Today I had some quiet time at home and decided to try something in a different direction before I dig back into Ironsworn or another heavily-mechanized game. I searched through my (frankly excessive) collection of PDFs for games that supported solo, and one that popped up surprised me.
Wanderhome is a pastoral fantasy role-playing game about traveling animal-folk, the world they inhabit, and the way the seasons change. It is a game filled with grassy fields, mossy shrines, herds of chubby bumblebees, opossums in sundresses, salamanders with suspenders, starry night skies, and the most beautiful sunsets you can imagine.
Actually, I’ve seen Chris McDowall play it solo on his stream, but promptly forgot about it. This is a diceless game that does not require a GM-type role (although it can be played with one, called a “Guide”). This led to an extremely personal introspection on some of my own traumas.
Despite the intimacy, I decided to publish this log anyway. But I’m not going to present my truths behind my choices. Instead, the allegory will stand for itself. I may come back to this for a future session, or I might not, or I might play it and not publish. For now, here’s what we have.
Wanderhome is set in the world of Hæth. There is no violence anywhere in this world (anymore, that is). Hæth is populated by animal folk of all kinds, with insects filling the roles that animals play in our world. It has a universal culture of hospitality and is inhabited by truly good people. Communities are scattered throughout a vast wilderness. This is a setting for journeys rather than traditionally-conceived “stories”.
I plan to play one or two sessions, then see where that takes me. It might be enough, or I might have more journeys to undertake. While the game can be played with various intentions, such as focusing on exploring a pastoral world, the one I will use is to focus on trauma and recovery. That said, as noted above, I won’t be delineating those specific traumas here.
Instead, I want to think about mental health, restoration, and appreciating my own home.
As a typographical note: emphasized phrases indicate choices I’ve made from the lists in the game.
Taking advice from Geek Gamers, I will start by thinking about the First Place in the game before character creation. Wanderhome has a specific procedure for this by asking us to choose three “natures” of the first place where we arrive on our journey. “Natures are the elements that — literally or metaphorically -— represent various aspects of our place.”
I chose the following, representing both the literal region where I live but also thinking about the metaphors these natures could embody:
Closing my eyes, I can imagine mid-morning on a spring day. The air is cool and wet, heavy with the smell of left-over petrichor from the rains that concluded earlier.
Looking over the playbooks, I choose The Exile:
Banished from their homeland, the Exile travels through the Hæth looking for somewhere that can take them in and help them heal.
Eventually I settled on a name, “Drixster” (he/him). I could use a “rare animal”, and in fact the Wombat has a special place in my heart. Armadillos do as well, but they neither rare nor nomadic. (In fact they’re an official symbol of my state.) Maybe that could matter? I chose instead a Skunk, which is common here but frequently rejected because of their spray / scent.
Drixster is pessimistic and tired from his exile and whatever led to it. Despite this, he tries to be neither jumpy nor explosive.
He wears an intricate wooden mask and a shirt torn in ways no one knows how to repair. Both of these items conceal a brutal scar he’d rather not show.
If asked, he says he cannot remember why he is in exile. The truth is that he rejected the gods of his home, although inside he fears that he couldn’t prove himself. In game terms, this means that the place he left has three natures: Mirror, Hallow, and Workshop. Those might get explored in the future, but for now we will just say that it was a workshop in a holy place, burrowed in next to a still, reflective lake.
Our character still sings the songs he once sang with his partner, and these songs occasionally call him back home. But he no longer understands the violin he played as a child while waiting for his mother’s return. These songs will probably play a role early on, although I’ve chosen to excise the “grieving ex-fiancé” portion of the prompt.
In addition to the things every character can always do, there are some things my playbook lists:
We did just enough earlier to give us a vibe while creating our character. Now we’ll finish the procedure.
A bridge over river bottoms between two towns
Swamp: The air is as thick as the mud. It is filled with muck and mire as well as a pungent stench. The folklore tells about treacherous lights deep in the dark.
Bridge: A passage from one place to the next. It is built of rickety planks and has a mighty creature hiding underneath. People here tell stories of the bargain of the flat-faced bass daemon.
Road: It exists for travelling through. This one runs near a lively waterway (the river itself) and we’ll encounter an old chill comrade heading in a different direction. Occasionally, someone claims to have once seen a possum made of mist.
This place has two NPCs, called “Kith” in Wanderhome. Each of them has one listed trait, and we’ll choose a second to go with it.
First, we have an “old, chill comrade”. This means he’s relaxed and perpetually calm, and he has a few moves like asking, “do you wanna talk about it?” I also decide that he is sturdy, or dependable in tough times. This comrade is named Morlies and is a tough old Badger. He’s returning to their old home, the workshop, though perhaps not to stay.
Additionally, a “mighty creature” lives under the bridge. This means they have a strength beyond normal capacity and can do things like “take on a heavy burden” or “move the unmovable”. I decide they are also quiet, without much to say. The creature is known as Liander and usually appears as a colossal Water Moccasin, wrapped around the bridge supports close to the river itself.
We’ve covered almost everything in this procedure, or at least the things that are relevant to us. A few things remain.
First, we are in the month of Tillsoil, “when the ground is just warm enough for planting”. The place we are in has fertile soil, gentle rain, and the occasional chilly day. As we look around, we see fluffy clouds. The folks here have muddy pant legs and wear wide-brimmed hats.
The process concludes with the final four questions:
I take a moment to watch a tiny moment of beauty (gaining one token). The sun reflects on a small patch of water in the muddy, slow-moving water below us. As we stand on the bridge, we notice minnows darting beneath, playing or socializing or looking for food.
Morlies (chill, sturdy) is crossing the bridge, but headed back towards the home we left behind. I hold my breath, expecting him either to shun me or pressure me. But instead, he goes with the flow,, simply recognizing that that’s not the direction I’m going right now. I whistle a little tune we all learned in the workshop. The old Badger offers an unexpected, but not unwelcome, hug, seeing I’m in danger of collapse.
I speak my true feelings (gaining a second token). “I don’t want to do that work ever again. So I can’t go back, not really.”
Morlies tilts his head and asks if I want to talk about it, but I don’t at the moment. Something’s caught in my throat and the time just isn’t now. Although he may find this concerning, he pushes it aside. After a few words of encouragement, he moves along, leaving me feeling mildly reassured.
People here talk about the Bargain of the Flat-faced Bass Daemon: a fish who claimed to offer acceptance, community, and family. But those who took the bargain found themselves joining a school that could never leave the lake nor even resist behind hooked, caught, and eaten.
Be careful of the group you join, the story teaches us.
At the moment, I don’t really want to dig into everything around Liander and verbal communication.
And in any case, this is a good place to stop. Next time, we’ll continue down that road, maybe to the small town it reaches.