Figuring out what Fellowship is…

Hey y’all, it’s been a while.

It’s been about 6 weeks since my last post and work on Fellowship has been slow but steady. Features are getting built and it’s shaping up to be a pretty robust foundation for the many, many different ways I could take the game. In fact, this is what I’m posting about today. But first, I’ll give you a quick explanation of what I think Fellowship is on a high level…

In a world beset by evil forces, a once great civilization is struggling to cope. Farmers are plagued by invading creatures, shrines & monuments have been consumed by darkness, and no-where outside town walls is safe. To top it all off, the evil forces are growing and there’s nothing humanity can do to prevent an inevitable doom. That is, until now…

As a backstory, it’s as generic as they come. Hell, it’s basically Lord of the Rings. Instead of Sauron, we’ve got ‘Generic Evil Power’, and instead of Rohan or Gondor, we’ve got ‘Generic Fantasy Towns’. The generic-ness is designed, don’t worry!

Behold my doom!
Behold my doom!

 

An ancient prophecy states that four humans will join forces to rid the world of this darkness. But who are they? What do they look like? How do they act? These factors are all unclear. All that is known is that when things seem darkest, four people will witness a vision that will bring them together and create the Fellowship.

Okay so we’ve got evil shit in the world, and we’ve got ‘Generic Heroes’ that are destined to save them. Four generic heroes.

Prophecies, with less boobs.
Prophecies, with less boobs.

 

Fellowship places you in charge of a randomly assembled group of disparate individuals who must do all they can to rid the world of evil. Spread out across the unknown world, they each must find their own path to each other… and then together take on whatever dark foes that threaten humanity’s very existence.

Right, onto some actual juicy stuff. The first is the ‘randomly assembled group’ part. Fellowship is a concept that wants to play around with differing intensities of ‘procedural generation’ across all of its features. The first is the Heroes themselves.

Heroes are fixed characters; with names, backstories, hometowns and various traits that make them what they are. On a basic mechanical level, they have personalities, combat stats, and a class. On a deeper level they have a number of hidden personal quests called ‘Destinies’, which give various rewards that make them stronger. What makes this interesting is the ‘randomly assembled’ part. Perhaps in one game the prophecy selects two Warrior heroes, a Rogue hero, and a Priest… nice! Perhaps in the next one, it selects two different Warrior heroes… one from Duskville and the other from Dawn City. Duskville and Dawn City hate each other. Oh dear.

The second important part is ‘unknown world’. Like Heroes, towns and places are fixed… but where they are and the history that preceded them will be generated.

  • In one version of the world, Dawn City was the beacon of human civilization… and Duskville hated their pompousness.
  • In another version of the world Dawn City was destroyed first by the forces of evil and Duskville sent the vanguard troops for the rescue mission, sealing the bond between these two towns.
  • In another version, Duskville wanted to help Dawn City… but there’s a great mountain between the two towns and Duskville’s troops were killed by an avalanche on the way to help!

All these modifications to the party composition and history/landscape of the world will ensure the game is fresh each time, and that there is always a level of nuance and understanding that you must discover as each game plays out.

Why can't we all just get along?
Why can’t we all just get along?

 

The immense forces of darkness will require the strongest of Heroes to defeat. You must decide how best to use your Heroes to ensure they’re strong enough for the task at hand.

Does Sonny the Young Barbarian get stronger by fighting off bandits around his hometown of Smallton? Or does he journey to the ancient mountain of Barbaron to learn the mystical ways of his forefathers? Or does he sit in a tavern getting drunk because he’s a horny young teenager who gets massively depressed if he works too hard?

I want all characters in Fellowship to feel human. Flawed. Crusader Kings II is a massive influence on me and I like that you can use eugenics to create some absolute beast character. It’s exciting gameplay. However, what I love is that there’s always the risk of them having a personality flaw which will be their undoing. Each individual Hero in Fellowship will have stats they want to improve, items they need to seek, and quests they need to fulfil. These are necessary to gain the power to defeat the forces of evil. But they will need to do these things in the context of their own personal limitations… and the limitations imposed on them by the world and other Heroes in the Fellowship.

It may make sense for Gandalf to go running around talking to the eagles when he has such trusty companions as Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas to protect Frodo. But what if, in a different universe, Legolas was a petulant child who constantly undermined Gimli because of his racist hatred for dwarves. Now Gandalf has to spend the first 3 weeks of the story teaching Legolas how to grow up and make amends. Maybe you wouldn’t have the eagles to save everyone in the end!

In a nutshell, for Fellowship I want more Boromir and less Legolas.

mpttt06_04
Dude, just chillax.

Now we come to some design challenges. What’s the actual gameplay? What is the evil you face and how do you actually defeat it? What does training actually involve? How do Destinies manifest?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’ve got a lot of foundation systems that could support any number of games within this theme. Working out the minute-by-minute interactions and thought processes of players is going to be the next step.

Current Action
The basic building block of Fellowship is the Current Action. Similarly to Civilization V, a Hero can only perform one action at a time. In Civ your city can build a Granary, or train a Warrior, or Boost Research. This is an interesting choice because of the time each takes to complete, and the opportunity cost of not doing the other actions. Fellowship also has this choice. One major point of balance, which will make or break the game experience, will be to ensure that opportunity cost is fair. If you get 100 HP for spending 10 turns going to a dungeon and killing monsters, you shouldn’t be able to get the same HP gains for just sitting in town lifting weights for 3 turns.

Building a Harbor costs 4 turns of production.
Building a Harbor costs 4 turns of production.

 

Hero Needs
A major component of making Heroes feel human is the Needs system. This is pretty much straight-up ripped from The Sims, and I’m surprised to have not seen it in many other games. Heroes in Fellowship have 4 Needs bars that they need to manage;

  • Hunger – This is the basic survival need. You gotta eat. Not eating is very bad for your Hero. This Need is the only one that physically damages a Hero.
  • Comfort – How is the environment effecting the Hero? Are they happy with where they are and what condition they are in?
  • Energy – How much gusto a Hero has. Energy is exhausted much like Stamina in other games, with many actions reducing it and making players consider resting every now and again. Low Energy will make your actions inefficient.
  • Fun – How much the Hero is enjoying life! Based heavily on the specific Hero’s personality and traits, Fun determines if they’re actually happy. Happiness is usually good. Usually.

These Needs are a great mechanic for allowing me to push back and add costs to particular actions. Needs can be used to lock out options, cause positive/negative Events (more on that later), and even shift your Hero’s entire base functionality via Moods. If I’m worried about players sitting in town and repeating the same action over and over again, I can start eroding Fun so that they perhaps enter the Bored Mood and that locks out all beneficial options apart from drinking at the Tavern.

Moods are the overall feeling a Hero has over a long period of time. If a Hero is constantly at high levels of Comfort, they might gain the Relaxed Mood. Relaxation is a great way to boost your gains in the Library, but it’s not going to have good effects on your combat ability (unless your Hero is Syrio Forel!). Management of Needs feeds into the Hero’s Mood, which therefore has a minor impact on every action you potentially take.

Let's hope this doesn't happen in combat...
Let’s hope this doesn’t happen in combat…

 

Traveling
Fellowship has an overworld hex map that has various terrain tiles all over it. These terrain tiles have a cost in turns to move through. If you want to travel 3 hexes across to Duskville and the path moves you through Plains, Forest, and Snow tiles… you will take 1 + 2 + 3 turns to get to Duskville. As mentioned above, travel has to be balanced around the options available in town. It needs to be worth it to travel.

Traveling’s link to Needs is another major consideration for players. The wilderness does not have the luxuries and comforts of a hustling and bustling town. Every trip your Hero takes will erode his/her Needs, resulting in many potential events occurring.

Movement in Civilization V
Movement in Civilization V

 

Events
Crusader Kings II is possibly the 2nd biggest influence over Fellowship, and the Events system is based on CK2’s equivalent. Every turn that you take has the potential to trigger an Event. An Event is a description of something happening to your Hero that has multiple options to pick from for a resolution. Actions in-game have a list of Events that they can trigger. For example, drinking a Strength Potion in the Apothecary has a small chance to trigger the “I don’t feel so good…” Event. This Event gives you the option of forcibly ejecting the substance; puking it out and losing its effect, but not being poisoned, or you can brave the feeling. If you choose option 2, there’s a chance for you to become sick (reducing Comfort for 3 turns), nothing happening (gaining the regular Strength Potion effect), or overcoming the illness and improving your constitution (giving you +100 HP for 10 turns).

Events are surprising, fun to discover, and potentially very meaningful decisions. An Event can be a quick way to enter a new Mood without spending turns on manipulating a Hero’s Needs… for better or for worse. Events can also give you positive/negative buffs, reward you with items and gold, or even grant you new Hero Traits that affect your Hero’s behaviour for days, weeks, and years. Primarily, Events are a superb way to add emergent storytelling and give me tons of places to explain the type of world that your fellowship lives in.

Events in Crusader Kings II
Events in Crusader Kings II

 

Fighting Evil
This is a mix of two things; a combat system and ‘what does evil actually do?’. The former is completely and utterly non-designed. I have no idea what the combat system should do, and it’s a big concern to me. However it doesn’t really matter, which is the funny thing. This is why I’m leaving it to the end.

What evil actually does is something I’ve been tackling over the last few weeks. Originally my plan was for players to just find evil things they want to kill and then they just make their own way there. A sort of level selection, like in Heroes of Might & Magic; where you can see a threat level and choose whether you’re ready to kill them or not. The problem with this is that it’s not very dynamic at all. If the impetus is on the player to find the evil, why would they not just sit in town and buff themselves up to crazy levels before venturing outside?

A lot of this problem can be solved with by limiting what can be done in town, but I want evil to be more of a dynamic force that puts pressure on the player. Another inspiration I got from Civilization is the Barbarian system.

I hate Barbarians. We all hate Barbarians. Those bastards walk in and destroy your luxury resources and then that triggers you to lose happiness or trade deals. Then you’ve got to get a warrior to go deal with them, then you have to send a worker to go fix the resource tile. Argh! However, roaming squads of evil beings makes a lot of sense in my world, and it gave me the idea that towns can have Resources too. Unlike Civilization where you seek out resources and build towns near them, expanding your borders to get more and more resources… Fellowship’s towns will have pre-defined borders and resources generated within them. These Resources act as a supply for various Actions in town. If you want to receive a holy blessing then the current town needs to have a Church and a Wine resource.

What makes Resources so great for Fellowship is that they give you something to protect. Evildoers will roam around occasionally and start screwing with a town’s  resources. If you don’t deal with them, the town’s most valuable actions become locked. You may need those actions. Furthermore, neighboring towns will share their resources with each other… so if your Hero is in Duskville and notices that imported Gold is blocked from Dawn City, they have an incentive to go to Dawn City and unblock that Gold supply.

My goal with the ‘barbarian’ evildoers is to create this friction but not at a tremendous level of frustration for players. Barbarians won’t destroy Resources, they will just switch them off and sit in them. Once you kill them, the Resource is freed up on the next turn. Capitalism, yay! There is also the possibility of tying this dynamic into a Town Reputation system, which would add some more incentive to keeping a town barbarian-free.

Damn Barbarians...
Damn Barbarians…

This has been a long, long post… but it’s been hugely beneficial for me to actually write down holistically what Fellowship is! The title is very accurate. If you’ve read this far, thank you!

I’ve still got a ridiculous amount of work to do for the game before it’s even a game. Barbarians is the next thing and this is a big system that doesn’t really fit my morning hour, so I’ll probably look into some minor extras or content over the next couple of weeks.

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