The final day of Con on the Cob began with WEGS, The Wickedly Errant Game System. In terms of game philosophy, ((What did I just say? “Game philosophy”? Sweet Gygax, what the hell is wrong with me?)) this game was about as far removed from the previous night’s Marvel SAGA game as it’s possible to get. Whereas “The Quiet Room” was all about character development and letting the players create the story, “WEGS 101: Old Skool” was…well, old school; all mechanics and very little roleplaying. ((Very very little. As in none.))
Character generation in WEGS takes all of ten minutes: roll your stats, select a race and class, calculate your derived stats and that’s it; you’re done. The character sheet is single-sided and there’s no equipment to buy; if you’re a warrior, you’ve got a melee weapon, if you’re a ranger you’ve got a ranged weapon and so on.
After my character sheet was filled out, I selected a miniature figure (there was nothing appropriate to my elven ranger, so I selected what appeared to be a large gnoll with a bow). “Okay,” said Larry Wickman, creator of WEGS, “This is the castle, and the monsters will be coming through this door.”
“What’s my motivation?” I asked.
Wickman grinned. “This is the castle,” he said, “and the monsters will be coming through this door.”
The game started as a single-player demo, but by the time I was ready to place my figure on the map I had been joined by three others: a mage, a warrior and a sage. The first two were played by experienced “Wegshogs”, the last by another newbie.
From the first round, I found myself harassed by a ranger in the castle’s eastern tower (assuming we were assaulting from the south), and we traded shots back and forth for much of the game until I was able to put him down and turn my bow toward the array of baddies that had poured out of the castle gate.
WEGS combines a percentile-based challenge system with “spoints” that can be used to boost the odds of success. This adds a distinct game-of-chance (read: gambling) flavor to the game, which Wickman enhanced by moderating with a style that was part old school game master and part Las Vegas craps dealer. As each player’s turn to act came around, Larry rattled off a rapid-fire stream of options, odds and percentages, cajoling players to use their poker chip “spoints” to turn that 63% chance of success to 73%, 83%, 93% or even 103%. ((Technically, even spending points to boost a stat to 103% doesn’t guarantee success, as there’s always a 4% chance for any action to fail, just as there’s always at 3% chance that an action will succeed, regardless of how impossible the odds may appear; Wickman doesn’t believe in automatic failure or success.))
Once we found our groove, the gameplay was quick and brutal. Heroes and monsters exchanged blows (or spells, or arrows) back and forth in rapid succession, but soon we found ourselves up to our eyeballs in teeth and claws. At the beginning of the game (when it looked as though I’d be the only player) Larry had asked me whether I’d like to play Mild, Medium or Nasty. An hour later I discovered that Nasty does, indeed, live up to its name. Heroes are very tough to kill in WEGS, but these monsters were out to demonstrate that “tough to kill” and “impossible to kill” are two very different things. Our elf warrior was on the brink of death, burning Phew! points to stay in the game, ((This stat allows a character who has lost all of his or her wound points to narrowly escape death. Phew!)) our mage had seen the ugly end of a Hill Giant’s club and had only two wound points remaining between her and a pine box, and our ranger could probably have hired himself out as a professional pincushion. Even our wily little gnobbit sage had taken a few hits. Things looked pretty grim.
But we were heroes, and we had a few cards up our sleeves. Or at the very least in our hands. WEGS gives each “Arktype” an optional set of skill cards that allow special feats like “Blitz” and “Snap Shot”. Playing these cards could do anything from lower an opponent’s Invulnerability to raising a hero’s Ruggedness, and in the end it was those modifiers that saved our collective bacon, along with some clever spellcasting and a sage who was very generous with his spoints. ((The sage class is similar to the classic cleric archetype. He’s not exactly a healer, but he’s at his best when he’s supporting other characters, whether it be donating from his pool of spoints or providing mystical buffs.))
It was a close contest, but in the end the monsters just couldn’t wring that last bit of life from the heroes. The game, which was essentially a single combat encounter, had lasted nearly two hours. That’s two hours of dice-rolling, number-crunching, hack and slash fun. Just the sort of thing to provide a counterpoint to the four and a half hour story game from the night before.
WEGS isn’t going to win any accolades from the story gaming crowd, but it’s not meant to; it is an unapologetic return to the early days of pen and paper adventures, when the “role” in “role-playing game” was often spelled R-O-L-L.