Here's how to get started:
- Read through the Basic Rules.
- Pick a character deck.
- Pick deck options.
- Gain two Assets and Goals.
- Go around the table framing and playing through scenes.
- When you've made enough progress on a Goal, try to complete it.
- When someone completes two goals, the game winds up.
If you'd like to get a sense for how the game is played, check out this playlist!
Who You Can Play
Wizards Aren't Gentlemen offers five different character types to play as:
Given a taste of magical power, the Apprentice finds that their life has suddenly got a lot easier. Little do they know, as they frivolously magic their problems away, that all power comes with a cost.
The Bound Servant.
Whether they're a pit-fiend of the nether hells or a blot of lightning shaped into the form of a man, the Bound Servant exists to do as their master wills. Or at least, what they think is in their master's best interests...
A life of Wizardry can make one strange, and whether voluntarily or not many find themselves exiled to the fringes of magical society. Still, these Hermits have learned powerful magic in their long lives, and often receive visitors asking for their wisdom.
The Fringe Occultist.
Even among a society of reality-breakers, there are some things that are just not done. The Fringe Occultist crosses that line with impunity, calling on strange and fell powers and pushing the boundaries of magic.
Keeping a society of wizards in check is a thankless task, but someone's got to do it. Inquisitors can shut down magic and pass judgement on others, but even on their days off they can find themselves drawn into other wizard's squabbles.
Making A Character
Here's how to make a character:
- Choose a character deck.
- Choose two of your deck's move cards to start play with. Place them face-up in front of you.
- Flip the other move cards facedown to use as your starting Tokens.
- Take a basic move card. These abilities are always available to all characters.
- You have a particular relationship with two characters: see your deck’s relationship cards. Choose a player for each and tell them what it entails.
- Decide on a style, personality and name for your character, using the suggestions in your deck if you like, and introduce them to the table.
Adrian decides he wants to play Albus, a Hermit cast out of magic society for his obsessions.
He takes the Hermit deck, and starts looking through its move cards.
He picks two - Ancient Runes and Wizard's Panoply - and places those in front of him.
He flips the remaining three over, giving him three tokens: a ♥♣, a ♣♦, and a ♣♠.
He takes a basic move card, and looks on its back to remind him of the Scene Framing and Goal Achieving rules.
For his positive relationship, he must pick a rival - someone who makes him feel inferior about his own magic. He chooses Beatrice's Inquisitor - they decide that he's least comfortable with divination magic, and is hoping to learn from her ability to seek the truth. He passes her the card to remind them both of the relationship.
For his negative relationship, he must pick someone who reminds him why he left civilisation. He decides it's Caspian's Apprentice, and passes him the negative relationship card to remind him of how he can interfere with the Hermit's activities.
Finally, he looks over the 'Making Your Hermit' card. For a name, he decides on Albus. For a Hermitage, he decides he lurks in a grove in the heart of the forest. For a title, he likes the sound of Thrice-Cursed. For a personality, he goes with 'scholarly and bookish'.
Setting and Tone
Wizards Aren't Gentlemen tells stories in the mould of Clark Ashton Smith and Jack Vance. They're set in a world where miraculous events are commonplace and eccentric mages feud with each other dismissive of the mortals toiling below. Wizards have a society of their own with complex social rules, kept in check by grim Inquisitors.
Feel free to include elements from your favourite fantasy works, but remember these principles:
- Magic can work miracles.
- Magic makes you weird.
- Magic doesn't stop you from feeling lovesick, envious and arrogant.
- A problem solved with magic may come back to bite you.
In tone, we're aiming for acid-trip fantasy meets academic infighting. Focus on jostling with the other wizards for status, furthering your magical power, and attempting to gain your heart's desire. Outright magical duels shouldn't be common, and direct violence against the other characters should only be employed as a last resort or if all players involved are cool about it.
Wizards Aren't Gentlemen doesn’t use dice, or any other random element. Instead, it works like a conversation. You’ll describe your actions, other players will describe what their character does in response, and the conversation continues onward. Like any conversation you take turns to speak, but it's not like taking turns in chess - you can add on to someone else's suggestions, come up with ideas of your own, interject if things are going down a path you don't like and so on.
When someone’s interacting with the environment or with characters that aren’t owned by any particular player, someone needs to decide what happens. Normally that'll be someone not currently participating in the scene, or the group as a whole can decide.
Occasionally, the actions you describe your character taking will have particular importance to the story, and you’ll use a move card to resolve it. These move cards are there to mediate the conversation, and give the story some structure - like pruning a topiary to get the most pleasing shape!
When you use a move card, start and end with the fiction:
- Start by saying what your character's doing that activates the move.
- After its mechanics have been resolved, interpret its results to make sense in the current situation and flow back into the conversation.
How Moves Work
Moves are your special abilities - your ability to declare that something happens or place extra rules on what other players can say or do.
With a few exceptions each move card holds the following:
The circumstances when the move comes into play, often including token costs. Once you've met activated one of your move cards, you must carry on and resolve the rest of it.
Something that happens when it’s activated. This may have options for the triggering player or others to choose from, but its effects are guaranteed to happen unless some other move interferes.
Many moves will have some optional extra effect you can produce by spending tokens. These can alter the move's effects, add extra bonuses, or add extra limitations to other character's behaviour.
Here's an example move from The Hermit:
DivinationYour hermitage is only isolating when you want it to be.
With an incantation and a reflective surface...
...you can see and hear what's happening elsewhere in the world.
♥ The connection is two way: those you're watching can see and hear you.
Tokens are the key force in Wizards Aren't Gentlemen. They come in five flavours:
- ♥ Grace: your ability to be inspiring, dignified and polite.
- ♣ Knowhow: your knowledge of trivia and arcane secrets.
- ♠ Skulduggery: your ability to be underhanded and sneaky.
- ♦ Wits: your ability to understand situations and act quickly.
These four basic token types are found on the back of character move cards. Each card has two different suits on its back, meaning that the card can be spent as either of those token types. For details about card spending, see here.
Finally, there are ❂ Excellence tokens, found on the back of Asset/Goal cards. These can be spent as any of the other types. You start with none of these, but each character deck has a particular Trouble Move they can activate to gain one.
Your personal play area has three important sections: your hand of token cards, your faceup move cards, and your discarded cards.
When you spend a token place it in your discard pile.
When a move tells you to bank a token, put it under the move card.
Banked cards are committed and are only spent in specific ways.
When you frame a scene you refresh your discarded cards, placing them back with your hand of free token cards.
Gaining New Moves
Each character has a Trouble Move. These introduce or further a subplot specific to your character that piles adversity on them until everything somehow works out.
Trouble Moves don't just complicate your character's life; they're also the only way of gaining new abilities. When you activate your Trouble Move you replace one of your token cards with a ❂ token, flipping that character card faceup and placing it with your other character moves. From then on you can use that move along with your other ones.
Assets and Goals
Each character will have two things they’re hoping to achieve, and two unique assets to use to try and bring it about.
As part of game setup, you'll draft two Asset/Goal cards. The remainder of the Asset/Goal cards should be flipped over to be used as ✦ tokens. These aren’t meant to be a limited resource - use beads, coins some other kind of marker to track them if you run out!
As you play and your character works towards your Goals, you'll bank ✦ tokens on them. When Assets help you with this, an extra token is banked.
When you think you've made enough progress, you cash in those ❂ tokens in an all-or-nothing bid to complete the Goal.
Accomplishing a Goal
To achieve a Goal, frame your scene with the explicit aim of finishing it. Each other player suggests an impediment to achieving the Goal. For this scene, you may use the ❂ tokens banked on the Goal.
At the end of the scene agree as a group whether the goal’s been achieved. If so, flip over the Goal and gain it as a ❂ token. If not, discard it - you've missed your shot. Draw a new Asset/Goal card and narrate how this new objective and new resource enter your life thanks to failing the previous Goal.
Either way, discard all ❂ tokens banked on the goal.
If both of your Goals have been accomplished or failed, the game enters its epilogue.
Albus has banked three ❂ tokens on his goal to lead the first expedition to the deadly Plateau of Groog. As he frames the scene he declares it's time for the expedition to set off.
The other players confer. Beatrice suggests that the mountain pass to the plateau is only open for one minute every day. Caspian suggests that the plateau is guarded by demons imprisoned in suits of armour. Dorian declares that the last expedition to attempt the ascent was killed and reanimated by a foul curse and still haunts the pass.
The scene begins, and Albus has three extra ❂ tokens to help him overcome the plateau's dangers.
If he succeeds, he'll flip over the Goal to its ❂ side and swap it for a facedown character card, gaining an extra move to use.
If he fails, he'll discard the Goal (and with it the Asset of a tame monster that follows his commands). He'll then draw a new Asset and Goal card and explain how he gained this new objective and resource.
In Wizards Aren't Gentlemen you take it in turns to be the focus of a scene in the story you're telling. For that scene, they're the main character, and we care more about their story than about other character's. The game begins with focus on the Apprentice, or on the youngest player if they’re not in play.
Each story starts in one of two Locations: the Wizard's Tower or the Tavern. Put those location cards down in the centre of the table. The starting focus then frames the first scene.
If you have no free ❂ tokens you may decide to use your Trouble Move. If not:
- Decide an aim for your character. This should be doable within a single scene and fit with the game’s tone.
- Refresh all tokens in your discard pile.
- Pick an established or new Location to set the scene in.
- Add extra details: scenery, player characters that are present, minor characters here for the scene and who’s playing them, and any other details of interest.
- Start the scene!
- After the scene's come to a close, pass scene framing on to the player clockwise from you.
In your first few scenes, remember to activate your Trouble Move. Using it gets you useful tokens, more abilities, and extra prompts for your story!
Scene Framing Example
It's Albus' turn to be the focus. First he refreshes the two token cards in his discard pile, taking them back into his hand.
Next, he decides that he wants to pursue his Goal of working on a way to get tenure at the academy of magic. He decides his Aim: discover some lost lore at the Arcane Library.
He and the other players fill out more details. Albus suggests that someone could play a librarian, or an imprisoned demon. Beatrice volunteers to play the librarian, and suggests she's a novice win over her head. Caspian says he can play the demon - he thinks it'll be fun to see if he can get Albus to release him. Dorian says he'll play his Fringe Occultist, here researching Exorcism rites.
They work out a description of the library - a cylindrical well going deep into the earth lit by glowing crystals, with the tomes becoming increasingly more dangerous as you go further down.
The scene begins, with Albus narrating his descent to the first level of the library...
Once play begins, everyone has a voice in triggering and resolving moves.
If you’re the focus, pursue your aim while looking for chances to use your moves.
If you’re playing your character, ask:
- What do I have that the focus needs?
- What do I want from them?
- How can I link their aim and my goals?
If you’re playing a minor character, ask:
- What stock character traits would make this character entertaining?
- Can I give the focus a challenge, or a chance to shine?
- Is the scene dragging? Can I hurry it up?
The scene ends when the active player achieves their aim or their aim becomes impossible.
If you’ve made progress towards a Goal using an Asset, bank a ❂ token under it. The Asset doesn't need to be yours, but if it's someone else's Asset you'll need their permission or use your moves to get control over it.
Scene ownership then passes clockwise, and a new scene is framed.
The scene is as described in Scene Framing. Albus (a Hermit) narrates his arrival at the Arcane Library and plays through a conversation with Beatrice (playing a librarian) about the location of maps to an ancient ruin.
They head down a few levels, and run into Caspian (an imprisoned demon) and Dorian (a Fringe Occultist) in a heated argument about the precise details of which spirits which rite can exorcise.
Dorian and Albus have a discussion and agree on a trade - if Dorian can get Albus the ruin's location, Albus will help him with the exorcism.
Dorian pulls out his Scrying Mirror (an Asset) and begins locating the ruin, but Caspian decides this is the time to try his escape. He and Beatrice describe his shattering of the bindings upon him, and Beatrice's fumbling attempts to maintain the wards. Albus declares he writes certain symbols on his hand, activating his move Ancient Runes. A ♣ spend lets him declare that 'A specific creature can't approach or affect the runes' - this allows him to push Caspian back into his cage by holding his hand up and forcing the demon back.
Dorian has finished his scrying, and reveals to Albus that the ruins are high up in the World's Spine mountains. Albus thanks him and takes out his enchanted quill, writing down runes of exorcism. This combination of Ancient Runes and Wizard's Panoply creates a temporary Asset that will be useful for as long as Albus banks a ♣ token on the Wizard's Panoply card.
The scene ends with Albus and Dorian leaving (and Caspian cursing Beatrice as she seals him away).
Albus advanced his goal with the use of Dorian's Asset, and so banks a ❂ token on it. Dorian advanced his goal of exorcising a troublesome spirit with the help of Albus' spell, and so banks a ❂ token on his own goal.
Scene framing is passed clockwise to Beatrice, and a new scene begins...
Each story starts in one of two places - the Wizard's Tower or the Tavern. Put those location cards down in the centre of the table.
As part of Scene Framing you’ll add more locations to the mix - keep track of them using the included cards or writing them down.
Each Location has ideas for characters to play, and events that might happen there. Anyone who's not currently playing a main character can narrate the arrival of one of these minor characters, or declare that one of the listed events has begun to happen. The player who introduced them takes responsibility for deciding how character's moves affecting them are resolved.
Ending the Game
If a player completes both their goals, the game enters its final stage. It's time to wind up the story.
Go clockwise around the table. Each player narrates an epilogue for their character, wrapping up their Trouble Move sub-plot and Goals.
Include a rise in status, good fortune or happy outcome for each met goal, and a public embarrassment, stroke of bad luck or fall from grace for each unmet or failed goal.
Don't make things too final - there's always room for another tale!