Companions’ Tale—an epic game of map-making & storytelling

Created by Laura Simpson

Companions’ Tale—an epic game of map-making & storytelling
7cb1516a7d87103a3f8a85f795ec3734 original
944 backers pledged $31,921.00 on Kickstarter

Companions’ Tale is a map-making storytelling game about an epic hero—from the point of view of the hero’s companions.

Raised in Kickstarter
$31,921.00 / 944 backers
Raised in BackerKit
$1,330.00 / 931 backers

Latest Updates from Our Project:

More about "Wicked Portents"
10 months ago – Sun, Mar 19, 2017 at 01:56:13 PM

Hi everyone! This is Dev, Laura’s collaborator on Companions’ Tale. Our next stretch goal is Wicked Portents, a variant about great changes happening in the world. I wanted to describe my personal perspective about what this variant could add to the game.

“As your hero's story grows, a terrible calamity - a war, a flood, a storm, or something else? - is brewing slowly, and no matter what, it will arrive. What will happen when it does?”

There are many other good games that create a sense of pressure from the foreshadowing and countdown to some major event. The Yawhg is a great digital game that works with this theme, and The Quiet Year has its own unyielding menace - the Frost Shepherds - waiting at the game’s end.

My other inspiration is the weather. I’ve been lucky in my life to only rarely experience dangerous weather situations, and Hurricane Sandy was one of those times. Hurricane Sandy was one of the most severe storms to affect NYC. When it was forecasted, people reacted with varying degrees of preparation. There was some normalcy before, and perhaps a bit of denial or naivete. Most knew it would be a bad storm, stockpiling eggs and milk as you do, but wouldn’t things go back to normal in a day?

It turns out that it was worse than that. On the shores, the storm was brutal, destroying homes and taking lives. In other parts of the city, damage wasn’t as severe, but we saw city infrastructure blink offline - namely, electricity and mass transit. The city’s tempo was more fragile than I thought, and there was so much I’d taken for granted.

To be clear, this kind of uncertainty is a fact of life to many; it was a wake-up call for my own complacency. I am grateful for those who worked hard to prepare for the storm, and to repair in its aftermath.

In Companions’ Tale, we introduce some limits to the hero’s story: we only know it through contradictory accounts of their companions. In Wicked Portents, we will invoke other limits. There are events that you will witness, and possibly prepare for, and later recover from, but even your hero will not be able to stop them.

More about the Prologue and the Cards
10 months ago – Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 10:10:22 AM

Today’s post is going to dive into more details about the game. If you were curious or on the fence, I hope this answers some questions. First, I wanted to mention some really fun interviews we had recently.

I talked with Meghan Dornbrock on the Modifier podcast. The podcast is about modifying games to create new experiences, and I got to talk about the influences of Quiet Year on Companions’ Tale. (We also talked extensively about Dragon Age. She subtitled the episode “The One Where We Go Full Dragon Age Fancast”, so keep that in mind.).

I also had an interview with Brie Sheldon for their blog, Thoughty. We had a great conversation about many different topics, and as a bonus, the video captured one of the many plants on my computer desk.

Let’s dive into our topic!

Prologues and Prompts

The Prologue is an important part of the game, of course: the players answer questions to create their world, and add the first features to the map.

The first question is same in every game: “What is the most prominent physical feature of our land? What virtue does it metaphorically represent?”

The reason is that we want to get players thinking about the physicality of the place immediately. Once you have one river (or old-growth forest, or volcano, or…), others are added easily. We also want the players to start thinking about the people who’ll live here, and the culture they have.

The other Prologue prompts give players two questions to choose from, but all these prompts do similar things: adding information about the culture and institutions of the people, and to slowly add tension and fractures.

These prompts reinforce the game’s goal: creating stories about three-dimensional people, greatly affected by their geography, living at a time when conflicts and tensions will create the space for a hero to rise.

Cards and Reuse

One of the interesting things about using cards is how they lend themselves to different kinds of display and reuse. For the Theme and Companion cards, we take advantage of these in different ways.

Companion cards are visible on a tableau of four on the table. After the Storyteller chooses a card from the table, an additional card is added (drawing it back up to four). This means that many of the Companions are face up for many turns before they are chosen, or might not be chosen at all.

In practice, this allows players more time to anticipate their future choice of a Companion, and a little bit of table talk - for example, whether to pick the Bard or Rival - keeps ideas flowing. The Companion cards are also useful to be kept in front of each player after they’ve chosen it, as a reminder for when that character is revisited (either in the Biographer round or future Storyteller rounds).

The Theme cards are, instead, only drawn when used. For the Historian round, all players share a single card, creating a unified theme, while Storytellers choose between two cards, giving some sense of lost options. It’s useful that the Theme cards are not revealed in advance, so players avoid planning out future arcs too far in advance. This also reduces the cognitive overhead for players.

A useful feature of using cards for Themes is that they can be reshuffled. In Act 3, all previously played Theme cards are collected, and the act only draws from these themes. The game’s remaining stories will reflect previous themes, while still having uncertainty about which themes will surface.

Many of these patterns emerged through playtest, and were interesting examples of why cards were a better interface for the kind of play we designed.

Thanks for reading! Please let me know if you have questions or comments.

An early playtest of Companions' Tale. Snacks not included in final version of game.
An early playtest of Companions' Tale. Snacks not included in final version of game.


400%! Diaspora unlocked, Wicked Portents next
10 months ago – Mon, Mar 13, 2017 at 05:18:34 PM

This is incredible! The Companions’ Tale Kickstarter has reached the $20k mark! It’s amazing that we’ve reached 400% of our original goals.

I’m glad that we are able to bring the next variant to you: Diaspora.

Diaspora is a variant for larger groups to play with the same base card set. This variant was born out of a desire to play with larger groups of friends and to have divergent play. A game with the Diaspora variant will involve two normal groups (3-4 people), representing 2 groups of people with a common origin. They leave their ancient homeland, and play on two different maps in separate games. However, even across distances, their stories will influence each other.

Later in the week, we’ll share more about the next variant, Wicked Portents, and also share more information about the game.

Finally, I wanted to give thanks to Erfworld! It’s a great comic, and I’ve been a fan of it FOREVER, so made me happy to see it was mentioned in its “Signal Boost” section. With just 9 days left, every bit of support counts.

Thanks everyone!

10 months ago – Wed, Mar 08, 2017 at 08:24:43 PM

Let's talk about the influences for Companions' Tale.

This game is deeply influenced by Avery Alder’s The Quiet Year, Bioware’s Dragon Age Series and Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind

  The Quiet Year inspires this game, in the mapmaking game mechanic, in thematic choices that I suggest in the theme cards, but in attitude as well. There is a paired down attitude and equal room for joy and agony in the narrative that emerges throughout gameplay.

To me, Dragon Age is the closest representation of how to have fantasy that feels contemporary, rich, complex and multi-faceted. When I started designing face cards that would represent the Companions, I looked at Dragon Age. I want Companions’ Tale to tell complex stories of people in an extraordinary situation.

The Name of the Wind brings the ideas of culture (in all of its forms) having equal weight in the narrative as the story itself. From this book, I mined the ideas of the Lorekeeper, who interweaves the ideas of ingame events and culture as a contribution to the map and overall story. Another aspect of The Name of the Wind that I leaned on, was the mixture of the mundane and the fantastical.