I have been waiting for Phil Lewis’s Wrath of the Autarch since Aidan played at Origins 2013 and I played at Origins 2014. Wrath of the Autarch is a kingdom building role-playing game. Its up on Kickstarter right now…and I’ve backed it.
I wrote up a few questions that I had about Wrath of the Autarch, and Phil was kind enough to answer them. He has also assembled a Boardgamegeek Geeklist of influences that went into Wrath of the Autarch.
What was the driving force for creating Wrath of the Autarch?
I wanted to make a kingdom building game that my busy friends would actually play.
Looking back on the long development process I know you’ve made a lot of changes; What is one thing that you’ve cut or abandoned that you thought was going to be in the "final" version?
That’s a tough question! One of the hardest aspects of design was managing the long term strategic scope. How do all these moving parts: the kingdoms, factions, and regions, bounce off of each other? Early on I was really enamored with this deck building political event system. I really thought that was going to be a cornerstone of the whole thing. But it was just so fiddly, and didn’t ever quite click. Getting rid of it and putting more control in the Autarch player’s hands helped a great deal.
In Wrath of the Autarch’s development, you’ve wrestled with various iterations and refinements of Fate. What have been some of the pain points you’ve unearthed as you developed Wrath of the Autarch’s Fate implementation? And why did you decide to stick with a refinement of Fate?
This is no small topic! There were definitely a few points of tension. But so much cool technology! The biggest points of contention revolve around the creation of aspects, compels, and uncapped stress in the attack action. Note that I’m referring here about Fate Core (although similar issues probably exist in earlier versions).
Creating and compelling aspects in Fate is one of the trickier parts of the system to master. Compels are almost never used enough, even by experienced players. The creation of aspects in Fate Core can be difficult to manage, because there’s this mechanical benefit to making them - so it’s very appealing to players, but there’s also this tacit understanding that pushing that lever too much isn’t fun. That can create tension. Finally, if Create an Advantage is pushed too hard, conflicts and challenges are frequently resolved in one (frequently anti-climactic) action which utilizes tons of free invokes.
There’s also the issue that Wrath of the Autarch has no gamemaster. So what’s a compel in that structure? How is the creation of aspects limited? How can the skirmish mini-game not just be one action that inflicts tremendous stress?
In Wrath of the Autarch, the answer, which is basically fractally true at every level, is that there’s an action economy that restricts and plays off the resource economy. There are also aspects that exist at a variety of time scales (campaign aspects, mission aspects, and minor advantages). The longer the aspects duration, the more difficult it is to create, and the more screen time it can take.
Compels (well, compel-like things) can be motivated either by the Autarch player or the Stronghold players. For the Stronghold players, they can come into play through complicating relationships with other heroes in the troupe or through complicating aspects. There’s no action limit to using these self-compels - but there is risk. The Autarch player can bring in more complications, but those are restricted during each mission.
Finally, in service to making the mini-games more tactical, the amount of stress that the attack action may inflict is capped by the skill used to attack with. There are of course stunts and such that can tweak that. This tones down on the massive aspect invoke chain which creates anti-climactic conflicts.
Wrath of the Autarch has a very structured procedure of play. What problems are you trying to solve with the structured procedures?
The biggest driver is to promote episodic play. I really liked the idea of playing through a season of time each session. This makes it easier on players who can’t make it one night, because you’re always ending at a good spot. The troupe based play also helps there.
Because there is no gamemaster, the structure of the game propels it along and keeps this pace up. The procedure also promotes cycling between the long term strategic scope and the shorter term season scope.
Furthermore, the action economy drives the time pressure in the game. Will you have time to do what you need to this season? This year? Are you prepared to stop the Autarch?
Could you talk about the mini-games for a bit? The first Fate mini-game I encountered was from VSCA’s Diaspora.
I really enjoy having some diversity when playing games. If every night is a dungeon crawl or every night is a massive pitched battle, it can start getting a little routine. Mini-games are a way to have variety over the campaign. That’s the primary motivator - each mini-game (diplomacy, infiltration, skirmish, warfare) has little tactical elements that you can master and learn to exploit.
And yeah, Diaspora! Diaspora was the game I read that made me start thinking I could do this in Fate. The sheer variety and utility of mini-games was super interesting! Some of the mini-games in Wrath of the Autarch ended up pretty different from those in Diaspora, but they were definitely an inspiration. Partly, I had to streamline the mini-games in Wrath of the Autarch so they didn’t run over about an hour (because the conflict mini-games are only the last third of a season). I also took some inspiration from some boardgames (the Call of Cthulhu LCG and Reiner Knizia’s Battle Line actually influenced the diplomacy mini-game).
In playing Wrath of the Autarch at Origins 2014, the session had a certain “board game meets RPG” feel to it. What has been your experience introducing Wrath to board gamers who don’t normally play role-playing games?
Yeah, most people say “hey, this is a boardgame-y role-playing game” or “this is a role-playing-y boardgame.” If role-playing-y is a word. It’s probably not a word.
The vast majority of people I have played with have already played role-playing games, though. That’s probably a function of playing it so much at role-playing game conventions. Most of my friends are all primarily into role-playing games. I have played with a few people at my FLGS that have never played a role-playing game before, and they really liked it! They came from a strategy game background. I’ve found that players who used to be into Birthright or Ars Magica or who play video games like Civilization, X-COM, and Crusader Kings usually love it. Even people who don’t come from those backgrounds have been pretty receptive to elements of it. It’s not a common experience in tabletop gaming, which is why I set about making it!
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