The first steps into the dungeon

If I were Horace, this would be my ars poetica, a game I always dreamed of making but I never felt ready. But today, almost 6 years after NSKN Games was born, I feel ready…

“Ready for what?” you might ask… well, ready to design and publish a grand dungeon crawler turned epic with the aid of character building. I am not only talking about gaining a few skills and treasures like in Descent, but the development of a character from a wannabe hero to a champion of the realm.

I love dungeon crawlers as they provide this feeling of accomplishment, the joy of growing your hero and the immersion which can keep you in front of the gaming table for hours to play. I have not yet found my ideal dungeon adventure because all of them are missing one important element: the character building so commonly found in video games. And I understand why, it is a gargantuan task to “translate” video game mechanisms into board games. The design space of computer games is virtually infinite, while a board game must fit in a box, some tens of pages of rules and only a limited amount of adventures.

Today is the first day of building this new, immersive, epic… grand adventure game which, when published, should have all the qualities listed above and still be manageable by rather inexperienced players. I believe I have the core concepts of the game and I am openly asking for feedback and ideas which could potentially find their way into the box.

I will tell the story of this game as it is created, once or twice a month, until the idea becomes reality. I want and I need your involvement, as this task is bigger than one person and even too big for one team. We want to offer you a chance to contribute to the development process of a game which I truly believe you will love as much as we will.

Today’s story is about the principles at the foundation of the game.

  1. Character progression. It is the principle which lays at the very foundation of the game and it goes like this: througout a complete adventure, characters will progress from a basic level 1 to a heroic level 10 (or even 20?). Items, skills, equipment and abilities will have a clear progresssion, in such a way that a level 5 hero will be light years ahead of a level 1 hero and behind a level 10 hero. While principles won’t change, the build of the character will have to do the job. The point of inspiration here is Diablo, where your hero undergoes a clear progression both in skills and items.
  2. Storytelling. For a long time this was the missing piece of the puzzle, as I am an engineer and a (wannabe) mathematician, but not a story teller. Luckily, Błażej Kubacki is in our team and he has already proven his story telling skills in Mistfall and its expansions. Our dungeon crawler will share the same universe with Błażej’s Mistfall and he will create the stories behind each adventure. Also, as we are both fans of Above and Below, we will use it as an inspiration to add to the game a strong narration which will play an important part in our characters’ development.
  3. Diversity. We envision this game as a multi-scenario adventure, with up to 10 (or 20?) quests. Each quest will have a random setup, so that it can be played multiple times. Each quest will also scale based on the number of players and their levels. The diversity of items, skills, enemies and stories will make the game a behemoth. This is the second great challenge to brave – keeping the game time and the down time (especially the down time) to a minimum. This should be resolved by the next gaming principle…
  4. Simplicity. To manage the amount of information in the game, decisions have to stay simple and meaningful. I imagined a dice based combat system with a single die roll, which eliminates the need of a dungeon master (so all players are on the same side) and players have to make a balanced decision based on the gains for their characters and the peril represented by monsters and other creatures on the side of evil.

Does this sound interesting? Is there anything you love or anything you’d like to see in such a game?

As we are just starting the design process and all we have are mechanisms and the general idea of the story line, you have the chance to get involved and spread your ideas and we have the opportunity to listen to you and make this game truly epic.

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2 thoughts on “The first steps into the dungeon

  1. Sounds intriguing… Although I wonder if my itch for such a game might be scratched by D&D. Nice to have it GM-less though.

    Some (hopefully coherent) thoughts:

    1) Creating character progression by adding more abilities, increasing stats etc is fairly standard fare, but will there be a point to it beyond having more cool stuff in the next scenario?

    For example, could a level 1 character blunder into a level 10 enemy and get obliterated, or could a level 10 character seek and kill those pesky level 3 enemies that gave him so much trouble as a level 1 character? If not (if *all* the challenges increase in difficulty at the same rate as the players advance), level progression becomes somewhat meaningless and just an excuse to add complexity in later scenarios.

    On the other hand, if I get my backside kicked by something, there’s an incentive to level up so I can come back and defeat it. But I imagine that sort of sandbox style might be tricky to implement in a pre-built multi-scenario campaign…

    2) If you’re fans of Above and Below, I assume you’re also aware of Near and Far, which will massively expand on the storytelling aspect and turn it into part of a campaign. The Red Raven Games team recently discussed writing for boardgames in their podcast (episode 15).

    This does sound like a mammoth undertaking; I look forward to reading more about the development process!

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