One of my favorite Disney movies as a kid was Robin Hood. I loved the catchy tunes, the goofy action, and watching the corrupt Prince John get his comeuppance again and again. This defined how I saw the character growing up, but of course there are lots of interpretations of what Robin Hood was like. As a young adult I got a lot of enjoyment out of the BBC live action Robin Hood, a title that left behind the animal forms in favor of a still-goofy but in other ways darker take on the story I learned as a kid. There are other interpretations too, from the Russell Crowe version to the Taron Egerton version and of course who could forget Men in Tights. I also had the pleasure of being in a Robin Hood production as a young teen, and even that interpretation for children was different than the story I knew from the movie.
Was Robin Hood’s most stalwart companion Little John or Much the Miller’s Son? Was Alan-a-Dale a barely associated minstrel chronicling Robin Hood’s stories or a core member of his band of thieves? Did Prince John operate as an independent force or were his actions tied to a larger plot related to religious and political power during the Crusades? Each story riffs on the legend in different ways and emphasizes the significance of different characters. While some details are consistent there are others which could be said to be in conflict with one another, and different interpretations of Robin Hood’s motives and actions make this mythological figure someone who can appeal to even ideologically-opposed individuals.
This is how many myths work in reality. As a kid in the United States I grew up learning tales of characters like Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and Daniel Boone. The stories of the deeds these men accomplished, the degree of supernatural elements involved in their tales, and the important figures who stood alongside them vary from telling to telling. Different translations of Beowulf or King Arthur lead to very different interpretations of what those figures were like. Even a religious figure like Jesus has conflicting stories, debates about which tales belong in holy texts and which are “extracanonical.” Legends grow and change along with the people who tell them, ‘history’ is adapted to a current context, and the stories we tell even about the same figures grow to the point of being impossible for a single human being to accomplish.
It is this type of storytelling, the creation of myths, that Wildermyth seeks to accomplish with its legacy mechanic.
During your first ever Wildermyth campaign, you won’t encounter the concept of a “legacy” until deep into the story – if not at the very end of it. Characters join your legacy in three main ways: death, retirement, or surviving until the end of the campaign. Once the game is over, you can select which of your characters you want to enter your legacy. Legacy in this case refers to the collection of heroes you carry over from campaign to campaign. By default any character who joins your party during a campaign becomes part of your legacy when it is over. In future campaigns, these characters can be recruited from towns or may even start out as party members in special campaigns called ‘legacy campaigns.’ Four of the six story campaigns available at the time of writing are legacy campaigns (the newest, The Sunswallower’s Wake, must be unlocked by an event first).
What is the benefit of having a hero in your legacy, mechanically speaking? Legacy heroes carry over gear from their most recent adventure, often giving them an advantage over a new character in terms of damage, protection, and versatility at the start. Having a legendary axe or a special wand makes even the lowest tier legacy heroes more battle-ready than similarly-leveled counterparts. These characters also carry over major changes like transformations into future campaigns. So your warrior who gained a wolf head at the end of your last campaign can start out with it in a legacy story, immediately having access to the boons of that transformation and getting more opportunities to progress the transformation if you so wish. Legacy characters also come in with a number of level-up bonuses based on their tier; a tier two legacy hero picks two abilities that they learned during their last adventure to bring along on this one, giving you as the player more control over how you build your units. This is particularly useful when doing late-game recruiting, allowing you to bring in a character with some useful abilities during the eleventh hour rather than trying to train up a newcomer against the most dangerous hordes of enemies you’ve faced during your campaign.
This is put to excellent use in the three story campaigns which use the legacy mechanic and are available from the get-go: Monarchs Under the Mountain, Eluna and the Moth, and All the Bones of Summer. Legacy characters are used to establish heroes who already have some degree of adventuring experience; mechanically these units are more powerful and from a story perspective you know they’ve already been on at least one journey before. It is an effective way to create a meaningful difference between experienced heroes and newbies in these campaigns, and there’s an extra layer of satisfaction from knowing that these heroes are veterans because you’ve been through their previous experiences. It’s the difference between telling me that a character has overcome difficult circumstances and showing me that they have.
The true pleasure of the legacy mechanic lies, though, lies in the way that over time you create the sort of myths that I described in the beginning of the article. The lives of your recurring heroes become more complex as they go on more adventures, and you can see how these sort of conflicting accounts about them could crop up. Take for example my wolfheaded warrior Madgwen. She began her journey fighting the Morthagi in her original campaign and during that time fell in love with Tilly Arden, a hunter. “But wait,” someone could say. “Madgwen’s mortal foes were the Deepists, a terrible cult, not the robotic Morthagi. And she was married to a mystic, named Kathennen Hester.” Still a third person could say that Madgwen helped in the battle against the Thrixl. The body of myths around this character have grown and expanded as I continued to play the game.
Legacies also create the possibilities of interesting relationships between characters that may not ultimately be tracked by the legacy system, creating extended families over the course of multiple campaigns. I have a huntress from one game named Ursula whose daughter, Brona Byrne, joined very late in the campaign. Brona was very young and had almost no practical combat experience outside of losing her left hand in a battle. In a future campaign, Brona began the story as a middle-aged woman whose daughter Mithgwen was estranged from her. Over the course of that second campaign, Mithgwen had her own daughter Orry. Now while mechanically the game can only remember parents and siblings, I can trace the lineage of Orry Mead all the way back up to Ursula Byrne, her great-grandmother, and could in the future run a campaign where the two of them go on some kind of adventure together despite the fact that according to the current accounts of their respective myths, they’ve never even met.
The most powerful aspect of Wildermyth in my view is the way that character stories build over time. Everything from the events they experience to the abilities they have to the gear they carry builds up mythology around them, and as the same characters participate in multiple campaigns they gain the opportunity to become truly legendary over time. Take Yorlis Doublee, a mystic who first proved herself in a struggle against the Morthagi and then later was found imprisoned in a tapestry by the thrixl. Once freed from her prison, the adventures of Yorlis began anew and she had the opportunity to flex her impressive powers and weave even more stories into her legend. Or the warrior maiden Fioneleen, who has never yet starred in her own tale of glory and yet has played a key role in the background of many others, enduring blow after cruel blow from enemies of all sorts underneath her worn but mighty shield. The more campaigns I play and the more involved my legacy becomes, the more fascinating the mythology of my personal Wildermyth setting. Through the game’s legacy system, I have the opportunity within my version of the Yondering to define its mythology, to create my own Beowulfs and Robin Hoods and tell their many tall tales. It’s an impressive accomplishment that makes Wildermyth unique in the realm of RPGs.