Burly Men at Sea is a folktale about a trio of large, bearded fishermen who step away from the ordinary to seek adventure.
Set in the waters of early 20th-century Scandinavia, the game's story branches through a series of encounters with creatures from folklore. You play as storyteller and wayfinder, shaping the narrative around three ungainly heroes. Play through once for a single tale, then set sail again to uncover paths to new adventures.
Burly Men at Sea is constructed as a story-building game. In it, branching scenes combine to form a variable tale with a single, overarching theme. With each session, the player returns from one journey to set sail again, uncovering new paths for a series of kindred but distinct adventures.
Of the many elements of folklore that helped to establish what we describe as a “folktale adventure,” three contributed most to the design of Burly Men at Sea: length, tone, and moral. Designing for folktale length gave us a branching narrative with a short play cycle. Designing for folktale tone put the player in the role of storyteller, one step removed from our protagonists. But here we ran into a complication: how could the game present a cohesive moral tale when the tale itself is of the player’s choosing? Our solution was to structure the story in a way that both beginning and end were consistent, with the player’s influence shaping all events in the middle of the story in a way that developed a single theme.
As I tackled these challenges over the following year and saw the narrative gradually take a final form, I took a fresh look at the design and story as a whole to see what themes had emerged. To my surprise and enormous relief, I found that what the game itself had to say about adventure was better than anything I had thought I wanted to say. It was about adventure for adventure’s sake, about following impulse down an unknown path. Incredibly, or maybe not, even our development process had reflected this discovered theme. We tried a lot of strange ideas that managed to bind together into an honest little tale that taught us how to both tell and live a better story.