Death and Betas

Today my slime-filled crypt is festooned with balloons. There is rejoicing! For the first day of the beta has seen only modest (and occasionally quite pretty) explosions. The testers are doing an amazing job of finding bugs and pointing out my typos (which, like the stars, are without number). Meanwhile, over at the Below Google+ community, we’re discussing how many actions you should get and how fast the refresh rate should be. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and the community is open to everyone whether you’re in the beta or not. Drop by and chime in!

Fingers-crossed, touch-wood, avert-the-evil-eye, things seem to be going well. So this seems a good time to talk about death.

After the break: death.

Going Gentle into that Good Night

Lots of StoryNexus games don’t do death, and wisely so. In a story-game, death is usually the least interesting possible outcome to a conflict. Below is about challenge as well as story, though, so it needs the risk of failure.

Most of the time you’re playing, death isn’t at stake. There aren’t any ‘sucker’ results that kill you instantly. You only die when your Spirit reaches zero. By playing cards from the Above deck you can keep your Spirit out of the danger zone. But if you’ve delved too deep, and you’ve let your conditions get out of control; if the region you’re in has particular perils or you’re reluctant to play more Above cards and further complicate your adventure, the danger increases.

Ideally, when you do run out of Spirit, you should feel it’s your own fault. Dark Souls is the model for this. You took one risk too many. You didn’t retreat and refresh yourself when you had a chance.  This perception matters because (a) it’s important that I am liked, and (b) it means that you felt you had control over your situation and resources; that play was meaningful.

What Comes Next

When you do die in Below, we steal from Fallen London: you move to a new area with its own stories. I don’t want to reveal too much about the place or personage of Death here. Exploring their mysteries is part of the fun of dying.

There, you make a choice: pass on to the world beyond (which means you leave a legacy and create a new character) or bargain with death for another chance. The first bargain is open to all players, but later ones will cost Nex (StoryNexus’ paid-for currency). That’s because dying is content. Each bargain you make either gives you a short quest or adds new options to your decks. The act changes the game. In fact, there are some legacy items and skills that you can only unlock by dying (one of these is in the beta).

I didn’t want this to be ‘pay to win’, or to feel like putting another coin in the arcade machine. Death is story. It’s cruel and savage and costly, but you returned from the dead and that’s awesome. I’m worried about how people will respond to this. The bargains are all costly, and it feels odd to be asking someone for money and then hitting them with a gut-wrenching consequence. But it’s thematic, and there’s prestige in being a haunted badass who has seen things beyond mortal ken and returned changed.

And maybe it’s even possible – once in a while – to trick death, and emerge ahead on the deal.



  1. dryman February 4, 2013 1:50 am  Reply

    Just finished the beta quest & enjoyed it a lot! I didn’t find any serious bugs except one that you fixed in 5 minutes :)

    The balancing in general seemed fair, but I was such a wuss that I never let Spirit get below 3. The Blacksmiths Daughter ended up with a lot of unused Secrets. This could be offset with the Tinkering ability, but instead of turning a few Secrets into Gear with 1 action it’s more efficient to draw 3 more Below cards.

    One frustrating thing about her character was that her abilities revolve around equipment, but there are so few equipment slots (at most 3?) that all other equipment became useless, eg that from Treasure deck or Memories of Home (couldn’t find much use for the letter). Maybe she could have an ability to convert unused equipment into Gear.

    Off topic I wonder if you have tried Kerkerkruip by Victor Gijsbers – a unique text based roguelike that could provide some inspiration:

    • Chris February 4, 2013 12:14 pm  Reply

      Hi there,

      Thanks for the kind words! I’ll be implementing a bulk trade option for the Blacksmith’s Daughter so she can trade more Secrets for Gear at a time.

      The Smith’s Daughter’s gear is good, but it and Treasure do some different things – I’ve got a post due on this. In essence, Treasure Items are the way to get a single high stat and some of the weirder special abilities. I think when more treasure items are in the game, their value will be a bit clearer.

      I’ll also be adding some more uses for Memories of Home to the Smith’s Daughter – they do pile up at the moment!

      I’ve not heard of Kerkerkruip before – I’ll check it out. Thanks!

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