The Below Bible: Decks

A mini-update today: another excerpt from the Below bible. But do check back here tomorrow, when if all goes according to plan I’ll have some excellent Below-related news.

Read on after the break. Warning: contains Beowulf. Lots and lots of Beowulf.

The first excerpt from the Below bible was about its inspirations, while this one contains the initial design for its card decks.

There’s a lot of quotations in here. We used them extensively in the bible to help nail down the feel of the game – a quote carries the weight of its source with it, and is an efficient way to get people on the same page.

Where things changed during development, I’ve added notes in vigorous red text.

Let’s get started…

Card Decks

Below uses the following card decks. Only two – Above and Below – are usually visible.

The Dungeon Deck

A few miles from here
a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch
above a mere; the overhanging bank
is a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface.
At night there, something uncanny happens:
the water burns. And the mere-bottom
has never been sounded by the sons of men.
- Beowulf, Seamus Heaney’s translation

Isolated in a separate setting is the Dungeon Deck. Drawing from here presents you with a number of entrances to different dungeons, letting you choose one to delve into. This sets qualities that affect the Below deck. Each dungeon has two of these qualities: caves, crypts, halls, lost city, deep places – which in turn filter the branches some Below cards show.

Dungeons include:  the Sunken Tower, the Sea King’s Grave, the Isle of the Fire Queen, The Bellringer’s Tomb, Copperlamps Hold, and the Caves of the Night-Hag.

[There's a previously unmentioned dungeon in there - The Caves of the Night Hag. It's still on the list but won't make the initial release.  The idea of dungeons having qualities that filter their content is on the "nice to have list" - fun, but not vital. I really like the idea of a dungeon changing from Crypts to Caves partway through, though.]

The Above Deck

In front of me, I can see half the world. Far down, almost underneath my feet, I can see our manor house, the scarlet flag dancing, the row of beehives beyond the orchard, the stream shining. I can see Gatty’s cottage and count how many people are working in the two fields. Then I look out beyond Caldicot. I gaze deep into thick Pike Forest and away into the wilderness. That where the raiders would come from, and where Wales begins. That’s where the world starts to turn blue.

- Kevin Crossley-Holland, Arthur and the Seeing Stone

The Above deck represents your life before and after the dungeon – your home, your family, your memories. When you play cards from it you’re flashing back. They grant resources, notably Spirit, that let you stay in the dungeon longer and overcome more of its challenges. However, the more you play the more complicated your life becomes, and the more rides on your success down there in the dark.

Above deck cards include: the Path through the Woods, the Standing Stones, a Voice from your Past, the Half Way House, the Summer Fair, the Wandering Monk, and A Shadow of What Would Come to Pass.

[The concept for the Above deck changed least over development. I'd forgotten about some of those sample cards - they sound great! I'll add them to the to-do list.]

The Below Deck

‘I do not like the feel of the middle way; and I do not like the smell of the left-hand way: there is foul air down there, or I am no guide. I shall take the right-hand passage. It is time we began to climb up again.’

- J.R.R. Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring

The Below deck is the chambers, tunnels, situations, and creatures that make up the dungeon. Playing them costs resources but builds progress you spend to overcome pinned Obstacle cards. They also often affect Depth, reduce Spirit, and impose Conditions.

Below deck cards include: an Endless Passage, a Choice of Ways, the Inscribed Door, an Old Statue, the Winding Stair, Dark Waters, a Mysterious Light, the Pennangalen, and Sounds in the Deep.

[The very first iteration of Below treated Boldness, Subtlety and Wits as expendable resources - playing every Below card cost a little bit of one, and you had to reset them using certain Above cards. This concept was quickly abandoned because it was universally despised by testers. Seriously, there was almost a riot.]

The Treasure Deck

Then he saw a blade that boded well,
a sword in her armoury, an ancient heirloom
from the days of giants
- Beowulf, Seamus Heaney’s translation

A prestige deck that only appears when you have an ‘a Discovery’ quality. Playing a card from it costs your ‘a Discovery’ quality (so you only get 1 pick) but grants unique items or lets you improve items you already have (that rusty sword turns out to be a Rune-Notched Blade of a Forgotten King).

[Item improvement is now handled differently, and what causes the Treasure Deck to appear has been tweaked. It may yet go back to the above system, though - we'll be testing it in the beta.]

Pinned Cards

So the Shieldings’ hero, hard-pressed and enraged,
took a firm hold of the hilt and swung
the blade in an arc, a resolute blow
that bit deep into her neck-bone
and severed it entirely, toppling the doomed
house of her flesh; she fell to the floor.
The sword dripped blood, the swordsman was elated.
- Beowulf, Seamus Heaney’s translation

Pinned cards include two Obstacles, which are like ventures – spend progress to change or overcome them. Some just require a one-off spend or test, while others require several with the situation and requirements changing each time. Overcoming Obstacle cards advances your story in the dungeon.

You also have a pinned card determined by your character, where that character’s special mechanic goes. Here’s where the Smith’s Daughter can craft new gear, for example, and where the Masterless Apprentice can work his spells.

You choose your character at the start of play. They include: the Barefoot Friar, the Pauper Knight, the Landless Lady, the Masterless Apprentice, the Smith’s Daughter, the Escaped Murderer, the Naive Necromancer, and the Wayward Child.

[A couple of previously unmentioned characters, there. Obstacles came to be called Quests, and are still being refined.  They're they trickiest bit to design - it's so easy for them to overcomplicate things. Only one Obstacle appears at a time, now, to ease the load on the poor old UI.]

That’s all for today – remember to check back tomorrow for a special announcement!

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