"This is a world built of darkness, where American gods war for the very oaks. You think you know this world -- it looks a whole helluva lot like yours -- but things creep in the shadows, and eyes are always watching. There are powers at work in this world that the great unwashed masses are unaware of -- at least consciously. There's always that niggling suspicion in the back of the mind, the unproven certainty that something isn't right. It's probably this, more than the Others, that is the source of the greatest differences between your world and mine.
We know something is wrong, but can't prove it, can't ever catch it out in the light of day. That starts to wear on you after a while, starts to show in lost sleep and directionless anxiety. It is displayed in our grey, lifeless streets and endlessly corrupt government. It's even right there in our desperate, hedonistic nightlife -- anything to drive that looming presence from our minds. The colors are being leeched out of our world, the spark of life drained to a dying ember.
That changes now. I am the Chosen One. And this is the end of my world."
Playing the Web
Web of Shadows is a game where each player controls a supernatural conspirator -- an Other -- in a world superficially similar but far stranger and more dangerous than our own. It is also a world in crisis -- the Chosen One has appeared as foretold, and the apocalypse is coming. Each game of the Web of Shadows is the story of the end of the Others' world.
The important elements of the story are laid out on the table in a Web of cards and strings. Each card on the table represents one element in the story. A card can represent an individual character, an organization, a place, a thing, or even an ideal. Each card has four 'spaces' on it for characteristics of that card. The first characteristic is the card's name; the other characteristics are filled out in play. Each card also has four holes punched into its corners. These are used to bind the card to other cards with lengths of string to represent relationships such as love, hate, duty, familial bonds, history, and the like.
Play consists of a sequence of scenes. In each scene some of the players will roleplay events which grow and manipulate the Web of cards on the table. The rest of the players will serve as the audience, and determine how the roleplay affects the Web. In any given scene, you might be called upon to play any character in the Web, including the Chosen One.
- A package of 3x5 index cards
- A hole puncher
- Some pens (I like sharpies)
- Lengths of string or yarn, from four to eight inches long
- A pile of tokens (10 for each player)
Begin play with a number of index cards equal to the players in the game. Number the cards on the back, and pass one card out to each, with the number face down. Then, starting with the player who has the "One" card, each player turns over their card and narrates one line out of the Prophecy which foretells the coming of the Chosen One. As they do so, each player lights a candle next to them; dim the house lights when the Prophecy is complete.
The first player must include in their line where the Chosen One is destined to arise; the last player must name the Chosen One. All other players contribute something else about the Chosen One or the prophecied End of the World. When the Chosen One is named, the last player writes the name across the top of a new card and punches a hole in each corner of the card. The Chosen One card is placed in the dead center of the table.
Creating your Other Card
Each player then turns their card over and prepares it for play as an Other card, representing their supernatural conspirator. Punch four holes along the top of the card, and then write down the left-hand side the words “Name”, “Need”, and “Shame.” These are the three characteristics of all Others. Unlike the rest of the cards in the game, which can have lots of different kinds of characteristics, Other cards always have these three.
Do not fill in the characteristics now. Your Other's characteristics are filled in not by you, but by the other players during the game. An Other's characteristics, once determined, cannot be changed.
The Names of Others are always evocative: Demmorash the Scourge, Titania the Everlight Champion, or Zebulon the Undermaster. Names suggest a great deal about the nature of the Other, but the best names suggest more possibilities than can all be true at once.
The Needs of Others are always derived from humanity: blood, tears, dreams, devotion, or the like.
The Shame of an Other is what sets that individual apart from the rest of their kind, if any. One might have killed the only human woman he ever loved; another might have abandoned his homeworld to utter destruction; yet another might have broken the laws of his kind.
Place your Other card in front of you, along with ten tokens and three blank cards. Punch holes in the four sides of the three blank cards; these are your facades.
Play begins with whichever player began the Prophecy and proceeds widdershins around the table. You must spend a number of tokens equal to the characteristics written down on your Other card (this will start at zero). If you cannot spend tokens, you must increase Tension (below) by one for each token for which you are short. If this triggers a Backlash, your scene ends before it began.
On your turn, frame a scene involving some of the cards in the Web on the table. Players' Other cards cannot be included in a scene unless they have been drawn into the Web. Choose one or more players to serve as the scene's Audience, and assign roles to the other players. These roles do not need to correspond to cards in play on the table -- players may roleplay "incidental" characters as easily as characters bound into the situation.
Each player with a role in the scene takes a moment to write down on a blank card one of four things they want to accomplish in the scene. This is their Machination card. They may Reveal characteristics, Corrupt characteristics, Bind cards, or Sever cards. These cards are then passed, face down, to the Audience players.
Revealing adds a characteristic to a card caught in the Web. The card must have an empty characteristic slot. You might write "Reveal that Tony saw the murderer flee."
Corrupting changes a characteristic on a card in the Web to something else. You might write "Corrupt Jenny's Popular Girl into Willing Thrall."
Binding connects a card to a card in the Web. You may introduce new cards into play in this way; if it is a new card, you must write a name across the top as it is placed on the table. You might write "Bind Jenny to Tony."
Severing cuts a connection between two cards. All cards must be connected, eventually, to the Chosen One; if a Sever would cut the card off from the Chosen One, it is invalid. You might write "Sever Jenny's connection to Tony."
When two players come to a disagreement over the course of events in a scene, either player may call for Conflict. The player who calls for conflict is the aggressor; the other player is the defender. The aggressor begins by spending a token to activate any characteristic or connection involved in the scene and explaining briefly why that argues for their point of view; the defender must spend a token to activate another characteristic or relationship to respond. Then the roles reverse and the defender activates something to which the aggressor must respond. Roles continue to flip back and forth until one player does not respond, either because they have run out of spendable tokens or there are no more applicable characteristics or relationships. The other player then gets his way.
Facade Cards and Other Cards
Facades are special cards employed by players to project their conspirator's influence into a scene in a more powerful way. Facades may be the Other physically present but in supernatural disguise, an illusion sent from afar, minions acting in the service of the conspirator, or any other such explanation. Facades are usually used more than once, and develop a certain personality of their own; this personality may reflect the real Other, but this is not necessarily true.
Blank Facades can be brought into a scene and bound to any card in that scene with open holes. Facade cards already in play can appear in any scene if they are connected to another card that is in the scene -- either as a character being played, the location the characters are at, or a prop in the possession of a character being played. Both methods cost one token, and can be done at the start or in the middle of any scene.
In a scene, a Facade does not require a token to activate its characteristics and connections. When playing your Facade, however, you may spend tokens to perform supernatural tricks and stunts. You may spend one token as normal, or spend two or even three tokens, which requires your opponent to activate two or three characteristics of his own to respond. However many tokens you spend, this always increases Tension by one.
In the rare cases that an Other is drawn into the Web, any of their characteristics can be activated without a token by anyone in conflict with them. On the other hand, a player roleplaying her Other may spend tokens as a Facade to demonstrate supernatural powers; these tokens count double (so one token from an Other must be countered by two tokens by any opponents). An Other's supernatural powers always increases Tension by one.
At any point in a scene, any non-Audience player may declare that they are Feeding. They must select a card with at least one characteristic that is involved in the scene to Feed on. This allows the player to regain tokens up to their limit of ten tokens. Doing this, however, always increases Tension. The player may gain two tokens for every point of Tension they add. If their Facade is in the scene, they may gain three tokens for every point of Tension. If their conspirator is in the scene, they immediately replenish their entire pool, but immediately trigger a Backlash.
Feeding also acts as a Corruption, turning one characteristic into a notation that the card was the target of a feeding. If the card represents a person or group of people, they were fed on; if the card represents a place, people were fed on there; if a prop, someone holding the prop was fed on, leaving telltale marks on the prop, and so on. Feeding corruption happens immediately and does not need to be ratified by the Audience. Further, once a characteristic is so corrupted, it cannot be changed again.
Closing Scenes and Ratification
The Scene ends when the player who started it is satisfied that it is completed, or when the Audience declares that they're bored. When each scene is concluded, the Audience players for that scene will select one or more of the Machination cards on the basis of their portrayal in the scene. The Machinations written on these cards come to pass; characteristics are revealed and corrupted and connections are bound and severed according to the instructions on the cards. For each card selected, each Audience member may take two tokens from those spent in the scene's Conflicts. The rest of the tokens are discarded.
If any of the selected Machinations attempt to Bind an Other card into the Web, the player of that Other may substitute one of his Facade cards, instead. If he controls a Facade card already in play and it has open holes, he may use that card. Alternately, he may introduce a new Facade into the Web at no cost.
Tension, Backlash, and Exposure
Tension represents the general unease of humanity, who, while they are not consciously aware of the Others among them, still have a gut feeling that tells them that something is not quite right. Unsubtle acts of the Others increase that feeling of unease. If Tension reaches a certain Threshold, the Others' supernatural manipulation has attracted attention and a Backlash of dire consequences follow.
The Threshold is equal to the number of players in the game. Each time a card is Corrupted or a connection is Severed, Tension is increased by one. Each time a Facade uses supernatural powers in a scene, Tension is increased. Tension is also increased whenever a player Feeds. Whenever Tension meets or exceeds the Threshold, a Backlash is triggered. If a scene is in progress, it ends immediately.
When a Backlash occurs, the Chosen One starts to put things together. On the first Backlash, every card connected to the Chosen One is marked with a black dot next to its name. These are the people, places, and things that the Chosen One has got to know, either through deliberate investigation or happenstance. On every subsequent turn, every card connected to a marked card gains a black dot of its own, as the Chosen One's understanding of the situation grows.
Total up the number of black dotted cards that each player has Fed on (one card that has been Fed on by the same player multiple times still counts as one card). Add the number of that player's Facades that has a black dot. If the player's conspirator card has a black dot, double their total. Whoever's total is highest is at least partially Exposed, and one of their characteristics will be set by the other players. If more than one player tie for the highest total, everyone with the high score is Exposed.
Each unexposed player makes a suggestion for how to define one of the Exposed Other's characteristics, and the player with the lowest total chooses one. The exposed player also loses a Facade of their choosing -- either one of their blanks or one already in play, which becomes a normal card. The Exposed player then takes a turn framing a scene, even if this upsets turn order, where the Chosen One somehow discovers the Other's Exposed characteristic and the Facade is killed, dispelled, abandoned, or somehow nullified. Machinations are played and resolved as normal in this scene.
Tension is thereafter reduced back to zero, to inevitably climb back up to the Threshold again.
Yeah, that'd be a good idea.
So. One endgame shy of a nice companion microgame to Conquer the Horizon.