Calvin’s Commentaries: Journey To The Overland
The answer might well be to check out Journey To The Overland: A Solo Tabletop Roleplaying Game created by Deano C. Ware.
Journey To The Overland is a game where players take on the role of characters traveling throughout the Overland in order to obtain one of the Five Weapons of Power.
“The King is Old and news is spreading that the evil Wizard Morcai is amassing an army atop Fire Mountain to march on King’s Castle and take control of the Overland,” states the game’s Kickstarter page, providing some interesting background to the game’s world.
“From every town in the Overland the calls out for a hero capable of Obtaining One of the Five Weapons of Power able to stop the Wizard Morcai. Bloodblade the ancient sword of blood forged by the ancient wizards of Overland to guard against the advent of tyrants and mad kings The Emerald Cross a holy relic, bundled together from splinters from the Cross of Christ, capable of protecting its wearer from even the most powerful spells and magics. The Bow of Light, an elven missile weapon so deadly and so accurate those who wield it are considered ‘a weapon of war’ capable of taking on massed troops. The Resurrection Ring, rumored to have been worn by Lazarus when he was raised from the dead, that is able to bring those that were once dead to life again and the Peaceful Palms the remnants of an ancient tree said to have been planted in the garden of Eden for the healing of nations with properties that are said to be able to pacify any enemy and cause any foe to beat his swords into plowshares.
“Yet obtaining these Five Weapons of Power is not the only objective in Journey To The Overland. You can seek to overthrow King Overlord and rule and govern Overland yourself, or become great and powerful and form your own kingdom, or raise an army and recruit allies to Wage war on your enemies, or simply explore and seek adventure throughout the Overland. Because Journey To The Overland is an ‘open-ended’ solo tabletop roleplaying game that allows players to explore and interact with the game world in almost any manner that they could in a traditional roleplaying game; except Journey To The Overland lets you do it all alone.”
The epic opportunities intrigue me as an RPG’er, but it also left me curious about why and how Ware went about the game’s creation.
“Actually I created the game back in the 1980’s when I was about 16 years old,” he said is answering some questions sent his way via email. “I was a young kid in the inner city of Detroit and not only were there no ‘roleplaying’ games being sold in my neighborhood, there was certainly no one playing them.
“My first exposure to roleplaying came through a game called Barbarian Prince by Arnold Hendrick and Dwarfstar games. Believe it or not, this was sold in a SEARS store in Highland Park, Michigan. To this day I think the manager was a gamer. The game was only about $14.00 and included a tiny metal miniature which really attracted me to it as I was already getting into playing with model soldiers. Well, Barbarian Prince was a ‘solo’ game and after I finished it I missed it so much that I decided to start creating my own version.
“That grew and grew into what eventually became Journey To The Overland.”
Ware said while the ‘germ’ of the idea for his game was Barbarian Prince that soon grew to encompass more.
“Soon after Barbarian Prince I started to find more roleplaying type games,” he said. “Oddly enough my interest in roleplaying coincided with getting my first job so all of a sudden I actually had money to seek out these products and buy them. So the Lone Wolf and Magnamund game books soon followed, which were also solo and eventually the RPG game Dragonquest which had the image of a huge barbarian on the cover holding a cut off Dragon’s head. In some way, all of this, as well as the Conan comics I was reading at the time made it into the game.”
“The development evolved from the age of 16 to about the age of 18 when I entered the military and was sent overseas to Germany,” said Ware. “While in the military I copyrighted the game and all the pages I had put together which at the time was about 500 typed pages. Basically, it sat like that for the next 25 years or so. In fact, I lost all my original manuscripts but luckily I had sent a copy to the US Library of Congress with my copyright and was able to order a photocopy of all the pages which costs me about $700.”
Interestingly, being a solo adventure getting feedback proved a challenge in terms of the game’s development.
“The most difficult at the time and still today is simply playtesting,” said Ware. “When I first designed the game I didn’t know about playtesting I just played it and changed things to suit my taste. As I got older and really considered publishing it I knew it would help if I could get it playtested.
“Unfortunately, most people then (and even now with over 200 Backers) are not willing to play the game through and give me feedback. I have sent copies of the games out and never heard back from those it was sent to.
“Today I still mostly playtest it myself, which fortunately being a solo game makes it possible.
That left the question whether Ware had ever thought of changing the game to be a more traditional group RPG?
“No, I never considered doing it as anything other than a solo game,” he said. “In fact, if anything I have a very difficult time creating games now that are not solo. I have a man-to-man medieval miniature game called ‘A Fatal Blow’ which is not solo but was very much designed for facilitating solo play in mind.
But Ware admits solo RPGs are still not widely appreciated.
“Despite what you hear there is still a significant stigma with solo games,” he said. “Now that is not to say people do not want solo variants or solo modules, but when you say it’s a solo game the first thing they ask is if there is a way you play with someone else?
“I am working on a two-player variant for the game at the moment but honestly it is going to more of a ‘two-player module’ than a two-player version of the game; sort of a reversal of the normal board games way of dealing with solo play.”
So, as a designer what is the best element of the game in Ware’s mind?
“For me, the best element by far is the game cards in general and the encounter cards specifically,” he said. “Each card is a mini-scenario in itself!
“And with over 108 encounter cards that is basically 108 scenarios in the game.”
“Players often complain that the text is too small on the encounter cards or there is too much text,” he said, “to which I explain that if I remove text from the cards or replace text with symbols the game would lose its originality and become another ‘blotter’ of symbols and tokens in a card deck with the only difference being the ‘picture’ on the card. I just cannot see ever letting the game become that.
“In Journey To The Overland when you encounter bandits it is totally different than encountering thieves and not just because the bandits are a ‘6’ and an ‘orange’ and the thieves are a ‘5’ and a ‘blue’.”
But there are changes as designer Ware would make.
“At this point, if I could change anything I would like to make the map bigger,” he said. “Originally the map was going to be three-feet by three-feet and the concept was to allow you to play with 25 or 28mm figures right on the game map. I actually have a 3′ x 3′ map that is splendid but to produce that would have cost $50 each per game so I had to bring the size down to more traditional poster sizes.
“But I have still entertained offering a deluxe map in 3′ x 3′ feet for those intrepid souls like myself who want to explore the Overland in all its 28mm splendor.”