Take a Walk on Wyrd Street

Recently I discovered an absolutely amazing online tool for making fantasy maps called Inkarnate. I was so impressed by the free version I paid for a year of subscription the very first night. I’ve always loved drawing fantasy maps, but I lack the artistic talent to do them with any quality. Inkarnate lets even someone like me make fantastic looking maps.

A map of Wyrd Street, the titular setting of my upcoming tabletop role-playing game. Map created via Inkarnate.I swear they aren’t paying me to promote them. I just really, really love this tool.

One of the first maps I made was a map of Wyrd Street, the titular setting of the table-top RPG I’ve been designing for about a year now.

I’ve mentioned Wyrd Street in passing before, but it occurs to me I’ve never really taken the time to go into any depth. Now seems as good a time as any.

It’s still a work in progress — it’s more or less “feature complete” in terms of races, classes, and core systems, but it still needs a lot more content — so I don’t want to say too much about it right now, but I can give a general overview.

My two favourite ways to describe Wyrd Street in a nutshell are “if that bit at the start of Dragon Age 2 where Hawke iss a nobody just trying to feed their family was the whole game” or “if the song What It’s Like by Everlast was a fantasy RPG.”

Or if you want the long version, here’s the blurb I have at the start of the core rulebook:

The world moves toward war. The armies of the Seven Holy Kingdoms of Tiahn move south, subjugating all in their path in the name of their divine law. Xandria and the Rusty Peaks have already fallen, and now the Holy Kingdoms turn their attention to the Free Holds. On both sides, legendary heroes rise to determine the fate of the world.

You are not one of them.

In the slums of Morhold, refugees from the war mingle with the city’s own poor. Here, a small haven has been carved out among the desperation and the gangs. Here, all outcasts and rejects have a home.

In this place walks a different class of hero. Brawlers and Scoundrels, Drifters and Fortune Tellers, Quacks and Street Preachers, Dreamers and Heretics. No songs will be sung of them, but it is they who bring hope to the hopeless, who defend the innocent from those who would exploit them. Not everyone can save the world, but anyone can save someone’s world.

This is Wyrd Street. This is your home, and you will do anything to protect it.

It’s a game of (relatively) ordinary people doing their best to protect those close to them. While the option to create your own characters exist, the game is built around the idea of playing pre-made “Iconic” characters who have close ties to each other and the world around them. You’re not fighting to save the world; you’re fighting to feed and protect the people you love.

Mechanically, it’s a fairly standard D20 system, but with some tweaks. I wanted to fix some of the things that frustrate me when I play Dungeons and Dragons.

For example, in D&D, I don’t like the wild disparity between classes when it comes to decision-making during combat and the action economy.

Personally I can’t play a D&D character without spell slots. I like making choices between casting a spell or not, and if so which spell. As a more physical character, you just attack nine times out of ten.

In Wyrd Street, every class uses focus, a resource analogous to spell slots, to activate their most powerful abilities. Class identity is established by how each class interacts with focus.

For example, Fortune Tellers and Scoundrels have very low maximum focus pools, but they have multiple ways to quickly regain focus, so they’re encouraged to spend it almost as fast as they earn it. Meanwhile, a Street Preacher has a larger maximum focus pool but doesn’t get focus back as quickly, so while they can use a lot of focus-spenders, they have to be a little more strategic about it. And a Brawler has a low focus pool and low regeneration, but they have access to a lot of powerful passive bonuses, so they don’t necessarily need focus to be a terror.

The unbalanced action economy is also something I find frustrating in 5E D&D. A monk will use a bonus action almost every turn, but paladins almost never have any use for their bonus actions.

To address this, in Wyrd Street the concept of bonus actions has been eliminated entirely in favour of simply giving every character two actions per turn by default.

Other features of Wyrd Street include a unified system of buffs and debuffs for greater clarity and eschewing traditional subclasses in favour of giving every class a choice of multiple new abilities at each level. You can still build towards certain specialties — a Drifter can focus heavily on their pets, or split their abilities between improving themselves and their pets, or not use pets at all — but it’s more flexible.

The exceptions are Quacks and Vigilantes. Uniquely, those classes each have a choice of two distinct subclasses that define their playstyle from level one. Quacks can specialize as an Anatomist (a melee burst damage build) or a Chemist (a ranged support build), whereas Vigilantes may gain some support abilities by choosing the Pursuit of Justice and wielding the Beacon of Hope, or maximize their damage and terrorize the wicked with the Brand of Hatred by choosing the Pursuit of Vengeance.

Even racial abilities are based on choice. Everyone can choose one of three abilities unique to their race once they hit level three.

There are other unique features too — like missed attacks being converted to more of a glance system so turns are never fully wasted — but I think that covers the broad strokes.

But at the end of the day, Wyrd Street is about the stories and the people more than the mechanics. It’s about outcasts doing their best in a hard world.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with another excerpt from the core rulebook:

Wyrd Street is different from other popular table-top RPGs in that the focus is less on grand heroics or world-changing events and more on intimate stories of ordinary people doing their best to protect their homes and the people they love. The heart of the game is found in the bonds between characters and the intricate details of the setting.

An effort has been made to make the cast of Wyrd Street as inclusive as possible in the hopes that anyone can feel represented within this world. If there is one rule in Wyrd Street that trumps all others, it is this: Anyone can be a hero.

Still Alive

I apologize for not posting more often the last few weeks (I seem to say that a lot lately). I’ve been struggling a lot with motivation these days.

The extravagant combat of Nier: Automata.Partly it’s that my new D&D writing gig has taken a lot out of me. It’s probably a bigger workload than I’ve ever dealt with in my life up to this point. Given my disability, that’s not saying as much as it might, but still. I’ve had very little energy left for any other forms of writing, and most of what is left over goes to maintaining my column at Massively Overpowered.

The other factor is of course the pandemic.

On the one hand this hasn’t really changed that much for me. I already work from home and don’t go out that much. Really everyone else has now been forced to live their lives how I’ve lived most of my life.

But then of course that was something I wanted to change. I’ve been working very hard the last few years to go out, experience new things, and form social connections outside of the virtual realm, and now thanks to the plague all those doors are closed to me, and I’m back where I started, at least for the time being. It’s demoralizing.

The monotony of every day being the same is starting to get to me, and that is also really killing my motivation for a lot of things, including blogging.

But I don’t want my blog to die altogether, so let’s try to throw together an update.

Playing Dungeons and Dragons via Roll20.My D&D group is still going, albeit online. We’re using Roll20. It’s bad. I won’t sugar-coat it. Roll20 is bad. Like I want to respect it for having so many features, and we are managing games with it, but it’s so clunky and buggy.

Wanting something comforting and unchallenging, I’ve been binge rewatching Star Trek: Voyager lately. I’m not watching every episode; just the ones that jump out at me, which is roughly half of them, I’d say.

I’ll stand by what I’ve said in the past: It’s not great, but it’s not half as bad as people make it out to be. I think the worst criticism you could make of it is that it could have been so much better. It’s a show rife with missed opportunities, underdeveloped characters, and failures to live up to the potential of its premise, but if you just take it for what it is, it’s decent.

Season two was probably the best. At that point they’d gotten over the opening jitters but hadn’t yet completely betrayed the premise of being lost and struggling for survival in a harsh frontier. After that it was slowly downhill. The show lost a lot of heart when Kes left.

As far as video games, my favourite new discovery in recent months — as you might have seen from my MOP column — is Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem.

Much to my own surprise I’ve continued playing for quite a while after finishing the storyline, just grinding dungeons. I love the combat and the build system so much. The nigh-limitless build options really remind me of old school TSW, and I’m having so much fun theorycrafting. I’ve started a new character, a necromancer based on elemental damage, and I love it. I just sit back freezing enemies and setting them on fire while my zombies distract them.

I also finally got around to finally playing Nier: Automata. It’s one of those games that I liked, but I don’t get what the fuss was about. It’s more good than bad, but nothing about it strikes me as exceptionally memorable.

My biggest complaint was the side quests. I think Nier: Automata wins the award for the absolute worst side quests I’ve ever seen in a video game. None have interesting or memorable stories, most involve long tedious travel times, and many throw you against enemies that vastly out-level you, leading to crushingly long and boring fights.

I will say that I only played through it once, and I do understand that the story changes on subsequent playthroughs, so I may not be getting the full Nier: Automata experience. I’m still considering doing the extra playthroughs at some point — a friend assures me I won’t have to repeat the side quests, which makes the idea a bit more appealing — but I was pretty happy with the original ending, and I somewhat resent needing multiple playthroughs to see the whole story, so we’ll see.

In Star Trek Online, I’ve now finished the Iconian War arc, and I’m thinking I may take a break there, as it seems like a good place to pause at, and I’m starting to feel some burnout. Mostly I was happy with how the Iconian plot wrapped up. The ending nailed that morality play feel good Star Trek should have.

A scene from horror game We Happy Few.Finally, I’ve just started on We Happy Few. It’s a game I’ve been wanting for ages, but I wanted to wait for a sale in case I didn’t end up enjoying it (gods, I miss demos). I’m only a few hours in, so I’m still making up my mind.

So far I love the story, the world-building, the artwork, and the music. The downside is it is very stealth-heavy, and I’m terrible at stealth games. I had to start the game over on a lower difficulty because I was struggling too much. Thankfully I wasn’t that far in, so I haven’t had to repeat much, and so far the lower difficulty seems to be working out better.

So that’s the basics on where I’m at. Let’s hope we’re all out of this virus nightmare sooner rather than later.