On a dark night, I set out to ambush travellers and seek my fortune as a highwayman in the wooded hills of the Chilterns. My past as the scion of a noble family was forgot: only my high GALLANTRY score (6) and my inherited rapier (PAR 4) reminded me of my origin.
Yikes – what a playthrough! As part of my editing, I’ve been playing Steam Highwayman II as a new reader. Complementing the link-checking, this allows me to discover what balances are needed and tweak them before the final version is published. But I’ve also been massively enjoying re-discovering the world I wrote earlier this year, trying to overcome the forces of the law and of poverty and sickness. Nobody said that this life would be easy!
So I started by keeping my blade clean and talking my first victim into handing over cash. I headed for the Crown at Pishill but was unable to take a room since the landlady lacked trust. Listening to her sob story, I set out to try and right a wrong and made my way to Wallingford, where I was unable to convince a menial paper-pusher in the barracks, despite using charm and gold. I’d be back with a bigger bribe, I decided.
So I set off to try and get a pot of guineas to throw at the problem. My first attempts at ambushes were only mildly successful and I was wounded twice with little to show for it. Now a new problem arose: finding medical treatment. It was risky to continue to ambush carriages but with only a few shillings, I was unable to buy what I needed to set up a camp in the woods or to take a room at an inn. One more robbery was needed…
I stopped a carriage and lucked out – a priest! He showed fight and wounded me again, but I subdued him and stole his precious golden pectoral cross. Earlier I’d found a goldsmith who had offered me a good price for these things, so I shot off in his direction, mercifully still unknown to the Constables as a result of maintaining my disguise. The gold was sold and I had money in my pocket at last! I returned to Wallingford, bribed the official, headed for the Crown and gave the good news to the landlady, who let me take a room. Once inside I could attempt to tend my wounds – but required bandaging. This was the first point at which I thought my gameplay was being frustrating and I decided to edit more bandages into some of these locations.
Things looked up! I left the and decided to head out to find an adventure. Not far away I came across a grand house, bluffed my way inside with my good breeding and a double six and burgled the place. The lady’s jewels were in my grasp… but, folly of follies, I could not resist striking out for more and I came a cropper, trying to sneak around the house.
Beaten and subdued, I was handed to the Constables, who scorned me as an unimportant burglar (and to tell the truth, I had indeed achieved little of note) and threw me into prison – but not before confiscating my weapons, remaining cash and those lovely jewels!
Released, I completed a little honest work delivering parcels, but soon grew tired of this slow employment. I desperately stopped the first two carriages I came across and scraped together enough coin to buy a sabre (PAR 3) at a market – oh for my lost rapier! Doing so, however, I earned the wrath of the Haulage Guild and the Constables. Eager to gain more gold and bootstrap myself up into some higher skills (I had also grabbed some goggles (MOT+1)), I returned to the scene of my earlier crimes and prepared another ambush. This time, as a result of my growing notoriety, the Haulage Guild were ready for me and the vehicle I met was guarded. A MOTORING test allowed me to dodge damage to my precious velosteam, but in the process I was wounded once more, and still without a firearm, I was unable to press home my attack.
I’m somewhat amazed at the story that has just appeared from an hour and half’s gameplay. To me it feels realistic, challenging, gritty and hooky. Is this just the start of a great tale or is it doomed to failure and replay? If you’ve read this, you may end up recognising some of these events during your playthrough, but I’m also amazed that another reader or another reading of Steam Highwayman II: Highways and Holloways could proceed for just as long without a single common event with the story I’ve just described. From your choice of backstory and the manner in which you approach your first robbery to your decision of where to base yourself, how to treat wounds, which sort of travellers to target and the manner in which you pursue profit, your choices could be entirely different and your experience in the book much more – or less – successful.
That’s really the biggest difference between the two volumes of Steam Highwayman. Smog and Ambuscade was open-world in many ways, but I created ‘choke-points’ to make the mechanics manageable and in the end didn’t feel that there were enough opportunities to behave as a highwayman should – essentially robbing travellers. Now in Highways and Holloways, I’ve been able to develop my structures and instead of ‘choke-points’ I have what I think of a ‘dispersal passages’ that gather events from different locations, shuffle your options and send you back out to your region. It’s a powerful mechanic that keeps the story moving and helps you zip across the map when you need to.
I’ll continue with this playthrough (I was sorely tempted to stop once I missed that NIMBLENESS roll in the night burglary!) and probably post some more, but I’ll try to avoid hard spoilers as I do. Anyway, by the time you read the book, the world will be responding to your choices, not mine.
If you haven’t yet pledged on Kickstarter, why not head over and fund your copy of Steam Highwayman II: Highways and Holloways now? The project is 87% funded and with unique custom art spots still available, this is your opportunity to appear as the Steam Highwayman in print!