Upping Your Game: Fallout with Proprietary Dice

Fallout Wasteland Warfare

Welcome back to Upping Your Game, the series where I take a basic idea for improving a game and then wallow in the concept until I either go mad or strike gold. In the last article, I started talking about how you could bring the joys of the game Fallout to your gaming table. If you haven’t read the first part you can find it here: Fallout With Friends.

As I mentioned in the first article, a friend gave me the idea for this topic. What I didn’t mention is when he suggested it, I happened to have an idea already brewing in the back of my mind. You see, back in the before times when we traveled freely and conventions were not a half remembered dream, I had picked up this lovely text on a weekend gaming holiday:

Fallout RPG

I don’t know about you, but I tend to buy games and gaming accessories in binge sessions. I get a big pile of stuff and then slowly consume it before suddenly, months later, binge-ing all over again. I’m not proud to admit it but there is a chance that, if not for this series, this book may never have been read. Because it will be important later, I spent roughly $35 (USD) on the book.

Now, in preparation to discuss this topic, I finally had an excuse to crack the book open. However, when I began reading it, doubt crept into my mind. Had I made a mistake?

Fallout RPG Example
The hell is all this?

Strange dice, pictures with detailed painted miniatures, references to character cards, etc. This isn’t a stand alone RPG – it’s an add on to another game. So I did some research and found this:

Modiphius Entertainment B07GB5GRV6 Fallout: Wasteland Warfare ...
Add $78 to the tally.

So I bought the starter set because I’m a sucker and also because the minis looked very nice (more on that later). It arrived a couple of weeks later and I could finally test this product for what I originally intended. When I opened the box and started working it, I began having doubts again.

It has a lot of pieces, there are measuring sticks of various lengths, lots of proprietary dice (meaning they cannot be used in any other game), tons of little cardboard tokens, multiple books, and the aforementioned minis. It’s a lot to take in and my test players were very skeptical of it.

Just to explain our starting point Fallout: Wasteland Warfare is a skirmish level wargame. That means small groups of miniatures are used in turn based measured combat. Thus the dice, measuring sticks and bits. That was neither what my players signed up for or a good fit for my original goal. It is by definition designed with combat in mind, not collaborative storytelling.

As I have stated on multiple occasions, I don’t do reviews anymore. However, I feel like I should point out that Fallout Wasteland Warfare is, at the very least, a perfectly competent wargame. Our test games were fast, easier to understand, and most importantly fun. Though, it isn’t what I’m looking for when it comes to collaborative storytelling.

The rules are extremely crunchy. Even as an RPG, it is built off of a wargame’s rules. As such the tendency will always be to express the story through combat. This is an issue I have with D&D from time to time, but it is even more prominent here. It is faithful expression of the modern Fallout games, an action game with light RPG mechanics, but that isn’t what we’re looking for.

I do think that a full campaign of this could be a blast though. If you had access to the full game, the RPG book, extra minis for enemies, terrain and a group of players looking for a wargame with light RPG mechanics. But I think you can see the problem there. As a wargame, this is about average price. A small warband to play the game with could cost between $50 and $100. For Warhammer fans, that seems pretty sweet. However, as an RPG, it only works when you use the wargamming sets, each of with costs $50 to $100. Each type of enemy costs as much or more than most RPGs do to play and this price will only increase the longer you play, because you can’t play it without the extra bits. You need the character cards, the item cards, the new minis and accessories.

All of these factors really limit the accessibility of this game as an RPG: compelexity, game-play focus, and price. Worst of all, at least within the narrow focus of this series, none of these factors add to the story telling experience. The debate as to whether minis or theater of the mind makes a game more immersive wages on. I like both, but minis alone are not enough to sell me on this as an RPG I would develop a campaign for.

Fallout: Wasteland Warfare - Wasteland Creatures: Mirelurk Bundle
Probably still going to buy these Mirelurks though…

So we hit a dead end with the licensed games but are there another options? Tune in for part 3 where we’ll explore some alternate gaming systems that might be a better fit. At the very least, I guarantee they will be less expensive…

Upping Your Game: Fallout With Friends

Fallout Wasteland Warfare RPG

Welcome to Upping Your Game – a source for tips and tricks to telling better stories at the table. With this series of articles, we will be exploring different ways to experience the wastelands of Fallout with friends. This was a suggestion from a friend so I’ll start with a short explanation.

A few months ago, I was picking some brains for ideas for this series. I told my friends I was going to be writing about story-telling through gaming and asked what topics I should discuss. One of them gave me this little gem: “You should figure out how to make Fallout 76 good!”

Clipart Sad Fallout Vault Boy
Shots fired!

Now, I don’t want to go and disparage Fallout 76. A good portion of the world has already done that and I’m not really into beating dead, irradiated horses. Besides, I haven’t played it. I looked at it and recognized it wasn’t for me. However, the idea stuck in my craw. Lots of people were disappointing in Fallout 76 because they wanted to explore the wasteland with friends. There is definitely a desire to make something like this work, so why didn’t it?

Well, again, I didn’t play it. Though the general consensus, beyond technical and game-play issues, was that the storytelling was not engaging. Most players blamed the lack of NPCs, but I think the issues lies deeper than that. I think it is the same issue holding back Fallout 4. There are tons of options, customization, stats and perks, but none of them impact the story. A character with a low intelligence has all the same dialogue options as a character with high intelligence, the branching narrative is simple at best, and the character’s over all impact on the world is minor. Agency is at the heart of storytelling in Fallout and the way missions and choice has been implemented in the new games is surprisingly linear.

This is not to say these games don’t have their moments. There are some surprisingly effective horror set-pieces in Fallout 4 and I have heard that some of the log-based quests in Fallout 76 are very engaging. However, these are all examples of linear storytelling. Linearity isn’t bad, it’s just not what many people are looking for in a game like this. The excitement surrounding the announcement and release of The Outerworlds shows how rabid gamers are for narrative choice in their RPGs.

So, how do we solve this problem? Beyond getting Obsidian to make the next Fallout game, I think the answer is to change mediums. Moving to a tabletop RPG would solve both the desire to play with a group and give the players far more agency in the wasteland. But this opens up a new question; what system do we use? In my next article we will start with the most obvious option: licensed products.

Fallout Wasteland Warfare Tabletop RPG book
I hope you brought your wallet…

An Introduction to “Upping Your Game”

Why write about tabletop gaming?

You might be wondering: Jacob, you’re a writer trying to promote his craft, so why write about games? The answer to that is actually pretty simple: I write about them because they inspire me.

I used to write a lot of critical content. I have written reviews for movies, books and video-games professionally. But that isn’t what I want to work on here. The goal for my gaming series, “Upping your Game”, is to explore ways to tell better stories in games and the lessons a writer can learn from them.

When I play games (tabletop or otherwise), I can’t help but analyse them. It’s a sad habit I picked up in school and an inevitable outcome of consuming media now. Much like reading a book, watching a movie, or enjoying a great painting, I like to break down why games work and learn from them. Good game design is just another form of storytelling and you can learn from it, even if you don’t work in that medium.

Tabletop gaming is a great example of this because a lot of the storytelling is collaborative. A good game system provides a framework to inspire players to create and express themselves. While this is most evident in role-playing games, it can also be seen in card games, war games, and even board games.

As this series progresses, I hope to deal with some really strange topics. I want to create interesting meta-games and writing opportunities in well known games, but I also want to highlight some hidden gems that I find really get the creative juices flowing. But for our first article I’m going to start simple: we’re going to turn RPG character creation into a writing prompt. Stay tuned.