What is Wickedness?
Wickedness is a storytelling game by M Veselak about three witches who must maintain the dangerous balance between the overworld and the underworld, to prevent the end of the world. This task has the witches make huge sacrifices during the story. Their bodies and souls suffer, allies are betrayed, dark forces are at play, and solidarity within the coven is also put to the test.
Wickedness is a storytelling game with no GM. Plot elements, conflicts and tasks are given through the medium of tarot cards. The Arcana images on the cards trigger certain events in the story, which the players must react to. The story takes place as a one-shot in a single session. By the end of the round it will be known whether the witches managed to protect their world, and at what cost. A happy ending is unlikely, and there is a lot of drama to be expected.
One plot, three settings
The story is about three witches maintaining the balance between the kingdom of the overworld and the hells of the underworld. However, there is a snag – both realms are driven by greed and want anything but peaceful coexistence. Furthermore, these witches are viewed with distrust by the realms. The coven is faced with quite some hostility and intrigue.
The overworld and the underworld aren’t fully defined at the start of the game. During character creation, players determine what these worlds look like and who rules over them. For example, the underworld can be the realm of the dead, a demonic hellscape or a world of shadow. The game offers many inspirations to aid the players in their decisions.
One luxury with Wickedness is that is comes with three settings. At the start of their game, players can choose between classic fantasy, urban fantasy and cyberpunk. Depending on the setting, Wickedness offers different character arcs and plot hooks. This cool feature gives players more room to customize their game world, while also providing great replayability value.
No GM? How’s that supposed to work?
Story game RPGs often do without game masters. The plot develops from a list of events and conflicts that randomly come into play through various mechanics. In Wickedness, this is done through a deck of tarot cards, sticking with the witch’s aesthetic. At specific points, the game tells players to draw a card and to read the corresponding event from a list. The “Three of Wands” goes like this, for example:
The witch marked as the Fool reads: I have awoken, without warning or fanfare, with a horrifying mark of the Underworld’s Menace on my face. Worsen the Underworld’s Claim on me, and I’ll discard a Wisdom card. I can’t even leave the Sanctuary without inspiring fear and alarm in the kingdom’s populace… How do I get rid of this mark?
As is customary in story games, the plot elements need to be interpreted by the players and built into the existing storyline. For example, what does this demonic mark look like? How do you deal with it? This creative work is both a curse and a blessing of these storytelling games. You need to put some thought into the story, so that it becomes coherent and fun. However, you are granted extensive story telling rights and can adjust the story any way you like.
The power of three will set us free
Sorry for this “Charmed” reference. You know, that 90s TV show. Couldn’t resist.
What I’m trying to get at here is that improvising the story all the way through can be quite taxing. Wickedness uses a clever trick to help the players. When narrating scenes, each of the three players takes over a certain part of the narration, which splits the creative work up nicely. It is described for every event which player must narrate which part of a scene. This way, no one person has to improvise everything 100% of the time, but instead all players can work with each other’s ideas. Here is an example:
Two of Swords
The holder of The Moon reads: I’ve been challenged to a duel, so Worsen the Kingdom’s [Ignorance]. The holder of The Sun will tell us who issued the challenge, the holder of The Star will tell us what I did to offend them, and I’ll tell you how I feel about it. The Kingdom is watching, to see how we respond. What should I do?
Tarot cards instead of dice
Instead of using dice, the story progresses by drawing tarot cards. The deck is sorted into multiple smaller decks for this – one main deck for the plot, one deck for character creation and finally an individual deck for each character with individual problems and plot hooks.
But how are conflicts within the story solved? If a player character is in danger or is faced with a difficult task, then they decide what they want to happen. But success always comes at a price. Magical powers are consumed, relationships with allies are burdened or the witches’ refuge is being damaged. These resources are, of course, limited – there are too few of them to successfully resolve all issues with them. A failure costs no resources, but has devastating consequences for the story and threatens the balance between the overworld and underworld.
Wickedness Actual Play Video
Want to know how Wickedness works in practice? Check out this great actual play video with Jay Dragon from Possum Creek Games, celebrity GM Brennan Lee Mulligan and game designer Jeeyon Shim.
Three chapters: Truths, Troubles, Trials
Wickedness is split into three parts. At the start, the characters, allies and setting are established in “Truths”. In “Troubles,” the coven is faced with issues and conflicts, which they must overcome together. Here, there is always the question of how far the witches are willing to go. They must decide which problems to leave unresolved. Because they don’t have sufficient means to tend to all problems in the two realms. If they go too far, this has an impact on their personalities, solidarity within the coven and also on their direct environment.
In “Trials,” the conflict between the overworld and the underworld intensifies. Depending on how the witches have used their resources so far, the result will either be the downfall of one of the realms, the disbanding of the coven or a terrible fate for one of the witches.
Three witches as the main characters
During character creation, you determine through the tarot deck who plays which role in the coven. There are the Pure Heart, the Wild Spirit and the Old Soul. For each of these roles, Wickedness supplies you with two pages of options to individually create your character. Similar to the PBTA games’ playbooks, you select every character detail from a list of names, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, backstory events and source of magical powers.
Afterwards, you determine through the tarot cards which celestial body each witch devoted herself to – sun, moon or stars. Each celestial body comes with its own traits. A moon-born witch, for example, is more emotional and mysterious. Finally the characters’ favored school of magic is determined in the same way.
Wickedness’ character creation is really great fun. Through the tarot cards and the many options, it contributes a lot to the atmosphere and the joy of playing. And the fact that players can determine much of the characters’ background information also helps weaving their stories together.
Who would enjoy playing Wickedness?
Like with all storytelling games, Wickedness needs players who enjoy writing large parts of the story themselves. The tarot deck gets you quite far with its plot hooks. But still, you need to flesh out many of the scenes yourself, and adapt them to your current story. Ideally, you should play Wickedness with three people, who have been GMs before. It is incredibly helpful if you can fall back on a repertoire of ideas and stories to create a new plot with on the spot.
Players who prefer reacting to a pre-determined plot rather than creating the story as they play should probably instead stick to traditional roleplaying games. But this is, of course, true for all storytelling games, and not just for Wickedness.
Where can I buy Wickedness?
Wickedness is available at Possum Creek Games as a pdf for $20 or as a softcover bundle for $30.
Also check out their other wonderful games like Wanderhome, Dungeon/Venture or The Sleepaway.
Summary: A spot-on witches’ coven story game
Wickedness is a really great interpretation of the witch coven theme as a story game. The texts are written with a lot of love and care and perfectly describe the setting, while still staying short and concise. The storytelling mechanics are excellently implemented with the tarot deck and the shared narration techniques. As a cherry on top, the game also comes with three separate settings. Those who like storytelling games like A Quiet Year or The Deep Forest should definitely get their hands on Wickedness. An absolute must-have for $20 for the pdf or $30 for the softcover bundle.