Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Rota Fortunae

[This is the 18th of my April A-Z Challenge series of posts on Symbols, Glyphs, and Sigils. Each day I'll try to include some material that old-school role-playing gamers will find useful, but I can't guarantee that there won't also just be a few posts filled with weirdness for the sake of weirdness....]
from a deck by Nigel Jackson

Today's symbol is more like a piece of traditional medieval imagery: the Wheel of Fortune.  Wikipedia describes various meanings and cultural sources (and there's also the Tarot Trump of the same name), but I can't say it any better than Joseph Campbell did in his amazing interview with Bill Moyers from the late 1980s...
In the Middle Ages, a favorite image that occurs in many, many contexts is the wheel of fortune. There's the hub of the wheel, and there is the revolving rim of the wheel. For example, if you are attached to the rim of the wheel of fortune, you will be either above going down or at the bottom coming up. But if you are at the hub, you are in the same place all the time. That is the sense of the marriage vow - I take you in health or sickness, in wealth or poverty: going up or going down. But I take you as my center, and you are my bliss, not the wealth that you might bring me, not the social prestige, but you. That is following your bliss.
It's about much more than marriage, of course.  I should also quote modern-day philosopher and jackalope enthusiast Bud Luckey, who put it more succinctly:
Now, sometimes you're up,
And sometimes you're down.
When you find that you're down,
Well just look around!
You still got a body,
Good legs and fine feet.
Get your head in the right place
And, hey, you're complete!
Finding a peaceful "central hub" amidst all the ups and downs of the Wheel is a big challenge for me, but having these poetic images close to hand can sure be helpful.

When it comes to games, we can forget momentarily about the deep philosophy, and revel in the fun of wheels and spinners! :-)  I always loved the multi-colored look of the one from the Game of Life (pictured here), and wonder if the big one on the Pat Sajak game show was inspired by it.

Even cooler in some ways are wheels that don't merely randomize, but instead can be used to help you figure out useful things in your chosen pastime.  D&D fans may remember the wheel-shaped Combat Computer from Dragon #74 that assists the player in figuring out what number needs to be rolled to hit an opponent.  This may have been inspired by circular slide rules that are still used by pilots even in this age of GPS.  As a kid, I remember getting to play around with a Grumbacher Color Compass, a set of wheels that provides all manner of color combinations and explains color theory for painters.

I guess I enjoy wheels and spinners for the same reason I love the strange polyhedral dice of RPGs.  It's more fun to have a variety of ways to do what you love doing... This is why I sometimes can't understand what drives some RPG people to want to use a unified resolution mechanic to figure out whether their tasks succeed or fail.  Just using a single type of die roll for everything seems so bland to me... Why would one want to make the experience of fighting a monster "mechanically" equivalent to casting a magic spell, or disarming a fiendish trap, or seducing a fiendish princess?


  1. spinners are almost as much fun as poppers (like in trouble- that domed dice)

    Happy A to Z

    1. I almost forgot about "Pop-o-Matics!" Those were awesome, too.