Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Five or So Questions with Phil Lewis on Wrath of the Autarch!

Today I'm interviewing Phil Lewis about Wrath of the Autarch, now on Kickstarter! This boardgame-inspired RPG sounds super fun, so check out the interview below!

Tell me about Wrath of the Autarch. What excites you about it?
Kingdom building games have always been in my blood. The idea of collaboratively telling the story of a society through the lens of the important leaders is really exciting! I also like exploring this space between boardgames and role-playing games. Wrath of the Autarch takes elements of boardgame design and uses them to create challenge in a more traditional role-playing game space. I really like that!

What are the key elements of boardgaming you wanted to highlight, and how did you bring them in?
The primary one is an action economy. There is only so much time to do what you need to do! I wanted the players to feel a time pressure that builds over the course of the campaign. The Empire is growing in strength and the Autarch is coming!

That action economy works at many time scales. The Stronghold players must finish a certain number of challenge scenes each season of time, or the Autarch player gains more benefits. Each season of time, the Stronghold players only accomplish one large goal, so they have to choose what they think is the most important.

I also used an abstract dice mechanic to handle resources. It was inspired by boardgames such as Kingsburg. The Stronghold players use six sided dice at the beginning of each season to build developments for their society. Multiple colors of dice are used, each mapping to a type of resource (like food or ore). Based on results of rolls, there are tough choices - do you build the development you really want, even if it might not be the best use of your resources that season? Or do you get as much as you possibly can, optimizing all of your rolls and trades, even if those developments may not have an immediate benefit.

What was the hardest part of integrating the two modes - boardgame and TTRPG?
Tabletop role-playing games have many unspoken procedures. There's this shared history that is frequently leveraged to make tabletop role-playing games work. Boardgames don't really have that. So there's some extra work in trying to make some of those procedures explicit.

There's also a challenge in harnessing the creativity that comes out of role-playing games and placing it into an action economy like Wrath of the Autarch has.

Threats sound interesting! Tell me a little about them.
Threats are the way that drama emerges in the game! At the end of each session, there's a chance for badness. Regions that your society controls might have threats. Factions that you're friends with could have threats as well.

Threats generally have a type (like diplomacy, infiltration, skirmish, warfare) as well as a difficulty. They're a great chance for the Autarch player to reincorporate all of the drama from the Stronghold's past into the storyline! Did something happen between an emissary from the Stronghold and the leader of a faction a few seasons ago? Maybe that has snowballed into a bigger issue! Maybe they demand aid, or perhaps there are disagreements over customs or religions.

The Stronghold players can choose to ignore threats, but that usually has other consequences for the Stronghold. Regions might not be able to produce resources. Factions may start to dislike the Stronghold.

Finally, the Autarch player has schemes at their disposal. Schemes are like super threats! Each year, the Autarch player may choose a number of schemes to unleash. They grow in intensity over the campaign, finally culminating in all out attacks by the Autarch!

I'm going to give you a tough one: what is the ideal player for Wrath of the Autarch?

That's a really good question! I'll answer it this way: I designed this as a game I could play with my friends. Our usual game group is made up of older people with jobs and children. Almost invariably, a few people can't make it each week. Wrath of the Autarch is troupe based and episodic so that if a few people can't make it, it's not a problem. The story can continue!

More directly: The biggest fans are people who like kingdom building games, either video games (like Crusader Kings or even Civilization) or role-playing games (like Birthright or Ars Magica) or even boardgames. During playtests, players who aren't as into those games still have fun setting up scenes, playing characters, exploring relationships. But it's really going to hit all the right notes for someone who likes to think about the long term strategy of their kingdom.

Thanks, Phil, for the interview! You can find more about Wrath of the Autarch on Kickstarter!