It's an auspicious day in the kingdom of Atana. Members of the gentry have gathered in their finest with folks from the kingdom of Davern to witness the wedding between their two princes. As officiant, Queen Soproxi of Atana bursts dramatically into the room, fashionably late to the festivities. "GOOD MORNING RICH MEMBERS OF ATANA!" she yells. "AND BEAUTIFUL WAR-TORN DAVES! I'll be leading you through this beautiful ceremony this afternoon!"
The queen's bold entrance is met with dozens of reactions from the crowd in the form of Discord emoticons beneath her all-caps messages. There are nearly 50 of us sitting silently in a voice chat room called "the-wedding" listening to a bot called "Rythm" provide the sounds of a lute-playing bard. An unknown number more are spectating the ceremony unfold in several text channels. I've spent my first confusing moments in the official Discord server for kingdom management game Yes, Your Grace wondering exactly what the hell is going on.
Dungeons & Discords
The important roles of the kings, queens, and princes are all played by community-elected members. Mike Rose, company director of Yes, Your Grace's publisher No More Robots, says the first few weeks of the server were spent letting members get to know one another and choosing a kingdom to join.
After that, Rose says he encouraged folks to start choosing "parts" to play. "I didn't realize at the time what I was doing," Rose says. "I essentially turned the Discord server into a D&D session. Just a really, really long one." The Discord server was set up by No More Robots as a fun and interactive way to get community members excited about Yes, Your Grace in the months leading up to its release.
Initially the server roleplay followed the plot of the game, Yes, Your Grace's director Rafal Bryks explained. The beta test I played opens with the Davern king brokering a marriage between his kingdom and Atana to secure troops to defend against the Radovians. Beyond that, Rose says the plot of the server meta game diverges to avoid spoilers and let players choose their own destiny, albeit guided by his loose plan of events.
As part of the roleplay, server members vote on how to address scenarios Rose throws at them. Yes, Your Grace will similarly challenge players to make decisions about the Davern kingdom's future. Sometimes they have fanart contests. Other times they propose festivals. Occasionally Rose gathers them all for live events like the royal wedding.
Back at the wedding, Queen Soproxi continues the ceremony with a "Yeah, yeah, beloved, love each other passionately and solemnly, blah blah blah," much to the delight of her audience. She skips over the vows, telling the two princes they can deliver them as toasts instead.
Prince Bun of Atana and Prince Davizh of Davern, apparently much in love already, deliver passionate toasts to one another. After Atana helped to crush the Radovian incursion that ravaged Davern, both are eager to become the symbol of peace and strength their kingdoms need. "I love you and vow to be and work by your side for the rest of my life," Prince Davizh promises in his speech. "I couldn't be happier to introduce you as my beloved husband," Bun answers in a toast of his own.
Discord certainly wasn't built with Rose's complicated, ever-changing roleplay servers in mind. He says he's pulled together multiple chat bots made by various people to achieve what he needs. Discord itself "is regularly in my direct messages asking 'what on earth are you up to this time?'"
I asked Rose how much coaching he gives the cast prior to such an important event as a live wedding roleplay. Despite appearing flippant, I imagine that Queen Soproxi put some forethought into giving a funny performance as the wedding's officiant. Both princes clearly prepared their vows in advance. King Bork of Atana's wedding toast, full of words
struck out as if he'd repurposed a speech from another court event, was also clearly a planned joke.
For the wedding, Rose says he gave the key players an outline of events—minus the plot twists he had planned—about a day in advance. "I said to Soproxi, 'Just do the wedding,'" he explains with a laugh. "Do it however you want. You can look up wedding ceremonies online if you want." For Soproxi, it turned into a silly rushed ceremony where her character could make digs at the Daves in attendance.
"You'd think that would be a terrible idea," Rose admits. "But the thing is [they] feel so connected to the story. They feel like if they don't do a good job of it they're going to let everyone down and it's going to come across as silly or boring. So they put so much effort into it." After months of playing these roles, even members with smaller parts like cooks and knights are invested in building the most fun experience they can.
Which, of course, includes murder.
The Red-ovian Wedding
Down in the dungeon, we Radovians are plotting an escape. Chieftain Soulcrusher is mum about the details but I gather that we have orchestrated a Game of Thrones-like poisoning at the wedding feast. The "radovian-escape-plan" text channel, seen only by us, is nearly vibrating with excitement as Lord Kent Grimmer of Atana serves drinks to the royals.
"To the greatest nation of all!" King Bork declares, specifying in all caps that he means Atana of course. The royals drink from their given goblets. The tension in the dungeon is palpable.
There's an expectant pause. "ALSO PEOPLE, I AM NOW DEAD!" Bork yells. The Radovian channel lights up with obscenities, all caps, and surprise. "THE WRONG PERSON" says one Radovian. "BORK?" yells another. We had meant to poison King Davit of Davern, apparently. No matter, the escape plan can't be wasted.
The Davern and Atenan royals panic. Soproxi yells for someone to catch Lord Kent. Prince Bun screams for a physician as his brother the king goes into shock. The Radovians burst out of the dungeon. The bard still sings.
Now free, Chieftain Soulcrusher of Radovia declares "Our time is at hand! Brothers and sisters take our freedom! LONG LIVE RADOVIA!" On his cue, we fill "the-audience" chat with rainbow rat emoticons (in honor of the princes' wedding) that we befriended in the dungeons as we flee.
Sir Mike Rose, in character but ever the dungeon master, informs everyone that King Bork has been rushed to the hospital. He'll live, but with him indisposed, rule falls to Prince Bun. Without the toast completed, the wedding is nullified, leaving Davern and Atana without the union they hoped for. Bun is granted the Discord server role "on the throne," and his new golden display name is changed to "Bun the unwilling TEMPORARY king" as he officially orders Lord Kent to be seized.
Sir Mike Rose declares that trials will be held next week to determine who poisoned King Bork. Everyone will vote on who to question about the events of the wedding. The dust settles for the day but even I, previously uninvolved in the proceedings, feel excess adrenaline still pumping through my veins from hopping excitedly between chat rooms to keep up with the drama.
The Yes, Your Grace server is full of fun and games, but at the end of the day, Rose's company No more Robots is a publisher. He believes that the emotional investment created in the game's server will translate to sales. Active members have a connection to one another and Yes, Your Grace's story that he hopes will drive them to jump in to play on day one, to find and share screenshots of easter eggs they find in-game referencing the roleplay.
"For 99% of the players, a poster for someone called Kent Grimmer meant absolutely nothing," Rose says of the server member's appearance in 2018's Not Tonight, which also had a Discord roleplay run by No More Robots. "But to this small number of people it was everything."
For Yes, Your Grace's director, Rafal Bryks, the server is a weight off his shoulders. Most small development teams manage all their own community engagement. It also means that he has a ready and willing pool of extremely invested beta testers. For Rose, the server fits into No More Robots' publishing strategy of spending time, more than money, on "a lot of shouting and clever free things."
Rose suspects, as do I, that other publishers may soon catch on to his particular strategy. Already he says that the publisher Chucklefish, currently working on the magical school RPG called Witchbrook, have been lurking in Yes, Your Grace's server for ideas. Word of mouth is a powerful force for small games. And if there's any gaming story I'll gladly recount to friends, I guarantee you it will be the time I stumbled into a roleplayed wedding-turned-prison-break inspired by a game that was still in development.
Yes, Your Grace is out on March 6.