Wildlings Hacks in my Head

I love John Harper’s Wildlings. A few years ago, he put out just the one 5-page Player’s Kit, and I ran with it. Wildlings is a great system for telling the story of a dangerous journey—provided that everyone accepts the storytelling premise that the characters will reach their destination, so you’re playing for the journey itself.

A brief overview of Wildlings: Of the five pages, there’s a cover page, a page with an opening narrative and map, two pages that contain making characters and the rules of play, and a character sheet. The system is simple: you have five attributes, rated from d4 to d12. When you attempt an unsure or perilous action, you and the GM figure out which of ten sort of outcomes[1]—adverbs, really—are important for this challenge. “You need to deal with the crocodile carefully and quietly.” Depending on how high you roll, you’ll get between zero and three adverbs. The game is simple and it provides a lot of room for exploration.

I love Wildlings, and I got the opportunity to run it the other weekend at a house con. I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about its simple narrative structure—a coming-of-age journey for young warriors—and now the same framework can apply elsewhere, provided you examine changing two things:

  • What to reskin for the five spirits (the attributes). They don’t need to all cover the same actions, but having one for each of a d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12 is handy.
  • Do you change the warrior die to something else? Part of the smart design in Wildlings is that your “I’m going to fight monsters” die is the same for everyone, the d10, but what you choose to have for your d10 colors how you fight. If you have a d10 in owl, then you fight with wisdom; a d10 in stag means you fight with grace. And since the d10 isn’t your highest die, it ends up be more of a character-defining element than just “I’m second-best at this sort of thing.”

With that mind, I have two thematic hacks for Wildlings that need some further development, but could be really fun. But they’re not at all baked.

Escape from the Hollow Earth!

You’re kids at a science summer camp, taking an archaeology day trip. While you’re out digging around and exploring, you all fall into an opening, tumbling unimaginably far and land in the Hollow Earth! Your only chance to get back home is to work together… which makes it a coming-of-age adventure story.

I’m a bit stuck on the five attributes. Right now, I’m thinking about broad subjects in school: PE, history, social studies, math, biology. I like that only one of those is a “physical” thing, emphasizing that the game isn’t about fighting monsters in the Hollow Earth. For the warrior die analog, I’m thinking about something like “making a plan” or otherwise not inherently combative. But since Wildlings only has a mechanic for action and not for discovery, that analog feels like it’s not going to be important in play.

Another thought I have for this is to explicitly adopt the pacing mechanism in InSpectres, where everyone knows exactly how close to the goal the characters are. (But I suspect that’s not necessary. It’s easy to get trapped in the design space where you apply mechanics to things the social framework is already handling well.)

There’s a concept of the wise women in Wildlings, which is a significant chunk of how I run the game: I constantly ask the players “What did the wise women teach you about X?” or “What do the wise women caution you about X?” I could replace “wise women” with “camp counselors” and more or less keep that trick.

Pipeweed and Lembas Bread!

Last time I ran Wildlings, the players and I briefly talked about how it could make for a cool “hobbits going on an adventure” narrative. Wildlings lends itself to a lighthearted feel even when darkness creeps around the edges—at least how I run it, even when ghosts and demons start coming into the story—so I think it would work to be a story about little people leaving home to go on a grand adventure.

As I write this, I notice that it doesn’t have the same sense of urgency of the original setting (where you’re trying to save a kid taken by a monster) or of the above setting. I think for this hack, I’ll treat that as a strength. I can always ask “Do you want to turn back home?” as a GM tool, with any answer informing the next direction.

I suppose for my wise women questioning technique, I could instead ask “What did Gandalf tell you?” But let’s be real: he’s not going to tell you much of anything useful. :)

In short, I love Wildlings and I keep wanting to use it for other coming-of-age travel/journey stories.

– Ryan

P.S. Yes, I know about the Wildlings hack by GremlinLegions. After trying it, I don’t really care for a bunch of the added rules, but there are otherwise some useful ideas inside.

[1] One of the neat comparisons, I think, is to look at Wildlings and at Fate Accelerated. The outcomes in Wildlings are akin to approaches in FAE, though their roles in their respective games are entirely flipped.


2 Responses to Wildlings Hacks in my Head

  1. John Powell says:

    Hollow Earth/Land of the Lost stats:


    • Ryan Macklin says:

      One of the many things I like about Wildlings is how the stats have inherent flavor to them, and each one has actions and communications link to it. That’s something I want to preserve.

      – Ryan