Before you stands a man warped by time and wrath, crook-backed and bitter, barely able to heft the sword in his hand. Others crowd about, like and yet unlike the first, each twisted in his own way, smeared on stones so smooth and bright that they are like looking glasses. It is a maze made of you, and staring into it, you seem to see into your self.
The titular hero (or anti-hero) of our game may be fallen, but he is still a god. And even when cut off from Orm’s great soul-hoard in Skyhold, a son of the Cloudlands has many gifts that set him apart from mortal men.
For a god, even a fallen god, has skills beyond swordplay. The player’s god has two out of the following five such skills: Soulfire (by which he can kindle souls into a holy blaze that can burn away curses or burn up foes); Healing Hands (by which he can heal wounds and cure sickness in himself and others); Death Lore (by which he can speak to the dead, calling on their wisdom or driving off restless undead draugar); Wild Heart (by which he can bend beasts to his will or cause the woods themselves to hasten him on his way); and Foresight (by which he can see what lies in distant lands or times to come). These too draw on soul-strength.
Finally, the fallen god starts with a mighty item from the Cloudlands, such as the Lur, a horn that can stir the slumbering heart or clear the muddled head of any mortal man. And he will find more as he goes. Our items (as will be discussed in a later update) are like Lone Wolf’s: each is significant, providing not just a noticeable statistical bonus but also new abilities (like crossing streams with the Fording Stone) and new opportunities in events (such as covering an escape by opening the Fog Pot).
So what character traits arise from the gameplay constraints in Fallen Gods? Well, the game doesn’t really have “quests” in the way a typical contemporary RPG does (i.e., meet NPC; learn about NPC’s problem; visit other NPCs to learn yet more context; discover various solutions; choose a solution; implement it over multiple steps; return to receive a reward). Our encounters usually resolve quickly, with a single paragraph of text describing the dilemma, a single multiple-choice decision resolving the dilemma, and another single paragraph describing that resolution. In order for those thin dilemmas to have meaning, they need to be about the god’s interests, since there is no pathos-laden dialogue tree to make the NPC’s interests compelling.
Thus, they typically take the form of, “Someone is between you and something you want: how can you get it most cheaply?” Whether a foe’s barring your path, a friend’s sharing a gift, or a stranger’s offering a reward, the god’s instinct is to give up as little as he can and get as much as he can. The game’s overall narrative needs to establish and reinforce this self-interest, and so the god—who is, after all, trying to escape the world’s sorrows and not lift them—must be a self-interested figure.
Fallen Gods has no dialogue trees. And the followers in the warband are not unique characters. Each berserk is like other berserks, each churl like other churls, and so forth. Mostly, they are ciphers like “hirelings” in Neverwinter Nights or Diablo II or soldiers in X-COM. Even when they interject thoughts and participate in events, they do so as fairly generic types, rather than as rich individuals, like a thinner version of the Clan Circle in King of Dragon Pass.
This overriding self-interest will likely create a gap between what the player wishes his avatar would do and the game lets his avatar do. Generally speaking, people want to do good, and that desire is particularly strong in single-player games, where doing good carries no meaningful cost (maybe a little less fictitious money paid to your avatar as a reward for his quest). People call this a “power fantasy.” Fine. But it is emblematic of the noblest aspect of fantasy: its ability to train us to view doing good as the proper exercise of power.
NEXT UPDATE: Witches and Dwergs.
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Many people have asked about our pixel graphics. They are made, dot by dot, by Daniel Miller, an avant-garde artist currently doing a series of residencies in Asia. He actually does very little pixel art. While his live performances cannot be captured on a website, you can get a taste for the breadth of his work in his online galleries (as is not uncommon of artists portfolios’, these contain nudity): https://www.instagram.com/
A little over a year ago, I talked with Dan Felder, a thoughtful commentator about P&P RPGs, about how gameplay considerations should dictate character- and world-building. You can listen to the two parts of the interview on YouTube: Part 1 and Part 2.
King of Dragon Pass, mentioned in previous updates as a significant influence on Fallen Gods, is a gem of a game. You can get it for PC (75% off as of 4/17/18) or iPhone. The great folks behind it are in the process of making a sequel entitled Six Ages, which looks marvelous.
I fell out of touch with Scott Dudley decades ago, but was pleased to see that he went on to be not merely a successful game developer but something of a renaissance man. Here’s his website: http://zaskoda.com/