Hello everyone! Hope you all are enjoying your summer. July has been pretty sweet up here in Northern Norway for once, making it the perfect “stay at home” summer. But fear not: I’ve still gotten a ton done with SKALD, and it’s now time for a new (minor) demo update!
Beta 1.1.0 is up for Backers!
The demo is still pretty short and adds about 20 minutes of game-play to the first iteration. It’s still an important demo for me, since I’ve done a lot of work under the hood (as always) and now those features need play-testing.
I’ve also added some in-game features: Most notable is grid-based combat. That system is still pretty bare bones as I’m yet to add enemies, feats and spells that really take advantage of it, but you should non the less be able to get an idea and provide some feedback.
What do I need from play-testers?
Bugs first and foremost. This is by far the most important feedback you can provide for me at this point!
Typos are always welcome too. As are logical inconsistencies in dialogue and scene flows.
I also want to hear about game-play feature requests or feedback on existing features.
I’m not really super interested in stuff like “this was too easy” or “There needs to be more loot in the second area”. It goes without saying that a lot of this is unpolished at the time and pacing etc will get a second pass as the whole first chapter begins to come together 🙂
The demos, at this point, will usually break saves and force a restart with each demo iteration. This might seem like a chore BUT for play-testing this is essential. The scripting of the game can only be truly tested if the game is played from the start each time and this is super important to the final quality of the game.
So please be patient with me (I know you will)! Also, is play-testing feels like a hassle, it’s 100% fine for you to just hang back and wait for the finished product!
What Else is Going on?
Currently we (me and the writers) are doing a lot of work writing and implementing narrative content. This is the main priority besides polishing the engine at the moment. As we finish writing for chapter 1, the artists will then get to illustrate the content and we’ll start work on chapter 2.
At some point in the near future I’ll probably start working of feats and spells as well so stay tuned for that.
Have a great Summer!
That’s it for now! Have a great weekend and keep enjoying the summer (try to get out in sun a bit)!
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!
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.
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.
The Kickstarter goes live on June 3rd and crunch is upon me! One of the coolest aspects of running a Kickstarter campaign is designing awesome rewards for passionate fans!
SKALD: Against the Black Priory will feature a range of rewards from the game itself, the sound-track, a printed hand-drawn map, manuals and perhaps even a collectible big-box edition!
The Anatomy of Rewards
My strategy for the Kickstarter is simple: Run a low risk – low rewards campaign with a low target number and an emphasis on digital rewards. There’s a couple of good reasons for this:
First of all, my primary motivation for running a Kickstarter is to put SKALD: Against the Black Priory in your hands as soon as possible whilst making it the best game it can be. For a one-man team, even whilst working with freelancers, this means prioritizing coding, writing and designing the game itself.
Second, I’m based in Norway. Most of my backers are not. Neither are most of the production facilities for physical rewards. Shipping costs and logistics add up.
One of the (many) advantages of Kickstarting a video-game is that the final product tends to be digital! This allows for easy distribution which in turn cuts down on logistics, cost and risk! I like this.
Shown above are three of the lower reward tiers (1 Dollar = 8.7 NOK). Up to 300 NOK (approx. $35) the rewards are all digital and include the game itself, a demo (due in July 2019), access to the BETA version, sound track and digital copies of the manual, campaign guide and map.
The manual and campaign guide will outline the SKALD system as well as describing Idra and it’s surroundings and the most prominent characters, items and monsters. All in a classic old-school RPG style!
Whilst serving as a hint book for SKALD: Against the Black Priory, the campaign guide will also contain enough information to allow you to drop the setting into a tabletop RPG and create your own adventures in the SKALD universe!
As for the map, it will be hand-drawn and colored and available either as a digital file, a paper print or an exclusive cloth map depending on the reward tier.
There’s no doubt about it: Backers LOVE feelies! The printed manuals, cloth maps and trinkets that came in gorgeous boxes are a big part of the experience for a lot of players!
At higher reward tiers (Approx. $55 and up) the Kickstarter will feature printed versions of the manual, campaign guide and map (paper and cloth prints). If all goes according to plan, I’ll even throw in an exclusive collectible “big-box” edition with extra feelies for hard-core backers.
That’s it for now (it’s back to work for me). Be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow on Twitter to stay posted!
With the Kickstarter in June fast approaching it’s time for another update! As always I wish I had more time to spend on this devlog. Time however, is currently my most precious asset on this project. What time I have is still being put into actual development and I think that’s a good idea.
So far everything is on track for Kickstarter in June. There is still a lot of work to be done to get the campaign ready but work is progressing at a steady pace.
During Easter-crunch I spent a lot of time repaying technical debt as I plugged memory leaks and optimized the draw pipeline. The payoff is that the game now consistently runs at 60 FPS+ and has a much smaller memory footprint with no leakage. Oh, and I also added animation for characters and the environment!
Another big reason I keep making steady progress is that I’ve had the opportunity to work with some more amazing freelance artists for music and some of the graphics. The result is some pretty cool assets I can’t wait to feature in the game:
It’s incredibly fun and rewarding to work with people that go the extra mile to help realize your vision.
Finally I really want to shout out the “Nox Archaist” project by 6502 Workshop. This little gem of an indie-game is currently on Kickstarter where it has had amazing success so far! As a modern 8-bit game for the Apple 2, this game is a love-letter to all the games that inspired SKALD!
The project looks really solid with a large chunk of the game being complete already. More importantly, Mark and the other members of 6502 Workshop seem like great people who deserves all the support the retro-gaming family has to offer.
I support and endorse “Nox Archaist” 100% and so should you!
It’s been some time since my last update, but have no fear: The SKALD project is doing great! I’ve just had to prioritized using what spare time I have writing code and doing game-design.
Old School Roots
I grew up knowing and loving games like the Ultima, Bard’s Tale, Gold-Box and Magic Candle series. The more I worked on the SKALD engine, the more I realized that I wanted to use it to make an old school retro RPG.
The SKALD engine now features:
Tactical menu-based combat
A full party of characters
Deep class-based character creation and progression
Tons of items to find, buy and sell
A solid branching dialog system
In other words, SKALD is now very well suited for making old school RPGs. This leads me to my announcement:
SKALD: Against the Black Priory
“Against the Black Priory” is the first game under development using the SKALD engine. It features 8-bit graphics and the glorious 16 color Commodore 64 palette.
Keep posted for more info on “Against the Black Priory”.
Support SKALD today!
If you love old school RPGs SKALD needs your support now!
“Your empire is now like a tyranny: It may have been wrong to take it; it is certainly dangerous to let it go“
The last couple of weeks I have been doing some world building for the fantasy setting I intend to use for a series of gamebooks (published with the SKALD game engine). Starting with the fundamentals, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the feel and flavor of the setting. I recently wrote a post concerning magic and world building and I intend to use the outline laid down in that post as a jumping-off point.
To begin with, I want to work with a human-centric, low-magic setting of slightly dark fantasy. That’s not to say I don’t want fantasy elements – I would just prefer to have the fantastic remain fantastic and rare.
Personally, I find that starting by describing the big picture first, provides scaffolding for the rest of the campaign. For this world building project, I’ll start by establishing a center of political power in my world: A large, human empire ruled by wizards.
I’m a huge history buff and, in particular, I am fascinated by Roman history. As historical drama goes, there are few things more dramatic than the rise and fall of empires. I, for one, am partial to the falling. No wonder then, that I use the late Roman empire for inspiration. Furthermore I adore Frank Herbert’s “Dune” so I’ll probably add a dash of that as well.
As a starting point for my setting I envisione: “The Gallian Empire”.
A Waning Giant
Founded millennia ago by the mythical first emperor “Gallian the Great”, the empire subjugated and conquered all who stood before it and, at the peak of its power, it spanned continents. Ruling from the imperial capital of Vaul, Gallian founded the lineage of wizards that rule the empire to this day.
After ruling for just short of 100 years, emperor Gallian simply disappeared. After him, a short line of wizard-emperors followed. Some were good – others cruel, and all had unnaturally long reigns. The Gallian Empire is now under the reign of its seventh and most long-lived emperor to date: Arrion the Gray.
The Gallian magocracy has grown increasingly obsessed with discovering the secrets of immortality and as a result Arrion the Gray has now ruled for nearly five centuries. Longevity, as all magic, comes at a price however: the Emperor and his ruling council of elder wizards (resentfully called “the husk lords”) has become mere shadows of men – caring less and less for the lives of ordinary people.
As a result, for the last two decades the Gallian Empire has been waning. Along its vast borders, once servile neighbors now challenge Imperial dominance. Internally, alienation by the wizard-class and ruthless taxation by decadent nobles, has caused strife and civil unrest to grow among the imperial citizens.
An Empire of Magic
Magic had always existed in the world but it was primitive, volatile and difficult to control. Gallian’s genius was that he shaped magic into a tool of political and martial power and created social structures for the teaching, refinement and control of magic.
The source of Gallian the Great’s understanding of magic has long since become the stuff of legends. It is, however, believed that he gained his knowledge from the studies of arcane texts so ancient that their origin lies in pre-history.
Since its founding days, magic in the empire has been esoteric, mystical and wrapped in secrecy. The reality portrayed to the citizens of the empire has been that of wizards being god-like and omnipotent. The reality however, is far from it: The use of magic comes at a terrible cost to both mind and body and long-term use turn all but the most powerful wizards, into dried-out shells. As a result magic is a far more limited resource then anyone outside the magocracy realizes and much of the wizards political power come from maintaining an outwards appearance of being all-powerful, combined with the martial strength of their fiercely loyal knightly orders.
Furthermore, there has always been a sense that the wizards from the age of Gallian himself have yet to be matched in power. In fact, one of the most fiercely guarded secrets of the magocracy is that the wizard’s powers seem to be slowly, but certainly, fading. Those in the know have speculated as to the cause and suggestions range from astrological phenomenon to the effect of years of moral corruption and decadence.
As the wizard’s powers fade another, equally strange phenomenon is beginning to appear: All over the Empire, the number of children born with so-called “wild magic” has risen sharply. Wild magic typically manifests in the early teens as very limited and volatile, yet often powerful, magic abilities that the user may find hard to control. Fearing their power-monopoly is being shaken, the wizards zealously persecute wild magic user, thus adding to the feeling of fear, oppression and xenophobia that has begun to permeate the Empire.
By using the Gallian Empire as a starting point I, hopefully, have a lens with which to view the rest of the campaign setting. I’m quite pleased with having created an empire so shaped by magic while still not making magic seem mundane or common. I also like the dark undertones and moral ambiguity that comes with the overly authoritarian regime of the magocracy that, despite its failings, is still relied upon by millions of citizens.
We’ll see where it goes from here. Next up in world building is probably the role of demi-humans in the setting. But you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for that. I’m currently working on a review for Tanya X. Short and Tarn Adams’ book: “Procedural Generation in Game Development” and hope to get that out first!
In the meantime, please follow Scape-IT and SKALD on Twitter for all things RPG and geeky!
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.
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 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
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!