Alas, poor Everway; your first year as a product has been fraught with troubles.
Advance publicity made the game seem (to my friends & myself, at least) like a faddish collectible card game/RPG hybrid. Then, Wizards of the Coast put it on the shelves at a forbidding list price of $32, which by their account was selling at a loss. In April the Magic mavens dropped it along with all of their RPG enterprises. It has finally ended up in the hands of industry newcomer Rubicom Press (after a deal with Pagan Publishing fell through), with no word as yet on when a new edition or supplements will see print.
All this is unfortunate, in light of what a good game it is. As one would gather from the price tag, the components are lush and beautiful, exemplifying one of the industry's most impressive graphic presentations. And the game itself, written by top-notch designer Jonathan Tweet (Ars Magica, Over the Edge), is a formidable entry in the growing field (spearheaded by Amber) of diceless RPGs.
Everway casts PCs as "Spherewalkers": heroes who roam from world to world through a network of magical gates which ultimately lead to the fantastical city of Everway. The gamebook supplies plenty of background information for the city whose name it bears, whose culture is loosely based on that of traditional African societies - just one aspect of the designer's mandate to explore fantasy environments different from the stereotypical pseudo-European settings of RPGs.
Characters in Everway are epic heroes who can be endowed with any manner of supernatural powers, magical spells and weapons, or what-have-you. A character's backstory is invented with the aid of "Vision Cards" featuring fantasy artwork, often with African, Oriental or Native American motifs. The player selects a few and makes up a story out of them; the other players and GM ask hopefully thought-provoking questions to help flesh it out. The actual number-crunching part of character creation is extremely easy and designed for maximum flexibility in terms of player inventiveness, which requires some oversight on the GM's part.
Of course, any diceless game requires an increased measure of GM oversight, since there are fewer rules structures to make task resolution easy. Everway relies on a Tarot-esque deck of 36 fortune cards to guide the resolution of character actions. Each card bears a symbolic image (e.g. "the Lion", "the Soldier", "Nature") along with a brief phrase suggesting the card's meaning. The GM draws a card and uses it to interpret the results and ramifications of a character's actions. For instance, if the mighty Lord Strong was trying to life a gate (or bend a bar, for you AD&D veterans), and the GM drew "the Lion" ("the body prevails"), he would likely rule that the attempt was successful.
Naturally, this approach isn't for everyone. The Everway GM (and diceless GM's in general) is at a greater risk for accusations of persecution or favoritism, since there is no way to appeal to an impartial rules structure. In face, Everway defines GM as a "Game Moderator" rather than a "Game Master" - indicative of the skills of impartiality and adjudication that the game requires. The players, in turn, must be especially willing to trust and respect the GM, in order to prevent the game from degenerating into endless quibbling over this or that interpretation of the cards.
Moreover, the excitement of combat is diminished in a certain way when the players know that the results of a fight are essentially decided by the GM. Gone are the thrills of beating a superior opponent with a lucky critical blow and the trepidation of watching your "hit points" or "wound levels" steadily dwindle. Consequently, Everway places a greater emphasis on social interaction and facing moral dilemmas. Hardly anyone would argue that this makes the game inferior, but the lack of a truly random combat system does remove a certain type of excitement that should be familiar to most role-players
To my mind, though, this is a minor quibble. I find diceless gaming a pleasant change from the norm in any event, and Everway in particular offers endless creative possibilities for both player and GM. Hopefully, Rubicon will soon release a less expensive, and attract more people to this superlative game.
Highs - Looks damn good. The system is innovative and easy to use. Players should be pleased with the enormous latitude they have in character creation.
Lows - Yeeouch - it's expensive! Also, I think it needs a more thorough examination of the method of adjudicating diceless games (Amber would be a good example to follow).
Final Call - Amber appeals mainly to readers of the "Amber" novels; Everway is a diceless RPG for all. I predict classic status.