Between the fascinating interview with Mauro Longo, an RPG game designer, and my recent enjoyment of the Dungeon and Dragons show Dimension 20. I found myself seeking out a way to ease into roleplaying games with my family. That’s when I found the 2022 Ennie award-winning roleplaying game Wanderhome.
In Wanderhome you play as animal folk trying to find your home in the world of Haeth. That’s not to say a physical location, but rather what home means for your character. For some that might be sipping tea with your wife, for others, it might be telling stories to friends around the campfire. It’s a peaceful, combat-less roleplaying game where everyone is fundamentally good – if not a bit damaged.
When I began reading Wanderhome’s handbook I expected to be greeted by wall-to-wall rules. Or in-depth descriptions of Haeth, and the characters within. But instead, I was met with a series of tools to help facilitate roleplaying games as well as a life lesson or two. Such a fascinating introduction, and too good not to share.
So without further ado, here are the Journeying Tools from Wanderhome.
Journeying Tools from Wanderhome
Before we begin, we need to respect the forum where we find ourselves. Roleplaying games, and board gaming, are both social activities where we’re all responsible for everyone’s enjoyment and psychological safety at the table. When players feel safe, that’s when they’re able to bring their true selves to the game.
Now, the best method of implementing social tools with people is by codifying them on paper for everyone to reference. Or by starting each session by going over these new tools. This may be annoying for some, but until it’s ingrained it’s worth doing. You’ll know when that happens because people will either use them throughout a session. Or they’ll roll their eyes at you.
Anyway, the goal here is to empower the rest of the players to use them – without your permission.
Let’s do this instead
Whenever you find yourself in a roleplaying situation you don’t want to be in, you should always be able to say: let’s do this instead. By offering up alternatives you’re signalling to everyone that you want to do something else.
This is the first warning you give to others that maybe you don’t want to be involved with what’s happening. Hopefully, others will be clued in enough to understand and take the game in a different direction.
Do we want to?
This is the inverse of the previous tool. Instead of being the subject of the discomfort, you realise the game is going into difficult territory. This is when you address the group: do we want to?
Make sure everyone is OK with the direction of the story before you get in too deep. This can be used in both situations where people’s characters might be put in jeopardy. Or, it might be when you’re broaching a sore subject. Either way, asking the question allows you to make a decision about where the story should go.
Where to next?
There will be times in playing roleplaying games when you get stuck, and can’t think of where to progress the story. This is when we ask the table: where to next?
Empowering players to ask this question removes a lot of the stress and pressure of having to be constantly creative. Also, by asking the table you get a wider perspective of your current position. With a melting pot of perspectives, you’re likely to receive options and opinions you wouldn’t have thought up by yourself.
What do you think?
In a similar vein, you can always ask someone directly: what do you think? Which again, is great for gaining another perspective. But the main reason for this tool is to inject someone into the game.
We’ve all seen group dynamics where the more outgoing people are the ones talking, while others sit, listen, and ponder. Using this question, you can even out the conversation throughout the group. Making sure everyone has a voice, and actively participates in the story.
Whether it’s an important meeting or a roleplaying game, there are going to be times when we need to take a break. This is when you can say: hold on.
It might be a case that you’re not quite done with a scene. Or you need to go to the bathroom, or you need to take an emotional breather between acts. In all these cases, it’s OK to say ‘hold on I need a second.’ At that point, the gameplay can pause until everyone is ready to resume again.
No one can ever make you do something you don’t want to do. Within the confines of roleplaying, it’s important to respect what everyone’s doing, and their intent. It’s also important that you feel safe, and respected within the game.
So if the previous tools haven’t worked so far, you have every right to stand up for yourself and tell the table: No. Like with every tool we’ve talked about so far, people need to respect the No. If they can’t, well, we still have one more tool up our sleeves.
All of the tools here help you navigate difficult social situations that happen often within roleplaying games. However, there are times when tools are not enough. You’ve done all you can and the group either refuses to make you feel safe and included. Or the game went in a direction that makes you extremely uncomfortable. Or you’ve just had an awful day and you’re not up to playing.
These scenarios all suck, but they happen.
When they do, know you always have the option to walk away. Your time is the most precious resource you have, and wasting it on a situation that makes you feel awful is a terrible investment. Recognising when you’re in a situation requiring you to take this action is a sign of maturity, and you can always make up with the group later if you want.
Lasting lessons from Wanderhome
You may have read all these tools and thought they were obvious, and this whole post is silly. But rarely, in my experience, do people think about how we’re interacting with others. Articles and posts like this one provide introspection into common sense, and it’s up to you to think about how it affects your interactions. And then how you can do better in the future.
As for Wanderhome, there’s a lot more wisdom to be found within its pages. Even before you get to the roleplaying section.