Nov 13

2018

Author Interview: Amy Griswold and Jo Graham, “Stronghold: A Hero’s Fate”

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

Monsters have plagued your valley for as long as you can remember. But if anyone can destroy them, it’s you: you’ve already killed a powerful undead lich, and your sovereign was so impressed that he gave you a town in return. As the ruler of this new settlement, you’ll fend off invading goblin armies, flesh-eating bats, and feuding warriors in your quest to build a thriving community in Stronghold: A Hero’s Fate, a new 250,000 word interactive fantasy from Amy Griswold and Jo Graham. I sat down with them to talk about their latest game, and what it is that keeps us returning to fantasy settings. Stronghold: A Hero’s Fate releases this Thursday, November 15th. 

Stronghold: A Hero’s Fate is quite a departure from the world of The Eagle’s Heir, which is one of my all-time favorite Choice of Games titles. Tell me about the setting and what kind of world you intended to build here.

We were aiming for a Roman twilight feel to the setting–you’re building a town in the ruins of an older civilization that you don’t entirely understand. It’s a smaller canvas than Paris and the politics of Europe in The Eagle’s Heir; your world centers around your townsfolk, your friends and neighbors, and your relationships with the neighboring horse-folk and the city across the mountain pass.

What was interesting was the chance to explore the realities of life in a small town–you know everyone, but you don’t necessarily like everyone. Your friends and family are there when you need help, but they’re also up in your business, even when you’d prefer privacy. If you make an enemy, you’ll be dealing with them and their grudge against you for decades. Tradition is a strength and a source of comfort, but also a source of resistance to new ideas.

And, at the same time, it was satisfying to portray a “traditional” society that’s inclusive of different genders and sexual orientations and ways of building a family. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect for everyone in it–this is a society, not a utopia–but its tension between tradition and innovation centers around the value of book-learning and experimentation versus the value of oral tradition and tried and true methods, not around issues of gender and sexuality.

What about writing in a fairly traditional fantasy setting was appealing to you?

We both grew up playing D&D, and in some ways it’s still the roleplaying game of our hearts. The stairs leading down into a crumbling ruin filled with treasure and monsters! The circle of firelight around the campfire, and freezing at the sound of rustling branches in the darkness! Swords and sorcery and heroically rescuing villagers from marauding evils! It’s all pretty deeply ingrained in our DNA.

It was great to get the chance to bring some of that flavor into a game that explores the question of what happens once the monster is slain–how does a hero become a leader? When you’re living with those villagers for decades, how do you respond to their different priorities, and their grievances, and their grief when things go wrong?

What do you think players will enjoy most about the game?

The challenge of managing the different personalities in town is a fun one, along with making choices about what to build and what resources to invest in to reach your goals for your town. There’s lots of adventure as you fend off threats to your town, whether you handle them with military might or clever diplomacy. There’s the chance for romance, with six different romance options (eight, if you count potential threesomes), or the chance to become someone’s sworn sibling if romance isn’t your cup of tea. And you can’t ever afford to lose sight of the looming goblin threat, culminating in an epic final confrontation that can play out in many different ways.

Do you have a favorite character you enjoyed writing most? Fram stands out to me as someone I always wanted to spend more time with.

Amy enjoyed writing Kingfisher, who’s a quieter and more reflective character than some of the pushier and louder personalities in town, but has their own wry sense of humor. Fram was fun to write, too, especially his rivalry with Mallosian, which can turn into grudging friendship or curdle into genuine hatred. Jo particularly liked writing Cronos and Ari, and she also enjoyed Kerkelm and Heligburn, the goblin king.

Any challenges that stood out to you about this game in particular?

It was important to us that the player character’s actions affect how other people in town relate to each other, which required a lot of variation in later chapters based on which NPCs have resolved their differences with each other, and which ones have become bitter enemies.

And the game is wide, with so many paths through it and so many options that while a single playthrough is about 40,000 words, the total is nearly 250,000! There are also some tracks through the game that the player character may not go down at all–it’s possible to remain completely ignorant about the mysterious magic of your ancestors, or to remain skeptical that the dryads even exist–and so we really made an effort to hint that those possibilities existed and might be fun avenues to explore in a future playthrough.

What are you working on next?

We’re working on the outline for another fantasy game with the working title The Play’s the Thing, with more of a Renaissance feel. You’re a playwright in a city under a terrible curse.  Can you defeat the curse while making a name for yourself as a playwright? It should be an exciting romantic adventure, and also a look at the challenge of making art in difficult times.

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