The Writer’s Game: Wildermyth

(This column is posted at 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

Stacking Stories To The Stars

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

Lately, I’ve been playing Wildermyth, an RPG game about emergent storytelling. Playing a set of characters (and maybe guest stars) one adventures around, while choices, semi-random events, and so on come together. Characters become unique, complex individuals, small moments building to broad strokes – and may even become a “guest star” in later games.

I will probably write more on the game later, but I want to focus on how this game reflects good writing.

In Wildermyth, characters have a set of personality traits and abilities. As you play, these traits and other opportunities come together to give you narrative choices. These tiny moments create a grand epic – though there are “campaigns with plots,” you can also just play randomized games and let your own story emerge.

As I played the game, I realized this reminded me of good writing. Writing is about stacking stories atop stories to make a bigger story:

  • A book is a story.
  • The chapters of a book can (and should be) their own tiny tales.
  • A good scene is also a story, albeit one in context.
  • A single paragraph, done right, is a small story, leading from point A to point B.
  • I could even argue, in the right mood, a sentence is its own story. But I might not be sober.

It’s stories all the way down – and all the way up. I would say good authors realize most of this, and excellent authors understand this completely.

Think of how a truly delicious tale feels. Every part of it makes sense and is engaging, from a bit of backstory to a “just like them” piece of character quippery. Epic motions of the world make as much sense as the tiny pebble-starts-the-avalanche moments.

Less satisfying works lack this element, among others. Scenes exist without reason (and, “hey, cool backstory is a reason.”). Cause and effect have given up on a committed relationship. It’s a Frankenstory, without the spark of life.

The lesson I take from this is to remember the stack of stories that make up any one tale. Pay attention to the parts and the whole because you can’t separate them.

If you want a good example, well, I have a game to recommend . . .

Steven Savage