I love a fantasy RPG with a good story, but aside from one main dude, it's difficult to give a party of five or more characters their own time in the spotlight. But after playing Wildermyth, I came away chock o' block with stories about my group of hearty adventurers, so many I could write a book, and only after playing a handful of hours too.
It's kind of incredible how a small games studio from Texas has managed to pull this off. Wildermyth uses both deliberately crafted tales and procedural stories spun from character-driven traits to create a truly dynamic RPG. Characters fall in love, create bitter rivalries, grow old, have children, make terrible decisions, leave behind legacies, and eventually die. Everything they go through is folded neatly into the major story and it's pretty spectacular.
My Wildermyth squad is named the Northern Slayers, a group of rag-tag women who enjoy a good punch up and friendly banter (which is what I was going for in the character creator). There are hundreds of scripted micro-stories your party will slip into, although conversations change drastically depending on your team's personalities. One member of the crew, a loveable snarky archer named Tess, had a luck feat and claimed that she could set off in a completely random direction and always come across some treasure. After a short adventure ending with a gorgon battle and zero loot, she didn't half get an earful of playful jests from the rest of the party.
It's these moments that you feel your group are actually good friends and not just a bunch of people thrown together for the sake of adventure. The vibe is very much like a D&D homebrew game. You want a bit of action, a bit of drama, and plenty of humour. When adventuring, you don't just want to get more loot, you want your characters to be challenged and grow as people.
When you begin an RPG campaign, your party of heroes feel like a list of numbers and stats on a screen. But straight away in Wildermyth, they begin to forge into their own people. Characters can fall in love and have children who then join the adventuring gang when they're older, which is cool. You can also have inter-party rivals, and two people who dislike one another will gain more critical hits against enemies, trying to one-up their rival.
The decisions you make in smaller stories will overlap into the larger one, and character developments can lead to some dramatic moments. When someone reaches zero health, you decide if they die in a blaze of glory on the battlefield or retreat, losing a limb in the process.
I made one of my characters withdraw in battle so she wouldn't be slain, and after the fight was over the leader of the party, a buff fighter named Arianna, made a heartfelt apology to the group. "I'm sorry I didn't do more," she says. "If I had been present, paying attention, it might not have gone like that." There's some great writing in the campaign, and whether it be through a planned story arc or a completely procedural generated event, these human moments always magically fit the characterisations of my party.
In actuality, it's me who should be apologising. Similar to games like Darkest Dungeon, the journey your crew ventures on takes a toll on the group and you start to see scars and permanent injuries on their avatars. Sometimes it's because of a story beat, but more often than not, a character will get a permanent scar due to a bad decision you made on the battlefield. On the one hand, it's cool to see the marks of battle and adventure, but they're also reminders of the mistakes you've made, mistakes you won't be repeating.
In between chapters, the land you're protecting goes through a handful of years of peace meaning your characters get comic book-style panels showing what they got up to in those years of downtime. They can age and can even retire, that's until you miss them so much you bring them back as "legacy heroes" for a new campaign to show the young un's just how it's done, like reviving an old D&D character sheet for fun.
Wildermyth is a fantastic RPG with a lot of heart. It doesn't take itself too seriously, but can also be poetic and dramatic for effect. It's reminiscent of times playing tabletop RPGs with friends, each person carving their own story, but in Wildermyth you have a say in the stories of all the characters, the game silently working its procedural magic behind the scenes.
I'm only a couple of hours in but can already tell I'm going to be in this for the long haul. I can't wait until all my heroes get old and I finally have a group of buff, badass grannies getting into fisticuffs with demons and monsters, a legacy that's one for the history books.