Pick a card, any card, any card at all . . . and it’ll tell you what kind of story you’re in and what your characters can do. Despite walking around a convention with Unplugged in the name, there were a fair number of plugged-in offerings. It could actually be called one of the motifs of the convention: games crossing the border between physical and digital games (going both ways), digital enhancements to traditional games, and games that blend the two from the foundation up. Among the latter is Weave: Storytelling Redefined, a game that’s half tarot, half roleplay, and all story.
At its core, Weave is a highly improvisational application-based story game that uses cards for its building blocks and dice as a resolution mechanic. Play happens within the framework of a Playset, which provides setting information, the theme for a session, at least one location that the story will take place in. and a boss enemy for the heroes to face, and we’re provided four of them with the basic game. Goblins ‘R Jerks is a comedic playset of goblins getting up to all sort of shenanigans. Gloomies is very much kids-vs.-the-world, and you wouldn’t have to tilt your head very far to see a Stranger Things episode. Xorte/Io is a bizarre sci-fi mashup of a living city, anti-cyborg cults, techno-priests, corporations, and capybara. Solar Age is a space fantasy setting where Earth is dead, and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms have carved out their planetary territory in a solar system that is increasingly strange.
While all of Weave could be described as rules light they are on a bit of a spectrum, with Solar Age in particular being bare-boned in terms of mechanics compared to the others. These playsets are also very much prompts, not constraints, hence why I say the game is improvisational. Once you’ve figured out some of the details, the players and Storyteller are pretty free to do what they want. So how exactly do we get those details, then?
First of all, the cards are gorgeous tarot-style pieces of work. Second, while they aren’t really used actively during play (those are what the dice are for), the cards form the foundation of everything that happens before play. For each instance of a playset and character you scan a series of these cards using the mobile app. As it was explained to me, the app reads the geometric shapes on the cards, rather than any sort of code. That means that a picture of a card will do just as well (I tried this with some of the press kit images I was given), and there’s potential for more such images to be programmed in; there was a ‘GM’s Screen’ at the Monocle Society Unplugged booth that I was told could be scanned to provide information as well.
Each instance of a playset is going to scan three cards: one for the Theme, one for the Location, and one for the Boss. Additional cards can be scanned to introduce extras for all of these, such as Locations that the characters will have to travel through to reach the final one, or lesser Bosses in service to the main one. Player characters, in turn, are going to scan four: Background, Talent, Flaw, and Asset. I think the most impressive part of this is the variety; it’s going to be difficult to recreate the same prompts/characters. Each of the 22 cards is going to pop up with a different result for every option it could be drawn for, several times it’s going to offer options to choose from (particularly for Background), and then even in the same slot the same card will have different results for different playsets.
For example, let’s say I’ve drawn The Gatekeeper for the Theme. For Goblins ‘R Jerks this translates to Beyond Boring, a part of the world with almost no junk for the goblins to loot that either forces them to survive a different way or triggers a desperate search for a way home. For Gloomies one of the party’s best friends has gone missing, but while the adults are certain that they’ve just run off you’re convinced it has something to do with the Weirder Stuff that’s been happening around town lately. In Xorte/Io the card brings Constant Darkness to the otherwise brightly lit city-mountain, whether it’s rolling blackouts, sun-blocking pollution, or mysterious bouts of blindness. Finally, The Gatekeeper sees the heroes of the Solar Age facing a threat From The Abyss of History, an ancient warship emerging from a gate near Umbriel.
Now, there’s also a Challenge Deck that I haven’t talked about yet. It looks nice, and is very straightforward, essentially functioning as a random challenge deck: pull a card and it tells you what kind of challenge you’re facing and what kind of difficulty. While talking with the crew at Unplugged, however, it was said that the Challenge Deck might not be sticking around, and my review copy didn’t include it. It’s not really required for play, so I wonder if they’ll planning to make it an add-on to make the base game more affordable.
Edit 1/31/20: With the latest update, you don’t even need the physical cards to play the game, as all cards are included in digital form with the app.
Weave comes with a set of six dice, and while you can buy extra for the table for convenience’s sake there are going to be few to no occasions where you need more than six. Each die has a different symbol on each face: Flames, Brooks, Gales, Stones, Weave, and Strikes. Flames stand for mental strength, Brooks for social strength, Gales for reactive strength, and Stones for physical strength. The standard roll for a check is three dice, and you’re trying to get two, three, or four successes depending on the difficulty of what you’re doing. So if you’re making a check that involves recalling information, for example, you’ll want to be getting Flames on your dice. The Weave symbol counts as a wildcard, good for whatever type of challenge you’re taking on, and you also get to re-roll the dice that land on the Weave symbol until you stop getting more Weave symbols. Strikes are essentially damage inflicted on a character; rack up enough of them and you start taking Wounds, and take enough Wounds and you’re down for the count.
Each character has a suit that they’re good at from the get go, and then depending on the playset and then on what cards your character was built with, you may add or subtract dice from your rolls or have additional ways to use the results. For example, I created a character for Goblins ‘R Jerks! who ended up being called King Top. King Top was a Brooks character, meaning he’ll always add +1 die when making Brooks checks, but his background as a Goblin Lord added another two, so he’ll be rolling a total of six dice instead! However, his Flaw is Animal Magnetism, meaning that King Top doesn’t handle the wilderness too well on account of all the animals who like him a little too much: he rolls one less die on all Gales challenges if he’s outside a populated settlement.
For another example, Morgan is a Brooks character in the Gloomies playset . . . but her background as being Already Published grants her +2 on Flames checks. She’s Unable To Distinguish Fantasy From Reality, though, so one of those Flames dice will get dropped whenever a challenge involves memory or recollection. On the other hand her Asset is a Weird Old Book, so she’ll be able to add a die to a Flames check once per scene, potentially balancing the flaw out (or rolling five dice on any other Flames challenge).
Alright, let’s talk about the application itself, it’s somewhat important; scanning the cards with the app is how you get your setting information and character build, after all. The app is free, though, so you can take a look before getting the physical game, and it has everything (aside from the cards and dice) that you’ll need to play, including all of the rules and a glossary for each of the four existing playsets. The Storyteller who is running the game can create a ‘Season’ for a playset and then invite players to join in via the app. While this could mean everyone around the table has a phone or tablet of their own, the potential to be playing remote over a voice chat or stream is definitely there. However, if players don’t have a device with the app themselves the Storyteller can also create a local character on their own device, and pass the device in question around as necessary.
While talking to the Monocle Society crew at Unplugged, they told me that they have plans to introduce a subscription service called Weave+. Similarity in naming convention to mouse-owned offerings aside, Weave+ was described to me as an addition instead of a replacement. The base app would remain free, but subscribers would get access to more playsets as they released. Monocle Society’s site talks further about digital cards and dice, there are images of early AR applications, and there seems to be a lot of potential for community-made content: there’s a Discord, and the playset and playtesting channels seem to be humming along.
Overall, this side of things seems very much like a work in progress as updates are rolled out, and there doesn’t seem to be a set launch date for Weave+ (the talk at Unplugged mentioned January 2020, but I don’t see anything on the site yet), but it feels like a very active and dedicated work in progress, and the ongoing effort doesn’t take anything away from the base game.
Weave: Storytelling Redefined is a slick product with high production values that offers some really great prompts for improv-heavy roleplaying, with an interesting mechanic for generating them and easy-to-learn but pretty robust mechanics to act as a framework during play. Perhaps more importantly it seems like it has a dedicated team, and an active community, working to push it forward. I think it’s worth a look now, and I think that’ll only become more true going forward.
You can find more information, including developer diaries and a download of the rulebook, at Weave’s site. You can also find a link there to Barnes & Noble, who offer the game for $29.99, and can buy extra sets of Weave dice directly from the site.
Pick a card, any card . . .
Thanks to Monocle Society for providing me with a review copy of the game and a press kit!