The last time we spoke you implored me to assist you in your study of pre-Imperial history. I refused then. Please forgive me: I acted only with regards to your safety and health. In this age, truth itself has become a precious commodity, and even an Imperial scholar such as myself, must be wary. Some things are simply too terrible to bear, yet too dangerous to speak off.
However, things are now afoot that makes me realize I must share what I know lest they be lost forever. The “smiling man” came to me again! Dressed as a beggar. Nay – a fool! And you would think of him as such with that moronic, terrible grin. But he knows things. Things no man should know. And he asks questions no man should know to ask.
Baldwin, I am not well. My mind is not what it was. The dreams are worse than ever and my thoughts don’t feel like my own anymore.
Enclosed are my notes on the subjects you requested. Have tried as best I can to give an accurate outline but I find I do not even trust my own mind anymore. Make of it what you will, and burn the notes afterwards lest they fall into the wrong hands.
Farewell dear friend,
Principal Scholar of History, Imperial College at Vaaul
The Dawn of History
Our world is old. Much older that they would have you believe. In fact, it can be said that our Empire is but a flicker in the great fire of history. Empires have risen and fallen before and they will do so again.
The dreaming oracles of Shaddu-Wa tell of beings that sometimes whisper in their dreams: Ancient beings who the oracles call the altheryn*.
The oracles talk of visions of how the altheryn were already ancient when they found our world. How they constructed their marvelous, white towers. How they bent the very fabric of space and time to their will.
How, in their folly, they drew the attention of nightmares and madness given form: The Hashitan Titans, the Sleeping Old Ones, the Ur-Dragons. Whatever the name, it was chaos incarnate and it had come for the altheryn across gulfs of space and time.
* We would call them “starstriders”.
The War of TITAns
Perhaps the oracles had grown addled by their love of the poppy. But there are other sources as well: Certain tablets of immeasurable age, found on the plains of Vahari, that are covered in images both fascinating and terrifying.
I have seen them myself: They show the altheryn, tall, ivory-skinned beings with terrible black eyes, waging war with beasts too grotesque for words. Behemoths of pure chaos that tore down their white cities, ground their bones to dust and feasted on their souls.
Alygon of Yrr* once claimed to have preformed a ritual so powerful, it tore her mind out of time. She claimed to have seen with her own inner-eye how the altheryn retreated through great gateways to lands beyond the stars and how the High King of the starstriders remained behind to seal the gateways from the titans.
She also tells of how, when the writhing mass of chaos fell upon the High King, his death unleashed so much energy that it lay the mountains low and created the reticulum itself: An intricate, magical lacework that enveloped the world and drove the titans back into the voids **.
*Alygon of Yrr was driven quite mad by the experience and we must be careful in placing too much trust in her accounts.
** The reticulum is also the source of all Imperial magic as we know it.
The First Age: THe long dark
Following the altheryan exodus, millennia passed: Ice-ages came and went and continents shifted. How many lesser races and empires rose and fell one can only speculate.
What is know, is that at some point, humankind arose into a warm and damp world covered by jungles and ruled by the cruel lizard-like saurans.
Humans was hunted for food and sport by the saurans and were forced to cower the polar regions where it was too cold for the saurans to follow them. It was through the crucible of the saurans reign of terror that the great human tribes formed in the First Age.
Mastering steel and magic, the first great kings and queens of men led their people in the first great war – driving the saurans from the land and establishing the Second Age.
The Second Age: Rise of an Empire
The Second Age marks a period of expansion for humankind. Spreading from continent to continent, petty kings and warlords fought, conquered and built.
Though it was an age of growth, it was also an age of mysticism, ignorance and war. The strong enslaved the weak and the ground ran red with blood. The cruelty of the men of the Second Age had come to rival that of the saurans they had driven from the land only centuries before.
Into the chaos of the second age, a child was born. Some will have it that he was born to three mothers or that he was descendant from the stars or perhaps that he was the last descendant of a lost line of kings dating back to the first age*. No matter his origin, the boy was named Gallian.
Whether he studied the arcane arts or simply was gifted from birth, the boy grew to become a wizard of immense power. The young man also had an uncanny charisma that drew people to him.
Fanatical followers quickly flocked around Gallian, and it was not long before he drew the ire of the petty wizard-kings and warlords of the region. Whether he ever wanted it or not, destiny was thrust upon the would-be Emperor.
The struggle that followed is well documented in the Imperial canon and though heretical tongues may have differing views, we all know the result: The founding of the Gallian Empire and ushering in of the Third Age.
* Heretics will have it that he was born in a field to simple goat-farmers. They would be flayed for claiming as much.
THe Third Age: The Gallian Empire
With the foundation of the Gallian Empire came a period of unparalleled stability, growth and prosperity. The so called “Gallian Miracles” turned deserts into farmland and glaciers into gardens. Imperial armies conquered all of the known world and the Empire spanned continents. All at the behest of the magnificent Gallian the Great.
For nearly a century he ruled, first among the great wizards. Then, as Imperial orthodoxy will have it, without warning Galling the Great disappeared. The canon will say he transcended his human form and rose to the stars in a flash of light.*
Following the disappearance of Gallian the Great, the Empire has seen seven Emperors. For two millennia they have guided the Empire: some competently, others less so. Though non could rival the power of Gallian himself, they were all spell-casters of formidable power, drawn from the Emperor’s ruling council of High Wizards. They were the “husk lords” of the Empire.
It is posited in the great Edun-Wahit texts on the nature of magic, that all magic in the Empire (or the world for that sake) flows from the altheryan reticulum: The magical lattice that drove the Hasithan titans from the world. There can be no doubt that the Empire’s dependency on the reticulum is like that of a babe to its mothers teat.
Drawing their power from the reticulum, mages can call forth fire and arcane energies, they may bind flesh or bend mind. Mere conjurers tricks! The Edun-Wahits will warn that the reticulum offers even more arcane mysteries: It is not simply a construct that exists in space, but also in multiple dimensions of time. Drawing deeply from the reticulum a magic-user may experience prescience and even the gift of an unnaturally long life.
Have you noticed how the Emperors have longer and longer reigns? Gallian the Great ruled for nearly a century. Arrion the Gray has ruled for nearly five centuries.
* Before he was burned alive, Brendon of Othar, former Imperial Chamberlain, claimed that the Emperor was meditating in the garden of the Imperial palace when “one moment he was there, the other he was not”.
The Final Imperial COnclave
They will burn me alive for writing this, so I beg of you: Read no further! Throw these notes in the fire – It is the ramblings of a mad man! Carry on your life as if you never knew me and enjoy what worldly pleasures your home and family can offer you!
If you must read on, this is what I have shall pay so dearly for: Every seven years the High-Wizards convened with the Emperor himself in a great conclave. Sealing themselves in the Imperial Palace for seven days and seven nights they convende and when they re-emerged, the course for the Empire would be laid out for the following seven years.
But there is more. There say there were rituals. Rituals older than Gallian himself, spoken in the ancient sauren tongue on those conclaves! The saurens understood how the reticulum “blessed” those who drew deeply from it – the long life it offered.
You too must remember the Great Rending 13 years ago? When great tremors toppled castles and giant waves crashed into cities all across the Empire? A common, but powerful earthquake the scholars said. It took my sweet Caryna from us, killed thousands, yet no one will talk about how those sensitive to such things suffered unnaturally gruesome nightmares for months afterwards. For some of us, the nightmares persist to this day!
And the Miracles are failing too! The Cloudspires of Aldon spew black smoke now and the Canals of Garomma flood with foul ichor instead of water! They say even the great Forges have gone out. Deserts are returning, crops fail and hundreds of thousands flee their homes to avoid famine. Worse yet: It does not flow the way it should anymore. The magic! It has become dangerous and unpredictable and the disturbance only seems to worsening.
I have done the calculations Baldwin: The day of the Great Rending fell on the last day of the last Imperial Conclave. Don’t you see: They must have torn it! The High-Wizards, in their greed, must have drunken too deeply from the reticulum! Gallian bless us, now they stir in the dark. The smell of terror has awoken them!
In fact, I fear they are already here.
My Lord High Wizard,
The above letter was intercepted en route to a certain Baldwin of Hawkwind in the Freymark Hinterlands. Due to the “sensitive” nature of the letters content I found it best to inform your excellence of its existence.
The author was found dead by his own hand (self-immolation), and I have dispatched agents to track down, and deal with, the letter’s would-be recipient post haste.
Senseless ramblings of a mad man no doubt, but I feel it is still prudent to strike swift and hard in such cases.
For me writing posts like these is a nice way of fleshing out the setting for the upcoming game. Thus, everything I write is a work in progress and prone to change down the line. I’ll try to keep it spoiler free and I’ll keep the big plot twists to myself.
I don’t allow the use of the SKALD universe and setting in other commercial products. However, I would love it if anyone used it in their own homebrew tabletop RPG campaigns! If you want to discuss the setting with me directly, join us on the SKALD Discord!
The following is a macro-level overview of the greater region in which “SKALD: Against the Black Priory” is set. I also recommend having a look at this post about the Gallian Empire before reading on.
The Freymark and the Outer Isles
The northernmost province of the Gallian Empire. Independent and rich in natural resources, the region is now being torn apart by conflict as the land-owning Thanes attempt to secede from Imperial dominion. All the while, at the fringes of the region, a terrifying corruption is slowly creeping into the land.
History of the Freymark
Legends say that when the first pre-imperial tribes wandered into the Freymark from the south they found the land free of other humans. Only the ancient and menacing stone ruins found deep in the forests hinted that they might not be the first people to set foot in this land.
As the Gallian Empire arose in the south, the Freymark with it’s grand wilderness and unlimited natural resources quickly became a target for Imperial expansion. Countless unsuccessful attempts to subjugate the people of the north followed over the ensuing centuries, with the result that the Empire adopted a stance of relative self-rule for the region. The Thanes (heads of the local nobility) were formally recognized as kings in their respective territories – answerable only to the Emperor himself in exchange for providing taxes and soldiers for the Imperial armies.
Perhaps the reason for the regions relative independence is that the Imperials were terrified of the deep darkness of the wilderness at the edge of civilization.
Unlike many other parts of the Empire, the Freymark was never the site of the so called Imperial “miracles”: Large scale magical terraforming efforts that turned deserts into gardens and barren wastes into wineries. This also means that as the miracle throughout the Empire collapse, the Freymark remains largely unaffected.
The result is a significant rise in relative wealth as the Freymark is fast sailing up to become the breadbasket of the Empire and a haven for refugees fleeing from the failing ecological “miracles” of the south.
This new-found strategic importance is not lost on the Thanes and their “Freythen” followers (northern nationalists). The people of Freymark see this as an opportunity to establish themselves as a sovreign nation free of the Imperial yoke.
And as the Thanes and the Imperials squabble, something dark is creeping into the lands of the Freymark. Wild magic users are on the rise despite the Empires fervent attempts at purging them and even the ritualized arts of the chartered Imperial mages has grown terrifyingly unpredictable.
Worse still, those who rove deep into the wilds whisper stories of unnatural lights in the sky, strange stone structures and grotesque creatures roaming the land. There are even rumors of unborn children being stolen from their sleeping mothers, and farmers or even whole villages, disappearing without a trace.
It is as if a something is clawing at the sanity of the people of the Freymark. Some would say it’s the threat of war that is taking its toll. Others might suggest that it is in fact this latent, low-grade terror that is causing the surge in political violence in the region.
Geography and Climate
The Freymark is a rugged land where deep fjords give way to wooded hills and steep alpine mountains. The winters are long and dark, and the summers are all too brief. It’s forest teem with bandits, wolves and worse dangers still. Many a fortune-seeker or frontiersman has lost their mind, or life, in the vast wilderness of the Freymark.
The Freymark can be roughly divided into five regions:
A grand bastion of stone and steel, Alder’s Helm is the center of Imperial power in the Freymark. The city is home to roughly 100.000 souls and lies strategically placed between the Mark and the Hinterlands. It’s marvelous, all-year ice-free port, makes it the hub through which all trade in the region flows. It is also the seat of the Imperial ruler of the Freymark: The High Wizard, Othonaric.
Stretching from Adler’s Helm in the north, to the frontier of the Imperial heartlands in the south, the Mark is a series of interconnected dales transversed by the Great Northern Road. The rough hills are dotted with farmsteads raising crops of barley and herds of goats and sheep. The Mark answers directly to the High Wizard of Adler’s Helm himself.
Maintaining control of the Mark is critical to Imperial power in the region since the Great Northern Road provides one of only two lines of communication between Adler’s Helm and the Imperial heartland (the other being by sea).
As a result, the Mark is kept relatively safe by Imperial knights patrolling the highway and the Imperial garrison of Adler’s Helm keeps a watchful eye towards the north and the lands of the Thanes.
North of Adlers Helm, the land grows wild and grand. This is the land ruled over by the Thanes and it is the true northern frontier of the Empire. Fraught with both peril and great opportunity, this is a land that forges strong men and women.
The Thanes keep their holds in the deep mountain valleys, fjords and forests of the Hinterlands, from Adler’s Helm and all the way to the icy glaciers of the northern Skywall.
The Outer Isles
Off the northern mainland lies an archipelago of windswept, gray islands. Though they are far from the rest of the Freymark, the port of Horryn on the isle of Idra is strategically situated between Adler’s Helm and outlying Imperial holdings. Serving as a hub for shipping and trade, the port connects the Freymark to a greater network of trade routes.
The islands are therefore considered part of the domain of the High Wizard in Adler’s Helms and is ruled in his stead by an Imperial governor.
At one point the islands were home to several prosperous fishing villages and ports. As of late, these have been reduced to a scant handful and the islanders grow poor and desperate.
The Skywall and beyond
To the north of the Hinterlands, a near impassable wall of glacial ice marks the far northern end of the Freymark. Known as the Skywall, the icy ramparts conceal a platau upon which, no citizens of the Empire has set foot.
Many are the fabeled tales of what lies beyond the Skywall: From peaks that reach impossible heights to giant ice-covered cities. What is certain however, is that the changing climate is causing the Skywall to melt. Each year new rivers form as ice and water is carried towards the sea from the crumbling glaciers.
Politics and Economy
Though it may seem a harsh and unforgiving place, the Freymark is also a land of plenty: fjords teem with fish, the hills are full of ore and the forests are full of timber and game. It’s said that northern ore and coal fuel the Imperial forges.
In fact, the unlimited natural resources and endless tracts of land were always a prime motivator for Imperial encroachment into the Freymark.
Despite being an early addition to the Empire, the central Imperial court has never held much direct control over the Freymark.
Particularly in the vast Hinterlands, the Thanes have a long tradition of relative autonomy with relatively little interference from the High Wizard of Adler’s Helm. Imperial influence has instead been maintained by political manipulation, strict trade monopolies and frequent penal expeditions rather that an established military presence far beyond the walls of Adler’s Helm.
Now, as the Empire begins to crumble, the rich natural resources of the north are finding their way to new ports and providing an influx of wealth and political power to the holds of the Thanes.
Combining a newfound internal unity with their rich holds and well-equipped armies, the Thanes now stand poised to challenge the Empire itself for control of their ancestral lands and untethering the Freymark from the dying Empire.
Fearing that the secession of Freymark would be disastrous for the Empire, the Emperors fist tightens around the province as armies are mustered to march north and suppress the fledgling uprising. Taxes are collected even more fiercely and any sign of rebellion in loyalist areas are met with swift Imperial justice.
The vast expanse of the Freymark has always been a land of opportunity, fresh starts and potential wealth. Citizens from all corners of the Empire have heard it’s siren song and as a result the people of the Freymark are a diverse lot.
What they have in common however, is a spirit of industriousness, self-reliance and independence forged by the harsh environment of the north. Be they soldiers, farmers, woodsmen, merchants or sailors the people of Freymark are hard-working and no-nonsense.
As the Thane uprising escalates, the people of the Freymark are increasingly forced to pick sides between the Imperial loyalists and the rebellious “Freythen”.
Factions of the Freymark
The Gallian EMpire
The Imperial ruler of the Freymark is the High Wizard, Othonaric. He rules from the Imperial Citadel in Adler’s Helm and answers only to the Emperor himself.
Though he has lived an unnaturally long life, the high Wizard is secretive in the extreme and little is know about him. His total disappearance from public life lately, has even led to rumors that he is in fact dead and has been so for years.
The Imperial garrison in Alder’s Helm is well trained and equipped but relatively small. If it comes to war it will not be able to hold the city for long against the armies of the Thanes. The city also has a contingent of the “Order of the Silver Knights”: An elite knightly order tasked with exterminating wild and unchartered magic-user.
Though Imperial support is vaning in the Freymark, there are still large groups of loyalists in Adler’s Helm, and to a degree, in the Mark. The loyalists believe that the Freymark must remain part of the Empire and that the Thanes’ uprising is an act of high treason.
THANES and The Freythen
The Thanes of the Freymark have united under the banner of Queen Erryan of Hawkwind. She rose to become first among the Thanes following a short but bloddy internal power struggle and has begun using the title “Queen of the Freymark”
What internal animosity may have existed between the Thanes, has put aside (for now) as their holds in the Hinterland have begun preparing for the coming war of independence.
The Thanes have broad support among the population of the north from the political movement known as the “Freythen”. Freythen are nationalists who see the Empire as an oppressive, occupying force who must be driven out so Freymark can gain sovereignty.
“Rovers” is a term used for the increasingly large group of people who shun society to live deep in the wilderness in an attempt to escape the harsh taxation and brewing war.
Whole communities exist, either in small hidden farmsteads or as nomadic groups, subsiding on what nature has to offer whilst waiting for the coming storm to pass. Rovers are considered bandits and outlaws by the Empire and disloyal cowards by the Thanes and perhaps not without good reason: As hunger sets in, some groups of rovers may certainly turn to highway-robbery and theft to survive.
The Tradewind Mercantile League
The Tradewind Mercantile League is a powerful, private merchant league that has taken root in the Empire. Renown for it’s cadre of magically enhanced navigators, excellent ships and private army, the league is said to be powerful enough to rival entire kingdoms, and perhaps, even the Empire itself.
In general the league is distrusted and despised, but the factions of the Freymark are both fully dependent on them: The Empire for shipping supplies into Adler’s Helm and the Thanes for giving their goods a rout onto the greater trade market.
Adventuring in the Freymark
Be it exploring the wilderness and the back-streets of Adler’s Helm, smuggling arms in the Outer Isles or siding with either faction of the Thane uprising, there’s plenty of opportunities for adventure in the Freymark.
The feel of the region should be an area in which the status quo stands on a knifes edge as political tension rises. The players should have a feeling of events unfolding around them and yet they should also feel that interacting with events will have an impact on the conflict.
All the while, there should be a distinct feeling of terror as something dark and terrible is slowly enveloping the region. It should remain mostly unseen and intangible for now and yet be a distinct presence.
I’ll include some adventure hooks to get you started:
The king of foxes
After the power struggle that put Erryan of Hawkwind in charge of the Thane uprising, several of her opponents fled the Hinterlands. One of them is currently hiding in the Mark and has taken up the moniker “the King of Foxes”. He currently leads a band of rovers that has turned to preying on Imperial convoys as highway men.
The Imperials will not tolerate any threat to their overland supplyroutes and the Thanes see that the King of Foxes could be a strategic ally with his guerilla army in potential conflict. Either way, the characters are tasked with tracking him down.
They must not only find the band’s secret hideout, but also get close enough to the King of Foxes that they can either assassinate him or convince him to join in the Thane uprising.
Against the Rocks
A smuggler vessel is lost as it runs aground on a barren rock island in the outer Isles. The ship was carrying cargo essential to the Thane uprising and the heroes must mount a rescue operation. The problem is that even navigating this stretch of ocean is a challenge and the Imperial navy is also out to recover the cargo.
Perhaps the heroes must attempt to bargain with (or burglarize) the Tradewind League to gain access to sea-charts that can help them reach the wreckage before their Imperial counterparts?
No doubt this ends in a showdown at the site of the wreck. As a final twist, the island might not even be completely deserted!
In the ice
Two hundred years ago an Imperial expedition attempted to traverse the Skywall. Two weeks ago a man wanders into a Thane hold and claims to be the last survivor of that expedition. Though he refuses to reveal what they found there, he is convinced he has spent no more than two months in the ice.
Then heavy snow begins to fall, the hold becomes isolated and people start turning up dead.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more of the SKALD universe, please let me know on twitter or join the SKALD Discord!
This means all of those who missed the Kickstarter now get a chance to back the game and secure either a discounted digital copy or one of the exclusive physical editions.
The campaign goes live sometime between 12 – 15th of November.
How to Back
IndieGOGO is a crowdfunding platform much like Kickstarter and the campaign there will mirror the SKALD Kickstarter campaign in terms of rewards and pricing.
The advantage with the “InDemand” feature is that it allows already successfull projects to fund for an extended period of time. This means that this project will remain open to backers for more than 30 days! However, it won’t be open forever so get it while it’s hot!
After the Rock Paper Shotgun interview, SKALD is getting a lot of attention. I’m getting daily requests from people who want to know how they can support the project and if it’s still possible to get their hands on a physical edition of the game.
This is fantastic and I would love to swell the already awesome community even more!
Adding more funding will also allow me to take more time off of my full-time dayjob. This means that the game will be much more polished at release and that post release features (such as modding support) will arrive much sooner!
I’ll announce the launch of the campaign on all my social media platforms and as long as you follow me on twitter or Discord you’ll get notified. I’ll of course announce it here as well so be sure to subscribe!
In terms of development I’m starting to see the end of alpha development. This means that the game engine is slowly approaching a state where I’m not going to be making big changes to it. This also means that the last weeks have been spent doing “under the hood” work such as optimizing the draw-pipeline to allow for bigger and more complex maps. In the end it will make the game look a lot more striking whilst maintaining the old-school look and I can’t wait to show it off.
It’s also time to start digging back into the narrative of the game. As an old tabletop GM this is the part I really enjoy and I can’t wait to start exploring the setting with you!
As always,join our Discord to get engage with the development on a more day-to-day basis!
Anyways, this was a short one but I just had to share the “Rock Paper Shotgun” interview while it was still fresh!
It’s time for a new SKALD-update! Fueled by a diet of running and prog-rock, development on SKALD is going great! Currently in the Alpha stage of development, the focus is on adding features to the game and engine. If I manage to keep up the current rate, the game will enter the Beta stage of development by end-of-year (right on schedule) and the focus will shift to adding content to the game.
Alpha Demo Update: Boat Edition
A new version of the alpha demo is ready for testing (use the link I gave you). This one adds a bunch of new features:
You can now construct the “main” character in a basic character creator (though it’s still very crude)
The interact prompt (‘Q’ key) highlights whenever there is something to interact with
F5 turns the music on/off
You can now “talk”, “trade / steal” or “attack” all friendly NPCs
NPCs belong to factions that react to your actions
Pressing “M” on the overland map opens up a larger map
Added a day-night cycle
Inventory is now icon- and grid based
Added mouse-movement on the overland
You can now board a boat and sail around (though there’s not a whole lot to see)
As always, adding new features means the game enters a rougher and less stable state as the new features mature through testing. There’s also not really a lot of new content but that’s not really a priority until we near Beta-testing.
For now, you playing the demo is my best source of play-testing and I would appreciate any feedback you have!
Hot Kickstarter tip: “Through the Moongate 2”
If you supported SKALD on Kickstarter, chances are you’re gonna love this as well:
Through the Moongate is the ambitious two-volume comprehensive history of the Ultima series, Lord British, and Origin Systems at-large. Part I was successfully Kickstarted on October 16th, 2018 and covered Richard Garriott’s humble beginnings up through Ultima VI. Part II covers Ultima VII to Portalarium and includes Wing Commander and other important Origin titles.
That’s it for now. Hope you all have a great fall and that you’ll keep engaging with the project. As always I would love it if as many of you as possible joined the SKALD Discord to discuss, and stay updated on, the SKALD project and all things RPG-related in general!
Finishing the Kickstarter with 450 backers and at 262% it’s safe to say that “Skald: Against the Black Priory” is a hit. The campaign has been a lot of fun, but also a lot of work, and I’m looking forward to spending more time working on the game again.
The scheduled release for SKALD is June 2020 with physical rewards coming in August 2020. Up to that point there is a lot of work to be done in developing the game and feelies and honestly, I can’t wait!
For backers who payed to get access to the alpha-build, that will be made available in July. I’ll still take a few weeks to polish it a bit so be patient! The alpha-build is in no way representative of the finished product. It serves as a short proof-of-concept and a way to start developing some shared language for discussing the project.
In particular, complex features like character development and advancement will be placeholder systems in this demo.
We already have a pretty good community on Discord and I would like for it to become much larger! Join us on Discord today!
We’re having some pretty great discussions regarding SKALD and game development in general. So if you want a say in how this game turns out, Discord is the place!
Late to the Party?
Didn’t get to back the game? Well, first of all, the actual game and digital assets (manual etc), will be available for sale on Steam and a select few other stores.
As for the feelies, we will do a limited run of big-boxes and zip-lock bags. More information on that will follow.
That’s it for now! Thanks again for all your support and be sure to subscribe to this devlog to stay up to date!
With SKALD: Against the Black Priory entering the final days of a phenomenally successful Kickstarer, it’s time to squeeze in another article discussing game-play features and design.
Last time, we did some exploration into classes and stats. Today, the subject is the application of the classes and stats! In other words: “Combat and Adventuring”!
Just like in the “Classes and Stats” article, let’s start with some design pillars for combat and adventuring:
Respect the players time: SKALD is developed for a modern audience and this means allowing players to pick up the game, play a short session and still have a fun experience. This includes reducing book-keeping by adding features such as a journal system and auto-mapping, avoiding grindy areas of pointless content padding, making combat fast and having a forgiving save system that allows the player to save anywhere.
Allow the player to make informed choices: The game should be mostly transparent in how the rules work and how the characters class, stats and roleplaying choices interact with the world. If information is kept from the player there should be a good reason to do so.
Provide multiple solutions to quests: Quests should be solvable by non-combat means and players should be able to play non combat-oriented characters.
Choices matter: The world should be interactive and react to players choices.
Adventuring in SKALD takes one of fours forms:
Combat (more on that later)
Exploring the environment through the tile-based map
“Choose your own adventure” sequences
You explore the game-world with a party of up to six characters. At the start of the game, you create a single main character and then recruit characters along the way. I’m considering allowing players to create characters at inns as well, to replace the recruitable characters if they wish.
At any given time, a single character leads the party (you can swap any time). It’s the leader’s skills and abilities that are used when interacting with the world so you should take care to have the right leader at any given time.
The SKALD scripting language is quite powerful in allowing me to reference player skills, abilities and previous player choices in the dialogue and the “choose-your-own-adventure” sequences.
Specifically, this gives me a lot of leeway in creating scenes with multiple solutions beyond combat (I’m taking a big leaf from the early Fallout games here). There should be room for all the different classes, and builds, to shine.
In the interest of transparency, I want as few hidden rolls as possible. If, for instance, a dialogue choice gives you the opportunity to use a skill, the game will tell the player so explicitly.
Combat is a staple of fantasy RPGs and SKALD is no exception. The basic combat draws upon inspiration from classics such as Wasteland 1 and Bard’s Tale, tabletop RPGs and other, more modern games.
As combat begins, the game switches from the tile-map to the tactical map. The tactical map consts of a background with the combatants animated upon it.
Combat is resolved in order of initiative until all the combatants on one side is either dead or somehow incapacitated.
Combatants do not move freely around the battlefield and combat is not tile-based. Instead the combatants occupy either the front, or rear rank of their formation. The player is of course, free to reorder the party formation during combat to move characters between the front and rear rank.
In general a melee weapon (excluding spears and pole-arms) can only attack the adjacent enemy rank, whilst ranged weapons and exceptionally long weapons can attack more distant ranks.
For each turn, each combatant can perform a single action (in general). This may be either a normal attack, casting a spell or using an ability. I intend for there to be interactions between different spells and abilities that reward clever planning and an attention to detail.
For now I’m hoping to make combat difficult but not unfair. Party-members are very rarely killed outright in combat. Instead they are knocked out and failure only comes if the entire part is somehow incapacitated. Knocked-out party members come around after combat (albeit at reduced total HP). I’m also playing around with having a sanity score in the game and taking a lot of beatings might impact sanity in the long run.
I’ve chosen to go with this decision because I don’t want combat to prompt constant save-scumming. I would rather you survive most combats but have to make decisions of how far into a dungeon you can push your luck and then having to plan how to get back to a safe port with an injured party. I feel it will make for more memorable gameplay in the end.
Finally, combat has an auto-resolve feature that can be used to resolve full rounds of combat allowing players to blow through easier encounters or finishing combats quickly once they have them “locked down”.
That’s it for now!
This is a work in progress and it might look very different a year from now.
The SKALD Kickstarter has reached its third stretch-goal and we’re now adding a third major area to the game: Urban carnage in the the city of Adler’s Helm!
Even better: We get to have a go at a fourth stretch-goal (140.000 NOK / 16.000 USD)! And so, without further ado:
To celebrate SKALDs tabletop RPG background, we’re already making an awesome manual and campaign-guide for SKALD: Against the Black Priory!
The manual will explain the rules and gameplay, whilst the campaign guide will serve as an introduction to the SKALD universe with an emphasis on the Gallian Empire and the Island of Idra with its locations and surroundings.
If we make our fourth stretch goal, we get to be a lot more ambitious with the manual / campaign guide! We planned to ship with approx. the equivalent of 3 pages of illustrations. If we make the mark, we’ll up that to the equivalent of 6 pages in a 32+ page manual! This means we get to flesh out the city of Adler’s Helm as well as add hand-drawn maps for locations and a fully illustrated bestiary of monsters!
Furthermore this also means we can afford to pay a professional editor to give the book the polish it deserves!
The goal has always been for the campaign guide to serve as a hint booklet but ALSO allow you to use the setting in a tabletop RPG campaign (after all, the Imperator edition ships with custom dice)! Reaching this goal will allow us to make the campaign guide all the more AWESOME!
We also hope to be able to feature some fan fiction in the booklet so if you would like to write short pieces of fiction set in the SKALD universe, you might want to keep an ear to the ground (for instance by subscribing to this devlog)!
In SKALD: Against the Black Priory you create a single character and then recruit the rest of the party as you go. The game uses classes, numerical stats and feats combined with level based advancement to flesh out its characters. Creating a robust and balanced system for character development is challenging (and immensely rewarding) and I’m going to take my time getting it right.
As with any design task, it’s always a good idea to set down a few basic pillars and goals to guide the work ahead.
The primary goal for the character system might be something like:
“Character creation and development allows players to express themselves creatively whilst making interesting mechanical choices concerning their character.”
In other words: A player should be able to envision a character (within the games setting) and then create and play that character in-game.
For design-pillars I’ve chosen these for now:
Balance: Each class should be equally playable. There should be no “dump-stats” or skills. The game should accommodate a wide range of builds and each ability should have something to offer each class.
Transparency: The player should have access (preferably in-game) to all the information required to make meaningful decisions when making, and developing, a character.
Narrative Impact: The choices the players make in character creation should matter in-game. There must be plenty of opportunities to use skills and abilities, and your class should matter in the narrative.
Scalability: The level system should have no “hard” upper level cap. That is, no upper level limit beyond which the system breaks. That’s not to say that the system won’t have a “sweet spot” level-range, within which play is particularly enjoyable. It just means that the system is not mechanically upward limited.
At the moment I’m working with five ability scores:
Strength: Physical strength and brawn. Affects your ability to do melee damage and your skill in athletics (jumping, climbing, swimming etc.).
Agility: Speed, reflexes and finesse is determined by agility. Affects dodging, initiative, hit-chance and fine-motor skills like thievery.
Fortitude: Physical and mental toughness. Affects willpower, hit points and resistances.
Intellect: Mental faculties. Affects several skills as well as spell-casting. Might also affect how many skill-points you get and perhaps an XP-bonus.
Presence: A measure of your attention to your surroundings and your place within them. Affects your ability to interact with people and animals as well as your perception and attention to detail. Also affects leadership.
There is a tendency for “physical” abilities to become overly powerful (especially at lower levels) in RPGs due to combat being prevalent, with the mental abilities becoming dump-stats for many character builds.
As a result I chose to go with five abilities as opposed to the more typical six. I find that three physical and two “mental” abilities seem more balanced whilst still allowing for a range of expression. Furthermore it’s a easier to make each ability relevant to every class with fewer abilities.
Post character creation, ability scores advance very slowly.
I want SKALD: Against the Black Priory to feature basic classes that are recognizable enough to provide a foundation upon which to build the character you want.
Beyond that I want a lot of flexibility as the game progresses with few (if any) class-exclusive skills or feats. Classes should encourage certain builds, but I like the idea of not imposing too many limitations.
The six classes in “Against the Black Priory” are as follows:
Warrior: Soldiers, sell-swords and mercenaries. They excel at combat, dealing large amounts of damage (often to multiple targets).
Rogue: Thieves, assassins and swashbucklers. Rogues are stealthy and excel at using skills to perform tasks. In combat, rogues are more based on maneuvers than soldiers are: backstabbing, flanking, ham-stringing, disarming and all round fighting dirty.
Cleric: The holy men and women of the Empire draw upon their devotion to channel the divine power of their deity. From ascetic monks to armored battle-priests, clerics play different roles on the battlefield: Healers, support-casters or front line fighters.
Wizard: Chartered Imperial Wizards or rogue hedge-mages. Wizards harness the corrupting arcane energies of magic. A wizards magic is powerful and devastating (sometimes to friend and foe alike).
Skald: Part of an ancient, dying tradition, skalds are the wandering bards and storytellers that preserve the lore of the myriad cultures assimilated by the Empire. A life spent roaming the breath of the Empire and beyond, makes the skalds jacks of all trades. They excel at inspiring their allies in combat and bolster their party with both magic and a strong sword arm.
Captain: In “Against the Black Priory”, captains are the smugglers, pirates, merchants and officers of the Northern Isles. As expert sailors, leaders and skilled fighters, they make an invaluable addition to any group adventuring in the north!
Skills are learned and improve over time (whereas abilities are more innate).
The trick with skills is including many enough to provide granularity and range of expression whilst still having few enough that each skill gets screen time!
I’m currently considering the following six skills:
The total score of a skill is calculated by adding up ranks in the skill with the score of one or two ability scores. Ranks are purchased as you gain levels.
Note that the game also contains secondary abilities as well. These include stats like “Base Attack”, “Dodge” and initiative. They may look a bit like skills but they cannot be improved by spending skill points. In stead, they must be improved by using feats.
Feats are selected at certain intervals as you gain levels and allow you to customize you character by adding special talents. Think perks in Fallout. Whilst skills and abilities add numerical values to you character, feats allow you to break rules (in a sense).
Many feats are combat related but there are also other types like adventuring feats (consume less food, ability to swim, more carry capacity) or narrative feats (guild memberships, special allies, access to more equipment etc).
Races and Backgrounds
At this point in development, the SKALD universe is human-centric. Demi-human do exist, but they are few and far between. As such humans will likely be the only race available in “Against the Black Priory”.
As a way of adding more definition to your character however, I intend to offer a selection of backgrounds. The backgrounds offer a small mechanical bonus and will, hopefully, tie in to the narrative as well.
More on that down the line.
That’s it for now!
It’s worth repeating that this is a work in progress and it might look very different a year from now.