Tag Archives: RPG

The Writer’s Game: Wildermyth

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Wildermyth (released 2021, Worldwalker games) took the computer gaming scene by storm even after nearly two years in Early Access.  It was well-praised by many, and I can personally attest that it was both fun and gripping.

In the game, one takes a series of generated characters through various adventures, facing monsters and challenges.  Your party faces enemies tactical battles with enemies, wanders the land scouting and rebuilding towns, and engages in unique story moments.  Characters may become legends and be used again in other games – or even reappear randomly – and become more powerful and famous.

It is a game of making legends and remixing them – much as humans do anyway.  It also provides many lessons for writers.

Nail The Feel

Wildermyth ensures it feels like a you’re experiencing an epic tale.  The game’s graphics look like storybook art – on the battlefield, characters and scenery look like paper cutouts.  Appropriate moody music plays throughout your adventures.  Character appearances change, sometimes radically, as mythic powers and experiences change mind and body.

Wildermyth communicates with you by having the proper aesthetic.  Every part of it says “storybook legend.”  Storytellers – whatever their media – need to set the mood as well.

Wrap The Mechanics

As mentioned, in Wildermyth, you save characters after successful adventures and other actions.  This lets you reuse them, “remixing” heroes old and new in adventures and even improving them for later games.  The game portrays this as a “Legacy” of stories that is remixed – like our own Arthurian legends.

Of course, this is just a classic “Roguelite” mechanic of past adventures paying off for later play.  But Wildermyth cleverly wraps the mechanic in a kind of “meta-story” that works with the feel of the game.  Sometimes in writing, “recasting” a common idea differently both enhances a tale, but also ties into the aesthetic you’re aiming for.

Wildermyth contains other familiar mechanics as well – grid-based tactical battles, choose-your-own-adventure options, etc.  But all of these work in service of the game’s aesthetic and goals.

The Moments Count

As one plays Wildermyth, small “plotlets” emerge – partially randomized, partially due to character traits and situations.  A character may find a hidden gem, befriend a forest creature, or have an idea how to ambush an enemy.  Choices may make combat easier, change a character, have them fall in love, etc.

All of these “plotlets” add up over a game session, evolving the characters and their stories.  Your characters are not just an epic quest; they’re composed of these moments, evolving them into someone else.  They may even seem to take on a life of their own as you play.

For writers, this is a reminder that character details matter – characters are composed of them.  It’s also a reminder that these details mean characters may surprise you unexpectedly.

Change Is All

Stories are about change of some kind, even if the only change is in the reader.  Wildermyth embraces change.

In Wildermyth, every battle, every “plotlet” changes the characters and the world.  Enemies get stronger, learning from defeat.  Characters grow in experience, fall in love, get married, become werewolves (really), and more.  In long games, party members retire and may even die, with their children carrying on their legacy.

This change gives the game both urgency and meaning.  There is an urgency to make every moment count, and meaning because every action has repercussions.  In short, it makes each game a story.

Wildermyth I is an example of how change both makes and drives a story – because you play through that change and experience it.

Living the Legend

Wildermyth is a game about creating stories.  Though there are familiar mechanics, the way they are implemented and combined makes the game, well, legendary.  With so much driving your adventure forward, it becomes gripping, personal – and a game writers can learn from.

Lessons for Writers

All works have a feel.  Aiming to achieve that is important to deliver your tale.

You can “re-wrap” familiar mechanics and elements in new ways to fit the feel of your story – and get away with standard but expected aspects in new ways.

Characters are composed of details and “plotlets.”  Being aware of that brings them to life in ways that can surprise you.

Change is what a story’s about.  A good story moves forward (appropriately), and change brings both meaning and grips the audience.

Steven Savage

The Writer’s Game: Demon’s Winter

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I continue to analyze what video games I’ve played provide lessons for writers! This time, a blast from the long past!

Demon’s Winter was released in 1988, a sequel to Shard of Spring which I never played.  Though it had mixed reviews, I found it to be excellent and replayed it at least three times.  Not only was it a fun game, it had excellent storytelling which provides valuable lessons for writers.

The core of Demon’s Winter is something we’ve seen all too often (more so since the 80’s).  Monsters destroy your village so you inevitably sally forth with a group of diverse characters to fight evil.  Demon’s Winter went beyond the stereotypes with excellent story and setting elements.

Spoilers follow.  Yes, for a game from 1988, but I feel I should say it.

One Step Beyond

The first thing I noticed playing Demon’s Winter was the class (profession) and skill system.  Many games of the time essentially stole from Dungeon’s and Dragons and called it a day.  Another party with a fighter, a mage, a thief, etc.  Demon’s Winter did its own thing while building a setting.

First, gone were many typical generic classes.  Combat characters had to choose between a wilderness-wandering Ranger, a holy Paladin, etc.  Wielders of magic drew their abilities from multiple styles.  There were even two pantheons of gods for religious characters to follow.  Each character could be customized further, adding to the richness.

The manual of the game explained the character choices in detail.  I learned why it was hard for Paladins to learn certain magics – they avoided anything that wasn’t healing (or you paid a lot of skill points).  The two pantheons of gods were described in detail.  The manual helped the setting feel alive and refreshingly different.

For writers, this is a good lesson that you can play with tropes audiences expected while still making them interesting.  Explore the tropes your own way and add your own details and worldbuilding to bring it together.

Say It And Show It

When playing Demon’s Winter, I was pleased to see that places and story elements mentioned came into play.  There was not a pile of generic fantasy names and flummery, but actual things you’d see and deal with.  Something said in passing might be very important later.

My favorite part of this was discovering a seemingly throwaway line about a Dwarven Forge was real.  My party trekked across a strange island and found this hidden place that made weapons.  Needless to say, we left well-armed to fight evil, and I enjoyed the game’s rich continuity that much more.

This is a classic element of writing – foreshadowing, say-it-see it, etc.  But it’s nice to see it well done and in a way that matters.

Shake The World

Fantasy Epics often see the world changed and threatened.  Demon’s Winter was more than happy to break the rules of the setting when the bad guys got busy.

How broken?  The first major plot twist in the game sees the demonic villain of Demon’s Winter murder the gods.

There I am, slightly past the halfway point of the game, when I am informed the gods have been dead.  Clerics and shamans in the party lose their powers and seek out elder deities to get them back.  The impact of that moment stays with me to this day.

Demon’s Winter didn’t stop with deicide.  As your party closes in on the villain, he plunges the world into eternal winter and destroys it.  Cities and towns you relied on are gone, the graphics change, and survival becomes harder.  The game’s final arc takes on a post-apocalyptic bent.

None of these moments felt cheap because they fit the story and the setting.  The world broke in ways both impactful and believable, and I felt those moments.

For writers, it’s a good reminder it’s fine to break things up and shake them up if it makes sense.  Doing that can make the most sense, and it engages your audience. 

End It Well

Finally, I remember Demon’s Winter for the endings.  Once you defeat the big bad, you had two impressive possible endings.

First, you can join with one of the older gods and achieve dietyhood.  This is a nice ending, but the game suggests that your new career may be in danger when evil rises again!  A solid ending with room for a sequel.

The second ending is one that stands out.  If your heroes choose to stay mortal, they each get a different ending based on character class.  Depending on your party composition, you get a different set of stories and a satisfying conclusion for each character.  The team Theif may become a legend while seeking great treasure while the psychic Visionary becomes an advisor to the new ruler.

This second ending added personalization to the ending, drawing the curtain on your adventure in ways that felt real.  You had closure not just on the story, but your characters in a way that gave your tale personal meaning.

Unfreezing Ideas With Demon’s Winter

Demon’s Winter went far for a game, let alone a game from the late 80’s in an genre often filled with derivatives.  It built a world where characters meant something, smashed their world when needed, then gave them personal and satisfying endings.  By embodying these important lessons, it provides an example of how impactful they can be.

Takeaway’s for writers:

  • You can use tropes, but give them your own twist and the details to make them living and believable.
  • If you call out or bring something up, it probably should be part of your story later.  That also helps with worldbuilding.
  • Be willing to shake up or break your world in ways that fit your tale.  Give such things meaning and impact because sometimes you have to shatter expectations to fulfill them.
  • Make your endings personal so make the characters’ journeys relevant and impactful.  This doesn’t need to be complex, but it should be meaningful.

Steven Savage

Inspiration from Other Sources: RPGs

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

A few times I and my friend Serdar have discussed how we take inspiration for our writing from sources other than writing. Serdar often takes inspiration from music, I get inspiration from management processes, and so on. Lately I had a strange and interesting inspiration I wanted to share.

Role-playing games – but probably not in the way you suspect.

I began studying RPGs in depth lately for two reasons – first, to study them for my related works, and as I’d taken an interest in trying some game design. Pleasantly, I found inspiration for my fiction writing efforts as well, and I wanted to share my insights.

RPGs are sort of storytelling games – I say sort of because some games or groups have different preferences, such as having more of a tactical military game. But, overall, RPGs tell stories and many game systems in the last two decades or so have been storytelling focused, such as FATE, Cortex, or Forged In The Dark.

You have to turn writing into rules, make rules support story. Just a few examples from my latest studies and past experiences:

  • FATE literally makes character traits part of the game. You define Aspects, vital character traits, that could be everything from “Magical Powers” to “Really awful manners.” That made me think of how many times we don’t think about “what stands out with a character.”
  • The Forged In The Dark games constantly emphasize cause and effect and results and impacts. It’s meant to construct stories (and surprise players and GMs) and keep up a pace, and is a good example of interesting engagement with the story.
  • Among the FitD game, Scum and Villainy, their “Firefly-but-not” game system has various well-realized space western/space rouge archetypes that help me see how you can view archetypes. Probably my favorite is the Scoundrel (aka Not Han Solo But Is) who’s abilities include things like being able to do dangerous things and get special “gambits” to allow them to take more foolish risks. It’s a great example of turning concept into rules – and thinking about concepts.
  • The punishing CRPG Darkest Dungeon added intense psychology and madness rules, which meant generic characters quickly evolved personalities. Sure they were mechanics, but they added the feel of a story and a drama, a reminder of how such things should have impact in a tale.

Of course, as I write this I can see great lessons from older games:

  • Champions, that famous formative Superhero RPG made disadvantages and backstories part of the game. It made you think about characters, and almost forced characterization even if you tried to avoid it (hard to avoid your tendency to go berserk around blood).
  • Villains and Vigilantes, another venerable game, had the concept of points you used to invent things or solve problems – basically you had Brilliant Ideas you could spend. A good reminder of how characters have inspirations, suddenly turn the plot around, etc. – as a rule.
  • The venerable and abused Character Class idea is a good reminder about making characters distinct. From early D&D to the wild classes of Apocalypse World are reminders of how different is interesting.

I could probably make enormous lists of these – and I may if I can find a non-boring way to do it. Either way, that’s one of my latest inspirations – RPGs. If you’re looking for some new ideas or to think over your writing, maybe a break to play a game or at least examine one might unlock some ideas.

I’d love to hear your insights.

Steven Savage