Let slip the dogs of war

Beware, beware the horrid sleep,
That bring you dreams of ebb and flow,
The churning seas and dreadful deep,
And waves that lay the mountains low

But fear the mother most of all!
Awake before you hear her bell!
A thousand young will hear her call,
And that was how the giants fell.

(Children’s rhyme from Idra)

A splash screen by Marco Pedrana (Aeon of Sands)

Easter is fast approaching. For me this means 10 days of crunching to make “SKALD: Against the Black Priory” ready for Kickstarter! First and foremost this time will be spent preparing a short, playable “proof-of-concept” demo.

In general, I would say spending time making a demo is not a good use of resources. However, at the time there appears to be a slight crisis of confidence towards Kickstarting projects and a demo might go some way towards showing backers that SKALD is legit.

SKALD is a passion project and I love working on it. For me, publishing a less that awesome product is out of the question. At the same time, NOT publishing is also not an option! This means that I need to be highly disciplined in avoiding feature- and scope creep. Both in the game itself and in the Kickstarter campaign.

The latest iteration of the GUI. With a slight “retro” filter applied.

My primary goal is to have the Kickstarter make me break even with expenses and allow me to commission a handful of freelancers for a couple of tasks (music comes to mind).

A big upside with developing an RPG is that it’s pretty easy to scale the project up if I get more funding than expected: More professional art, more music, larger dungeons, more dialog and so forth.

For rewards I’m tending towards caution. I would love to use feelies for rewards: Maps, booklets, dice – you name it! However this would scale the complexity, and thus the risk, exponentially. SKALD is pretty much a one-man project and any task that takes me away from actually writing code delays the release of the game.

Most likely, the rewards will include access to the demo, the finished game and beta access, as well as in-game rewards (a thank you note, your portrait in the game etc). I’m currently setting up a discord server for backers.

SKALD will release for windows on Steam first. Other platforms will follow in short order.

SKALD lives and dies by the love and support of it’s fans! If you want to help out the two most important things you can do are to subscribe to this blog and follow SKALD on twitter! Don’t be afraid to reach out for questions or comments – I love talking about my project 🙂

Have a great day!

SKALD: Against the Black Priory

You awaken to the sound of seagulls. Their crying reminds you of your childhood. Have you gone to your ancestors?

The last thing you remember is chaos and the sea swallowing your vessel. Freezing water and then darkness. How could you possibly have survived?

Legs shaking, you stand up and survey the shores upon which you have landed. There is no mistaking it: Idra. By some miracle, the Emperor has delivered you to this cold, forsaken island. Now, you must find the strength to do his work!

A sickness has taken hold here: Carroleth. Carroleth the heretic! Master of the Black Priory. That foul order of enlightened men, which has strayed so far from orthodoxy. It is to them that you must deliver the Emperors justice – by steel and by fire!

You shudder in the cold breeze.

It feels as though the very land sets itself against you. You will find few allies on Idra and even less hope. Pray your sanity holds…

Hi everbody! It’s time for another update on the SKALD engine and the upcoming title: “Against the Black Priory” (AtBP)!

AtBP sees you in the role of an imperial agent dispatched to the island of Idra to uproot a mystical religious order, turned apocalyptic cult. The expedition is off to a disastrous start however, and surviving Idra will take all your wits and skill.

For AtBP I have chosen to go with a strong retro look and feel. The game draws heavily on inspiration from classic “Golden Age” RPGs like the early Ultima games, the Gold Box Series and the Magic Candle series. In other words: Games we love!  

The game will (hopefully) feature a good mix of each of the four basic RPG pillars:

  1. Explore the enviroments and plot – overland, underground and on the high seas!
  2. Interact via dialogue and “choose-your-own-adventure” style sequences
  3. Fight using a menu-based, fast-paced, tactical combat system.
  4. Develop your party of up to 6 characters.

Visually, I have chosen to work with 16 colors on AtBP. To get the proper retro-feel, I went with the classic C64 color palette:

The basic tile size is 16 x 16 and, for the desktop version, the game runs at 640 x 480 resolution. Note that the SKALD engine is built in Unity3D and is flexible enough to handle any number of graphical settings. However, working within some self-imposed constraints has really helped focus the design of AtBP.

Thematically, the SKALD universe is dark, grounded and unforgiving and I really want AtBP to dip its toes into the cold and dark waters of eldritch horror. I try to stay clear of binary good/bad characters and enjoy writing difficult choices that have real (often painful) consequences.

The Current State

At the time of writing, the SKALD game-engine (and thus AtBP) is 90% feature-complete. There are a couple of important systems that still need implementing as well as a bunch a smaller “nice-to-have” systems I would like to have down the line (but that can wait for now).

The big task ahead however, is adding content. This means designing, writing and drawing stuff. The flexibility of the SKALD engine and its tools makes adding new content a breeze. However, actually creating stuff will take time nonetheless. Fortunately, this is also a lot of fun and it will allow me to start engaging more and more with the community as the focus shifts more from the technical development to actually crafting a roleplaying experience.

The SKALD engine can publish to any platform that Unity supports. AtBP will release first on Steam. Mobile will follow.

The Road Ahead

It’s no secret that SKALD and AtBP is a one-man project that, whilst immensely enjoyable, is taking up a lot of my spare time. Now there are also expenses on the horizon in the form of software licenses, new hardware and, potentially, freelance content-creators (for some of the art and music). This means that I need to find funding somewhere.

After a lot of consideration, it’s starting to look like Kickstarter might be a good way to getting some funding whilst building a stronger community around the game. If everything goes according to plan, May 2019 might be a good time for a Kickstarter campaing (but more on that down the line).

For now, if you want to support SKALD: “Against the Black Priory” the two most important things you can do are to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on twitter! Don’t be afraid to reach out for questions or comments!

Have a great day!

Book Review: Procedural Generation in Game Design

From the first line of code I wrote, I have always been fascinated by procedural content generation (PCG) and the near-limitless potential it seems to hold for game development. Like so many other new developers, my first project was (of course) a wildly ambitious rogue-like. Needless to say, it didn’t quite pan out.

However, despite its challenges and limitations, I did keep my fascination for PCG and consider it a wonderful tool when applied correctly. Recently, I have been trying to read up on PCG while working on SKALD and a major gripe for me has been the lack of good literature regarding the subject. No wonder then, that I was very pleased to pick up a copy of Procedural Generation in Game Design.

Cover for the book Procedural Generation in Game Design

Procedural Generation in Game Design is a book consisting of 27 chapters (who read like essays) from different industry professionals. The book is edited by Tanya X. Short (creative director of Kitfox Games ) and Tarn Adams (co-creator of Dwarf Fortress) with a preface by Derek Yu (creator of Spelunky) .

On its back cover, the book lists the following four features:

  • Introduces the differences between static/traditional game design and procedural game design
  • Demonstrates how to solve or avoid common problems with procedural game design in a variety of concrete ways
  • Includes industry leaders’ experiences and lessons from award-winning games
  • World’s finest guide for how to begin thinking about procedural design

The book is divided into four sections: “Procedural Generation”, “Procedural Content”, “Procedural Narrative” and “The Procedural Future”.  Each section contains a collection of chapters that, more or less, share a common thread.

The topics covered in the different chapters is quite varied and include (among others): “When and Why to Use Procedural Generation”,  several procedural level design case studies, “Ethical Procedural Generation”, puzzle design, “Audio and Composition”, “Story and Plot Generation” and “Algorithms and Approaches”.

Though varying in both length and depth, all the individual chapters are quite good  with some even being excellent.

Mentioning a few, Mark R. Johnson’s (creator of Ultima Ratio Regnum) short chapter on meaning in PCG is great. So is Brian Bucklew’s (Freehold Games) chapter on “Algorithms and Approaches” (though I wish it had been longer). The entire section on procedural narrative is excellent as well, with the chapters by Ben Kybartas (Delft University of Technology) and Emily Short (check out her excellent blog) standing out in particular.

My major criticism of this book, however, is that it struggles in creating a coherent presentation and progression of content.

In several cases there seems to be a mismatch between chapter- and section topics. For instance: “Algorithms and Approaches” is oddly placed in the section called “Procedural Futures” even though the subject of the chapter is to give an overview of classical techniques used in PCG. In fact, I find that only the section called “Procedural Narrative” manages to maintain a strong coherency between the topics of its chapters.

As I have mentioned, I also find that the chapters vary somewhat in how deeply they explore their chosen topics. While a few read like abbreviated academic papers, others (the majority) feel more like blog posts. This is not to say that the quality of the content is poor: The chapters are written by highly talented game developers and provide inspiring insights into several well-known PCG-heavy indie game titles.

However, each chapter appears to have been written in isolation with only minimal direction concerning content. I find that the progression of content and relative amount of space given to each subject is also such that the book seems a bit underwhelming despite its 300+ pages. This is perhaps somewhat compounded by each author spending a few paragraphs talking about themselves and their project. Not that this is wrong, but it does dilute the PCG-specific content of the book.

The result is that the book does not live up to its full potential and promise of providing  the “World’s finest guide for how to begin thinking about procedural design”. Furthermore I find that this makes it hard to see who the books intended audience is: New developers may find the coverage of subjects incomplete while experienced developers may find it somewhat superficial.

Though the execution is far from perfect, the book (arguably) does mostly deliver on its promised features. And for all my criticisms, I did enjoy reading the individual chapters (or essays if you will). Therefore, I do recommend picking up this book if you’re looking for an interesting collection of individual essays concerning PCG by leading indie game developers. However, if you are looking for a comprehensive guide and introduction to PCG I doubt that this book alone will suffice.

You can pick up Procedural Generation in Game Design at Amazon for $49.77 (320 pages paperback, with grey-scale illustrations).

I was tipped off about this book by the very talented Filip Hráček.

Did you find this book review helpful? If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch. Also, follow Scape-IT and SKALD on Twitter for all things RPG and geeky!




World Building: Magic

Spanning the entire breadth of the fantasy genre, from literature to movies and games, magic is nearly ubiquitous. Magic adds mystery, convenient plot devices and the fantastic and, is such a staple of the genre that it can be hard to imagine fantasy without it. That being said, magic is also exactly that: Magic! Used carelessly, it becomes an endless “deus ex machina” and unravels any internal consistency in the setting at the speed of a “magic missile”.

So, how can you write magic into your fantasy world in an awesome way?

I have no idea, but I have been pondering this for some time and I would like to share the reflections I have made thus far for my own world building project.

First of all, when I say “magic” I’m not just thinking about magic in the narrow sense of “what a wizard does”. Instead, I’m considering it in a broader sense that contains most (or all) of the supernatural tropes found in fantasy.

So why even start with magic this early in the world building process? Magic (in the extended sense of “all supernatural phenomena”) is where so much of the “fantasy” in a fantasy setting comes from. In other words, magic should influence every part of the game world and is a great way to lay the foundation for your fantasy world building.

In general, I find that there are different challenges for different fantasy mediums. Specifically between literature and movies on one side and games on the other.

The first category is much more vulnerable to having its internal consistency broken by poorly written magic with no suspension of disbelief as a result. How many times have you heard “why didn’t just Gandalf use more magic” or “why couldn’t just the eagles take Frodo all the way”? Don’t get me wrong – I love Lord of the Rings, but they do kind of have a point.

For games, on the other hand, there seems to be a tendency for magic to be much more prevalent and nearly always accessible to the player(s). I assume this stems from the notion that it is very poor game design to have players see cool things without being able to DO cool things. In other words, the need for player agency very quickly outweighs the need to have the game world be internally consistent.

The result is often a world that is so saturated with magic, that the game world simply stops making sense. How does the Forgotten Realms still look like late medieval Europe despite magic being so prevalent?

So, what does it even mean to have the game world be internally consistent in regards to magic? Well for me, this means that the world-builder addresses the socio-economic-political implications of magic’s existence.

Consider something as simple as a “create water” spell. In an early agrarian civilization the consequences of this would be monumental. Consider how much effort has been spent (even to this day) to provide water for crops in the form of irrigation systems. The result would be dramatically more effective agriculture, which in turn, means that more citizens can perform specialized labor, become soldiers, scientists, artists etc. This would accelerate the development of the civilization by centuries. Just from a “create water” spell.

Game Master meme

Currently I am doing world building for a fantasy setting in which I intend to set several gamebooks (using the SKALD game engine). I’m basing the setting partially on an old pen-and-paper RPG campaign I ran years ago and one important characteristic of this setting is that it’s a human-centric world where magic exists, but is rare, poorly understood and powerful but unprecdictable.

As a starting point I’m picking some of the following fundamental design tenets of magic:

  • Magic is rare but powerful and is recognized as such in in the world.
  • Magic is poorly understood, esoteric and shrouded in mystery.
  • Because of its perceived power, magic attracts either political power OR paranoid persecution.
  • Therefore, magic is a fundamental force in shaping history. Think the role of religion in medieval Europe. Now imagine in the Catholic Church had fireballs.
  • Magic comes at a personal cost to the user. It corrupts both the mind and the body.
  • The use of magic in the world is restricted and reserved only for the very rich and powerful.

So far, I can see myself building a setting around this somewhat restrictive view of magic. I especially feel the “magic corrupts” part adds some checks and balances. Also, I find the view of magic being restricted and unsanctioned magic being persecuted to be interesting. I feel I’m beginning to see the outline of a central political entity in my campaign setting: Perhaps somewhat like a magic-infused, late period Roman Empire.

This starting point might be somewhat on the path of magic being so esoteric that it’s effectively inaccessible to the player characters. Thus falling in the trap of letting the player see, but not do, cool things. However: Since I intend to use this setting primarily within the scope of gamebook-style RPGs, I suspect that the tolerance for inconsistent magic is lower than in most games (more akin to books and movies). This means that at this point I would prefer to err on the side of making magic a bit too scarce whilst maintaining an internally consistent game world.

I’ll start scribbling away and try to translate this into a workable setting of sorts. We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll be posting the result here shortly! Stay tuned and feel free to get in touch (with Scape-IT and SKALD on Twitter) if you have questions or comments!


The SKALD Markup Language

The Basics

SKALD is a game engine specifically written for digital gamebooks and interactive novels. The design vision for SKALD has been to create an engine that allows for a strong narrative to be built upon a foundation of classic RPG features (character development, tactical combat, loot etc.) as well as certain rouge-like features (procedural generation). The game engine is designed with a strong separation between data and logic in mind. The reasoning being that it must be possible for a designer with minimal technical expertise to add content. Also keeping all data separate from the logic will allow multiple gamebooks to be published using SKALD without making changes to the engine itself.

A mage
The mark-up language is where the magic happens

The SKALD markup language has three main components:

  • The XML that encases all the data
  • A simple string markup used to create procedural content and to set the order of resolution for any embedded dynamic code.
  • The formatting for embedding dynamic code.


SKALD uses ordinary XML to store data about all its game objects (scenes, items, NPCs). I briefly considered using JSON. However, after doing some research I arrived at the conclusion that the advantages of using JSON over XML were nil for this application. JSON would perhaps have been more relevant if I had a stronger emphasis on developing for a web-based service (as JavaScript loves JSON).



The String Markup

All the data in the XML files are parsed to strings. Those strings are then run through a processString() function that performs any action prescribed by the string markup, resolves any embedded code and returns a copy of the processed string.

One of the first things I found that I wanted was a short-hand for returning random strings from the XML. My solution was simply to use the ‘/’ character. Adding ‘/’ to any string will cause the processString() function to return the result on either the left or right side of the ‘/’. For example:

processString(“I like hamburgers/I like sushi/I like ramen”)

returns either “I like hamburgers”, “I like ramen” or “I like sushi”.

Right of the bat you can see that this can get verbose. The solution was to add parenthesis. Now the previous string can be shortened like so:

processString(“I like (hamburgers/sushi/ramen)”).

By nesting parenthesis (resolves from inner, to outer) you can make complex string such as:

processString(“I like ((cheese-burgers/bacon-burgers/BBQburgers)/sushi/ramen)”)

The applications for this is to create variety in the text (especially for scenes that the player keeps returning to) or to provide randomized output from certain XML tags.

For instance, each scene has one or more exits that lead to the next scene. That exit contains a tag called <tar> (target) which is basically the id of the next scene to load. Since the value of <tar> is stored as a string and ran through the processString() function, you can write an exit with a target like this:


The result is an exit that randomly sends you to scene 2, 3 or 4. Pretty neat for making things like random encounters.

Dynamic Code

So far, the system is completely stateless. Processing the string

processString(“I like (hamburgers/sushi/ramen)”)

will return a random output every time. The next logical step was to add a system for storing and modifying variables at run-time. The solution is for implemented by using “Reflection” in C# to access functions in the code via strings passed from the XML. For instance I have a function addVariable(key, value) that creates a variable (named key) and sets it to value. So


will set the variable “food” to “hamburgers” and


now returns “hamburgers”. Using my own notation to embed functions in the xml datafiles the functions must be wrapped in curly braces like this:


It is now possible to write:

processString(“I like {addVariable|food;(hamburgers/sushi/ramen)}”)

This line of code will return for instance, “I like sushi”. And then

processString(“My favorite food is still {getVariable|food}”)

Will utilize the value stored above and return “My favorite food is still sushi”. Note that the “processString” function will substitute everything wrapped in curly brackets for the return value of the function wrapped in the curly brackets. 

The SKALD system contains about a dozen functions that can be called dynamically. In large part these are used to manipulate and perform logical operations on variables (allowing for conditional branching etc.). The result is that the number of scenes that need to be written can be reduced drastically. It also allows procedural content to be added by the designer, working only through the XML file.

Overall, I’m pleased with the functionality of the SKALD markup language, as it exists today. It’s expressive enough tell any kind of story and to give a direct binding between the story elements and the underlying RPG mechanics. It also supports the concept of separating data and logic and it greatly reduces duplication of data by cutting down on the number of scenes that need to be written. At the same time, it’s still possible to write an entire module by using only XML and entirely forgoing the use of the string markup and dynamic.

Now, off to write some adventures!

Design Goals for the SKALD Engine

The SKALD Roleplaying System consists of three components:

  • A set of RPG rules usable for pen-and-paper as well computer RPGs.
  • A game engine for making gamebooks, interactive fiction and text-heavy roleplaying games.
  • The games published using the SKALD engine.

The current focus of the project is to finish the game engine. This post will attempt to summarize the design goals for the engine. For more information about the project in general, see the welcome post.

NOTE: I’m writing this post as much for myself as anyone else. As such, this post will be highly prone to edits as i update and change the design goals.

SKALD is a Storytelling Tool

First and foremost, I want to create something that will allow me to tell stories. I was a pen-and-paper RPG game master for years but as I grew older, holding together a gaming group became near impossible. I began to miss the creative outlet that GMing represented. This was been a big driving force in deciding to develop a game engine for text based roleplaying games and gamebooks.

Specifically, I chose text-heavy games because I feel comfortable with using text as a narrative device. Text is easy to add (if you don’t consider the hardships of writing prose) and very flexible. Flexibility was another important point as it gives me the option of choosing between an infinite variety of settings: From sci-fi and fantasy to historical and educational. This was an important rational for beginning this project by creating a setting-agnostic game engine.

SKALD is a roleplaying game

In addition to creating a system for writing choose-your-own-adventure style gamebooks I also want SKALD to be rooted in a proper RPG system. At a minimum the SKALD game engine must allow for the following game mechanics:

  • a character creation and advancement system complete with skills and feats
  • skill checks
  • tactical combat (in one way or another)
  • looting, buying and selling items
  • magic and / or psionics

An important part of implementing the RPG features is that the system must be modular enough that it should be fully possible to choose away any and all parts of the RPG system at the design level and without changing the source code. In other words: Using the same game engine, it must be possible to make a vanilla gamebook with no features beyond one paragraph leading to the next, as well as gamebooks with full RPG game mechanics.

SKALD has rogue-like features

In addition to the rpg game-mechanics it’s also important for me that the SKALD game engine allows for certain rogue-like features. In particular I want to have the ability to add procedurally generated content to the game. This, combined with an underlying RPG system will make it possible to essentially write a text based rogue-like. At the same time, just as with the RPG system, it must be fully possible to write a gamebook without using a single rogue-like feature.

Why add rogue-like features? Well, my reasoning thus far is that this will make it a lot easier to add to the runtime of the game. I have a vision of the narrative of the gamebooks being superimposed on relatively open worlds and thus adding a lot more replay value to the game beyond just going through the main plot over and over.

Again: This is an optional feature I’ll add to give myself the full breadth tools to tell the kinds of stories I would like.

Engineered with Sustainability in Mind

Not only is SKALD a labor of love, but it will also serve as a tool I could potentially be relying on for years to come. In the long term, it might even be adopted by other game developers interested in working within the gamebook genre.

As with all code that sees long-term use, there’s a lot to be gained by “measuring twice and cutting once“. In other words I intend to take my time and keep the source code architecturally sound, compact and well documented.

The notion of strictly separating the logic from the data and making all aspects of the game itself modifiable via the data is the prime tenet I’m currently building the engine around.

SKALD as a Brand

Lastly, it would be pretty neat if the SKALD system and the game engine in particular becomes a recognizable brand. It would be awesome to see “Powered by the SKALD engine” and “SKALD Roleplaying System presents:”  on games!


That’s it so far. Thanks for reading and be sure to keep following the SKALD devlog! In the meantime, follow Scape-IT and SKALD on Twitter for all things RPG!