digital copies, soon you will be able to purchase a .pdf from IGG’s Etsy and possibly from other online stores.

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Extra Bits and Bobs
There are some fun additions that come in the form of specialized classes, facts about the worlds and travel between them, short stories to set the scene, and even some brief descriptions of popular music, games, religion, professions, and other cultural things.

Mr. Croft has attended several conventions and even represented IGG at the PAX East convention and was involved in the “From Playtest to 3-D Printing” panel (video coverage linked), as IGG is one of many more successful gaming companies which is hinged in 3-D printing. You can still purchase their printed miniatures through their Etsy Storefront, including custom orders, or even download and print the designs yourself through Thingiverse (should you have access to a 3-D printer, you lucky ruffian, you.)

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Final Verdict
This is a wonderful game and is well worth the space on my shelf. I initially fell in love with the artwork and the narrative engine, and since reading through the text must applaud many of the design and mechanical decisions which were made. It’s still cost efficient, filled with mounds of inspiration and helpful tables, and seems to be a very fun game to play. My tardiness in the writing and posting of this review is not indicative of the quality of Wayfarer, sometimes life just gets in the way of your bigger projects, and rest assured that my excitement for this system is no less diminished since I originally opened its packaging.

Go give The Lost Agency Archives audio recordings a listen, also check out the initial KS project for some more basic information. Give it a chance to impress you, and then go out and buy it .

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Happy Gaming,
TheDungeonRat

Any image or information provided pertaining to Wayfarer is the sole property of Arian “Dutchmogul” Croft, Ill Gotten Games, and any artists therein. I claim no ownership of content and am using any images or referenced texts with written permissions. 

3 responses to “Open to Close Reviews: A Trip Through the Slipstream Adventure of Wayfarer

  1. Pingback: RPG a Day 2016: Days 10-23 | Save Vs. Character Death

  2. Pingback: Toon Tuesday: Rodo the Small, a Badger-Pookah Warrior (Wayfarer: TBW) | Save Vs. Character Death

  3. Pingback: Toon Tuesday: Sherman the Scilinoid Soldier (Wayfarer: TBW) | Save Vs. Character Death

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