[AW-derived] "Whispering Willows," fables went wrong

edited June 2012 in Make Stuff!
Yesterday I had an idea for a game. It started as an "Apolcalypse World" hack, but developed into a different game.
The main theme is kinda similar to that of AW: your world has been f**ked up by something (someone, in this case), and you have to cope with it.
Think of many fables and child books with talking/sentient animals and other similar creatures: the "Redwall" series, fables, the works of Beatrix Potter, "Watership Down" and the like. Imagine they all reside on the very same place/continent/planet/what-you-have, in the Realm of Fables. All the inhabiting creatures lived a quiet, simple and enjoyable life... until the evil witch-queen of the Fairy World, before being defeated by the local hero-prince, manages to cast a powerful spell that also impacts the Realm of Fables, bringing a real armageddon over there.
Most of the inhabitants survive, luckily, but their world is no more so quiet and enjoyable: trees think, speak and move, and some of them even started liking flesh; the earth shakes more than what should be considered normal, and sometimes vile things come up from the bottomless pits that pop up here and there; many non-sentient animals start behaving in weird ways, often against their usual habits; magic is now almost a living creature, with a will and sometimes even a body.
Now, they have to face all of this and maybe try to bring back some hope and trace of the old civilization, in order to survive.

Speaking of the system, it stems from "Apocalypse World," as I said. Players gather around each session, using the first one to decide what happened and choosing the things they'd like to see in the upcoming sessions. They get to decide which creatures they'd like to play, for example, how weird their world has become and what changed. Each species has a list of interesting features and players will have to choose which ones have changed and how. Then, they choose a playbook and a species for their character. Playbooks, this time, come out from the classical heroic fantasy repertoire: the Mage, the Warrior, the Noble, the Wanderer and the Mystic. Each playbook has general-use moves and special moves for single species. This time, when you choose a playbook you have to acknowledge that there will surely be another character in the world who mirrors you in almost everything, and you'll surely have to confront him/her sometime.
Then the MC starts describing things and moving NPCs. NPCs are divided in henchmen and real people, who also have shortened playbooks to ease the role of the MC. I still have to decide for Characteristics, harm levels and so on, but more or less this is the game.



  • Mike, why don't you make it two "parts" which combine together (one for the character type, one for the species), sort of like in Danger Patrol, instead of a single playbook per player? There's lots of room to experiment with physical format here: playbook with a hole in it, separate files from which you print a front and a back, 8-pages booklet made from combining two separate printouts, etc.
  • Rafu: oh, yes, surely there will be two different playbooks, one for each part, but I'll look for some useful layouts. I'll surely have a look at "Danger Patrol," thanks!

  • Oh yes. I like. Perhaps base it off of Joe mcdaldo's Simple World chassis, with 2-part sheets a la Danger Patrol, and maybe even work in the Nature mechanic from MG somehow... Oh, the possibilities... =)
  • I had an idea for a 2-part playbook layout for a Mass Effect AW hack I was doing for my wife, with class playbooks being normal letter sheets folded in half and race sheets being half-letter sheets that were inserted in the playbook.
  • Regarding playbooks, I had an idea this morning: playbooks that complete each other. Imagine this: "class" playbooks' art and layout integrates with the "race" playbooks ones. For example, I imagined that the Wanderer playbook could have the picture of a path in the woods, while the Fox racebook could have the picture of a fox in the middle of a wood. Put them together and you have a Fox that ha started his journey in the wild.
    Another thing I thought is that, during the game, the characters would change. This change can be due to many things: decisions took during difficult phases, for example. But two things that I find interesting to explore are the incorporation/refusal of the Weirdness that runs wild through the Realm and the transition to Human or Feral. These things could be important, because:
    a) the Witch-Queen was a Human being; as such, creatures of the Realm of Fables consider them dangerous and even insane from that moment. But there are things that can make you lose your real nature to make you more and more human-like, thus colder, and some of them can be decided by the player: maybe trying to remain cool during an emotive scene, taking an harsh revenge against your enemies, destroying something "sacred" in the pursuit of your own goals, or even striking a deal with Humans trapped in the Realm can drive you more and more towards humanity. Humanity can even be a game stat, just like Cool in AW. On the contrary, if you let your emotions drive you, you can become more and more Feral, and still distant from the other Fable creatures. In the end, you might even end up as a true animal, losing yourself forever.
    b) embracing the Weirdness makes you weird. This causes physical and psychological mutations: you can start growing abnormal body parts, or develop a splinter personality, for example, but this gives you some bonuses, like extra moves or the possibility to resist to areas of wild magic and so on. A nice thing could be the chance for the player to add these "weird" details on the pictures in the playbooks, visualizing them.

  • @Mike: definitely. And that ties in with the notion of a "Nature" stat quite thoroughly.
  • Would Feral and Human be opposed stats? That is to say, increasing one necessarily decreases the other? If so you should take a gander at A Dirty World, where each stat comes in opposed pairs. Characters don't "improve" so much as change or shift.
  • Oh! And maybe your Human score gives you bonus dice for moves from your class, and your Feral gives you dice for your race moves! That way, it's generally more useful to have a higher Human score, but you risk becoming a pawn of the Queen.
  • I wanted it to be a single stat, although keeping the links with the other mechanics: if it value is low, you're more tied to your human side, else you're tied to your feral side. When it's low, moves based on that stat that favor feral-like actions will more likely result in failures and viceversa. It has to drop to 0 to make you human and to N (still undetermined value) to make you an animal. This to keep the theme of change instead of "improvement."

  • Oh wow. Just had another thought, Re: Game Chef. Perhaps these animals are of a dying breed. There could be a destiny mechanic driving your score inevitably down towards human, and you can either fight to retain your feral nature, or give in and become fully human. Totally ties in with "last chance."
  • Uhm... while the "destiny mechanic" can be something interesting, I don't like the idea of a dying breed. The Realm of Fables isn't dying: it's only sick. Very sick, but not dying, yet.

  • In England there is a LARP campaign called Winter in the Willows. It's very very similar to what you are talking about - a post apoc version of talking animal stories.


    They've done quite a bit of work fleshing out that world. There may be some excellent additional inspiration there.

    It's apparently pretty dark and scarcity is cranked up quite a bit. Like, some characters are lured off and killed to become food for others. Which is pretty badass.
  • Thank you everybody for the inputs!
    By gathering what you told me here and on other fora/blogs, I have collected a lot of different and useful suggestions. Most of them revolve around the playbooks, which I think won't cover high fantasy archetypes but story archetypes, such as the Hunter, the Good-Hearted, the Heartless and so on (I'll develop them further in the next days). All of them will come from real fables.
    I'll keep you updated!

  • Some updates about the game.
    The working title will be "Whispering Willows," because it has both a fable-ish and eerie atmosphere, and it's just what I'd like the game to convey.
    It will revolve around characters in a world gone wild, where weird and nasty things happen here and there. All characters will be anthropomorphic animals from child narratives and fairy tales.
    All players will develop their own character using two playbooks, one for the character race and one for the character theme. The former will be chosen by all players together during the first session, and this will also let everybody check what they want to see in the game: each racebook, in fact, will have a list of race features that players will be able to change to reflect how their characters' world has changed. The latter will feature Moves and other things that will cover specific abilites and other characteristics of a specific fairy tale-inspired theme.
    Regarding the themebooks, they will cover, as I said, some themes and character concepts coming from fairy tales. Some examples:
    -the Wanderer: he can't settle down in a place for more than one day, and when he breaks this rule bad things happen around him;
    -the Heartless: during the magic apocalypse that turned their world upside down, the Heartless has been stripped of his own flesh, now replaced by inorganic materials. He's on a quest to regain it;
    -the Godfather: if you do what he asks you to do, you'll gain whatever you want, and viceversa. A character working on pacts and oaths to swear and break;
    -the Hunter: predator and marksman, the Hunter is on a quest for his own survival;
    -the Bearer: he owns a special object linked to his great destiny, but with special powers come special responsibilities;
    -the Reynard: a cunning trickster with a dreadful fate ahead;
    -the Fleshdancer: he lives in a skin that's not his own, but that gives him special powers. He can choose between keeping it and finding his real one.
    More will come in the future.
    Hope will replace Hx and Strings: you and other characters are the only chance of hope for this wrecked world. As you play, your character will see if to trust his fellows or not, and will be able to use this trust in others to do special things.
    Characters will also have to face the Weird, an otherworldly force that has sprawled across the world, changing and reshaping it. They can fight it or embrace it: by embracing the Weird, they lose little bits of themselves, but can gain supernatural powers. Moreover, now that they know what humans are and can do, they can choose between remaining in their stance or changing towards humanity (losing their emotions) or towards feral animals (losing their minds).

  • I'm going to update this game via G+: https://plus.google.com/113613753677984569531/posts

  • This gets more and more promising. Love to see you working on it at such a fevered pace!
  • Thank you! I hope to be able to develop it! I have too few spare time to spend on it, though. :(

  • Some quick updates!
    I haven't given up on this game: I'm currently developing it. The AW engine fits perfect on the game theme!
    Sadly, most of its content are currently in Italian (my mother tongue), but I'll translate them as soon as I can or as soon as I get a clearer picture of it all. You can follow the updates here (http://www.gentechegioca.it/smf/index.php/board,150.0.html) and there (https://plus.google.com/b/113613753677984569531/).
    I hope you like it!

  • I have completed all the Racebooks I wanted to prepare: Dogs, Cats, Mice, Sheeps, Bears, Badgers, Wolves, Foxes and Owls. There are things that I'd like to refine, so my next step will be to better define setting and game themes and flavours, and to translate it in English to make them available for an international audience.

  • Is there any particular reason that everything is a mammal except for owls? Also, sheep is the plural of sheep. Also, I think hares, toads, snakes, and Crows could all be cool additions. I like the ones you did pick though. Can't wait to see more!
  • Is there any particular reason that everything is a mammal except for owls? Also, sheep is the plural of sheep. Also, I think hares, toads, snakes, and Crows could all be cool additions. I like the ones you did pick though. Can't wait to see more!
    Well, no specific reason aside the fact that I liked it. :) Sorry for the typo, I'll correct it.
    Thank you!


  • To begin, here's the final backstory for the game, fully translated in English.

    Once upon a time...
    Once upon a time there was once a kingdom, far far away. It had no specific name, because its inhabitants did not feel the need to differentiate it from others, and, indeed, hardly knew of the existence of realms other than their own. "The World," they called it, and it was enough for them. Its inhabitants were very different from each other: Dogs, Cats, Mice, Foxes, Wolves and more shared the World. Of course, they were different from each other, as I said, but harmony reigned between them due to an old treaty of truce, imposed on them in the first centuries after decades of bitter conflict. Together, they formed the People.
    The People were animals, or Animals: they could speak, move, grasp objects, create, think and do everything a human can do. But they were not alone: the world was also inhabited by animals, those with a lowercase initial. Animals were... just animals, and therefore were their prey. For every People there was also its animal.
    The World was formed by a small continent, about the size of what we call Australia. It was surrounded by sea and a single large river, with many streams flowing into and out of it, and covered by dense forests. Within these forests, in small and large clearings, stood the Cities of the People, spread all over the world according to the customs of each: some on treetops, some underground, some outdoor. Not all People built Cities, but you could find any kind of Animal in them, from the most shy to the most social, each with its commitments.
    If any of us had been able to move in that idyllic world, he would see magnificent places and views, with rich Cities in a Renaissance style surrounded by wilderness, with fields and farms here and there spotting the green masses of woods and forests. A virtually perfect world.
    What People did not know was that, beyond the endless ocean that surrounded the World, there was a "real" world, with islands, continents, archipelagos and all the rest. In one of these places magic was known and used. In that distant kingdom, the Prince in charge was engaged in a fierce battle against the militia of the Witch Queen, an evil spellcaster looking for fame and power that had begun an assault against the main local rulers. With his sword and shield, the Prince had reached the inner sanctum of the Witch Queen, when her, in a desperate attempt to save her life, attempted to cast a powerful spell of destruction, to eliminate once and for all the threat of the Prince.
    But something went wrong: some say that the hero had killed the Witch Queen shortly before she ended to utter the spell, some say that this was diverted from a good heart or from his armor, some say other things. The fact is that the Prince killed the Witch Queen, dissolving most of her spells and then removing all forms of power to her armies. Shortly thereafter, he had the victory.
    Most of her spells. Because one, the last she pronounced, actually did not fail. Rather, it swelled, lost power and broke into the World.
    What happened next is confused, partly because it happened very quickly, partly because it happened differently in each area of the World. The only thing all the Animals saw and understood was about the color of the sky, which changed from blue to red. Blood red, bright red, a colour not easily forgotten. It was a flash, but remained in the memory of all, to the point that the day went down in history of the World as the "Red Day."
    From that moment everything changed. The Strange made its entrance into the World, a force hitherto unknown, but living, although impalpable, and can change everything it enters in contact with. It penetrated into the trees and mountains, into rivers, animals and People, deeply changing many of them. The trees began to speak, some to move, some more... to eat. The leaves of some oaks near a bend of the great river became metal, rocks along the estuary still drip blood. It is said that somewhere in the woods further away from the Cities of the People exists a living being formed with all the bodies of an old pack of wolves…

    Soon I'll write about the other parts of the game. I'm planning to rebuild many of the Themebooks I had in my mind, focusing more on the relationships among characters.

  • Hope
    Hope is the mechanic I'll be using to substitute AW's Hx. Hope represents how much you trust someone, and thus how much you hope in his/her help in case of need. You can give a character Hp in every moment, but when you spend it you're asking him/her to do something for you. In that case, the player (if it's on a PC) or the ST (if it's on an NPC) has to roll with Hp. On 10+, the character does what is asked without questioning. On a 7-9, he gets to choose between: doing it but requesting something in change; not doing it but giving the other character a +1 against him until he gives him back 1 Hp; not doing it, but receiving a Condition stated by the requester; not doing it, but losing all the Hp given to the requester.
    I plan to give Moves for Hope to every Themebook. In particular, I have already written a couple of Themebooks relying almost solely on Hope...

  • >On 10+, the character does what is asked without questioning.

    I read this as PCs having to do what another PC says based on a dice roll. I see this being a huge sticking point for people. I personally prefer things like "If the PC doesn't do what I ask, they have to endure strife" or "If your request goes against the PC's wishes they can either ignore it or take an XP to do it." Forcing a PC to do anything is, in my experience, a recipe for disinterested and bitter players.
  • >On 10+, the character does what is asked without questioning.

    I read this as PCs having to do what another PC says based on a dice roll. I see this being a huge sticking point for people. I personally prefer things like "If the PC doesn't do what I ask, they have to endure strife" or "If your request goes against the PC's wishes they can either ignore it or take an XP to do it." Forcing a PC to do anything is, in my experience, a recipe for disinterested and bitter players.
    I like the idea of an XP to do it. The idea of this Move is that with Hp you have an emotional lever on the other character, and with 10+ you impose your pressure on him/her in a way that compels him to to your bidding. I can add some lines to give the subject some more decisional power in case the request is too harsh for him.


  • edited June 2012
    I'm still working on Hope, Barters and Damage. In the meantime, this is a first draft of what a Racebook and a Themebook look like: Foxes and the Skinless!
    Some of the things listed here will be removed later, because they belong to a earlier design.

  • I seem to have laid all the basic rules for the game: Threats, Barter, Damage, Hope and so on. I'll translate it next week and I'll post it here. In the meantime, I'll work to refine all Racebooks and add Crows (thanks, UserClone!) to the roster.

  • As I promised, here is the first alpha translation of the core rules: https://www.box.com/s/91b6ac12c5f55bf18dd2

  • And now it's time for the Racebooks! https://www.box.com/s/3a30e69a75667ba197b3 I have completed all of them, although they still need a better layout, obviously. The next part will cover Themebooks.

  • Some days ago, the game underwent its very first playtest.
    Everything went quite nice, although some flaws emerged. We had two Wolves, a Fox, a Bear and a Mouse revolving around a case of stolen properties, emerging guides and general manipulation.
    The character and world creation was quite quick (under one hour), but the lack of guides in character detailing slowed it down quite a bit. Players also felt the lack of rules to "investigate" and a general "bloating" in terms of game options and rules.
    As such, I'm narrowing it down to better fit the sword&sorcery mood that I feel best working for my game.
    Sadly, I still haven't translated all the completed Themebooks, but expect in the future a full revision of the rules.

  • Okay, so I'm ridiculously late to this party, but the first thing I thought when I saw the OP was "The Secret of NIMH, except they don't get out in time."
  • It's a pity I can't remember that movie...

  • I've just finished working on the Themebooks. Now, I only have to put everything together. I'll start posting the main rulebooks ASAP.

  • Woo! Also, watch The Secret of NIMH; it's awesome.
  • For some reason, Box.com is blocked at work. Lame! Want to check this out.
  • Ok, here's the very first part: an introduction to game tone and themes. https://www.box.com/s/a77yz5fk43z0yinyucjk
    I apologize with whoever has problems with Box.net: I'll find a way to share these files better ASAP. I'm trying this: http://www.filehosting.org/file/details/379191/WW.tone.pdf

  • Here's the second part of the game manuals: shared rules. https://www.box.com/s/2eql6r2ijbzcbuykat4z These are mostly guidelines and basic principles all players have to follow. The next installment will surely cover character creation.

  • ...instead, have a Racebook! https://www.box.com/s/wd0pjvrw1fnpvywofgl9 Badgers!

  • Now I have compiled all the Racebooks: https://www.box.com/s/h9jexfw4jlboojpet9kr

  • The development of WW goes on. Now online a draft of the Eagle Eye ( https://box.com/s/ykgxly0ffd3b1ewg5qdn ) and the world building chapter ( https://box.com/s/6uz6v3byhyznz64f0jpc ).

  • I'm working on the First Session chapter. In the meantime, have a look at the first draft of a Themebook: the Thaumaturgist. https://www.box.com/s/7ku042w8av77mfezvo0o

  • After a very long hiatus, due to personal problems and heavy workload, I've restarted working on the game.
    You can see some advancements at the game G+ page, here: https://plus.google.com/b/113613753677984569531/113613753677984569531/posts
    The first draft of the core manual, instead, is here: https://www.box.com/s/ufotpljt8qre5ox3mxbm I'm also working on the art, but I'll show you more later on.

  • As a preview, here's the new template for Themebooks, done using the Thaumaturgist as an example: https://www.box.com/s/i4ay7kbgv3t7wrzcj0c3
    There are lots of options I'm going to explain in the next chapters of the manual.

  • I'm advancing slowly through the process of writing. Here's the second version of the core manual, now featuring basic Moves and Themebooks: https://www.box.com/s/9w1k645ctet5br8cmj48

  • Third update on the core rulebook: https://www.box.com/s/3o5mi6psoqbj1g4izfcz
    This time I added and refined rules for:
    -creating and managing Bonds and Love;
    -Destiny and Refresh points;
    -Health tracking;
    -Unleashing the Beast.
    With the next update, I'm pretty sure I'll manage to cover everything regarding Themebook structure. Then, I'll start working on how to manage and run the First Session.

  • Fifth update, this time elaborating on the options for ST during the game: https://www.box.com/s/hqmuq4wyp0ezt7jqn3n7
    Next update on how to run the First Session!

  • Sixth update: the First Session! I also have added a special Move, with a very fairy taleish feel: the Kiss of True Love.
    I'll be quieter in the next weeks, because I want to complete the core rules before posting them. I still have little work ahead, and everything is already quite clear in my mind, so I think I'll just need a couple of weeks to finalize the handbook. Then, I'll handle all other booklets.

  • Seventh and last update: https://www.box.com/s/ttquwwcapgbiosbiosfc
    I had some unexpected spare time, so I used it wisely to finish revising the main rules.
    Now, I'll be working on the booklets.

  • New products: the Menace Folio ( https://www.box.com/s/bcy0duhyrx3kcu2ynfjp ), the Threat Folio ( https://www.box.com/s/d08llc4yqbut6bfszofe ), completed Racebooks ( https://www.box.com/s/4m5tedyrdqvf2wv13cy4 ) and the final version of the Thaumaturgist (complete with Theme logo: https://www.box.com/s/ggobldajt8jgoe3rj5xw )!

  • I will definitely have to read this ....
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