Level 1 Geek Reviews: Wanderhome

Recently backed on Kickstarter, Wanderhome by Possum Creek Games is a warm-fuzzy tabletop roleplaying game for those who would rather herd chubby bumblebees than fight evil dragons. The Level 1 Geek team played a one-shot with the starter ruleset which you can watch below. If you’re interested in checking out this game for yourself, here are all the links to get you on your way:

The System

Wanderhome is a diceless system that categorizes itself more as a narrative game than a tabletop roleplaying game. Instead of rolling to determine success or failure, it uses a give-and-take system with “tokens” that players can earn from making various character choices. Here are a few of the things players can do to gain tokens:

  • Inconvenience yourself to help someone else.
  • Give someone something you hold dear.
  • Speak your true feelings on a subject.
  • Take a moment to watch a tiny moment of beauty, and describe it to the table.

Players can then spend tokens to affect the story. Some of the options for spending tokens include:

  • Provide a solution for an aspect of a material or immediate problem.
  • Ease someone’s pain, if only for a moment.
  • Reveal something hidden about the person in front of you, and ask them what it is.
  • Tell the table something important about the place you’re in.

As you can see, some of these options include narrating to the table or asking additional questions. Wanderhome revolves around group collaboration and includes options for running a game with a single guide (a.k.a. game master), multiple guides, or no guide at all. Whether you choose to have a guide or not, the entire table can and should contribute to the story quite a bit.

The Setting

Wanderhome puts us in a world called Haeth, a place once plagued by a great war but now at peace. Players take on the role of anthropomorphic animals who walk, talk, wear straw hats, smoke pipes, read books, and journey the land to see if they will ever find a place to call home. It’s a world of warm berry pies, small gods, and folksy myths as old as stone. The rulebook does a great job of reflecting the setting in its language and descriptions—idyllic, lovely, earthy.

The CombatConflict

Being such a peaceful game, Wanderhome doesn’t have any defined mechanics for combat. There is no turn order or damage dice or hit points. So I have retitled this section to cover conflict instead of combat.

The game encourages collaborative and creative problem-solving. Guides can present obstacles of many kinds: in our playthrough we encountered a crying child, a homeless bear, a worried mother, and more. Solutions to problems are as boundless as the imaginations of the players themselves and hinge on the core mechanic of earning and spending tokens through roleplaying. You might earn a token earlier in the scene by comforting the crying child, then spend that token later to clear a blocked mountain path. It’s a give-and-take group effort.

What I Loved

There’s a lot to love about Wanderhome. Here are some of the highlights…

Easy Character Building

This game is very easy to pick up and play without much prep at all. That’s partly because of the character building. Rather than building characters from scratch, players select a playbook such as The Shepherd, The Ragamuffin, etc. then make a few selections within that playbook. This playbook format probably sounds familiar to anyone who’s played Powered By the Apocalypse games like Monster of the Week.

Within each playbook, players choose a few character options that may include gear, secrets, goals, special ways to gain and spend tokens, and more. Every element helps flesh out the character more and more until you have a clear picture of (in my case) a strong but gentle sheepdog with a lovable herd of bumblebees.

Roleplaying Guidance

Another lovely thing about the character playbooks is the baked-in roleplaying guidance. Each character comes with a list of “Some things you can always do.” Some of these are actions that can earn you a token, but most of them are simply flavor—things that show your character’s personality and help you answer the question “What would my character do?”

For example, my sheepdog character could always do these things:

  • Stare off into the distance.
  • Make an offhand observation that turns out to be true.
  • Pat a bumble on its head.
  • Rest against something and take a moment to breathe.
  • Say “They’re friendly, don’t fret.”
  • Ask: “Can I teach you something someone once taught me?” They get a token if they say yes, and learn.

Lists like these give players, especially new players, some starting points for roleplaying their character. So instead of wondering how your little bird, dog, cat, weasel, or whatever might react in a situation, you have some prompts to help.

Relaxing Mood

As I mentioned, Wanderhome is a warm-fuzzy game. It’s relaxed, positive, comforting, even therapeutic. That can be a refreshing change from many other tabletop RPGs that are often focused on battling monsters, surviving harsh conditions, and resisting evil forces. I recognize this slower pace might not be everyone’s jam; but for players who prefer a more peaceful game or want to explore a collaborative world at their leisure, you can’t get much better than Wanderhome.

What I Didn’t Love

Now, here’s what I wasn’t crazy about with Wanderhome…

A Little Too Open

You can run a game of Wanderhome with zero prep and zero guides (GMs), which is really cool. But at times this openness and flexibility made it challenging to find a next step in the story. The lack of structure felt like taking the training wheels off of my bike for the first time—so much freedom all at once to the point where things felt kind of wobbly. I didn’t always have an idea or an answer for what should happen next.

Also like riding a bike, that type of collaborative, improvisational gameplay probably gets easier with and more natural with practice. However, it could be intimidating to some new players or game masters picking it up for the first time.

Low Stakes

I said earlier how much I enjoyed the relaxing mood of Wanderhome, but on the other side of that coin, I found it was a bit difficult to make the game feel high-stakes. The system is set up such that there is no chance of failure if the characters spend a token. If I want to spend a token to find a way around the boulders blocking our path, I can do so and succeed. Players can certainly choose for their characters to fail, but there’s no random chance of that happening.

In addition, many of the challenges and problems that characters face in Wanderhome are abstract or emotional in nature. I’m not suggesting abstract or emotional problems can’t be serious, but they are often solved by talking and listening, not facing off in a battle to the death. I didn’t mind the low stakes during our one-shot adventure, but I probably wouldn’t be super motivated to play an extended campaign every week for that reason.

Wanderhome is a good palate cleanser for me—not a main course.

TL;DR- Would I Recommend Wanderhome for Beginners?

Yes, with a confident guide.

Wanderhome is a simple, welcoming roleplaying game which makes it great for beginners, including kids. However, the idyllic, breezy style may not excite everyone, and a guideless game with a brand new group could be a challenge. I would suggest playing Wanderhome with at least one guide who feels comfortable nudging the group along if or when players are at a loss for what to do.

If you’re interested in trying out Wanderhome for yourself, you can pick up the free playkit and give it a whirl. Let us know if you do!