Friday 28 August 2015


In Chariot, you play the role of one of the twenty individuals in the world whose destiny is to carry the psychic weight of the human race on your shoulders. 

As every age ends, the Ak√Ęsha arbitrarily chooses people who are fated to die with the age, and who, although they do not necessarily even know who or what they are, are the guides of the human race's future, for good and ill. 

In game terms, while the destiny you accept supplies your character with certain points in their attributes, and gets to win a conflict if one of their two key cards come into play, the two most important things you need to know are:

First. You are doomed to die... But not now.

You have had a vision of your death, in the Final Catastrophe that will destroy Atlantis once and for all, but you will not die before that happens. This is vitally important, because until the Catastrophe happens, nothing you experience will be fatal, and as far as playing the game goes, this means that your life is never at at stake.

The stakes are much higher than that.

A whole world is going to end; millions of people who will perish in the disaster and it is up to you, as the nations collapse and go to war, as the fire and gravel rains from the sky and the tidal waves loom and the earth splits, to work out how some of them can be saved, and maybe lay the way for a better future. A future that you don't get to see. That's the weight on your shoulders. That's your responsibility. Your tragedy.

Second. Each destiny has a Boon.

The Fool at the Edge of the Precipice is never harmed by accident or fall, and cannot be harmed by magic. But the Fool cannot save anyone else.

The Sacrificial Giver heals the sick and wounded, but cannot heal their own wounds.

The Lonely Wayfinder's path is never blocked; the Wayfinder cannot be imprisoned.

The Adept with the Key to Forever always succeeds with magic.

(It is important to say that the boons are powerless against the others', and when two of the Fated meet, their boons cancel each other out. The Fool isn't immune to the Adept's magic. The Adept has to try hard to make their magic work on the Fool.)

The one I want to concentrate on is this: the Invincible Charioteer never loses a fight.

Yeah, you read that right. The moment the Charioteer engages in violence, no matter how insane the odds, the battle is over as soon as it is joined. One warrior stands in the way of the avenging host of Suern; when the day is over that one figure, drenched in gore, stands alone.

In a role-playing game, where violence is the usual mode of conflict resolution, this is kind of a risky design decision. In fact, I think it's fair to say that it breaks the traditional mode of the role-playing game into pieces.

But actually, its effect, in game terms, takes violence off the table as one of the stakes. This isn't to say there won't be violence in the game, and it's not to say that the Charioteer doesn't wield a shocking amount of power, but think.

Here's the battle. Now here are the weeping families. The people who want revenge. The constant stream of young warriors who want to be the one who killed the Invincible Charioteer.

Sure, the Charioteer could just kill everyone? You've got to catch them first. After a while people aren't going to face you. You're going to be met with fear and horror. Entire nations evacuate Atlantis, just to be away from you. 

Maybe the Catastrophe is your fault.

That's a terrible weight to bear. What are you going to do with it? When you've toppled the government and you're still here, what will you put in its place? How are you going to bring about reconciliation and peace, how are you going save people from disaster, when genocide is an easier option? 

In a role-playing game, the stakes at play nearly always depend on the things codified. By having a character who cannot die, you prevent the character's own life being at stake. By having a character who both embodies violence and makes it moot, the violence itself ceases to be at stake; instead the stakes move to its causes and consequences, and way in which you use that power. 

If those are the sorts of stories that interest you, I hope that this is the sort of game you'll enjoy.