Everywhen Review

Generic RPGs are written for GMs. A game with a setting or a conceit can speak to anyone who sees it on the shelf or reads through its Kickstarter campaign, but a game with no setting has a tougher time marketing itself. Those of us who run games, though, see them for what they are: toolkits. A good generic RPG is the toolbox that lets you build a game, and every generic RPG is a different set of tools. GURPS is the five hundred pound box of every wrench and screwdriver imaginable. Cortex Prime is a massive array of dials and knobs, ready to be toggled for your campaign. Fate is a smart everyday carry pack, providing the fewest tools to cover the most situations. What about others? Where do other approaches fit in between these?

Everywhen is a genericized version of the popular swords and sorcery RPG Barbarians of Lemuria, and it would have escaped my notice had I not seen a well-known GURPShead on Reddit give it an unequivocal recommendation. Intrigued but skeptical, I checked it out. What I found was a game that hit the right medium crunch sweet spot but also had some design choices that made it easy for any GM, novice or experienced, to write exactly what they want with it.

Everywhen the Game

A liability common to many setting-agnostic RPGs is the tendency for their complexity to be “front-loaded”, that is to say the early procedures of the game, like creating a character, require a significant amount of work and in many cases more work than actually playing the game. In GURPS this comes from the voluminous character creation options, including a lot of math to squeeze every point out of your abilities. In Fate this comes from having to immediately pick five Aspects for your character; although character generation procedures like Crossing Paths aim to make this easier, the fact is that Aspects are pretty much the hardest element of Fate’s mechanics to grok.

Everywhen is not front-loaded. Everywhen is aggressively not front-loaded, to a point where one may wonder about how much character differentiation you can actually achieve from a mechanical perspective. Each character has four overall attributes, four combat attributes, their careers, and possibly some boons and flaws. The math is simple because for the most part all traits, attributes and careers alike, range from 0 to 3, and the number is simply what you add to your 2d6 roll (or subtract, it is possible to have negative attributes). Careers are the mechanic which will raise the most eyebrows, because it’s where it becomes clear that Everywhen has no skill system. Although having no skill system implies little granularity in character ability it actually tells you more about character history than a skill list would; characters start with four careers and the game indicates that not only should you mark which of the four is ‘current’, but you should consider what order the character held the careers in. It’s not exactly a lifepath system but it adds a nice bit of depth to a fairly simple character creation system.

The other half of what makes Everywhen aggressively not front-loaded is that the procedural mechanics of combat and other encounters are quite involved, and much more involved than you’d think after seeing the book was a mere 150 pages. There’s a solid three pages of combat options, with another three offered for other forms of conflict. The unified conflict mechanic confused me when I first read it, but after making sure I was following the acronyms I find it quite elegant: More involved conflicts, like vehicle combats and hacking encounters, are described through the game’s “dramatic challenges” system. Without going into too much detail, dramatic challenges balance on challenge dice and penalty dice. In a chase scene you could try to maneuver to gain an edge over your opponent, which would award you challenge dice if the maneuver succeeds. On the other hand, attempting more risky maneuvers may cost penalty dice, which either cancel out the challenge dice or give your opponent challenge dice when they oppose your action.

The trend towards granular resolution mechanics continues when we examine health and damage. The health track, called Lifeblood, is relatively static, equal to 10 plus your character’s strength attribute, though there are an additional five points of ‘critical’ lifeblood. On that track, though, you track fatigue damage, normal damage, and lasting damage, each indicated with a different mark (a slash, an X, and an X with a horizontal line through it). This is a dense system, but allows for some neat mechanics. Fatigue damage heals faster than normal damage, which in turn heals faster than lasting damage. Also, the mechanism of normal damage turning into lasting damage is used to emulate lingering wounds and long-term recovery, and while it takes a little more to wrap your head around than a straight hit-point system it allows for deadly combats without the utter brutality of a damage system like that of Cyberpunk 2020.

Combat is table stakes in a traditional game but Everywhen does push it further. The mass combat system is fractal, and allows for as much or as little detail as the GM would like while still maintaining scale. The social conflict system isn’t complicated but it does add the nuance you’d expect in a generic system while even tying in things like visible armor to social results. There are arcane, faith, and psionic systems for supernatural abilities, and each one feels unique.

When it comes to running the game, the guidance you get from a generic system is more important than in other games, simply because you’re more likely to be making things up yourself. I don’t necessarily think Everywhen ranks all that highly in terms of its GM advice, but also have to concede that it is very easy to make the system do what you want. There are two worked setting examples which give guidance to how to develop a list of careers and exclude boons and flaws. In other contexts I might not consider this enough but when you consider that careers are just *that* and aren’t made up of any constituent parts or lists…it’s really hard to screw up. Careers do what they say on the tin, and combat abilities are simply limited to the combat attributes, meaning there’s not really a possibility of unbalancing the game through what’s included in your career list. Optimizers will moan because there’s nothing to do, but if that’s a problem at your table you probably should have stuck with GURPS anyway.

Everywhen in the Generic RPG Ecosystem

And this mention of GURPS is really begging the question a bit: where does Everywhen fit? It’s not a massive buffet like GURPS, nor a tightly wound piece of theorycraft like Fate. Everywhen falls roughly around the complexity level of Savage Worlds, and is also aligned with that game in terms of where it fits on the narrative/trad divide: Everywhen has Hero Points and Savage Worlds has Wild Dice, but they’re both strongly traditional save for their chosen excursion. Where I think Everywhen edges out Savage Worlds is in the modularity. Savage Worlds characters have a bit more uniqueness, and Savage Worlds the game has a stronger advancement track. Everywhen, on the other hand, has aimed its simplicity at the sake of balance. It’s very easy for a GM to pick up Everywhen, write in their setting of choice, and go. The system will not, bar obvious rewriting, fall prey to balance issues, whereas even in Savage Worlds there are a few game-breaking edge combos lurking around (to say nothing of a more option-rich game like GURPS).

In a weird way, Everywhen represents a more OSR approach to a generic RPG. I say in a weird way because this doesn’t really track in a direct sense, you need to back up a bit. A hallmark of OSR GMing is not worrying about the specifics, rules-wise, of everything you run in the game. Best judgments, as long as they’re internally consistent, work fine. Of course, if you’re leaving a very specific style of play (and the OSR, whether they want to admit it or not, is absolutely centered on a very specific style of play), this tends to stop working. Everywhen represents the stopgap (though I don’t mean that in a disparaging way). While your best judgment of a tank battalion may not make for a very satisfying battle, a simple mechanic which covers this broader idea of a large battle will help you enough to run the session consistently and make it memorable. In this way, Everywhen is a bit of a 95% generic RPG. It too can only push so far outside of traditional RPG playstyles and stories, but its lack of flexibility compared to a GURPS or a Fate is mitigated by ease of use and the low likelihood of actually screwing something up.

Even with the fairly large number of generic RPGs I’ve read and played, Everywhen impressed me. It’s light, but doesn’t lose so much granularity that you can’t take it seriously. It has some mechanical density, but not so much that you get lost. It neither has the detail and breadth of GURPS nor the modularity and adaptability of Fate, but it’s easier to teach and to write for than either of those and that’s something that is too easily overlooked, especially if you spend so much time reading games that you forget how much effort learning them and understanding them can be to the unfamiliar. If you want to write your own RPG setting for the first time, or are trying to get your friends to try something new, Everywhen is a great choice. It may not lead many comparisons in a vacuum, but when it comes to actually getting the plots written and the dice rolled, it should be one of the first places you look.

Everywhen is available on DriveThruRPG.

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