2007-02-20 : Four Oracles

So I've been struggling with ways to make In a Wicked Age's oracle manageable in a game book. I've also been struggling with ways to give the game a little more focus and sweep, over time. Here's my solution, with which I'm quite pleased:

Four Oracles

When your character tops the owe list, a) you get to choose something to be in this chapter, in addition to your character, same as always, plus b) you get to choose which oracle to consult for the other three elements.

The only crossover between one oracle's domain and another's is a PC.

1. On 2007-02-20, Meguey said:

Yikes, just got this one:

Blood & Sex
9S: The deathbed curse of a betrayed queen.

9H: A wandering exorcist, severe, who accepts no payment for his services but who lusts after carnal congress.

1D: A mysterious star-lit revel on a high bare hilltop.

8S: A simple insult, casually inflicted, striking very, very deep.

Needless to say, I think this solution is great.


2. On 2007-02-20, Piers said:

Interesting.  Do you check each oracle before you choose, or choose and then check the oracle?

You can see the progress of our old-school In a Wicked Age game here, if you are interested:


3. On 2007-02-20, Piers said:

Interesting.  Do you check each oracle before you choose, or choose and then check the oracle?

You can see the progress of our old-school In a Wicked Age game here, if you are interested:


4. On 2007-02-20, Vincent said:

Choose an oracle, then check it.

I mean, of course curiosity will get the better of you and you'll check all four. And I'm not going to come to your house with a board with nails sticking out of one end if you change your mind after you've seen all the possibilities.

I suspect that in most cases the actual rule in play will be: choose an oracle, check it, switch to a different oracle's result only if it's obviously superior to the one you pre-chose. I can live with that.


5. On 2007-02-20, Emily said:

I got:

Blood & Sex
1S: A field of herbs and wild flowers, alive with bees, where a certain half-bestial creature brings his many lovers.

JS: A priestess of a merciful temple of healers, on pilgrimage to the birthplace of her order.

7H: A spirit of the wilds, mercurial in form, sister to gazelles.

Such a picture of Spring. I wanna play!


6. On 2007-02-20, Ben Lehman said:




7. On 2007-02-20, Meguey said:

Awww! Emily gets sweet happy Spring-time (Blood?) & Sex, and I get grievious pain Blood (& Sex);)

I like that the sawm oracle can giv such different results. Hey, Em, did you select 3 results, or did that stick from when I was playing with it?


8. On 2007-02-20, Ben Lehman said:

Oh, so here's the question I forgot as soon as I started typing, and just had to submit:

Do you have to take all three results from one oracle, or can I be like "I want two results from 'blood and sex' and one from 'the nest of vipers?'"



9. On 2007-02-20, Meguey said:

Try this one on for grim:

The Unquiet Past

7S: Instruments of torture, haunted by their long-dead victims.

10S: An ancient stone way marker, indicating an overgrown road.

6D: A youth or maiden, the reincarnation of an ancient sage, remembering uncanny arts but forgetful of safeguards.

2S: A necromancer who steals the knowledge of the dying.

I wanna play that one, too. But Emily's after, to get the chill off.


10. On 2007-02-20, Emily said:

I picked 3. And yeah, it was like the no-Blood Oracle outcome. Made me happy just thinking about playing out such a sweet little scene. : )

I was particularly impresssed with the "A simple insult, casually inflicted, striking very, very deep." from your first one, Meg. "A palpable hit."

Instruments of torture + Necromancer who steals secrets from the dying = BRRRRR.....


11. On 2007-02-20, Vincent said:

Ben: Oh no, no way, you pull THAT crap I'm coming to your house with the naily 2x4.


12. On 2007-02-20, Hans said:

I am embarrased at how long it took me to realize that the "four oracles" link was actually CHANGING the elements every time I clicked it.

I like the idea of separate themed oracles.  The thematic organization seems superior to role-based organization (i.e. event, character, location, etc.)  However, the words "character", "event", etc. could still be useful in the printed version of the oracles, to help people find elements of interest when picking them.

One interesting thing this allows is supplementary oracles published after the main game is published, that just slot in next to the others.

Piers just pointed out to me that these seem to be tied to decks of cards...I'm off to the dollar store to buy some sacrificable card decks and a cheap black marker!  It also means that there are 28 new elements (new list 4*52=208, old list 5*6*6=180).  Are these listed anywhere, or only through the link above?  I ask because the game Piers and I are involved in is not held near a computer.


13. On 2007-02-20, Vincent said:

The Ben plan gives me:

8C: A band of goat herders, armed, outraged by an injustice visited upon their clan.

10C: The marriage of a region's most beautiful girl, necessarily virgin and without blemish, to the dead stone effigy of a harvest god.


QC: The warden ghost of the place, generous to the good-willed.

Which seems plenty good.

Each of the oracles is a cunning mix of elements precisely suited to that oracle and elements evocative but not precisely suited to any. The result is that instead of just plain straight blood and sex, war, the unquite past, or viperage, you get an intrusion.


14. On 2007-02-20, Valamir said:

Help me out here.  While this random generator is clearly as cool as the last random generator...I'm not clear on what the problem was that this is the solution to?

Why just four oracles?  Why these four?  Why no mixing and matching between?


15. On 2007-02-20, Vincent said:

Hans, behind the scenes the oracle went up to 8x6x6=288 elements, for dice, which I then cut down to 208 for cards. Of the 80 I cut, how many of them were from the original oracle, vs how many of them were new? I don't know, I'd have to sit down and do a real comparison.

But here's a current text file if you're interested.

I cut practically all of the magic items, 25 of them or so; I have a not-yet-fully-formed plan for bringing them back into play.


16. On 2007-02-20, Vincent said:

Hey Ralph!

I wouldn't really call them problems, but there where three pressures on the old oracle that made me change it:

1) The big dice table was a pain in the butt. This was a problem for laying out and dealing with on paper, not for any computerized thingies. This table is smaller, plus broken into four even smaller, more manageable pieces.

2) Occasionally the one-big-table would give you a mix of elements that just plain didn't fit together; they couldn't meaningfully interact. These thematically-grouped tables will do that less (probably still occasionally).

3) The whole game was moving toward cards anyway. It made sense to switch to cards for the oracle too.

Four oracles is how many I could conveniently make out of the elements I'd already written. Maybe I could've made a fifth; four was more convenient.

THESE four oracles because these four themes already existed in the big oracle. I just had to spot them and pull them apart.

And why no crossover? That's an important question about my design, actually. "So I rolled four things, do we like them? Should I roll more? Do we vote? Should we mix and match? I like these two but not this one, let's swap that for this-" is a dynamic that I DON'T want for the game, especially at the beginning of play.


17. On 2007-02-20, Piers said:

So the plan is that elements from one oracle only intrude on another a) when a player chooses to bring in a character from the we owe list which originated from a different oracle, b) when the player chooses an element from one oracle and consults another?


18. On 2007-02-20, Anders said:

Cards, huh? Cool.

Wanna tell us more about it?

You seem to have made a lot of important decisions on improving the game. I really like the division of elements into the four themes and your reasons for it.

I'm so excited about this that I can barely type by the way.


19. On 2007-02-20, Hans said:

Thanks for the text file, it is very helpful.

And you kept my two favorite "items" (cask of honey for the bandit queen, and head of the war-captain in a box) so I'm happy.


20. On 2007-02-20, Troy_Costisick said:


I'm a little lost.  Is Four Oracles what used to be called Art, Guts, and Glory?




21. On 2007-02-20, Hans said:

Oh, and on the other elements, how about a "mcguffin" deck, full of different items, magical or otherwise, out of the 72 elements you didn't include.  Obviously it would need a different, more thematic name.  Allow a single draw from this deck instead of one of the other theme decks if the WeOwe person so chooses, to add a mcguffin into the story.

Maybe "Curios, Trinkets, and Sundry Oddities"?


22. On 2007-02-20, Vincent said:

In a Wicked Age is what used to be called Art, Grace & Guts. It used to have one big oracle, now it has four.


23. On 2007-02-20, Vincent said:

Hans, that very closely matches my not-yet-fully-formed plan.


24. On 2007-02-20, Brand Robins said:


Is there a link to any current version of IAWA?


25. On 2007-02-20, Vincent said:

Nope! Soon.


26. On 2007-02-20, Valamir said:

Thanks V-  All caught up now.

Totally with you on the crossover dynamic.  A creative constraint that ain't a contraint...often ain't very creative either.

When you say at the top that you get to choose something to be in the chapter in addition to your character, I'm assuming that primarily means the McGuffin like Deck of Many Things noted above...could it also mean choosing an oracle element...or making up your own "oracle element"



27. On 2007-02-20, Vincent said:

Ralph, yes, any of the three. You can also specifically name someone else's player character.


28. On 2007-02-20, Meguey said:

I'm particularly fond of the "name someone else's player character" option. Lots of room there for cool looping stories and back stories.


29. On 2007-02-21, PeterD said:

Vincent, just so you know: there's a small (but increasing in number all the time) group of people here in Denmark playing "the old" version of IAWA and enthusiastically cheering you on. Some of my best and most memorable roleplaying has been IAWA.
Man, cannot wait!

Cards? How are you envisioning the physical game right now? Book and cards?


30. On 2007-02-21, Vincent said:

Peter, cool!

The game'll be just a book. It'll call for a regular deck of cards instead of dice.


31. On 2007-02-21, Christoph said:

This is teh cool, Vincent!

If you're tinkering with a fifth oracle, how about switching to tarot cards?

There are the four classical colours (with an added court card) plus the 21 trumps plus the Joker.

And, if you're going the oracle way, might as well tap into the esoteric connotations, right?


32. On 2007-02-22, Ludanto said:

I don't know if I'll ever get anybody to play it, but I'm totally going to buy this game when it's available. :)


33. On 2007-03-05, Hans said:

One thing I noticed, Vincent, is that some of the newer items are not as punchy or concise as the older ones.  An example:

Old element - A hermit priestess, practicing obscure deprivations.

New element - A tempter devil, fond of luxury and sin, respecter of no law and every appetite, imprisoned until this very hour and minute within a stone crypt behind an old monk's garden.

I'm not sure if all the extra words in the second element really add that much.  Why a stone crypt?  Why an old monk's garden?  Wouldn't the following be just as good?

Suggested element - A recently awakened tempter devil, fond of luxury and sin.

Personally, one of the things I love about the oracle elements is their brevity; a quick evocative sentence that the players can take and run with.

Is this a conscious change on your part, to add more details?


34. On 2007-03-05, Vincent said:

I wanted to vary the lengths, and I wanted to imply more characters and more setting.

You're right that the "respecter of no law and every appetite" and the "until this very hour and minute" clause don't add content. I like how they sound.


35. On 2007-03-05, Hans said:

No worries.  This is an aesthetic thing, and since you are the author, its your aesthetic thing not mine.  "I like how they sound" sounds good to me.


36. On 2007-03-18, PeterD said:

Man, someone should make this into a program for cell phone and ipod to make the game even more portable...


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