Below’s second dungeon, the Sea-King’s Grave, is going to be the first major purchasable chunk of content for the game. I discussed the issue of fair (and reasonable!) price with the closed beta testers and got the sort of diverse, insightful responses that the community spoils me with. Lots of people wanted to know what exactly they get with a new dungeon – what does it equate to in terms of cards and content? I’ll break it down after the break
The Below Deck
When you enter a new dungeon, the core of the Below Deck remains the same: every dungeon has Winding Stairs, Dust-Choked Chambers and Inscribed Doors. But what’s on some cards changes to reflect the dungeon. The Old Statues you discover – their rewards, faces and dangers – tell a different story in each dungeon. The creatures stalking you on the Watched card might be wolves, Scarrow or wisps in the Bellringer’s Tomb, or the Backwards Dead, the Barrow-Dweller or the Crimson in the Sea-King’s Grave.
Regions and Quests
Each dungeon contains unique regions (usually three) that put new pinned cards onto the table. Places like the Lindworm’s Lair, the Saint’s Grave, or the Giant’s Road. These sit at the bottom of the screen, and may change to represent the region’s state or your progress through it. So the Scarrow’s Pantry has one card that shows when the Scarrow don’t know you’re there, and another one for when they’re hunting you.
The Sea-King’s Grave also randomises elements of the regions. The first time you enter perhaps you’ll face the Lindworm. Next time, maybe it’ll be a Troll-Wife. You’ll always have to pass through the Labyrinth, but the challenge at its heart might be a Winding Horn or a Bitter Wind.
Quests work the same way but tend to be even more involved, with more stages, extra bridging cards to pace the narrative, and epilogue cards when you complete them (complete with their own choices). In addition, some quests add new cards to the Above Deck. As you try to save Old Wist you’ll remember how you met, and what you meant to each other. Succeed in your quest, and you can add a new card to the Above deck for future adventures.
Sometimes, a quest or region will include a new area or mini-game like the Giant’s Hall. This could be another 4 to 12 cards of content, usually linked together. An example: if you succumb to the spells of the Labyrinth in the Sea-King’s Grave you’ll enter a mini-menace state as your shattered mind tries to claw back its sanity.
Regions and quests also add new cards to the Below Deck. While returning a barrow-blade to its maker you’ll be plagued by the Sword-Dreams card, forcing you to relive the sword’s legacy of ruin. When facing the Lindworm you’ll need to beware poisonous airs in the Below Deck – if your Poisoned quality rises too high, you’ll start losing Spirit until you return to the surface to clear your lungs.
Sometimes a quest or region will add new options to existing cards. When returning the Saint’s Bell to the surface, the Pit card suddenly becomes a short-cut, if you’ve the courage to risk it. In the Labyrinth, once-familiar cards acquire new tricks and twists.
Each dungeon has a unique Treasure Card. You’ll only find a Hallowed Handbell in the Bellringer’s Tomb, and a Wind-Knot or coins from ancient Vuhl in the Sea-King’s Grave. As well as being the source of potent new items, the Treasure Cards are packed with lore about Gallowmoor, its people, and its history.
Dungeons are by far the most time-consuming content in Below to write. They represent huge chunks of new lore, six or more new mini-mechanics to handle the quests and regions, new treasures, new content scattered across existing cards and multiple rounds of testing and revision. But that’s all behind-the-scenes stuff, and my main concern is that it won’t be obvious to players.
That’s why whatever they’re eventually priced at, it’ll be a level that drastically undervalues the effort that went into them. But I think it’s important people have reasonable access to a variety of content to keep their interest up. The game needs a certain bulk, I think. Hopefully, people who enjoy the dungeons will feel happy buying some action refreshes or smaller content unlocks, too.
Check back on Thursday for a special guest post by Below’s artist, Yasmeen Khan!