Calvin’s Commentaries: Wildsea

In a real-world where we face a worldwide pandemic, worsening world weather events, a widening divide in ideologies, and more stark headlines than we care to admit to, some escapism through a role-playing game can be just the ticket to some relief for the mind.

When it comes to RPGs there are dozens, and maybe hundreds, covering the broadest range of realities imaginable, and yet there always seems to be writers out there coming up with new worlds to investigate in fun ways.

That all brings me to The Wildsea RPG that had just funded via Kickstarter. They went looking for about 20K and eclipsed 100K with a week to go in the campaign, so you know gamers were rather intrigued by the offering.

Admittedly with a tag line that reads “a post-fall fantasy tabletop roleplaying game set in a rampant ocean of verdant green” I was among those intrigued, so of course I contacted the designer for some insight into the offering.

The first question for the game designer/writer Felix Issacs was pretty straightforward; what was the idea which led to the game’s creation?

“I spent five years working in Japan, from an office that had a view of the sea out of one set of windows and a forested mountainside out of the other,” he began in response via email. “I think those ideas, over time, became inextricably linked in my head.

“During my last year there they cleared the mountainside, chopping down almost every tree to reinforce it in case of rockfalls and earthquakes, necessary perhaps, but no less sad for it. I think it was at that point that the core idea for the Wildsea finally took shape, that it was a world in which nature had won – these chainsaw ships used to sail, as destructive as they feel, as real as the furrows and broken branches they leave behind in the canopy are, the endless growth of the world-forest would heal any damage they caused within a matter of hours. It’s a world in which the forest is genuinely eternal, sadly unlike our own.”

OK so Isaacs has a poetic soul, and that bodes well for an RPG creator.

But, what was he trying to achieve with the game?

“The focus shifted over time,” said Issacs.

“At first I was simply trying to make a game that had a strong narrative flow, where characters could contribute and move situations along effectively no matter their strengths and weaknesses.

“Over time that goal evolved into incorporating in-universe world-building and heavy narrative control elements without slowing the actual playing of the game down.”

One has the feeling Wildsea will allow serious role-playing, and perhaps less reliance on combat, which often dominates game systems.

The game actually came together rather quickly for Isaacs once he focused on its development.

“The first elements of the setting were put into play about four years ago, but it’s really only at the beginning of 2020 that the game went from a speculative project that was fun to play with friends to a legitimate, publishable product,” he said. “A lot of the rules were re-worked during 2019 to better fit the setting and avoid some inherited crunch from an older, more traditional mindset, and it was only after I realized things were working with the new system that I plunged into something closer to full-time development.”

But, there are always stumbling blocks when creating a world from scratch.

For example, Isaacs noted “creating a setting-based game that requires minimal setting information to play,” was a challenge.

“In the end I approached it almost as if the world-forest was a genre rather than a location, building on large core details (sea of trees, chainsaw ships, unique fantasy species) and adding a lot of smaller world-building flourishes that are ‘explained’ through the flavour and names of abilities, and through the art, but that isn’t necessary to actually understand the setting,” he detailed. “This allows people with even the roughest grasp of the core concepts of the world to confidently create and world-build within sessions without stepping on established setting elements.”

Of course, a new RPG should offer something fresh, and Isaacs points to some interesting concepts when asked what in his mind as a designer is the best element of the game?

“It’s a toss-up between the ‘Cut’ system and the use of ‘Whispers’,” he said.

“The first, Cut, is a tool useful for both GMs and players to quickly represent difficulty, not by affecting the creation of the dice pool but by knocking results out after the pool is rolled. This helps with speed of play and makes the difference between performing actions in favourable circumstances versus under pressure a lot more tangible (as you end up physically removing those highest results, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory but knowing exactly how close you came).

“For the second, Whispers, it’s a purely narrative stand-in for what in crunchier games might be a complex magic system.

“Whispers are living words that rattle around a character’s head, having unexpected effects on the world when spoken – they offer huge flexibility and can turn the course of a narrative in unexpected directions, but perhaps the nicest thing about them is that due to their nature (being a short phrase, like ‘Eyes in the Dark’ or ‘A Welcoming Fleet’) they can be easily handed out by the GM as a reward for actions and events that seem meaningful to the players. This allows those players to reincorporate past elements they enjoyed into the narrative again, as a game progresses.”

Continuing on the theme of ‘new’ it was obvious to ask what does the RPG offer others don’t?

“I think we do flowing, cinematic combat well without sacrificing on tactical choice and teamwork, and have some strong narrative elements in the hands of the players, but the main draw for a lot of people is definitely the setting,” offered Isaacs. “The Wildsea’s treetop sea is a creative space that hasn’t been explored yet in tabletop roleplaying, at least not in a dedicated way. It’s a bright post-apocalypse with a dash of solarpunk, a setting you’re encouraged to explore and push the boundaries of.”

What might come next is now a question even Isaacs himself must answer.

“I’m a first-time developer with a project that’s been way more successful so far than I could possibly have hoped for,” he said. “My life has changed dramatically over the past few months thanks to the community that’s built up around the Wildsea, and I’m thrilled. I’m full of ideas for future content, for other explorations into unusual settings with the Wild Words engine.

“But I’m also keenly aware that one of the biggest Kickstarter project killers is bloat.

“That’s why we’re upfront about the amount of content we’re creating in terms of stretch goals, and that we’re using funds to increase the pay of artists and contributors alongside commissioning more work.

“We’ve set our deadlines and I’m focused on delivering the best game I can whilst meeting them.

“Focusing on the future, especially given the times we live in and the state of the world, is a secondary concern to making sure that everyone that’s helped this project get this far gets the best treatment possible, and all of the backers and supporters get the best core experience we can give.”

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