Publisher: John Wick Presents
Cost: $5 (PDF)/$15 (Physical)
Page Count: 101
Release Date: 06/27/2014
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
Wield is one of those Kickstarter successes that just takes you by surprise. Looking for only three thousand dollars, Wield brought in nearly 1,100 backers and raised over twenty-seven grand! Not bad for a little game that could be yours for as low as five dollars. I know I was a backer. I mean, at worst I would be out five dollars and I’ve been looking for a game similar to Bloodlust, except in English. Hey, I may speak/read/write French, but very few of my friends do, and Bloodlust is only in francais. Wield definitely felts inspired by Bloodlust in terms of the core theme, but it differs greatly in both mechanics and demographics. Bloodlust for example is very dark and filled with mature themes while Wield can be for any age as it’s extremely setting-lite. Mechanics-wise…well, I can’t say I cared for Wield, and we’ll take look why below.
So what is Wield about? Well think of Elric and Stormbringer, Cyric and Godsbane, and other fantasy character wielding an intelligent magical weapon. Wield takes you into such a world, but instead of playing the hero who wields the magical blade or powerful mystic amulet, you will actually be playing as the self-aware item itself! That’s such a fun concept. The item can be anything from the usual weapon or armor to something more outlandish like a musical instrument, coin, or pet carrier. The only limit is your imagination.
There are comprehensive and detailed character creation rules for your item, known as a vatcha. Like any protagonists in a tabletop RPG, the vatcha have a goal to accomplish and will go through several thrilling adventures until they meet it or are destroyed. Character creation rules are easy as you choose an item you want to be, a goal to have and a way that your ancient artifact can be destroyed. Then you have to come up with a connection with each other vatcha being played. This creates a shared background and some potential story hooks for the person running the game. You should have a character up and running in ten minutes unless you and your friends are stumped for a connection between the flaming shield of doom and an enchanted mattress cover.
Things start to get a little more complicated when heroes come into play. You see, each vatcha is wielded by a hero, but a player does not play both their vatcha and its hero. No, instead, you play your vatcha and the hero of SOMEONE ELSE’S vatcha. This creates more potential for storytelling as well as conflict. While this is an interesting idea in theory, most people don’t like to play more than one character at a time. Sure there are exceptions like Dungeon Crawl Classics where the norm is to start out playing two-three characters per player, but the majority of games feel best when one person plays one character. Wield realizes asking a person to play two very different characters, one human and one a magical item, can be difficult so it suggests using two different voices or to have the hero card in front of your mouth when speaking as the hero, so everyone knows which one is talking/acting. That’s totally fine and it works for me. The problem I have is that this can lead to PvP conflict and that rarely turns out well for a gaming party. If player A wants the hero to do something the vatcha does not (or vice versa), which will probably happen more often than not, this can lead to some groups getting catty or spiteful towards each other. It could even lead to the hero trying to destroy the vatcha or the vatcha dispatching with the hero and looking for a new pawn to wield it. This is either going to be a good thing or a very bad thing, depending on the makeup of your group. If one or more player is immature or treats tabletop gaming as SERIOUS BUSINESS, this can turn out poorly indeed. If however, everyone remembers it’s just a silly fun game, these kinds of inter-character conflict can become a lot of fun and allow for memorable adventures. Just be sure you know your troupe well before deciding to play Wield.
Another alternative is to let Fate (the GM) play the Heroes as it would any other NPCs. This is a little more traditional and may work better as Fate does create the heroes. Otherwise when the heroes are handed out randomly to the Players, it’s like getting a pregenerated character as you would at a convention or starter set. It’s harder to become emotionally attached to a pregen, so some people playing Wield might not enjoy playing someone else’s creation. At the same time, heroes are actually meant to be disposable in Wield as the vatcha are the main attraction in this game. A Vatcha will go through several heroes as the game goes on, especially if you are playing a series of adventures or a campaign. Of course, a vatcha disposing of its hero may lead to hurt feelings by the person playing the hero, but again, it all comes back to making sure your group has the right mental makeup to play Wield. It’s definitely a niche game best left in the hands of a specific audience.
Another interesting aspect of Wield is that neither heroes nor vatcha level up, gain new abilities or advance in the same way one usually thinks of in a role playing game. In fact, both will stay the same from character creation to character death. This is definitely a game about role-playing and not min/maxing, which I like. Of course, people do like to see some sort of change or progression in the game and that’s where powers and control come into play.
Each vatcha can have up to three domains of powers. They don’t have to have three mind you, and generally having a single domain instead of two or three can be more helpful if you want to specialize in a specific power set instead of being multi-faced. Think of it as extremely skilled or a jack of all trades, master of none. Now the vatchas have these powers but they can’t directly use them. That’s what the heroes are for. They need a human patsy to channel the powers. However the more power/powers given to the hero, the less control the vatcha has over its would-be patsy. Too much power and the hero can take control, as well as learn the way to truly destroy the vatcha. It’s a very interesting give and take to be sure and with the right party makeup, Wield offers some unique and wondrous role-playing opportunities.
Now we come to the mechanics, and it is where the game falls apart in my opinion. You generally roll 2d6 to resolve things, but there are also sorts of ways to get bonus dice such as if your personality, background or vatcha power are relevant to the roll. A couple pages later, it mentions you can get up to two more bonus dice for proper equipment for a task. So your roll can get up to 7d6. That’s fine. So is the ladder of command. You have no roll for easy tasks, a target of 6 for a hard tasks, 12 for heroic, 18 for epic and 25 (shouldn’t that be 24) for impossible. Again, this is a fine scale as well. The problem is going to be remembering and justifying the bonus dice you get for each roll. I think that you’re going to see people forget more often than not all the options for bonus dice until after they have rolled. Challenge will also be highly depending on how Lax or tough Fate is as a GM.
Combat is where things get pretty weird and this is where the game will either really intrigue you or really turn you off. Unfortunately it did the latter for me. Every Player has to decide to attack or defend. You can’t do both. Fate counts to five and then if you are going to attack, you have to point at who you want to attack with one to five fingers outstretched. If you are going to defend, you place an arm across your chest with one to five fingers outstretched. The number of fingers outstretched means the difficulty roll you are willing to make. The five levels are the same for tasks (0, 6, 12, 18, 25). Now everyone has to do this at the exact same time, which can lead to a bit of a cluster. Then after everyone’s choices are revealed, you can choose to switch from an attack to a defense roll. Then all the rolling starts. However, there is no initiative in this game, so instead of a carefully laid out turn of events, Wield becomes a little too chaotic for my liking, with everyone rolling and resolving at the same time. It could also be that I didn’t care for the examples or descriptive text in this section. Nothing seems to flow well or read smoothly in the mechanics part of the book. I think there are a LOT of easy ways to improve things, and that Wield will be one of those games that lives or dies based on how well a local GM house rules the thing. I think if the team behind Wield had spent a little more time defining the rules (20% of the rulebook is fiction) and devoted some more pages to it, a lot of the potential for mishaps could have been easily avoided. Wield is a very rules lite game, which I enjoy, but this is one of those times where I feel combat could have actually used an overhaul.
So Wield is one of those games where I’m not sure if I really like it or not. I love the concept and character creation aspects of the game, but playing the game can be a real mess and utterly confusing for younger or casual gamers. Because of the high chance for PvP issues, it’s also a game that should only be played by people whose feelings don’t hurt easily and who can remember that a RPG is something to experience, not something to WIN. I think once the Wield Companion comes out and I have a lot more time with the game under my belt I can give Wield a definitive thumbs up or down. Right now I’ll say “thumbs in the middle” as it’s a very unique product and if you pick it up and dislike it, you’re only out five dollars. Compare that to money spent on Pathfinder or some other game that requires multiple 30-40 dollar rulebook purchases. My advice is give the electronic version of Wield a try and see if it is right for you and your friends. If not, at least you have an interesting curiosity piece in your collection.