THE AGEMONIA CAMPAIGN: DISCUSSING THE STORY WITH LEAD DESIGNER MAX WIKSTRÖM
Sitting down with Max to discuss Agemonia with the task to create an article about the man behind the world and to introduce him, we had a chat about the upcoming game as well as the man behind it. Max certainly has a vibrant past in gaming: Several decades of roleplaying and board games, and several board games as lead designer under his belt. We started discussing him and his gaming past, but the focus of the discussion quickly shifted to the Agemonia story.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into creating a great story where the choices of the players have a significant impact,” lead designer Max Wikström begins. “I absolutely loved the old writing style in the classic Warhammer Fantasy RPG campaign Enemy Within back in the 80’s. The actions of the characters had immense impact and their decisions could change the fate of the Empire. Then, on the other hand, it has a strong tone of “unjustified heroes” where the underdog champions are never lauded for their actions and rarely get credit for everything they have to endure to accomplish things.” Max also mentions D&D Planescape as another source of inspiration. “I ran a huge campaign back in the day with Planescape, and it certainly has left its flair.”
Max has been working on Agemonia for a long while, with the project morphing and shifting from role-playing game to book, and now crystalizing in its current form. “Agemonia has been around for quite some time, and we think this is the best form it could possibly take. This style of game adopts themes from both board games and roleplaying, with a heavy influence on telling a compelling story with rich characters.”
According to Max, the best way to get into the spirit of what playing the Agemonia campaign will be like is to embrace the concept of the underdog. In the world the characters will focus on persevering and surviving over focusing on “doing heroic deeds”, though the deeds they do might be perceived as heroic by others. “There’s a strong theme of choice. What do the players wish to place their faith on, what choices will they make, and which factions and groups will they tie themselves to.”
The design process is long, but Max is proud for many of the achieved results. “Things definitely worth mentioning are the puzzles and discovery elements; combat and fighting in Agemonia are more like the spice than the actual meal,” Max continues.
“The focus on solving the possible alpha-player problem has also been a handful,” he says. “Meaning the problem where a more knowledgeable person keeps either being the “key player” of the game or instructing the others to a point where it feels they just follow out orders given by them. In Agemonia, all the characters have a strong, independent story which has a huge impact to the overall campaign,” Max explains. “No one has a supporting role.”
The story fits four players with more than four heroes to choose from, each with their own solo story that bobs up in places in the campaign. They have their individual adventures that go along the campaign, which sometimes end in solo encounters. Everyone in the group is a “main character”, and sometimes the players make individual choices through their hero that affects the campaign in a certain way.” There will be scenarios in the campaign which focus on facets of individual heroes, equal for each player, with the choices they make affecting certain outcomes,” Max says.
Max has been gaming for a long time and has decades worth of GM experience from a plethora of campaigns and games. He is clearly very adept at telling stories, and it is clear that Agemonia will be his greatest story yet. The factions, moralities and veiled purposes are what make a story compelling, Max believes.
“I like to make the players wonder at the true purposes some characters and individuals they encounter truly might have, and that things are not always how they seem.”
“It is a very HBOesque story. There is a lot of drama, encounters with other characters, romance, moral choices, with tragedy to boot. I like stories where things are not black-and-white, but rather scales of grey. Hard choices that lead to something that you can’t change once you’ve chosen the path to tread. The individual player of the hero makes the choices for their character, not the group.”
“Agemonia is definitely a high fantasy world,” Max says. “There are the possibilities of other realities and all the magic that Agemonia is deeply steeped in, the wondrous peoples and the Ancient devices and contraptions scattered throughout the world.” Leaving the classic humans out was a clear design choice. “Humans are the classic vanilla choice in fantasy worlds, and we wanted truly to feel fantastic. Each species in Agemonia has its own special elements and various closeted skeletons. There’s no concept of classic “alignment” morality, where you can drop characters in neat little boxes stating “lawful good” or “chaotic evil.”
Another thing Max is keen on when creating a good story is the concept of “failing forward”. Many games require players to re-do scenarios if they fail the scenario goal. Repeating holds intrigue to “getting it right”, similar to computer games where finally beating the challenge creates sense of success, but especially with large campaigns with scenarios that might be lengthy, an order to just rinse-and-repeat or “do it right this time” might not hold intrigue for players.
“In Agemonia, we have the design of failing forward, meaning that a campaign can continue despite a failed scenario, which changes how things will pan out. Players will retain the option to re-do scenarios when the story setting permits it, for example if they fail at scaling a wall to sneak into a place they may retry another night (perhaps with added sentries due to the guards being alert.)
The upcoming game will only be the first part to an even grander story, Max says. “Just looking at the map, we will only be utilizing one eighth of the entire world during the first part, which already is huge with over 100 hours of gaming and drama. There’s just so much history and so much mystery that has already been created,” Max finishes.