Project Update: Beta 1.2.0 (Combat Revision)

The beta build (1.2.0) is up on itch.io for testers right now! SKALD has gotten a huge update to its combat system (as well as some new features) and I can’t wait for you to have a look at it!

The New Combat System

Combat is now resolved directly on the map itself. In other words, it no longer swaps to a separate combat map.

As I’ve been developing the game, one of the biggest shifts in my approach to designing SKALD, has been in level design: I originally saw exploration of the physical spaces of the game to be a distinct pillar of game-play alongside combat, character development and interaction.

However, as I’ve begun designing levels, it has occurred to me that interacting with the physicality of the world, could not be seen as a separate aspect of game-play: The physical layout of the game world is the canvas that encompasses all other aspects of the game and combat, dialogue and exploration is made more interesting by the fact that it takes place in a “physical” world with components that interact with, and affect each other.

Placing combat on the map itself was a natural consequence of this. This will make it possible to interact with terrain during combat, NPCs will join fights and destruction will linger after combat ends. You can approach enemies from different directions, become surrounded or attempt to use the terrain to your advantage.

Combat isn’t the only subsystem that is being adapted to this shift in design mentality. More on that down the line.

The combat system as it is in the coming update is still pretty bare-bones. It doesn’t really take advantage of it’s new form yet, but I need to get some play-testing done none the less: Both to weed out bugs and to get a basis for improving the system.

The main design principles for combat moving forward are:

  1. Combat should feel fast and smooth
  2. Combat should stay tactically interesting from early to late game
  3. Combat should be narratively expressive (e.i. it should serve as a tool for storytelling)

There’s also a number of issues I need to explore:

  1. How much information does the player need and how do I present it in the best way?
  2. What are the best controls for combat and what is the optimal relationship between keyboard and mouse input?
  3. How do I visualize all the different options players might have during combat in a good way?
  4. What types of terrain layout make for the most fun combat whilst avoiding overly dominant strategies (such as defending doorways)?
  5. What are some interesting combat-role archetypes for both enemies and PCs?
  6. How can feats and spells take optimal advantage of the combat system?

Other New Features and Updates

There is months of work in this update so changes are too numerous to mention in a lot of cases.

One of the more notable updates, however, is the ability to customize the character model (hair, colors, clothing etc). This adds a bit of flair for players but more importantly, it reduces the need for me to create custom models for NPCs! This is going to be a huge time-saver down the line as I can now swap around outfits to make an infinite amount of variations. Needless to say, there will be A LOT more customization options down the line. It also opens the door for stuff like faction-based outfits.

I’ve polished the input system a bit and vastly improved the path-finding AI so movement and controls should also feel quite a bit more snappy. Try to keep an eye on this and be sure to report any bugs related to movement, path-finding and input.

The Next Steps

For the next weeks I’m going to keep polishing the combat system whilst working towards the press-, and content-creator demo (which will of course be available for backers as well). It will contain new, unseen narrative content as well so it’ll be fun to see you guys dig into it.

There will probably be a couple more beta updates before the press demo is ready to drop so stay posted for that as well. I REALLY appreciate it if you take even 5 minutes to test the game and reporting any bugs or impressions afterwards: It really helps to make this the game we all want it to be!

In regards to the game being ready for early access in late 2020 – we’ll see. I’m truly working as fast as I can but it’s hard to predict the flow of the project. Rest assured however, that all the time is being spent make SKALD awesome and I can guarantee you it’s paying off!

Farewell!

I’ll keep you posted on updates as I go so be sure to check in wherever you follow me from time to time (Twitter or the SKALD Discord). You guys have been beyond supportive so far and I love being on this journey with you. All I can do is offer up a big heart-felt “thank you”.

Cheers,

AL

Project Update: Beta 1.1.0

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 🙂

As always, my preferred way of receiving feedback is via the SKALD Discord chat. Once there, look for the feedback sub-channels.

A Word of Caution

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.

I’ve been working on fog-effects a bit. They are great for setting a somber tone and I can’t wait to use them. They were however not ready at the time of 1.1.0 so they’ll hopefully feature in the next update.

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)!

As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter or join the SKALD discord!

Cheers,

AL

Combat and Adventuring

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”!

Design Pillars

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

Adventuring in SKALD takes one of fours forms:

  • Combat (more on that later)
  • Exploring the environment through the tile-based map
  • Dialogue
  • “Choose your own adventure” sequences
Time to go adventuring! From the classic D&D module “Tomb of Horrors”.

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

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.

Bard’s Tale inspired combat in SKALD

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.

As always, I would love to hear from you if you have questions or comments. Feel free to reach out on twitter or get in touch at (contact at skaldrpg dot com)! Most importantly: SKALD is on Kickstarter till July 3rd and we would love to have your support!

Have a great day!

SKALD: Against the Black Priory

SKALD: Against the Black Priory is an upcoming classic turn-based RPG. It’s set in a dark and gritty fantasy universe, full of tragic heroes, violent deaths and eldritch horror. 

After a great run on Kickstarter, I’m now super happy to announce:

SKALD is now on Indiegogo “InDemand”!

For press kit, click here!

We’re on Indiegogo!

The game is currently in beta-development and it’s coming to Early Access fall 2020. It will release for Windows and Mac first and then handheld devices down the line.

To support the game, subscribe to this devlog, check out our Youtube channel and follow the project on Twitter!

You can also join our Discord server. This is really where the SKALD community lives and we’re always happy to get more members. Also: Discord members occasionally get to test development builds.

Check out that lovely CRT filter!

Finally, wishlisting SKALD on GOG.com might earn us a spot in their web-store and that would rock! In other words: Wishlist SKALD on GOG.com now!

Do you want to follow the SKALD project? Subscribe to our newsletter today!

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!

A Long Overdue Update

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:

  • Overland exploration
  • Tactical menu-based combat
  • A full party of characters
  • Deep class-based character creation and progression
  • Tons of items to find, buy and sell
  • Magic
  • A solid branching dialog system

SKALD is about telling stories!

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!

All you have to do is subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on twitter!

Done! That’s it (for now)!

World Building: The Gallian Empire

Your empire is now like a tyranny: It may have been wrong to take it; it is certainly dangerous to let it go

Pericles

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.

World Building Venn Diagram
The Venn diagram of doom!

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.

Thomas Cole: The Fall of Rome
Thomas Cole: The Fall of Rome

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!

Have a great week!

Welcome to the SKALD Roleplaying System

Welcome to the devlog of the SKALD Roleplaying System!

What is the SKALD Roleplaying System you ask? Well, it’s essentially three things:

  • 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 system is being developed by Scape-IT and is a passion project born out of a long standing love for all things roleplaying.

So what is a skald?

The skald was a norse warrior poet during the scandinavian viking- and middle ages. Skalds would serve at the courts of viking chieftains where they composed and performed epic poems retelleing the heroic deeds of their patron.

A Skald

In other words, a skald tells epic stories about heroic deeds. Not a bad name for a RPG system if you ask me!

The Current State of the Project

At this stage, the first order of business is to complete the SKALD game engine. Currently the engine is is in pre-alpha but I hope to have a beta of the engine and a playable gamebook ready during the spring of 2018. The SKALD engine is being developed in Unity-3d.

Code sample
Pretty much the state of SKALD at the moment.

This website will serve as the devlog for the SKALD project and I’ll try to post once a week on subjects related to the delopment process of the game engine, the rules system, world building and gamebooks themselves.

Be sure to check back as more content gets added to the devlog. In the meantime, follow Scape-IT and SKALD on Twitter for all things RPG!

Have any questions or comments? Get in touch!

See you around!