So, lately I've been thinking alot about the RPG-genre. The term itself, RPG, has been used and reused ad-nausea these last couple of years. Almost every game you see in the "triple A" market has some kind of "RPG-mechanics" or "RPG-features". Character progression and skill trees has become synonymous with the term "PRG". But what does it really mean?
I haven't found the answer yet. I'm quite sure there really isn't any at all, any good answer anyways. I've managed to narrow down some personal criteria I have for the RPG-genre, but that is a conversation for another time. For now, I'd like to talk about a certain game feature that I think should take a larger place in the RPG-genre. Enter: The emergent story-telling, and Battle Brothers.
Battle Brothers is a tactical RPG (TRPG? I seriously don't know) developed by Overhype Studios. From what I can tell (after spending about 10 minutes with google), this is the first game that the small German studio has developed. It was released on the 24th of March this year (2017). My first impressions of the game are good. It's quite apparent from the lush hand-drawn art-style, the medieval inspired music and the "not bad" walls of written text (seriously, it's pretty good, to me, but I have no idea how people gauge the "writing" of a game anymore) that this is a labour of love. The gameplay, as it stands, it pretty damn good as well.
The elevator pitch for Battle Brothers probably sounded something like this: "Imagine a Mount & Blade: Warbands, but instead of the third-person action, there would be tactical turn-based combat, and instead of the potato graphics, there would be nice hand drawn pixel-art."
A more precise explanation would be: You manage and control a band of mercenaries. You move them between towns and villages on a randomly generated map. You can take contract at various places, which usually mean going somewhere and killing something... you know, mercenary work. Between missions you can pass the time recruiting new members, purchasing and repairing equipment and engaging in a rudimentary trading system.
Managing your soldiers is where the game truly shines. On the battlefield you control each and every one in a turn based order. Your soldier actions are dictated by their action-points and their fatigue. Every action costs a certain amount of action-points and generates fatigue. Soldier without action-points, or with too much fatigue, cannot perform actions. Luckily action-points are regenerated each turn, and fatigue slowly decreases every turn. If that wasn't enough, each soldier has a resolve score. Basically, if a battle isn't going well for someone, they'll lose the will to fight.
The game utilizes some randomization. I'm not sure I'm comfortable calling this a "roguelike", but the description is kind of fitting. At the start of a new game, a "new" world is generated. There are also a number of "late game crises" that can be set or randomized. As for victory conditions, I'm not sure. I've honestly not sunk enough time into the game achieve one, and I'm not sure that there are any to begin with, outside of "becoming the greatest mercenary group out there." I'm suspecting that the game work similarly to Mount & Blade: Warband, in that the victory is all about what you make of it.
There is, however, a quest-line of sorts. As the commander of your mercenary group, you can set goals for you group. Goals like becoming rich, or growing your enterprise, or becoming embroiled with a noble family.
So, yeah, all in all a pretty damn interesting game. I'm thoroughly enjoying it so far. Also, as a small side note: the game does not fuck around. My first playthrough, my trial-run ended like this:
So, if you've grown interested, and pick this game up, here's some pro tips from the pro-newb:
1) Invest in shield for you melee-guys.
2) Invest in helmets, for everyone.
3) Don't forget to buy quivers for your archers. Without them, they cannot store ammo. Also, ammo is consumed from the ammo-pool, which needs refilling from time to time.
4) Shield wall costs 4 AP and should be spammed thoroughly.
5) Keep some gold on hand, going into the negative with a bunch of bitter dudes with weapons is NOT a good time.
But what does this have to do with RPGs and emergent story telling? Well, let me explain that, with a story:
This is... was Theudobald Earthside. Theu to his friends. He joined my little group of happy murder friends in the starting village. He didn't show much promise. An ex-miner, looking to find his fortune and forget his troubles. An utterly unimpressive specimen of a man, but he did show spirit, much in his decent initiative. Maybe that was his downfall. I recruited him, shoved a spear in his hands and pointed him toward the enemy. He must have been happy, to finally get a chance to show the world what an Earthside is made of. Well...
This is what's left of the man. Talk about rough first week on the job. Death comes quick and without mercy, especially for those who chrage headlong into battle without a helmet.
In this game, every battle tends to leave a mark. They certainly left them on Theu. A couple of brushes with death, and the man was left traumatized, a permanent dent to his resolve. The man had seen the other side, had seen what happens after death, and he did not like what he saw. At first I thought him a survivor, brushing of deaths embrace, but I was soon proven wrong. He also suffered from a partially collapsed lung and some exposed ribs. Souvenirers from men much stronger, but less lucky, than him. The only reason he could maintain the temperament of "content" was because I kept plying him with alcohol. Just one more battle, I urged him, then he'd be put in reserve, and another would take his place. Just one more battle, and we can fund this group with both gold and bodies. Just one more battle, but that battle left his skull smashed against the hard ground. Maybe it was his time, or maybe I should'ave provided him with a helmet.
There is a story here, a story about bravado and cowardice, of hope and despair. The game did not write this story, it was made procedurallywhen I interacted with the game. This, if anything, is role playing. Your influence, in concurrence with the games mechanics and systems generate a story and roles for you to play out at your leisure.