Fateweaver has been on my radar for awhile now. I have a lovely collection of Tarot cards and made a living as a psychic for one of the happiest years of my life. The xcuse to break out my favorite deck and the Mythic GM Emulator was hard really appealing. I was pretty chuffed when Omar Aazam approached me, asking If I would care to review it, even though he knew that old-school games were more my bailiwick.
In Fateweaver PCs play characters from an Edwardian Steampunk world where predestination is an accepted fact for most of the population. Their whole culture is built around teaching the masses to accept their Fate. The PCs are members of a rare group of blessed people called Fateweavers, who can choose their own destiny, deny Fate, and even call upon supernatural powers to pursue their own path.
Every action of the Fateweaver has a butterfly effect on the world around them: their actions can let another person escape their predestination, setting them on a new course in life. This means that Fateweavers are forces for Change, Dynamism, and Chaos. They are taught to use their powers cautiously and recruited by factions who have a specific philosophy as to how their powers might best be used for the public good... or personal gain.
Fateweavers are a breed apart from the ordinaries around them, and are often sought out by people desperate to change their lot in hopes that interacting with a Fateweaver will change their fate. A number of powerful factions recruit newly discovered Fateweavers and indoctrinate them to their particular philosophies, which feel strongly corresponded to the Law-Neutrality-Chaos alignment system as it was presented in OD&D. Most nobles and world leaders are Fateweavers.
Fateweaver's engine is very simple: a tarot deck is broken into its Major and Minor Arcana. When a PC needs to resolve a task they draw a number of cards from the minor arcana (based on task difficulty) and checks the number value of the best card against a table of Talisanta-style improv table with "Yes, but...", "Yes...", "Yes and...", and "Yes, the Fate wills that...". Characters have an affinity for one kind of task related to common associations with the suits of the Arcana (conflict for swords, social influence for wantds, athletics for disks, stealth and legerdemain for cups.) that let them draw one additional card. Likewise, PCs might be able to draw an additional card if the task is apropos to their character background.
Characters also can have a hand of up to three Major Arcana, that represent supernatural powers. They draw two at the beginning of the game. At any time they may discard one of their Major Arcana to activate the power corresponding to that card. If, during task resolution, a player draws an Ace, they get to draw an additional Major Arcana card (assuming they don't already have three in hand.)
What I Loved
Layout and Design
The layout of Fateweaver is clean, easy to read, and has excellent information design. You can find anything you need in the 29-page rulebook effortlessly, and skimming is easy. It also features artwork that evokes the Edwardian-period images that are found on most older Tarot decks, such as the seminal Rider-Waite Tarot. They are filler, but they are filler that is ornate and evocative.
Adventure Planning Tool
The game features a tool where you draw two Major Arcana: the first gives a situation inspired by the positive-aspected reading of the card. The second is an unexpected complication derived from the negative-aspected (inverted) reading of the second card. It gives you a total of nearly 500 possible scenarios.
Tarot Knowledge Not Required
The game does not require the user to be familiar with the Tarot, the meaning of the cards, or the techniques of reading them. While it borrows inspiration for a lot of the powers and scenarios from a reading of those cards, neither the players nor the Reader (GM) needs to understand the Esoterica of the Tarot. Everything is neatly presented on tables.
Metacognitive Game Structure
The idea of a chosen few Fateweavers who are the movers-and-shakers of the campaign world, who move among a collection of Ordinaries, who are doomed to deal with the same unhappy patterns unless the Fateweavers step in perfectly mirrors the way most TTRPGs run. The PCs and a few antagonistic NPCs have momentous world-shaping actions. Everyone else essentially sits there with an unsolvable problem until the PCs come along. It is a great example of hanging a picture on a proud nail.
As a system for resolving tasks and handling supernatural powers, Fateweaver is very well thought-out. PCs can be little other than a couple of sentences of backstory, and all task resolution is handled by drawing cards, guaranteeing that there is limits on how often PCs get any one particular result over the course of a session.
Designed for Very Short Games
Fateweaver is definitely meant to be used for a collaborative storytelling mode of play. Because of the game's structure, and especially how task resolution works in practice, Fateweaver, ultimately tells the story of clever heroes experiencing something strange and wonderous, and using their wits and their magic to make sure that the world is a better place at the end of whatever turmoil arises. There is little combat, a game weighted heavily to success, and not a lot of math or homework to do. It is exactly the kind of game my son likes the most. Short, heroic, and likely guaranteed a happy ending.
No Fail States
Apropos to that last point, Fateweaver is a game that has no fail states. The worst result the task resolution system can create is a "Yes, but..." that requires PCs to change approach or take extra, unexpected steps to reach their goals. Fateweavers literally cannot fail in the long run, except by making very poor choices. This is unusual, but not unheard of in indie storygames. It would make it an excellent tool for designing narratives, or having a cozy, light-hearted game, but it offers very little of the tension and strategic acumen that more traditional role-players look for.
I think it would be very interesting to place a natural timer in the game: if the PCs can't come up with a way to resolve the situation before the Minor Arcana run it, the story ends in disaster would be a compelling constraint on play.
The Hermit Could Use a Better Ability
None of my criticisms here are geared towards my quibbles and nitpicks about Omar Azaam's interpretation of the Tarot. If I want to argue about Esoterica, I will go annoy some of my Wiccan friends. This is more of a game design quibble: Both The Fool and The Hermit give (slightly different) powers of invisibility. No other power except invisibility repeats itself. I feel that greater diversity of powers might be best served by changing the Hermit's power.
If I were to base something off of The Hermit's common meanings, I might offer the PCs a sudden discovery of a clue, knowledge of the exact location of something they are seeking, one true answer about the situation from the GM, or a moment where the Fateweavers are rendered incorporeal.
Why Not a Spread?
The Two-Card adventure generation system is very clever, but it occurs to me that it misses an opportunity, Taking a traditional Tarot spread like the Celtic Cross or Aleister Crowley's Four Quarters and turning them into a more detailed adventure generation tool with villains, triggering events, hidden problems, likely outcomes, etc., would be a great tool. Perhaps in a future expanded edition?
Not Ideal for Solo Play
Painful setbacks and failure are what drive interesting Solo Play. I found that Fateweaver was just a little too forgiving for my taste on this font. It really does play best as a part of an exercise in creative imagination.
The Setting is Strangely Western
I found the setting having an Industrial vibe to it with advanced sciences living alongside magic and pervasive Fatalism a bit jarring, to be honest. European history is built around investigating the philosophical premise that each person's actions are choices that can radically alter the world, and how and what that means to the responsibility of the individual to Themselves, Society, and God. It is baked into our religion and political system in very deep level. I doubt that Western Culture, Christianity, or the Industrial Revolution could occur in a culture where people earnest believe in Predestination and accepting one's Fate.
When I first read about the religion, Truths of the setting, and the nature of the Fateweavers I was definitely expecting something more like the Ottoman Empire at its peak, where a belief in Destiny and Scientific inquiry did live comfortably side by side.
But then, the Tarot is a very Western tool...
This is a minor quibble. It is a Fantasy game, and I can accept all kind of things in a world that might not have made sense given a real-world analysis. In this case, though, it seems like a missed opportunity for some world-building. What would a world where everyone believed that they had a lot and life and they must accept it really look like. Especially taken to a logical extreme? Again, not so much a complaint as it is a lost opportunity.
And that is the real strength of Fateweaver - I look at it - I like what I see - and I want to see a lot more!
Fateweaver is a game best played almost like a free kriegspiel, with a group of friends in a light-hearted gaming conversation where they come up with strange problems and then imagine up clever solutions for a mix of excitement, laughs, and the sheer enjoyment of metal gymnastics. It is low-stress, relaxed, and comfortable; the very essence of the modern storygame movement. It is also a great tool for creative writing exercises. And a great excuse to dust off my favourite Tarot deck.